I’m still wearing the fangs from my last scene when I hear the news that may very well mark the end of my life as I know it. My lips curl in a snarl, and I feel the fake blood pulling and cracking on the skin around my mouth. How dare they do this to me when I’ve barely begun to reach the height of my powers?
My name is Jeremy Lowell, and until today my future looked fabulous. I’m finally married to Alifair Churchill, the love of my life, and I’ve been planning to whisk her away to Vienna for a honeymoon. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve planned a side trip to Transylvania to explore the land of my ancestors. I’ve been dying to turn her into a vampire, and I know she wants it too, but every time we’ve been on the verge of consummating our relationship in a way that takes it to a whole new level, someone or something interrupts us. In Transylvania, no one could get in our way.
But now that they’re pulling the plug, those hopes are dashed, possibly forever. Chuck Winslow and Harvey Blaustein have just announced that the network is cancelling Oak Bluff, and that the scenes we shot today will be our last. The cast and crew are crammed into the conference room, and for the moment, everybody’s stunned speechless. Huddled at my side, Alifair is gazing imploringly up at me. Her fair skin is alarmingly pale. Her deep brown eyes are brimming with tears, her full lips parted in disbelief. It’s the look that always reminds me of about-to-be-martyred saints in Italian baroque paintings, the kind you see in side galleries at the Metropolitan Museum. Highly effective in scenes fraught with drama, but today she’s not acting.
“We wanted all of you to be the first to know,” says Chuck, the executive producer. “I realize the rumor mill has been working overtime the past few months, because the ratings haven’t been what we hoped for. Harvey and I have begged and pleaded, tried to convince the higher ups that we’ve got a solid fan base and it’s getting stronger all the time.”
“We’ve told them the show is breaking new ground in daytime drama, taking the venerable world of soaps in a whole new direction,” says Harvey, the head writer. “We practically promised them our first-born children, but no dice.”
“We’ve got enough in the can for two more weeks, and that’s it.” Chuck says. He’s tapping the table with his fingertips, fidgeting, looking twitchy and haggard as if he hasn’t slept for weeks. “Every single one of you has been fabulous, and we wanted to give you a heads-up now, so you can pursue other opportunities.”
“In the meantime, of course you can apply for unemployment,” says Harvey.
At the word “unemployment,” all hell breaks loose. People begin shouting questions and accusations, dialing up the drama. Men are swearing, women are crying. Actors who hate each other’s guts are hugging.
Chuck stands, extends his palms in a placating gesture. “Hey, guys, don’t shoot the messengers,” he says. “We really gave it our best shot, and of course we’ll give you all excellent references.”
“One more thing,” Harvey says. “I may be speaking out of turn, and this isn’t official yet, but Chuck and I will be heading over to Hope Dawns Eternal. He’ll be the show runner and I’ll be the head writer. They’re hoping we can inject some new blood into the show.”
At the mention of blood, I feel a jolt of adrenaline. True, the blood I’ve been sucking as the show’s resident vampire has been fake until now, but lately I’ve developed an uncanny hankering for the real thing. I haven’t acted on my cravings yet, but until today I was confident the time was coming soon. Now I’m not so sure. But maybe by mentioning new blood, Harvey’s sending me a subtle message, telling me he’ll single me out for salvation.
“What a bunch of crap!” yells Eric. He’s one of the show’s young studs, noted for his bulked up body and six-pack abs more than his acting ability. “They’re shutting down your show and letting you take over another so you can run that one into the ground too?”
Chuck’s jaw muscles clench and his face reddens. “Harvey’s right – he was speaking out of turn. But he’s also right about Hope Dawns Eternal. He and I will be taking over the show in a couple of weeks, and there’s a chance we may be able to bring a few of you along with us. We’ll be looking at fan favorites, as well as people who can work harmoniously as part of a team.”
Harvey chimes in. “In other words, going ballistic and pitching a fit won’t help your cause.”
The room goes silent as the message sinks in: antagonizing the head honchos isn’t going to score any brownie points, much less land a job on another show. I begin to relax, because I score high in both respects. The fans adore me, and they love me and Alifair as a couple. With her voluptuous figure, her raven hair and enormous brown eyes, she complements me perfectly in the looks department. I’m tall, on the slender side. My hair’s as dark as hers, but my eyes are a piercing blue. We play off each other beautifully. Everyone says we have amazing chemistry together, and we’re consistently voted favorite couple, or close to it, in the soap magazines. Chuck and Harvey would have to be crazy to split us up.
What’s more, I get along swimmingly with the two showrunners. Technically speaking, it’s Mark Westgate, the actor who plays me, who has such great rapport with them, but Mark’s an introverted wimp, and I’m the one truly in charge. They always address me as Mark, and it’s in my best interests not to enlighten them, because they’d be terrified if they knew who they’re really dealing with.
Eric must have a death wish – he simply won’t shut up. “I still don’t understand,” he says, folding his massive arms to flaunt his muscles. “If Oak Bluff is a failure, why would they risk letting you run another show?”
“We’ve done a lot of brainstorming with the people in charge of daytime programming,” Harvey says. “They feel we’ve gone overboard with the fantasy elements – angels, ghosts, vampires, that kind of thing – and that it’s too confusing for the average viewer. They offered us Hope Dawns Eternal on the condition we keep it more realistic, more down to earth.”
My stomach lurches – that doesn’t bode well. “But that’s absurd,” I say, doing my best to sound cool and collegial. “Fans love the supernatural element in Oak Bluff. The polls in the soap magazines, the emails and letters we get, are proof positive.”
“You’re right, Mark,” says Chuck. “We’ve raised that point over and over, but they haven’t budged. They want more cops, more law and order stuff, and we finally had to bite the bullet. But as we’ve said, we may be able to bring some of you along if we handle it right.”
“Will we be able to play the same characters?” I ask.
“Alas, no. They were vehement about that. Any actors we cast in Hope Dawns Eternal will have entirely new roles.”
So that’s it. Effective immediately, I, Jeremy Lowell, will cease to exist, or so they believe. That last scene, the one that left me with fake blood all over my face, was my grand finale. True, I’ll show up in new episodes for the next couple of weeks, and eventually in reruns, but the Jeremy fans see on TV will be a phantasm, not the real me. Mark Westgate will linger on, maybe even snag a new role on Hope Dawns Eternal, since brown nosing is one of his talents, but without me, he’s nothing. In fact he’d be better off dead.
Feeling chilled to the bone, I rise from my chair and head for the door. I’m a vampire, not a zombie, but nonetheless, I’m a dead man walking. On the other hand, I’m positive I have powers I haven’t managed to tap into yet. Maybe there’s a way. . .
As I pause in the open doorway, I force a grin, fangs on full display, and channel the immortal Terminator. “I’ll be back.”