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Contemporary Drama Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

**CONTENT WARNING: This story contains depictions of violence, mental health struggle, drug abuse, and overdose**


“CUT!” Thomas yells just as I start my last line of dialogue. I throw my head back and close my eyes. I open them to find Thomas standing behind the camera with his glasses perched on his forehead and his fingers massaging between his eyes in frustration. The crew around him is silent, waiting and wondering, is he gonna blow up again?

We’re in a tiny room in a dirty house; Thomas always insists on shooting on location, to try and capture the authenticity of the places and lives the people in his movies live every day. He hates using sound stages and built sets because they’re “sterile and comfortable and they neuter performances,” which means the cast and crew are crammed into “real” sets to bake under hot lights and smell each other’s sweat.

Thomas is considered the modern Kubrick, and everyone keeps telling me how much of a genius he is and how good this will be for my career, and how this script just smells like an “Oscar,” and don’t worry about his outbursts, it’ll all be worth it; he’s just trying to make the best movie he can. Well, If he’s Kubrick, I’m Shelly Fucking Duvall.

Except for his last one. It was a bomb; the largest budget he's ever worked with and it was a flop. The studio lost millions. That was a few years ago, and he’s had a hard time getting any projects off the ground. 

That’s where I come in. My career is on the upswing. Last year I was in a movie called Underneath Hawk’s Head and overnight, I went from struggling actress to being given offers left right, and center.

That’s when the offer for this movie came in, and my agent jumped all over it. “This is the one!” he said. I had reservations about my still unfilmed nude scene, but he assured me it would be worth it. 

But when I went for my audition, Thomas wasn’t even there. I think they had conditions around the financing of the movie, me being one of them. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been Thomas’s first or even his last pick. There’s contempt all over his face whenever he looks at me like I’m some foul thing he’s just found rotting at the bottom of some forgotten cupboard.

Finally, Thomas breaks the silence. “Wha-“ he starts before he lets some breath out of his nose. “What the fuck was that?” he says, blinking at me.

I can’t help but scoff as I begin to answer; diva, I’ve been called a few times. “I was try-”

“AH!” he says, cutting me off. “Not a fucking word.” He turns to the rest of the crew. “That’s it for now folks. We’re fifteen days behind schedule and we’ve been here for twelve hours and it’s obvious that we’re not going to get what we want today. Leave everything up and we’ll start fresh tomorrow.”

I roll my eyes and begin to try and squeeze my way around the crew as they start to turn off the lights and equipment. I can feel their relief as they whisper to each other, “Well, it could’ve been worse.”

Thomas is seething and his eyes burn into my back as I leave. Finally, I step out the front door of the dirty little house and into the fresh air. 


* * *


There’s a pounding at my trailer door and I’m sure it’s him. Here we go, I think as I head towards the door. I barely get it open before his foot is on the first step. He doesn’t say anything as I back away to make room.

For a minute we’re silent, sizing each other up. We’ve been shooting for thirty days and it’s been tense. I steel myself for battle.

“Thomas, I-”

“No,” he says. “I’m the director and I speak first.”

I cross my arms and set my weight on one leg. “Fine,” I say, “Go ahead.”

He starts quietly, “I don’t need your fucking permission!” The end is loud and sharp. I can’t help but flinch. I’ve already given up ground. 

“I am this close to replacing you,” he says gesturing less than an inch with his finger and thumb. “I don’t give a fuck what the studio will say. I never even wanted you for the part but you’re the ‘next big star,’” he says mockingly.

I don’t care if he’s the director. “I am thirty-five years old,” I start, “There won’t be any roles for me in ten years and I have more than paid my fucking dues and I fucking deserve to be here. I’m a good actress and I am doing exactly what you’re asking me but I don’t know why that’s not good enough for you!”

Now his face is red and his mouth is pinched like a snake about to spit venom. “You are a dime-a-dozen actress who got lucky with one part and you do NOT get to critique your performance. That’s my fucking job!

“I’m not trying to do your job! Tell me what you want!” I scream. 

“BE A FUCKING MOTHER!” he screams back. “You play a mother so fucking act like one! I know you don’t have kids but you have a goddamn mother don’t you? Or you must fucking know some mothers and children? You are human aren’t you?”

A cut deeper than he could imagine. He doesn’t know. Nobody knows. Nobody knows that the day I was cast I found out that I was pregnant. And nobody knows that the week before we started filming, I miscarried. 

I’ve been trying to pretend that I’m OK and it’s OK. I keep telling myself that I’m struggling with my performance for this reason or that reason; it’s Thomas, the small sets, the script, the heat. Or maybe it’s that I’m pretty sure Josh is sleeping with his secretary and that he breathed a sigh of relief when I went to the hospital bleeding. 

The point is, maybe it’s none of that. Maybe Thomas is right without knowing why he’s right. Maybe I’m struggling to feel the story or character too deeply. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m doing the best that I can.

These thoughts rush through my head just as his mouth is wrapping up the last syllable. And it’s the sting of these thoughts that raises my hand and my own private… what? Shame? Guilt? Fear? Loss? Whatever it is, it makes me slap him across the face. Hard. The fleshy smack echoes off the walls of the trailer.

Then the pressure of his hand around my throat in an instant, cutting off my breath. I’m making choking noises and clawing at his hairy hand. I start trying to claw at his face but that just makes him squeeze tighter.

“You hit me one more time and you’ll never work again,” he says before letting me go with a push. I stumble backward and bump into the small table, gasping for breath.

“I don’t want to reshoot this whole goddamn mess so you have one more day to get it together. One,” he says as he starts to head for the door. He puts his hand on the handle and stops before leaving the trailer. “Maybe a good goddamn choke was what you needed. Maybe I’m lucky and I just choked some life into you instead of out of you,” he says with a dark, sadistic grin. 

A grin that makes my stomach turn so badly that I rush to the little sink once he’s gone and begin to puke, the strain burning my bruised throat.


* * *


My phone rings as I pull into the parking lot of the plaza. It’s Riley, the assistant director. He is a sweet man who takes far too much of Thomas’s shit. But he’s very good with handling us and the crew and making sure we’re being cared for. As much as he can anyway.

“Hello?” I say.

“Hi, are you all right?” he asks.

“Yeah, I’m OK.”

“OK. Everybody heard you and Thomas shouting in your trailer and I just wanted to check in. I know things have been rough.”

“Yeah, it has been rough.”

“He’s just under a lot of pressure. The last movie and the studio breathing down his neck… I’m really sorry he’s being so hard on you. For what it’s worth, I think you’re doing fine.”

Fine. Not great. Fine. That’s Hollywood for “terrible.”

“I’m fine really,” I say as I rub my quickly swelling throat.

“All right… Well, I just wanted you to know that Thomas altered the schedule so you’re off the call sheet until Thursday. They’re gonna spend some time shooting a few of the school scenes so you can relax.”

Anger and sadness wash over me simultaneously. That fucker doesn’t give a shit about giving me some days off, he’s worried about the bruises on my throat. He wants to give them some time to heal. I consider telling Riley, but that will be the end of the shoot. The movie will never get made and I’ll have to deal with the media fallout of being choked by a director. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity but I’d still rather star in a movie than star in the tabloids at the checkout counter…

“Caroline? Are you still there?” Riley asks.

I realize my throat is tight while I teeter on the edge of bursting into tears. My hand is gripping the phone so tightly that it’s cramping.

I clear my throat and there’s pain. “Yeah, sorry. A couple of days off sounds nice. Thanks for checking in.”

“Caroline… If you ever need anything, just let me know, really. I’m here to help.

“Thanks, Riley…”


* * *


The road is empty and I’m driving 90 in a 60. The top is down and the wind is blowing my hair back while I’ve got an open bottle of wine riding shotgun. I stopped at the plaza for just one but it turned into a case after Riley’s phone call.

My radio is cranked and I’m singing my Dad’s favorite Jackson Browne song as loud as I can, not caring how much my throat hurts or my voice cracks. 

He listened to it nonstop after my Mom left or whenever he was sad, a tradition I’ve carried on.

I remember that a friend of mine gave me some pills after the miscarriage, to take my mind away for a little while and help me sleep. I haven’t taken any yet, but maybe tonight is a good night to try.


* * *


It’s 5:30 am. I don’t know how I remembered that it’s Thursday but I did. The pills worked as promised but one turned into two, into three into- I lost count. Between the chalky doses of oblivion and the wine, My head is pounding. But the bruises are gone and the time out of mind was refreshing. Blissful.

Now I’m struggling to keep the coffee I don’t remember buying down, but I have to. I can’t show how terrible I feel.

I walk into the makeup trailer and Dana greets me. “Hi sweetie, how are you? Are you OK? I heard about what happened the last day you were on set,” she says with a concerned look.

You don’t know half of it, I think as I take my jacket and sunglasses off. “Oh yeah, I’m fine. I think we just had to air some things out. It was a tough day of shooting,” I say, taking my seat.

I see my face for the first time in a couple of days; I look like shit. My eyes look like two pissholes in a snowbank. Dana looks at her assistant Julie and they share a concerned look.

“Really, I’m fine,” I say. I might be trying to convince myself as much as I’m trying to convince them. “I just didn’t sleep well last night, I was thinking about my scenes today. We’re shooting the scene where the principal comes to the house. Kind of a heavy one.”

Dana starts running her hands through my hair, “Honey, didn’t you get the message? You’re not shooting that scene today…” she says.

Panic rises in my throat. My facade is cracking. I pull out my phone. I realize I haven’t looked at it since I got back to the hotel with my case of wine and oblivion on my mind. I have a hundred and twenty text messages, nineteen voicemails, and thirty-six missed calls.

I can feel embarrassment burning on my cheeks. “No, I didn’t get any messages because my phone was all screwed up. It just started working this morning. Didn’t anybody call the hotel?” I say a little too quickly.

“I thought they said they did.”

“Ugh, that hotel is the worst. I’m gonna have to talk to them about how important it is that I get messages like that!” I say. Is it the right amount of anger? Am I believable? Or am I totally transparent?

“Well, what scenes are we shooting today?” I ask.

Dana looks uncomfortable now. “They’re- Well- You- You’re shooting your nude scene today…” she says quietly. 

My hand shoots up to my forehead in shock. “You’re joking?” I say. That bastard. He’s punishing me. He’s trying to make me quit or give himself a good excuse to fire me. The rest of this shoot is going to be even worse than before. I shouldn’t have slapped him. 

Dana shakes her head slowly. “Sorry hon, I wish I was,” she says. I see her eyes dart in the mirror to the prickly growth under my arm. I put my hand down quickly.

“Are you OK?” she asks again. She knows I’m not. 

“No, yeah, I’m fine. Just a little surprised is all.”

“Do you want me to go get Riley?” she asks, putting her hand on my shoulder. My hand instinctively goes to hers. 

“Oh my God, no, I’ll be all right. Like I said, just surprised. Like they say,” My voice is a little choked now and I can feel my eyes going redder, “the show must go on.”

“If you’re sure…” she says hesitantly.

“No, no, I’ll be OK…”

“All right.” She turns to Julie and says quietly, “Can you grab a razor?” Then she turns back to me, “Honey, why don’t you just take a nice hot shower and relax? Take as long as you need. If you’re late to the set I’ll tell them it’s my fault.”

Now the tears start down my face. “OK,” I say. “OK.” I’m suddenly acutely aware that I don’t remember when I showered last. I look at myself in the mirror and realize through the fog just how greasy my hair is and the dark circles under my eyes.

Dana leans down and gives me a hug around my neck. “It’ll be all right honey. It’ll be all right…”


* * *


Dana and Julie have gone and I’m alone in the trailer. Julie handed me a fresh razor before she left. I start to get undressed and panic begins to grip me. My breath comes faster and faster but I can’t breathe deep enough. My hands are shaking as I take my top off and I’m getting light-headed. I pull my jeans down and pick them up to set them on the back of a chair. As I’m folding them, something falls to the floor, rattling. The panic stops.


It’s the pill bottle.


I pick the bottle up and turn it in my hand, watching the little white pills tumble down the sides. I don’t remember putting them in my jeans.

I shouldn’t. I don’t remember what time it was when I took them last. Or how many I took. But… 


I look towards the door. There’s no one coming.


Then I look in the mirror. I don’t recognize the face staring back at me. Instead of me, I see a dirty, greasy, feral animal standing in her underwear with a bottle of pills in her hand.


Fuck it.


I pop the bottle open and grab a couple. Just a couple. To take the edge off. I have to be naked in a room full of people in a few hours. I deserve to have the edge taken off.

I put the pills back in my jeans and walk over to the sink and turn the tap on. I put the pills in my mouth and bend down to drink from the running water. Just like I did as a kid.

I wipe my mouth and start the shower before finishing getting undressed.


* * * 


Noise. Far away noise. Rain?


Then distant voices. “Caroline?”


Is that my name?


‘CAROLINE!”


It must be.


The world around me gets brighter. I try to talk, to tell them something, but the words are foggy in my mind.


The voices again. I’m being moved.


“Call an ambulance! Oh my God, CAROLINE!”


It sounds like something is wrong, but I don’t know what. I feel fine; like I’m flying. 

I try to sing the Jackson Browne song to show them I’m fine. But it’s hard. It’s strange; I can hear it but I can’t think of the words or even hum the melody.

“I just need to sleep,” I try to say. Those are the words from before, the ones I couldn’t think of. “I just need to sleep. I’m fine…”


* * *


“We’re following a developing story out of Oklahoma this evening. Actress Caroline McCarthy has died. We know that she was starring in Thomas Ashley’s latest movie, Prairie Moon, playing a lead role. She was found unresponsive on set and taken to hospital where she was pronounced dead. McCarthy is best known for starring in last year’s surprise hit movie, Underneath Hawk’s Head, and the star was expected to have a bright future. She was thirty-five. Tim?”



July 22, 2023 01:48

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5 comments

C. Charles
01:52 Jul 22, 2023

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse, please seek help. There are many resources available online, over the phone, or at your local healthcare facility. Thanks for reading

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14:59 Jul 25, 2023

This is gripping. I end with mixed feelings because at the same time that I want to feel sorry for her, since the whole episode was triggered by her loss, I dislike her and end up blaming the director less because she was violent first and unnecessarily. As you read, you feel those mixed feeling as criticism of the story, but actually it gets at a really interesting point: if addiction and mental health crisis only provoked sympathy, they would be a lot easier to get a handle on, but so often they provoke behaviors that push away the people ...

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M.L. Chatten
17:14 Jul 25, 2023

Interesting to see what others get from stories— I personally didn’t feel this way about Caroline at all. The director has made the filming experience borderline unbearable for her since day one, verbally berating and abusing her knowing that he can get away with it. He uses his power as a successful man to tear her down until she makes one slip and slaps him, which he, without a second thought, chokes her until she’s bruised and threatens to ruin her career. This is not a proportionate response at all. Caroline then feels the pressure as a ...

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C. Charles
21:09 Jul 27, 2023

I wanted to show the unfair expectations that women are held to and how powerless women are made to feel, particularly in the entertainment industry. Caroline's story is really a series of unfortunate events brought on by personal and professional trials. Thanks for reading!

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C. Charles
22:37 Jul 27, 2023

Last comment got deleted somehow. It’s really interesting to see what others get out of your story! You get to see if what you tried to say came across but you also get to learn a little bit about yourself in the things someone else saw in your writing. I agree that it can be hard to have empathy/sympathy or compassion for those exhibiting self-destructive behaviour

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