Tue
Jun 3 2014 3:00pm

“The Only Ending We Have” (Excerpt)

Kim Newman

Best Horror of the Year volume 6 excerpt

With each passing year, science, technology, and the march of time shine light into the craggy corners of the universe, making the fears of an earlier generation seem quaint. But this “light” creates its own shadows.

The Best Horror of the Year, edited by Ellen Datlow, chronicles these shifting shadows. It is a catalog of terror, fear, and unpleasantness, as articulated by today’s most challenging and exciting writers. Volume six in this anthology series is available now from Night Shade!

More than any other editor or critic, Ellen Datlow has charted the shadowy abyss of horror fiction. Join her on this journey into the dark parts of the human heart... Below, read an excerpt from Kim Newman’s “The Only Ending We Have,” a Hitchcock tribute about a young woman on-set for Psycho.

 

 

 

The windshield wipers squeaked… like shrilling fiddles, scraped nerves, the ring of an unanswered phone. Another reason to trade in her ’57 Ford Custom. For 1960, she’d like something with fins.

Not that she could afford next year’s showroom model.

Unless Hitch coughed up the ransom.

For the thing it was all about. The mcguffin.

The thing the audience doesn’t care about, but the characters do.

“Good eeeev-ning,” Hitch said, every goddamn morning… like in his TV show with that nursery/graveyard tune burbling in the background. “Funeral March of the Marionettes.” Dump-da-dumpity-dump-da-dump…

“Good eeeev-ning, Jay-y-ne…”

His gargling-with-marbles accent was British. Not like David Niven or Peter Lawford, but British crawled out from under a rock. Hitch was a wattled toad in a grey-flannel suit, with inflating cheeks and jowls. His lower teeth stuck out like the Wolf Man’s. His loose, babyish lips got moist when she came on set. Even before she took off the bathrobe. When she unwrapped the goods, he was spellbound. After a half hour, he’d have to gulp down drool with a little death-rattle.

“Jayne Swallow? Do you swallow, Jayne… do you?”

Every morning the same routine. Even before the robe came off.

“Take a bird name, chickie,” her agent, Walter, had said… “bird names are good.”

So, goodbye Jana Wróbel… hello, Jayne Swallow.

She should have gone with Joan Sparrow or Junie Peacock. By the time she signed on for Hitch, it was too late. She’d heard all the lines.

The set was festooned with dead birds. They stank under the hot lights. Chemicals. The glass eyes of the mountain eagle perched above a doorway reminded her of Hitch’s watery ogling.

Hitchcock. That was a bird name, too. And a dirty meaning, which no one threw in the director’s face every morning.

“Good morning, Mr. Softcock… Good afternoon, Mr. Halfcock… Good eeev-ning, Mr. Cocksucker… how do you like it?”

He’d screech like a bird at that… Scree! Scree! Scree!

There was a bird name in his damn movie. Janet Leigh’s character. Jayne’s character. Crane. Marion Crane.

…which made Jayne and Janet Hitch’s Marion-ettes. The whole shoot was their funeral, scored with the slow, solemn, ridiculous tune. Jayne danced and strings cut into her wrists and neck.

In the end, the wires were snipped and she fell all in a heap, unstrung. Over and over. Like a sack of potatoes. Like a side of beef with arms and legs. Chocolate oozed from her wounds. Then she got up and died all over again.

Dump-da-dumpity-dump-da-dump… Scree! Scree! Scree!

She drove North on the Pacific Coast Highway.

To disguise herself, in case anyone from the studio should be crossing the road in front of the car, she’d worn sunglasses and a headscarf. Marilyn’s famous I-don’t-want-to-be-recognized look. She’d taken off the disguise when she was safely out of Los Angeles and the rain got heavy.

Even without the shades, it was hard to see the road ahead. Short-lived, clear triangles were wiped in thick water on the windshield. A deluge. Mudslide weather. After months of California sun, you found out where the ceiling leaked. There wasn’t much traffic, which was a mercy. The car weaved from side to side as the wheel fought her grip. Her tires weren’t the newest. She struggled, as if she’d been force-fed booze by a spy ring and set loose on a twisty cliff road to meet an unsuspicious accident.

The squeak of the wipers. The beat of her heart.

The voices in her head. Hitch’s. Her agent’s. Hers.

“Do you swallow, Jayne… do you?”

Tony Perkins’s. “I like stuffing… birds.”

Scree! Scree! Scree!

The window-seals were blown. Water seeped into the car, pouring in rivulets over the dash and inside the doors. Droplets formed this side of the glass, too many to wipe away with her cuff. Her seat was damp. She shivered. She’d been fighting the flu since her first day in the shower. With all the water, no one noticed her nose was streaming… except Becca, the make up woman, and she kept secrets like a priest in a confessional.

She could still feel water on her body. For days, she’d been pounded by studio hoses. The temperature varied from lukewarm to icy. The pressure kept up. Extra steam was pumped in, to show on film. She’d been scalded and she’d been frozen, but most of all she’d been soaked. She thought she’d never be dry again.

Before Jayne got into the fake bathtub each morning, Becca had to apply three moleskin patches that transformed her into a sexless thing, like that new blonde doll her niece had, Barbie… or a dressmaker’s dummy with a head.

She might as well not have a head… her face would not be in the film. Janet Leigh’s would be. The most Jayne would show was a tangle of wet blonde hair, seen from behind, as the knife scored down her unrecognizable back.

…in the book, the girl in the shower had her head cut off with an axe. One chop. Too swift for Hitch. He preferred the death of a thousand cuts. A thousand stabs. A thousand edits.

She was the only person on the crew who’d read the novel—not espe­cially, but just by coincidence, a few months ago. Something to read while a photographer got his lights set just so. The first rule of show business was always take a book to read. There was so much waiting while men fiddled before they could start proper work. On the average Western, you could read From Here to Eternity while the bar room mirror was being replaced between fights.

Hitch disapproved of Jayne’s book-learning. He intended to make a play of keeping the twist secret… not letting audiences into theaters after the movie started, appearing in jokey public service messages saying “Please don’t tell the ending, it’s the only one we have.” But the picture’s last reel wasn’t an atomic plan guarded by the FBI. The paperback was in every book-rack in America. If it were down to Hitch, he’d confiscate the whole run and have the books pulped. It wasn’t even his ending, really. It was Robert Bloch’s. The writer was seldom mentioned. Hitch pretended he’d made it all up. Jayne sympathised… . Bloch was the only participant getting a worse deal out of the movie than her.

A clot of liquid earth splattered against the windshield, dislodged from the hillside above. The wipers smeared it into a blotch. She saw obscene shapes in the mud pattern, setting off bells at the Catholic Legion of Decency. Soon, the dirt was gone. Eventually, water got rid of all the disgusting messes in the world.

After a few hours in the movie shower, those patches would wash off Jayne’s censorable areas. It didn’t matter what spirit-gum Becca tried. Water would always win.

Then, spittle would rattle in Hitch’s mouth. He would observe, lugubriously, “I spy… with my little eye… something beginning wi-i-i-ith… N! Nipple!”

Always, the director would insist on pretending to help Becca re-apply the recalcitrant triangles… risking the wrath of the unions. The film’s credited make up men were already complaining about being gypped out of the chance to work with naked broads and stuck with be-wigging skeletons or filling John Gavin’s chin-dimple. There was an issue about whether the patches were make up or costume.

Jayne had posed for smut pictures. Walter said no one would ever know, the pay was better than extra work, and the skin game had been good enough for Marilyn. For Swank and Gent—she’d never made it into Playboy—they shot her as was and smoothed her to plasticity with an airbrush. For the movies, the transformation was managed on set.

“Have you shaved today, Jayne Swallow? Shaved down there?”

Unless she did, the crotch-patch was agony to get off. No matter how many times it washed free during the day, it was always stuck fast at the end of the shoot. She was raw from the ripping.

“I thought of becoming a barber,” Hitch said. “If you need a hand, I have my cut throat…”

At that, at the thought of a straight-razor on her pubes, he would flush with unconcealable excitement… and her guts would twist into knots.

“You’ll love Hitch,” Walter said. “And he’ll love you. He loves blondes. And bird names. Birds are in all his films.”

Sure, she was blonde. With a little help from a bottle. Another reason to shave down there.

We can’t all be Marilyn. We can’t all be Janet Leigh.

Being Janet Leigh was Jayne’s job on this film.

Body double. Stand-in. Stunt double. Torso dummy.

Oh, Janet did her time in the shower. From the neck up.

The rest of it, though… weeks of close-ups of tummy, hands, feet, ass, thighs, throat… that was Jayne.

“It’s a shower scene,” Walter said.

She’d thought she knew what that meant. She’d done shower scenes. Indoors, for sophisticated comedies. Outdoors, for Westerns. Show a shape behind a curtain or a waterfall, and then let Debra Paget or Dorothy Provine step out wrapped in a towel and smile.

They always joked about shooting a version “for France.” Without the curtain.

In France, Brigitte Bardot showed everything. Hitch would have loved to have BB in his sights. But Hollywood wasn’t ready yet…

So, a shower scene…

A Hitchcock shower scene.

Not a tease, not titillation—except for very specialized tastes (ie: his). Not a barber’s scene, but a butcher’s. Not for France, but for… well, for Transylvania or the Cannibal Islands or wherever women were meat to be carved…

There were caresses… the water, and the tip of the blade.

Not a single clean shocking chop but a frenzy of pizzicato stabs.

“This boy,” Hitch said, embarrassing Tony Perkins, “he has an eye for the ladies… no, a knife for the ladies.”

She’d been prodded, over and over. She’d been sliced, if only in illusion—the dull edge of the prop drawn over the soft skin of her stomach, again and again. After the fourth or fifth pass, it felt like a real knife… after the fourth or fifth day, she thought she was bleeding out, though it was only chocolate syrup, swirling around her dirty feet…

Some shower scene.

Her skin still burned with the rashes raised by the knife… with the little blisters made when the lights boiled the water on her shoulders. The sores scraped open and leaked as she was wrapped in a torn curtain, packaged like carved meat, suitable for dumping in a swamp.

She was uncomfortable in her clothes. She might never be comfortable in her clothes again.

If she kept driving North (by North-West?), she’d hit San Francisco… city of ups and downs… But before then, she’d need to sleep.

Not in a motel. Not after this week’s work.

Her blouse was soaked through. No amount of towelling would ever get her dry.

“Do you swallow, Jayne… do you?”

The soles of her feet were ridged, painful to stand on.

“I spy… with my little eye… something beginning wi-i-i-ith… P.”

Pigeon? Psychopath? Perkins?

“Pudenda!”

Every time the crotch-skin came off, Hitch sprung another letter on her… another word for vagina. F. C. T. Q. P. M.

M for Mousehole? Whoever said that?

Sometimes Hitch took the knife himself and got in close. He said Perkins wasn’t holding it right, was stabbing like a fairy…

Perkins’s eyes narrowed at that. They didn’t slide over Jayne’s body like Hitch’s, or any of the other guys on the crew.

…but it was an excuse.

The director just plain liked sticking it to a naked woman.

Any woman? Or just Jayne?

He’d have preferred doing it to Janet, because she was a Star. Really, he’d have wanted to stab Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman, who were more than Stars. But he’d make do with Jayne Swallow… or Jana Wróbel… or some blonde off the street.

Oh, he never touched her with anything that wasn’t sharp. Never even shook hands.

“How do you shake hands with a naked lady?” he’d asked, when they were introduced—she’d been cast from cheesecake 8 x 10s, without an audition—on set. How indeed? Or was that his way of avoiding physical contact with her? Did he not trust himself?

Others had auditioned, she learned… but turned him down. They’d found out what he wanted and preferred not to be a part of it. Blondes who did naked pin-ups, strippers, girls who did stag films… they didn’t want to be cut-up in a shower, even with Janet Leigh’s head on top of their bodies.

So, Jayne Swallow.

Scree! Scree! Scree!

Now, she really had what Hitch wanted… and he’d have to pay more than scale to get it back. But it wasn’t the money. That wasn’t her mcguffin. She wanted something else. What? Revenge? Retribution? To be treated like a person rather than a broken doll?

It wasn’t just Hitch. She stood in for Janet Leigh. He stood in for everyone who’d cut her.

Since driving off the Lot, she’d been seeing him everywhere. In the broken side-mirror, through the misted-over rear window. In every film, there he was, somewhere. If only in a photo on the wall. Unmistakable, of course. That fat, double bass-belly… that caricature silhouette… doleful, little boy eyes like raisins in uncooked dough… the loose cheeks, like Droopy in the cartoons… that comb-over wisp.

He was waiting for a bus. He was smoking a cigar. He was getting a shoe-shine. He was wearing a too-big cowboy hat. He was smirking in a billboard ad for an all-you-can-scoff restaurant. He was fussing with dogs. He was the odd, short, fat boy out in a police line-up of tall, thin, unshaven crooks. He was up on a bell-tower, with a high-powered rifle. He was in a closet, with a bag full of sharp, sharp knives. He was in the back seat with a rope. He wore white editors’ gloves to handle his murder weapons.

She looked at the mirror, and saw no one there.

Nothing beginning with H.

But there was a shape in the road, flapping. She swerved to avoid it.

A huge gull, one wing snapped. The storm had driven it ashore.

It was behind her now. Not road kill, but a road casualty. Suitable for stuffing and mounting.

Hitch said that about Marion Crane, too, in a line he’d wanted in the script but not snuck past the censors. They were Jesuits, used to playing word games with clever naughty schoolboys.

Birds… Crane, Swallow… suitable for stuffing and mounting.

Another dark shape came out of the rain and gained on the car. A man on a motorcycle. A wild one? Like Brando. No, a highway cop. He wore a helmet and a rain-slicker. Water poured in runnels off the back of his cape. It looked like a set of folded, see-through wings. His goggles were like big glass eyes.

Her heartrate raced.

…stop, thief!

Had the studio called the cops yet? Had Hitch denounced her sabotage?

I’ll take it out of her fine sweet flesh,” Hitch would say. “Every pound of meat, every inch of skin!”

She was a thief. Not like Cary Grant, suave and calculating… but a purse-snatcher, vindictive and desperate… taking something not because it was valuable to her but because it was valuable to the person she’d stolen from.

The cop signaled her to pull over.

He had a gun. She didn’t. She was terrified.

Cops weren’t your friends.

She’d found that out the minute she got off the bus in Los Angeles. She’d been young and innocent then, with a hometown photo studio portfolio and a notion to get into the movies. She learned fast. Cops locked you up when you hadn’t done anything. Cops squeezed the merchandise and extracted fines that didn’t involve money. They let the big crooks walk free and cracked down on the hustlers. They always busted the wrong man. Beat patrolmen, vice dicks, harness bulls, traffic cops. The enemy.

Her brakes weren’t good. It took maybe thirty yards to pull over. With a sound like a scream in the rain.

The wipers still ticked as the motor idled. The screech slowed.

In the rear-view, she saw the cop unstraddle his ride. The rain poured off his helmet, goggles, cape, boots. He strode through the storm towards her. He wasn’t like the city cops she’d met, bellies bulging over their belts, flab-rolls easing around their holstered guns. He was Jimmy Stewart lean, snake-hipped. A cowboy with an armored skullcap.

If she put on a burst of speed, would she leave him here?

No, he’d catch her. Or she’d go off the cliff into the Pacific.

The knuckle rap came at her window. The cop didn’t bend down. She saw the leather jacket through his transparent slicker. A wild one, after all.

She tried to roll the window down and the handle came off. It did sometimes, but there was a trick to fixing it back. She didn’t bother with the trick. She opened the door, first a crack, then halfway, using it to shield against the rain, and ducked her head out to look up at the cop.

His goggles gave him the eyes of Death.

Two little television sets strapped to his face, playing the opening of that show. Dump-da-dumpity-dump-da-dump… there Hitch was, in a fright-wig, being funny, holding a noose or a big bottle with poison stamped on it. A non-speaking woman boiling in a pot or strapped to a saw-horse.

“Good eeev-ning,” he said.

Not Hitch, the cop. And not with a British accent.

She waited for it. The come-on. Tonight’s stawww-ry.

“Going mighty fast?” “Where’s the fire, lady?” “The way you look, the things you do to a man… that ought to be against the law…” “See what you’ve done to my night-stick, ma’am…” “Swallow, huh? Well…?”

“License and registration?”

He was unreadable. Not a movie cop.

She didn’t ask what she’d done wrong. She knew enough not to open up that debate. She found her documents, sodden and fragile as used tissue, in the glove compartment.

Whenever she showed her papers, she was irrationally afraid they’d turn out to be false—or the cop would say they were. That blanket of guilt was impossible to shuck, even when she hadn’t had things to feel guilty about. She knew these papers were legit, but they weren’t in the name she was using. In the photo on her driver’s license, Jana wasn’t as blonde as Jayne.

Her papers got wetter as the cop looked them over.

“Wróbel,” he said, pronouncing it properly.

Then he asked her something in Polish. Which she didn’t speak.

She shrugged.

“Not from the Old Country, then?”

It might as well have been Transylvania.

“Santa Rosa, originally,” she admitted.

“Hollywood, now,” he said, clocking her address.

She was too cold to give him a pin-up smile. Usually, cops asked if she was in pictures… she must be too bedraggled for that now.

“You must be in pictures… dirty pictures,” was the usual line. Said with a grin, and a hitch of the belt buckle into the gut.

“You must be in pictures… horror pictures,” was the new take. “You must be in pictures… Alfred Hitchcock pictures.”

“Watch your driving,” the cop actually said. “This is accident weather. How far have you got to go?”

She had no definite idea, but said “San Francisco.”

“You won’t make it by nightfall. I’d stop. Check into a motel.”

“That makes sense, sir.”

“No need for ‘sir.’ ‘Officer’ will do.”

The cop’s skin, under the rain, was grayish. This weather grayed every­thing out, like a black-and-white movie. The hillside mud should have been red, like blood… but it washed over the road like coffee grounds. Dark.

“Makes sense, officer.”

“Good girl,” he said, returning her license and registration.

A motel. Not likely. When Hitch’s film came out, people wouldn’t check into motels without thinking twice. People wouldn’t take showers. Or climb stairs. Or go into fruit cellars. Or trust young men with twitchy smiles who liked to stuff (and mount) birds.

If the film came out now. She might have scratched that.

The cop turned and walked back to his motorcycle. Rain on his back, pouring down his neck.

Why had he stopped her? Suspicion, of course. But of what?

The theft can’t have been reported yet. Might not be until Monday morning. Word couldn’t be out. This cop wasn’t rousting a woman motorist for kicks, like they usually did. Maybe he was just concerned? There had to be some cops like that…

While she had the door open, water rained in. Her shoes were soaked.

She pulled the door shut and tried to start the car. The motor seized up and died. Then choked, then drew out a death scene like Charles Laughton, then caught again… and she drove on.

Damn, December night fell quick.

Now, she was driving through dark and rain. The road ahead was as murky as a poverty-row back-projection plate. Her right headlight was on the fritz, winking like a lecher at a co-ed.

The cop was right. She had to pull over. If she slept in this leaky car, she’d drown. If she drove on, she’d end up in the sea. The Ford Custom did not come with an optional lifeboat. She wasn’t sure hers even had a usable spare tire.

Through blobby cascades on the windshield, she saw a flashing light.

VACANCY.

 


Excerpted with permission from The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Six edited by Ellen Datlow, “The Only Ending We Have” by Kim Newman. Copyright 2014, Night Shade Books, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

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