Ever since I was little, I wanted to work for Barry Davis, the animation king responsible for cartoons like Dash Galaxy and the Heroes of Space, Ace Squirrel Detective Agency, Mortimer Moose Caboose and Monsters Battle. Last October, I finally got my chance.
Not quite what I dreamed about. They wanted a housekeeper, not an artist or animator. That being said, the ad called for a housekeeper with an art background, and it got sent to me by the career counselor at my art school. Plus, hey, this is Uncle Barry we're talking about. I sent off my resume and a link to my cheesy art website.
Minutes later, the man surprised me with an emailed plane ticket, and directions about what to do when I stepped out of the airport.
My pleased surprise turned to alarm when I noticed the boarding time: Early tomorrow morning. Barry seemed damned desperate.
I scrambled like mad to prepare, paying my rent early, doing laundry, driving to my parents' place to get a suitcase...The next morning I even had to inconvenience mom by leaving my car at her house and begging her for a ride to the airport after she worked all night at the hospital.
Barry had given me a first class ticket. I only hoped he'd continue to find me worthy of his generosity.
After I landed at LAX, I stepped out the front doors and found a suited man with a moose antlered baseball cap holding a sign with my name on it. He let me in a limousine littered with stuffed toys, all characters from Barry Toons. The driver said I could help myself to drinks from the mini fridge, and I had a little exercise to do.
A sketch pad and art supplies lay on a small table beneath a camera eye, a card with Mortimer's picture telling me to draw a picture of fried rice and a bunch of other Chinese foods. Odd choice for subject matter, but you don't question genius.
My sketches of fried rice often end up looking like oatmeal with chopsticks, or chocolate ice cream in a Chinese carryout box. I did passable sushi, crab rangoon, but the rice and the different entrees took me a long time, and being a perfectionist, not satisfied with them.
A greater artist would have been done already, but I didn't finish until the limo parked and my chauffeur held the door open.
Not a great conversationalist, that one. He maybe said two sentences to me the whole trip.
Davis Mansion resembled a piece of the Barryland theme park, enormous animatronic statues dancing and waving at you as you entered, a gold statue of Morty in the front foyer, everything candy colored and festooned with cartoon characters. A choo choo puffed around his ceiling, and action figures and puppets leered at me from a huge glass case.
I could understand all that in terms of an artist who absolutely refused to grow up. What I didn't fathom: The hundreds of similar looking landscapes he had hanging in every room of his house.
The same unusual theme everywhere: A door, or multiple doors, some object or objects to sit on, a large thing in the foreground obscuring a portion of the scenery. All of them used the same framing device: the illusion of a window frame, as if the viewer looked through transoms, bays or casements.
"I had my background painters do those. It always stirs up my imagination, thinking what lays beyond all those little doors."
A short little bald man in a white tux had strolled up behind me, gaunt dark haired wife trailing behind him with a lit cigarette in one hand. Though not as well dressed, her outfit seemed pricey. Her eyes kept glancing at the paintings as she sucked nicotine.
"Uh, yeah," I stammered. "It's...different."
"I saw you working in the limousine. I'll let you in on a little secret: I can't for the life of me draw a rice bowl myself, but I admired the attempt." He drew a cigar from his vest. "Guess we'll have to find something else for our little Debbie to eat...Do you smoke?"
I shook my head.
The famous producer lit up. "Filthy habit. I'd never do it in front of the kids, but we don't have any tours today...mind?"
I gave him an indifferent shrug. "What's this stuff about Little Debbie? Some kind of commercial thing for snack cakes?"
He chuckled, puffed his cigar. "Not quite. It's...something interactive. I was going to take you on a tour of the house to show you the other things that you'll be doing, but honestly Debbie comes first. Here. Let me take you to my Magic Room. I'll show you what has to be done."
Pink colored objects blinded me upon entering. Pink walls, pink princess bed, pink dresser with a heart shaped mirror. Stuffed animals stared blindly from the pillows. The weird landscapes, however, dominated all available wall space, the only exception being the movie screen facing the fancy bed.
A projector rattled out a cartoon on an endless loop there: A pigtailed little girl in a jumper hugging a teddy bear as she stared at the camera. Like all the paintings I'd seen, the landscape behind her featured a door, this one on the side of a rock wall.
Barry smiled, gesturing to the screen. "Meet Darling Debbie, our newest creation."
I watched for a whole minute, but nothing happened. "I...don't get it."
"This is dumb, daddy," said the cartoon. "Why did you bring that man here?"
Barry laughed. "I'm sorry, I thought you understood. I did say that this was interactive!"
Feeling foolish, I waved to the screen.
Debbie rolled her eyes, gave me the finger.
"Sugar, don't do that. This nice gentleman is going to be your new chef, and possibly playmate!"
The cartoon blew a raspberry.
"That's...certainly lifelike," I remarked. "Some kind of computer setup?"
Barry knitted his brows, but answered, "Yeah, something like that."
The girl seated herself on a bench in a park, pigeons flapping down around her, pecking at scattered birdseed.
"Why is that cartoon calling you daddy?"
"We aim to make interactivity as human as possible. Here, let me show you something really cool."
A kind of mimeograph stood to one side of the screen. Barry asked me to draw a picture of an apple, and this he fed through the rollers.
A sheet of paper, identical to the one I'd drawn, spewed out a slot on a machine next to the mimeograph, minus the drawing. At the same time, a bright shiny apple appeared on the ground next to Debbie.
I chuckled. "Very clever, sir! I read about your earlier career in stage magic."
Barry smirked. "The best magic is the real stuff that only looks like a trick."
The cartoon character scowled at my creation. "Oh yuck. I hate apples." She hurled the apple at the screen, sticky juice dribbling down realistically from the spot where it hit.
"She's so picky," Barry complained.
"What does she want?"
The cartoon answered, "I want mac and cheese!"
My host sighed. "I hope you can draw that. Might be making a lot of it."
"I don't get it. Who would want to watch a cartoon like this?...Or play a game like that? It seems awfully boring."
Barry didn't reply, he just puffed his cigar.
"Okay. Fine. I guess if you're paying me, I'll do whatever you want. It just seems like something that wouldn't make any money."
"Money isn't always the object, Mr. Whitmore."
His wife had been observing us, but hadn't done anything but smoke the whole time. She seemed...awfully depressed. "It's best not to ask questions."
"Guess that's why I'm the house cleaner in art school and you've got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame."
I drew some macaroni, stuck it through the rollers, but it appeared before Debbie as yellow oatmeal. She threw it at the screen.
Barry looked indifferent. "There's a computer in the guest bedroom. Maybe it would help if you downloaded some references."
"Can't I just...take a photograph? Or print out a picture and stick it in there?"
The man looked at me like I were bonkers. "It doesn't work. She can tell the difference."
Barry turned to leave, but when I tried to follow, he raised a staying hand. "Keep working with her."
"But what about the rest of my duties? I'm not complaining, but I'd at least like to familiarize—"
"This is more important."
I sighed. "Yes, sir. I'll...do my best."
And so I got left alone with the weird cartooning game.
I tried again, this time creating yellow oatmeal with cheese in it. She hated that too.
I resorted to downloading a picture from my phone and doing a sketch from that. Debbie received a bowl of crawling yellow maggots. She screamed and threw it at me.
"Look, Debbie," I groaned. "I'm really trying. I think I almost got it. I'm not that great of an artist, so..." I stopped myself. "Great. Now they got me talking to it."
"I'm a real life girl. I'm not an it, you stupid dummy head."
I rolled my eyes. "Right. Sorry."
"You don't believe me."
"You're a very convincing...stage trick."
"And you're an asshole."
"Fine. If you're real, why are you animated? Why are you on that projection screen?"
Debbie looked nervous. "I'm...not supposed to say."
"Sure. That's what all real life girls say."
"Open the closet."
"What, another magic trick?"
"Just do it, stupid."
Expecting to see a big sign inside that said, `I tricked you', I opened the doors on the purple wardrobe near the bed.
Inside, though, I saw another painting, with little lights around it so you could see it in the dark...and the girl appeared in this one.
When she moved, I screamed.
I recovered...somehow. Upon closer examination, I saw that the girl stood perfectly stationary, her movement an apparent trick of the light.
A door lay on the other end of the wardrobe, which, upon opening, led me to a staircase, then a vault containing a glass casket, surrounded by candles and arcane artifacts. Refrigeration machinery hummed next to the casket, someone being kept in a state of cryogenic freeze.
I wiped frost from the glass, peering inside.
A little girl lay on the cushions within, a face and body identical to the one in the cartoon, except without hair.
I also came to a sudden realization: This was Deborah Davis, Barry's Cancer suffering daughter. The same one kidnappers allegedly stole from her bedroom years ago.
A glint above drew me to another painting.
Another painting of the cartoon girl.
The glint was the character moving.
No trick this time, the paint changed position from second to second, no visible projector or light source. I shrieked and fainted on the floor.