By Dean Lappi
It was a cold and wet Monday morning, as well as the 3rd of January, 2022.
All three things dampened Terry’s mood.
He didn’t like the cold, and was irritated that the holidays were over. He stopped at the edge of a crosswalk, waiting for the crossing signal to change. A taxi sped past and splashed slush all over his legs, and Terry flipped off the cab driver while brushing half-heartedly at the dirty slop, then gave up when the light changed. He continued down 6th Avenue in Manhattan, heading toward the HallMarx Channel building, where he was head script writer.
The holidays had come and gone far too quickly this year. He had decided to stay in New York for the three weeks he was off, instead of flying back to his small home town in the mountains of Colorado to be with family. He just hadn’t felt like dealing with the horrible people that packed the airports over the holidays, especially with the pandemic still going on. It was just easier to stay home. So, he had stocked up on frozen pizzas, alcohol and junk food, and had settled in to binge watch all the movies he had not had time to watch all year. He avoided all the holiday movies that littered streaming and cable services, which had been difficult because there were just so many of them, most of which he and his team had written.
For three weeks he didn’t leave his apartment, change out of sweat pants, or take a phone call—except to wish his family a Merry Christmas. He watched action and horror movies, played video games until 4 in the morning, and got slightly drunk almost every night.
And most importantly, Terry had been alone. He had no partner right now and he was absolutely fine with that. In fact, he enjoyed being single.
It had been an absolutely glorious holiday break.
But now he was heading back to work.
Terry glanced up at the tall skyscraper that housed the HallMarx Channel head office, then opened the door and entered the grand, marble lobby, his wet shoes squeaking on the shiny floor as he made his way to the elevator bank, flashing his badge to Ben at the front desk. The lobby was empty as he nodded at Tabitha, the security guard, who waved at him with a beautiful smile. The building had just recently reopened after being closed for the first 18 months of the pandemic, but it was still pretty much vacant, as most employees continued to work remotely. He lived only ten blocks away, so he came to work because he enjoyed the solitude of the empty office.
Terry stepped out of the elevator on the 37th floor and ambled to his desk, scuffing his shoes on the carpet to dry them as he walked. The entire workplace was empty, as usual, and he sighed happily, loving that he didn’t have to make small talk with coworkers. After an hour of lazily reading the news online and finishing his second cup of coffee, Terry sighed deeply and made his way to the writer’s conference room.
He closed the glass door and shuffled over to his normal seat at the large table, and took two deep breaths before joining the first Zoom call of the new year. He was dreading the meeting, as his boss would be passing out writing assignments for the HallMarx Channel 2023 holiday-movie lineup that the company would release on TV and streaming services next year.
“Happy New Year,” said Melissa, the VP of Holiday Movie Development, a title he imagined she shared often at parties.
Before he could respond, she had already moved on to say the exact same thing to each of the other four writers on the video call. He hated her insincere friendliness and fake interest.
Melissa absently said, “OK, now that that is done with, I am turning on ‘Record’.”
A message appeared on screen that the meeting was being recorded, and Terry clicked the ‘Accept’ button to clear the message.
Adjusting her glasses, Melissa leaned forward and put her elbows on her desk, steepling her hands together. “Alright, we only have seven hours for this meeting, so let’s get down to it, shall we?”
No one said a word, but the other four writers nodded enthusiastically. Terry wished he could turn off his camera, but knew it wasn’t allowed. “We all have to see each other’s happy faces, now don’t we Terry?” Melissa had said in a sweet tone when he had once brought up the idea of turning off their Zoom cameras. So, he put on a bland-but-attentive expression and waited for her to continue.
Melissa briefly glanced down at some notes off screen, then smiled as she looked up. “We have 48 holiday movie slots lined up for next year.”
Terry groaned inwardly.
She continued, “We have fifteen sequels, twelve remakes, eleven re-imaginings of sequels of remakes, and ten entirely new movies to really entice our holiday movie lovers.” She said the word “new” with something akin to awe, like it was a special gift to audiences.
Melissa lifted her index finger as if she was being benevolent, “And the good news is, for this year, we have until February 28th to get the scripts completed.” She leaned forward to look at something on her screen, her lips silently moving as she counted. “That means we have…57 days to get them all written, edited, and delivered to Shelly. That’s not so bad now, is it?”
The other writers grinned and nodded, obviously looking forward to the work.
Terry knew it would be no problem to finish the scripts by the deadline. They basically used the same storyline for every movie, so they really only had to change three things: the location, the gender of the main character, and the situation that brought them to their home town—or any small town—at Christmas, where they would find true love and realize how sad and lonely their life had been before.
He grunted quietly, knowing he could probably write all 48 scripts himself in the next 57 days.
Before he knew what he was doing, Terry clicked the ‘Raise Hand’ feature on Zoom.
Melissa glanced down, and in an exasperated tone asked, “Yes, Terry?”
He felt a surge of heat to his face as he asked, “What if we try something entirely new for one of the scripts?”
Melissa stared at him as the other four writers drew in a collective breath. She held the stare for almost fifteen seconds before asking in a cold voice, “And what, exactly, do you have in mind?”
Terry had nothing in mind, he had just blurted out the question without thinking. But he was in it now, so he said the first thing that entered his thoughts, “I don’t know…what if we had the main character be gender fluid? We could have them go back to their small town and meet another gender fluid person, which they never expected. But instead of realizing they were meant to give up their big-city life to start a ‘real’ capital-L Life in their quaint little town, how about they recognize, instead, that it is just a fling and nothing more—that they feel lucky to have had the experience, but understand it isn’t permanent. We could then have the main character go back to the big city to continue living their already fabulous life, alone.”
All four writers angrily hissed, and Melissa glared at him icily. She turned off the Zoom recording, put herself on mute, picked up her phone, dialed a number, said a few words and put the phone down. Then she sat back and just stared at Terry.
Terry felt himself flush. He was about to tell her to forget the idea when the door to the conference room opened. He felt a small breeze of air on the back of his neck and turned his head in time to see Tabitha, the security guard, swing a billy club toward his face.
Then everything went black.
Drops of blood speckled Terry’s camera, and the four writers nodded with relief as they watched Tabitha drag his body out of view. They heard a muffled ‘pop-pop’ sound, and then Tabitha returned and wiped a cloth across the camera lens, smearing it red. She leaned close and nodded to Melissa, then ended the Zoom meeting on Terry’s laptop.
Melissa smiled as she turned on the record feature again. “Now, who wants to take on the ‘Honky Tonky Christmas,’ script, where a big-city country music star returns to his small Texas hometown and falls in love with a local school teacher on Christmas?”
All of the writers instantly raised their hands.
Melissa looked down and softly said, “Good. Good.” She typed for a few seconds, then said, “Alright, Greg, you lucky guy, it’s all yours.”
Smiling as she looked up, Melissa practically cooed as she said, “Ooh, this is one of my favorites. Who wants the ‘Princess Christmas Storm’ script, where a princess falls in love with a handsome local widower in a small ski-town during a Christmas snowstorm?”
Find out more about Dean Lappi from his Amazon Author page.