Six Degrees of Separation

“I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it extremely comforting that we’re so close. I also find it like Chinese water torture, that we’re so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection… I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.” – John Guare

Ouisa’s musings from John Guare’s extraordinary play, Six Degrees of Separation, perfectly articulate the journey that has been – and continues to be – the creation of They Live Among Us. There has been an odd synchronicity surrounding the project; glorious at times, at others, unsettling, as if unseen forces were at work.

I experienced two such incidents this week. In one, I was given the opportunity to bring to closure a traumatic incident from my past,
through the chance encounter of an old acquaintance.

I consider this a gift. A chance to heal. Bit by bit, one step at a time.

In the other incident, I sat dumbstruck as worlds collided within my pages.

I had written Episodes 4 – 6, and was executing a rewrite as I moved on towards 7 – 9. Episode 4 opens where 3 leaves off, with Peg and Ted in the Hollywood Hills. Peg was recounting the events leading up to her suicide: I was with… the worst sort of people. It was a party. They were… there were things done that night, terrible things. I remember I ran into the night. They chased after me, calling. I ran up to the sign… it was so very high, I thought if I could just climb up there, if I could just escape…

One of my rituals is to jog Lake Hollywood, then hike up the hills under Wolf’s Lair, eventually coming out onto Mulholland Drive at Castillo del Lago. Both structures are among my favorite in the City of Angels; the latter was once owned by doomed star Rudolph Valentino.

I wondered if it was possible for the party to have been there that night. I wondered who owned Castillo del Lago at that time; if, indeed the residents were the worst sort of people.

I decided to research the property. I skimmed through real estate listings and acquisition records. Then I stumbled across an article that almost brought me to my knees.

In 1932, the same year that poor Peg took her infamous swan dive into oblivion, Castillo del Lago was vacant. The residents of the nearby community of Beachwood Canyon would traverse the hills to the abode, using it as an impromptu community center. Countless parties were held there; some family affairs, others of a decidedly more debauched nature.

In the center of the article were the reminiscings of an old man, who was a boy during those parties. His sister attended many a midnight soiree at Castillo del Lago; he remembered being jealous of her adventures there, and how he dreamed of one day owning the estate.

His name was Milt. Milt Entwistle. Peg’s younger brother.

And so, the journey continues…

The Eye of the Beholder

Film is a fascinating medium to work in. First, you create a world, and those who walk within it, and then you work with cast and crew to achieve an articulation of your vision. Eventually, you make your way to the moment of truth – the rough cut.

I have spent the past few months wandering through the world of “They Live Among Us.” Night after night I have sat in a corner of the Paradise, or followed Caim on his sojourn through the mean streets. I have watched Lucian and Beliala rise, and I have shed tears for Peg – as well as for Ted’s heart-breaking dilemma.

This morning, once again, I watched Lillith. Through the lens.

A curious thing happens when you look at the world through a lens. Life is compressed. Distilled to its very essence. It is stripped of everything superfluous. It sees only the truth. It is omniscient. It is the eye of the beholder.

Looking at the footage, I was able to behold Lillith for all that she is. Beautiful. Fractured. Tormented by the demons within. She did not toy with Craig, as a cat does with its prey; instead, she genuinely wanted to be near him. Loneliness was the hunger that drove her to him – her need for love was great. Unfairly punished by the machinations of a patriarchal society. Expelled, cast forth, turned into a victim of her own desires.

And thus, Craig responded as any young man would; he pursued her. The hunt had commenced. His attraction to her was not false – how could it be ? He paid for her drinks, and he took her to a rooftop. The promise of the pleasures of her flesh danced in his head. He wooed her out of her shyness, and he reclined in anticipation of what was to come…

… and another moment of truth. Lillith’s dark nature took over. Her abandonment into carnality was not titillating; instead, it was tragic. I watched, mute, as Lillith lost herself in Craig. I watched as she fed on his pleasure, on his desire, on his life-force. Her eyes fluttered; she was sated… and then awareness came upon her. She moaned as she saw what she had done. Shame, disgust, guilt flew across her face; cumulus clouds of anguish. She scrambled away from him, hating herself a little bit more, as she has done every time that she has fed on a human.

Later, I saw her at Paradise again. Another night, another man. This one was named Terry – a social worker on Skid Row. At first I assumed that she would feed again, but now that I have witnessed all she experienced that night with Craig, I realize that to do so might destroy her. Each killing brings with it new trauma; another one could push her over the edge of reason. Terry is a kind man with a gentle way about him. She is desperate for contact. She whispers her mantra: “This time, everything will be alright.”

I wonder how long this budding romance will last, for I know that soon Lillith will meet another like her. One who feeds on the pleasure and pain of others. A predator who feeds on lust; he is unapologetic for his state. His appetite is huge. What will come of her, if she couples with him? Will she, like Lucian and Beliala, pass into darkness?

Worlds Collide

Saturday night marked the final day of shooting Episodes 1 – 3 of They Live Among Us.

I sat in a corner and watched Lucian and Beliala as they stripped Beth of everything. They were voracious in their need to rob her of her humanity; their lust for her flesh was wanton. They fed on her fear – and then, they fed on her. I wondered how long their hunger would be sated by this act… who would be next?

Caim and Buer bid one another adieu in front of the Paradise, and went their separate ways. I followed Caim with the stealth of a spy as he made his way through the mean streets of Hollywood. He passed a street… and stopped in his tracks. I turned to see what had garnered his attention, and there she was. A prostitute, clad in a sheer midriff blouse and the plaid skirt of a Catholic school girl. Serafina. She strode with determination, as if she worked her territory by sheer will-power alone.

A man appeared in front of her – Rocco. Deep in the throes of a cocaine high, he was jumpy, paranoid. An argument began, an age-old squabble over money… only this time something darker had entered the equation. Rocco erupted; violence spewed forth from him like ash from Vesuvius. He beat Serafina; he kicked her on the ground. His rage had turned him into a feral animal; he was like a man possessed…

…and all the while Caim stood by, watching, as he had countless of lifetimes before… only this time, something within him snapped. He bested Rocco; with one swift blow he knocked him into unconsciousness. How he resisted killing him, I do not know. He gathered Serafina into his arms and soared into the night sky, towards refuge.

I peered around a corner in Caim’s warehouse loft. It was not the trendy downtown loft of the self-aware hipsters, instead, Caim’s lair was a decrepit, aged building of glass and steel and stone. Caim carried Serafina gently towards his bed. He ministered to her wounds; he permitted himself the luxury of touching her face – a secret, stolen act that he could only execute while she was not conscious, for with such contact comes great danger. He waited for her to wake – and she did, filled with hurt, distrust and shame. He showed her mercy; he pledged to take care of her – and wanted nothing in return. I sensed his hidden anguish; how carefully he concealed his humiliation when he realized that she did not remember him – but how could she? I longed to comfort him, to whisper that everything would be alright – but I did not, for I could not tell if that was the truth or a lie. I still do not known which it is.

Caim left. When Serafina woke, there was food, and a desperate communication to her soul: an azalea blossom. She held the flower, and I saw her hand tremble. The whispers deep inside her had begun. She left – ran, actually, like a thief, into the night, towards all she knew. She ran home to Rocco.

I trailed behind Father Buer as he ministered to a homeless man – another fallen angel driven mad. As he and Caim argued about Caim’s contact with Serafina, a movement on the periphery of my vision caught my attention. I turned focus and found myself gazing upon a homeless man. He was not an actor. He slept in filth in an alley near St. Joseph’s Place; the stench of urine was unmistakable. It was cold outside, and wet – a thick marine layer had enveloped us in its water-logged grasp. The man had blanketed himself with newspapers in an effort to banish the chill. I wanted to go to him… who was he? Certainly, at one time, he had a name. He had once been somebody’s son, somebody’s lover, somebody’s friend. How far he had fallen from grace…

…but I did not approach him. I waited by my car after the last shot, making small talk, smiling, seemingly nonchalant, while inside I was weeping, for I was thinking of all that I had seen that night… and I fervently wished that I was a different person, one that was more beautiful. More brave. One that had the courage to sit with the fallen.

A Wrinkle in Time

When engineer Michele Besso passed away, his beloved friend Albert Einstein wrote a letter to Besso’s family. In it, Einstein shared his eloquent thoughts on death; that there was no division between past and future, and that life, death and after-life were of a singular existence: “…for us physicists believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.”

Einstein’s conceptualized vision of space-time was that it was like fabric; a fabric which  could be manipulated or folded in order to travel between past, present and future.

When I spread a quilt on the ground, it is not always perfectly smooth. A breeze may stir it as it descends, resulting in a wrinkle.

I believe that is what I witnessed Monday night. A wrinkle in time.

We had shot an all-nighter Sunday into Monday. I left the facility at around 8:45; I ate breakfast, and stretched out at 10:30 to catch a few hours of sleep. By 1 p.m., I was wide awake and prepping for Monday night’s setups.

A few hours later, it was nightfall, and there we were, camped under the shadow of the Hollywood sign, preparing to shoot the sequence from Episode 3, in which Ted falls in love with a beautiful young woman on the brink of suicide… only to discover that she is the ghost of Peg Entwistle.

The hills have changed since Peg’s last stand. Hollywoodland has been abbreviated to Hollywood; the sign is no longer accessible to the public, due to the long list of copycat suicides by young women addicted to the celebrity of Peg’s tragic exit from this world. Housing additions have sprung up; modern McMansions dot the hills and canyons alongside the behemoth structures of Tinseltown royalty gone by.

A full moon shone in the sky. It was time for the shoot to begin.

I watched, silent, as Peg stood atop the letter “H”. The moon was behind her; it cast an unearthly halo around her figure. Her eyes stared out into the night… I turned to see what she was looking at, and all I could see was blackness… and suddenly, the fabric of space-time had folded. We were there. The lights from the houses disappeared; the landscape dissolved into a black abyss. A marine layer had rolled in; a light fog enveloped us, muting light and sound. I looked back at Peg… she had taken a deep breath and closed her eyes. She trembled… I knew her next movement might well be her last. Her foot moved slightly, as if she were to take a step forward…

…and then, the lone cry of a coyote wafted up from the canyon below. It was joined by another, then another… and soon, came more cries from the adjacent canyons, until the entire region was filled with keening wails… the natural world’s prayer for the dead.

I wondered if Peg heard them that night.

Peg hesitated, and as she did, a man appeared. Ted – on his nightly park patrol. The beam of his flashlight shone on Peg’s carefully folded coat at the foot of the sign. He glanced up – and saw Peg. Shocked, he scrambled around the sign and scaled its back…

There Peg stood, on the very edge of the “H”. She teetered on its precipice. One false move from Ted, and she would plunge into darkness again. And so, he kept his distance. He soothed her with his voice; he was soft, almost paternal. Peg seemed more than just frightened, she seemed truly lost. The wrinkle was passed through again, and there they were, the lights of this modern Hollywoodland. I’m certain that they confused Peg, but in her shocked state, she seemed unable to articulate this.

I watched as Ted talked her down; how she seemed to trust him implicitly, and how, in helping Peg, Ted became the man that he always wanted to be. Strong. Heroic.

I followed the two of them down Mulholland. They were quiet; they shared that comfortable silence known only between lovers. I could tell that Ted had already fallen under Peg’s spell; his life would be irrevocably changed by this encounter. I watched as he struggled with what to do next. I knew that he could not leave this delicate beauty out there alone – and yet, she was a stranger to him. Ted took the next step: an introduction. “My name’s Ted,” he said. “Ted Harper…” as he held out his hand. Peg grasped his. “I’m Peg,” she replied. “Peg Entwistle.”

Shock washed over Ted’s face. Was she an illusion? Or was she real?

A Place Called Paradise

I spent Sunday night in Paradise.

Urban sprawl provides one with anonymity, as if the masses surrounding you form a shield of invisibility. You are indistinguishable amongst the masses. You cannot be seen for who – or what – you truly are.

It was under this protective veil that I entered the Paradise Bar.

There is no measure of time in Paradise, for there are no windows with which to gauge the hour of day. It is eternal midnight within its dark walls. A few mismatched bar stools, a couple of small seating areas – this is the sum of Paradise. It is a place where troubled souls venture, in order to numb the pain within.

Across from me were two men engaged in debate. One of them, the older, wore the clerical collar of a priest; the other was cloaked in black. Their discussion, barely audible, had the sense of a lifelong debate between the two. I wondered why the priest found such pleasure in his whiskey… what horror he was trying to forget… and yet, he seemed hopeful. Ebullient, almost, clinging to idealism the way a drowning man might clutch a water-logged seat cushion.

His companion was of a different ilk; dark, beautiful, intense. Detachment was his defense… and yet, a glimpse of something else. An offhand remark; a rare smile, a bit of self-deprecation… and pain. I watched as the mask was dropped. Anguish wrapped around him like a lover’s embrace – anguish, and hope. I thought of Janus, the two-faced god, and wondered which of the faces would become master, and which would become the slave.

A movement caught my eye – a young man stepped into the room. His clothes were rumpled, there was stubble on his cheeks. He seemed lost – and utterly alone.

He slid onto a stool, and began the age-old ritual of self-medication. On his right, a lone man. He seemed almost an anachronism in the bar – his suit was pressed, he wore a silken tie, and a fedora sat by his side. Like the rest in Paradise, he, too, seemed invisible in the world. Why was he here? Why so alone?

Paradise’s bartender was a youthful chap; I assumed that he was a writer, as he kept a journal close by his side. When he was not recording his musings or serving customers, his attentions were solely devoted to the cocktail waitress. Secret glances passed between them; every opportunity for contact was fully exploited. I thought of the head-rush of new love, of how one’s senses become amplified, of the feeling of sated pleasure. I wondered how long that this would last for them. For some people, this passion is a fleeting escape from the harsh inequities of life; for others, it is the coming together of souls. What will it be for them?

A young woman sat next to the rumpled man. She was fresh and pretty; clad in a simple pink dress, the epitome of the girl next door… and yet, within her eyes, I could sense abject loneliness – and something else. It was her eyes. Yes. They seemed older than she. Perhaps only I noticed, for the man next to her certainly did not. He zeroed in on her; to him, she seemed like oxygen to a dying astronaut. I could see her measure him; her need for love was palpable. Perhaps this time love will find her, I thought. Perhaps this time, everything will be okay.

And so, I sat in my darkened corner Sunday night in Paradise, and watched the stories that surrounded me. The two men rose, and slipped into the night. The young woman and the man left together. The young lovers whispered in the flickering lights, while the man in the suit drank alone… and I knew that their journeys were about to begin.

The All-American Succubus

Lillith may be as fresh-faced as a homecoming queen, and yet she is one of the oldest of those who live among us.

The story of Lillith is a cautionary tale about a modern young woman living in less than modern times. Lillith was Adam’s first wife, and, like women of today, believed that she was her spouse’s equal. Unfortunately, Adam did not share this belief. He wanted a mate who was uncomplicated, uneducated and submissive. He wanted to be served. He wanted a slave. And so, in this ancient world of patriarchal theocracy, Lillith was cast forth from Paradise, and forced to wander the earth for eternity.

I think about the shock that she must have felt upon awakening from the fall. How cruel her punishment was, for her only crime was insubordination. I think about the shame, the isolation that she felt, as she navigated through a sea of mortals. I think about Paradise, the memory of it seared into her brain, how she hungered to return home. And hunger she still does, for after the fall, Lillith was transformed into a succubus.

Succubi and incubi are specialized forms of vampires. They are sexual vampires. They may or may not drink the blood of their victims. They may or may not dine on their victim’s flesh. One thing is for certain – what they do is to drain the life-force from their victims, extinguishing them in an orgasmic frenzy.

I sit in the corner of the Paradise Bar. A man walks in – Craig. He’s boyish and rumpled; discontent is settled on his shoulders like a shrug. He sits at the bar, alone, and drinks Scotch.

Across from him, a beautiful young woman. Lillith. She watches Craig; I can feel her attraction to him – it is palpable. How ripe he is. The warmth that emanates from his flesh. I hear the thoughts as they run through her head – Maybe this time it won’t happen, maybe this time I won’t kill him, tonight will be different, maybe this time everything will be alright…

She speaks to Craig; he turns… and within moments he is smitten.

Perhaps tonight will be different. Perhaps tonight, everything will be alright.

For Lillith, the hunt begins.

The Trouble With Lucian

Not all fallen angels are as conflicted as Caim and Father Buer. For some, life on earth has become a sort of paradise. For beings such as Lucian, Los Angeles is a veritable all-you-can-eat human buffet.

For every protagonist there must be an equally forceful antagonist, and Lucian is a force to be reckoned with. He, too, served with Caim, as one of the Ancient Ones. He, too rebelled and fought in the Great War.

I see Lucian, before the Fall, growing envious of Caim’s rising star. I imagine him as a sort of supernatural Iago, always present, ever whispering into Caim’s ear, offering an insidious litany. He encourages Caim’s growing discontent;  Lucian nurtures and feeds the seeds of rebellion. Perhaps Paradise was too perfect for Lucian; perhaps his appetite for flesh, and the power that came with it, drove him. Fall he did… but instead of plummeting into the depths of despair, he rose – and thrived – amongst mankind.

Lucian is a master of manipulation. He prefers places of power – Wall Street, D.C., Rome. Wherever there is excess and privilege, Lucian is there. Every few decades, his persona dies – a car wreck, a mysterious plane crash – and Lucian retires into solitude for a period of time, only to rise again.

And thus, he rises, this time in Hollywood. Lucian embraces the City of Angels with gusto; he surrounds himself with carefully selected mortals – modern-day Renfields – to help him feed his fancies. He has crafted himself into an A-list movie star; he basks in luxury. At his side is his ever-faithful companion Beliala, an elegant yet bloodthirsty bitch if ever there was one.

In this new era of corporate capitalism and greed, Lucian thrives. He loves L.A., and all of its trappings. A new assistant has arrived to serve him – Alex, an ambitious junior agent. Alex has been hired by an age-old firm, which represents just a few select clients. Alex’s job is to find young Hollywood hopefuls, and send them, under the guise of an audition, to Lucian, like a lamb to the slaughter.

Soon, however, Lucian will himself be drawn into Caim’s private hell. Lucian, too, longs for the Chosen One.

For Lucian, Serafina might be the ultimate sacrifice. An offering of blood – that could launch the War against Man.

Saving Grace

The road to redemption is not a straight path; it is filled with twists and turns. One may encounter obstacles on the way; seemingly insurmountable barriers that must be overcome, in order to journey forward.

For Father Buer, this road is, at times, a perilous one. Like Caim, Buer is himself a fallen one; he served as Captain in Caim’s army, a seasoned warrior and elder advisor, whose devotion to his General – and a certain amount of hubris – led to his downfall.

Cast out of paradise, Buer, like the others, was forced to exist as an immortal amidst the sea of humanity that surrounded him. For many, this existence leads to darkness – and to despair. However, Buer found a way. He developed an idea, a belief, that the fallen ones could transform themselves through redemption, that they could all achieve a state of grace. For Buer, this meant to devote his existence to the Church; to give comfort and aid to those in need of it most – the indigent, the mad, the angels-turned-demons that live among us.

I’m not certain how far back Buer’s occupational choice extends, although I’ve seen a collection of religious icons at the Getty, and upon examining a 14th century panel, was struck by the face of one of the monks in the relief… how similar in shape and in tone to Buer’s. A certain sense of suffering within his eyes. He stands apart from his brethren, he seems lost in thought. Yes. I believe this to be Buer. I think about his decision to serve God, and if there was catalyst that compelled him to do so. What was it? Has he ever loved a mortal?

I watch him as he tends to the homeless. The social workers, the police all know him, for he spends his days weaving through the hell of Skid Row. They bring to him the untreatables; miserable wretches in filthy rags, who find no relief through traditional medical treatment, for the wretched ones are not human. The shame of being cast forth, the pain of living amongst humans, the longing for home – all of these elements have driven them mad. I wonder how this affects Father Buer. I wonder if he struggles for his own sanity. I suspect that at night, alone, these fears come to surface… but they have yet to break him.

I think about the day that Buer came to Skid Row, and found a new resident there. Weeping, frightened, babbling, he was clothed in filthy rags, his body covered with ulcers and putrescence. Buer knelt, and loosened the bindings around the other’s head… and discovered that this wretch was Caim. His general. His friend.

This discovery must have unnerved Buer, for Caim, like him, was one of the Ancient Ones. For Caim to have fallen so deep into despair was unheard of. I watch as Buer tends to Caim’s body – and to his soul. Years go by, with Caim trapped in darkness. One day, a glimmer of light – Buer sees recognition in Caim’s eyes. Another glimmer… and then, bit by bit, Caim emerges from darkness, and is finally restored to life.

And so, Buer continues his mission, to give comfort and aid to those who walk among us. He works tirelessly to restore them to grace, for he, too dreams of paradise. Redemption is the fragile thread that he clings to, for it is his last hope.

The Faces of They Live Among Us

You’ve been reading about the characters who live among us. Here are the wonderful actors who are giving them life (in no particular order – consider this a casting roundtable, L. to R.). Click on the pic to see them more up close and personal:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAIM: Geoffrey M. Reeves

SERAFINA: Ivet Corvea

FATHER BUER: Rolf Saxon

LUCIAN: Allen Marsh

CRAIG: James Thomas Gilbert

ALEX: Erik Kowalski

BETH: Jessica Nicole Webb

SAM: Don Shirey

JIMMY: Justin Baker

PEG: Kendra Munger

TED: David Stanford

BELIALA: Marcia French

LILLITH: Nina Rausch

ROCCO: Terence J. Rotolo

The Man in the Bar

The Paradise Bar is like many watering holes. It’s a place to drown sorrows. A place to debate the meaning of life. A place to go to be amongst others – anonymously… and that’s where the man in the bar comes in.

We first see the man in the opening scene of the Paradise. There he is, in his regular seat, a bottle of Jim Beam in one hand, his fedora next to the other. He is quiet, this man in the bar; he eavesdrops on the lives of others, but offers no clue about himself. Even if he wanted to, he could not, for the man in the bar is a ghost.

His name is Sam. He never gives his last name… but I have a feeling that I know it.

Sam was a P.I. in Hollywood, in the 40s. He enjoyed the company of dames and drink. He took the usual cases – philandering spouses, runaway heiresses, the occasional murder-for-hire. Ruthless and greedy, he’d take money from anyone – and shed no tears for anyone’s pain. He cashed the checks with a smile.  He consoled lonely wives with relish. That was, until the first week of January of 1947. That was when there was a knock on his door – a knock that changed his world.

A man stood in the doorway; middle-aged, clothes threadbare, his hands trembled with palsy. He placed a picture on Sam’s desk – the picture of a young woman. A raven-haired beauty with startling blue eyes. It was his daughter – and she had disappeared. He gave Sam what little money he had, and begged him to find her. Her name was Elizabeth.

Something shifted in Sam’s universe. Perhaps it was his longing for his own daughter, estranged from him, along with her mother, by his devotion to his job – and the women that came with it.

Sam took the case, and began pounding the streets of Downtown L.A., where Elizabeth was last seen. He followed her trail to the Biltmore hotel, where she had gone to meet a man – and there, the case went cold. He found no trace of her – until the morning of January 15, when he woke to find her picture splashed across the city papers. The headlines screamed “Sex Fiend Slaying Victim Found – Detectives describe butcher scene as worst ever,” and indeed it was.

The victim’s last name was Short. Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia.

For the next five years, Sam devoted his life to finding her killer. He took no other clients; he became obsessed with the case – wandering the crime scene over and over again, combing through cold cases and criminal records. Each night, he’d end his self-made shift at the Paradise, his ever faithful Jim Beam at his side.

His obsession took its inevitable toll, and on August 17, 1952, Sam was found dead in his office/apartment, the victim of a coronary.

Sam, ever pugnacious, refused to surrender to death. He vowed to find Elizabeth’s killer, and so, here he sits, night after night in the Paradise, going over the facts of the case, laying out rows of suspect, untangling webs of alibis, searching, sniffing for the truth.

Something in Sam’s life – and in the lives of others – is about to change. For soon, another young woman will be found dead, exactly as Elizabeth was. Same modus operandi – dismembered, mutilated, beaten. The girl could be Elizabeth’s twin sister. This discovery, this sickening crime lures Sam out of his ghostly dream-world and propels him into this life.

And so, with Sam, yet another story thread begins.