I went with Triana to Morior Studios for her first day in the film business. We got there early in the morning to be met by Susan, who welcomed us and took us to meet the casting director, a soft spoken man in round glasses who looked Triana up and down, nodded his approval and sent her to join a group of extras waiting to be given their costumes. As Susan had told us, they were all young adults with small builds allowing them to play younger. Some were already dressed in costume, others were in the comfortable street clothes they’d arrived in.
“Come on over,” said one of the girls. “Is this your first time?”
The girl who had called Triana over introduced herself as Kim, then the others around the circle. Lee, a short, hard looking man already dressed in costume nodded from across the room, next to a few other guys whose names turned out to be Damon, Mike, George and Rab. The other girls in the group included Gemma, a frizzy redhead who smiled thinly at the new arrivals, Jasmine and Soph, a no-nonsense blonde.
“Welcome to the club,” said Jasmine. “They often hire us all together whenever they need to fill kids’ parts, so we get to know each other quite well. We’re known informally as the Morior Kids.”
“Even though none of us are actually kids,” said Lee. “At least they’re letting us play our own genders this time.”
Kim laughed and explained. “The last time we were here they had Lee playing a little girl alongside us in a pack of brownies – they needed to make up the numbers and thought he had the right body shape. He goes on and on about how much he hated it, but he did the job like a pro, bless him. I thought he looked cute in his uniform.”
Lee scowled. “Triana, how would you feel if they told you you had to play a boy?”
“Actually I was born a boy,” said Triana. “So I guess you could say I have a bit of both.”
Lee blushed a little. Kim smirked at his discomfort.
“Trans, eh?” said Kim. “That’s so cool!” She shuffled along a bit to offer Triana a seat next to her.
“Do you know what we’re filming today?” asked Soph.
“It’s a horror,” said George, from across the room. “They’re using the main house as the location for a creepy private school, we’re the undead schoolkids that study there.”
Slightly more was revealed when the director came to speak to everyone.
“We have four scenes we want you all to do today,” he explained. “There’ll be a classroom scene where the main character walks in on a lesson in progress, an assembly in the central hall, a murder scene up in the woods and a scene outside where the hero is trying to get away. Your characters are possessed, hollow ghouls, so I want you to play as still and empty as possible. I’ll tell you more when we’re on set, but mostly it will involve sitting or standing still with a blank expression. Good luck everyone, I’ll see you out there!”
“We mostly get called to do horror and drama,” Kim told us after the director had left. “Apparently there are rules that mean they can’t use actual child actors for these roles, so they call on us instead. It can be a bit weird getting typecast as kids all the time, but having a specialism means a little more money and reliable work, even if that specialism amounts to just being short with a flat chest. Don’t worry, it’s not nonce porn or anything, I wouldn’t go near it if it was.”
“I heard the part about the murder scene,” said Triana. “Who’s getting murdered?”
“Probably not any of us, or he would have mentioned it,” said Kim. “I’m not sure what our involvement will be in that, but finding out is part of the fun. Who’s the guy with you, by the way?”
“My Dad Bob,” said Triana. “He came with me today to give me support on my first day making movies.”
“Nice to meet you, Bob”, Kim said, turning to me. “If it’s OK by you, I’d be happy to stick by Triana today, so you can leave her to it. No offence meant.”
“None taken,” I said. “Thank-you for making her welcome.”
“I must say, you really do look like a pre-teen girl,” said Kim back to Triana. “And you say that you’re trans? I’d never have known. What was it, puberty blockers?”
“You could say that,” said Triana. “My puberty was definitely blocked.”
Triana and the Morior Kids went off to shoot the classroom and assembly scenes in the main house while I went to talk more with Susan.
“You have a special daughter,” she told me.
“She always was different,” I said. “It’s like she was always meant to end up here. Us too, apparently. Too bad we had to die as part of it, but I must admit this plane has a lot going for it. How long have you been here?”
“Coming up to around ten years,” she said. “I had to adjust a lot, it really wasn’t what I expected. But I had my faith to keep me going and believe the Lord gave me this job to do, just like He did with Triana. And you.”
“If it was all so set out, why was she born a boy? It was obviously not right for her, she was never comfortable until we let her live as a girl.”
“It was probably something she needed to experience,” said Susan. “God puts us in difficult situations to teach us the lessons we need. Anyway, gender’s a mortal concern. Some believe that as custodians we are angels, and angels are sexless.”
“It’s refreshing to hear views like that from a religious person like yourself.”
Susan shrugged. “One of the biggest lessons I had to learn here was to let go of how I thought things should be and trust in the path I’d been given. I was never that conservative anyway, I’ve seen enough hypocrisy to know what comes from God and what was tacked on by men.”
“I remember someone saying something like that back when Triana was studying different faiths,” I said. “They said that religion was sent by the divine and corrupted by men.”
Susan gave a start.
“Do you remember who said that?” she said.
“I can’t remember her name, but she was a Hindu cleric. Why do you ask?”
“Do you remember when I told you about Aisha, the first spirit I confided in? She used to say that all the time. It couldn’t have been her, surely…”
I saw Triana again at lunchtime, out in the picnic area near to where a catering trailer had been set up. She was really hitting it off with the Morior Kids, seeing them all sat together dressed as schoolchildren was a glimpse into the childhood Triana never properly had, one where she could fit in and be accepted as part of a peer group. She still couldn’t be completely open about herself, but they were all there acting anyway so it didn’t matter. It was great to see Triana confidently mingling, even if I was feeling like a bit of a spare part.
In the grounds of Morior studios was a woodland area surrounding a pretty little lake fed by a stream. The crew had set up for an action scene to be shot that afternoon in a clearing in the woods, which Susan took me to to watch the production process. One of the main actors, a man in a tan suit whose name turned out to be Drake Abbot, was consulting with members of the crew in the centre of the clearing, gesticulating towards the ground.
“This scene calls for him to get sucked into the ground,” said Susan. “It’s the kind of practical effect we specialise in at Morior. Did you know Mr. Evans, our boss, made his name in special effects?”
“I had heard, yes,” I said. I wondered whether to bring up what else I’d heard about Morior, but decided to wait.
Susan continued. “The way it’s done is, we set up a scissor lift in a deep hole over there, which is then flooded and covered over with woodchips and soil. They wanted a smooth, unnatural looking sink, which is why we’re using the machine. The lift platform has a pair of stirrups he’ll hook his feet into to pull him under, otherwise he’d just float. When the scene’s over, he just has to slip his feet out of the stirrups to swim back up and out.”
“There’s a lot of practical science involved, then,” I said. “Triana loves stuff like this, getting inside how and why things work.”
“Maybe that’s why she’s a deliverer,” said Susan. “I must admit, it’s interesting seeing what they come up with around here.”
The scene was shot in stages throughout the afternoon, starting with Drake running into the forest clearing as if pursued by someone. There was no further clue to the context as the earlier parts of the chase had already been filmed separately, but as he ran around the clearing in panic he would find himself surrounded by the Morior Kids, who would appear around him as if by dark magic. Filming it involved a lot of stopping and starting, as he would run into position until the director called ‘cut’, then have to freeze in place as two or three of the kids were placed in front of him, standing stock still with blank, eerie expressions. This continued until he was standing in a ring of demonic schoolchildren dressed in neat traditional uniforms. There was another brief pause as they ensured Drake’s feet were secured in the stirrups, then on the call of ‘action’ the children intensified their stares and the hidden scissor lift began to engage, pulling him down into the earth. They paused the action at various points during his descent so the cameras could be reset to best record his performance – when this happened everyone had to remain exactly in place with care not to disturb any part of the setting. I thought he must have been freezing, stood up to his waist in liquid mud while all this went on around him, but he was calm and professional about the whole thing and waited patiently for the next take. I looked over at Triana, stood still in the ring of demonic children. When she saw me watching she gave me the slightest wink she could manage without changing her pose. I could tell she was enjoying herself.
All in all, it took a couple of hours until Drake Abbot finally vanished beneath the ground, pantomiming terror throughout as the Morior Kids watched on impassively. The director called ‘cut’ and assistants rushed over to pull Drake up and out of the pit and wrap him in a towel. As the scene was broken down I finally got a chance to speak with Triana.
“How are you getting on?” I asked.
“Great!” she said. “I’m having a lot of fun doing this, and the others have made me feel like I belong. Especially Kim, I’m really getting on with her.”
“What are you seeing in their auras?” I asked.
“They’re a mixed bag,” she whispered discreetly. “Some post-recall, some pre. Kim’s a pre.”
“You mean she doesn’t know?”
“No, she doesn’t. There’s some kind of darkness that she’s seriously overcompensating for which might be linked to how she died, so I’ll have to be careful what I say.”
“How much more do you have to do?”
“They want shots of us all standing around at dusk as the final survivors escape, then we’re done. It’ll probably be about nine by the time we’re ready to go home.”
“What did you think of the setup they used to sink that guy?”
“Pretty cool. Were you imagining Mum doing that scene?”
I was not prepared for that question.“Um, what?”
Triana looked at me and smiled.
“Nothing, forget I mentioned it,” she said, before adding, “It’s OK if you were, though.”
While Triana was off filming, I got to chat with Susan some more. I decided to take the bull by the horns.
“Susan, about this place. I’ve heard rumours and wondered if they were true…”
“You’re asking about the Mortal Masquerade,” she interrupted. “As for whether the rumours are true, well that depends on what you’ve heard. And before you try to bullshit me, remember I can see your aura.”
“I hear you run a club where people play-act getting killed, presumably in much the same way we saw this afternoon. Is that the size of it?”
“Yes, that is what happens. Some do it for the thrill, the fascination, the drama, some for more psychological reasons. And, yes, some get off on it. If you and your partner want to come and try it out it can be arranged.”
“Maybe, if we can work it out around Triana, without her wondering what we’re up to. ”
Susan rolled her eyes. “Bob, she knows already. Have you even been paying attention?”