|Screen Siren by Annabeth Leong|
Director Sam Raymond lacks the star power to work with living actresses—instead, the studio makes him stretch his rock-bottom budgets by casting the undead. By night, he labors at a screenplay for the actress he hopes to cast one day, the lovely Jessica Savage.
In cruel Hollywood, however, aging hopefuls sometimes arrange to die in order to have a chance of appearing in a casting call—what used to be called suicide has become a career move. Jessica succumbs to temptation and appears on Sam’s lot as part of a zombie “meat pile.”
Sam recognizes the dangerous intelligence in her eyes, but he can’t bring himself to shoot her. He’s determined to get the movie and the woman he wants, no matter what he has to risk in the process. (M/F)
Sam has rejected nearly every female specimen. He is only so critical when he’s in a bad mood—when he feels overlooked. He looks to see what options are left and stops, mouth open all the way now.
How many times has he dreamt of being face to face with her? How many times has he had the shameful, clichéd fantasy about her and the casting couch? How many times has he envisioned her sharp and delicate face upturned and eager to please? He once went to see her in a play and spent the entire two hours staring at a bruise on the inside of her right elbow, wishing he too could mark her flesh, even if only for a day.
Deborah is beside him again.
“That one looks live, doesn’t she? I’ll give Tommy the signal.”
“No!” Sam nearly shouts. “I want her for my lead.” Jessica Savage. For a feverish four-year period, Sam had written a screenplay for her once every three months—though no one ever saw them. More recently, he’s pounded away at a single effort, revising ad nauseam, hoping to find some way to make it less awful and more worthy of her.
“Are you sure?” Deborah’s voice is skeptical. “She has that look, don’t you think? Her eyes seem too aware. I think we should shoot her.”
Deborah is probably right. She is more than competent as an assistant director. If the world were fair, Sam would be working for her. And Jessica’s pale, rigid face does seem a little sly. If this weren’t Jessica, he would shoot her rather than take the risk. Zombies, after all, are the ultimate disposables.
Sam cannot bring himself to pass up what will certainly be his last chance to work with Jessica, even if she appears now in this much-changed form.
“Let me get a closer look,” he murmurs to Deborah. “Have someone hold the others back, will you?”
He steps closer. The allure of his mental image of her is so strong he forgets the stench and takes a deep breath. He expects the cayenne chocolate smell she has in his fantasies—particularly in the one where he takes her to his mother’s house and they all cook molé together before Sam and Jessica have wild, chocolate-smeared sex in his childhood bedroom.
She does not smell like molé, or any food Sam would like to eat. He gags a little, but Hollywood has taught him to swallow his disappointments. He takes her hand in the gentlemanly way he always imagined. She surrenders it to him nervelessly. Flipping over her forearm, he checks her, finding the thick, perfectly round hole through her veins that is typical of a broker deal. She died for this casting call, for this moment with Sam, here and now. The idea warms him. She chose him, even if she did not know exactly what she would get.
Sam peers into her dark, empty eyes. He agrees with Deborah that there is more to them than there ought to be. Jessica Savage might be in there somewhere. His hand tightens around hers.
The rational part of Sam’s mind knows this means he ought to step away and signal Tommy and Dave to riddle her with bullets. But the likelihood she is somehow still Jessica—even if this version of Jessica would tear him limb from limb with her molars if given the chance—appeals deeply to the part of Sam that has longed for Jessica Savage since he came to Hollywood, the part that made an obscure aspiring actress into a private obsession and deeply held fantasy.
Hollywood has taught Sam one thing: You can’t have what you want, so you take as much as you can.