Thick black smoke billows out from under the hood of the car, enveloping the windshield in a murky screen. Weary from the artificial quality of the air conditioning, both men had just recently put their windows down. Now they are coughing and sputtering as the noxious cloud pours in. Ryan quickly pulls the car over to the side of the road and turns it off. The men scramble out of the car and immediately double over, gasping for air.
When Ryan looks over he can see it coming in slow motion, like watching a twelve-car pile up on the Santa Monica Freeway in your rearview mirror. Jackie’s jaw tightens, relaxes then tightens again. The little vein near his temple starts to throb and pulsate with such a flurry of erratic movement that it seems to Ryan to be attempting to break free from its cellular prison.
He continues to watch as Jackie’s face turns a shade of red he can only liken to the plume on a Trojan soldiers helmet as he marches proudly into battle. What the hell just happened here? Where the hell are we? What shithole of a town did we just pass? Jackie’s questions are speeding out one after the other, each crashing into the one ahead. Even as the questions slow, his face continues changing hues at a frenzied pace, finally settling on a scarlet hue. At the thought of scarlet Ryan lets out a little chuckle. Would you care to tell me what the hell you think is so goddamn funny? Nothing JC, I’m sorry, Ryan offers.
The two men are here in rural
scouting sites for an important battle scene. The scene will be a pivotal point in the Civil War movie they are making called “Banshees of the Bayou.” The movie is centered on a group of women who work as nurses by day, patching up soldier’s battle wounds and by night carry out guerrilla-like excursions. They creep into enemy camps by the light of the moon, killing Union soldiers by slashing their throats with surgical precision while they sleep. After the kills it was said they could be heard running off into the night screaming like banshees. The moonlight illuminating their monstrous blood splattered faces. The screenplay is based on a collection of old ghost stories Jackie heard as a boy while spending summer nights around the campfire on his grandfather’s farm in Mississippi . Ryan Cooper, an aspiring screenwriter is Jackie Callahan’s assistant director, on the road secretary and seemingly, current scapegoat. He is assigned the task of filling in all the holes and adding detail to round out the story and formatting it for filming. Georgia
When Jackie regains the strength to stand up straight, he tells Ryan to call the rental car company. The company is in
, since that was the closest city they could fly into near their ultimate destination. The apologetic clerk informs Ryan that there are no cars left to rent due to the mayor’s zealousness in booking two major conventions during the same week. The best he can do is to send a mechanic from the nearest town to tow them back and fix the car. In the meantime, if anything became available he would send an agent with another car. Ryan finds this agreeable and hangs up only to find that Jackie isn’t feeling as gracious. New Orleans
After more than an hour of agitated silence interrupted only by several tirades by Jackie, the mechanic shows up with his tow truck. Ryan notices how everything the mechanic is wearing, from the beat up old baseball cap with no logo -or if there is, it is now smeared in grease and indistinguishable from the rest- to his steel toed boots is the same color- not quite black, but possessing some of the same qualities. It reminds him of the oil stains that his cousin Jeremy would leave in their driveway back home when he would pick Ryan up on Saturday nights to go “cruising for chicks,” rather unsuccessfully, in his brown ’71 Dodge Dart.
The mechanic heads straight for the hood of the car, which Ryan had already opened in hopes of clearing out the smoke. Name’s Buck, he says without looking up. Yep, looks like the water pump, just like I figured, he continues. What’chall doin’ way out here? Don’t no one use this road no more. Really…? Jackie says in a sarcastic attempt at conversation. Ryan tells Buck as the mechanic hooks the car up to his truck about shooting the movie and why they were way out here in the middle of nowhere. Buck is impressed by the assumed celebrity of the two men he happened to come across, though he had never heard of either one of them. The three men squeeze into the cab of Buck’s truck with Jackie silently claiming the window seat.
On the drive into town, Buck and Ryan carry the conversation. Mostly, it was Buck grilling him about who he knows and what movies he had worked on. More importantly though he wanted to know which actresses he had had the pleasure of bedding. Ryan is happy to oblige, embellishing where he feels the need. Jackie meanwhile sits; chin in hand looking out the window at the surroundings. He imagines the lush, swampy landscape at night and he can visualize the scene in which the banshee’s lives would come to an end and their legend begins.
-He imagines the handsome, young, demi-god of a captain of the Union Army paces back and forth atop a well-muscled, tawny steed shouting out a list of offences. Then the camera pans over to six posts with an equal number of rugged, young, wild eyed women tied to them, all six writhing and wriggling to get free -not in an attempt to flee, rather with a lust for fight in their hearts. As the Captain orders his men to ready their arms the banshees begin to wail in inhuman tones, unnerving the soldiers. Until, that is the Captain raises his steely, saber- like voice enough to be heard over the ghoulish howling. He gives his men a reminder of who they are and what they are fighting for, God and country, of course. Once the Captain sees he has steeled their resolve he wastes no time in giving the order to fire. The wailing fades to groans and as the smoke clears, silence weighs heavily on the scene. After a few moments the Captain’s voice once again breaks in, I know they were women but we did a good thing here today men. As he turns his mount away and slowly rides off, the men disperse solemnly. The camera turns back to the women, heads down, chins touching their chests and the silence that lingers projects an almost innocent aura about them. The smoke from the recently fired guns drifts into the crisp, blue sky and the camera follows as the credits begin to roll.-
As they approach town, Ryan sees a sun faded sign saying Welcome to Delta, Miss. Home of the third largest catfish farm in
. At the bottom is the face of a catfish coming right at you, mouth agape and whiskers trailing off either side of the sign. The words “Paid for by Gramp’s Catfish Farm” appeared underneath the bloated bottom feeder. Mississippi
As far as he can tell, the town doesn’t consist of much more than what he can see in front of him. The road they are on goes down maybe ten or twelve blocks where another street intersects it. Ryan sees a small sign in the shape of an arrow pointing north and asks Buck where the road leads. That there road goes to Gramp’s, one of the only places left to get a job ‘round here anymore, Buck says. Delta used to be much bigger. We had two factories here ‘til the seventies, then they both up and moved within two weeks of each other,
, I believe. My daddy worked at the tool and dye place, I can’t quite recall what the other one was, he continues with a shrug. Anyways, after them two left I guess that’s when the men of Delta became full-time drunks, ‘til the women decided it was time to move on. A few families, like mine stayed behind to wait on better days, but ‘til Gramp’s came in about ‘89, the only places makin’ any money were the two bars on either side of town. Well I guess that’s purt much the history of Delta, least, far as I can tell it, he ended. Mexico
Buck turns the oil smeared truck into an oil smeared lot next an oil smeared building with an open garage door where you could see cars in various states of repair or disrepair. As they climb out of the truck, he tells the two men it will take a couple of days to get the part he needs delivered, not to mention the installation. Jackie gives a grunt in acknowledgement. Ryan asks the mechanic if there is somewhere for them to stay while they wait. Buck points down the road to the Delta Motel. Ryan and Jackie grab their things and walk the two blocks to the motel that Buck says is owned by his sister’s husband, Bobby Ray. Tell ‘em Buck sent’ya, he calls after them.
Though the sign outside reads No Vacancy, they had no problem getting rooms. The bubbly little brown haired girl of about thirteen explains that her daddy, the aforementioned Bobby Ray, likes to give the impression of being busy. It’s good for business, she says, mockingly, in a voice much deeper than her own. The girl, Susie is obviously excited to see strangers and throws a barrage of questions at them. Ryan, like Jackie is no longer in the mood for small talk and dodges her attack and asks for the keys and directions to their rooms. Jackie still not saying much manages a simple G’night and disappears into his room. It’s only five o’clock JC, shouldn’t we go over our notes from today? Ryan asks the door. The door gives no reply.
Ryan shrugs his shoulders and enters his own room. Once inside, he unpacks his few belongings and begins to go over his notes from the day while working his way through a box of Cheezits and a diet Coke, now warm, he had packed for the trip. Soon after, he succumbs to his own unexpected weariness, leaving the crackers and Coke unfinished.
to be continued...
(an original work by Christopher B. Austin)