As a sort-of companion to last week’s new Christmas Story from Siegel City, today we’re going to the world of the Curtain for a tale of New Year’s Eve. This new story stars Max, Brie, and Marissa, stars of Opening Night of the Dead, at a Hollywood party where things go monstrously wrong…
Baby New Year
Brie Sanders had absolutely no right to be upset that Max and Marissa had a date for New Year’s Eve. She knew this, as clearly as she knew that by half past ten she was probably going to be alone in her apartment, working on her second bottle of wine, but she was upset nonetheless. Max Quinn was her best friend and nothing more – and that had been by her choice, let there be no confusion about that. The bulky stunt performer (twice her size even when she was having a fat day) pursued her for months before she made it perfectly clear that she simply didn’t have that sort of interest in him. He’d accepted it, but it was clearly easier to live with once Marissa Carson entered the picture. Brie didn’t really care for Marissa at first — it was a natural reaction to finding someone hiding under your makeup trailer with a camera, she supposed – but they’d come to a sort of understanding after they’d saved each other’s lives two or three times during the mercifully-averted zombie uprising at Climax Pictures.
It had been that kind of year.
Brie was absolutely looking forward to seeing the ball drop on the night of the 31st, but even though she was invited to the same party, she didn’t really want to be with Max and Marissa when it happened. Max was still her best friend, and he’d held off on his obvious attraction to Marissa for some time because he could tell it was making her uncomfortable, but finally Brie simply told him to nut up and take the woman out, if for no other reason than she couldn’t stand watching them make doe eyes at each other every time they got together to look at monster data.
Last New Year’s Brie never really would have suspected where the next 365 days would take her. She’d gone from being one of Climax Pictures’s most reliable makeup artists to a kind of apocalypse averter to someone scrounging for work from indie movies because the studio didn’t want someone on their lot who was on television a half-dozen times telling people the living dead were shuffling around on their campus. And that was just at Halloween, barely two months ago. Since then she’d learned the zombies barely scratched the surface of the weird things in the world.
When she flipped her phone on, she saw 429 unread e-mails waiting for her, and she quickly turned it off. She couldn’t quite take looking at her e-mail anymore, since it was all the same: “I know you’re going to believe me…” “I went through the same thing…” “Do you think my dog Sparky could come back?” and so on and so on and so on. The only thing worse than the e-mails about her zombie fighting were the pictures people sent of things that may have been zombies or may have been an armadillo that got plastered on the highway.
And it hadn’t stopped with zombies. A week before Thanksgiving, she got an e-mail about some sort of demonic turkey in Maryland. The week before that it was a possible werewolf outside of Lafayette, Louisiana. Black Friday seemed to bring with it fears of a vampire hunting customers at a Best Buy in Austin, Texas, and she’d spent her Christmas Eve bombarded with messages, tweets, and Instagram pictures of a headless apparition roaming the streets of London demanding a Figgy Pudding, whatever the hell that was.
The three of them talked about these things frequently. Brie didn’t quite understand why people were slamming them with all of these things. Max shrugged and said, “I think they just want someone to confirm that they aren’t crazy.” Marissa had a different opinion: “They know we kick zombie ass. They want to know if we can put the smackdown on all the other creepy-crawlies out there.”
Brie dropped her phone to the couch. The only thing she was going to smack down tonight was this bottle of chocolate wine – twice the vice in half the time, it was perfect.
When her phone buzzed with Max’s text tone, she almost didn’t look at it, but years of friendship compelled her to pick it up. It was a photo message: he and Marissa smiling, doing a selfie in front of the ball that was slated to drop at the New Year’s party Marissa got them invited to. Marissa – hair pulled back into a black bun on top of her head – wore the same snarky smile when she cleaned up as she did at her dirtiest. Every time she looked at Brie, it was impossible to shake the notion that Marissa was weighing the situation and considering herself just a little smarter. To be fair, though, she gave that same smile to everybody. Max, on the other hand, looked like a kid who woke on Christmas Day to find the world’s cutest puppy in a box poked through with air holes under his tree. She tried to look past them to the ball that was being dropped.
The party was being held by Goremania, a small studio that specialized in what they called “Horror Docudramas” – movies that re-created supposedly true stories of creature encounters, although their versions tended to have prettier people who wore fewer undergarments than the real participants. The ball in question wasn’t your usual mirrored disco number, but a huge thing made of green and yellow scales, each about the size of a cafeteria tray. The ball itself was a good twenty feet in diameter, and she was surprised at the elaborate rope-and-pulley system it was attached to. She would have thought it would have been designed specifically to attach to the cables that would lift it, rather than create a perfect sphere that necessitated nets and extra ropes. Then again, it didn’t appear the designer worked quite as hard as Goremania wanted – one of the scales behind Marissa’s head was clearly dangling, about to fall off.
The message that came with the picture was perfectly Max and perfectly irritating at the same time: “Wish u were here.” If she’d wanted to be there, Max, she would have been, so could he maybe just let it go? She thumbed the phone off and dropped it to the couch again, grabbing her bottle of wine. She contemplated getting up for a clean glass – the only drinking receptacle in reach was the Rodney Rooster mug she’d used for her tequila shots – then decided against it. Nobody else was going to be drinking out of this bad boy – she put it to her lips and tipped it back.
The smooth blend of red wine with chocolate cream coated her throat and, after a few gulps, let her pull the bottle away with a smile on her face. Her mother always told her that calories didn’t count between Thanksgiving and New Year – she’d have to ask her the next time she talked if things reverted back when the clock struck midnight or if she had the rest of January 1 to marinate in sweetness. She drank a little more and, after the equivalent of two or three glasses, she looked back down at her phone. Maybe checking out her e-mail wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. Hearing from people having a worse holiday than she was may well cheer her up.
There were, as she now expected, dozens of pictures of things that may or may not be monster-related: bites that were probably mosquitoes, although the sender swore it was a vampire; a scrap of grimy cloth that probably came from an ace bandage rather than a mummy’s wrapping; some that were just nonsensical, like the one from a painter who kept swearing a little bald man was chasing him and killing anybody whose picture he painted. She really liked the international stories best, though. In Ireland, a ten-year-old girl who followed Marissa’s website was certain she had evidence of a Banshee. A hunter in South Africa wove a story – pun intended – of his encounter with an enormous spider. Dozens of teenagers from everywhere in the world told of an unreasonably tall, skinny gentleman with no face that was pursuing them relentlessly. And then this one from Japan – one with a photograph – from a boy who thought he had evidence of a sea creature of some kind.
Actually, as she looked at the picture of a boy of about ten years old standing next to a claw as tall as he was, she started to recognize him. It wasn’t just the wine, she’d seen this kid’s picture – he’d written her before. She went back to her inbox and did a search for e-mails from the same account and found a half-dozen, each about the same topic: giant monsters. In this one he found a claw. In the next it was a tooth. Once it was an enormous pile of… well, she sincerely hoped it was just dirt, but the boy was convinced it was monster droppings. He was pointing to the tip of the pile, which was a dirty, stained white color, and she decided to flip to the next e-mail without pursuing the matter any farther.
The boy had evidently followed a trail of such artifacts, tracing them all the way back to a volcanic cave. He had a lot of shots of the cave, including one that showed a clear trail worn into the rock in front of it, going down to the sea. If one was inclined to believe in such things, it was easy to imagine some beast walking back and forth between the cave and the ocean, gathering food, bringing it into the cave, maybe to a—
The next picture gave her a start. That wasn’t what she thought it was. It had to be the wine this time, the kid’s story was impossible.
Then again, three months ago she would have called a zombie rampage at a movie studio impossible too. Who the hell was she to judge?
Ten minutes to midnight, and Max Quinn was having the New Year’s Eve of his life. Marissa knew everybody here, and he’d spent the entire evening bouncing from one table to another, hearing totally insane stories about people who had monster encounters. Considering his own experiences, Max was ready to believe each and every one of them. At table six, an old stuntman told about the time he’d encountered a plant creature while shooting a film in a swamp. Three different girls at three different tables wove yarns of a dark, brooding man who never took his sunglasses off, and who disappeared with friends of theirs who later turned up with no eyes. A producer who was born in New York was babbling to his friends about a man made of clay that would come to life and attack people in his village when he was a child. Something had happened this year, Max knew. A lot of these stories were old, very old, but ever since the footage of the zombie swarm at Climax Studios made it out, seeming to corroborate the “Curtain” video from a few years ago, people were far more willing to talk about their weird experiences than ever before. Sure, a lot of people still called it a hoax, still said it was all crazy stuff cooked up by a movie studio, but a lot of people said that about the moon landing too. Frankly, the idea that a water-breathing beast-man was swimming off the coast of Long Island made a lot more sense to him than anything he heard people say about Stanley Kubrick.
The joy of being in California was that, even on New Year’s Eve, you could count on beautiful weather. With a light salt breeze, the air was just cool enough that Max wasn’t uncomfortable in his suit, still warm enough that Marissa could wear that low-cut dress and make him the envy of the crowd, and perfect enough that holding the party on a pier rented out just for the occasion seemed like a great idea. At the end of the dock, an iron mast had been erected to hoist the unusual scaled New Year’s ball into the air in… he checked his watch… just nine more minutes. As they walked the length of the dock for the third time, Max felt himself reaching out for Marissa’s hand. Was that okay? Was he allowed to hold it? He wasn’t sure how she would react to such a thing, so—
“Oh, come on,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “I saw you looking at it.”
“Naw, it’s cute.”
“Thanks for bringing me.”
“Thanks for coming. Now I’ve got somebody with me big enough to punch out Samuel Billingsley if he tries to grope me like he did last year.”
“What, the producer? You know him?”
“That’s why I like you, Max, you’re a big picture kind of guy.”
There was shouting down the dock – someone pushing his way through the crowd. Or her… yeah, from the voice it was probably a her. And familiar. And shouting Max’s name.
“Is that Brie?” Marissa said.
“Brie and a bottle of chocolate wine,” Max said. “This is going to be Valentine’s Day all over again.”
“Max! Marissa! Where the hell are – hey, stop grabbing at my shirt, I was invited, jackass!”
Max rushed to the front of the dock, Marissa shortly behind him, and found where Brie was shouting at a security guard. The guard, to his credit, was trying to explain that, sure, her name was on the list, but that didn’t mean it was okay for her to jump the curb in a red zone when she parked, and he was slightly concerned about the mailbox trailing behind her, hooked to her exhaust pipe. “Brie?” Max said, running up to her. “How much have you had to drink?”
“Oh it’s fine,” Brie said. “It’s chocolate wine. There’s no chocolate in alcohol, you know.”
“I don’t think you get to stay home alone anymore,” Marissa said.
“Shush your face and look at your phone,” Brie pointed at Max’s pocket. “I wouldn’t have had to drive here if either of you answered your phone.”
Max pulled his phone out to find three missed calls from Marissa, as well as six text messages. “Sorry,” he said, hitting the buttons to play his voicemail. “I guess I didn’t hear it ring – the ocean and that.” He played the most recent voicemail. Brie’s voice came from the phone, obviously already drunk, saying, “I told you. Didn’t I tell you? You didn’t answer the phone and now I gotta come down there myself or you’re all gonna be stepped on, and then I’ll need a new best friend and I don’t like anybody.”
“Love you too, Brie,” he said, turning off the phone. “What’s this all about?”
“Here, look. I got this e-mail with this picture of monster shit.”
“Not just that, look.” She held up her own phone, where she showed him a photograph of a small Asian boy standing next to a large claw of some kind. She flipped through, showing him with a huge tooth, enormous footprints, and a white-and-brown pile of… Max didn’t want to speculate.
“Why are you showing me all this?”
“You gotta look at the last one. Look!”
Max flipped the phone one more time and pulled up a shot taken with a flash. The subject of the picture seemed to be in a cave, and the picture was somewhat muddy. He could tell whatever he was looking at was supposed to be big, round… but beyond that, it didn’t really look familiar. “What am I supposed to be seeing here, Brie?”
“Wha… you don’t recognize it?”
“Should I? The name of the e-mail is ‘Kaiju Egg,’ I guess that’s what I’m looking for?”
“NO! UGH! Here, Marissa, look.”
She gave the phone a quick glance. “Kaiju Egg? Sure, I can roll with that.”
“UGGGGGH!” Marissa looked past them and grabbed the first person she saw – a waiter with a tray of champagne glasses that nearly fell, all but the one Brie grabbed and downed in one swallow. “Hey, you! Do you know what this is in this picture?”
The confused waiter glanced at the screen, then back at her. “Yeah, it’s at the end of the dock. Are you okay, miss?”
She spun on Max and Marissa. “SEE?”
“What do you mean, ‘the end of the dock’?” Max asked. He looked at the picture, then at the end of the dock again, then back at the picture. The one of the huge egg with green-and-yellow scales.
“Oh jeez,” he said.
The head of Goremania was a young man named Jake Giles, although Marissa doubted the name was any more authentic than his tan. Giles kept his hair perpetually slicked back, and although his perfectly straight teeth always shone through his wide smile, the smile rarely made it to his eyes. In short, he was everything Marissa expected to find in Hollywood, and the only reason she made contact with the man is because he was one of the few people in town who didn’t treat her like she was a lunatic when she started talking about the monster cases she’d been investigating the last few months. Still, he threw a hell of a party. And if Brie was right, it was about to get even wilder.
Giles was sitting under an ice sculpture of the Grizzly Gremlin, star of Goremania’s most popular film of the year, prematurely sipping on a glass of champagne, when Marissa led Max and Brie up to his table, Max with something in his hand. He put the glass down and smiled. “Marissa, my peach! How are you?”
“Just ducky, Jake. Look, that ball of yours – who made it?”
“Made it? Nobody made it, sweetheart. At least, nobody alive today. That there is a genuine artifact from an ancient culture of monster-seekers. I imported it from–”
“Japan?” Brie asked. He smiled at her.
“Hey, you know your stuff. Aren’t you Brienne Sanders?”
“Brie. And yes.”
“Seen your make-up, you do great work. Who are you working for these days?”
“Oh.” Brie suddenly straightened up, forcing the slur out of her speech. “I’m… uh… freelancing.”
“Well if you need work…”
“Sorry Jake,” Marissa broke in, “but we don’t have time for the usual studio horseshit. Look, that ball – it’s not what you think it is.”
“My guys tell me the Japanese used it to summon monsters right out of the ocean. Giant ones. I thought it would be a nice touch to use it on the docks.”
“If you don’t get it off the docks, it may touch all of us,” Max said. Marissa grabbed at the thing Max was holding – a large, greenish plate of some kind.
“Hey, that looks like one of the scales from the ball.”
“Dammit, they told me that thing was solid! If it’s starting to come apart–”
“Focus, Jake,” Marissa said. “It’s not coming apart, it’s hatching. That thing is a kaiju egg.”
“A kaiju. A giant monster thing. They lay eggs and that’s one of them, and we think the scales falling off mean it’s about to hatch.”
The wind kicked up just then, spraying ocean water gently across their faces. Marissa looked to the end of the dock, where the water whipped up more fiercely, splashing at the egg at the top of the mast. In the wind, Marissa saw another scale flake off and twirl away into the sea.
“Do you actually expect me to believe there’s some sort of baby monster inside that egg? Marissa, honey, please.”
“Jake, your top-grossing movie last year was about a three-foot monster that attacks an entire den of bears, and you presented it as ‘Based on a True Story’. Why is this hard to believe?”
“Well… based on a true story, Marissa, that’s a pretty general term…”
“Just get that thing off the dock, okay?”
“What, now? We’re going to drop it in five minutes!”
“When it hits it’s going to kill someone!” Max’s objection almost went unheard – just as he spoke a wave spiked in the water and crashed into the dock hard enough to shake it. This time, several people standing in the general area of the ball were soaked as well; some of them walked away with outrage on their faces, as though they were somehow surprised when the ocean spray had the audacity to spray out of the ocean.
“What’s wrong with you people?” Giles said. “Look, we’ve got a party going on. You can go back and enjoy it or you can get the hell out!”
Brie hissed out an exaggerated sigh. “Fine.” She spun and started to walk away. Max reached for her, but she shook her head. “Max. I’ve got this.”
She stormed away into the crowd, which was starting to form on Giles. The wind was kicking up now, and water was almost shooting over the edge of the dock. One of the older guests, a guy Marissa thought was a director, pointed at him. “Dammit, Jake, you said the weather would be good!”
“You can’t predict the weather, Steve! Didn’t you see Summer Days, Bloody Nights?”
“Well you should have known that the tide was going to go out!” He pointed over the dock, where the water was draining away. Marissa was certain it had been much, much higher just minutes ago. The huge clock beneath the ball showed 11:57, and at 11:49 the water line had almost touched the dock. Now there was at least twelve feet of clearance.
In the distance, the waves were gathering – rising even.
And in the heart of the bulging wave, there was a pair of glowing blue lights, perfectly positioned like headlights… or eyes.
There was a honking sound, and Brie’s voice howling. “GET OUT OF THE WAY, YOU IDIOTS!” she shouted, her car tooling along the dock. People leapt out of the way, food carts and tables were knocked aside, and the car made a straight course to the mast at the end of the dock. She slammed the car into the mast, smashing the clock at the bottom to pieces and breaking it from the moorings holding it in place. It tipped, swinging down and landing, dangling over the draining water. The ball – the egg, call it what it was – swayed from the cables in the net Giles had arranged for it. More scales cracked and fell off into the water and it bounced in the air.
“Oh Christ,” Marissa said. “Max, hold my purse.”
She opened the small bag she’d carried with her, took something out of it, and handed it to him. When he saw what she held, his eyes nearly popped. “Are you crazy?”
“No, Brie is crazy. I’m just being practical.”
Marissa shoved her way through the panicking mob, rushing to the mast and climbing out onto it. She slid along the metal, feeling her pantyhose slide, snag and rip beneath her. Well, after this she probably wouldn’t be having the happy new year she’d been hoping for with Max anyway. She inched her way out until she was in reach of the net, then opened the knife she’d kept in her purse. It wasn’t a small penknife either – this was a large utility blade, one with a serrated edge that would work nicely on cutting, for example, canvas straps or strips of netting. She stabbed down and slashed at the net, cutting through cords two and three at a time. The egg continued to bounce, jerking the net and mast around and making it hard for her to keep her grip.
She cut through another group of cords. This time, the egg lurched and she tipped over. She held on to the mast with her right arm, cutting with the left, realizing too late she should have done it the other way around. With the next cut, the egg lurched again, and this time she slipped. She almost fell, but something caught onto the back of her dress, yanking it away from her back. She looked up and saw Max smiling down at her. He’d climbed out to the end of the mast. “Why the hell didn’t you let me do this part? I’m the stunt man.”
She just smiled. “Unzip me.”
“WHAT? Now? I mean…”
“I just can’t reach, Romeo. I need to get further down.”
Behind them, some happy drunk actually had the wherewithal to start a countdown. “It’s almost midnight!” he shouted. “Come on, everybody! TEN!”
Max pulled down the zipper, allowing Marissa to spill forward while he held on to the back of the dress. At “NINE!” she hacked out with her knife, slashing more of the cords. “SEVEN!” found the egg fumbling, almost halfway out of the net. She slipped again, but Max held her steady. At “FIVE!” the next slash made the egg tip over, and at “THREE!” it spilled into the air. The mast bounced back up and, again, Marissa almost fell, but Max kept his grip both on her and the beam. At “ONE!” she was steady in his arms, and by the time “HAPPY NEW YEAR” echoed behind them, the egg was being swallowed by the ocean.
From the bulging water in the distance, there was an incredible cry. The sound was deafening, like no animal Marissa ever heard before, and even Max nearly lost his grip as it made the entire mast vibrate. But nothing was affected like the egg beneath them. Bobbing in the water, the remaining scales cracked and shattered, splintering into the surf. From inside, a tail whipped out, shoving aside what was left of the shell and freeing the creature within. It was the size of a small horse, with a body that reminded Marissa of an enormous gecko, but with a much longer neck and high ridges along its back. It looked up at her, blue eyes glowing, sea water spraying against its new, raw, purple skin, and bellowed. The baby’s cry was much like the one that came from the ocean, but higher pitched and less vibrant. It was almost cute.
The baby fell into the water and immediately began to swim in the direction of the larger creature. As they converged, the water rushed in towards the dock, crashing upwards and spraying everybody. Max and Marissa were both soaked through, and Marissa was glad she’d worn a black bra under her black dress. As the water pulled back out into the ocean, the creatures disappearing into the distance, Max and Marissa started to pull themselves back up the mast.
“What… what the hell?” Giles asked, soaked, staring, unable to comprehend how his party could have gone badly so quickly.
“Told you,” Marissa said, climbing off the mast.
“Oh yeah. Zip me up, loverboy.”
He did so and the two of them walked over to Brie’s car, where she was giggling like crazy behind the airbag. “Oh, this was so much better than what I thought I was going to be doing tonight!” she said.
They helped her from her car and, together, walked down the dock, past dozens of stunned faces. How many of them would believe this tomorrow? Marissa wondered if any of them would write it off as drunken reveling… if even Giles would recognize what had happened.
Whatever. It didn’t really matter.
“That was pretty ballsy, girl,” Marissa said to Brie, loading her into the back seat of Max’s car.
“Thanks. You didn’t do so bad either.”
“You guys actually do have a lot in common,” Max said. “You both did great out there.”
“Maybe we could do this more often,” Marissa said. Max smiled and nodded. Brie just rolled her eyes.
“God, I hope not,” she said. “Not even with the chocolate wine.”