4. Kristen & The Wolf meets Progress

Remember the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean that shows The Interceptor in a raging storm and howling winds, and Mr. Gibbs asks Jack why he’s smiling? Remember what Jack says? I do (and not just because I’ve seen Pirates 50 times).

“We’re catching up.”

It’s enough to put a grin on the grimmest outlook. Making progress is fun, no matter what else is going on.

As of two weeks ago, I was beginning the next module in my screenwriting class (covering subtext – fascinating stuff) and bemoaning how far behind I’d gotten. I totaled it up – 22 missed assignments. Yikes.

22 lessons, from 6 different modules.

So I made a plan. In a nutshell, the plan involves food, sleep, and writing. And I’ve been working that plan. And as much as it hurts to say no to outside interests that would drag me away from those core activities, I have to smile when I see all the tracks I’ve made in this whirlygig storm of activity.

As of today: 7 down, 15 to go. Oh yeah.

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4. Kristen to the Rescue (conclusion)

Kristen froze mid-air, filled with a mix of glee and dread. She had never encountered an animal of this scale before – what should be done? No answers presented themselves except to carry on.

So Kristen, vine in hand, climbed and slipped and fell her way back to solid ground. “I’m coming!” she called into the pit. She tried to secure one end of the vine like she’d seen on TV, but the woody fibers did not respond well to the clumsy knots she attempted. They simply fell apart as soon as she let go.

But it was okay, because Kristen had a Plan B. Taking a firm stance on the edge of the pit, she wrapped the vine around her waist and dropped the other end into the pit. “Go ahead,” she called, “take the other-”

Before she could finish, the whatever-it-is had taken hold of the vine and Kristen found herself on the bottom of the ditch. Right next to Ron. We’ll call him Ron because as soon as Kristen looked up at him, he hollered out, “Ron! ROOOOON!”

Aside from a little shock, Kristen was none the worse for her unexpected trip south. She got to her feet and gazed up at the sasquatch who was staring at her with equally frank curiosity, the crushed threads of the vine smooshed between his fingers.

Taking his lead, Kristen shouted her name, “KRI-stennn!” and stuck out a hand. Ron shifted his weight and Kristen jumped away just in time to avoid his enormous foot stamping down in her general vicinity. “Watch it!” Kristen shouted back, “I’m just a small person!”

Ron seemed to register this somehow, and countered with a mighty swat from his less enormous (but still quite large) hand. Kristen’s hair fluttered around her as she ducked what would have been a crippling blow and stationed herself behind a large rock at the edge of the pit.

“GENTLE!” Kristen hollered with all her might. Beside her foot was the pine cone she’d tossed down moments ago. She lobbed it at Ron’s arm and it connected with a soft, hairy pat. “SOFT!”

Ron did nothing in response to this and Kristen, sensing his confusion ventured out from behind the rock. One hand out in a calming ‘stay’ position, she eased toward him and rested it on his knee. Perhaps this was not the most appropriate place to touch a sasquatch on first meeting, but it was all she could reach. And patting someone’s feet is just weird.

Aside from a low growl, Ron gave no indication of what he made of this. Before she could explore it further, Kristen heard voices above.

They were too far away to distinguish words, but they did not sound friendly. Ron heard them too, and shuffled his feet restlessly, filling his lungs to protest but Kristen shushed him and patted his knee reassuringly. Taking hold of some roots protruding from the earth, she again undertook to climb.

She got about halfway – high enough to look Ron in the eye and again hold a finger to her lips reassuringly – when a scruffy white face appeared over the edge of the pit. “Why… what are you doing down there, wee thing?”

Before Kristen should answer, the face had moved away. She could hear him hollering to a companion with words that only made sense sporadically: “girl,” “ditch,” and “gun.” Kristen froze to the spot, her brow furrowed in thought.

“…caught ourselves a Bigfoot alright,” a voice was saying, returning to the ditch. Kristen strengthened her grip and looked back up. Two faces now presented themselves, and the other one with glasses was talking. “Whew boy, what a sight he is! Don’t you be afraid little girl, we’ll make sure he leaves you unharmed.”

“I’ve already made sure of that!” Kristen screamed up at them.

“Just calm down sugar, we’ll have you out in a jiffy.” The white beard was saying as his companion disappeared again.

Kristen was perfectly calm. What were these jokers talking about? She looked at Ron and they shrugged. A strange metallic sound met their ears, which Kristen didn’t understand. It seemed to anger Ron, though, and he immediately became restive.

Kristen knew why when the man with glasses reappeared, leveling a rifle down at Ron. Ron roared his name, stomping his feet in protest. The noise was deafening, but Kristen clung to her hand holds and screamed, “Nooo!” But the man with glasses raised his gun and took aim.

Without thinking, Kristen simply flung herself off the wall and between Ron and the gun. Ron reached up to catch her, but the trigger had already been pulled, the bullet tearing through Kristen’s shoulder and lodging in the opposite wall of the ditch.

“You shot a little girl!” “What made you do such a thing, you deranged child!” “Aw Reuben, we’re in trouble now!”

Kristen lay in Ron’s hands, too much in shock to feel pain, but triumphant never the less. The next hour was a blur as the hunters worked to raise her out of the pit and tend to her wounds. She realized vaguely that night was falling and a fire was being made. Beans were coaxed down her throat and Ron was silent as she mentally willed him to keep quiet while the hunters were preoccupied with nursing her.

The next morning Kristen’s shoulder was bound and throbbing, her arm in a sling.

The ditch was empty.

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3. Kristen & The Wolf meets The Great Outdoors

It’s winter. Even at the beach. And that has made it tough to get out and get some exercise.

Writing is delightful, but it doesn’t afford much movement. That’s why I’ve been inspired by N.G. Davis in his effort to become a better screenwriter and a better runner. All his pictures have snow on the ground, so I’m betting it’s even colder where he is than where I am.

So I resolved this morning that no matter the wind conditions (it does get might windy on the ocean), I would bundle up to my eyebrows if need be and get out there.

I actually lucked out, weather-wise. It’s probably the warmest it will be all week, touching 48 degrees at 9am when I made it out, with wind at 7 mph. Almost balmy, you might say.

As I marched across the sand and toward the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, I tried to remember the last time I’d been out for a run. I couldn’t. I do walk quite a bit, being in a tourist town where most modern conveniences vital to life are within a few blocks of my front door – the coffee shop, the library, the grocery store, the post office.

But there’s no feeling quite like that of jogging down the beach as the ocean nips at your feet and invites you to go shoeless (not in 48 degree weather, thanks). It makes me look forward to warmer temps, but also solidifies my resolve to make it work regardless of the cold. Because it’s a step of intention. It’s a point I’m making about my life and the way I want to be.

And I can always come back inside if it’s too cold.

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3. Part One: Kristen to the Rescue (continuing)

When we last left Kristen, she was on her knees at the edge of a ditch, reaching out to a faceless creature making roaring sounds in the thickening fog.

From the sound of it, the creature was far below. Kristen reached down into the cavity as deeply as she could, but only grasped at rocks and mud for her trouble.

A tree across the pit caught her eye – its viney branches like arms hanging down invitingly. She ran to it and tugged at the wooden vines, but none would give way. Going on adrenaline, Kristen began climbing the tree. She had never climbed a tree before, and she wasn’t altogether sure of her next move. But somehow she got a leg up and made it to the next niche.

The bark was rough and unyielding against her tiny hands, but Kristen continued to climb. As she did, the fog abated and allowed her to see down to the ground – a feat which Kristen did not even attempt until she had fairly reached the top. But before that she was preoccupied with wrenching one of those vines free from its starting place somewhere in the trunk of the tree.

She was unsuccessful. But happening to live nearby, a woodpecker perched by Kristen’s knee. She was so relieved she might have cried. Instead she dragged the vine close to the woodpecker’s beak and let it peck away.

The woodpecker, true to its character, gave up long before the job was done. It had its fill of hard work and flew away, no regard for the hapless creature depending on its help. “Typical,” Kristen muttered under her breath as she twisted the vine where it had been pecked.

Amazingly, the fibers of the wood began to separate. Kristen worked at it, her hope growing, as bit by bit the vine began to break free. A vehement roar from below prompted her to look down and offer reassurance.

But the words died on her lips. Not only did Kristen suddenly realize how very high up she had gotten, but she could now clearly identify the impressions she had blindly followed through the woods. Footprints. Gigantic footprints belonging to a gigantic creature with gigantic feet, having been baited to fall prey to a gigantic ditch.

This was it. Kristen had gotten herself into a full fledged adventure.

To be continued

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2. Kristen & the Wolf meets a Limited Attention Span

We’ve all been there. Talking to a friend or hanging out in a group, and suddenly something happens.

The back-and-forth ceases to go forth. It’s just you talking and the person you’re talking to is now somewhere else – metaphorically speaking.

What happened? Any number of things – a ding, a ring, a super-loud Katy Perry ringtone. Or simply the silent arrival of an email.

It’s become increasingly common for our lives, conversations, and thoughts to be interrupted by the electronic gadgets crying out for our attention. The cumulative effect of these interruptions is making it difficult to see anything through to completion – a thought, a conversation, a project.

But I say it’s not too late. I say we take back our attention span.

Be free! When you’re talking to your friend and the phone rings, ignore it. When you’re writing a screenplay and two emails pop up on your Outlook, save them for later! I believe it’s these little choices that will dictate the strength of our focus.

Let’s stand up to our gadgets and show them who’s boss. Agreed?

Just a minute, I need to get up before my legs fall asleep.

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2. Part One: Kristen To The Rescue

It’s tough being 11 years old sometimes. You have to do a lot of things you don’t want to do, and you can’t do a lot of things you do want to do. You depend on grownups to take care of you and they don’t always do that very well. It’s enough to make you run away.

Which is what Kristen did.

Perhaps run is not the best way to describe it – drifted is more what she did. The school bus was grumbling down the street and Kristen thought once more about how much she did NOT want to get on it. The woods across the street seemed to beckon, and she simply went. The bus stopped and picked up the other kids while Kristen disappeared into the woods.

She drifted around all day, not bothering to mark her trail and really not at all concerned about going back. She inspected wildflowers and dribbled her fingers in puddles. She talked to a garter snake, which led her to a beaver dam. The beavers were all gone, but a few fish played Marco Polo nearby.

Kristen got into the water with the fish and touched their shimmering scales. The sunlight warmed the water, but it was still early spring and much too cold for a little girl to be getting herself soaked. The fish seemed to realize this as they nibbled at her fingers and nudged her knees.

Eventually the fish came to the conclusion that the best way to get rid of her would be to leave her alone (thus the expression). Kristen was sorry to see the fish go, and wondered what she had done to frighten them. But she was beginning to get awfully chilly and hungry.

An imposing evergreen stood on the other side of the creek, with boughs forming a natural teepee from high up the tree trunk to the mossy ground. Nestled inside the green tent, Kristen ate the peanut butter sandwich that Mrs. Bibbs had packed for her lunch. In here, it was not warm, but it was less cold. And it was dark.

Kristen fell asleep.

When she woke, it was difficult to tell anything had happened. She was still curled up next to the base of the tree and it was still vaguely bright outside the closely woven pine needles. But something had happened, Kristen could tell.

Parting the branches, Kristen peered around the still forest. The air was still. The creek was still. Kristen ventured out and nearly fell. She had tripped on something. She looked down, but couldn’t see any impediments. Another two steps and the same thing happened.

Kristen knelt down and felt the ground with her hands. It was a large indentation – about twice the width of her body, and longer than she could reach with one hand in either direction. Kristen crawled along, feeling with her hands, and soon there was another indentation. Slightly to the right this time, but similarly shaped.

She went on like this for some time, feeling for the impressions in the dirt and crawling beside them. She was so engrossed she barely noticed a light rain was beginning to fall, and with it a deep mist clouded the forest. Kristen just kept following the shapes, crawling  and scrambling over roots and rocks and flotsam.

Thankfully she caught herself in time. With her vision impaired and her focus so absorbed, Kristen almost didn’t notice the gaping hole in the ground. But instinctively she put a hand out anyway, reaching out. Because someone else had not caught themselves in time. Someone was in that ditch.

“Hello?” Kristen called. She had been nothing but calm all the day long, and not a thing had ruffled her – not missing school, not seeing a snake, not getting wet and cold in the creek, not even getting lost in the woods with no clue as to how to find her next meal. But now, knowing someone was in danger, Kristen was suddenly on the verge of panic.

“Are you okay?” She called, again reaching blindly toward nothing. In desperation she looked around her and found a pine cone. She hurled it into the ditch and it made contact with a dull thud. “Answer me! Please!”

She was rewarded with a thick roar. It was a groggy roar, not frightening in the least. Well, yes incredibly frightening but this is Kristen’s language we’re speaking here. And to her ears, it was a sleepy, disoriented, docile yawn of a roar.

She reached her hand out again. “Come on! Come out of there!”

The roar sounded again, more alert this time. There is no word-for-word translation, but Kristen understood enough to know there was no way this creature, whatever it is, could get itself out of the ditch alone.

(To be continued)

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1. Kristen & The Wolf meets Writer’s Block

To write when one wishes to do anything but.

It happens. We love to write, we want to write, we dream of writing, and then it’s time to write and we run away. I’ve been running all day: cleaning my oven (my OVEN, for goodness’ sake), baking, checking my email, and staring at the ceiling.

So how do we settle down to write when everything in us cries out for oven cleaning?

I’m sorry, that sentence is just so strange. Who wants to clean the oven? No one. Not even professional oven cleaners who started their business with just a cleaning kit and a dream, now with dozens of franchise cleaning services the world over. It’s a really unpleasant job. I would rather clean a 90-year-old toilet than an oven.

But today, this is what I’m doing rather than writing. No more. It’s time to grab my writer’s block with both hands and show it who’s boss.

Some helpful tools in that task:

1. A hot drink

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate, something warm and soothing does something to my nerves and helps me focus. Tonight it was tea (herbal, of course).

2. A candle

Nothing smelly, just a warm light on a dreary howly night.

3. Comfy pants

Self-explanatory.

4. Music

I love music, as many people do. I find it immensely conducive to focus and relaxation – both of which are important parts of writing. You have to be in the zone, and once I get there, I may not even notice the music anymore. But some well-matched tunes definitely help to usher me through the gate.

You can even take it a step further and follow Ryan Koo’s advice to create a playlist for whatever you’re working on, That way when it’s time to get back to your screenplay (or book, or poetry anthology), you can instantly replicate the vibe you had going last time. For the record, I took this advice, and it’s pretty good.

5. Just start

What’s the worst that can happen? You write something horrible and have to go back and change it all. That’s the best part! Editing something you’ve already said in order to make it better is WAY easier than generating something in the first place! So relax. Write badly!

With that in mind, I now bring you the official first part in our Kristen & The Wolf saga (the other part was really more of a prologue). If you’d care to suggest any additions to my list of writing helps, go for it.

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1. Part One: Kristen and the Monster

Kristen started at the new school three weeks after her 11th birthday. She had never been to a proper school before – she and Grandmom had lived far enough into the country that it was impractical for a bus to pick her up. Officially, she was homeschooled, but in reality Grandmom just brought her along to monthly errands in town.

Kristen learned to count by watching the bank teller deal out Grandmom’s money. Kristen learned to read by staring at the letters on each item in the grocery basket as Grandmom put it into the cart. “Toothpicks,” Grandmom would say, and Kristen would nod solemnly, like she got it. Eventually, she did get it.

Sometimes you gotta fake it til you make it.

So the new school was a real experience, with lots to get used to, and the culture shock on top of losing Grandmom was a big deal for Kristen. She knew it was a big deal, and Mrs. Bibbs, her foster mother, talked like she knew it was a big deal although in practice she seemed surprised Kristen didn’t just line up and work it out.

The Midcounty Elementary fifth grade class wasn’t the worst place to be new to absolutely everything. It wasn’t the worst at all, but it was uncomfortable for Kristen, who had to adjust to sitting indoors all day and nary a critter in sight. So when Miss Dinsmore announced they were having a field trip, it was like a ray of honey dripped into Kristen’s soul. It tasted like hope.

The cherry on top was when a freckly boy to her left whispered across the aisle the location of this trip – not a field, as one might expect, but the mother of all outings. The only place Kristen had ever wanted to go apart from Mount Rushmore, or the moon.

They were going to the zoo.

That night Kristen stared at the white prickly ceiling of her bare bedroom and smiled from the bottom of her heart. She was going on a trip. And there would be animals.

It was a perfect day. The sun was shining, the breeze blowing, and a little girl had offered to let Kristen sit next to her on the bus. As they each hopped off the bus and followed Miss Dinsmore through an enormous gate and to the promised land beyond, Kristen could barely breathe.

She felt as if she were coming home. The sheer variety of animals all around her was breath-taking. Kristen didn’t even know what to call most of them, and none of them had ever crossed her path in real life. The Discovery Channel can only do so much to prepare you for such a sight.

Kristen got lost.

It was almost immediate, and completely unintentional, but when Miss Dinsmore did a head count at lunchtime, it made no difference to her agony of mind.

Kristen, however, didn’t know she was lost and wandered quite cheerfully from the gorillas to the porcupines to the giraffes. She was disappointed that they were kept so far away. She wanted to go up to each one and get to know them. Standing at the gate between her and the lion, she felt frustrated.

It was such a beautiful creature, majestic, lying in the sun flipping flies away with its tail. Kristen longed to go to it and rest its head on her lap. If only she could get through these bars.

She stretched an arm through, up to her shoulder, but could budge no further. The cavern of space between them was only about a foot shorter than it had been a moment ago. And yet – was the lion coming toward her?

It had nonchalantly – almost carelessly – risen to its feet. It shook its mane now and took a few steps forward. Now the distance between them was shortened by two feet. Feeling a spark of hope, Kristen stretched her arm out again, flexing her hand to beckon the beast to her.

The beast obeyed. Step by step, almost cautiously, the lion came nearer. Kristen smiled as her hand finally met the lion’s nose. It nuzzled there for a split moment when a gasp behind her made Kristen turn and look.

“Get that child away from the fence!” It was a woman with a stroller, going ballistic from ten feet away. “She’s touching it! She’s touching the lion!”

Someone wrenched Kristen away, and next the lion let out a bloodcurdling roar. Everyone was screaming. A zoo staff member was assuring them that everything would be fine. The lion caretaker was inside the habitat, trying to lead the lion away with a long pole.

Kristen observed all of this with confusion. She had just enjoyed a beautiful moment with a ferocious animal. What was the big deal?

Thankfully, her meandering next brought Kristen to the sea lions. There Miss Dinsmore finally located her disappearing student when Kristen appeared on stage next to the man flipping fish into the sea lions’ mouths and asked if she could try it.

And she did it.

A perfect day.


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Before They Were In A Movie

Characters are my favorite. The best books and movies are invariably full of lively, unique people with mysterious or tempestuous relationships and traits. LM Montgomery and Agatha Christie hooked me into a story with their small town oddballs. The day my brother … Continue reading

I Make Way Too Many Winky Faces

It’s a bad sign when you feel the urge to emoticon your way through a scene.

I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s frowned upon in screenplay formatting 101. Any script readers out there want to set me straight, I’m all ears.

Courtesy of ConfettiDrop.com

But I’m addicted to winky faces. It seems impossible to communicate an attempt at humor without one. This fact is freshly driven home as I’m getting to know new people in a new place, and I’m realizing not everyone gets it right away when I’m joking. Which begs the question, how will readers/directors/actors know when it’s time to be funny and when it’s time to be insulting? Because let’s face it, if you don’t realize someone’s kidding that’s usually the alternative.

There are several times I’ve been watching a movie and someone delivers a line in a way that makes it obvious they have no idea what the writer intended to convey. Which makes me nervous. I’m afraid someone will read my script and not think it’s funny because they don’t realize it’s supposed to be.

Like Napoleon Dynamite.

If you feel bad for Napoleon, you’ve missed the whole point. But somebody got Napoloeon and his nutty cast of friends and family – someone read that script and realized it was all a joke. So my burning question is: how many winky faces did it take? I’m guessing at least two ;o)

But back to emoticons, they are a tricky subject. I’ve never had much use for anything other than the usual smiley (mine has a nose) and of course, my beloved winky face. The multitude of yellow globular faces with the animated grimaces and accessories? Not for me. Which is tricky, because sometimes apps and software are programmed to turn my harmless, no-frills smiley into a garish lemon with bug-eyes, and that is just plain embarrassing.

I’ve been reading pages from a friend working on his novel, and it is making me want to write more. So even though I didn’t really have something to write about today, I wrote it anyway. I hope this brief contemplation of winky faces and the places they occupy in our writing is helpful to anyone who might have read this far down.

Join me next time as I explore the paradigm of branding, and why I can’t seem to nail down what this blog is all about. Feel free to comment with your preferred means of conveying textual emotion.

Peace.

Writer’s Block

Whenever I talk to someone about writing, they inevitably ask me if I get writer’s block. I find that intriguing. Is this a common phenomenon, that would-be writers just can’t think of anything to say?

I confess, I’ve never really believed in writer’s block. Not that I always feel like writing, but when you work for a communications company and deadlines must be met, you just have to produce whether you feel it or not. So I don’t tend to encounter writer’s block in that way – staring at the blank page with dread in my heart and motionless fingers.

I do, however, frequently run into problems with plot. I think this is normal. Some of my favorite films have brilliant plot twists that I would never have seen coming and that I have to believe took months of fervent effort to imagine into being. I mean, surely Christopher Nolan didn’t just whip up a brilliant ending to a complex story in one sitting.

It’s like Emma Thompson’s character in one of my favorite movies, Stranger than Fiction. She’s working on a novel about death and taxes, and just can’t seem to find a fitting way to kill off her main character and tie up all the loose ends of her story.

Eventually she devises the perfect solution, of course, but it takes time. And effort.

It’s work.

In my quest to become a screenwriter, I haven’t wrestled with a block so much as I keep turning over the plot of my baby screenplay in my mind, trying out different solutions and gleaning some insights and tossing out other ideas that just don’t fit. It’s a lonely business, especially since what I end up with is often still full of holes and needing further effort.

I was having breakfast with my mom the other day, and she asked what I was writing about. It’s never comfortable to answer that question, because honestly I am not altogether sure. But I gradually teased out the contents of the story I’m concocting in my screenwriting class.

She wore a look that clearly said, “I don’t get it.”

So I kept going, and sketched out some of the ideas I’d been toying with and the problems I still have and the solutions I’m looking for. And suddenly a light bulb fell out of my mouth. Inspiration struck as I was talking out my story. Not the full solution, maybe not even part of it, but a very intriguing aspect of my main character previously unnoticed by me.

It’s uncomfortable to share any creative work before it’s done. Especially with people you really want to impress, like your mom or your boss or your cute next door neighbor. But I guess the creative process is like that. Discomfort is a good sign – it shows you’re pushing beyond familiar territory and heading for fresh new horizons.

So here’s to being uncomfortable! And the potential light bulb moments that await. Cheers.

Secondhand Magic, Part II

The second half of my 15-page entry. Does it make you wish for more?

EXT. WHARF –- DAY

Mort has his notepad at the ready, talking to a crusty old DECK HAND.

INT. SMITH’S CAR

Harry Smith, feet up on the dash, binoculars on Mort.

EXT. WHARF

MORT: Have you seen anything suspicious, anything out of the ordinary?

DECK HAND: No, I can’t say I have.

MORT: Really? Do you- well, I mean have you- Do you know if there are any gangs around here?

A sudden commotion gets their attention.

EXT. BOAT

A crowd of people in various stages of confusion and shock. Mort tries to make his way through the obstacle course but can only glimpse pieces of the boat below the wharf.

CROWD (ad lib): What the… Some kind of prank. Call the cops!

Mort tries to negotiate his way through.

MORT: Hey, give an old man a break!

His dignity notwithstanding, Mort carefully goes to his knees and crawls inside the huddle.

The view is worse. But he’s able to wiggle through bit by bit, gradually gaining ground.

He sees the deck. The edge of the fish net sprawled open. The dark, scaly tail flowing out of the net.

INT. SMITH’S CAR

Smith looks up from his crossword, can’t find Mort.

EXT. BOAT

A foot shifts, crushing Mort’s hand under it. He cries out and hits the offending leg with his free hand.

The foot quickly moves and a head looks down.

MORT: Watch it!

MAN: Sorry.

Scooting forward in the inches that the shuffle has afforded, Mort can see the whole of the fishing deck, its crew milling around the strangely captivating catch.

For a moment, all Mort can see is the long tail extending outside the huddle of fishermen. Presently they shift enough to reveal what looks like…

A MERMAID.

Sprawled across the net – lifeless – wet hair plastered across her scaly face, back and arms.

Mort stares in disbelief.

SUE (OS): Mister Glover?

He looks up and sees Sue.

INT. SUE’S HOUSE — DAY

The front door opens to a tiny kitchen. Sue leads the way, wiping her feet and banging through to the adjoining room.

SUE: My car’s in the shop, but I can drive you back sometime after five o’clock. Hello! Dad, you home?

Mort enters more sedately, glancing around the small galley kitchen with dishes in the sink and worn linoleum.

Sue is back.

SUE (CONT,D): It’s just us, have a seat. You want some coffee?

Mort eases into one of two chairs squeezed into a makeshift breakfast nook. Sue gets the coffeemaker started.

MORT: Sure. Y’know I bet that mermaid froze to death.

SUE: It is October.

Mort observes the CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS in the window.

MORT: You’re worse than the department stores. Christmas already?

SUE: Can’t help it, I LOVE Christmas. I start planning December twenty-seventh. By January first, I know exactly where I’ll be and what I’ll do on Christmas Day.

MORT: That’s very impressive. And a little bit nuts.

Sue flops down opposite him as the coffee pot percolates.

SUE: Stick with me and you’ll hear yourself saying those words a lot. What about you?

MORT: Nah, I’m just nuts.

SUE: No, I mean what are you doing for Christmas? Oh. (catching herself) I probably shouldn’t ask you that the day your wife gets stabbed.

For some reason this makes Mort laugh. Sue joins him.

INT. SUE’S CAR – DAY

MORT: My wife was a cold woman. She could hold a snowball for hours and it wouldn’t melt. That’s how cold she was. Like a fish.

Mort is showing her a WEDDING PHOTO of Maxine and him at 30. Mort grins from ear to ear, while Max is more demure.

SUE: She’s pretty.

MORT: I worshipped the boots she walked in. Well, at first anyway.

He flips to a more RECENT SHOT of Max alone.

MORT (CONT,D): Marriage has a way of showing you what you don’t want to see when you’re head over heels for a good lookin’ girl.

SUE: Think we’re being followed.

Mort looks back. Sure enough, Harry Smith is behind them, trying to look nonchalant.

SUE (CONT,D): Hang on, I’ll lose him!

MORT: What? Oh- oh boy.

As Sue pulls a daring 180 and ducks into an alley amid a flurry of horns honking and annoyed shouts. Smith stops just short of an accident, cursing.

Sue laughs and Mort looks impressed.

EXT. SEA VILLAGE MARINA — DUSK

Sue’s little two-door sedan pulls up to the marina lot.

EXT. MORT’S FLOATING HOUSE

Sue walks Mort to the door.

MORT: Thanks for the ride. And the coffee.

SUE: Sure. Take care, Mister Glover.

She watches him go inside, then looks the house over curiously.

INT. MORT’S FLOATING HOUSE — NIGHT

Everything is quiet and dark. Mort flips on the row of light switches by the front door, turns the corner and comes face to face with MAXINE.

Mort cries out and stumbles back in shock.

EXT. MORT’S FLOATING HOUSE — NIGHT

Sue is creeping around the deck to the back of the house where a RED STAIN marks the wooden floor. She flips her PEN LIGHT around the area, but nothing seems out of place.

She continues carefully around the edge of the house and is suddenly GRABBED FROM BEHIND. A hand over her mouth covers her scream.

JACK: Shh!

Jack turns her so she can see it’s him and takes his hand away. Sue is mad.

SUE (whispers): What are you doing here, you-

Jack grabs her again, finger to his lips. Voices.

INT. MORT’S KITCHEN

Mort is sitting at the kitchen table, head in his hands.

Maxine/Claire finishes pouring tea and sits opposite him.

CLAIRE: I know it-it’s hard to believe. But truly, I’m not Maxine, I’m-

MORT: Claire. I heard you the first time, I’m not deaf, I just… I saw you-

CLAIRE: You saw Maxine, Mister Glover. She is dead, I’m- I’m so sorry.

Claire looks anxious and conflicted. Beyond them, two faces appear at the sliding glass door – Sue and Jack.

EXT. MORT’S HOUSE

Sue and Jack exchange incredulous looks.

SUE (whispers): Isn’t that his wife?

MORT (OS): And the mermaid they found this afternoon… you expect me to believe that was you?

SUE: But how can- shush, I can’t hear!

CLAIRE (OS): –body I’ve had for the last forty years. Yes.

INT. KITCHEN

CLAIRE (CONT,D): I know it sounds crazy, but I need your help. You’re the only one I can turn to.

With distaste she produces a gun.

A gasp draws their attention to the glass door. Jack and Sue duck out of sight, but it’s too late. Claire looks distressed.

CLAIRE: Oh! It’s empty.

Mort opens the door and the two guiltily enter.

SUE: We were spying. Sorry.

MORT: Don’t be.

CLAIRE: I didn’t mean to frighten anyone. But I’m desperate. I’ll do anything if you’ll help me get to Florida. That’s where I met Maxine forty years ago.

Max is pouring tea for the new arrivals.

MORT: Max never went to Florida. She hates the ocean, I could never get her to go with me.

CLAIRE: Well yes, but I think that’s because she knew I’d find her if she got anywhere near it. See I was out on the water by myself one morning and this mermaid shows up. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I thought: what a wonderful thing to happen to me, to see a mermaid.

Sue and Jack glance at each other.

CLAIRE (CONT,D): She told me how she’d been watching humans all her life and how she had longed for just one day on land. I was so moved, or just plain gullible, I agreed to switch.

SUE: Switch bodies?

CLAIRE: Switch bodies. She could live my life for a day and I’d live hers. I mean I was kinda curious, you know?

MORT: Lady, today I’ve seen a stabbing victim, a dead mermaid and a resurrected body. Don’t you think I got enough problems?

He bangs the kettle down on the stove.

MORT (CONT,D): And how the heck am I supposed to listen to a person who committed murder?

SUE: Mister Glover, I think she’s about to explain.

Mort throws up his hands and starts pacing.

CLAIRE: It wasn’t murder, Mortimer. It was self defense. You see Maxine never came back. She left me there in her mermaid body for forty years.

Mort stops pacing and turns to look at her. Jack whistles.

CLAIRE (CONT,D): Turns out there was one little detail Maxine left out of her sad story. The only way to switch back is if one of us dies.

SUE: So you had to kill her! Otherwise you could never get your body back!

Mort freezes. The room falls silent. Beat.

MORT: Florida, huh?

Claire looks hopeful.

MORT (CONT,D): Hey Jacky. You ever sailed a floating house?

 

Secondhand Magic, Part I

This was written for a contest, in which the first 15 pages of a script were to be entered based on the logline given. Though the entry did not make the top 10, it’s still a fun piece of fiction. Read and enjoy.

After waking to find his wife dead in their backyard, a man conducts his own investigation, and uncovers the hidden life of a woman he thought he knew.

FADE IN

INT. DETECTIVE OFFICE — DAY

MORTIMER GLOVER, 71, is seated opposite DETECTIVE HARRY SMITH, 45, giving a statement.

MORT: We never had kids, but that’s okay. We kept busy. She was terrific at making stuff – had a real gift. I mean she could design a hat out of cardboard and duct tape. Terrible in the kitchen though.

SMITH: Mr. Glover-

MORT: Yeah, so. She was always moving around, you know? Like she couldn’t keep still in her sleep.

SMITH: Sleepwalking?

MORT: I’d wake up in the night and she’d be gone, so. Sometimes I’d find her in the basement or outside. After a while I stopped looking for her. I figure she’ll come back when she wants to.

Smith is trying to look interested. Mort looks back at him.

SMITH: So it didn’t surprise you that your wife wasn’t in bed this morning?

MORT: Didn’t I just say that?

Smith changes positions and exhales impatiently.

SMITH: Mr. Glover, who do you think killed your wife?

MORT: Are you kidding me? That’s what I want you find out!

EXT. POLICE STATION –- DAY

Mort and JACK HANSON, 19, are walking out of the station.

MORT (CONT,D): No-talent pretty boys. What do we pay taxes for, anyway? Come all the way down here just to find out the police expect me to track down Maxi’s killer.

Jack pats him consolingly on the shoulder.

MORT (CONT,D): I don’t even know where to look. Who stabs a sixty-nine-year-old woman?

INT. DINER –- DAY

A sleepy Jersey shore diner in the off season. Mort and Jack sit at the counter while LARRY, mid-fifties is behind it pouring coffee.

LARRY: Well Morty, let’s be honest. You sure it wasn’t just – y’know – natural causes?

MORT: She had an ice pick coming out the back of her head. That sound natural to you?

Plates of food arrive in the hands of SUE, 18 and direct.

SUE: Talkin’ about your wife?

Mort looks up in surprise.

SUE (CONT,D): Everyone else is. Some of ‘em think you killed her, but I say it was an accident. I’ve seen some pretty strange things, you’d be surprised.

MORT: Do I know you?

SUE: My name’s Sue.

LARRY: She’s new. And she’s still learning her manners.

MORT: It’s okay, Larry, let her be.

The bell jingles and Larry goes to help a new customer. Sue leans in confidentially.

SUE: Y’know I bet I could help with your investigation. People come in here and tell me all kinds of things. Yesterday morning I had a customer swear he saw a mermaid in the water.

The bell jingles again and JIM, 65, is jingling with it.

JIM: “Ding-dong, the witch is dead!” Good news, Larry. This is gonna be a great day, I can feel it!

LARRY (glancing at Mort): Hey, alright.

Jim bellies up next to Mort and smacks him on the back.

JIM: Morty, my old friend! My old, single, liberated friend! Larry, give me this man’s tab.

MORT: Aw, now stop it Jim.

JIM: I mean it, I’m buyin’!

MORT: No really, look at me. Maxine was no angel, but she didn’t deserve to be shish-kabobbed in her own back yard either. Now have a little respect.

Mort picks up his fork as Jim backs off, chastened.

JIM: Okay, all right. If that’s the way you feel about it.

Jim meets Jack’s level gaze. Mort takes a bite of his eggs and chews. And chews and chews and chews.

EXT DINER –- DAY

Angle on a NOTEPAD featuring a list of shady characters: GANGS, THE MOB, ASSASSINS, NAZIS.

Mort is sitting at the bus stop, staring at the list. He crosses out NAZIS. Sue sits next to him.

MORT: Shift over already?

SUE: Oh no, I got fired. Just a matter of time, I wasn’t very good. Where’s your friend?

MORT: At the hospital. Just about broke his teeth on your omelet. (beat) I’m kidding.

SUE: That was funny. Kinda mean, though.

MORT: Don’t pay any attention to me. I’m just an old man trying to solve a murder.

SUE: Any good leads?

MORT: Well. You know any gangs around here?

EXT. MARINA –- DAY

The bus drops Mort next to a sign for SEA VILLAGE MARINA. He heads toward a row of floating houses.

EXT. MORT’S FLOATING HOUSE –- DAY

Mort approaches his place, an anomaly of a houseboat – literally a floating house, permanently docked in the marina/housing community, but afloat on the bay.

The front door is still wearing CRIME SCENE tape with a few FORENSICS OFFICERS taking pictures. JUDY, 60, rushes up in a jogging suit and oven mitts.

JUDY: Mortimer! There you are. What an ordeal, I started baking as soon as I heard.

MORT: Don’t worry about me, Judy, I’ll be fine. Hey fellas, how much longer you gonna be?

JUDY: Oh look at you Morty, you’re not fine. You’ll never, ever be fine again. I know that’s how I felt when I lost my poor Harold.

OFFICER: Almost done, Mister Glover.

JUDY: You just come home with me, I can’t leave you alone at a time like this.

Some chatter comes across one of the police radios. Mort attempts to evade Judy.

MORT: I’m fine, really. Thanks.

OFFICER: Mister Glover! Can you come back down to the station, there’s um- a bit of a discrepancy.

INT. MORGUE –- DAY

Mort, Detective Harry Smith and the nervous MORTICIAN stand looking at an empty slab.

MORT: How can it be missing?

MORTICIAN: Well, ah, we have a few theories but really this is quite unusual. Quite, quite unusual indeed.

MORT: I mean a dead body doesn’t just walk away. Not that I’m any expert, but that just seems to make logical sense to me. Am I right?

SMITH: Mr. Glover, what did you do after you left here earlier this morning?

MORT: What did I do? I was investigating my wife’s murder while you bozos fouled up the evidence and lost the body! I should sue!

SMITH: Mister Glover, please calm down. Someone has clearly gone to great lengths to sneak in here, now I need to know if you have any idea who that someone might be.

MORT: Well I don’t know, I guess whoever killed her.

Harry Smith glances at the Mortician.

MORT (CONT,D): Look, I got an investigation to run. You call me when you screw up again.

Smith watches him go with narrowed eyes.

Commonplace Mysteries #1

A new series – based on strange or slightly surreal events I’ve observed. And of course, stretched a bit, for the purpose of good storytelling.   -Cortney

COMMONPLACE MYSTERIES:
The Strange Incident of the Recycle Bin

I came home one day and there it was. As usual. An array of empty recycle bins strewn across the sidewalk.

This is a typical sight on a Thursday afternoon. I thought nothing of it, since most people don’t get home until later in the day, and many more don’t pick up their bins until one, two, maybe three days later. No big deal. People are busy.

But one bin in particular lingered. Even after all the others had disappeared. And it wouldn’t bother me… actually, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed… except that it lingered exactly in front of my house. And I mean right there. It was the first thing I saw when I left in the morning, and it greeted me as I got home from work in the evening.

Then the homeowners association left a little warning tag on my doorknob. Okay, really? This recycle bin does not belong to me. I don’t recycle, I don’t have a bin. It’s not my responsibility. But the HOA tag is requiring me to take action. So I do.

I put the bin in front of my neighbor’s house.

When I get home the next day, guess what I see. There’s that bad penny, right in front of my house again. I guess I get the point. It’s a tightly plotted little townhouse community, and a few inches one way or the other is all we get. I was politely being informed that not only does the bin not belong to Neighbor On The Left, but that until the rightful owner is identified, please keep the stupid bin off my property. That’s my interpretation.

Not to be outdone, I slide the bin over to the right. And it lives there for a few days.

And then it’s back in front of my house. Not like it’s been put there, but almost like it went there. I’m serious. It’s like it just moved over.

I ignored it.

That night there was a huge storm. I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of winds hurling against the house, pushing tree branches around and swirling freshly raked yards with leaves. Most unhallowed of all was the gentle ruckus of the recycle bin being blown around the sidewalk.

So next morning I went out in my socks, picked it up, and put it on the deck. There. Happy?

Next day I go out to get the trash? The bin is gone. Poof.

Sometimes on stormy nights I still hear the abandoned recycle bin being blown across the sidewalk. And I really just don’t care.

© Cortney Matz, 2009