a short story by AJ Cannon
“Are you here for the audition?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Take the hallway on your left. Pass the elevators and you’ll see the signs.”
That was it. No smile, no welcome, no good luck. Just the incessant tapping of blood-red fingernails operating at double time. Misty followed the woman’s directions and listened to the tapping fade behind her. She stopped in front of the signs, each one standing in front of a door.
Door #1 — Screamers age 10–18
Door #2 — Screamers age 19–30
Misty walked through door number two thinking this sure isn’t like the old days. Back in the day, the golden age of horror films, auditions didn’t happen like this. Nothing was like this. Back then producers and directors were everywhere — restaurants, bars, festivals. They spotted you, liked your looks and asked you to scream for them. Then BAM! You were in a movie. Everything is different now.
Misty was handed a clipboard with a Bic pen tethered to it by another woman who also excelled at doing her job without making eye contact with anyone. Another thirty-something, past the days of looking for stardom, but clinging to any mundane job that will keep her in the business. Misty found a chair and began filling out the form on the clipboard.
Date of Birth — she skipped that for now.
Recent work experience. She had to think about that one too.
I am getting too old for this crap, she thought. Misty dug her phone out of her purse. She needed to look through her emails, see what information she had given this director already. Twenty-five. Misty counted backwards in her head. Nineteen-ninety-one. She wrote in 6–6–91 on the space for birthdate.
Misty liked her real birthday better — 6–6–56. It was fun to write. All those sixes made her feel like she belonged in scary movies. And Misty had been one of the best screamers back in the day. Misty let her mind drift back to her younger days. The best horror flicks were made in the seventies. Her own blood-curdling scream can be heard in several of them. Those were fun times. Fast, crazy times, but fun.
Misty glanced around the room at all the twenty-something faces surrounding her. She knew most of these girls would love to have her strange condition. But Misty has learned the hard way, not aging isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. She looked over at the woman by the door, sitting, typing away. She could see the fine lines camouflaged by makeup around the woman’s eyes. Misty wanted some of those for herself. She wanted one of those mundane jobs. She was tired of being told she was too young and pretty for a desk job.
Looking in the mirror was like staring at a stranger. The girl that peered out at her bore no resemblance to the aging woman she felt on the inside. The true Misty. The aches and pains radiating from her joints didn’t jive with the beautiful young woman on the outside.
Misty finished her paperwork and turned it in to the front table lady.
“Thank you. Now just wait for your name to be called.” Again, no eye contact.
Misty sat back down and waited. Years ago, when Misty first realized she wasn’t aging, she loved it. She exploited it. Unlike most of her friends, she continued to work through her thirties and forties. She never cared to be a star. Misty was happy with the bit parts in movies and TV shows. ‘Steady work, not stardom,’ she had told her friends. ‘That’s what keeps you grounded and pays the bills.’
As her circle of friends aged, they drifted off into new careers and new lives, outside of Hollywood. TheY sometimes asked Misty how she stayed so young looking, even accused her of getting plastic surgery on the sly. Misty always managed to laugh it off and change the subject.
By that time, Misty had already started lying about her age at auditions. Now none of the old crew was around anymore. It was too late to tell the truth. After looking at her, no one would believe her anyway. It was all catching up to her now. Misty was tired, tired all the time. Tired of acting — in front of the camera and behind it. But what could she do? She was a sixty-year-old woman with no skills, only the appearance of youth.
Misty looked up at the sound of her name being called. She followed a young man wearing skinny jeans further down the hall to a third door. There was no sign at this door.
“You can stand over there,” he said to her flatly while nodding his head toward the center of the room.
Misty took her place. There was a long rectangle table a few feet in front of her with several people sitting on the opposite side, facing her. None of them acknowledged her presence. A red haired woman standing a little off to the right snapped a camera at Misty.
Finally, the man sitting at the center of the table looked up. “OK, go ahead and give us some screams. Show us how terrified you are.”
Misty froze. She didn’t scream. She didn’t make any sound at all. But she was terrified. She suddenly realized how much she didn’t want to do this audition.
“Well,” the man said, raising an eyebrow.
The other people at the table were looking at her now. Misty could feel tears swelling up past her cheekbones, trying to push their way out of her eye sockets. She couldn’t stop them. Misty started crying. Her head fell forward, and she covered her face with her hands. She was crying harder now, and in the back of her mind she thought of how ridiculous she must look to this panel of filmmakers. She couldn’t help it. The strain of pretending to be twenty-five for the past thirty years had finally caught up with her. She was tired of being young. She just wanted to rest.
Missy’s body crumpled down into a heap on the floor. The red-headed camera lady realized this wasn’t an act. She rushed over to Misty and knelt down beside her, handing her a tissue.
“Are you ok? Can I get you some water or something?”
In the corner of the room, Mr. Skinny Jeans rolled his eyes at Red’s compassion.
Misty shook her head no. She gradually regained control of her emotions. She looked up at the woman, at the people staring at her from the safe side of the table.
“I’m sorry,” Misty mumbled. “I’m terribly sorry. I don’t know what came over me.” She dabbed the tissue around her eyes, trying not to smudge her mascara, and stood up. She became uncomfortably aware of the faces staring at her, eyes wide and mouths gaping open. Camera lady was backing way cautiously.
Misty looked around. It was then that Misty noticed the mirrors. She saw her reflection, but not the one she was used to seeing. No. That beautiful, young woman in the mirror was transforming, melting, changing while Misty watched. The brown wavy hair grayed and fell limp. The plump lips thinned. The eyes sank into droopy, lined sockets. The skin on her neck wrinkled and sagged. The shoulders hunched forward. Liver spots materialized on the crepey skin of her arms. The pain of aging that Misty had been feeling inside her body for years suddenly, magically, revealed itself on the outside. Misty found herself staring in the mirror at her true self.
‘Finally,’ Misty thought. ‘Finally!’