If you were in my shoes—your feet would hurt

Merely players

By Blair Dalton

The shoot was not going well. Anthony Llewellyn sat on a blanket on the grassy bank of a stream, waiting for the next take and wishing he was someplace else. They were falling behind schedule and Mickelson's temper was on a slow simmer.

To make matters worse, Susanne, his leading lady, was pouting on the other side of the blanket. She leaned back on both elbows, her strikingly beautiful face set in a scowl. She had been bitching all morning; she hated the wardrobe, she hated her horse, and she liked the ants even less. But she was young, so Tony tried to humor her. At least she only threw tantrums in between takes.

They were on the fifth take of a love scene. The rustic setting was idyllic and the weather was perfect. It would make a great scene, if everything would stop going wrong.

Susanne swatted at the blanket with her riding crop. "Ha! Got another one!" she yelled. She brushed the ant away. When she flipped her head her long black curls bounced in the breeze. He thought idly that she was about to pop out of the low-cut eighteenth-century gown. But he wasn't really interested.

Tony stared off towards the stream where the two horses grazed. At least they don't get bored between takes, he thought. They can always eat--they don't have to wait for the lunch wagon. Papoose, his dappled gray, wandered over in his direction in search of better grass. The horse sniffed the corner of the blanket and then nibbled on it.

Tony smiled and rubbed the gray's soft nose. Papoose seemed to prefer that to chewing on the blanket. The horse nuzzled Tony's hand.

He suddenly realized that if the link behind his ear were live at the moment, millions of other people would be able to see what he saw right now, feel the horse's muzzle, smell the country air . . .

Something spooked Papoose. He snorted and wandered off toward the stream again. Tony sat, his mind wandering, taking in the scene. He could never get used to the absence of cameras. It still felt strange. No cameras--just the electrode behind his ear. I'm it, he thought.

He only half-listened to Mickelson, the director, having a loud discussion with one of the techs. The engineer complained that his levels were too low--he needed more emotional intensity. Their voices seemed oddly distant.

It might have been his imagination, but his link began to itch. He was sure he was bleeding. He put his hand behind his head, but couldn't feel any blood. Still he couldn't shake the crazy feeling that the electrode was making him bleed to death, drop by drop . . .

He got up suddenly and walked over to his trailer. Nobody seemed to notice. He went in, shut the door and looked sideways in the mirror. No blood. When he pulled the link out from behind his ear, it left a tiny hole. He had a sudden vision of the hole growing bigger, and bigger . . .

He looked down at the electrode in his hand; it looked like a small silver bug. He resisted the impulse to throw it on the floor and stomp on it.

Get a grip on yourself, he thought.

He picked up the bottle of Scotch from the dressing table and poured himself a drink.

Somebody knocked loudly on the door. Without waiting for a response, Marvin Weinstein, his agent, walked in, all five-foot-four of him, wearing his gray silk suit.

"Ah, Marvin, good morrow and well met," Tony projected in his best stage voice with the deep, rolling Welsh undertones. He used to pride himself on his voice--but that was back when an actor needed a voice.

Weinstein gave him a long-suffering look. "Tony, you've been a bad boy."

Llewellyn made a rude noise. "So come on in and join me," he gestured with his glass. He poured Marvin a shot of Scotch.

Weinstein settled into a wicker chair and put his drink down, untouched. He folded his arms and gave Tony a level look. "So what's with the rumors about you quitting?"

"Rumors, rumors . . . " Tony muttered, taking another swig of his drink, "are sometimes true."

Marvin leaned back with a long sigh. "I was afraid of that. What's the problem?"

Tony gathered his thoughts. "Marv, I just can't do it anymore. It's no good."

Weinstein looked pained. I know you've never liked doing Telesensory--but you can't be serious about quitting. Your ratings are too good. Your public loves you."

"All too bloody well." His glass hit the table with a clank. "It used to be that everybody wanted a piece of you. Now they want all of you. Literally."

"You're being overly dramatic." Pause. "What's really eating you?"

Tony stood up and paced back and forth across the small trailer, then perched on the dressing table. "It's this new Character Immersion--I don't like it. It scares me. Ordinary telesensory is bad enough."

"What do you mean? CI is a big improvement."

"Improvement hell! It's zombie time."

Marvin got his long-suffering look again. "Tony, baby, you don't believe all that crap about telesensory producing a generation of mindless idiots, do you?"

"I didn't used to believe it, but now I'm not so sure."

"Just because a few spaced-out kids had to be pulled out from under their headsets? It has been tested, and all the techs say it's safe."

"I don't think it's been tested enough. I've got a bad feeling about it."

Marvin leaned forward with a serious expression. "You can't let it affect your career. TS is the only game in town. And you're only 43--what are you going to do if you don't act?"

"Act! That's not acting--wired up like a Christmas tree."

Marvin looked like he was running out of patience.

Tony stared out the window, his mind wandering. As a boy he had walked alone along the Welsh coast and gazed out at the gray-blue waves with the same expression--not even focusing, but allowing the physical sensations to lap about the edges of his consciousness.

For some reason he thought about his London stage debut in Othello. It was years ago, but he could still remember what that first curtain call felt like, when he realized the audience was applauding for him.

At least there had been good years, he thought, before telesensory had gotten a stranglehold on the business. It ended for him with Julius Caesar--his last stage production, to a near empty house. He and Caesar had both died an honorable death that night. Shortly afterwards he had moved from London to California and ended up doing TS, just like everybody else.

A year after that Ann had left him. She said he had changed, that he was getting impossible to live with. And she was right. He was empty, drained. The one thing he loved doing had become an ugly sham.

Now there was no audience, no applause. Just the awful, snaking wires sucking your soul away.

"Be reasonable," Weinstein was saying. "Character Immersion is brand new--give it a chance. It's going to be big--take my word for it. At least do this one piece before you make any rash decisions. Work with me on this one." He hesitated. "I promised Mickelson you'd be back out in ten minutes."

"Tell him I dropped dead."

"All right, if that's the way you feel about it." Marvin shrugged and sat back.

Tony knew him well enough to tell that Marv was just waiting for him to change his mind. He struggled with himself for several minutes. He felt like he was being sucked in again. But there were a lot of people counting on him. Weinstein conspicuously kept his mouth shut.

Finally Tony drained the last of the Scotch in one long swallow. "All right, Marv, I'll do this one CI piece and then we'll see."

His agent grinned. "I knew you'd see it that way. Don't worry--you can do it."

"Sure, Marv."

Another knock on the door. "Tony!" It was Mickelson. "We need you."

Llewellyn sighed, snapped the link back in place behind his ear and turned to open the door.

The show must go on.


A shabby apartment: four dull brown walls, tattered furniture. A nameless, faceless man eagerly adjusts his headset. It's time for the first CI broadcast with his favorite actor, Anthony Llewellyn.

He pushes a knob and his face comes alive. He sits, not moving; he's not really there anymore . . . he gallops down a road through lush green countryside . . . he/Llewellyn can feel the horse beneath him, smell its warmth . . . the coarse mane blows back in his face. Up ahead is an inn . . . he spurs his horse on, faster . . . he sees the villain in the black breeches dragging the dark-haired damsel with the low-cut dress out the front door towards the carriage.

He/Llewellyn reins in his horse, leaps off and draws his sword, all in one motion . . . the villain faces him, shoves the girl aside and draws his own sword with an evil grin. Steel clashes and he can feel the vibration all the way up his arm . . .

After two hours the automatic timer cut in and the set went dead. The man sat for several minutes with a blank expression before he finally removed the headset.

He looked around the apartment with a growing sense of panic. He didn't know who he was or where he was. The feeling of disorientation pulled him under like a strong current; he grabbed for an identity as he would a life-preserver.

Slowly, one took hold . . . and he knew who he was. An image of gray-blue waves on a rocky shore soothed him, as it always did.


Tony left home to drive the 40 miles into town. An early morning call from Marvin had ended with his promise to come into the studio for a meeting. Marv had been ecstatic about the ratings on the first CI broadcast last night. He wished he could share his agent's enthusiasm. He kept telling himself to be firm--they were not going to talk him into doing another CI piece.

He drove the last 15 miles through solid urban decay, dirt and apathy. Usually it depressed him, but today he hardly noticed. His mind was elsewhere. If only he had some way to show them, something tangible to hang his fears on.

Stopping at a red light, he was startled out of his musings by the man in the next car who stared at him like he was seeing a ghost. Tony ignored it, figuring the man was just a weird fan. He pulled ahead when the light changed.

He rounded a corner and spotted a crowd at the studio gate. A large crowd, and they looked none too happy. On the verge of becoming a mob, he thought. Cars jammed the street, apparently trying to get through the gate.

He slowed to a crawl and squeezed through the other cars and the packed bodies. The individual faces had a glassy-eyed, eerie look. Several people stared at him with the same creepy expression as the man at the stoplight. En masse, it was a chilling sight. His hands began to tremble on the steering wheel.

He finally reached the studio gate. Old Andy, the guard, valiantly tried to stem the tide. Tony opened his window a few inches.

"Mr. Llewellyn," Andy shouted, "go on through if you can make it." The guard looked both surprised and relieved to see him.

"What's going on?"

"You won't believe it . . . " Andy paused to grab a potential trespasser by the collar. "Damnedest thing I ever saw--they all say they're you!"

"What! All of them?" Tony yelled back in disbelief. He sat for a moment trying to digest such an absurdity. "But what do they want?"

"They're all trying to report for work."

The guard was shoved away from the car by the surging crowd. Tony quickly drove on through. Still stunned, he headed for the office tower, hoping somebody there would be able to make sense out of this.

Behind him, the mob was growing.

The end

Once I trod the boards and I can sympathize with the main character’s angst. Never experienced the kind of transference he suffers here, though. Might have enjoyed . . . never mind. Happy holidays to all. We await your comments on our BBS.