Once More with Feeling


Dale was always swearing by video game work but tonight’s Heineken seems to have animated him even more than usual. “I finally got my car back from the shop thanks to that Eldritch gig,” he says, waving the stub of his cigarette around. “I know you think you’ve got better stuff to be doing, but that dinky theater company of yours isn’t going to pay the rent. Right?”

Rebecca stares off the balcony into Culver City’s balmy orange night. “Yeah. Not here, anyway.”

“Well, either you’re gonna make it work here, or you’re gonna give up,” Dale says, with uncharacteristic bluntness, as he lights up again. “Don’t think it’s going to be any easier in New York. Seriously.”

Suddenly, he sits up in his cheap plastic patio chair, mouth widening into a frown, chest expanding with air. “In a land long obscured by the Shroud of Mist, a new evil something something. And they were called… the Eldritch Kings,” he stentorates, then belches. “Seven hundred dollars.”

Rebecca smirks. “How many beers have you had?”

Dale gives a sharp, short laugh, and raises his bottle. “Still on my first, baby.”

* * *

Of course she runs into Dale in the lobby, as if this gig wasn’t going to be embarrassing enough. But instead of rushing over to crow about seeing her here and how he got her the job and everything, he just waves nonchalantly.

“Sorry,” he says as they approach each other. “I’d chat but I just shouted my throat sore, and I need to let it heal up before I perform tonight. Take it easy.”

A kid who looks like he just turned nineteen is holding scripts and ushers her into the booth. Two guys, plus an engineer, are hanging out in the studio. She picks out the game designer immediately– the other one seems to be local, some typical Hollywood sound guy. The script, quaintly, has a cover page. It says The Eldritch Kings II: Spirits of Hul’nor.

Rebecca puts her headphones on and after the requisite can-you-hear-mes the game designer starts talking. “So you’re this elf who’s like a strong-willed fighter, you know, really ass-kicking… she’s lived through some dark times, seen her village attacked and wiped out by the, uh, by the bad guys. Basically, even though there was a truce called at the Council of the Eight, it turned out that, you know, it wasn’t taken very seriously, and there was a–” he’s cut off. The audio guy has punched out, and now they’re arguing with each other. Rebecca flips through her script. Okay. This thing must be at least fifty pages. It’s got a section at the end headed “non-verbal exclamations.” The last page is a sheet with a character biography and fantasy art of a chick with pointy ears holding a sword and wearing armor that bares her midriff and her thighs.

Boys.

* * *

“Let your arrows fly!”

“Uh. One more time?”

“Let your arrows fly!” Inside the studio the game designer’s head is glued to his script, nodding autistically at each line. “Press the attack!” The longest this session can last is four hours before they have to start paying her extra. “Destroy them, my sisters!” After reading some lines they called “cinematic”– because, she guesses, it was like the cinema– they had moved onto these bursts of dialogue they designated as “chatter”. She can tell they just want to power through these, and they are going to need to in order to fit this all into one session.

“For the kingdom!” Dale said something once about repetition being the enemy of video game voiceover, which is why they always recorded thousands of lines. “My life for victory!” Apparently the game would just pick one of these randomly in battle situations. “Expel the invaders!” And because nobody could predict exactly when these lines would be triggered, she’s doing them all in the same cadence, the same level of excitement. “I will bring them to ruin!” The words weren’t repeating, but the reads were– wasn’t that just as bad? “Wipe them out! All of them!” In the studio the game designer is laughing, and the audio guy turns the talkback on again.

“That last one was an Easter egg,” the designer says, still snickering. “You know, The Phantom Menace? Star Wars.”

* * *

“Okay, looks like we’re done with the weapons and magic spells… yeah, we’re almost done, just gotta do the deaths. You’re doing great, by the way.” Rebecca nods, her mind wandering to the beer she’s planning on chugging when she gets home. Dale wasn’t kidding about letting his vocal chords heal up.

The game designer steps forward. “So, this first category here is just, it’s just normal death.”

Normal death. Is there really such a thing? Maybe in video game land. “Ghk. Ghhk! Blrgh. Argh! Aaargh! Nguh!”

“Good. Okay, so the next one is for being sniped in the head by an arrow, or a crossbow bolt.”

Uh-huh. Do people even make a sound when their head is hit by a crossbow bolt? “Auhk. Gaak. Hgah! Hgagh!

“Nice, nice. Uh, next one– death by falling. Like, over a cliff?”

“Aaaaaaaauuh! Weeauuuuuuuh! Aieeeeeee!” Rebecca considers the fact that she has died about a dozen more times in the last ten minutes than she has in the rest of her acting career.

“Heh! Good, good. Okay, last one, now you’re flailing around, on fire. Actually it’s spectral fire, but… you know, it still hurts.”

“Aughrgharrgh! Raauaagh!” She gives up on acting and just starts channeling. Let it out, all of it: this idiot place called Los Angeles, this ridiculous job called acting, the existential absurdity of everything. “Hrrrrauaugh!” You are really making the big bucks in the big city now. Way to go Becky.

You fucking moron.

She gives one, final, anguished, bloodcurdling scream. It surprises even her. There’s a pause in the studio. Rebecca watches them through the glass. She knows they won’t use that take, but doing it was cathartic. More than that– it was almost something like… fun.

Finally, after some animated discussion, the audio guy punches in.

“Hey, would you be free for another session later today or tomorrow? Mike here thinks, and I agree– we’ve found our Banshee.”

Rebecca smiles, unable to decide if what just happened is good or bad. “Sure.”

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