The song is "Just the Two of Us" by Bill Withers
On March nineteenth, 2013, the state of California charged Misha Collins and Ben Edlund with the murder of Jared Padalecki. The actor had not been seen in six weeks since the bizarre events of February 6th, and the fandom was split between labeling his death a hoax or shaving their heads in mourning.
While the primary witness, a PA titled "Dickweed" for identity protection, did not entirely convince the judge with his testimony of monsters and Hollywood conspiracy, Mister Edlund saved the prosecution a great deal of work by insisting that he hadn't killed anyone, rather he "wanted to make a horror movie for an audience of one, to be replayed in the minds of millions."
With this confession, the court had enough evidence to bury the two men under the Los Angeles Detention Center, and would have followed through had Mister Padalecki not arisen from the grave the next day to pay their bail. They were barely out of handcuffs before he swore an affidavit to his lawyer to state the following:
"The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated. At no point was my life in danger, and the events of February 2nd to February 6th might have been avoided had the witness been able to keep his mouth shut on set..."
"Man, the actors here suck," said Dickweed, biting into another cupcake from the snack table, "I was a PA for West Wing before this and that was a real show."
Jared pretended not to hear, seated across the stage with his head tilted back to watch the lighting crew. Any minute now, Misha would realize his personal lubricant had been replaced with superglue, and you couldn't pay him to miss that.
"Dude shut up," said one of the wardrobe girls, "These guys manage crazy deadlines with a nothing budget, you try their schedule and hit the gym at 5 a.m. and raise kids."
"Oh get real," said Dickweed, right as Misha rounded the corner, a little more bowlegged then usual, "They hire any idiot for these kind of shows, the tall guy? I heard he didn't even go to college."
He rattled off a list of Jared's shortcomings, some superficial, some completely invented, but when Misha opened his mouth to retort, Jared put up his hand. Knowing his luck he'd have to work with the guy ten years from now, and he was too tired to fight.
"And did you see his wife last year," said Dickweed, "Man she got fat after she left the show."
Jared froze, and the girl rounded on him. "She's not fat."
"She totally is! It's fuckin' disgusting, I mean have you looked at her, up close? Here he is at these conventions surrounded by Brazilian twelve-year-olds, you think he'll keep his hands off if she doesn't start hitting the Phen Phen?"
"She was pregnant."
"Whatever," he said, trying to decide between a jellyroll or another Hostess cake, "Any chick over a hundred and twenty pounds shouldn't be allowed to leave the house."
A hush fell over the crew. The kid had become a marked man, but wouldn't know it for another day or so.
Misha took the chair next to Jared, as all the PAs filed out for their next task. "You okay?"
Jared counted in his head, waiting until they were alone, but couldn't think of an answer.
"You wanna get him fired?"
Jared turned to look at him, a wicked glitter in his eyes. "No."
"Good," he said, crossing his legs, "Then I recommend a temporary truce."
"Maybe he could fall down the stairs? I can talk to Clif-"
"No no, that wouldn't be sporting," said Misha, glancing up at a framed copy of Ben Edlund's The Tick, "But I have an excellent idea for a prank."
"This is your first day," the girl said as the PAs made their way outside, "You have no idea what goes into making a horror show."
He wiped the corners of his mouth, while behind him Jared and Misha stretched their arms in a conspiratorial fistbump. "Please. These guys couldn't scare a baby."
A few minutes later, Misha made some inquiries and found Ben having a power lunch with two movie executives, who were waving their hands around excitedly while Ben picked unhappily at his food.
"It's already greenlit!" said the elder of the two, "We just need a script, you can bang that out, right?"
"But I sent you scripts, I sent lots of scripts..."
"Ben, honey boo boo, I love you, and I say this with a smile on my face and love in my heart, but your monsters make no sense. Apocalyptic bad guys in a wheelchair? A shapeshifter who swans around like Bela Lugosi?"
"I was trying to portray a little depth of character..."
"Charachter schmarachter, they're not two-fisted. Now," he said, motioning for the younger exec to pull out his laptop, "We've gotten a lot of bids from local Canadian companies, but they feel like there's a glut on the American monster market. We need something fresh. Something...native."
Ben stared at the picture on the computer screen. "A moose?"
"An awesome moose," said the younger exec, "It'll have shades and a black trench coat and know kung fu..."
"We'll call him... Thunder Moose."
"We already booked Sarah Palen for the love interest!"
"Wait," said Ben, "You got Sarah Palin?"
"Uh, no, p-a-l-E-n, she played the porno version of her in Hockey Moms Gone Wild."
"Girl's like 6'3."
"Yeah watch out, she's gonna have a career."
"But this is exactly why we need you Ben! It's a dark tale of vigilante justice and wronged girlhood, a half-man half-beast emerging from the northern wastes, with nothing but a shotgun on his back and the last shred of decency in a world gone mad!"
"And can you slip in a scene where he gets punched by a monkey? Kids love monkeys."
Ben dropped his fork. "I'm sorry you'll have to excuse me, I just need to..." and tried standing out of his chair. He'd almost made it when a hand the size of a baking sheet pushed him back, and Jared smiled down on the proceedings.
"Can I borrow him for just a second?"
The executives blinked, but didn't have time to answer before Ben was pulled out of the cafe into the hallway adjoining the kitchen, where Misha waited.
"Did we interrupt anything?"
"Yes, I was happily on my way to crawling into a dumpster so I could blow my brains and be carted away to a better place!" said Ben, "What do you clowns want?"
Misha leaned in. "Wanna help us make a scary movie?"
Dickweed was scheduled for back-to-back time blocks, and was so excited by the extra responsibility that he waved off sleep for two days straight. It wasn't much, serving drinks and giving people rides, but he was soon having a hard time taking instructions.
"Say that again?" he said, pushing the headset against his ear.
"Blue gel!" shouted the cameraman into his own headset. The man was on the opposite side of the warehouse, but Dickweed read his lips and swore he was saying something different. Just to be sure, he walked over and repeated the request to his face.
"I said get me some friggin' coffee, I'm swayin' on my feet here!" he shouted, and Dickweed backed away to the kitchen. He must be tired is all, another two hours and he could crash on a couch somewhere.
"What?" he said, swiveling on face heel to face the make-up girl.
"I'm all out of meatsocks."
He blinked. "You're out of...what?"
She repeated herself more slowly, but still the words she said didn't match the way her mouth moved. "I said...I'm out of meatsocks, get some pig intestine from Props and make me another one."
Lip curling in disgust, he took off his headset. "What the fuck?"
"Fine I'll get it myself." she said, heels clicking as she headed for a pyramid of water bottles, shooting him a dirty look over her shoulder.
He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand, he couldn't let the others see him lose it this soon into the job. Hitching up his pants, he strode to the break room to rest a second.
"They must love me," he bragged to the other PAs, "No one else got extra shifts."
They nodded warily, not looking him in the eye as a rigging guy stuck his head in.
"I need an extension cable," he said, "From the red trailer."
"The red trailer?" asked Dickweed, looking around in confusion. There had been no trick, the words definitely synced up this time.
"Oh yeah," said the wardrobe girl, smiling to herself, "It's behind Studio D, way in the back. Can't miss it."
Not wanting to appear stupid, he rolled his eyes as if he'd always known. "Yeah yeah, the red trailer, I'm on it."
It was the rainy season, a constant shower that never gave your clothes time to dry. Fortunately, he didn't have to run long before he saw it in the distance, a shipping container that had rusted to the color of old blood.
"Fuck this weather," he said, running his fingers thru his wet bangs once he slipped inside, "Wow, what have they been keeping in here?"
He snatched an inventory list off a corkboard by the door, paper curling at the corners from humidity. Beneath it were memos between the Warner Brothers legal department and the props department, requesting evidence for an on-going exploitation case. He strode from shelf to shelf, muttering the lawyer's list of demands under his breath.
"Severed head, Bride of Hydra (1992)." He looked up, and a doll's face stared at him thru plastic wrap, her eyes sightless as marbles.
"Cannibal victims, The Blood Chamber (1988)." Several gnawed on limbs poked out of a milk crate, black and white and everything in between.
"Brains, The Pink Slime (1984)." He swiped his thumb across a pickle jar, but it was too dark to know for sure.
Skimming over the rest of the papers, it appeared that Warner Brothers had produced a number of horror films so realistic that a county judge had charged them with making snuff films, and the studio had been ordered to reenact the death scenes in court to prove they were fake. The case was still on-going, so none of the props from those films were allowed off studio property.
Spotting an extension cord in the corner, he set the inventory back on it's hook and hoisted it over one shoulder. It was heavy enough that he lost his balance for a second, knocking a glass case from the shelf behind him.
"Crapsticks." The case was only cracked, but the lid had flown off, sawdust and decorative rocks spilling over his shoes. All of the other containers were carefully labeled and dated, cross-matched with inventory serial numbers. This one simply read, "DIXIE."
A faint scuttling noise came from behind the shelf, and he stepped back. "Hello?"
It scratched again, this time closer to the door, which he'd left open a crack. He strained for another minute, but the rain was so loud against the metal roof he could barely hear himself breath.
"Hey dude, here's your stuff," he said, tossing down the load once he got inside, "Man you wouldn't believe the crazy crap I found, it's Freakshow Barbie back there."
"What crap?" asked one of the PAs.
"In the red trailer, all those mannequins? It didn't look like anyone had cleaned up in there in years."
Dickweed jerked a thumb behind him. "In the back! The red trailer!" When no one said anything, he grabbed the nearest girl by the arm and said, "Come on I'll show you, I was just there..."
Dickweed stood in the rain, clutching his hair at the empty parking space. "It was right here!"
The girls hugged themselves. "Can we go back inside now?"
"No! It was here, it was huge, how the hell did somebody move it in the five minutes I was gone?!"
The others shrugged. They had just spent the last hour draping a hallway with black plastic sheeting so the guest star would not have to make eye contact with anyone between his dressing room and the set, and this ranked pretty low on the drama scale. "Maybe you should go home, you look beat."
"I can't go home now. They need me! My name's been put down for every shift now thru next week!"
The girls looked at each other. "Is that even legal?"
"Someone screwed up." he said, pulling out his cell phone and punching numbers at random, "Hello, front office? Yeah, can you put me through, one of the trailer's got redesignated..."
"The number you have reached is no longer service, please re-dial or..."
He pretended to talk into the phone all the way to the studio, dropping jargony words whenever someone passed him. It was the only way to save face. Once he was alone, he pocketed it again and leaned against the green room door. Maybe he should sleep...
"Whoa, sorry didn't know anyone was in here." he said, hand still on the doorknob.
"It's fine, I'm just grabbing something on my way home." Daneel was working on a film down the street, and even in her sweatpants she had the kind of plastic physique you only got in a professional gym. It was hard to look at her without grinning like a maniac.
"Somebody must've stopped by Cakeman's, they make the best pumpkin bread." she said, pointing to a paper box on the snack table.
"Oh I've...never eaten there." he said, trailing off. Cakeman's was the best pastry shop in town, cupcakes running at eight dollars apiece, and he resented her for making him feel poor.
"You should totally try it, I'm just gonna grab one for myself before anyone...what the hell was that?!"
She dropped the box, and a shadow flitted under the couch. "Did you see that?"
He blinked. "What, in the box? There's nothing in the box."
"No it was in there, it jumped out when I picked it up!" she said, shaking the contents to see if anything else was alive inside.
"Must've been a mouse."
"It was way bigger then a mouse. What if it peed in there?" she said, tossing the box into the trash, "I don't want anybody getting sick."
She checked her phone and sighed. "Crap I'm late. I'll have to grab something on the road."
He watched her leave, and waited to listen for anyone else coming by. When no one did, he reached into the trash can and opened the box, hugging it to his belly like a treasure chest.
They were perfect. The pastry chef had wrapped each one in fuchsia crepe paper, apple tarts topped with a web of spun sugar so that they glittered and filled the room with their expensive perfume. His first thought was to offer one to Tomoko in wardrobe, he could score points by claiming he'd bought them for her. But his sugar craving kicked in, and he decided they were his. Asian girls had it so easy, all cute and petite, they didn't deserve pastries.
"Oh wow, I love these."
A big brown hand reached over and snatched a tart. "Hey wait a second-"
Dickweed stopped short. "Oh, Mr. Padalecki."
"Jared," he said smiling, "You gonna have one?"
Dickweed looked down. Beautiful people were so hard to look at with a straight face. "Should you be eating that? It's not exactly on your diet."
He winked. "Only if someone sees me eat it."
"I thought you guys all lived on mustard and carrots."
"Oh we're supposed to. The last time my trainer caught me eating french fries he made me run up and down a stadium stairway with him on my shoulders," said Jared, pushing a pastry into Dickweed's hand, "You're not gonna tell on me, right?"
Dickweed hesitated, but only for a moment. He liked the idea of a shared secret, and who knows? A year from now, a word in the right ear from this actor, he might get a real job.
"Tell what?" he said, biting into the tart. It was still warm in the center, a slightly crunchy filling that tasted a bit like...
"Ugh." said Jared, putting his fingers to his mouth.
"What's wrong?" he said, swallowing and continuing to eat.
"I think it went bad." he said, and looked for a paper napkin.
"Tastes okay to me."
"It's not supposed to crunch."
Dickweed stopped chewing, and stared at his half-eaten tart. Nestled down in the pie crust was a cellular glob like styrofoam, only translucent and sticky to touch.
"What is that?" he asked wonderingly.
"I don't feel good." Jared said, leaning against the table.
"You gonna throw up?"
Jared waved him off, and walked unsteadily toward his trailer just as the rest of the PAs filed in. "Wow, you got Cakeman's?!"
It was Tomoko, and Dickweed hitched a grin on his face. "Yeah, I stopped there on my break."
"Wow you are so cool."
"Anything for the ladies." he said, proffering one to each girl in turn and trying to ignore his own stomach, which was starting to cramp. "Just a second, I'm gonna check on Jared, he didn't look so hot."
"Oh so he's Jared now."
He smirked, hoping to get away in case he needed to be sick in the men's room. It didn't occur to him to warn the girls about the food, they were probably bulimics anyway and would have puked it up even if it weren't poisoned.
The hall was empty, Jared nowhere to be found, but seeing one of the dressing room doors open he slowed down to listen to the music playing inside.
"...just the two of us, we can make it if we try, just the two of us..."
"He's not here."
Dickweed swallowed. Of all the actors, this one was the most notorious. "Sorry sir, but, um, any idea where he's at?"
The door opened. Seated by the vanity mirror, Misha Collins was a neat dark man in a handmade suit, shirt buttoned all the way with a peacoat and heavy scarf. While not the only cast member to dress formally on set, he was never to be seen without a tie or sleeves rolled up. He was either fully dressed, or naked. He did not believe in ambiguity.
"I'm sorry," said Misha, "But I haven't seen Jared. You should knock on his trailer."
Dickweed nodded, glancing at the postcards taped to Misha's mirror. "Hey, you were in Peru?"
Misha looked over. "Yes, I like to spend my summers down south."
"Betcha missed having Starbucks every morning."
"On the contrary, it's a beautiful place," he said wistfully, "The Andes stretch out like snapshots of a single mountain traveling thru space, and you realize that time, that continuous motion, is an illusion."
Aaaand the aliens have landed. thought Dickweed. One of the photos featured Misha besides an old man in a labcoat, a cat carrier in one hand and a tranquilizer gun in the other, with a smile like the birthday boy who'd gotten Disneyland all to himself.
"I was glad to take a break from Southern California," said Misha, his voice darkening, "Nothing here is real."
"Yeah man, well I'm glad you found your inner sherpa, look I'm just gonna run out and check his trailer, help yourself to an apple tart in the green room."
Misha's eyes narrowed. "You ate one of those?"
Misha took the measure of him with some approval, but said nothing, and waved him out. Dickweed didn't think to ask, chalking it up to more New Englander weirdness.
"Jared?" he said, knocking on the trailer door. The day shift had ended, and stars blinked overhead. Was it just him or were there a lot more wires running in and out of the actor's trailer today?
"You don't sound good." He palmed the doorknob, and finding it unlocked he looked both ways and stepped inside.
A lamp burned by the kitchen sink, but otherwise Jared was cast in shadow. His couch must have been custom-made, because Jared could stretch all the way across without his head or feet touching the armrests.
"Can I get you something?"
Jared's legs lay useless in front of him, his hands folded over his stomach. He tried to speak again, but it didn't sound like a conscious effort.
"Wow dude, your stomach looks...what's wrong with you?"
He touched one of Jared's hands, and it fell to the side, grazing the carpet. His stomach was a latticework of black veins, cold and big as a melon.
"Oh crap, that's not good." he said, covering his mouth. What the hell was in that pastry?
"Dude that's really not good." he said, as something began to move inside Jared's stomach, stretching the skin until it shined. Dickweed's hands traveled up his face until he was looking thru his fingers, watching in helpless fascination.
Jared turned his head, unaware that his stomach was swelling and shifting like bread in an oven. This is fake, this has to be fake, Dickweed thought desperately, No one's this good an actor.
"I'm gonna..." he started, darting a look to the kitchen, "I'm gonna try and get it out."
He pulled open drawers at random, flinging aside oven mitts and wooden spoons until he hit jackpot.
"I don't, um, have a belt for you to bite down on," he said, knife shaking in his hand, "But try and hold still."
He'd been close to puking on his shoes for the last several hours, and as he lay his free hand on Jared's oddly cold belly, he comforted himself with the fact that Jared probably wouldn't feel his surgery good or bad.
He started with the smallest incision possible, blood welling so dark it looked black, and he gagged at the sight. Dickweed whimpered as the thing inside moved toward the blade, seeking an exit, but still he kept cutting, he had to get it out.
"You're lookin' good man, hold on just another minute and then...oh you're kidding me."
Jared had stopped breathing. He was gone, had been gone, but Dickweed could swear there'd been a spark of recognition in his eyes before it poked through his abdomen. With impossible slowness a leg emerged, pencil-thin and slick with blood, curling possessively around Jared's hand until blood spilled over the couch to soak the carpet. Thus anchored, sprouting feelers with the smell of an open grave, it began to birth itself with a noise like someone tearing a steak in half, and Dickweed dropped the knife to run screaming out of the trailer.
"I need help!" he shouted as he burst thru the studio entrance, "Can anybody help me!"
The reception desk was empty, the video monitors blinking or on the fritz, and when security showed up, they pushed right past him as screams erupted from neighboring rooms. Cables hung ripped from the ceiling tiles, swaying in the now darkened hallway with an occasional shower of sparks. What the hell had happened in the short time he'd been out?
As the security men ran upstairs, he turned the chair around to watch the camera feeds. In a studio this size you had to keep the stalkers away, but when your greatest threat was a bunch of ninth graders holding a candlelight vigil to recite poetry about Jensen Ackles bottle-green eyes, no one took it too seriously.
He wasn't sure what he was seeing now. One room was filled with thick white webbing, as if someone had hit it with a fire extinguisher, and in another two girl PAs lay prone on a conference table. In fact, most of the rooms had at least one person laying down and not moving.
"What seems to be the problem?"
He whirled around. "Misha?"
Four masked men in hospital scrugs stood behind the actor, a crash cart and gurney between them. "Wait, are those guys here for me?" asked Dickweed.
"They are." said Misha, his voice unreadable.
"Hey, you didn't eat one of those pastries today did you?" asked a security guard.
"Dude, people are dying, I've never seen anything like it," he said, grabbing Dickweed's arm so hard his nails marked the skin, "We have to get you to an ER."
Dickweed began to pull away, he hated being touched, when one of Misha's medics lifted a chair one-handed and struck the guard in the back of the head. He flopped forward, a thin stream of blood dribbling down his chin.
Misha surveyed him coldly, and turned to the nearest medic. "Don't let him bleed on the carpet."
He nodded, grabbing something from the cart while two others stood over the guard, stomping on his hand when he tried going for his gun.
Dickweed backed into the desk. "Wait, what are you doing?"
The saran wrap unrolled with a zip and the medic bent from behind to bring it over the guard's face. As the other men held him down, he blurred into a moonscape, three dark holes for eyes and a mouth, while Misha checked his watch, waiting for him to die.
"Get on the gurney."
"I don't wanna get on it." he said, a needle sinking into his arm.
"You're going to get on the gurney," said Misha, as Dickweed let strong arms pull him forward, "You won't feel a thing, the shot is a local anesthetic."
"I won't feel a thing?"
Misha put two fingers to his forehead in salute, and Dickweed's limbs were velcroed in place. "Scouts's honor."
It was strange, he could still feel his body. Maybe the shot didn't kick in right away? As he rolled past open door after open door, he saw his friends contorted in various positions of agony, some screaming, some bent over furniture, and one girl just staring in a mirror. It may have been a trick of the light, but he thought he saw the shadow of two legs prying her mouth open to crawl out.
The kitchen had been converted to a makeshift hospital, and once inside a nurse raised a blue drape between him the and the surgeon, shielding his vision from anything chest-down.
"What're are they gonna do to me?"
"You're gonna feel the knife here." said the surgeon, and he felt some pressure on his stomach, but vaguely, as if someone were drawing a line with their finger.
"Told you you wouldn't feel a thing." said Misha, reading his thoughts.
"What's going on?" Dickweed croaked, "Why are you doing this?"
"You saw what they kept in the red trailer?" he said, "All those creatures, latex-molds and corn syup and food coloring?"
Dickweed nodded, while strangers wrestled with his insides two feet away, and Misha's face lit with an unholy brilliance. "I wanted...something...real."
"Holy mother of..." exclaimed the surgeon, pulling his mask down.
"What is it Doctor?"
"They...they laid eggs in him!"
And with that remark something flew up, and he clutched at his face with both hands, covering whatever had just attacked him. Dickweed thrashed, screaming for the nurses to let him go, right as the surgeon crashed into the wall and his face exploded like a popped balloon.
"Get me off this thing!" he shouted, but more people began to scream, unseen behind the blue drape, and blood splattered so high it stained the ceiling. Just as he was about to lose hope, somebody pushed his feet toward the walk-in pantry, rolling him out of harm's way, and the noise cut off as he was shut in darkness. He heard at least one body fall against the door, but it was steel, and would not give easily.
He yanked at the straps. Was there still something alive inside him? Were all the others dead? After a few minutes struggle he managed to get unshackled, and tore away the blue drape, his breath catching as he pressed a hand to his stomach.
"...I'm okay," he said, feeling unbroken skin, "They didn't do anything. They didn't do anything."
He began to laugh, the sound unnatural in that closed space. "They totally punked me!"
"Hey you guys!" he said, as he walked out of the pantry, the kitchen now suspiciously empty, "Hey you guys, uncle! I give up! This has been hilarious, but..."
The building was still a shambles, but except for the occasional electrical discharge it was completely silent. Even the heat had shut off, and when he exhaled a plume of fog rose before his face.
"...just the two of us, we can make it if we try, just the two of us..."
He followed the music, shivering in the cold. The joke was over, when was everybody gonna jump out and yell Surprise?
A line of light spilled from Misha's dressing room, where the music played. "Mister Collins?"
He put a hand to the door, listening to Misha's voice.
"...and Dixie was a good little girl and followed me home that day..." he said in a sing-song voice, as if reading a bedtime story.
The whole room breathed in unison, tiny whistling sounds from about a foot off the floor. Something moved inside, quiet as cats but with far more legs.
"...but she was very lonely here in the City of Angels..."
I should run.
"...and I needed to find the right person to help make her some new friends."
Dickweed swallowed, and stepped inside.
Having escaped jail with a sentence of "time served" and swearing never to aid Misha Collins in another prank, Ben Edlund went on to win the first Hugo Award for Meta Non-Fiction. He had found Dickweed outside the studio, covered in fake blood, and in a flash of inspiration pulled out his digital camera to record the poor kid's story.
Uploading the video under an fake name to two or three high traffic slashfic forums, the story of Jared Padalecki's death went viral in a matter of minutes, and soon millions of girls were sitting in front of their computers, kleenex balled up at their mouths, imagining a horror movie far greater then Supernatural's budget could have ever achieved in a million years.
"...and what did you see in Misha's room?" asked Ben.
Dickweed covered his eyes. "I saw *sniff*, he had dozens of them. Dozens of them. And they all had my face! These pruny pink faces, and when I walked in they turned to look at me..."
...and Misha, surrounded by his progeny, with a beatific smile, looked at him and said, "...and that, boys and girls, is how I met your mother."