Action Heroes: A Flash Fiction Fable
I awoke and instantly realized how fuzzy my head felt. And the inside of my mouth. And everything. Ugh, I thought, the mere thought sending waves of pain rippling through my brain, how much did I drink?
The answer, I saw as I pried my eyes open, was all of it. There were cans lying everywhere. There were bottles lying amongst them. One bottle appeared to have a crushed-up can in it. That would be Fister®, I knew. Such a show-off.
"Ugh," I said. Aloud this time, just to see if I could.
"Yeah," came a deep, croaking voice. Man-With-Arms®, from the sound of it. "Are you getting the door?"
That answered my next question, which was going to be, why am I awake? I mumbled something in the affirmative, levered myself into a standing position---extra points for not vomiting, although I think my stomach was still numb---and stumbled to the door. Opening it, I saw the chipper face of our agent, Myles.
"Myles," I mumbled.
"Hey there, Tam-ee®!" he said brightly. And yes, you could hear the registered trademark symbol. You always could. He was the one who'd drilled it into us. I could barely think my own name without hearing it. "Everyone have a good time last night?"
"Blurgh," I muttered, turning and walking back into the living room, leaving the door open so he could follow. The living room was a disaster scene: empty booze containers everywhere, people lying everywhere. The occasional pile of crusty brown... I wasn't going to think about it. Man-With-Arms® was propped up against the far wall, beside the television. Well, what had been a television: it appeared as if Rammer-Man® had plunged his head through it at some point. "Why are you here, Myles?"
"Just checking in!" he chirped. Last night had been the wrap party for our show, Man-O-Man® and the Misters of the Galaxy®. I was the only female "mister" on the show, but I got to come to the wrap party anyway since I'd been there since season one. And yes, we were the cheap, direct-to-supermarket video version of that better-known brand, of which we will not speak. "Is Man-O-Man® around?" Myles asked, lowering his voice as Man-Of-Faces® grumbled, his head stuck halfway between Happy Face and Angry Face. "Or Skelebones®?"
"I think they're in the bedroom," I said, waving vaguely in the right direction. The studio had rented this house for us specifically for the wrap party---likely on AirBnB, God take pity on the owner---and our two leads had disappeared fairly early on, each carrying an armload of something called "Zero Vodka." It was definitely alcoholic, but didn't have quite enough flavor or character to be considered vodka.
And no, we aren't discussing the fact that our two scantily-clad, overly muscular leading men were always wandering off together.
I wandered to the kitchen to see if we'd left the tap intact. My body was screaming for some water. I found Pout-Snout® face-down in the sink, water streaming slowly from the tap over the back of his head. I diverted a bit of the flow into a not-too-gross glass that had been sitting---miraculously intact---on the counter.
"It's just that---" Myles said from behind me, startling me and causing me to drop the half-full glass on the back of 'Snout's head. He mumbled but didn't otherwise respond. "---I kind of need to talk to everyone," Myles finished.
"Jesus, Myles, I don't think this is a great time to talk," I grumbled, rubbing the bridge of my nose.
"Don't you all have to be out of here by eleven anyway?" he asked.
"What time is it?" I muttered.
"Half past two.”
"Piss off, Myles.”
"I really do need to talk to everyone," he said, his voice growing serious.
"TALK?" came a thunderously booming voice that made me wince. "Why talk when we can REVEL?"
That would be Man-O-Man®, our very own six-four mountain of shaggy, red-haired muscle. And I do mean shaggy. Ignoring the tartan boxers that struggled to contain his massive thighs, the man was positively covered in shaggy red hair. Rumor was, when they came to do the body molds for the plastic action figures, they'd ripped off half that hair pulling the molding gel off him. Not that you'd know, because it grew back so fast the man shed everywhere he went. Even now, I could see little red hairs drifting gently to the floor and slowly accumulating next to his massive, bearskin-wrapped feet.
Jesus, I hated him.
"Hey there, big guy!" Myles said, his face lighting up. "Any chance Skelebones® is--ah, Skelly baby! You're here, too!"
"Why are you here, Myles?" Skelebones® asked in his raspy, weirdly high-pitched voice. Built from the same basic model as Man-O-Man®, Skelebones® was at least decent enough to be completely bereft of hair. Either that, or he had a shaving team on danger pay at all times. His smooth, teal skin had initially distracted me, until I realized how horrifying his faded-yellow skull face was.
"The new season should be in stores in a month," Myles began, his smile somehow becoming even bigger. "But after that, DVD Releases"---that was the fly-by-night company that specialized in knockoffs of Disney films and other people's popular properties---"has decided to go another direction."
There was a moment of silence while everyone's probably-still-inebriated brains processed that. Man-O-Man®, to my surprise, recovered first.
"What other direction?" he growled.
Myles' smile faltered, as the rest of the crew started hauling themselves to their feet and filling in behind the two leads. "Well, the other franchise---you know, the original one---isn't doing so well. They're afraid that our... rendition? will start to fall off after this season. So they're, ah..."
"They're cancelling us," Skelebones® said in a flat voice.
Cancelled? my brain asked, the last remnants of alcohol flooding away. That meant I'd be Tammy again, wearing jeans and a cheap blouse instead of my white warrior-maiden getup. I'd probably go back to being an office receptionist, despite having a degree in performing arts.
I'd be normal again.
I couldn't decide if I was happy or devastated.
"CANCELLED?!" Man-O-Man®---Roger, if I remember correctly---thundered.
Myles nodded, finally losing his smile. "There's a new line starting up," he said sadly. "All girls. They have big heads and they're really sassy. The working name is 'Spoiled Brats,' but that's going to take some fine-tuning to avoid a lawsuit."
"Girls' dolls," Skelebones® sighed. I had no idea what his old name was, I realized. "So it comes full circle." What did that mean?
Roger nodded. "Boys are into plastic guns that shoot foam darts now," he said. "No characters at all. But, there's a bright side!"
"How can there possibly be a bright side, you idiot?" Bee-Man® muttered.
"Well, we can get you jobs in the new show," Myles said, his face making it plain that this was an obvious solution.
"You moron," Walker™ said. "Only Tam-ee® is a girl."
Myles looked confused. "But we'd just recast you," he said. "Like we did for this show."
There was a long, confused silence. "What--" Man-O-Man® started to ask.
"Do you idiots think I was born with this stupid skull face?" Skelebones® said tiredly. "No. My real name is Sarah Perkins, and before this I was the star of DVD Releases' 'Bobby' series. I was tall, blond, and impossibly thin. Like, I actually kept some of my organs in an external support package that I plugged in every few hours. When that petered out, this gig opened up, and they 'recast' me as this," he---she?---finished with disgust. "But a job's a job."
Man-With-Arms® spoke up. "Do you mean..." He paused a moment to put it together. "You're going to make us into... girls?"
"Only if you want the job," Myles said hurriedly. "New contract, four seasons minimum, and even a pay bump. They really think they're getting out in front of this one, so it should be a long run."
Another long moment of silence. I could see Man-With-Faces® and Rammer-Man® slowly remembering who'd they'd been before this show: normal, human-shaped humans, not the clownish versions they were now.
"What if we... decline?" Rammer-Man® asked. "And you just... put us back to the way we were?"
Myles shook his head firmly. "Love to, man, I really would. But that wasn't in the contract. They absorbed the cost of casting you, but you'd have to cover re-casting on your own, unless you take a new gig that includes it again."
"Can I at least be a brunette?” Man-With-Faces® asked.
Myles' smile returned, broader than ever.