A Skull In The Fridge, And Other Ideas

It’s been the best part of a month since I last posted anything here, but I’m back, and it’s been a productive week. This morning, having finished our short film analysis essays for Creating Short Screenplays, we used our seminar to begin focusing on ideas for our own scripts, which we will be developing until just before Christmas. More specifically, we looked at how we might create ideas using locations, objects and mise-en-scene – defined as “the setting and surroundings of an event.” We came up with lists for each as a group, before using these to formulate our own individual rough ideas. I and the others on my table placed emphasis on the objects available to us, which were random and included such things as a sack, a toy car, a duck feather, a book and a skull. We felt that they all came with numerous questions that could be asked about them, giving us the basis of a film in the process.

With the exception of the duck feather, I managed to think of at least one idea for each of these objects. In my opinion, the sack, the car and the skull provided the most interesting ones, and this was backed up by the people around me. I thought of a single, unopened letter that had been forgotten at the bottom of a sack of mail, and the story left undiscovered within it. I thought of a toy car kept even into old age by its owner because of some deeply entrenched sentimental value. And, last but not least, I thought of a human skull, discovered on a shelf in a fridge by a young man who then questions his housemates about its origins, only to be mysteriously denied an answer by all of them. It was pointed out to me that that idea resembles a scene from Sherlock in which Holmes stores a head in his Baker Street fridge for experiments, so whether I use it will depend on how original I can make a story of my own. In any case, it’s always interesting to see how so much can be drawn from so little, and this morning was no exception.

Tuesday afternoon also saw me work on something promising. This was in my Rewriting and Adapting class, where we are working on our own adaptations of famous Gothic texts. We can choose from The Tell-Tale Heart, Dracula, The Woman in Black or Frankenstein, and I have now opted for the latter, although my idea is not a straight interpretation of the original novel – it only retains certain elements. In it, a man paralysed from the waist down in the present day encounters Dr Frankenstein, who in this instance is a very dubious surgeon, and accepts his offer to have a pair of working legs crudely stitched on so he may walk again. Unfortunately, these legs not only look odd, but behave very erratically, alienating everyone he is closest to and leading him to lament both his loneliness and his loss of identity as a disabled person.

That’s the planned story arc, although the piece is still in the very earliest stages of its development. Before it is written and submitted in early January, I have to complete a rationale describing what I intend to do and achieve with it, but I’m sure you’ll get to see the finished story when it’s ready. Skulls and Frankenstein – very apt for Halloween, don’t you think?

Mason

Fade To Black

Towards the end of July, I wrote about a script for a short film that I was gradually developing from a short story I’d written last year, Warm Leather. Knowing how badly I procrastinate, I was doubtful that I’d manage to get it finished anytime soon, but I’m now pleased to report that I’ve broken the habit of a lifetime – I have a complete draft! I typed the words “fade to black” on Tuesday last week, and quickly shared what I’d done with a small group of friends. They may have been slightly biased, but the feedback they gave was largely favourable, so for now I will stick with the draft I have – my next objective is to send it elsewhere and see if I can find some more informed advice.

After so many years of only managing to write snippets of script, it means rather a lot to me to have committed to this one through to the end, even though it’s only 14 pages long (quarter of an hour in length, rather than the half an hour I had anticipated). It’s given me a solid starting point to develop and grow the story where necessary, and if nothing else, it’s been good practice for the “Creating Short Screenplays” module I’m starting in Winchester next semester. I couldn’t be happier with my progress so far, and if I can find the right place to send it next, then who knows? Maybe this won’t be the last update I give you…

Mason

 

Steak And Chips

Henry sprayed himself with his strongest aftershave once again. A thick cloud rose up and he coughed as it filled his throat. In the mirror, he saw that his fringe had already collapsed under the weight of his hair gel. Great! Producing a toothpick, he began prodding about in his mouth. “Lettuce. Ham sandwich. Pringle,” he thought. They couldn’t afford to stay there.

He was convinced that something was sabotaging his date with Emily before he’d even been on it, and he was insecure enough already.  He and Emily would be having a meal; he was pretty confident about eating. But he didn’t know how to greet her, how to say goodbye, or what to talk about in between. “Do we kiss? Do I hold her hand? What are her interests?” He felt pressure from some anonymous force to be someone he wasn’t, and he desperately wanted to impress this girl naturally.

Unfortunately, Henry overthought every possible worst-case scenario. Last night, the latest in a long line of nightmares manifested themselves. He tossed and turned in bed as hazy images of spilling a drink on her dress, and kissing her with garlic breath, swirled in his mind. But as scary as those more trivial things seemed, there were other aspects of a potential new relationship that terrified him even more. He looked around at the paper strewn across his desk, and his overflowing bin. “What a shithole,” he thought to himself. “She’d hate this, wouldn’t she? What would her parents think? How fast would things move? Would she get bored of me?” He’d tried to fix his wonky hairdo, but there was only so much a careful comb could do. Accepting that it would probably collapse again soon, he took his keys and wallet and left his flat.

The short walk to the restaurant where Henry would be meeting Emily seemed to go on forever. Even as the town filled up with pubgoers in the twilight, he studied himself intently. He rubbed furiously at a stubborn stain on his shoe. Something he couldn’t identify that he tried and failed to rub off of his jeans. “Toothpaste? Mayonnaise?” All of the possible suspects entered his head. His eyes widened at another. “Bird poo?!”

He felt his shirt collar. It was wonky, so he promptly straightened it. He’d noticed himself sweating more now, and his hands were trembling. He quietly clenched a fist, just to confirm that he did indeed have increasingly clammy hands. He’d sniff his armpits again later on, even though he had already applied deodorant five times. Was that a spot he could feel on his nose…? Whatever it was, he removed his hand quickly, to avoid aggravating it.

“Get a grip,” Henry muttered. His friends had all told him that nerves before a first date were only natural. “It’s good to be nervous, it means that you care,” they would say. But Henry thought that being this nervous was borderline ridiculous. Surely all he had to do was be himself, and he’d be fine? Breathing in, then out again, he tried to relax his shoulders. The more Henry considered it, being himself seemed awfully cliched. He was neither outstanding nor awful, just average, and these days it seemed as though that wouldn’t cut it with anyone. There was so much pressure on so many people to look good and achieve great things in their lives. Life was presented like a race, in which nobody could afford to finish last – and as things stood, Henry was definitely finishing last. His mind flashed back to his modest room. He couldn’t help thinking that the odds were stacked against him, and his mindset didn’t improve when the restaurant appeared in the distance, modestly lit by the lamppost outside.

Henry thought about his bank balance as he patted his back pocket, just to ensure his wallet was in there. He couldn’t afford to splash the cash too much – his parents had always been very clear about the value of money. What would happen if he ordered something small? He could practically see the look of disgust on Emily’s face as a modest bowl of soup and a crusty roll faced up to rump steak and chips. “If I see her nose curl up,” he thought, “the ground may as well open up and swallow me whole.” He needn’t have worried.

With considerable trepidation, Henry slipped quietly through the door, and Emily watched as he approached. She was sat at a table surrounded by older couples who’d left the kids at home with the babysitter, and the last remnants of refracted daylight through the window almost formed an orange halo around her date. It made his skin and hair shine together; he was the physical embodiment of a deity and a dream, and she was totally at ease. All of a sudden, she wasn’t so worried about split ends or getting something stuck in her teeth. Even so, she fumbled in her bag, just to make sure the toothpicks were there.

Minutes earlier, Emily had been wiping the sweat from her brow in the toilets, such were her nerves. She had to laugh, because she’d been sweating when she first laid eyes on him as well, sitting in that university taster session.  The next time she met Henry, six months had passed, but the chemistry had been as magnetic as the attraction. She remembered having a drink outside, as the September sun made them squint and giggle as they discussed their hopes and fears. Just as she had been then, she found herself looking deep into his hazel eyes, hanging on his every word as he hung on hers. They may have been relatively new to each other, but conversation flowed like they had known one another for years. Some of those other couples looked over at them, fondly recalling the way things used to be when they were young. Who said romance was dead?

Oh, and they both got steak and chips.

Mason

Doors Opening

Over the past three months, I’ve spent a lot of time travelling from floor to floor in a lift, and every time those gleaming steel doors slide apart, I never quite know who I’m going to find on the other side. I don’t always know where they’ve come from, where they might be going, or why. They just depart at the end of our journey and – in most cases – I never see them again. If I do, I certainly don’t recognise them. It was after a few weeks of such mystery had passed that I started to wonder if it could lend itself well to a story of some kind. I would picture myself waiting for the lift as usual, before the doors parted to reveal a sprawled corpse lying within. A lift could be good murder mystery territory, mainly because of the questions it instantly raises – especially if you’re travelling alone. Who could the culprit be? How could they commit their crime in a sealed and cramped space – and how could they do it in the mere seconds that pass between departure and arrival?

If I wanted to introduce more confusion, I could have the occupant vanish into thin air without explanation. It would be even harder for someone to do that in a lift, after all, and it would allow people to ask where they had actually gone as well as how. I love how there is the potential to do so much with so little, and I think that with the right characters and motives, the idea could work well. In any case, it was one I was eager to record here before I could forget it – so you could say that this post only consists of me thinking out loud. Then again, which one doesn’t? It could arguably have made good material for a podcast to follow my previous one, but I have swiftly concluded that my energies are much better suited to writing than to broadcasting! With that in mind, if I write something that I approve of as much as what I have already showcased here, it may well appear for you in due course…

Mason

My Life’s Mission

I am now home for Christmas, having successfully recorded my podcast (which you can listen to by clicking here, if you dare). The first semester is complete and I am free to relax, but university – particularly Publishing and Social Media – has left me with a rather pleasant parting gift, thanks to another magnificent writing prompt. In my seminar last week, we found the following question up on the board:

“You receive an email from an alien. What does it say?”

I started working on my answer there and then, but as I didn’t have the time to complete it immediately, I decided to save it for a blog post. Communication between the human race and extraterrestrial life is often depicted in fiction as being either blatantly hostile or somewhat ominous, so I wanted to try writing something that would be a little bit more heartwarming. It had to convince the recipient that this was an alien coming in absolute peace, as I felt that anything else wouldn’t quite be right at Christmas! I would like to show you my intergalactic email now. How do you think this message would make you feel?

“Hello,

You won’t know who I am, but I feel like we are meant to be. This email will take seconds to travel across the universe, but I have been searching for what seems like millennia. I told myself a long time ago that I wouldn’t rest until I found you. I don’t know what you’d call me, but I guess humans like to refer to us as “guardian angels”. We appear at birth knowing only love. It flows from every part of us and courses through our veins, dictating every action and emotion. From a young age, when our schooling begins, we are told that one day we will pick a face from a crowd – no matter how distant – and watch over them until the day they die without ever revealing ourselves. But when I saw you, I couldn’t resist. I had to reach out, so here I am, writing to you now.

I’ve seen you at your best, when you feel like you’re on top of the world, and at your worst, when you feel trapped, worthless and alone. I want you to know that you are none of those things, and you never will be. Yes, I know people have said the same one minute and been gone the next. Not me – you are my life’s mission. It pains me to admit that you and I may never see each other, and as things stand, this email is the closest I can get to showing you my true form. But, just like a lost loved one, I’ll never truly leave you. Anything out of the ordinary is me making myself known. That muffled banging you think you can hear from the pipes in the dead of night? That’s me. The figure you see for a second in the corner of your eye, before realising nobody is there? Me again. The funny coloured shapes that appear when you close your eye? Yep, you guessed it!

I know humans fear those things, because they can’t explain them, so I’m just letting you know that you needn’t be afraid of them. They’re not signs of danger or death, but a warming cup of tea when you desperately need one, or a hand that you know will be there to catch you when you fall. Look out for them – when you notice one, you’ll know hope, companionship and unwavering loyalty is nearby. You might think you can find us by looking up at the stars, but the truth is that we’re much closer than you could ever have imagined.

– Your Guardian Angel”.

Mason

 

 

 

Warm Leather

Before you start speculating, I feel like I should clarify that this is a work of fiction – it’s from a young woman’s perspective rather than mine, so don’t be fooled by the use of the first person!

I know his room much better than most people. I could walk into it blindfolded and still tell you exactly where everything is, down to the tiniest detail. Whenever I feel my chest tightening, or my head spinning, all I need to do is close my eyes and I’m there. I see the droopy pot plant on the shelf, fading more with every passing visit, and the feeble attempt at a motivational poster on the wall. It says “laugh like there’s no tomorrow”, but I always say that it’s not such a good thing to have in there – after all, it’s not so easy for everyone who comes in to do as it says. Whatever its shortcomings are, though, this is the only place I’ve felt safe in for some considerable time. To enter it is to be engulfed in an embrace, not just from the room but also from Noel, my counsellor.

We’ve been talking for a couple of months now. When I’m in with him, I feel like he and I are the last two living souls on Earth. In only one hour, he’ll give me more undivided attention than I can expect in twenty four at home, and he endures meltdown after meltdown without even batting an eyelid. This place only knows love, care and respect within its walls. I don’t blame Noel for choosing to follow this path, because who wouldn’t want to work in a place like this?

I’m walking along the street now, towards the office where I meet him. With every step, the anticipation builds and I struggle to stop myself from beaming like a lunatic. I try my best to keep a stiff upper lip, but it proves to be easier said than done and I find myself fidgeting with my hands as I wait for his door to open. After what seems like an eternity, it swings aside and I am warmly met with a gesture inviting me in.

“Would you like to come through?”

I see Noel standing there, stereotypically dark and handsome, and as is often the case I find myself lost in the empathy within his hazel eyes. At this point I lose control, and stepping over the threshold into the sanctuary of the office is almost like an out of body experience. It’s the safest hour of my week – and it begins now…

In front of Noel’s desk there are two black leather armchairs, directly facing each other. This is the arena in which all of my emotional battles manifest themselves before his very eyes. As always, I take a deep breath before sinking into the right-hand seat, and I exhale calmly as I feel the chair caress my body. Noel sits down opposite me, and he fixes me with his gaze. It isn’t that he’s being cold or distant, it’s just that as of now, he means business and he wants to listen.

“How have you been since I saw you last?” he asks.

I can already feel a rising lump in my throat. This is the truth frantically scrabbling for the surface, reaching for a release.

“I only wish I had good news,” I reply, “but the atmosphere at home is still pretty toxic. Even when it seems like the day is going well, there’s still things that are left unsaid. We just can’t seem to ever clear the air.”

As I say this, I notice that Noel’s hands – which had been clasped together – are now separated and open, and his palms are facing upwards. I glance at them for a second, but am quickly interrupted by his line of questioning.

“Is there no trust left at all?”

I think to myself that after so many sessions, he must know the answer to that by now. The only trust I can really rely on is between me and him, and as I see his hands before me I have to fight the instinctive urge to hold them. This is a strictly professional relationship, and I need to respect the boundaries within.

“No”, I say. “That’s why I’m so grateful for these sessions, as you well know.”

Noel allows a slight smile to cross his lips, the kind that is probably much smaller than what he reserves for his wife and his kids. I am hit with a hot flush of envy. “All part of the service.”

“The service”. Another reminder that he just sees me as a means to an end. Someone who puts food on the table and clothes on his back. Not unlike Charles, my boyfriend. He’s the one I come here to talk about, because I can’t communicate with him at home anymore. The dinner table used to be a hive of animated discussion, but now we sit slumped over our food in silence. We used to snuggle together on the sofa watching television, but now we choose separate chairs on either side of the room. I don’t know what started it, but it’s the elephant in the room and if he won’t talk to me about it, at least I know Noel will.

“I’m at my wit’s end,” I tell him. “Charles doesn’t trust me, I don’t trust him, and because of that, we can’t talk about whatever it is that’s ruining our relationship. It’s like a pressure cooker. The more things we leave unsaid, the more the stress builds, and in the end it all boils over and leads to a blazing row. There’s blame on both sides, I wouldn’t want you to think the worst of him.”

“Of course not,” Noel replies. “You don’t need to worry about that. It isn’t my job to judge.”

No, Noel. No, it isn’t. And I love you for it. We talk more that day, and I emerge from the office feeling once again like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. Later that night, as Charles and I lie in bed with our backs to one another, I manage to find Noel on Facebook. His account is private – evidently his professionalism has a much further reach than I had expected. I might not be able to see his photos, but my imagination runs wild when I think about what they must be like. I can see him beaming away with the family during summer barbecues in the garden, walks with the dog, or idyllic holidays abroad. And then I imagine myself in his wife’s place. Someone like Noel could bring me so much happiness. In a different world, maybe he has. But I need to pull myself together.

That vow doesn’t last long, and I soon find myself crossing the biggest line yet, peeking out from behind a brick wall as he picks them up from school. I know this is bad, but it gives me the hit I’m looking for, however brief it may be. Instead of Noel the counsellor, I see Noel the family man – the man I want him to be. I notice that he exudes an even greater level of warmth that he could simply never show in our meetings. He embraces his children as they run out to meet him, and he absorbs everything going on around him with clear interest and optimism. I might be watching Noel from afar, ducking further behind the wall whenever he turns in my direction, but I feel I know him just a little bit better. I’ll get through to him, sooner or later. I can’t wait to make him squirm in his seat.

Sure enough, next time I see him, there he is, shuffling awkwardly like a schoolboy as I sit opposite him. I say nothing – I just can’t believe it’s worked. It can only mean one thing.

“Look, I saw you at the school yesterday, and it looked to me like you were watching us. I need to know that you won’t do anything like that again. You scared us,” he stutters.

I nod, and I tell him what he wants to hear. When we next talk about Charles, I see another opening and I go for it.

“It’s escalated now,” I say. “I could just about cope with the silence between us, but now he’s on his phone at all hours of the day. When I try to ask who he’s talking to, he makes excuses and puts it away. Silence is one thing, feeling like you’re talking to a brick wall is another. Do you ever get that?”

Noel bristles. He tries his best to gloss over my question with a smile. “I’m supposed to ask you the questions.”

“Just humour me.”

He evidently wasn’t expecting me to come back like that – there is a silence unlike any other. You could hear a pin drop. I imagine the cogs whirring in his head.

He begins to respond. “I…” Then he stops, reconsiders. “We all do, sometimes.”

Clever Noel – answering and avoiding the question at the same time. Note to self: must try harder.

Over the next few weeks, I make a mental list. I think about every time I see his cheeks go pink, and every time he clasps his hands together in his lap, twiddling his thumbs. These are signs of chinks in his armour and I train myself to spot them, just as he would spot a client’s cries for help. As the weeks go by, he latches on to this – but by now there is no escape, and human nature is beginning to get the better of him. One day I decide to catch him off-guard. He comes in, flustered, absent-mindedly apologising for his lateness. He hurriedly slams a pile of papers on a table and sits down opposite me, as usual. We begin, and I notice there is an oily sheen on his skin today – and then, like a coiled viper, I decide to strike while the prey is ripe for the killing. I’m going to make him sweat a little bit more.

“Tough day?” I ask, as innocently as I can.

Noel chuckles. “It’s a counsellor’s life. If I’m not seeing clients, I’m seeing paper – lots of it.”

He won’t suspect a thing now. I spring forward in my seat, and fix him with my widest smile as I softly rest my hand on his knee. “Never mind. You can get off after this.” I could withdraw at this moment, but I’m intrigued to see how long I can keep it there. Only a few seconds pass, but it seems like an eternity, and in that time he does to little to resist. Without looking, I wonder if the blood’s rushed down from his head yet. I’d like to see him try to hide that.

After this, Noel makes a point of asking me about Charles, so as to draw attention away from himself. When I tell him we’re looking at a fresh start – finding a new place, starting with a clean slate – he jumps at the chance to know more. He seems even more interested in my life than before. He wants to know how many bedrooms there’ll be, how much garden we’re going to have, thinking it’s going to take my mind off him. But it’s only a temporary distraction for me. As long as Noel is sat in front of me, I can only restrain myself for so long.

I spend so long fantasising about it coming to a head, but even I don’t expect it when it does. I’ve spent so many weeks sneaking in whenever I can. A touch here, a fond brush there. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve seen emotion in his eyes. Appreciation, acceptance, expectation, and what is surely lust. He tries his best to maintain the counsellor façade, but it is no use. He knows he is at my mercy, and I will soon be at his.

He is perfecting his well-honed routine, feigning interest in Charles and me. Our move has been put on hold; I think we knew in our heart of hearts that neither of us really think it will solve anything. I tell Noel that, obviously, but he is clutching at straws, trying desperately not to show me he is faltering. When he breaks off, and there is silence, I make it last. Then I mutter something.

“Never mind. I can focus on what I really want now.”

It takes the locking of our lips to find out that isn’t what I had expected. I anticipate Noel recoiling in disgust; instead, his tongue coils its way around mine, invading and violating me in a way I never thought possible. Counsellors aren’t supposed to do that.

At that moment, I realise I’ve been wrong all along. Noel is first and foremost my confidant, and thinking about that suddenly puts me in his shoes. I feel uncomfortable. Nervous. Used. So I do what I’d expected him to do all along. I pull away, get up and leave without another word. I don’t look at him; I don’t want to see his reaction. I want him to see my disappointment. The one thing I need is a warm listening ear. Noel is anything but.

Mason

The Man In The Melee

Another Thursday means another Publishing and Social Media class, and that means another short story! Anyone who read my last post will know that I shared three examples of Twitter fiction I was particularly proud of, and after a favourable response to those – particularly in this post from Penstricken – I have decided to show you something else that I wrote this morning. Its genesis was the photo you can see above, which I took when we were asked to take a picture that we could use as the basis for a story. We could do whatever we liked with it, provided that it did not exceed 2,200 characters, the maximum number permitted in an Instagram caption. When I returned from the university library to start my piece, I did so intending to write more fiction, but I quickly found myself drawing more and more from my experience, so what you are about to read is closer to a true account. That might have something to do with the fact that I have actually been trapped in that very same aisle once or twice before! As always, I hope you enjoy what is below, and do feel free to get back to me with feedback. You are also more than welcome to formulate your own endings if you wish – I intentionally left it open for you…

The library is very busy today, and that means congestion. It’s like Black Friday for bookworms. Everyone needs this for their essay, or that for their assignment, and they all want the same thing at the same time. I have what I need – now I just want to get out of the aisle. I see a girl at the other end, avoiding the melee at a computer, and I envy her. If she finds herself having a Clint Eastwood-esque face off with a fellow student, all she needs is a gap the size of a cigarette paper to slip on by. Letting me past, on the other hand, is like meeting an articulated lorry in a narrow country lane. If you and I are facing each other in an aisle, we cannot go any further – one of us will have no choice but to retreat. Occasionally, this means that I instantly become both highly conspicuous and highly embarrassed. All I want is to go through life without being too much of an inconvenience, and here I am exactly that. I am the road block in this aisle, and people are getting impatient on either side. I am gripped by panic and my heart beats like a machine gun in my chest. I find myself unable to take action – the world becomes a blur and I have no idea what my next step will be. I shut my eyes. If I ever doubted the world was still inaccessible to the disabled, I know it is now. I am a square peg stuck in a round hole, and I have to find some way to wriggle free.

Mason