CHAPTER FIVE: Five Years Ago…
“Man, I am really sorry about earlier. I didn’t really know you were talking to Butterfly like that. I thought there wasn’t nothing there! Anyway, I was out of line asking her to The Date Spot.”
“Naw, man. We’re all here for the cash, man. You gotta do what you think can help us win. It’s cool. It’s cool.”
With that, Alfonso de la Rio and Terry McKenzie slapped hands and pulled each other in for a one-handed embrace. Each nodded while there and said again that they were cool. As they separated, they each pumped their first into the other’s. There was a visible level of mutual respect between the two men after a bout of tension just minutes before.
Alfonso noted he was heading to bed for the night and did not want there to be any resentment left between them when they woke up; Terry agreed, responding that he was happy to hear that and added that the million dollars would be theirs in a few weeks. Alfonso pumped a fist at that thought.
Several feet away, Spencer Holliday clapped his hands together at what he had just seen. “All right, gentlemen! Great to see you guys coming together like that! That’s what we want to see!” he turned to the camera and boom operators. “All right, that’s a cut for right now, folks. Let’s start looking at what we got, okay? Lotta gold to sift through for the biggest nuggets!”
Alfonso took the stairs up to the men’s dormitory; Terry walked into the bathroom on the main floor and started the shower before shutting the door behind him. As the tech crew began checking their equipment, Spencer headed to the backstage area of the building. Even at the late hour—Spencer checked his watch to see it was just past two in the morning—several crew members buzzed about, gathering up discarded plates and cups, reviewing footage from earlier in the day on their iPads, and moving in props for the next day’s challenge now that the roommates were out of the way. Spencer had handpicked this crew from his past experiences with reality competition shows–of which he was long-since a seasoned vet, having put together widely viewed shows for many of the streaming outlets—and for the most part, it showed. Everything was getting done with minimal oversight.
For the most part.
Spencer saw his assistant talking with an editor. He grabbed the assistant by the arm and pulled him aside without even excusing his way into the conversation.
“What the fuck was that?”
The assistant, twenty-seven year old Damon Littlemore, shot him a confused look, so Spencer continued. “Do you think people are watching this to see those two jackasses hold hands and sing…,” he realized he didn’t remember how that phrase went, “campfire songs? What the hell is going on here tonight? Nothing fucking happened!”
“They all had a good day, Mr. Holliday. They won the challenge earlier in the pool, no one was sent home, and just… I don’t know. Everyone has happy? It’s been a few wild days already, and no one really wanted to drink that much tonight—”
“I don’t give the flyingest of fucks what they wanted! Put the booze out. Put it in their hands! What the… ‘oh, no thanks for the free alcohol tonight, water for me’? Fuck that shit. Tell them the water here will give them the shits. Tell them there’s no soda; you clowns drank it all;. Get them drinking; I don’t care what they want! Spike their drinks if they say no!”
“That doesn’t seem—”
Spencer cut him off again. “What it seems is like a great idea! What it seems is like winning television! We have a building full of young, hot morons with actual fucking superpowers, and people want to see fireworks!”
“That’s not an expression, Damon! Literal fireworks if possible, shot from, like, their dicks or whatever they do!”
Damon’s face twisted, but Spencer felt his own eyes widen at even the thought that his assistant might have more to say. Damon blinked a few times and seemed to grit his teeth, but without a word, he walked over to the food and drink staff. He started barking at them to dump the soda down the drain. They seemed to show resistance to the idea, but Damon raised his voice higher. Spencer smiled when he distinctly heard his assistant say something to them about fireworks.
Down the hallway he saw a cameraman just starting to load up his equipment. Inspiration struck. He rushed over to the station where the drinks were kept and pulled out two glasses. He put a double shot of tequila in one, Coke in the other. He almost hurried away from the bar, but thought the better of it; he splashed a bit more tequila into the first glass. He nodded his approval at his own act.
Spencer dashed down the hallway to the amusement of a crew member, but he had no time to pay that any mind. He started yelling at the camera operator to stop packing up.
“Hey! Leave everything together for a minute, all right! Could you follow me? I might need some more reaction shots upstairs. Nothing big. Just in case we need to intersperse some expressions.”
The cameraman—Spencer had no idea what his name was; that was Damon’s job—put the gear back together and asked Spencer to show the way.
Spencer prodded the young man to hurry as they re-entered the main part of the building and headed up the stairs to the men’s dorm. He shooed the rest of his team members out of the way and fought to hold both glasses steady as he took the stairs two steps at a time.
At the top, he saw the room immediately to the right, Alfonso’s room, still had its lights on. He put out a forearm to stop the cameraman. “Hey, just… stand here and be ready to roll, all right?”
“Ready for what?”
Spencer swirled the tequila drink in his right hand. “Hopefully you’ll know.”
Spencer pushed his way into the bedroom, making sure to leave the door cracked just enough for his team member to see inside and get something worthy of a shot.
Alfonso sat shirtless on his bed showing Spencer a physique he certainly never had at the kid’s age. Even in his own early 20’s, Spencer could describe his build as “rolled” much more than “cut”. He wasn’t even sure he had names for the kinds of muscles Alfonso bore. Spencer wondered if ribs were supposed to be muscular, but abandoned the thought; it was a distraction. Alfonso had been talking to Zack in the bed next to his, but sat up at Spencer’s arrival.
“How you guys doing? Big day out there today, right? You guys are crushing it. The people are going to love you, man. You gotta promise to remember us when you’re stars.”
“Thanks, Mr. Holliday, I—”
Spencer held out the glass. “Don’t make me drink alone, Alfonso. I just can’t contain how amped I am for this show to debut, you know? We’re all going to be stars, actually. Well, mostly you are. I’ll just be getting rich off of you guys, too.”
Spencer slapped his thigh and laughed gently at his own comment. “I picked the right kids for this show, I knew it from Day One.” He held the glass out a bit further towards Alfonso. Alfonso seemed as if he were about to try to refuse the glass, but he shrugged his shoulders and took it from Spencer’s hand. Spencer pumped his fist to show his appreciation.
Alfonso took his first sip. “Thanks, I wasn’t going to, Mr. Holliday, but… what he hell? Gotta act like a star, right?”
“Obviously! And the way you kids dismantled the pool challenge today? Wow. We’re going to have to make things harder to get good television from you!”
Alfonso drank again. “Man, hopefully not too much harder–”
“We were really a bit scared downstairs, though with you and Terry tonight!”
“That was just a—”
“After he knew about you telling Butterfly that you had feelings for her, and then he still took her out for tonight’s Date Spot? And had his hands all over her? We weren’t sure what your reaction was going to be.”
Alfonso coughed on his tequila. “What do—”
“That was really big of you to let it go like that. Another guy, some guy who thinks he’s an alpha or something like that? Can’t imagine he’d be cool with something like that. But look at you! You brushed it off for the good of the team.”
“So he knew—”
“And you two must have really worked it out good, too, since you came upstairs and weren’t even concerned that he stayed down on the same floor as the girls’ rooms.”
“He’s still…,” Alfonso closed his eyes and tilted his head up at the ceiling. “He said he was showering…”
“Oh, I’m sure he is. I’m sure! You two talked it all out, and he told how they made out today, so there’s no reason to think—”
“Hold up—” Alfonso wiped tequila from his chin.
“I mean, I’m pretty sure they only made out, but besides—”
Alfonso bounced up off the bed so hard that it shook Spencer, knocking his Bluetooth device loose from his ear. Spencer’s attention immediately turned to the cameraman in the hallway. He motioned pointedly at Alfonso and mouthed “follow him!”. The crew member jumped back just in time to avoid getting smashed by the door that Alfonso threw open in his rage.
Spencer ran out after him, calling out some obligatory pleas to stop that he thought would sound good in the background audio and add to the unexpected nature of what was happening. As the other male stars of Mind The GAP emerged from their dorms to see what the cacophony was about, Spencer stopped motioning and mouthing to his camera operator. After all, everything at that point should have been pretty self-fucking-explanatory.
Alfonso rushed down the stairs, leaping the final three entirely to meet Terry, who was standing at the base of the stairs in only his towel. Terry never saw the right hand coming when it clocked him in the eye. He crumpled to the hardwood floor and immediately covered his face, prodding where he had just been struck as if checking for blood. Terry shouted a demand for answers, but it was drowned out in a sea of accusations from Alfonso about making out and lying to him.
At the ruckus, the girls poured out from their dorm as well to see what the hell was going on in the foyer. Alfonso mounted the prone Terry as the rest of the cast surrounded them, many trying to pry Alfonso off and unsuccessfully keeping him from hitting Terry again and again. The lone cameraman darted from side to side trying to get as much of the action as he could over everyone’s shoulders; he lifted his device over his head, no longer worried about what he could see. Spencer stood on the fourth step, overlooking the brawl. The girls were screaming; Butterfly in particular had tears streaming down her face as she called out for both men to stop.
Damon hurried into the scene from the backstage area, his own high-pitched cries at what was happening causing a buzz in Spencer’s ear. Those shrieks soon drowned in the voices of everyone else, leaving the main floor a homogenized wail.
It was impossible to distinguish anyone’s voice from anyone else’s. Alfonso used his body to keep Terry pressed to the ground. Terry struggled against him to get up. The other fifteen castmates jockeyed against each other, most not quite sure who to help… or how. Alfonso shoved Zack off of him, freeing his right hand. With Terry busy trying to struggle Alfonso’s knees off his arms, Alfonso leveled him in the nose with his freed fist.
Blood erupted from Terry’s face, and the commotion grew louder. Terry shook his head violently as he tried to pull free from Alfonso, and with each jerk, more and more blood sprayed and covered the castmates. The rest of the crew, now fully awake from their late night drowsiness, joined Damon in trying to pull everyone away so they could reach Terry and Alfonso. Spencer suddenly noticed a basketball size hole in the wall, though he hadn’t even heard whatever caused that in all the tumult.
It took Spencer another second–and a slight stumble down to the third step, causing him to grab the railing to steady himself–to realize that wail was less the combined shouting and struggling of the college-aged cast and more of a weird buzzing sound drilling deeper into his skull and burying everything else. He could see a few lips moving, but no words were discernible. He winced at the shrill humming that seemed to take root in the middle of his skull; it forced him off of his feet, though he still held firm to the railing as he sat on the stairs.
Through blurring vision, Spencer could see the others in the room, cast and crew alike, were similarly sinking to their knees and holding their heads in some sort of agony. Alfonso rolled off of Terry and could be seen calling out something, but Spencer still could not make out any words.
He was unable to tell if it was the room or his head that was shaking when he realized there was one person still standing among them all. Butterfly was still upright, her hands wrapped around her own throat, and her mouth wide open. He caught her eyes with his, and they stared into each other for a second. Or forever. Her light gray irises were wide in horror, and they seemed to beg him for something, though he knew not what.
She moved her hands up to her jaw and looked to be physically forcing it shut, but it resisted her attempt. The penultimate thought Spencer ever had was the realization that the sound was coming from her, and she apparently could not control it.
His last thought was that the inside of his head was starting to get very warm.