Short Fiction: Foolproof

Just a little something for Halloween.

Special thanks to Mere for the enabling encouragement and notes, and to Andy for the nightmare fodder inspiration.  You guys are evil the best.

FOOLPROOF

by Elizabeth M. Thurmond

Creak.

Creak.

The landlord still hadn’t fixed the middle two stairs.  Kind of hard to do everything a guy needed to do without the neighbors knowing all his comings and goings.  If the neighbors weren’t all deaf, stoned or both.  Maybe the rats noticed, but they didn’t matter so much.

Click.

Thud.

Click.

Crinkle.

Clank.

Beep.

Door locked.  Groceries away.  Dinner in microwave.

Beeeeeeeep.

Another Hungry Man dinner.  More low-budget living.  Not that that was a permanent situation.  Just a few days more.  Worth the wait, even if the TV-dinner mashed potatoes tasted like spackle.

Creak.

Creak.

Must be the downstairs neighbors.  Better wait a while, in case one of those potheads decided to knock on the door looking to borrow a cup of Cheetos or something.  A little TV, maybe.  Rabbit-ear antenna on a black-and-white TV… another temporary situation, though it was getting old watching staticky reruns of The Big Bang Theory every night til the neighbors went to sleep.

Scratch.

Squeak.

Rats.  He’d found them gnawing on his equipment again last night.  No matter how many traps he set out, there were always more.  There might be a better way to handle the situation, but… no.  Not til he was ready.  Best not waste time and energy on the rats.

Scratch.

Scratch.

Not a sound except the rats.  Everybody else in the building must be asleep.  Time to get to work.  First, the storeroom.

He had to admit, it was creepy to go in there and see all the faces staring at him.  Plastic, porcelain, wood.  Painted eyes, shabby clothes.  The product of endless searching through thrift shops and antique shops and even the garbage.  The ones with only one leg wouldn’t do, but one arm was enough for most.  He preferred two, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

He moved through the storeroom — freezing cold, the landlord wouldn’t fix the broken window — to the back shelf, where the faces didn’t stare.  The newest arrivals — Howdy Doody, creepiest puppet on the planet, and a baby doll in a diaper with all its hair cut off.  Two arms and two legs on both.  Best score he’d had in a while.

Scratch.

Scratch.

Rats. In the storeroom.  So far none of them had dared actually chew on the merchandise, but the sounds made him twitchy.  He needed everyone intact… or as intact as they were when he picked them, anyway.  The clothes didn’t matter so much, but limbs and eyes…

Scratch.

Squeak.

Cursing under his breath, he left the dolls on their shelf and headed to the kitchen, returning with two rat traps loaded with cheese.  He could feel all the faces staring at him again.

From storeroom to darkroom, dolls in hand.  The negatives were waiting; he’d handled that this morning before he went to work at the tattoo place.  Shitty job, but useful.  He’d found both of his current subjects there.  Most of the customers loved to show off their ink.  And in this neighborhood, a lot of them wouldn’t be missed.  Much.

But before the enlarger… the ritual.  Chalk.  Salt.  Candles.  Herbs.

Thwick.

Just enough fire to burn the herbs.  Not enough to set off the lone smoke detector in the hallway.  He couldn’t disable the thing without somebody finding out — landlord didn’t want the crackheads burning down his rat-infested cash cow, so the smoke detectors were checked once a week.

Scratch.

Creak.

He almost stopped chanting.  Neighbors?  No, it wasn’t coming from the hall.  Closer, but smaller.  Rats.

He completed the ritual.

Click.

Clank.

Creak.

He stopped, one hand on the negative in the enlarger, to listen.

Creak.

Rats?  He could swear they were getting bigger… they didn’t used to be heavy enough to make anything creak.

Enough of that.  On to the project at hand.  Negative.  Doll.  Light.  Face over face, eyes aligned with eyes.  Another chant.  The doll went heavy, thudded to the side.  Somewhere, so did a body.  Not dead.  Coma patients all over the city.  Mostly the worst hospitals.  Mostly on the public dime.  Still on life support — first, do no harm.  Even if they couldn’t find a next of kin.

Negative.  Doll.  Light.   Eyes over eyes.

Thud.

Click.

Back to the storeroom.  Two more faces now, staring.

Scratch.

Scratch.

SNAP!

Got him.  An almost-beheaded rat, over in the corner.  Two words, and four of the faces quit staring at him.  Scrabbled down the shelf in a rustle of plastic limbs.  Pallbearers at a rat funeral.  Cheese still intact.  Saved having to reload when the four brought the trap back, empty.  Wasn’t too hard for four dolls to open the trap and heave a dead rat through the broken window.  All they needed was a little leverage.

Another scrabble of plastic, and the four staring faces returned to their shelf.  All quiet.  Still.  Back to the living room.

Too wired to sleep, he took out the book he’d stolen from the library and the pages he’d printed off the internet.  More chants.  Spells. Commands.  Strategy.  Targets.  Not a foolproof plan yet.  The first wave, the ones with the bombs, mostly one-armed, would be cannon fodder, but the second wave… that was more tricky.  Easy for them to steal without leaving fingerprints; not so easy to keep from being traced back to him somehow.

Scratch.

Scratch.

It was coming from the storeroom.

He waited for the SNAP!

It didn’t come.

Rats.

3am.  Impossible to keep his eyes open any longer.

3:15am.  Asleep on the couch, spell book and city maps in his hands.

Scratch.

Scratch.

4:07am.  Rats.  In the living room?  Loud enough to wake him.  He had traps everywhere.  A quick look around — all still empty.  He put the book and papers on the crate he used as a coffee table.  Sleep again.

Scratch.  

Scratch.

He woke slowly.  His lips were stuck together.  How…?

Tape.

He tried to raise his arms, but something was weighing them down.

Scratch.

Scratch.

Creak.

Panic.  What was happening?  Had the junkies across the hall come to rob him?  Good luck to them finding anything they could sell or smoke.

Scratch.

Creak.

Creak.

Not the junkies.  Not loud enough.  Not big enough.

Thud.

He didn’t realize what was happening until he hit the floor, face first.  Dozens of glass and plastic and painted eyes staring at him at the dark.

He’d never asked himself if they could move on their own.  They never had before.

Not a foolproof plan.  Not by any means.

Scratch.

Creak.

Creak.

Creak.

Creak.

Creak.

THUD.

Wasn’t too hard for a hundred and forty dolls to heave a man through a window.  All they needed was a little leverage.

END.

DIY: Glow Cloud

Originally posted on Three Chic Geeks:

ALL HAIL THE DIY GLOW CLOUD

Did you recently move out of Night Vale for silly reasons, and are now feeling homesick because you can’t hail the local glow cloud, because there are no local glow clouds? (Or, do you need sinister and malevolent glowing clouds to deploy at your upcoming Halloween party?) Well, the solution here is simple, fellow citizen of Night Vale gone abroad – just make your own glow cloud, and hail it! This DIY is simple and easy.

View original 288 more words

To Stream or Not to Stream?

It’s just about time for the fall TV season to start, and I have one major question on my mind: what do I do to support the shows I like if I’m not a Nielsen Family?  With so many different ways to watch TV now, what (if anything) is going to actually make a difference?  Of course I’m going to watch some shows live and probably live-tweet or discuss after, so I’ll be buzzing around the virtual water cooler with everyone else, but time-shifting will be a necessity sometimes and just watching on my DVR isn’t going to do anyone any good.  Surely people at Hulu or Amazon or OnDemand or the networks’ websites are keeping track of how many people are watching, even if they don’t publicize the numbers, right?  (Right????)  Also, I remember from the 2007 WGA strike that there’s a window during which streaming doesn’t count towards a writer’s residuals but after that window it does.  It was something like 14-20 days back then, I think?  So — if anyone out there has any information on what the best way is to make one’s non-Nielsen-family viewership count (iTunes season pass? It’s a little pricey, but I will literally vote with my wallet if I need to), please pass it along.

The Annoyance of Being Earnest

As I mentioned in my last post, one of my career coach’s exercises involved having others come up with descriptive terms for us — how the world sees us, body, mind, and spirit. In body, I am offbeat, because, let’s face it, not everyone swans around town in candy-colored cowlneck sweaters. [I've noticed a lot of industry types tend to dress like we're in New York -- black, grey, denim, more black.] Since then I’ve had my hair chopped off and have been known to wear a bright red pendant depicting an Art Nouveau-style giant squid, so… yes. In mind, I am curious, which comes with the territory of being a writer. And in spirit, I am earnest. Lord help me, I am earnest. While the others are correct, this is the one that resonates with me most. Unable to bullshit, empathic almost to a fault, and constitutionally incapable of hiding my enthusiasm for, well, anything. And as anyone who shares this trait can guess, this has made me a walking target pretty much my entire life.

In childhood, earnest kids are easy to bully. Other kids just love pulling our emotional strings… it’s just so easy to get a reaction from us. Ha ha ha, she’s all pissed off now! Isn’t that funny? (Imagine being a teeny tiny girl, in a time and place where girls are generally expected to be nice even when it’s dishonest or even dangerous to be otherwise. You get tagged weirdo/nonconformist pretty quick.)

In the teen/college years, when seemingly everyone around us is, or is pretending to be, all jaded and cynical, earnest kids are generally uncool. If we don’t draw attention to ourselves, we don’t get picked on, but we basically have two choices: be the uncool kid or put up that same false wall our peers are much better at building. Either way, though, at heart we’re still earnest, and odds are, we’re nerds in one way or another. And if we’re lucky, we continue to be nerds well into adulthood.

This past weekend, thousands of people descended upon San Diego for that annual celebration of all that is nerdy: Comic Con. An entire event that focuses on loving things… earnestness writ large, often in costume, always in endless queues outside the legendary Hall H, taking the Pacific Surfliner down for the weekend to commune with like-minded souls. This massive gathering of the tribe is a bit outside my means for right now, but make no mistake: these are my people. I have spent years in fandoms of various stripes, meeting roommates and dear friends and an established writer or two along the way. And now that I am a media professional — despite the stigma some still attach to the label of Fan — I’m discovering that my tribe is alive and well and strikingly widespread in both my dayjob industry (YA publishing) and in television.

Most of us got into writing, or directing, or acting, or whatever creative field we’re pursuing, because we love it. And it seems that the most successful among us embrace that. But it’s not always easy for those of us just on the cusp. This is Hollywood, after all; we’re always going to be surrounded by cooler-than-thou types. We’ve all encountered people who are so insecure about their own status or so unsure of their own path that they can’t help jabbing at those of us who seem to know exactly what we want. And I personally have had more than a few fellow writers pop eyebrows at me or just look confused when I say what my favorite shows are or what networks I imagine my spec pilots being a good fit for. What can I say, except that I watch what I love and I write the kinds of things I want to watch? I’m not going to give anyone shit for wanting to write the next Homeland or entering a Sons of Anarchy spec in the fellowships, but apparently I’m fair game to some for seeing myself as a CW/ABCFamily/SyFy kind of writer. And that can get under my skin, especially when I start worrying that the conventional wisdom to “write what’s hot” might be true, no matter what my gut is telling me. But ultimately I know who my people are, and I was lucky enough last week to take a seminar on TV writing from one of them — Richard Hatem, formerly of my best beloved Grimm, currently on eagerly-awaited Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. On the first day of the seminar, Richard said something that I had to write down because it rang so completely true:

“TV is about loving something, okay? It’s not about anything other than that.”

I’m going to print that out and hang it on my inspiration board, or possibly staple it to my forehead if I ever start to lose my way again. Which I did, for a while, earlier this summer — which is why the last post on this blog is dated May 13. But I’m back, and I have some things brewing in my brain alongside the two pilot scripts I have in progress. Blogging mode on, as of now. I hope you’ll join me.

The Liz Formula

As cancellations, renewals and pickups have been rolling in over the past little while, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what new shows may be in my wheelhouse, whether any previous good fits have been taken off the air, and basically getting a sense of where my place lies in the current TV world.  With one of the shows that utterly owns my soul (Warehouse 13) on the bubble, I’ve been a little worried if it’s an outlier or the beginning of the end of my window. (Based on the number of genre pilots that were picked up, I’m thinking outlier.) That got me thinking about what exactly makes a show fit my sensibilities, what the common threads are in my favorite shows and my spec pilots — the better to spot any promising new pickups.

One of my career coach’s exercises determined that the primary descriptors of my personality are offbeat, curious, and earnest, so I wondered if I could do something similar for my work and the shows I find myself drawn to most strongly. Of course there are certain tropes/character types I’m very fond of, but for this exercise I focused on broader elements. To my surprise, it was incredibly easy to figure out the pattern — I’ve identified nine key elements, and everything I watch or write possesses at least five of them. These are in no particular order, except for #1, which is so fundamental to my nature (there’s that earnestness!) it’s almost always a dealbreaker.

  1. Inherently hopeful. This doesn’t mean sunshine, flowers and rainbows — I maintain that Pretty Little Liars is hopeful because no matter what happens, the girls believe they can and will find out what happened to Ali.  (See also Grimm‘s Scooby Gang of do-gooders.)
  2. Strong lead female character.  Even on shows with male protagonists, there’s at least one badass lady, whether she’s an apothecary or a hacker or a nosy high school student.
  3. Found families. Ever since I was a little kid I’ve nearly always preferred stories (or subplots) about groups of friends, classmates or coworkers to a focus on nuclear families.  (Heroes was the one major outlier here.)
  4. SF/Fantasy/Supernatural elements.  As far as I’m concerned, the joy of fiction is being able to do whatever you damn well please as long as the story has internal logic. Witches? Werewolves? Telekinesis? Teleportation? Yes, thank you, I’ll have another.
  5. Strong sense of place. I love feeling grounded in wherever the show is set, be it Portland or Rosewood or Univille.
  6. Mystery. Not necessarily straight-up detective work, but a definite “puzzle” element.
  7. Teen/young adult characters. I love a good coming-of-age story, and even the transitions my adult characters go through tend to map more closely to coming-of-age stories than other types of life changes.
  8. A romance I can root for.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this involves one character I really identify with plus another character I personally find appealing. (Currently, the one in 100 is Rosalee and Monroe, who’s not my type whatsoever, on Grimm.)
  9. Sense of humor. A relentlessly dour tone will usually turn me off a show really fast.

Here’s how my top four current favorites stack up:

Warehouse 13: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9

Pretty Little Liars: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8

Grimm: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9

Arrow: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 (I’d add #7 but Thea hasn’t been around much lately)

And my spec pilots:

Between the Lines (dramedy): 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9

Bonaventure Underground (teen mystery): 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7

Kismet Kate (superhero): 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9

untitled witch project (light supernatural):  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9

Obviously these aren’t the only things that grab my attention in a TV show or that make me want to write a particular story — there’s a lot more to “voice” or “brand”  than that.  On the spectrum of “Gaaaahhh! Pigeonholing is evil! The Man is stifling my creativity!” to “Find your niche and stick with it”, I fall right in the middle — I’m a big believer in knowing your strengths but also leaving room to grow.  But these nine elements are my foundation, and are probably as close as I’ll ever get to having an actual formula.  And if any of you ever catch me recycling smaller specifics too much, just swat me on the knuckles with a rolled-up script. I’ll get the hint. ;)

The Broke-Ass Gourmet: Lemon-Lime Curd

One of my favorite “fancy” things to make is lemon curd.  You know, that lovely creamy yellow stuff that comes in a jar and seems like it would be difficult to make at home?  Well, as it turns out, it’s not all that difficult and it’s not particularly costly, either!  I made this variation to put on a cake for my office’s Cinco de Mayo party.

curd

Adapted from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook.

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lime peel
  • Juice of one large lemon and one large lime (at least 1/4 cup)

Grate the peels before you cut and juice the fruit; already-juiced halves are difficult to work with. Set aside. Then beat:

  • 2 large eggs

Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Stir in juice and peel. Add:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine (I always use salted butter)

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until moderately thick and bubbly.  Gradually pour about half of the mixture into the beaten eggs, stirring swiftly and constantly so as not to cook the eggs.  Then gradually pour the egg mixture into the pan, again stirring swiftly and constantly. I can’t emphasize this part enough, because this is what’s going to ensure your curd is smooth.  (Despite the name, it’s not supposed to be lumpy like cheese curd ;))  Return pan to heat and cook (still stirring!) for another two minutes.  Pour into a bowl or other heatproof container (leaving it in the pan will make it cook more on the retained heat), cover with waxed paper, and let cool for an hour.  This recipe makes just over one cup, which is enough to fill a medium-sized two-layer cake or top a single-layer cake.  Here’s how I chose to use the batch pictured above:

cake

The Viking Secret Diaries: Rites of Passage

with apologies to Cassandra Clare and Michael Hirst

The Diary of Ragnar Lothbrok

Day 1

Survived battle. Destroyed all my enemies singlehanded. Lost sword plunging it into opponent’s sternum.  Damn. Was favorite sword.

Day 2

Taught Bjorn how to use sword and shield. Planning to take him to the Thing tomorrow. Lagertha says he’s too young. If she had her way he’d still be in diapers. Women.

Day 4

Rollo failed to see the genius in my plan to sail west. I’ll show him. I’ll show them all.

Day 6

This kid. I don’t even know. First he doesn’t vote for beheading, then he didn’t want to throw apples at the guilty. Have a bad feeling he’s going to cause trouble one of these days. Still, he got his arm ring from the Earl and his kiss from Siggy. He is a man now. And getting more action than I’m going to see. Dammit, why did I promise Lagertha?

Oh, yeah. She’ll cut my balls off if I try anything.

Day 7

The Seer said we should sail west so I’m taking Bjorn to see Floki. Wonder how to explain that Floki is a pervy tree-fancier…

…no, wait, that tree-groping did a pretty good job of it for me. Thanks, Floki.

Day 8

Rollo showed up just in time for dinner. Going to rope him into sailing west with me and Floki.

Day 9

I’m sailing.  I’M SAILING!

Still not Earl.

The Diary of Rollo

Day 1

Survived battle. Ragnar claims he destroyed his enemies singlehanded. That braggart wouldn’t have survived five minutes without my help.

Day 4

Nephew Bjorn old enough to go drinking and whoring now. Score. I needed a new wingman.

Dear brother Ragnar is on about sailing west on the open ocean. Something about a wooden wheel with a pin in it and a magic rock. Whatever he’s been smoking, I want some.

Day 6

I gotta hand it to Ragnar, he isn’t afraid to start shit with the Earl. Even if he still thinks we should sail west.

Day 8

Lagertha’s got a bug up her ass just because I said she used to be a shield maiden. I haven’t seen her use a shield lately so what’s the big deal? She didn’t seem impressed with tales of my conquests in town, either. Why won’t she let me show her how I handle my sword?

The Diary of Earl Haraldson

Day 6

I love a good beheading. Fuck that guy and his ZZ Top beard.

Fuck Ragnar too, with his newfangled ideas about sailing west. My ships, my raid, my decision. I am the Earl… this can’t possibly go wrong.

The Diary of Lagertha Lothbrok

Day 2

Ragnar gets to go out and destroy his enemies while I am stuck stabbing eels for dinner. Came home to find him preparing Bjorn to pledge loyalty to the Earl. Bjorn too young but my dear husband insists. Men.

Politely asked Ragnar not to screw any other women while he’s in Kattegat. He agreed. He knows I’d cut his balls off if he tried anything.

Day 3

Was teaching Gyda how to weave when two assholes showed up at my door looking to get laid. I beat, burned and stabbed them, then threw them out the door.  I’ve got skills they’ve never seen.

Day 8

Ragnar’s back. Finally got laid. Totally not telling him I kicked two guys’ asses while he was off drinking with Rollo.

Why is it every time Ragnar leaves, some scumbag tries to put the moves on me? I mean, I know I’ve got it going on, but really? My pig of a brother-in-law? Please. I have standards.