Each page of our Woot 2012 Calendar features a QR code that, if scanned after the first of its month, leads you here, to the ongoing tale of The Secret of El Arenque Rojo. In Chapter 1 over on the Woot blog, we met our hero, a Roy Odom. Roy starts to see signs of something more significant in the work of El Arenque Rojo in Chapter 2 on Home.Woot, which leads him to Kids.Woot, where, in Chapter 3, he encounters young film scholar, Evelyn Sayer. Chapter 4 on Wine.Woot introduces Dr. Duke, Evelyn's mentor, and ends with all three of the characters thus far planning a journey. That leads us here, to Shirt.Woot, for Chapter 5...
It sounded like someone rummaging around in Dr. Duke’s room next door, but it could have been mice. Rodents wouldn’t seem at all out of character for the hotel they’d chosen, a real dump in downtown Tocoa, Colón: the former home of Secreto Mortal Studios.
The two academics, though well-traveled, were weary of spending any money, considering neither of their respective universities were footing the bill. And of course, Roy was the former owner of a video store – or was it the owner of former video store? – so who was he to suggest anything more luxurious?
Still, as soon as he lay down, he wished he had. His room didn’t have any air conditioning, just a small oscillating fan. It had little effect on the room except to emit a sharp clicking sound from its base at intervals just erratic enough not to be rhythmic. It certainly did nothing to disperse the sticky heat.
Too hot to sleep, Roy tried to watch television, but having immersed himself in the world of El Arenque Rojo, he found it too loud, the movement not cartoonish enough. On one channel, a doctor in a medical drama tested a patient’s reflexes. Disappointingly, the slightest tap of the mallet on the knee did not cause the patient’s leg to kick the doctor in the face with great force, sending him out the door into the hallway where he would bump into the buxom nurse, who would misperceive this to be an advance and slap him firmly across the face.
Instead, the doctor merely finished up his tests, took off his glasses dramatically, and said… something serious? Probably? Roy wasn’t sure. After all, he didn’t speak Spanish. He wished he could watch one the Rojo tapes again, but Dr. Duke had asked to have them for the night, and besides Roy didn’t have a VHS player in his room.
So, instead, he turned off the TV – which, because of the set’s age, actually required him to stand up and take several steps – and tried, unsuccessfully for several hours, to sleep. His failure was due, in part, to the heat, and in part, to his excitement over what the next day held in store for them: a tour of the now vacant Secreto Mortal Studios. Still, if he was going to make the most of the visit, he’d need some rest, and so he forced his eyes closed and focused on his breathing until, finally, set to the soundtrack of the fan’s clicking and what he assumed were mice in walls, he managed to drift into sleep.
He found himself behind the counter of his video store. It looked like he’d finished up pricing everything for the sale, or everything but the cardboard box labeled arenque rojo – el pelado tímido, which he had tagged with a post-it to make it clear that it was “not for sale.” It would all have seemed normal enough, had the world not been dyed in grainy sepia tones and sped up just slightly.
And then of course there was the old man walking in the door. Just a customer being in the store at all was odd enough for Diabolical Video, but this man in particular seemed out of place. His huge, darting eyes, his pointed profile, the easel he carried clumsily under his arm clumsily, knocking over a box containing several crisp, still shrink-wrapped copies of Reindeer Games – there was something off about it.
Only after he’d set up his easel and shook Roy’s hand did the video store clerk recognize who it was in front of him: the aged El Arenque Rojo himself! Roy tried to speak, but the old man hushed him, closed his eyes, and went to work flitting his paintbrush onto the canvas in a seemingly aimless formation. When he finished – the whole thing taking no more than twenty seconds at the most – he turned it to show Roy his portrait. Except it wasn’t Roy. It was a donkey in sundress.
Rojo looked at the picture, then at Roy, then back at the picture, his face bent into an expression consternation for a moment until it lit up with revelation. He opened his eyes wide and pointed to them, then shut them tight for a moment before pointing at Roy to indicate that he’d had it all wrong; the painter’s eyes should remain unobstructed, while the subject’s should be closed. Roy complied, expecting to here swift swipes of Rojo’s paintbrush again.
But he didn’t. Instead, he heard a door slam, and then the distant sound of someone running away at great speed. When he opened his eyes again, Roy found the easel remained, but the artist had fled and taken the cardboard box with him.
A knock woke him.
“Odom! Odom! Get up!” shouted young Evelyn Sayre.
Roy jumped out of bed and ran to the door. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s Dr. Duke,” said Evelyn. “He’s run away in the night, and he’s taken the tapes with him.”
“Why would he do that?” Roy asked. His voice cracked with panic.
“He’s an academic,” Evelyn said, as if it were an explanation. Roy looked at her blankly. “He’s going to publish about them!”