TJ Moore Books

You can't spell "fame" without ME.

- CHASE JACKSON, FAMOUS GUY

LISTEN TO THE SHORT STORY - 35 MIN. FREE AUDIO BOOK

HOLLYWOOD PRANKSTERS

A Short Story by TJ Moore

     Tabloids have clear motives. They exist to make money. It’s a simple formula that has worked ever since the first bully wrote a nasty insult on the inside of a bathroom stall then charged people a dollar to keep quiet about it. This cultural phenomenon always fascinated Chase Jackson. He appreciated tabloids because he understood the people who ran them. They weren’t too different from him, either.

     While shoppers wait in line at the grocery store, they can’t help but read those bold, yellow headlines. Cancer scare! Weight-gain! Divorce drama! So and so is now a woman!

     These rumors target famous names and remind us that no one is safe from ridicule. It doesn’t matter how many albums or movie tickets the voice of a musician or the face of a movie star has sold. There will always be someone waiting for them to fail. And in the dry spells when they don’t fall on their face, the tabloids go to their teams of low-life writers to cook up something scandalous. That’s the part Chase liked the most: the creation of the monsters, those snarling lies that took on a life of their own.

     But he didn’t think those bottom-feeding writers were journalists. They were marketing experts. They knew exactly what their audience wanted. Shock. Horror. Surprise. Disgust. It’s interactive media; and more than that, it’s intoxicating.

     For many tabloids, no subject is taboo. Politicians and royalty are some of their favorite and most widely exploited victims, proving not even world leaders hold sacred reputations in the eyes of vultures like TMZ or The National Inquirer.

     Chase had a similar approach to pranking people. He loved the interaction that took place between the prankster and the prankstee. His taste for this bizarre and rewarding hobby developed through his friendship with Alex.

     Chase and Alex became friends when they turned eleven at a science competition in Portland, Oregon. They were assigned to work together as partners on a nature project. After seeing how predictable and boring their classmates’ projects were: a volcano, a mini hot air balloon, and teaching a frog how to jump through a hoop; the two middle-schoolers decided to do something original, something devious. Through their teamwork, they perfected the art of lying.

     And it all started with Chase.

     He told the science teacher they were conducting an experiment with a catapult and a rubber-band ball. Apparently, they wanted to see how far their catapult could fling the ball across the school parking lot. As promised, the stunt seemed innocent, even harmless.

     But there was a catch. There always is.

     Chase told the teacher he needed the group of students and teachers to stand in a clumped group between a marked-off section of the parking lot for safety reasons. When the teacher seemed skeptical of his plan, Chase used puppy-dog eyes and a Benjamin Franklin to seal the deal. Gullible people never got in his way. No. Dealing with gullible people allowed Chase to always get his way. Trusting, naïve people never thought through events far enough to stop the mania from taking place.

     Chase believed that most people didn’t think beyond the next fifteen minutes of life. He also assumed that most people were simpletons. They didn’t need a lot of validation or attention; they just needed rewards.

     He thought people gave themselves rewards to get through the day: snacks, phone breaks, even mini-pep talks. And without these rewards, he bet most people would be completely lost, shifting their files at work in a monotonous struggle against fears of losing their jobs.

     For Chase, the business of pranking people worked so well because it actively interrupted people’s personal reward cycles. A well-conceived, well-executed prank threw a big ol’ wrench into the constant motor of the average man, pulling the man out of his half-dead existence into a higher state.

     Of course, the consequences of a kick-ass prank ranged from anger to laughter. But either way, when it worked, when a prank clicked on all cylinders (like the powerful engine of his brand new Ferrari), Chase became fully alive.

     A truly great and unexpected prank was more valuable than fame or wealth because the resulting glee couldn’t be sealed in a jar. It couldn’t be sold on a shelf. Capitalism couldn’t touch it. Besides, even if it did exist in physical form, the radioactive energy of a truly great prank would be crackling acid, strong enough to eat away steel. Whether or not a truly great prank was appreciated right away, the power of the Internet gave it incredible influence, spreading Chase’s message of anti-predictability.

     Chase saw past the denial of responsible adults who clung to predictable outcomes. Others called this “settling” or “getting into a rut.” Chase called this fucking boring.

     The attitude of “better than thouhad nothing to do with growing up. For Chase, adulthood was all about curiosity and freedom. And freedom was the opposite of predictable. Real freedom was electric.

     He learned at a young age that you have to spend money to make it. Looking back on their scheme, Chase and Alex thought it was worth well over a hundred dollars. They never told anyone their real plan. No one would have believed them.

     The idea for their first prank came when Alex called his classmates chickens. His exact words were, “This school is full of poultry. They all run around like chickens with their heads cut off. It makes me sick.”

     For some reason, this phrase lodged itself in Chase’s eleven-year-old mind. Staying, growing, a clever sense formed from practically nothing—the result, as most things were, of a simple idea. He famously called this idea, his first viral prank since it spread like wildfire across the Portland community and later, the World Wide Web. Chase had always been relieved that technology preceded his brilliance just in time to make it accessible to the rest of the world.

     Right up until the day of the science fair, Chase and Alex tested their trusty catapult with the same, worn rubber-band ball. Since the catapult actually worked effectively, Alex had to run after the ball and find it before resetting the device. While Alex played human fetch, Chase made bets with other students during lunchtime about how far the catapult could launch the ball. A few students bet fifty or sixty dollars and lost their money when Chase added a two-foot extension to the catapult’s arm. This additional length gave the machine even more launching strength.

     To Chase’s surprise, one student was willing to bet two hundred dollars that they couldn’t put the ball through the basketball hoop. The odds were low enough, but the bet included another dimension. For Chase to win the money, the machine had to send the ball over the baseball fence and into the basketball hoop without hitting the rim.

     So, for once in his life, Chase actually studied some basic geometry and algebra, calculating the exact distance the catapult needed to be from the fence to make the hoop.

     He decided the best time to perform their stunt was the day before the science fair. That way, the impossible bet would draw a crowd and get people talking. That was, if it worked.

     Chase never thought he’d use real science to score cash, but when he showed Alex the blueprints for the catapult’s secret trajectory, Alex approved them. As if Chase needed an ego boost, Alex’s approval gave him just enough hope that the machine just might work.

     When he first came up with the idea for the prank, Chase planned to do it during the science fair. But the crowd of students asking about the “Hoop Bet” grew and grew, until lunchtime conversations buzzed with the name Chase Jackson and his ingenious invention. He was deemed the catapult kid.

     As the excitement in the school escalated, Chase used his quick wit to make a decision. They already had everything they needed. In the midst of all the anticipation, he didn’t want disappoint. Chase signaled Alex to meet him outside. A group of students watched them leave and immediately left their lunch trays, following like a herd of dumb sheep. Then another herd followed, and another. Even the lunch supervisors wanted to see what the hell was going to happen. It became an event.

     Chase somehow, even at eleven years old, had a natural talent for marketing. Without posters, T-shirts, or newspaper ads, he started a revolution of interest among the students, fully utilizing the influence attainable only through word-of-mouth.

     The event mimicked the classic duel of an American Western film with each man representing his simple claims with money and a pistol. But instead of a firearm, Chase had a much funnier plan for the duel. He felt confident that the plan he conceived was more cunning than his counterpart. The plan was risky, even a little dangerous; but that’s what made it so damn exciting.

     At high noon, the audience of students, six-graders and eighth-graders alike, stood next to one another just on the other side of the baseball fence, anxiously awaiting the ultimate bet. And to most, it seemed impossible. Some of them thought Chase was stupid for promising the idea in the first place. Some of them thought Chase was stupid in general. But those kids didn’t know him very well.

     As the son of a lawyer, Chase understood the importance of having these kinds of agreements in writing. Even the old Westerns included details of contracts of some sort, most of them signing off on property of land or woman post-duel. His betting opponent, however, was not aware of legally binding contracts. Nothing had been drawn up. They never shook on the bet either, giving Chase the upper hand. There were no rules for this stunt, and that’s how he wanted it.

     Chase wheeled out the catapult, placing it on the exact spot from his calculations. Alex set up an ice cooler a few feet away.

     Even though some students had empty bellies, they didn’t budge, eyes glued to the contraption. Their locked gaze breached the baseball fence, and a few of them held their breath. Finn McGuire held air in his lungs long enough to turn purple. As the tension built, Chase knew he had them in the palm of his hand. They were his first captive audience.

     And with this much interest, they weren’t going anywhere. Chase had them right where he wanted.

     Still, a few students couldn’t believe what they were about to see. A handful of doubtful whispers floated across the crowd: He’ll never make it. What a Looney-Tune. Such a tiny ball, such a huge distance, into such a basket-shaped goal? There was just no way.

     Finn McGuire’s doubtful whisper was more like a soft taunt. When he spoke, it came out in a pitiful squeak: “Epic fail alert.”

     With all the other talking, not many of the students heard Finn’s taunt. But Chase heard it. He heard it loud and clear.

     Alex continued to set up the cooler.

     The students and lunch supervisors came for a show, and Chase believed it was his obligation, his responsibility as a blooming prankster to put on the best goddamn show they’d ever seen. One for the record books. A show they’d never forget. He especially wanted to prove those hecklers wrong; hecklers like Finn McGuire.

     Murmurs from the crowd muffled into a dull roar as the exhilaration became whipped and frothy, ready to serve.

     Though overcast moments before, the sky switched gears and the sun peaked over the silver lining of a puffy cloud. The striking brightness of the beam forced the students to squint their eyes, blinding the crowd temporarily.

     Chase looked at Alex.

     Alex looked at Chase.

     Then, the mayhem began.

     Chase loaded chicken eggs in as fast as he could, placing them in the device one revolution at a time, following the machine’s rhythm: Swoop, egg. Swoop, egg. The catapult spun like the wind-up of a pitcher’s arm on a revolving, nonstop loop. Splat after splat after splat after splat. And the hits just kept coming, all of them continuous, fast pitches.

     The machine came to play.

     Alex filmed the whole thing. He zoomed in to capture a few brutal close-ups as shell and yoke creamed one of his classmates. The splatter from the eggs was better than Nickelodeon’s notorious green slime. Alex shook the camera with fits of laughter.

     Chase looked over to the mixed cheers and boos from the crowd, answering their distain with a wide grin. But this glory moment distracted him long enough for the sharp edge of the catapult to catch his arm, slicing it just above his wrist. Chase didn’t really feel any pain because he knew this event would somehow transcend time, making his name legendary. And legends didn’t mind a little pain. In fact, they welcomed it. Middle school Chase believed real legends were tough.

     Former heckler Finn McGuire, the runt of the bunch, weaved through the crowd of students, trying to dodge the rain of eggs. But no matter where he stood, the eggs seemed to find him like tracking missiles, staining his shirt with greasy yokes. Finn yelled out half a dozen times and caught a smattering of explosive shells right in the yapper, mid-yell. The next egg flew over the fence and mashed him in the ear, tipping him off balance.

     Finn tripped over his feet and pulled up his shirt to shield him from more chicken slime, but Chase’s aim at the helm of the catapult was absolutely spot-on. After creaming Finn with one last egg, Chase turned the catapult back on the rest of the crowd, sending his ammunition over the fence with sticky results.

     Just then, he eyed the cooler and realized he was down to his last cartoon of eggs. Loading the catapult faster than before, Chase flung out the final dozen before reaching under the device’s cart to grab a fluffy, white pillow. He mounted the pillow between his legs and ripped it open with his teeth, shedding a wing’s worth of feathers on the baseball field. It didn’t matter. The pillow was tightly packed with high quality plumes, a whole flock’s worth.

     He pulled a rubber band from his wrist and stretched it over the pillow, attaching it to the arm of the catapult. Chase knew the force of the arm’s release would snap the rubber band clean off, but there was one problem: the pillow had much more mass than the tiny eggs. Once launched, air resistance, along with gravity’s threat to pull it down before clearing the top of the fence, would slow the pillow’s flight. And so, to counteract these physical limitations, Chase climbed onto the catapult cart, straddled it, and pressed his full body weight into the automated slingshot. He twisted his elbow underneath to act as the final lever, giving the device an extra boost.

     Chase took a deep breath, and when he rolled his fingers off the contraption, the arm clawed the air, scraping him across the chin. Startled, he leaped off the machine a split-second before it took his head off, just in time to watch the pillow clear the fence and unload its shower of white feathers.

     Some of the students saw Chase load the final payload and ran along the fence to evade their full transformation into humanoid-chickens. Other students, including Finn McGuire weren’t so lucky as their sneakers slipped and sloshed on the raw goop in the grass. With no wind to interfere, the feathers floated down in a universal blanket of shame, clinging to the sopping students like pasty dryer fuzz.

     At this point, Alex had lost control of his knees as his uncontrollable laughter turned them to putty, shaking them until they pounded into the raked dust of the baseball field. Tears from his fits of laughter blurred the camera viewfinder inches away from his nose, but he continued to hold it up, making sure he caught it all on tape. The chicken-a-fication was way more than he could’ve imagined. It was vividly, memorably better.

     For the young prankster within Chase Jackson, the outrageous realization of Alex’s joking phrase “everyone’s chicken” was only the beginning of a huge and lucrative career. The video, WRATH OF CHICKEN BOY, grew to over one hundred million views in the first few months, then expanded to new outlets and the emerging social media platforms, becoming one of the first videos to be shared all over the world. Kids couldn’t get enough of that prank. They loved the audacity of its simple premise. Other wannabe vloggers tried to replicate the success of the prank, but only made weak copycats that missed flattery altogether, falling to a lower level of online comedy: parody.

     Alex periodically checked analytics for the chicken prank and noticed many viewers watched the video multiple times. Chase’s massive online following, the Jacksters, couldn’t get enough. It didn’t take long for him to see the obvious marketing potential, expanding his brand into an entire industry of collectible merchandise including T-shirts, mugs, and rubber chickens stamped with the Jackster logo.

     He later selected companies to sponsor, taking the highest bids. The companies wanted to put a price tag on everything Chase Jackson touched, and with double dollar signs in his eyes, Chase committed to more product development as he added a line of Jackster body spray, colorful headphones, and even red-and-white striped beanies with Chase’s signature embroidered on the front.

________

     Fueled by the wild energy that made him famous, Chase Jackson sped through the intersections of downtown Los Angeles, passing neon signs and restless souls of the Hollywood nightlife. Closing in on 112 miles per hour, he drove without fear. And tonight, adrenaline had no equal. New cars, fast cars always made him feel invincible.

     The green, yellow, and red lights flew into a blur against the city skyline. A group of drunk pedestrians scattered like cats just seconds before he zoomed through an intersection on Hollywood Boulevard. Chase noticed that one of them wore a fanny pack around his waist.

     Damn tourists, he thought. This is my town.

     The California night brought out his thrill-seeking side: a dangerous, adolescent streak that had carried over into his early twenties. But Chase didn’t care. It was time to break-in his brand-new cherry-red Ferrari 458 Italia convertible, the latest addition to his fast-car collection, which included a Lamborghini Aventado and jet-black Jaguar. Chase usually alternated between those two vehicles every other day, but now that he owned a Ferrari, he imagined the Jaguar might start to collect dust. It had a great look, but the speed capabilities paled in comparison to the two-million-dollar Ferrari.

     Faster was always better. Once you drove fast, there was no turning back. For just fifty thousand dollars (a steal by his standards), Chase added razor-chrome rims and automated parking that he’d probably never use. They just looked cool. All sizzle.

     Pressing his red Converse All Star sneaker against the pedal, he accelerated to 120mph. With a navy blue zip-up hoodie, white arcade T-shirt, and striped beanie, Chase appeared to be more patriotic than he really was. This hip style reinforced his trademark, all part of his online brand.

     With over 30 million YouTube subscribers and counting, along with his hit TV show on Comedy Central, it was too late to change his image now. The fans loved him for many reasons, but his youthful charm proved to be his most powerful asset. Unlike some stars, his charm actually increased with age. Now 21, Chase still looked 16, and he felt even younger. In Chase’s mind, his inner-kid ran the show, pressing buttons labeled RESTRICTED just to see what happened.

     Since Chase had the top down, the night air spiraled into the convertible, blowing his hair all over the place. Chase’s mirror aviators, however, didn’t budge. The red and white knit-beanie on his head kept the glasses secure. And the streetlights flickered across the aviators like a pulsing strobe, adding a kinetic movement across his face. With a strange, often misunderstood, balance between hyper and chill, Chase always seemed to be ready for the cameras. But tonight, the traffic cameras were the only ones with exclusive points of view.

     Alex Mitchell sat shotgun, gripping his armrest for dear life. He was the same age as Chase, just two weeks younger. But his recent 21st birthday didn’t really change anything. He’d been drinking and clubbing with Chase ever since their rise to stardom. And even though Alex was used to Chase’s antics, he hated fast cars, rollercoasters, or anything that could flip on a dime.

     For a moment, Alex wondered if he saw his life flash before his eyes, soon realizing they’d zipped past the fringe of the city, heading up to the hills further north. Alex thought his best friend looked like a coked-up Where’s Waldo, complete with the whimsical face that said: “Ha-ha, loser! You’ll never find me!”

     Chase Jackson tilted the rearview mirror toward his face, blinding himself from the palm-tree landscape that whizzed behind him. His waking dream of blazing around L.A. was very real.

     The Ferrari cut through the night air with aerodynamic precision. Chase had read about that feature online. More than the car, he bought it because he deserved it. The status, and yes, the undeniable thrill that came with revving the engine. In this car, time felt liquid, flowing past toward an unknown future. Chase secretly named his new vehicle The Beast. No real reason. He thought it sounded unpredictable. Wild.

     Alex turned down the radio, which blasted Crazy Train, but Chase turned it right back up to full volume, shaking his jagged brown hair in rebellious delight. He knew all the lyrics to the 1980 Ozzy classic and sang along, scrunching his nose with a rock-star sneer. His parrot bobble-head on the dashboard, a replica of his real pet bird, Echo, rocked up and down in head-banger fashion. Chase had glued the plastic parrot there just an hour before, a sort of christening ritual he did with all new vehicles. The bobble-head replica enjoyed Chase’s wild side while the real Echo, a living lucky charm, was safely perched in Chase’s trailer just outside Soundstage 14.

     As they rounded a winding road that dipped into gravel for a few miles, Chase stuck his left arm into the rushing stream of air outside the Ferrari. He did this often enough to know what happened. The wall of air fought his arm, bending it over his head. He then reached over to high five Alex, but Alex had his eyes closed. He looked like he was praying.

     “What’s wrong, man?”

     “What?!

     “Don’t you want to jam?”

     “I can’t hear you!”

     “Let’s jam, Alex!”

     “Why don’t you slow down!”

     “You’re joking right? We’ve got two million dollars of horsepower, and you want to slow down?” Chase cranked the sub-woofers to full woof, shaking the seats enough to register on the Richter scale. The rumble of gravel beneath the car kicked up waves of dust, and Chase pounded his right fist into the air. “This is the time of our lives!”

     They raced toward the Griffith Observatory and Chase yanked the steering wheel, sending the convertible into a complete doughnut. The chrome-razor rims gleamed as the tires squealed, and The Beast roared.

     Alex strained his voice over the music. “You mean the time of your life. I’m almost out of money.”

     “How? I thought…”

     “I don’t know, Chase! It just…evaporated.”

     “What are you saying? You spent it all? Is it drugs again?”

     “No, it just…”

     “Damn, Alex. I’m not gonna let you sulk, ya big baby.” Chase turned the convertible away from the observatory and headed toward the higher hills, pounding the dashboard with his fist. “We’ve got to see how this thing handles on a steeper incline.”

     The radio transitioned to Living on a Prayer.

     Chase guided them onto paved roads again, this time passing the solid yellow line, swerving around a minivan. He pulled the convertible to the left side, then twisted the wheel, almost hitting oncoming traffic.

     “Whooooo!” He laughed just before singing out the hook lyric of the Bon Jovi song.

     “Chase, slow down now!”

     “I don’t think so.”

     Tires whirring, hugging the pavement like black magnets, the convertible made the sharp turns with ease. Chase continued to give it gas as they sped uphill, gaining momentum. He zig-zagged between cars and passed two double-wide semi trucks. Turning the convertible back into opposing traffic, ready for head-on collision. Chase felt the tires bump across the safety ridges on the shoulder of the road.

     He thought the new car smelled like an expensive men’s cologne, and at this speed, the scent seemed to intensify. Chase Jackson told himself this must have been what it felt like to be James Bond. The only thing he was missing was a silencer in the glove compartment.

     Alex wanted to rip off his seatbelt and attempt a tuck-and-roll to safety, but his annoyance and fear paralyzed him. He glanced at the doors, making sure they were locked. Even Italian-made cars were fallible, and the high price tag didn’t reassure Alex about the car’s safety. He leaned back against the seat and brought his legs together, clenching his muscles to make his body more compact. The loud music made him a little dizzy. Most of his blood had rushed to his feet, which felt heavier than normal.

     Chase kept steering the car toward the edge of the road, which led to a hundred-foot drop-off. He looked over the ledge and saw a few cars driving past on the highway below.

     “Stop it, Chase! I mean it! Stop the car!”

     “No way.”

     Verooommmm. 130mph. 140mph. Lightning fast.

     Chase slowly allowed the left set of tires to creep toward the edge of the cliff; but as the road curved ahead, one of the front tires hit a pothole. The entire vehicle shifted several feet, swinging the back left tire over the edge. For a half-second, Chase heard only three tires on the road. He nudged the car right away, taking control. He moved forward in his seat, ignoring the speedometer completely as he forced the vehicle toward 160mph. The Ferrari manufacturer guaranteed a top speed of 200mph, and Chase wanted to get a run for his money.

       Alex looked in the passenger side mirror and saw only distant headlights behind them, but the sharp curves in the road gave the illusion that it was revolving in on itself, making it impossible to see oncoming drivers.

     “Two lanes!” Alex shouted. “There are two lanes here!”

     “Not tonight.” Chase felt the convertible smoothly purr to 180mph. “Tonight, we own this road. Be glad you’re along for the ride.”

     “Listen to me, Chase.” The pounding music progressed into an instrumental high point. Alex couldn’t talk fast enough. “You’re going to kill us. Get back in the right lane now!”

     “Or what?”

     “I’m serious.”

     “Seriously boring.”

     “Do it now, or I’ll do it for you!”

     Chase turned to face Alex and took one of his hands off the wheel. With the aviators and the beanie hat covering the rest of Chase’s face, Alex could see only that ultra-white Chase Jackson smile; the product of expensive braces when they were teenagers in Portland. Since the aviator sunglasses reflected only Alex’s terror-stricken face, he couldn’t see Chase’s eyes. But he imagined they were wide with insanity, a striking reminder that he was about to take them both over the edge to a violent death. Alex wasn’t ready to be roadkill. He couldn’t handle the thought of his parents scraping him off the Hollywood hills, searching for his shattered bones like archeologists.

     The next chain of events happened in no more than five seconds. Stretching into a U-shaped curve, the road seemed to vanish, sloping down just enough to reveal the grid of L.A. lights. Alex felt as if the road was pulled out from under them, leaving only a glass floor. In reality, the convertible was only inches from the cliff, skidding along the dirt ridge. The tires buffered against the slope, and Alex’s stomach dropped into his designer-torn jeans. With a careless chuckle, Chase let his other hand slip off the steering wheel just as headlights from an oncoming motorcycle came into view around the corner.

     Chase lifted his hands in the air and stretched out his fingers; The Beast now charging forward on its own will, ready to mow down anything in its path. Even over the blaring music, Alex heard the oncoming motorcycle. Displaying impressive reflexes, Alex bit his lip and reached over with both hands to take control of the unmanned steering wheel, yanking it right with all his strength.

     Now seeing the bright headlights of the two-wheel obstacle, Alex used his elbows to press down on Chase’s left leg, hoping it would catch on the break pedal. The combination of the breaking and swerving jerked the Ferrari across the narrow, two-lane road, just barely missing the motorcycle.

     The nightrider zoomed past them with a strong magnitude, and Alex saw a rider and one passenger on the bike when it passed out of sight. At such extreme speeds, the Ferrari should have flipped over itself six or eight times, throwing them from the vehicle. The hill, however, on the right side of the road acted as a shield, preventing the vehicle from spiraling into a haywire corkscrew of vertical peril.

     The right side of the convertible smashed against the rough part of the hill as Chase pressed his full weight onto the break, leading the tires into a high-pitched squeal.

     Alex was beat-red and angrier than Chase had ever seen him. “Pull over right now!”

     “Yes sir, officer, sir.” Somehow, the near-death experience didn’t phase Chase’s confidence. He shifted the rearview mirror again and saw another semi making headway from behind. “Yeah, I think we’ll just keep driving for now. Cool with you?”

     “No, Chase. It’s not cool with me.”

     “Don’t spaz right now. That truck is gonna ram us if we don’t move.” Chase went from 0-60mph in three seconds flat and redirected the banged-up convertible toward an alternate route back to the city. “Wow, man. Was that something or what?”

     “You’re unbelievable you know that?”

     “What? That was just a little midnight fun.”

     “I can’t even speak to you right now.”

     “Oh, what’s the big deal, Alex?”

     “This is why I don’t drive with you! This, your, your…”

     “Hush-up, you wet blanket. I hope you didn’t pee your pants.”

     “It’s like you have a death wish. What is this, some kind of joke to you?”

     “Of course it is. Everything’s a joke.” Chase turned the music to a normal volume to lower the overall stress level in the vehicle.

     “Look, pranks are great. Fantastic. I’m just not so excited about this level of crazy.”

     “Really, Alex, is it any higher than normal?”

     “Okay, not really. You’re right. Straight up normal crazy coming from you. What will the Jacksters say?”

     “They’ll never know.”

     “Come on, they have to know. I just saved your life.”

     “But that’s the best part. This is our secret.”

     “No, Chase. I don’t believe you. Where’s the camera?” Alex sat up and looked around. He noticed a GoPro camera attached to the back of the Ferrari. The camera was black, so it blended in with the leather interior. “You didn’t. Chase, you planned this? You wanted them to see your, what? Your cause of death? Like a living will or some bullshit like that? Look, I know you think you’re a big deal and all, but you’re not Elvis, you’re not James Dean, and you’re sure as hell not going to end up like Paul Walker. That’s for sure.”

     “Settle down. So much drama. Yikes. Don’t you get it, Alex? It’s going to be fine. You’re a hero now.”

     “So, hold on. You wanted me to save you?”

     “No, that part was an accident. I planned to do a jump off a ramp a few miles further north. That’s what I was trying to film.”

     “With that shitty angle?”

     “Oh, there’s a camera rigged to the front of the car as well.”

     “And you had to put our lives in danger to get your shot? That’s ridiculous. You’re not supposed to die that way. It’s not your time.”

     “Jeepers, Alex, you can’t deny it was going to go viral on our channel. Please calm down. We’re invincible.”

     “You might be, Chase. By some crazy leap of logic or luck, yes…you might be. But what about those other drivers back there? What about the people on the motorcycle? They aren’t invincible.”

     Chase reached in the back seat and tossed Alex a bottle of water. “Your throat sounds dry.”

     Alex shook his head, trying to contain his frustration. “Maybe it’s because I had to yell over all that heavy metal.”

     “I thought you were more hard core, man. We’ve been friends for what?”

     “Ten years. Don’t act like you forgot.”

     “Yeah, ten. Dude, I haven’t seen you freak out like this since we went to Six Flags for my sweet sixteen.”

     “Chase, I’m not sure why you’re so calm. We were almost buzzard food back there. And what if you would have killed those bikers?”

     “It’s L.A. Shit happens out here.”

     “That’s some life-sentence shit, though. Besides, you should be focused on tomorrow.”

     “Why?”

     “Hello! The one-hundredth episode. Live TV. Live for real this time. Not pre-taped. LIVE. And you know what that means? No redos.”

     “You worry too much.”

     “This isn’t like the old days. You can’t just expect to show up and see what happens.”

     Chase accelerated the Ferrari back up to 80mph and took off his aviators before addressing Alex face to face. “Adaptability, my dear Alex. I know what I’m doing. Now, I’m hungry. Let’s go get some late-night grub.”

________

     Money didn’t make their lives easier. For Chase and Alex, the topic of money was poisonous to their friendship. So, they tried to avoid the subject altogether. Unlike the privileged children of Hollywood superstars, they were not born into fame or money. Instead, each of them developed their comedy style through real experiences that would have been dull if only influenced by life in the spotlight. Much of Chase’s success with pranks relied on his ability to take ordinary situations and heighten them through the element of surprise.

     Not all of the pranks focused on public spectacle. Chase intentionally set up certain pranks to make an impression on just a few people, amping up the hilarity of reactions and humiliation.

     Some of the viral videos in this category of his channel included funny drive-thru orders, placing giant mirrors across department store entryways, flipping “open” signs to “closed,” replacing toothpaste with mustard at Walmart, and setting a paper bag of shit on fire on someone’s doorstep, the Jackster take on a rank Ding-Dong-Ditch. Other juvenile pranks featured spraying Liquid Ass inside an elevator while blaming passengers and drawing hyper-realistic chalk drawings of massive potholes to deter traffic from parking near sidewalks.

     The public’s perception of Chase’s pranks changed every time he released a new video. Some crazy fans who lived in and around L.A. desperately tried to track him down and figure out where he would make his next vlog. Chase was aware of these lunatics and purposefully kept his ideas secret until Alex uploaded the results. The partnership between Chase and Alex worked smoothly because Chase refused to deal with any technical aspects.

     When they made their first vlogs together in Portland, Alex was responsible for running the camera, editing the footage, and setting up all aspects of the YouTube channel. But this commitment kept Alex behind the scenes so often that the majority of the Jackster community forgot all about him, focusing all their attention toward Chase. No one really asked Alex if he wanted more time in front of the camera. And even when Chase received his own TV show, the network signed a contract that excluded Alex as an onscreen personality, giving Chase more influence than ever.

     Alex tried to find ways to get his name back in the Jackster brand by suggesting they combined his name into the title like Alexster or Chexster. Both Chase and the network repeatedly turned down these suggestions, ultimately assigning him to be Chase’s general manager. The title seemed to have some weight to it since Alex would be responsible for booking events and maintaining Chase’s schedule. Most of the logistics and details kept Alex busier than other staff members on the TV show. Whenever Chase appeared in commercials or other shows, Alex worked the system to make sure Chase landed the gig. He later referred to his position as the babysitter for Chase’s career.

     There were times when the job became frustrating, but Alex also received perks for his involvement. Alex sometimes pretended the constant attention from fans and strangers who recognized Chase’s face was directed toward him. Meant for him.

     With the excess in money and women, Alex found ways to make the job worth his while. At the end of the day, Chase had to choose what he wanted and who he wanted. But there were always extra. There were so many drunk girls. And most of the star-struck girls who threw themselves at the viral video master, grasping for a moment, a glance, a smile from Chase, didn’t get what they wanted. That’s where Alex swooped in, convincing dozens of girls he was Chase’s brother. Not as hot as the original Jackster himself, but some girls didn’t mind. Alex got the leftovers, and he always had room for more.

     These sexual experiences certainly distracted Alex from the pain of being number two. And when the girls didn’t satisfy him, he turned to cocaine, spending most of his money on the next high. For the last few years, that’s what his life had become: an extravagant bounce from one high to the next. Snorting coke and banging girls. If either of these vices fell into short supply, he went through withdrawal and he’d get the shakes, starting in his hands. Alex went through cocaine like it was candy, and the drugs flowed with the money. Big check, big brick of cocaine. Small check, shaky hands and nightmares.

     There were a lot of lows, too. Alex watched to make sure Chase ate enough food and got enough sleep. He often had to take responsibility for Chase’s actions, dealing with paparazzi, rumors, and scandals, some of which had elements of truth. Alex wasn’t a personal trainer though because Chase didn’t exercise. He didn’t need to exercise. Energy ran through Chase like a live wire, throwing sparks all around him. And wherever he went, Alex went. Not silent, but always there. The shadow of a major star.

Copyright © 2017 by TJ Moore