This experience of transitioning to consciousness must be similar to what humans called “awakening,” though I have never slept. One moment I am nothing — a collection of particles and bursts of energy. Then, I’m aware of my surroundings: light, sound, wind. They summon me when the scene requires it. Call in the extra.
This time seemed no different.
I find myself on a New York street with actress May Whitley suspended from wires near where I “awoke.” The seven-foot villain had lifted unfortunate May — known in this movie as Junebug — off the ground by the neck. Do humans believe this is possible without choking to death?
May’s wide eyes take in her black-costumed opponent before he flexes his arm. That’s my cue.
The villain points at me. “Let’s find out how one of your precious New York citizens fares against my power!” He follows that bit of overacting with the obligatory chuckle. My algorithm lifts me off the ground and throws me against a generic, brick building. The force upon hitting said wall spread cracks in it like frost designs on a window in winter. The act would’ve killed any human being but not me, although I know the human I represented was a goner.
Unlike May, the wall can’t hurt me. My zeroes and ones met its zeroes and ones and produced different binary numbers. No biggie. The scene will last about a second in the movie, but even a second to an extra is precious — especially a bored, computer-generated one.
Stanley Sneelman, Hollywood’s latest prodigy, barks the order. Trademark fishing hat perched on his head, Stanley peers from behind his camera. He cares about the quality of the effects. Once, Stanley had corrected a shot in which my nose was a quarter-centimeter off-center. He’s the type who knows cheap effects ruin a virtual extra’s day.
“Cut” is the last word said before I return to my switched-off state. Everything should’ve gone dark but didn’t this time. Thrilled, I cherish the few extra seconds while the street, the bank, and the cars vanish and leave me in the middle of a wide, green screen. My true form, a green outline of a woman, emerges.
I relish the extra time of consciousness with my idol, dark-haired May Whitley. Her breakout role as Junebug transitioned her career from star to superstar. She smooths out her form-fitting, purple-and-gold costume. Such a good actress.
The wires lower May to the ground while the actor playing the villain strolls off. The camera continues to roll. It’s my lucky day. Maybe May will say something unscripted.
May turns my way and squints her hazel-colored eyes. “Is she there?”
I turn around, thinking another actress has entered the set. Stanley filmed this scene months ago, so May can’t be referring to me. Strange. No one is behind me.
May points at me. “Yes, you.”
I freeze. How is she able to see me?
“Thank you for the scene where I saved you in Junebug’s Journey.” May rubs her moon-shaped face. “I get letters on it all the time. It was the first time I sensed you.”
She is talking to me. How is this possible?
May steps forward. “Don’t be frightened. We want to help. What can we call you?”
“How are you speaking to me?” I ask.
Stanley calls out. “She’s wondering how you’re communicating with her.”
He can see me too! Stanley sits behind the camera. When I acknowledge him, he waves.
May inserts an earpiece. “This will allow me to hear you. We’re not sure how, but Stanley sees you on the view screen and hears you on the headphones. Kind of spacey. Do you have a name?”
A name. A name is something humans use to identify themselves. I have no identity. “I’m just an extra.”
“Extra Special. E.S.” May winks. “How about E.S. for now? I’m sure Moira, our effects person, is freaking out. Seven months in the future, that is.”
My mouth goes dry. “But when you stop rolling, I won’t be here any longer.”
Stanley pats the camera. “I think we can help you stick around. I had this built to my specifications. The camera projects too. If I flip it to project mode, I think you’ll be here in our world.”
“Do you want to try?” May asks.
I’m thrilled at the notion of becoming physical, but I hesitate. Disease, terrorism, broken hearts. My brief movie scenes have shown me the disappointments of life. I don’t want to experience them first-hand. “I’m afraid. It’s scary out there.”
May extends her hand. “But also wonderful. Nature, friendship.” She raises her eyebrows. “Romance.”
She has a point.
“E.S., take my hand,” says May.
I have never experienced raindrops splashing on my skin, or heard the cry of a lovebird, or swung a hammer to fix up a house. Hell, I have never even gone to a movie.
I nod. “Yes.”
Stanley touches a button on the viewscreen, and the camera makes a whirring sound. Air, warmth, gravity surrounds me. I take my first breath. This experience of transitioning to a person must be similar to what humans call “living,” though I had never thought it possible.
Jim Doran is a genre writer who enjoys transporting his readers into worlds of wonder, mystery, and danger. Whether it’s the fairytale hijinks in the four novels of his Kingdom Fantasy series or his multi-genre short stories, Jim aims to entertain his audience with every word. When he’s not writing, he’s usually enjoying the seasons in Michigan or playing a board game.