The world I live in is very, very different now. When I see Julia again, everything is disco and Star Wars. We’ve all had our brains washed by the Most Awesome Shit of All Time, but somehow none of it amazes me anymore. I watch Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and I think, Well, that’s nice, I guess. It’s almost like discovering that Santa Claus is not real. Same thing with Julia. I almost cry because I remember that just a few years ago, this was all so magically awesome, all so breathtakingly amazing. Now, it seems like a bunch of magic tricks I already know the secrets of. I tell myself this should not be. I tell myself I am only eleven years old. I tell myself I should have many more years to be dazzled and amazed by the things I love most.
But the world is now very, very different.
It is 1977.
It’s the time when everything changes.
My mother doesn’t sit next to me in the theater when I see Julia again. She’s made a deal with the people who run this falling down place so I can be here by myself, even though the movie is rated R and I’m still four years too young to be here alone. My mother wrote a note for me and shook hands with the manager personally. They all know how many times I sat through the last one. I’m not a little amazed it’s the same manager from last year. He’s a pimple faced dork. He’ll be working here next year too.
My mother fears me now.
She knows what I did to her last boyfriend.
She hasn’t dated anyone since then.
That was last year.
The kids at school don’t pick on me anymore. I’ve become strong, you see. My boyhood is gone and my arms are thick. I back off all the bullies with a withering glance. My eyes are filled with the burden of the thing I did to protect my mother, and they can all read the scars but none of that matters to me. I don’t care. Let them all whisper amongst themselves. I figure this is what it is to be an adult, right?
I watch more movies than ever and gobble down all the TV shows I can dial up. My world is filled with monsters and killers and adventures from a thousand alien worlds. I read books now, too—stuff written by Stephen King and William Goldman. The gritty stuff, the bloody stuff, the cynical stuff. I have no time for kid stuff. Fire rages inside my body and makes me lust for blood and sex. I want to hurt people. I want to fuck people. The girls at school are afraid of me, too. A couple of them dare to approach me. I never have any idea what to say to them. I just stay in my head and scribble in my notebooks and ace all my classes and look at people who would be my enemies and make them go away.
Is that what it is to be an adult, too?
I write what I am feeling in the notebooks.
I write stories about Julia too.
She is my one true love.
The movie flashes on the screen and I hear the same music from two times before and at first it’s like a familiar slice of home—but then I realize the people running the show are just cheap bastards. They’re trotting out the old school because they can’t afford anything new. And the main title is just glowing violet letters against a plain black screen. There is no intergalactic zoom. There are no twinkling stars. It has all the magic of a tax return. And the opening sequence is even worse. It’s just Julia talking to the audience for five minutes about what happened in the last two movies. She’s still really beautiful and she still winks and smiles a lot, but something is wrong with her now. There’s something entirely unmusical about her voice, unmagical about her smile. She never even dances for me. She just says it’s time to start the next adventure.
So whatdaya say, boys? Let’s boogie!
She actually says that.
I sit through the rest of the film like I’m the victim of a violent crime. Which, of course, I am. I walk out of the theater wanting to cry—but I can’t cry anymore because big boys don’t cry and I’m a big boy now. I somehow realize in the midst of my sadness that Julia is just a character—and characters can be betrayed by their owners. To make them truly eternal, these amazing ladies have to be honored and treated like the radiant muses they are. They have to be written with elegance and style and they must be people we love, people we can’t live without. Which means Julia could be anyone, really, so long as that person knows the secret of what made Julia special in the first place. Anyone could write her. Anyone could present her. Anyone could sing in her voice and make the song beautiful. Fuck these guys.
This is a revelation like no other.
My childhood is officially over.
And my life as a writer has officially begun.
. . .
What I don’t realize is this:
At the very moment I’m walking away from the most important awakening of my entire existence, the creator of Julia Starchild 3: The War of the Stars is standing over the body of a man he has just killed. His face is splashed with blood. He’s thinking about what led him here. He’s wondering why everything that lasts has to die. He’s pretty philosophical about it all, actually—much more than he imagined he would be. Killing a man has turned out to be a cinch.
It was a lot easier than making Julia 3, that’s for damn sure.
He thinks about that.
It all flickers in his mind like the last remnants of a faded dream, where everything you love is turned into a bizarre mocking tone poem. It comes in quick flashes and dull bursts. He sees himself writing Julia 3 in February of 1977 and getting the green light from Rumpelstiltskin in March. He sees himself storyboarding the picture with real visual effects professionals—guys who’ve defected from some nothing little space movie at Fox called Star Wars, which still in production. They’ve defected because the picture is in big trouble. The executives over there don’t realize you need money and time to pull off the kind of shots they want—and money and time is eventually what makes the axe fall over here, too, because Rumpelstiltskin says that the shots need to be completed in two months to make their release date, which is July 4th. They say it’s impossible. He says they’re fired. Zack has no idea how to do what’s in his script now because it’s all so elaborate and the crazy Italian guy who did the effects for the last two Julias ended up in the hospital last week with cancer. The doctors says he won’t last the year. They’re all fucked.
Rumpelstiltskin says to make it work.
Julia must fly again.
Make it work or else.
Zack buys a pound of blow, hires a typist and dictates a frantic rewrite of the screenplay in three days, holed up at the Château de Marmot on Sunset Boulevard. The hotel room is dark. It’s the room John Belushi will die in. There are already demons here, telling Zack secrets about the sinful work he is being forced to do. He has to make it so that anything he wants to do can be serviced by using special effects shots from the last two movies. They can’t afford anything new. It’s a recycle job. Rumpelstiltskin no longer cares if the film loses money. He wants very little risk this time during actual physical production. They’re spending less than half a million on Julia 3. Zack feels like he’s murdering his baby. Again. But he ends up having to do so much goddamn blow to stay awake that murdering the baby only seems like light abuse after a while. Then he convinces himself that he’s done something special. He consoles himself that at least he will see Julia again—the real Julia, his beloved Julia.
When he does see her, she is still the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Her eyes shine, her smile is sly and dark—just like old times. She’s resplendent in a conservative white blouse that shows off her most devastating assets, every other sound in the restaurant tuned down to nothing so he can only hear the excited symphony solo of her amazing, musical voice. She’s read the script and thinks it’s great. She says his son is doing fine. Just turned 4. He’s a delight and her loving husband—the awesome, amazing Rumpelstiltskin, who is the owner of all the money in the world—takes good care of him.
This no longer makes Zack’s heart die.
He just kinda lives with it and tells Julia it’s time to make a movie.
The movie takes five weeks to shoot. Most of the action takes place on spaceships and on a desert planet, which they film just outside of town, on locations that were literally dirt cheap to get. The costumes and the sets are passable. The optical effects that show Julia’s mystic powers will be a little expensive, but that’s okay. We can’t cheap completely out, can we?
The story is very simple this time.
Originally it was more elaborate—an intergalactic battle on the far moon of an icy world where love has been outlawed.
Now, it’s been boiled down to the basic essentials.
Julia Starchild crash lands on a dune planet and joins up with a wounded humanoid alien, who is possessed by the cyborg spirit of a biomechanical laser gun, which is fused to his arm. She travels with him on an endless hike through the wasteland, learning his secrets, searching his soul and finally making love with him under the stars. She conceives a child and tells him so, just as they reach a strange oasis, which turns out to be a portal to another dimension. The alien is killed travelling through the gateway, but Julia emerges in the lair of the evil Drydex, who has returned in his original manly form—played by the same actor who showed up in part 1—and old Drydex captures her and tortures her, only to be outwitted by Julia in a final, shining moment of intellectual triumph, where she convinces him that love is the only thing worth owning in the entire universe. Her child is born in a flash of light and the angelic iridescent star baby smiles from the stars.
Zack cries in the editing room.
Bad tears, anguished tears.
His art was all he had left—and it sucks out loud.
The production is rushed and cheap. The makeup on the guy playing the humanoid alien is for shit. Even the laser gun grafted on the fella’s hand looks like it was made out of paper mache. And the storyline could have been written in someone else’s sleep.
Julia is still beautiful, but such beauty is wasted now.
Zack is truly dead at last.
Rumpelstiltskin sees Zack disintegrating and takes the editing away from him and finishes the picture with a recycled score, recycled effects and a few new flashy shots to cover the holes. The distributor hates the film—it’s even worse than the last two, and those movies were hardly rocket science either—but they have an ace in the hole. See, something extraordinary has happened just this month.
This month, which happens to be June of 1977.
A movie called Star Wars has just been released.
It’s the hottest thing going.
Everyone suddenly wants to be in the space business.
Rumpelstiltskin agrees and they slap a new title on the front, hide all their names behind one ridiculous nom de plume—James T. Nebula—and sell the movie hard, with millions of advertising dollars, at home and abroad. Rumpelstiltskin again spends five times the film’s budget on promotion. But it works. He nets almost 11 million in worldwide pre-sales.
And the critics . . . well, they rave, of course.
“Complete unfettered garbage, unworthy of any respectable critic’s undivided attention. I am insulted that I had to sit through this.”
“The last two films in this series somehow pre-dated the childish sophistication of the current blockbuster STAR WARS—what a shame they can’t seem to find their own groove with this one.”
“The sex scenes are more raunchy and exploitive, but they don’t seem to have a set to shoot any of it on. And the acting talents of one Julia Starr are still intergalactically awful.”
“Define irony. Now that the space craze is in full swing, Julia Starchild is finally dead on arrival.”
Roger Ebert doesn’t even have a thing to say this time.
Zack doesn’t read any of it.
He doesn’t want anything.
But one last thing.
He buys a gun and another pound of blow. His plan is to snort it all and then march straight into Rumpelstiltskin’s office and kill him. For what Rumpelstiltskin has done. For his son, which Rumpelstiltskin demanded. For everything Zack had to sell to Rumpelstiltskin to make the worst movie of all time. He feels it in his heart. He will do this thing. And then he will kill himself, because that will be the perfect ending. Someone will write the book later and it will be a hell of a story. A bloody tragic ending always sells. Just ask Billy Shakes.
It is two in the morning.
The moment is perfect.
He doesn’t even get one foot out the door of his shitty Hollywood apartment when a guy steps into his line of sight and tells him he’s not going anywhere.
It’s the PI who was assigned to watch him—who watched him buy the gun, who put two and two together, who used to kill gooks in ‘Nam, who saved his life last year from a pimp who wanted all his money. The PI tells him to hand over his pistol and so Zack does just that. The PI’s face is like a leather roadmap. The PI puts him in a car and drives him downtown and marches him into an elevator. Going up, he gives Zack some shit about the semi-automatic Baretta he purchased from Gideon’s Pawn. Tells him an automatic is an unreliable weapon. Tells him when you wanna go for speed and accuracy, a gun like his—a fucking Smith and Wesson revolver—will cut right on target every time. His voice is like corroded sand. The guy walks him into Rumpelstiltskin’s office at the business of his accurate revolver. Sits him down at a big desk where Rumpelstiltskin explains that life is unfair and everything sucks, but you have to look at the bright side. And the big picture. Rumpelstiltskin says that he has made a deal with Avco Embassy Pictures for the next Julia film. Space movies are the big craze now and they want one—they want Julia. It will be the biggest picture in the series. They say they want the original director, because they have no idea the second shitty two were made by the same guy. They want Zack Groove to return and finish the series in high style. It will be a big big BIG film. Rumpelstiltskin has secured 10 million from an offshore investor and Avco is planning a massive promotional blitz. Rumpelstiltskin says he knows that Zack was probably planning to kill him, but we must put our petty family grudges behind us. We must make a better movie this time. Julia 3 was just a placeholder—a way to stall for time until we can really get it on. Rumpelstiltskin holds out his hand and asks if they are in business.
And Zack leaps across the desk and rips the man’s throat out with his teeth.
That’s what he will tell me later.
I will not believe him for a very long time.
He will tell me that—in full view of Rumpelstiltskin’s bodyguard from ‘Nam, who stood there like a paralyzed statue the whole time, aiming his accurate gun but never firing because he would have killed both men with one shot—Zack turned into a snarling werewolf and executed a man worth billions right in his own office, yelling the whole time that he was an inhuman monster. Like inhuman monsters are so hard to come by in this world.
He will tell me that it was a bloody, screaming blur.
He will tell me the memory is like a crimson burn in his soul.
In the moment just after that blur subsides, the PI guy from ‘Nam still has a stunned look of That-Didn’t-Just-Fucking-Happen on his face. He almost laughs as the boss falls like sack of bloody shit and Zack stands over him, slobbering pulpy liquid gore from his mouth. The PI says fuck this and gets out of there, leaving Zack alone with the dead man. After a few minutes, Zack decides to leave too. Walks right down the hall and gets in the elevator, leaves the building and walks home, right along the Miracle Mile. Nobody sees him because it’s so late. There’s not even a security guard on duty because Rumpelstiltskin is a cheap fuck these days. Nobody ever knows anything about what really happened to Rumpelstiltskin. Zack fades away into nothingness.
And three days later, the PI guy from ‘Nam is arrested for murder.
They say there’s a witness that placed him at the scene. They say they found a receipt for his services in Rumpelstiltskin’s pocket. It all so circumstantial that it would never have stuck at all—if an ambitious cop hadn’t found a bloody jacket in the PI’s closet during the investigation. The blood is a spot on match with the dead guy’s. The PI goes away on a 30 year sentance and is killed in prison six months later over a carton of smokes—Marlboro, unfiltered.
Zack Groove is never so much as questioned.
But he never makes a movie again in Hollywood.
His life is officially over.
For real this time.
. . .
He does not realize that, many miles away, in the town of Muleshoe Texas, my heart is broken by what he has done. Not the killing—that would have made me happy, I think. No, I am broken by what he has done to my beloved Julia. I am broken because my childhood is over. I’m still shifting through puberty, of course, which is a hell unto itself—but I know so much more than any child my age should ever have to. I know how gods become monsters and how monsters have to be put down. I know how goddesses disappoint us and become bad science fiction. I go home to where my mother is crying alone in her bedroom because she is so lonely. I go into the bathroom and I masturbate and I try to think about Julia, which I have many times in the past year. But the magic is very different now—still there, but infused with a profoundly desperate melancholy. The wet emptiness creeps up my spine as I climax. It’s all so awful. I wipe my semen off my hand and I leave the house, walking down the street of the shitty town of Muleshoe where I was born, and I think I’m looking for a star. I’m not sure what that star will be called. But I think I know now that I must create something. Must create Julia somehow—must make her live again. Must make her mine again. And somewhere behind all that, I’m even thinking about the man my mother dated last year. I’m thinking about what he did to me in the dark and how I made him stop. I’m thinking about his stunned retreat and his revenge on my mother. I’m thinking about walking out to the shed and getting the shovel. I’m even thinking about how I used the same shovel to bury what was left of him, right in our backyard. I’m thinking about how it all seemed so easy then and how difficult everything seems now. Years later, when I find Zack Groove and he tells me the incredibly unlikely stories of the men he saw die because of Julia Starchild, I will be amazed at the fearful ironic symmetry that binds us. But for now, my soul cries out in bottomless, frustrated blackness. I am set loose on the earth to mourn my boyhood and regret my deeds, forever and ever. Because forever is being a child.
I did it for you, mom.
I did it for you, Julia.
I did it to be a man.
But being a man sucks.
Next week: Battle Beyond The Planet Of Ice . . .