Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Week Thirty Six: November 1st - November 7th

The Astounding Death of Gregory Faust.

When I mention classic Hollywood, what is the first image to pop into your head? Rugged men in suits, and fragile women in dresses, majestically floating through heavy hazes of cigarette smoke? In these early days of the American film industry, celebrities acted different than their predecessors today. Some say they had more morals, and others that they were just more talented. I've always thought the truth to simply be that mystery shadowed their every step. They seemed less people, and more so something unexplainable. Of all these stars, a man named Gregory Faust shined the brightest.

     Gregory Faust was Hollywood personified. He came from old money, had a seemingly endless supply of talent, and had such a charisma that people who would never meet him in person still felt a sort of bond to him. He was also dashingly handsome, and devilishly sly. I apologize for paraphrasing such a clich√©, but women wanted him, and men wanted to be him. Even at the top of the world, Gregory was still looking up, however like another popular clich√©, all good things must come to an end. Or perhaps what comes up, must come down. Whatever your preference to outdated saying, Gregory fell hard, and when he hit rock bottom, all of tinsel town winced for a brief second before going back to their lives, as required of their status.
     We could sit around all day, and listen to the rise and fall of Gregory Faust, and all of the splendor that came with it, but as the title suggests, I'm here to tell you of something much more poetic – his death. Even to this day, nobody can justly describe what happened, but the most respected, important, cherished, and even loved man in the entire world went out in a way that was infinitely more beautiful than the amazing life he had already lived. Here is the story of the Astounding death of Gregory Faust.

     “Willem! Damnit Willem, where are you!” a man roars into the darkness of a moonlit room.

     A pool of light from a candle seeps into the room from the space under a closed door.

     “Coming sir” a strained, but eloquent voice responds.

     The door opens, and the introduction of the candle's flame blinds the laying man for a second. A tall man, with his back straight, and a wearied face collecting wrinkles, shuffles in and sets the candle on a small table next to the mans large canopy bed.

     “What can I help you with Mr. Faust?” Willem softly speaks.

     “I had another damn nightmare again! This time, I was young again, walking down the streets, and the masses are showering me with admiration, but all I do is stare straight ahead, never gracing them with a response. Until I walk by a mirror, and in the reflection is a defeated old man; the old, wrinkled, pathetic face that I now carry with me. When I look back, the streets are cold and empty. I walk around calling out for help, but nobody responds. I walk back to that mirror, and I see nothing. Even my reflection won't show itself to me. I lay there on the ground, alone and beaten, and the world folds and collapses on me Willem”.

     Grabbing the butler by the lapels of his jacket, he pulls himself up to see him eye to eye, and shouts “Tell me I matter Willem! For God sake, tell me I am still as much Gregory Faust as I ever was Willem!”

     With that, his hands let go of the jacket, and he fell back to the bed. Tucking him in, the weary old butler allows a quiet sigh.

     “We do not age like wine my old friend.” Willem softly speaks as he looks out the nearest window. Blowing out the candle, he gets up and starts to head back to his room. These nightly visits have been a recurring habit for the past ten years. In a matter of moments, he is safely laying in his own bed even without the help of candlelight, and falls into dreams of when he himself was the young assistant of the worlds biggest star. Dreams of all of the love interests his career had laid in his hands, and of all the regrets that he piled over the years.

     Over the years, Gregory's life had turned into a single recurring schedule. Up by 9:00 AM, and back down by 10:00 PM, filled with the same habits of eating, reading, smoking, and reminiscing about the old days scattered in between. However, the next morning would prove to be something entirely new. The morning light would boldly enter the room from under the blinds to rest on a clock that read 6:14 AM. Sitting upright with a stunned look on his face, almost as if having an epiphany, he climbs out of his bed, and makes his way downstaires.
     Rubbing his eyes, Willem looks over at his clock, and reads 6:16 AM. Chuckling to himself, he rolls back over, and closes his eyes, knowing he still has three hours before Gregory awakes, but is awoken by the distant noise of a car sputtering. 56 years could never erase the noise of Mr. Faust's 1923 custom Desmond Model 7, a car that had about as much status as the man who bought it did. It was rightfully named Norma. Rushing downstairs, he masterfully cuts through the mansion, to arrive at a garage, and opens it while breathing heavily. “About time you woke up Willem. Make us some breakfast, and get ready to take me to town, I've got an audition” a voice says from under the hood of the vehicle.
     Wringing his hands together fitfully, Willem raises his hand to speak, but lets it fall several times before finally clearing his throat to continue, but is immediately cut off by Gregory.

     “No Willem, I will not be talked out of it, and no this isn't me finally going mad. I have decided to get back out in the acting business. The world doesn't remember me, but they will my friend. I'm Gregory Faust god damnit! I'll grab the world by the throat, and won't let go until you wrench my dying hand from it”. “So be a good man, and get ready to leave, time is of the essence!” Gregory says as he slams the hood down. “Ahh, good as new. I'll be in the cab waiting for you, hurry now.”

     Gloves, scarf, and goggles all equipped, Willem fires up the engine, and closes his eyes for one second. A flood of memories of driving around town as a young buck washes over him, and surprisingly puts a bit of energy into his old bones.

     “This was a great idea sir” Willem shouts over his shoulder.
     “This is nothing Willem, wait until we're back on top” Gregory says with a smirk on his face.

They continue driving along, until Gregory sits forward, and points to a certain street.

     “Turn right here Willem, onto Sunset Boulevard. That's where the studio for my audition is at” Gregory exclaims, child-like anxiety creeping from his voice.

     Arriving at the studio, Willem turns and stops Gregory by the sleeve of his jacket.

     “Sir, I don't mean to dampen your mood, but if things go awry, please don't take it personally” Willem says. Steeling his face, he looks Gregory directly in the eyes. “You have been my boss, and closest friend for 56 years, and if you feel it so to fire me for this, I understand. But sir, you are pushing 73 years old. You've had more in your life than a thousand men combined, and as much as I would give anything to have it back, wishes are a pallet of pastels that paint over your eyes and blind you to what is reality. What is reality, sir, is that maybe we're just too old for this, and we should enjoy the years we have left.” Willem keeps staring at him, and feels a tightening of his chest as Gregory starts to show his age again; the spark of youth is yet again gone.
     Jerking away his coat sleeve, Gregory puts on a small frown, and stares at Willem. “I'm Gregory Faust god damnit! Age is no bar to my ability.” With that, he put on a small smile, and in a much softer voice said “Don't worry so much old friend, you'll see”. As Gregory walked away, Willem sat in the drivers seat, and pulled out a cigarette. In spite of himself, he laughed about it too. “I guess i've been in this job too long to start doubting him now” he chuckled to himself. Taking a final drag, and flicking the cigarette out of the window, Willem locked up the car, and started to shuffle inside the studio, curiously enough feeling a little kick in his step.
     Backstage, Gregory stands in front of a mirror looking at himself. How many times he been standing like this backstage in his life? The numbers in his head were warped and running together, and he tossed the thought aside and focused himself. “What do you plan to do you old fool, just wing it like the old times?” he chuckled to himself. With his fingers, he traced the lines on his face slowly for a few minutes. “What am I doing here” he muttered to himself a couple of times before being cut off by a loud voice shouting “we're ready for you Mr. Faust!”.
     Walking out onto the stage, Gregory felt something in him growing incredibly anxious. A seasoned actor such as himself knew a trick or two about calming his butterflies, but this was something different. He felt what could only be described as feeling out of place, but that surely couldn't have been it. This was his world, he wrote the rules, and set impossible to break standards. He could see nothing but the pitch black of the studio, and the only thing that assured him people were out there were the soft scurrying of men and women busy at work.
     After a few seconds, a voice asked “are you ready, sir?” and bright lights flaring up around the stage followed his own affirmation. Holding his hands to shield the light, he peered out into the audience, and stared in horror at the faces. All of the young faces that looked right through him. His nightmare was here in the flesh; his world had forgotten him. He stood for a second, before calming himself, and lowering his hand. To this day, the members of the audience will only say that he looked like a man who had finally found the missing piece of a puzzle long since started.
     When he finally spoke, his trained voice started off softly, and quickly rising to reverberate through the studio.

     “These lights... They seem so cold and unfamilair to me now. I know this may sound strange, but there was a time in my life where I thought of them as close friends of mine. To be honest, I felt more warmth from those lights than I did for all but a few individuals.”

As he spoke, he stared ahead at no one in particular, and sadly started to pace on the stage.

     “What did I expect to happen today? I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps I had hoped that some of that old synergy would be waiting for me with open arms like those of a long lost friend, but I guess it goes without saying that inanimate objects and superstitions are poor excuses for company”.

Softly laughing to himself, he stopped his pacing, and turned to the people.

     “I look around and see all of your young faces, and for the first time in my life, I think that I truly feel out of place; I can for the first time feel the age in me. You know, Tom Hopper sat in that directors chair almost 50 years ago at my very first audition. None of you probably remember it, but I decided I wanted to play the lead, Pietro, in the movie Breath of Air, and at the urging of some friends, I decided to show up.”

Staring at the ground, Gregory clasped his hands together, his knuckles showing white.

     “This was the very first movie for the man who would single handedly conquer all of show business, but do you know what that old Tom said to me that day? Something incredibly moving, or a melodramatic speech of epic proportions perhaps? Maybe some single, poetic line of acceptance? Tom lowered the lights after the audition, and after a few slack jawed moments of staring at me, he simply turned to me and said “I am impressed”. Of all the things I've forgotten in life, I can still remember this moment perfectly. At the time, something so small amazed me at the impact it had on me. I had just impressed a famous, classically trained director with my first audition. I took it optimistically, and it was fuel that added to the fire of my career. Looking back however, I realize that pessimistically, I would never feel what he felt that day, because I was only offered the best in life. I had never experienced sublime beauty.”

Wiping tears from his cheek, Gregory stared out into the darkness of the studio for a few moments before starting again.

     “Coming onto this stage today, I now realize that I retired a long time ago. I assume most of you know who I am, but I am completely unaware as to who you all are. It pains me to say, but this is no longer my world. Now that you know a little more about me than you did this morning, would you be impressed if this was the last performance of Gregory Faust? Lord, for both me and you, I do so hope so. In my parting words, allow me to lament for one last moment.”

Standing up straight, Gregory showed a fierceness to his eyes, and took on a stance that suggested youth. He looked proud, strong, and wise up there on that stage that day, with nothing more than a bright light blinding him, and blurry faces watching him from the shadows.

     “I guess if your life's plan goes right even half of the time, you're much better off than most. Lord knows mine is in contention for the best, but I'm afraid to admit that growing old was never part of my plan.”

Turning around and starting to walk off stage, Gregory stops for a second, and lifts his head up.

     “I guess I'm human after all, eh?”

With that, he started to laugh as he retreated from the stage, and left the men and women of the studio with their thoughts. “I'm going home” he says to himself. “I've made a big enough fool of myself for one day”.

     Willem is surprised to feel tears fresh on his cheek. “Mr Faust, you fool. You poor, brave, brilliant fool”. As a few lights turned back on, he looked around at all of the faces in the small audience gathered around the stage. A few old faces matched up with old memories, and they too had tear strewn faces, staring straight ahead. Willem scrubbed his sleeve under his eyes to dry them, and laughed at the irony of the situation. Gregory Faust could walk onto a stage and tell you that he was disappointed that the world he once controlled no longer acknowledged him, and that he would never act again, and still put on the performance of a life time. Even just talking to himself, the man could still control a room with no effort.

     Willem would find his way outside the studio after exchanging a few words with the director, who coincidentally enough wanted Gregory for the part, and was disappointed when Willem declined for him. The drive home would hold no words, but both men held smiles dearly, and when they got home, Willem parked the car, and they walked inside the mansion together, like two young friends returning from a joy ride around the block. They put on an old movie of Gregory's, and fell asleep in the small theater he had built in the house. If they still didn't feel their age by this point, they certainly did in the morning.
     Gregory Faust would live for a few more years, and thankfully, they were happy ones. Old friendships were renewed, and even some of his remaining family got to spend valuable moments with him. Gregory was no longer that young hot shot who held the world in his palm, but a wise old man that clawed with tooth and nail to cherish every waking moment that life offered him.
     When Gregory died in his sleep one night, the mansion was alive with people. Willem walked around, shaking hands with those who had come to morn for the late Mr. Faust, but he himself, did not weep. Gregory was found in his bed on a bright spring morning, with his hands resting on his chest, and a large smile on his face. For the first time in over 60 years, Gregory had found peace, and found it just in time. The world that he thought had forgotten him, showed its true colors. From the TV to the Newspaper, the world said there goodbyes to the late, great, Mr. Faust – the finest actor the world had ever seen.
     Willem would return to the cemetery Gregory was buried at in a few weeks, and hold up an umbrella to stop some of the rain from hitting him. Standing in front of the large obelisk Gregory had purchased some years ago, Willem smiled, and spoke of how the world missed him, and how that he too had missed him. A coughing fit attacked him, and when he lowered his handkerchief, dark splotches of red clung to the clothe. Smiling in spite of the situation, Willem laid a lily at the foot of the monument, and turned to go.

     “See you soon old friend” he said over his shoulder. The coughing fits grew softer and softer before a car engine started, and the grind of tires on gravel disappeared into the distance.

     When I started to tell you the story of the life and death of Gregory Faust, I told you that his exit was infinitely more astounding than his entry, and I hope that you agree. However, I won't hold it against you if you don't, because no amount of words could ever convey what we felt in that audience that night, watching him grow from a bitter old man into a peaceful one. My name is Willem Black, and the doctors say I only have a few weeks left in me, but I wish it would hurry up. I miss my best friend, and I've grown tired of this world that has forgotten about me. As for you, we all stack up regrets until we shield ourselves with them, and can no longer see life for what it is – A journey, have fun.

     “I have lived a fulfilling life, and I admit that I am impressed”.
Read from the gravestone of a Willem Black. A small gravestone in the shadow of a large obelisk in an old cemetery on the south side of town.


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