His throat was parched from breathing the heavy, hot, dry air, laced with gasoline and fumes of trash. He had no time to rest or even think, however. He had only time for his animal instinct to point him toward the best safe haven he could find under the circumstances. A place where he could hide out from the police... and the traitors he used to call friends.
To his left the Alley took a sharp right turn. Just in eye shot was a small, white sign over an old door with peeled paint adding a disgusting texture to the rotted wood. The sign read "Kneumsi's Dinner Theatre", and a small, cheap note taped to the glass on the door read "Open Thanksgiving!!!" in a hand-drawn grease pencil red scrawl. Ricky had almost forgot... this was Thanksgiving.
From the street he heard the sirens and the fast footfalls of beat cops in hot pursuit. "Thank you!" he said under his breath just before sprinting to the door. At first it wouldn't open and he panicked, jerking the flimsy handle and kicking lightly and quietly against the tarnished tin plate at the foot of the door. He stepped back with tears in his eyes, still breathing hard. Just then the door creaked open of its own accord and he dove inside, slamming the door just as the footsteps echoed up the alley way.
Inside it was dark. Too dark. Not even light shown through the window in the door. "Where am I?" Ricky demanded.
A voice came from behind him, "You're inside Kneumsi's dinner theatre!" Ricky jumped. Nothing but the door should have been behind him, but as he turned a man stood there with long hair and a mocking look on his face. "You look like you could use some relaxation time, and maybe a nice Thanksgiving dinner, yes?"
Ricky was still confused and uncomfortable. How had he gotten turned around? Where was the door? Where was the john? "Ye-yeah, that'd be nice, thanks."
"Right this way!" The tall man said, leading Ricky down what must have been a narrow hallway. Ricky couldn't see the walls, but somehow his host was perfectly illuminated. The pair stepped into a medium sized dining room with a large white screen stretched across one wall. In the center of the room was a long table, the kind they used to sell at Ethan Allen stores back in the 1970's, carved by machines with Formica tops in that weird mix of faux-classicism and post-modernism. Ricky remembered his father had one of those back then... back before Ricky had "gone bad" as dear old dad used to say.
A short, pretty lady with curly dark hair and a cool teenaged girl took Ricky's coat (including his hidden gun) and ushered him into the last empty chair. The rest of the chairs (lining the table on three sides) were filled with strangers who looked as confused as Ricky felt.
Kneumsi (if that was his real name) took point before the screen and addressed the table. "Ladies and Germs, Boils and Ghouls, thank you for joining us on our fine Thanksgiving Turkey day. Any minute now you're going to, uh... GET SERVED!"
The host laughed, but Ricky didn't get the joke.
The host went on. "Do we have any Hitchcock fans in the house tonight?" he asked. The dinner guests nodded their approval and many of them looked pleased that the screen behind their host would soon be filled with a Hitch Classic. "Ah, good. However, we won't be watching a Hitchcock movie tonight... or any other night." Ricky's peace was shattered. "Instead we will be treated to one of the many sequels to a Hitchcock Masterpiece."
Ricky leaned over to the person next to him (a construction worker by the looks of him) and said "This might not be too bad... Psycho II had that Chucky Chick's sister all naked in it!"
"OOH!" came the response.
The host laughed. "Sorry, Ricky, we won't be watching Psycho II today!"
Ricky couldn't believe he had been heard. Then he started! "Hey, how did you know my-"
But he was interrupted by "all the fixin's" being roughly dropped on the table. It didn't look bad... Mashed Potatoes... that "Grass and Booger" casserole his mom used to make with Green Beans, Onions and Mushroom Soup... Cranberry jelly... Stuffing... Sprouts... Rolls... and about twenty gallons of Gravy. Wow.
"I hope you've brought your appetite!" said the host, "And I hope none of you are vegetarians!" The group laughed nervously as they passed around the sides to be filled on each of their McDonaldland plates. Ricky raised his hand like a third grader asking for the potty.
"So, if we're not seeing a Hitch Flick, and we ain't seein' Psycho II, what're we watchin'?"
"An Alan Smithee flick!" the host proclaimed. With that, lightening struck with a loud crash. The table shook, and the guest's eyes were filled with Visual Purple for a moment (though there were no windows). Then the host laughed a blood curdling laugh.
"Look I gotta-" started Ricky, but a strong hand held him in place. Ricky looked up and saw an attractive, athletic woman in her mid-twenties with short, well kept hair looking down at him, shaking her head as she held him in place.
The host went on. "No, my friend, I'm afraid you must stay and have Thanksgiving Dinner Theatre with us... let's see, we've got all the fixings, all the sides... ah, and here comes the wine... there is only one thing left to serve you... THE BIRD! Or should I say... The Birds... as in The Birds II: Land's End!" With those last syllables, the host's eyes glowed red and he smiled wickedly.
Ricky was frightened. This wasn't fair! He had been a criminal for some time. He had done things he wasn't proud of... but what had he done to deserve this? What?
Kneumsi motioned to his friends and family and Ricky saw them put in ear plugs and slide on expensive looking protective glasses, just as a strange whistling sound filled the air.
With a loud slam the Turkey... the first, but not last, of the Birds of the evening landed square in the middle of the table as if dropped heavily from the rafters.
Ricky finished his glass of wine with one gulp. He hadn't been this scared in years. Even the bullets outside paled to this. His glass was fast refilled and he was directed back to the screen, which slowly illuminated with images of this putrid slice of 1994 crap.
The credits began to roll. Ricky's nerves began to fray.
Ricky had always been a Hitchcock nut, and he knew the original The Birds like the back of his ass. As the name Daphne Du Maurier was listed in the writing credits, he slowly began to unclench his fists. However he jumped as the credits revealed that this "teleplay" had been written by Ken Wheat, Jim Wheat and Robert Eisele "Was this... " Ricky started. He felt his voice croak, so he sipped some cold water. "Was this... made for Television?" he asked to no one in particular.
"Yes.", the host's voice came from behind him. Ricky jumped. How had this "Kneumsi" character gotten behind him again?
The roller coaster ride of the Credit Sequence continued. His indifference to the presence of the leads was outshined by his excitement that Tippi Hedren was in the cast. But like many of his life's hopes, this one was dashed by the presence of the name Alan Smithee, here credited as director. No! He had hoped Kneumsi had been only joking. Ricky tried to eat, but couldn't. The faces around the table looked contorted in pain. He realized he was making the same face.
The opening scene featured a filthy bird ripping out some asshole's eyeball. Kneumsi, the host, again spoke... "I'll bet you're seeing that Fulcian Eye Popping scene and you're thinking you know just who ol' 'Smithee' is in this case, right?" Ricky was too terrified to answer. "But no, it's not old 'I Love Lucio!'... believe it or not, this was actually Rick Rosenthal. He took his name off of this thing because he didn't even want his name associated with this bile-burp!"
Ricky's eyes widened and he mouthed the words "Oh no!" No sound came out.
"Too bad ol' Daphne couldn't get her name off of this bird's turd, isn't it? Call it a mercy... she died five years before this movie was still-born!"
As the "film" unfolded, Ricky and the fellow captive guests were abused by the Turkey on the screen as an odd mix of horrible special effects, incredibly poorly thought out character motivations and painfully idiotic dialogue bubbled forth like a mad scientist's potion. A family of mentally absent and socially blank people, led by Dad Ted (played by Brad Johnson) and Mom May (Chelsea Field) relocate to a really crappy little island called "Land's End" where they waste about a month's worth of screen time just standing around looking blank and absent.
"Land's End"! Ricky thought, That Catalogue company should sue. Why not call it The Birds II: L.L. Bean?
Ricky's mind continued to mercifully wander. He recalled his third grade production of "The Adventures of Uncle Umbert and his Forlorn Frown" and realized with numb shock that the acting in that play was better than this film. Chelsea Field was... well... what had happened to her since Skin Deep, really?
"Ricky, my boy..." came the host's voice from over his shoulder, "Watch closely now, look who it is!" As the family entered a small shop on the island, Ricky's heart lept at the sight of Tippi Hedren herself.
Then something horrible happened. "Did she just introduce herself as-"
Kneumsi slapped an arm around Ricky's shoulder "Yes! 'Helen' is her name!"
Another voice from across the table called "You mean she's-"
Kneumsi cackled "NOT EVEN PLAYING THE SAME CHARACTER!"
The table erupted in anger and discomfort. "WHAT HAPPENED TO MELANIE?", a woman cried, beating her head against the table. There were admonishments, screams and demands to be released. There was also one person asking for more gravy. Independent Directors (serving as security at this function) quelled the inciting riot and sat everyone down. "Eat!" said one of them... then he lit a home rolled cigarette with a match he struck on the palm of his hand.
"Thank you!" said Kneumsi. "Besides, look who that is!" Ricky (and the rest) looked back to the screen to see a most painful exchange between Field, Johnson and some new actor... someone playing a character named Frank.
"YES!" Called the host. "It's James Naughton from the Planet of the Apes television show!"
"Aw, I hate that show!", Ricky moaned!
"You're nuts, that show was great!" someone else called to Ricky's left.
From Ricky's right another voice called "It was ok. It's the Cartoon show I hated!"
Various agreements filled the room, followed by the construction worker saying "Nothing's worse than that Planet of the Apes cartoon show!"
Ricky pointed to the screen in agony and yelled "THIS IS!!!"
The plot plodded along as slowly the familiar bull crap rolled and dripped from the screen concerning Birds exacting their revenge upon humanity for years of captivity and use as food. Ricky looked down at his plate and realized he couldn't bring himself to keep eating the Turkey. He too was a culprit.
Idiotic lip-service was paid to the "previous entry" into the "series" as the story slowed down to the pace of a Zombie in a Mattei flick. Fake-looking birds are attacking, yet everyone has time to relax and look up similar events on microfilm. If stupid birds weren't horrible enough, then the explosions came.
"You see that, Ricky?" the taunting host whispered. "Birds causing explosions. Want some more Turkey?"
"No More!", Ricky rasped.
"Oh, yes, there will be more. Is this your first Turkey covered in Cheese?"
Ricky bit his lip and rocked his head back, but found himself incapable of looking away.
The film slowly shook itself down to its inevitable finish, which made about as much sense as those Bob Dole political ads from the 1980s which preempted all Ricky's favorite shows. He wondered if that was the point at which he had gone bad and turned to a life of crime. Dole, damn it! Damn it, Dole!
At last the credits were upon them. The table erupted again with great vengeance and furious anger. Spoons filled with Taters were thrown and a mess was made. Calmly the host with the lowest common denominator said "Ah, do we have questions?"
One person demanded "What was all that crap about them having a dead son? Why the hell did they put that in and not do anything with it?"
Someone else stood up and said "And if Naughton was some kick-ass photographer, why in Hell would he end up on that dreary island?"
A third person sickly lolled her head and said "I'm guessing the easy pickings of the local women. Chelsea was putty in Naughton's fingers."
Ricky chimed in, "Which makes no sense! Johnson was a total Douche in this, but he was about three billion times cooler than Naughton!"
Kneumsi laughed "Three Billion, huh?"
Ricky considered, "Well... three!"
The sick woman agreed, then began to dry heave.
The construction worker stood up and slammed his yellow hardhat onto the table, spilling some gravy. "Hedren wasn't even playing the same character that she played in The Birds? How does that make sense? How does her presence here even help if she's not going to bridge the two films?"
"Good point!", chuckled Kneumsi.
Ricky wished for his gun. "What about those special effects. They were... were... uh..."
Kneumsi helped him, "Neither 'Special', nor 'Effective'?"
Ricky pointed at Kneumsi "Yes! Yes, that's right!" Ricky's only comfort after this contort was that The Birds II was so unmemorable and boring, that with the Grace of God, he could forget this happened. He would still have the pain, but like a scar he got when he was four years old, he could see the result but mercifully not recall the event.
Kneumsi put his hands out and patted the air, signifying that the guests should all take their seats. "The answer to all of these things is very simple. Nobody gave a jolly bird squirt about this movie. The Sequel to The Birds is a Bird itself... a Turkey, to be exact... or, as we like to refer to them here... The Birds II: Land's End is a DOG!"
The construction worker gasped... "You're that Critic guy!"
Kneumsi nodded with a wicked grin.
A previously silent woman screamed out "OH WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE?"
Kneumsi took his position between the table and the screen again and said "All of you have done great wrong in your lives. Today, you have experienced the beginning of your punishment with this brain-hook of a T.V. Movie. All of you had your chances to repent, but none of you did. Now... you will all leave, but not the way you came!"
The movie screen fell with a slow, billowing settlement and the double doors behind it swung open on their own to reveal a quaint, peaceful seaside scene. Ricky wondered how this was possible, what with them being in the inner-city and all. The Directors and Kneumsi's friends and family ushered the dinner guests, now engorged on TURKEY, to the doors and they staggered out onto the soggy, gossamer-salted grass.
Again Ricky turned around and found the door behind him was gone. He stared about and slowly started to realize where they were. "Oh no!" he muttered through the gray fog... "LAND'S END!!!"
And then the Birds began to line up on every surface. The guests screamed.
Too late was the lesson learned. Too late did the guests realize the consequences of their selfish actions would result in such a tearful, fearful, terrifying end.
But have YOU learned YOUR lesson? Each year there is a new THANKSGIVING TURKEY, and each year we will lambaste and baste a new horrible movie for your viewing terror. And we always will need dinner guests...
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