By: Shahbaz Khayambashi
It was no different from any other day. She woke up once again, having no idea that, today, her life would end.
Valerie awoke to a new day with the sound of her ringing cell phone. It was 7:02 AM. It was her father. She answered without hesitation, fearing the worst. After all, why would he be calling so early if not because of something awful?
“Dad?” she blurted, as she placed the still plugged in phone against her face.
“They’ve found it” he responded.
“A genuine legitimate snuff film.”
Fuck. Well, at least he’s okay, she thought. It might be difficult to comprehend, but this was not an unusual way for Valerie to start the day.
“No, they didn’t, dad. Go back to bed.”
This had always been a matter of great discussion for Valerie and her father. Perhaps great is not the correct word, as it indicates a certain quality. There was no quality whatsoever to these discussions. Valerie’s dad once told Valerie that he had watched the Chubbuck snuff film, which nearly gave Valerie an aneurysm. She didn’t know where to start: with the definition of a snuff film, the fact that a suicide can’t be the subject of a snuff film or the fact that he had not in fact seen the Chubbuck video, because he couldn’t have. By the end of that discussion, two hours had passed and both parties had sore throats from all the screaming.
“I saw it myself. This blonde looks into the camera and says snuff films are real and then some guy blows her brains out.”
Since then, he had learned to pick his battles. He looked for proof and considered the definition: a film where someone is killed for the purpose of being filmed, meant for entertainment for a paying audience. Sometimes, he still faltered though.
“I’ve seen that video, dad. It’s not real. It’s from a fake snuff movie with a bunch of those scenes. It’s not even well made.”
For one reason or another, he was hellbent on finding proof of a snuff film. His favourite tactic was still to tell Valerie that he had seen snuff films in college and that they have to be real, even though he has no proof of it now.
“Well, it’s very realistic” he reasoned “it looks just like the stuff I saw when I was in college.”
“Jesus Christ, dad!” Valerie moaned, exasperatedly “you didn’t see shit in college.”
“Watch your fucking mouth.”
“Dad, it’s seven in the morning and I’m not having this. Snuff films aren’t real.”
“Alright, Val, you keep saying that, but I’ll prove it to you yet.”
“You do that.”
Having been through yet another heated debate on the mythic status of snuff films, Valerie felt it was a good time to get up and eat something.
Valerie Jones was born on an uneventful day in an uneventful city. The majority of her life was a saddening bore. When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, but what exactly are you supposed to make when life gives you tedium? Valerie made people uncomfortable. It all started when she found her bible: Killing for Culture by the Davids, Kerekes and Slater. This was something unlike anything she had ever seen before: the book was full of curious tidbits about death and cinema. This book changed her life. She saw things she had never seen before. She went to film school, where she decided to forgo Godard and just wrote on the works of Schwartz and Prospero. She followed in her father’s footsteps and went to graduate school, where she decided to write her research paper on the Magnotta murder video. This paper, through a bit of academic bureaucracy, ended up being about underground experimental cinema, but she didn’t mind: it’s probably better not to be connected to a cat killer in the internet age, anyway. This morbidity also helped her develop a better relationship with her father, who, as it turned out, was dying to discuss dying. Her mother was less enthused, but as long as she was getting an education, she didn’t mind. This was Valerie’s way out of ordinary: she could open her mouth and find a kindred soul or scare someone else away.
Of course, it was this interest that was also kind of a curse: the kind that calls you at seven in the morning. Valerie’s dad was insistent that snuff films were real and that he had seen them. He always made sure to moralize his stories to the best of his abilities, but the more Valerie read up on the subject, the more he insisted.
Valerie got up from the breakfast table and went back to her room. She put on a pair of pants laying on the floor and a tank top hanging from her door, with the intention of leaving her house. It may not seem like a noble endeavour, but that simple act had become less and less common lately. Valerie’s best days were behind her. She had received her master’s degree, but it didn’t quite lead to any job opportunities. Meanwhile, her research paper’s vague subject matter and her reputation amongst the academic elites had kept her out of furthering her education, some professors going so far as to refuse to write her referral letters. She had lost her job two weeks earlier and that was the last time she had stepped outside. She probably wouldn’t go out today, but her booze and smokes were running out and it seemed like a necessary evil. She had to find a way to break out of this rut and get her life back on track: what better way than going out to the cancer supply store.
The cashier dropped the cigarettes in front of Valerie. “$14.50.” Every time she heard the numbers that followed a cigarette purchase, Valerie once again seriously considered quitting, but as it were, those burning rolls of dried plants and burning paper were the only thing that brought her joy anymore. Well, those and the bottle in her other hand. She put the precious paper and metal on the register, grabbed her smokes and stepped out of the store.
Finding herself the mandatory hundred, closer to two, metres away from the store door, she pulled out a cigarette, placed it between her lips, lit it and took that first puff. She always knew, or at least thought, that this particular luxury would be the thing that would end up killing her, but she didn’t mind. Better to die doing something you love, right? It was on her third puff that she began to walk away, but she didn’t get far: she saw someone she knew in the distance. She recognized Marcus, one of her old film school comrades. Marcus was one of those kids who idolized Antonioni and made sprawling pretentious films full of meandering tracking shots and no narratives: despite this, they somehow got along.
“Hey,” she replied, trying her best to look Zen while the sun blinded her from his direction. “What’s up?”
“Just grabbing some stuff.”
“Something happening?” Val inquired, trying to hide her excitement at the possibility of doing something tonight.
“Yeah. Remember Luke?”
“Sure.” Of course she did. He was the other pretentious kid who idolized Antonioni. It just so happened that she didn’t get along with him.
“We’re making a movie together. We’re shooting tonight. A real DIY punk rock no budget sort of thing.”
“Cool. Need any help?”
Marcus thought for a moment, so as to not come off desperate. “Actually, we are looking for an actress. You want in?”
This is what some would call dramatic irony. However, all Valerie could think about was why he would say actress? Wouldn’t the femininity of the actor be implied by the fact that they were asking her? Since she didn’t want to come off desperate, she stood a moment in thought, counting down to her response.
“Great! Thanks so much, Val,” Marcus exclaimed, “we’re shooting near my place, so drop by around nine?”
“Sure. Anything I should bring?”
“Nah, just come by looking the way you look.”
“Alright, see you then” Valerie responded, as Marcus walked away on his original path.
Valerie sat on the subway, on route to Dufferin station. After getting her booze, she realized that she had no one to drink with. That issue was solved by a few texts, which was why, now, she was heading to Julia’s apartment. Julia was an oddity, as far as friendships go: Valerie had met her at the emergency room. Valerie was there to get her back looked at, while Julie was trying to get a cast off her arm. It was a match made in heaven. What was less than heavenly, however, was that Valerie had forgotten her headphones at home. Her personal motto was l’enfer c’est les autres and she was indeed in the pits of hell. Having nothing to entertain herself with, she did her best to escape into a world where humanity was rendered mute, until one overpowering voice broke through.
“Well, of course he was right to do it. The fuckin’ kid might’ve had a gun on ‘im. You know how these inner city yoots are, no respect for nobody!”
Valerie wanted to be mad, but she wasn’t entirely sure who to be mad about quite yet. There had been a recent spate of cop murders, with thirteen medium-to-high profile cop murders having taken place around North America within the last month.
“Now, I mean, you’ve known me long enough to know I ain’t no racist or nuthin’, but ain’t it about time to just make a national announcement on TV or somethin’ and say ‘hey, black kid, you don’t wanna get shot? Don’t be such a fuckin’ nuisance and shit,’ y’know?”
Ah. That narrows it down: a black victim gets rid of one possibility. Brock Howard was shot by the police after he pulled a gun on a rookie cop. Howard was a promising athlete, so his death was covered respectfully; he was even glorified, with no mention of the rape accusations against him. The rookie cop still didn’t go to prison or face any sort of repercussions, but that was to be expected; at least people cared for a moment.
“Sure, when I was a boy, I would go ‘round the neighbourhood, screaming my goddamn head off. One time, I wore a mask and chased Becky Gibbons from next door. I tackled her, held her down and stuck my hands in her panties.” He was dying of laughter while telling this story, seemingly having forgotten where he was even going with it. “Ah, boys’ll be boys, I guess. Er, anyways. I’d cause a ruckus, I guess, but when an officer came to me and asked me a question, I’d be respectful, I tell ya. I’d say yessir and please and thank ya.”
That’s it: the scenario was narrowed down to one response and that was Devon Richards. Devon was a fourteen-year-old boy who was shot by John Duke, a veteran cop who claimed that he thought Richards had a gun. Witnesses, video evidence and even Duke’s partner have suggested that Richards’ hands were up at all time and that he was unarmed, but the narrative had been twisted through the social media mangle and the accepted story now was that Duke was lucky to be alive.
“I mean, that officer is lucky to be alive.”
Now, Valerie knew why to be mad. Richards was dead for no reason other than having a face that the officer didn’t like (or at least a shade of colour). He was beginning his life and it was already over. The other black men who were shot across the last month were older and had done things that most of the readers had done, too: they had smoked pot or gotten really drunk or been in a fight. Richards had none of that. He was a child who had not yet had the opportunity to get up to any debauchery, but he was dead and they had to find a reason for it, so they decided to go with puberty. They said he was big, which was threatening. He was a big black boy and he scared the veteran cop so badly, he had no choice but to fill him full of bullets. And now, in the middle of her city, on her transit system, on her bus, this piece of shit is defending the murder of a child. Valerie was always withdrawn and soft spoken, but this time, she would say something. As she gathered her courage and stood up, the train arrived at Bathurst station and the piece of shit got up and left the train, with one final bit of advice for his friend:
“Hey, be safe out there. You never know who’s out to getchya.”
“Don’t be so goddamn morbid, kid.” Julia wasn’t like most of Valerie’s friends. After going through a bit of a rough patch, she had decided to be more positive. She also decided to quit drinking and other illicit activities, but the bottle in her hands and the smell wafting through the air suggests that that resolution didn’t go far.
“I’m not being morbid,” Valerie insisted, “I’m just saying that I wouldn’t mind seeing that asshole get murdered.”
Valerie still couldn’t quite let go of what she had heard on the train, this suggestion that an innocent person’s death was to be explained away and almost celebrated.
“Listen, kid: there’s gonna be assholes in the world, no matter how many of them you take out. So, it’s best to just live with the fact and live your life.” Julia talked with a frenetic urgency, which made every word seem wholly necessary and heavily inspirational, even when she was full of crap.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So, what are you up to these days? I haven’t seen you in, like, a month.”
“Yeah, I’ve been kinda hiding in my house.”
“The regularly scheduled depression?”
Valerie nodded. “I’m trying to get out. Actually, I ran into Marcus about an hour ago and I’m gonna help them out with this thing they’re doing.”
“Marcus…Marcus…” Julia said his name over and over to herself, as her eyes drifted to the corners of the universe. She was trying to remember who that may be, but in her distinct ways, she sounded like she was chanting a mantra. She finally gave in. “Nah, I don’t know any Marcus.”
“I introduced you to him at that death screening last year. He’s the kid who was wearing suspenders.”
“Oh,” Julia exclaimed, as if she had just reached an epiphany. “That’s the kid who made that weird horror short, right? The one that was all ‘this death is fake but it looks real’.”
“Oh, you should stay away from that kid.” Julia said this in a completely different way than usual. She was serious, the words came out of her mouth as if they feared the light of the outside world and her eyes momentarily lost their normal shine. The world seemed to stop for one second, turning sepia toned and silent. As things restarted, Julia returned to drinking her beer.
Valerie just looked at her for a moment, took a nice, full swig from her bottle of top of the line, cheap vodka and turned back to Julia. “Why would you say that?”
“Why would I say what?” Julia responded.
“Why would you say that I should stay away from Marcus?”
“Oh, because he’s trouble. No one with a right mind could have made that movie.”
“Oh, come on, Jul. His film was very interesting.”
“Kid, trust me. That little psychopath is nothing but trouble. That little movie of his only indicates one thing: he likes body horror but he yearns for reality. If he hasn’t killed someone already, he will very soon.”
Valerie couldn’t believe just how serious Julia was being. She had known her for quite some time and this was the first time she had gone more than a few minutes without laughing; she seemed genuinely worried.
“Come on, Jul, that’s bullshit and you know it.” Valerie was used to this sort of treatment herself; she had been considered everything from a delinquent to a potential school shooter to a sociopath, just because of the sort of thing she was into. “You’re just buying into some of that same stuff that made people blame Marilyn Manson and video games for things. You’re too young to be an old person!”
“Val, do you remember what happened when that Magnotta video leaked?” Clearly, Julia knew that Valerie knew and Valerie knew that Julia knew that she knew.
“Yeah, people thought it was fake.” Valerie knew where this was going.
“Exactly. The body didn’t bleed, the legs looked like foam, none of it looked real. It took a news story to debunk the falsity. Rebunk? Whatever. Anyways, the point is that the most blatant snuff tactics don’t look real on camera.”
Valerie really, really wanted to point out that the Magnotta video didn’t quite reach snuff video, but she kept her mouth shut.
“What is your point, Jul?” Valerie knew her point and Julia knew that Valerie knew her point. Who’s on first?
“That kid’s video,” Julia paused, as if trying to get the correct words in the correct order, “looked real. Like, proper real. It looked like he had stumbled upon some actual corpses and, well, people who tend to stumble upon corpses also tend to be the ones making them.”
“Come on, Julia. That was the whole point of the video. It was to subvert expectations of reality: it was supposed to look real. I mean, most of it was inspired by the imagery in the Magnotta video.”
“Kid, if I can’t stop you, then I sure as shit hope you’re right.” Julia downed the rest of her beer, like an anesthetic. She liked Valerie. She didn’t really want to live in a world without her. “Just” Julia hesitated “be safe out there. You don’t know who’s out to get you.”
Valerie appreciated the irony of this statement, but instead of saying anything, she opted to take another big swig of vodka: as much as she hated to admit it, Julia did get her a bit shaken and she needed this liquid courage.
“You know what, kid? How’s about we forget our troubles for a while with a taste of the green?”
“That’s the best idea I’ve heard today.”
Valerie and Julia sat in a nearby pub, taking care of their munchies because the munchies took care of them. The ubiquitous silent cyclops played in the background, tuned into CP24 as is tradition. The top story was yet another cop murder, this time a tall black fifteen-year-old who had been shot walking home from school, because he matched the description of a robbery suspect. Valerie was already imagining the conversations she would have to hear, but, currently, she was too stoned to care. She allowed her ears to wander from the silence of the television, back to Julia.
“…And that’s when I realized that the only way that I can ever be happy is if I let all of my anxieties…”
Valerie had no time for Julia’s ramblings. She allowed her ears to wander further, to the couple two tables over.
“…I said, no, you don’t understand. The guy is literally a fascist. They elected a fascist to run their country. And he tells me that I’m nuts. He says you’re a dumb whore who shouldn’t discuss politics. And when I tell him to fuck off, he asks me if we’re gonna fuck! Can you believe that shit?”
No, I cannot, Valerie found herself thinking. The whole day had been such a shitshow, it was good to know that there were other people trying and failing to navigate their lives. She listened intently to hear where this would go, but she was rudely interrupted.
“Kid, you listening?”
“What?” Valerie replied, before regaining her cool and responding with “Hang on. What?”
“Was I just talking to myself like a crazy person?”
Valerie had no way out of this, so she did the correct thing: she apologized for her behaviour, blamed the pot and promised to pay attention.
“Yeah, that’s alright, kid. Anyways, I was just saying that the only way to regain control of your life is to figure out what your stressors are, your anxieties, y’know? Then, once you’ve…”
And Valerie was gone again. Valerie was perfectly fine with her anxieties, as long as she could occasionally eavesdrop on those of others. Back to the table she went, but found it unfortunately deserted. How long had she been looking for a response to Julia? Perhaps, she should try listening to Julia again?
No. She scanned the room for another fun bit of espionage. Her ears suddenly focused in on a conversation that seemed up her alley.
“…Right after the pit of hands sequence, they call up this guy towards the camera. He looks terrified. He stares into the camera as the narrator accuses him of theft or something, and suddenly this guy shoots him in the chest and again in the head when he’s on the ground. It’s pretty horrible. Like, between that and the scene with the hippos, Africa Addio has to be the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah, that was pretty bad, but I don’t know if I would call it the most disturbing. Have you ever seen August Underground?”
Valerie had found her side of the argument.
“How do you mean?”
“How do I mean? How can you compare real death to badly made snuff bullshit? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“Hey, now, watch the profanity. I just couldn’t get into Africa Addio. The deaths were real, whatever; they didn’t look bad. Like, the guy who gets shot? There’s no blood. Who cares? Now, August Underground, that looks disgusting. It’s bloody as hell.”
“Oh my…I don’t understand you. What you’re seeing in August Underground is just a mess of fake stuff. You mix a bit of corn syrup with dye and that’s what you get in that thing. There’s no blood in Africa Addio because it doesn’t need it. It’s real.”
“Realism is overrated. If there’s no blood, it’s pointless.”
“No, faux snuff bullshit is overrated.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Says the guy who can’t handle a bit of corn syrup. Listen, guy, ever seen Holocaust footage? There’s no blood there. It’s still more disturbing, because it’s fucking real! How did I even get stuck in this conversation?”
Valerie snapped back into her seat, realizing that she had once again found herself elsewhere. “How did I even get stuck in this conversation?” she asked herself, before looking at Julia again to get a sense of the damage. She looked pissed. Valerie, in her slightly less stoned state of mind, realized that she had to think fast. She looked at the television. 2 P.M.
“Oh, sorry, I got a bit distracted, because I gotta be somewhere at 3,” Valerie blurted, as she began to gather her stuff to leave. She was quickly reminded that she had not paid her bill, so she continued to sit in the awkwardness until her bill arrived. Before she could leave, Julia offered a bit of unsolicited advice:
“Remember, kid: practice a little self care. Watch out for yourself. Ignore anyone who tells you you’re being selfish for thinking of yourself.”
Valerie found herself walking down Bloor street, realizing that she had nothing to do between now and nine. Perhaps she should have listened to Julia. She could have at least sat in the pub for a few more hours. As she walked past the Bloor cinema, or whatever the hell it’s called now, she noticed that they were playing a Faces of Death marathon. She had heard earlier that a festival in Australia had once shown Terrorists, Killers and Middle-East Wackos as an underground documentary, which she thought was insane, if only because that was a horrendous movie. It had been a while since she had seen Faces of Death, but she had already missed the first one: the second one was almost through, so she could only see the third, which isn’t very good.
Valerie decided to keep on walking. There’s gotta be something going on further down the street.
Eventually reaching Varsity, she saw that they were showing Snuff Films Are Real. Snuff Films Are Real, written by Eli Roth and directed by Brian DePalma, tells the story of the infamous film Snuff. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Shackleton and Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as the Findlays, this film had already won the top prize at Sundance and was being touted as a potential Oscar nominee. Valerie would never admit such a thing, but she was beginning to feel a bit disappointed with the idea that her esoteric by way of psychotic interests were beginning to become so mainstream. What happened to the days when she would have conversations ended because she got a bit too morbid? Did she really suffer through all of that – well, suffer is a bit strong, because she was glad to avoid conversations with most of those people – for nothing? As she began to leave the building, she walked right into John Johnson, a strange boy and the local canon-abiding cinephile.
“Hey,” John deadpanned, however unintentionally, “are you here to see the new DePalma?”
“Nah,” Valerie responded, “I don’t expect much from DePalma’s representation of this. I’ll just wait for it to leak.”
“I figured this would be right up your alley. It’s amazing that people fell for it: they were so dumb back then.”
“Back then? People fell for Cannibal Holocaust and Ghostwatch. Hell, people fell for the fucking Blair Witch Project. The only reason people don’t fall for things anymore is because found footage horror has become so ubiquitous and spineless that they all immediately admit to their artifice out of fear of hurting anyone.” John stared at Valerie for a moment, as she suddenly realized that she had gone on another one of her rants.
“Well,” Valerie continued, “I would say that the existence of a concept of snuff is probably scary enough to warrant panic. Just because this isn’t real wasn’t proof, at the time, that that wasn’t.”
“Yeah, I guess,” John relented, “they didn’t have real snuff films back then, but the times have changed.”
Valerie fought the urge to place one palm across her face and another across his. “Times have not changed,” she moaned, “at least not in that way.”
“I know you’re gonna go off about the definition and whatever, but hear this out. I went to a talk the other day: Tyson Fernandez was presenting a new book on snuff and he suggests that snuff is close but not in the traditional sense. He suggested that snuff will come into existence as a nostalgic object, actualizing the myth, not for profit, but just because; he said the first snuff auteur will be some hipster. There will never be profits made from snuff in the post-internet age because no one pays for porn anymore.”
“You could just as easily suggest that that means that snuff, as a concept, is dead,” Valerie responded. She was not ready to admit it, but that concept was both fascinating to her at the time and kind of scary, just because of Julia’s earlier consternation. “I think your movie’s about to start.”
“Oh, yeah. See you later, Val. Take care.”
It seemed like a strangely large number of people were telling her to take care of herself, as if her face betrayed her own death wish, hidden under a healthy dose of sarcasm, snark and booze. She checked the time. It would take her about two hours to get from here to the set (it would take way less, but Valerie has always been very anxious about being on time), which meant she had about two hours to kill.
Valerie walked south on Yonge street, hoping to kill some time that way. By the time she made it to Dundas, she realized that there was no way to kill time this way, because everything that she once used to do so had disappeared: the arcade, Sam the Record Man, the various other music stores, all gone. She reached the Ryerson campus and decided to give a chance to the Ryerson Image Centre. She hated Ryerson with a passion – after all, they have been the ones who caused the death of her pre-drinking age hangouts – but the artists couldn’t be blamed for it (even though they probably could). She walked through the glass doors and directly into yet another grim reminder of her own mortality: an encore presentation of the works of Weegee. She had been very excited the last time this exhibit came around, but now, it just depressed her. Weegee had turned the deaths of others into a career: she wasn’t depressed by the ethical implications, of course, but rather the fact that she couldn’t manage to do the same.
Weegee’s works could be best described this way: a man lies on the sidewalk with blood on his face. There wasn’t much variety in his work nor was it exceptional, but he was the first to do it. Valerie looked around her, away from the photos. The room she was in had three other inhabitants: another patron, possibly someone who is also killing time or avoiding more important things, a security guard, standing in the corner of the room and making sure no one make off with a photograph, and a guide, there to explain to people what the photographs show and why they should care. Her attention was away from the photos from this point on: any time she felt the guard or the guide was about to approach her, Valerie would move, on to a new place where small talk was a distant concept.
By the time she grew bored of the walls, an hour and a bit had passed.
Eh, close enough.
Valerie walked out of the building and towards Dundas station.
Valerie sat on the subway once again, on her way north. This had already been a particularly long day and she was more than ready to be done with it. And that’s when the voices started.
“Of course he was right to shoot! Sure, it turned out that the kid wasn’t dangerous, but it was either him or the cop. I’d’ve done the same.”
Oh, for fuck’s sake!
“Think about it: the cop is sitting in his car, looking for a thief, who could be dangerous. He sees the thief run by, he thinks ‘oh, he’s getting away’ and he takes a shot. If he had called out to him, the kid could’ve come back and shot him. It makes sense.”
Before Valerie could even take what that asshole’s voice had blown out, he answered her next question which had not even been asked yet.
“Sure, it’s sad that some kid died, but did you see his picture? He had a joint in his mouth and was flipping off the camera. He was obviously a thug. I would never take a picture when I’m smoking pot and I would never–”
Valerie heard someone yell exactly what she was thinking. Until, of course, she realized that the answer to ‘did I say that out loud or just think it’ was the former. There was a moment of silence, only broken when the voice responded “who the fuck was that?”
The usually reserved and quiet Valerie was, for the first time in her life, so blinded by rage that she didn’t even consider the consequences of her actions.
“It was me, you inbred hick bastard.”
“How dare you talk to me like that?”
Valerie finally saw the source of the voice. She recognized him: he was the friend of the piece of shit from her earlier trip, a middle aged, balding, white guy in a suit. Earlier, she had assumed that this bastard was just humouring his piece of shit friend, but, as it turned, bastards and pieces of shit are a product of the same asshole tree.
“How dare I? Why wouldn’t I dare? Who are you that it makes you impervious to criticism? Fuck you and your racist ideology.”
The bastard got up out of his seat, but then thought better of it and sat back down, noticing all eyes were on him and his adversary.
“Listen, sweetheart, you shouldn’t—”
“Fuck you and fuck your sweetheart. I don’t have a sweetheart, I’m full of venom,” Valerie screamed, immediately cringing at the latter part of her sentence, but she wasn’t ready to stop, “if your kid had gotten shot by a cop for looking like a criminal, would you be spouting that same shit? Just because this kid didn’t look like you, it doesn’t make what happened to him justifiable. How dare you exist in my city? How dare you talk like that on my public transport system? I wish awful things upon you. Fuck off, you motherfucking nazi, before everyone here joins up and kicks your ass.”
There was another second of violence, broken up by the announcement of arrival at Eglinton station. The bastard quickly gathered up his stuff and hurried off the train, leading Valerie to realize that this was probably not his stop. When Valerie would imagine such situations, she pictured others cheering her on and aiding her in her fight, but when she looked around her, she found no such thing: the other riders were either avoiding eye contact with her or moving away. That was when the adrenaline rush wore off and everything hit her at once: she began to shake and her legs began to lose sensation. She quickly found her seat and sat back down for another two stops. She got off at York Mills station and began to walk for the exit. Despite the embarrassment she felt, she felt an overall satisfaction with how things had turned out. If she had died right then, she would have died happy.
Valerie began to walk up the walkway to Marcus’ house. She had been here a few times before, but she still had to go through a multi-layered process to ensure that she was indeed heading to the right place and, during the incessant cross-referencing of physically written addresses and online maps, she couldn’t help but think of calling someone and letting them know where she is. She kept ignoring the thought, but it ultimately proved to be intrusive. Even as she walked up to the house, that thought was first and foremost in her mind. And for good reason.
Valerie knocked on the door, but there was no response. Marcus lived in a large house with half a dozen other people: a modern cinematic version of a commune, the suggestion being that if they ever needed a second unit director, the guy upstairs would be glad to do it (and, of course, they were all guys). Valerie knocked again and received no response for a second time. She took this as a sign and began to leave, before being stopped by a moving van, driving up to the street next to the house. Before she could contemplate whether this was a creepy or professional van, Marcus and Luke jumped out and approached her.
“Thank you so much for doing this,” Marcus said, as he hugged Valerie. We really appreciate it.
“Hey, Val,” Luke said, almost as an afterthought. Valerie gave him a nod and returned her attention to Marcus.
“So, what’s the plan?” Valerie asked. In place of a response, Marcus and Luke whispered something to each other.
“Well,” Marcus said, “we’re gonna get in the van and go to a warehouse we’ve rented nearby. The shoot shouldn’t take more than a few hours.”
“We’re burning night light here,” Luke bellowed, before chuckling to himself and jumping into the driver’s seat.
“We’re riding back,” Luke told Valerie, leading her into the back of the van. The van’s interior looked nothing like what she expected: most importantly, there was barely any equipment. Why did they need such a big van?
“Okay, so while we’re on the way, let me just go ahead and tape up your legs.”
Before Valerie could even comprehend what she had heard, Marcus had already grabbed her by the legs and had begun to incapacitate her legs with a roll of duct tape, taping her legs together at the ankle.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Valerie protested, as she attempted to regain control of the situation. The only response that she got was a whisper from Marcus: “If you’re gonna fight back, talk into the camera.” It was only at this point that Valerie realized that there was a third occupant in the back of the van, a camcorder: the kind that was popular in the 90s, shooting her and her apparent captor on video.
“Whoa, I didn’t sign up for this shit. Let me out,” Valerie further protested, refusing to give up her true feeling of utter fear.
“Hey, Jack, shut the bitch up,” demanded the voice from the driver seat, right before a strip of tape went across Valerie’s mouth. Realizing that this was no longer a performance, Valerie began to struggle, throwing fists from her immobile position. The next thing she knew, the car had stopped and Luke had appeared in the doorway of the van.
“If you don’t struggle, things will go much for easily,” Luke said with a vacant look in his eyes. She wasn’t going to make it easy, but she was ultimately overpowered by two sets of legs and arms. Valerie’s arms were taped behind her back and she was left in the back of the van, alone, for the rest of the trip.
What have I done? Why didn’t I listen to Julia? Will she blame herself? Oh, fuck, what have I done? Julia’s gonna feel awful. I’ve done a terrible thing to her. Fuck! What am I talking about? I’ve done an awful thing to myself! How will the news cover this? Stupid girl gets into windowless rape van and gets murdered. Dumb slut killed, murderers at large. What if this is their first murder? They’ll see how easy it is. I’ve put other women in danger. I’m such an idiot. Maybe I can struggle my way out of this. No, it’s not happening. Fuck! FUCK!
This is the sort of scene that no one expects to find themselves in. Valerie used to read stories of people who were murdered and wonder how they felt on their final day. Each of these people was walking around one day, until a moment when they realized that they would no longer be walking around. She always wondered what death felt like and she was now about to find out. She considered counting the turns of the van, but decided against it, knowing that she had no hope. She looked up at the corner where the camera sat earlier: it was still there. She wanted to confess, anything to make this end, but her mouth was still taped. She did the best she could: she gave a several muffled screams in its direction; she screamed until she could no longer scream. When Valerie was a teenager she wanted to kill herself, but now, she realized that she wasn’t ready to die. It was a bit early but she could feel her life flashing before her eyes: what would her parents think? The last thought that she had before the van stopped moving: could this be the first authentic snuff film?
The van stopped in front of a small abandoned structure, something like a modernist shotgun shack. The doors opened and Marcus and Luke entered, each grabbing one of Valerie’s elbows and pulling her to her feet on the ground. As she was pulled out, she realized two things: her legs were weak and she had pissed herself. As she began to waver on her feet, Marcus turned to Luke, as if to say something, but got an immediate response of “grab the camera and come on.”
Valerie was dragged into the shack and placed upon the table. Marcus held the camera as Luke talked into it. Valerie had trouble concentrating on his words, but the best she could get out of it was some pretentious nonsense about transgression and new models of entertainment, the sort of thing you would expect a 22-year-old with a BFA to say. Valerie saw her opportunity to escape, but it just led to her falling down on her face. As she looked up, she could see Marcus approaching her before Luke pulled her from behind and placed her back upon the table.
“We’re not the evils of society. These evils are you, viewer. You are watching this happen.”
This is the end. I must say, I never thought it would end this way, but I guess it is appropriate.
“Which is why we have decided to waste this child of your society, to bring it closer to home.”
I’m ready! Finish me off! I’ll haunt the shit out of you motherfuckers! Do it! Do it!
“Time to do it,” Luke said, before pulling a large knife from the front of his jeans. Luke and Marcus both approached Valerie, one with a knife, the other a camera.
Luke took a moment to look into the camera, saying “I’m having a little war within myself between what I wanna do and what might be called the decent thing to do” before guffawing that evil laugh of his.
“Cut the bitch,” Marcus finally screamed.
Valerie could feel the end coming. This was it.
“Cut the bitch!”
Valerie began to sob.
“CUT THE BITCH!”
Valerie looked down to see Luke standing in front of her, before climbing on top of the table and over her.
He placed her knees around her ribs and lifted the knife up into the air.
“This is for you viewer,” he yelled, “you wanted this. You paid for it. And now, she pays for it.”
With one felt swoop, Luke brought down the knife, plunging it directly into the centre of Valerie’s belly.
Valerie screamed in pain, tearing running down her face.
Luke held firmly onto the handle. He motioned as if he was going to pull it out, but instead, he pushed it away from himself.
Luke pushed the knife upwards, towards Valerie’s chest. Valerie could feel the life leaving her, the last sensation she felt was a sound, the sound of someone screaming:
It was at this moment that Valerie learned perhaps the most important lesson she had learned in her life up until this point: suggestion is a hell of a thing. It was at this point that Valerie looked down and saw no blood on her stomach, no hole in her shirt, no sign of any violence. The only violence that was present was the imminent violence going on in her head, as she saw Marcus and Luke looking at their camcorder’s viewing screen with the proudest looks on their faces.
“Holy shit, this is good stuff!” Luke bellowed.
Valerie felt a wide array of conflicting and contradictory emotions as she lay on that table, her legs still weak, her pants still wet, her appendages still taped up. Was she still in trouble? Why did the knife do no damage? What happened?
“Oh, shit! Sorry Val,” Marcus said, as he ran over to her. He grabbed the tape on her mouth and ripped it off with one pull and, as if the tape had kept in her words, a rushed “you motherfuckers” fell out of her lips.
“Yeah, sorry we had to do that, Val. We just needed an authentic reaction?”
“Authentic reaction? Fuck your authentic reaction! Do you think you can get away with fucking with people’s heads like that?”
“Hey, man,” Luke interjected, as if anyone wanted to hear his opinion, “you can’t argue with the results. This is practically an authentic snuff film. This is hyperreality at its finest.”
“And besides,” Marcus added, “didn’t Hitchcock say that all actors should be treated like cattle and kept in the dark?”
“Fuck Hitchcock and fuck you,” Valerie blurted. Her arms and legs were still taped up and, frankly, she still wasn’t sure she had survived the ordeal, but she resigned herself to death when that knife plunged into her and she didn’t care anymore. “Now get this fucking tape off me.”
“I understand that you’re mad, but please don’t take it personally. We’ll pay for any damages and you’ll get a cut of anything we make off this. It’s just that this was the only way to create something realistic and authentic,” Marcus pathetically explained as he cut the tape off of her ankles, this time with a real knife, before freeing her arms as well.
“Authentic? Realistic? This wasn’t realistic for me, asshole. I thought I was about to become the star of a snuff film,” Valerie said, releasing a healthy dollop of rage.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Marcus replied, “you of all people know there’s no such thing: snuff films aren’t real.”
Valerie walked out of the convenience store, holding a meatball kebab and a smoke to her lips. After a silent ride back to her street—she still felt uncomfortable getting a ride to her door, even though Marcus knew where she lived—and the regaining of some leg function and a change of pants, she realized that she was pale and weak and needed some late night protein. She sat in front of the store at one in the morning, chomping on the supposed meat on her stick and taking every opportunity to take a long drag on her cigarette, a cigarette she had truly earned today. Valerie wanted to cry: she felt awful, but she didn’t know why. She had been victimized, absolutely, but what was she a victim of? She had trouble coming to terms with the fact that she was the victim of a non-crime: not just a non-crime, but a mythical non-crime! She did the only thing she could do at this time: she tossed her cigarette, reached into the almost empty pack, pulled out a new one and lit it.
Almost an hour later, long after she had finished off her kebab and her smokes, Valerie got up to begin her walk back home.
Dead woman walking. She often complained that the scene was dead, but this time it was true: the scene is dead, but only she knew it. She pushed herself up to her knees to give herself some leverage to get back up. She wasn’t sure how long it would take her to regain full power to her legs and wondered if she would need rehab. She recalled the awful screenplay that had led to her death hours earlier: all of that was stolen from her. She began to consider her options: should she take them to court for anguish? Get them arrested for torture and unlawful imprisonment? Or should she sue them for stealing her intellectual property? She didn’t even want to get the police involved, not with what has been going on. Her mind wasn’t working anyway. She decided that she would figure that out in the morning: holy fuck! There’s going to be a morning!
As Valerie found her way to her feet, her chest began to vibrate. The vibration startled her for a moment, before she remembered that her cellphone was in her jacket’s inner pocket, having been removed from her soiled pants. She pulled it out to see that the call was from her dad.
“What do you want, dad? It’s almost two.”
“They’ve found it.”
For fuck’s sake. Valerie didn’t even ask what they found, since she already knew what he was going to say, but he answered her lack of question anyway: “a genuine legitimate snuff film.”