As the pandemic began to take hold last year, like many people, I took refuge in social media outlets like Facebook to stay connected and a photo I posted of the famous “Bar Bruno” in Soho, London – haunt of media types and the location of many lunchtime visits and rendezvous’ by friends and I – inspired one of those “story tags” where you invite friends to take up the baton of an opening paragraph – in this case 3D CGI “rigger” and all-round talent, Kimon Matara, who ran with what became a joint rant against a former employer.
This was the end result.
*Kimon’s posts in italics.
“I sat at the back where it was coolest and surrounded by the monochrome collage of pictures of Old Soho that papered the walls at the rear of the cafe, staring unblinkingly at the unending stream of traffic outside and people walking lazily past….
Suddenly I heard a voice behind me. Reverberating across the cold tiles of the dark, dank Bruno toilet, it said:
“I’ve been expecting you. I’m putting THE STUDIO back together.”
At that precise moment, a lump of limp lasagna lodged itself in my gullet.
I swung around like a lawn sprinkler, and ejected the greasy morsel in a myriad globules onto the portly man’s burnished, perfectly smooth crown.
As tomato and white sauce streaked sadly down his unflinching visage, he didn’t mince his words.
“Don’t act so surprised.”
Suddenly I was overcome by waves of the kind of indigestion that follow a half-digested “Penne Amatriciana” & a mug or two of strong Bruno’s builder’s tea (2 sugars) eaten a week before and with it the grim realisation that my regular Bruno’s visits were a kind of revisiting of the scene of a grisly Soho crime…
All this reverie seemed to freeze time as the unholy Thing lurched toward me, clammy hands outstretched and dripping greasy gobbets of lasagna, laughing maniacally in time-stretched slo-mo created with the “*Twixtor” plugin for *After Effects…
The man slowly emerged from the shadows and sat to face me, his round silhouette now an incontrovertible, terrible reality against the background glare of a bustling Wardour Street.
Outside, the post production army clutched their katsu curries in a vicious sprint against the lunchtime clock.
Could they sense the atrocity unravelling in this unassuming café?
I sensed the rapid onslaught of my inevitable fate as the eclipsing bulk opposite me struggled to squeeze between the banquet seat and the cramped table, it’s knees chafing against mine horribly.
Would I too soon be consigned to a tiny monochrome detail in the halftone Soho tapestry behind me ?…trapped forever and staring out at punters with an expression of helplessness combined with abject terror ?…
“Say my name”, it said, its’ lips overflowing with sarcasm and half-digested passata.
D-D-D-D I started, but something inside me fought back for dear life.
Eventually I blurted the words out.
“Forget it,” the man cut me off.
“OK”, I said, and the shoulders of those two letters carried the defeat of entire armies.
I looked at my hand. Instead of a fork, it now held a plastic pen.
I looked up from my plate. In the man’s place there was now an *After Effects comp. Layers upon layers upon layers.
And I had to add the sauce.
I stared blankly at the visual lasagna before me, my hand trembling but poised.
All those layers that invited investigation, reordering, greasy layers that leaked streams of untold pirated plugins.
I broke out in a carb sweat, knowing that I was cornered both literally and metaphorically…
As I hit “Render”, I felt my lunch traveling in a direction no digestive system was ever designed for.
Was this really “progress”, I pondered, as the long rectangular bar slowly filled, only to stop with a message:
“After Effects error -1284637364”.
Suddenly, everything made sense.
The sound of a sheep bleating rang out like a clarion call that reverberated around the otherwise empty cafe, shattering the day-old, perhaps week-old, “Cannoli” behind the counter and sending up fountains of grated Mozzarella…
At that point, as I felt a rush of something from the pit of my stomach reach my throat, I struggled to wrench myself from the seat just as the shadowy, bloated form re-manifested itself, its’ maw opening horribly…
“error -1284637364”, “error -1284637364” it screamed, over and over again, dousing me in waves of shame and failure.
The rest is a blur…a blur featuring some benighted form, a dreadful fusion of man & regurgitated Penne Amatriciana & Lasagna, a grotesque parody of the human form that thrashed sticky, Penne tentacles mixed in with the screams of Bruno’s waiters, as I collected my tattered senses and ran out of the cafe into teeming, steaming Wardour St…
“Don’t go in there !…DONT…GO…IN…THERE !!!!” I remember screaming, and after that, only darkness and the windows of Bruno’s dripping half-digested pasta & tomato sauce…
I leapt for the tube station. And yet, for all my desperate exertion, I could not move.
I was frozen in place, my limbs disintegrating into so many compression artifacts.
I knew, then, that the pirate copy of *Reelsmart had crashed.
“Cheapska—“ I began to scream, my voice dissolving into the robotic screeching of a dying Dalek.
Postscript : A warning dear reader, it now all made perfect sense, the empty Bruno’s, a hot day and staff mysteriously absent from view…& the corner seat at the back…
*After Effects : Digital compositing software widely used in the industry.
*Twixtor & ReelSmart : Software plugins for After Effects.