And the winner of the first ever WM3K is…
Peter Clark with his story “The Great Plains of Previs”
Again, our genres and prompts were…
- Magical Realism
- National Preztel Day
Here is Peter’s story
The Great Plains of Previs
by Peter Clark
Brad returned back to the set from craft services with a salted pretzel and a cup of honey mustard in his hand. The costume designer had perfected his outfit to fit the time period. He wore a tall brown leather cowboy hat, a black vest, a red bandanna, cowhide chaps, and a holster with a prop gun in it.
He sat in his chair and looked up at the enormous green screen in the warehouse along with all of the set designers and camera crew scurrying around frantically. Brad dipped his freshly baked pretzel into the mustard and shoved it into his mouth. A gob of mustard fell onto his vest.
A finger tapped him on the shoulder. “Are you seriously eating that right now?”
He turned around. “Whoa. Ramona, I see they’ve finally fit you in that dress.”
Ramona breathed heavily as she adjusted her tight blue dress. “When the writer’s said I would be playing a prostitute in a brothel I didn’t think I would have to wear this awful thing.”
“Yeah but you’re wearing it because I saved you. Remember we’re filming the second act first. That’s how movies work.”
She took a napkin and tried to rub off the mustard on Brad’s vest. “I’ve been on a set before you know. Just because you’ve been a movie star longer than I have doesn’t mean you get to boss me around. Besides, it’s like my agent told me, do a couple of humiliating roles and soon I’ll be playing the lead.”
He spoke with a mouthful of pretzel and mustard. “Really? You think being saved by me is humiliating?”
Ramona stared into his open mouth full of food. “No of course not. You’re my hero” she rolled her eyes.
“I’m gonna take that as a compliment.” He lifted a trash can off the floor and spat the rest of his pretzel out.
She looked at him with disgust.
“What? I gotta watch my carbs.” He brushed the crumbs off his chaps.
“I’m not saying those pretzels aren’t totally delicious,” said Ramona. “I just make it a rule not to eat while we’re about shoot a scene. It’s called professionalism.”
The director approached them. “Come on guys break it up. Thirty minutes until the action scene.” He put his hand on Brad’s shoulder. “Are you sure you don’t want to do this stunt?”
“I already told you no,” said Brad. He pointed up at the tall staircase in front of the green screen that lead up to a small ledge. “If you think I’m jumping off that thing and falling that far into a tub of green Styrofoam then you’re crazy.”
“I just figured I’d ask because Ramona volunteered to do it,” said the director. “I thought maybe she talked you into it.”
Brad grimaced at Ramona who was smiling deviously at him. “Fine,” he muttered. “I’ll do it.”
“No way! Thanks, Brad, this will make it easier for our special effects guys. Having to graph your face onto every shot is getting tiresome.”
He huffed and pointed his finger in her face. “If I die doing this it’s your fault.”
“One can only dream,” Ramona smirked.
They stood together atop the high ledge in front of the long stretch of green wall.
“I hate this,” said Ramona. She craned her neck to get a good look at the whole warehouse. “I hate that we’re filming a western indoors. This is so wrong. We should be filming on location with real horses, not tennis balls.” Ramona gestured over to the tennis ball propped up on a stick next to Brad with two eyes drawn on it with a permanent marker. “It’s just wrong. What happened to good ole’ fashioned movie making? I signed on to make a western not some special effects filled bullshit.”
“I’m afraid you’d have me to blame for that my lady,” said Brad. “I requested we do everything in the studio and since I’m first on the call sheet that means I call the shots.”
“Seriously? What about realism? Wouldn’t you rather ride a real horse instead of one that’s entirely computer generated?”
“Nope,” Brad said with a nod. “CGI horses don’t buck or throw you off of them. Trust me it’s a nightmare.”
“Uh-huh,” she bellowed back at him. “We could at least film outdoors.”
“And be bitten by a million mosquitos? No thank you. I love previsualization. You know what that means right? Previs. Meaning they, and by they I mean nerds, add the special effects in post after we’re done filming. This right here is the Promised Land. No land at all. Can’t you see it?” He gestured out to the walls of the warehouse in a grandiose fashion. “The Great Plains of Previs. Thousands and thousands of computer-generated acres as far as I can see. Properly air conditioned with snacks at the ready.”
“Wow. You really are as big of a primadonna as they say.”
He peered down at the deep space between them and the Styrofoam. “This is the exact reason why. Really doing things gets people hurt. It’s just a movie. Why should I have to cake on layers of bug spray for nine hours and get kicked in the knee caps by a horse?”
Ramona muttered under her breath, “If the horse really knew you it wouldn’t just kick you in the knee caps.”
A bright light shone on both of them and a boom mic operator shuffled sideways in their direction.
The director’s voice rang out from his megaphone. “Okay. I need you two to be holding hands.”
Ramona grasped Brad’s hand which still had a bit of mustard on it. She wiped it off then grabbed his palm again.
“Good. Now imagine a big explosion just happened behind you and you have to jump off this cliff into the rushing river beneath you to save yourselves.”
Several voices rang out from different directions. “Okay,” said someone off in the dark. “Quiet on the set,” added another voice.
“And action!” the director shouted.
Brad and Ramona leaped off the ledge and fell. As they entered the pit of Styrofoam they were shocked to feel cold water rush to their bodies.
He felt like the air had left his body. In a split second, Brad realized they were under water. He swam as quickly as he could to the surface and gasped for air.
Ramona popped up to the surface of the raging river just behind him. “What the hell is going on?” she screamed and tried to stay afloat.
The sun was suddenly beating down on them.
Brad splashed around and began to panic as they plummeted down the river. He reached out for a branch and caught it in his hands. He reached for Ramona and gripped her wrist. “Hold on!” He pulled them out of the river and onto dry land.
She coughed up water onto the rust-colored dirt.
There was nothing but dirt around them. Flat dirt.
“Where are we?”
“I don’t know,” said Brad. He flipped over onto his side. “The last thing I remember we jumped into the…”
Their bodies bolted upright at the same moment.
“This must be some kind of stupid prank. Hank the camera guy has had it out for me since day one.” Brad stood up.
“How would they even pull off a prank like this? Look around you. We’re in the middle of nowhere!”
An old man covered in soot and drinking from a tall brown bottle sauntered over to them, tripping over his feet and his words. “The name’s Boone Butch Earle,” he uttered in a squeaky tone. “Who in…” he belched, “lords name,” he hiccupped, “are you two?”
Brad noticed he had a gun strapped to his side. “Whoa, whoa, whoa drunk hobo guy. We don’t want any trouble. Neither of us has our wallets or anything on us.”
Boone Butch Earle noticed Brad’s gun in his holster. “Nice gun ya got there? You thinkin’ about challenging ole’ Earle. Cause’ if you lay a finger on me then my brother Blue will kill you both.”
“I don’t have a…” Brad remembered and took out the prop gun. “No, no, this isn’t a…”
“Draw!” screeched Boone Butch Earle. He pulled out his gun.
Ramona snatched Brad’s prop gun from his hands and threw it like a boomerang at Boone Butch Earle’s head.
The heavy prop gun hit his head and Boone Butch Earle fell down as he shot his gun. Boone hit the ground hard in a puff of smoke.
Brad hit the ground. “Shit!”
“Are you okay?” asked Ramona. She leaned down over him. “Did you get shot?”
“My leg!” Brad squealed.
She coughed over the cloud of smoke from the gun and when it finally cleared she saw his leg. It had a bloody hole straight through it. “Goddamn it. That weirdo actually shot you!”
“I know!” Brad continued to scream. “I thought that was obvious!” he barked back at her.
She went over to Boone Butch Earle’s body.
There was a bloody mark where she had hit him on the forehead with the gun that streaked down onto the dirt. His eyes were open and lifeless.
“Shit! I think I killed this guy!” She turned him onto his belly and checked his pulse. “He’s dead.”
“Even though I hate you,” Brad coughed as he sat up. “I’ll testify in court that it was self-defense.”
“I saved your life!” she screamed down at him. Ramona picked up the bottle of alcohol off the ground.
“It’s so fucking hot.”
She read the label on the front of the bottle out loud. “Whiskey. 1888.” She did a double take. “1888 Brad!”
“Yeah. That’s probably the year the movie’s set in. It’s just a prop.”
She sniffed the top of the bottle. “This isn’t a prop. It’s real alcohol.”
“Let me see,” said Brad. He took the bottle from her, smelled it, and then took a swig. “Yeah, that’s real.”
“And you had to drink it to know that?”
“Just checking. So can you call an ambulance or…?”
“Of course,” she responded. Ramona took out her phone in a hurry and called 9-1-1. “It’s not working. I don’t have any service or Wi-Fi. You don’t think…”
He stood up and limped away from her. “Nope, not gonna even consider that.”
“What if for some reason when we jumped in the fake river in 2019 we ended up in a real one in 1888.”
“And you said it.” He coughed impatiently. “I love your imagination but shit like that doesn’t happen in real life. Somebody thought it would be funny to dump a couple of movie stars in the desert. They probably drugged us then dragged us into the middle of the Mojave Desert, a four-hour drive from L.A., where a crazy guy shot me. Great prank. Still trying to work out if being shot was part of it. Now let’s walk back to civilization please.” He fell to the ground. “Shit. I’m going to need your help walking.”
“Yeah, no shit.” She helped him up. “Come on.” Ramona admired their surroundings. “Isn’t it beautiful out here?”
“No,” spat Brad.
She walked for miles with him leaning on her shoulder.
He dragged his bloody leg against the dirt. He had tied his red bandanna around the wound but it didn’t help much. As his leg bled he got progressively more tired.
“There!” she yelled. “I can see something in the distance.”
He clenched his eyes closed and swallowed dryly. “If you’re seeing a mirage I’m going to kill you.”
“No! That’s a building! Come on!” She nearly picked him up off the ground as she dragged his toned body across the ground.”
As they got closer they were able to see that it was a small town. Modest wooden buildings stood in a row facing each other.
“Can you explain this?” she asked Brad.
He could hardly open his eyes. “I don’t care. Just get me to a doctor.”
She rushed him into the nearest building. The doors swung open and she instantly recognized it. “This is a saloon.”
Everyone in the bar stopped drinking, eating, and fighting to look over at them.
Ike the bartender got up. “Who are you?”
“We’re travelers from far away. Please, my friend needs help.”
A man in one of the seats stood up. “Maybe I could be of assistance, I’m a doc…”
Ike cut him off. “We don’t talk to new people. That’s one of the rules. I’m sorry. Your business is no good here.” He threw his dirty towel over his shoulder and put his glass down.
“Is that because of Boone Butch Earle? Because we killed that guy a couple of hours ago.”
All of the patrons in the bar were still for a moment until each one of them got up and cheered.
“You killed him?”
“By accident,” said Ramona.
“I helped,” Brad added. “Sort of.”
“Come with me,” said Ike. He gestured over to the doctor.
Ike, Dr. Wayne, Brad, and Ramona sat around a campfire as the doctor mended to Brad’s wounded leg.
“This is bad,” said Dr. Wayne.
“I know,” Brad muttered back angrily.
“If this doesn’t feel better within the week you’ll have to see me again.”
“Because at that point we’ll have to consider amputation.”
Brad gulped hard.
“You’ll be fine kid,” said Ike. “Where did you say you were from again?”
“The future,” said Brad. “In this place called Los Angel…”
She covered his mouth. “We’re from out of town.”
“Uh-huh.” Ike took a pot of pork out of the fire and held it under Brad’s nose. “Some food might get you talkin’ some.”
Brad almost threw up in his mouth as he dodged the pot. “No thank you I’m vegan.”
“Brad!” Ramona punched his shoulder. “You need to eat.”
“No. Not happening. I’ll find some grass later.”
Ike rolled his eyes. “I can see why Boone shot you now. You’re terrible.”
“Thank you,” said Ramona.
Brad smacked a fly on his neck and quietly convulsed with rage.
“It’s so beautiful out here,” said Ramona. She looked around the campsite at the small town. “I feel like I’ve been missing out my whole life.”
“Well, it won’t be so beautiful come tomorrow. Now that you’ve killed Boone Butch Earle you’ll have to deal with his brother The Blue Bandit. Those bastard brothers have taken this town hostage for a while now. Within hours he’ll hear word and be back for revenge. That means you, sweetheart.”
“Me?” asked Ramona.
“I was talking about him.” Ike chuckled.
“Haha very funny,” Brad mouthed. His stomach grumbled. It felt like he hadn’t eaten for 131 years. He picked up a piece of pork and nibbled it. “This is so wrong. I’m going to need so much therapy after this is over.”
“What I meant to say is he’s going to kill both of ya’s when he finally gits here.”
Ramona took out her phone.
The light of the screen took the bartender and the doctor by surprise.
“What is that?” asked Ike. He tried to get a glimpse of it.
“Uh… it’s a type of lantern.”
“Bad lie,” said Brad. “Why do you even have that thing out? It won’t work here remember.”
“Force of habit I guess. My first idea was to look up who this bastard was.”
“Too bad Wikipedia wasn’t invented yet right?” Brad joked. “Come on Ramona are you seriously still buying into this? These guys are actors. This is some fake West World bullshit marketing stunt.”
“You’re an idiot.” She turned back to Ike. “What year is it?”
“1888 last time I checked,” Ike laughed. “Why?”
She went back on her phone. “I saved files of research to read for my part. It’s screenshots from Wikipedia. Shit, twenty percent battery left. What day is it?”
“January the 11th,” added Dr. Wayne.
“You screenshotted Wikipedia to prepare for a role?”
“I was cast last minute!” she retorted. “No way. Tomorrow there’s going to be a blizzard. The Schoolhouse Blizzard of 1888. We could gather everyone in town and move somewhere the Blue Bandit won’t find us. We just have to warn everybody.”
“You can tell the future?” asked Ike.
She read the battery. Nineteen percent. “I won’t be able to for much longer.”
“Tell me this,” said Dr. Wayne. “If there’s going to be a blizzard then why is it so warm.”
“It says here it was uncommonly warm before the blizzard hit which is why so many people died. They didn’t move in time and were killed.”
“Well I’ll be damned,” said Dr. Wayne. “She’s like the Gypsy you got downstairs Ike.”
They went into the basement of the saloon where there was an old dusty fortune-teller machine. It was modeled after a gypsy.
“I built this thing way back. Still working out the kinks. Wanna try it?” Ike pressed a button and a card spat out. He handed it to Ramona.
She read the card aloud. “You are here for a reason.”
“Look at that!” said Ike. He slapped her back. “You’re the Gypsy! Here to save us all!”
“Yeah woo-hoo! Come on let’s go home, Ramona. I’m tired.” Brad yawned.
“Don’t you get it!” she yelled at him from across the room. “There is no going home! Our job now is to blend in and keep our heads down. In your terms… method act.”
“For the last time, we’re not in the old west…”
Blood spurted from Brad’s mouth as he fell to the ground.
Ramona grabbed the gun from Ike’s pocket and shot into the dark.
They walked over to the body.
It was a man with a blue bandanna on.
“That’s The Blue Bandit,” said Ike. “You just shot him in the head.” Ike kicked his limp boot. “Dead as a doornail.”
Dr. Wayne turned to her. “You lookin’ for a job?”
Ramona picked up his hat off the ground and brushed it off. “Can you get me a horse?”
That night she wrote down everything she could before her phone died. She had all the history she needed to predict every disaster coming their way. They all rode off together the next day before the blizzard hit and the town grew to love her. Over time she became a legend. They called her The Gypsy; the sheriff who could see into the future. Ramona wouldn’t go back even if she could but there were times she still yearned for a fresh pretzel from craft services.