Full Moon Risin'

Sometimes a writer needs help.  Sometimes there's a story trying to get out but it's buried in an avalanche of unrelated thoughts.  This is a story I pulled into existence through the assistance of friend and fellow writer Kelly Komm.  She fed me the words and phrases marked in bold as I wrote, coaxing the story out of the murky corners of my mind.  The fun part is that she didn't know what I was writing - she just gave me words when I called for them.  And this is the end result.
Happy Halloween season, folks.  And thank you, Kelly.

 

Full Moon Risin'

Carve out the heart of the gargoyle once woken.  Bury the heart under an elm by the light of a harvest moon.”  She read the instructions aloud, again, slower, brow furrowed.  “Seriously?”  She looked at the cat who licked his paw and narrowed his eyes.  “No, you’re right.  Easy.”  Just cut out the heart of a living gargoyle and bury it under an elm during a harvest moon.  She shrugged.  Simple.  “I wonder if listening to Neil Young sing Harvest Moon would work the same?” she wondered idly.  She supposed the particulars of the burial could wait until she’d actually located a gargoyle and figured out which weapon would best remove its beating heart.  She shut the book and dragged herself to bed.  Sleep came reluctantly and she tossed and turned with nightmares about boxing cats, skeletal hands grabbing her ankle from under the bed, and spiders yelling at her to turn down her TV. 

How could you?she groaned into the phone while waiting for her coffee to brew the next morning. 

“Uh, I didn’t know you needed it?”  Cody sounded bemused.  “What’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is I need a gargoyle heart for the spell, idiot.”

“Uh huh.”  Cody’s voice was distracted.  He sounded like he was brushing his teeth.  “Like a love spell thing?”

“The… seriously?… the spell we talked about two days ago!”  She rolled her eyes.  The coffee was good.  Hot.  Good and hot.  “Do you have no memories at all?”

“Oh yeah, hold on, lemme check my arm tattoo for that.”

Memento jokes, hilarious.”    

I couldn’t find the pen when you told me to write it down so…. It’s a curse, right?  I’m all over it.  The curse thing.  I got it.”

“It’s not a curse thing, Cody.  It’s the resurrection spell.  Because you hit that poor—“

“I remember!  Jules, no jokes.”  His voice was immediately serious.  “I’ll find another gargoyle.”

“Good.”  She hung up and headed for the shower.

 

* * * * *

 

That night after work Cody swung by unannounced.  He was breathless and excited when she answered the door.  “I found one!” 

“Whoa, did you run here?”

“Dude, I can’t…” he gave her an exasperated look.  “Anyway who cares?  I found one!  Get your coat.”

They headed out into the corruption of the autumn evening, burnished leaves dying underfoot, the moon aching to get into the sky, the sun tainted and shamed at the edge of the horizon.  Cody led her along a twisting maze of side streets, farther from traffic, away from the populous areas she was familiar with, and one by one streetlamps sputtered on as night gathered tight around their footsteps.  Finally they took a sharp left across a weedy apron of neglected lawn and came face to face with a dark church.

Jules felt a cold line drawn up her spine.  “Where are we?”  She kept her voice to a whisper.  Something about the place, nondescript as it was, made her very much want to stalk away and break into a run once it was out of sight.

“The place with the gargoyle.”

“Okay.”  She breathed slowly, trying to calm her frantic pulse.  “And so… right.  Now all we have to do is wait for one to wake up and then cut out its heart.”

“And then play it Harvest Moon by that dude.”  Cody nodded.  “What’s his name?”

I told you his name,” she whispered, feeling ridiculous yet inexplicably grateful that they were arguing over Neil Young.  It gave her a dose of exasperation which cooled her nerves.  “Neil Young.” 

“Think it’ll work?”

“You prefer to wait till an actual harvest moon to see if gargoyles can exact revenge without their hearts?”

“No.”  Cody grabbed her forearm and dragged her across the bedraggled lawn towards the side of the church.  “Around here.”  The trees on that side of the building were devoid of leaves, every last one having slid to a rotting death early in the season.  The back corner of the rectory came into view and atop it sat what looked like a jagged shadow.  Cody didn’t need to point to it.  She knew.  It was unmoving.  Stony.  She held her breath.

The last hush of red fire left the sky.  Darkness swallowed even the stars.

A rushing sound reached their ears, filling the air from every direction at once.  Like a great pulsing, a beating, a fury battering of wind.  Wings.  In the darkness, wings.  And a terrible gravelled screech torn from hell itself.

Jules tried to scream but all around her was the black beating of the air.  Cody’s hand was wrenched from her arm.  She ran but her feet skidded out on the fetid leaves and she landed, heavily, on her back.  Above her she saw Cody suddenly, a flash of panicked white eyes and flailing limbs clutched in a great talon.  And then a thick liquid slammed into her body.  Sticky and warm.  Then she did scream, shrilly, piercing and horrified until the scream was torn right out of her body, lung from limb, bone snapped out of flesh. 

 

* * * * *

 

A week later the stooped priest came by to sweep off the front and back steps of the church.  He carefully went around bagging the worst of the leaf decay.  He couldn’t quite give up on the old building.  Not yet.  His rake caught on something.  He bent, with difficulty, and pulled a shoe out of the leaves.  He shook his head.  Bagged it.

Dragging the bags through the tiny cemetery to the back alley, he found his familiar path through the tumbled stones suddenly blocked by a new grave marker.  Gleaming white and straight it stood, jutting out of the lawn as though it had always been there.  Frowning he bent and adjusted his spectacles to read, “They’re in a better place. But the names were obscured by three deep grooves that looked not unlike claw marks…

 

- Corinne Simpson 

Pick of the Week – October 20-26, 2014

We’re continuing with our month of Halloween-themed Picks of the Week.  This week we’re delving back into the subject of my very first Pick of the Week: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Considering the show’s was constantly dealing with vampires, demons, and other creatures, it would seem almost pointless to do a Halloween episode.  Wasn’t everyday Halloween in Sunnydale?

Not so much, as it turns out.  Buffy produced three Halloween-themed episodes over the course of its seven seasons.  This week’s pick is the first of the group, Season Two’s creatively-titled “Halloween.”  The script is credited to Carl Ellsworth, a freelance writer who was not on the show’s staff.  This surprised me at first considering how true the episode is to the characters and how many major plot and character elements are introduced (Ethan Rayne and “Ripper,” for example.).  However, a little Googling reveals that the script was heavily rewritten by Buffy creator Joss Whedon and that, based on article in his hometown newspaper, Ellsworth says that the script was taken away from him and that he was basically fired.  As many of the Buffy writers have said over the years, it was not uncommon for Whedon to take on rewrite duties or make additions to the script.

That behind-the-scenes gossip aside, “Halloween” is a very entertaining standalone episode that also works quite well for new viewers.  In the first few minutes of the episode, all of the main characters are quickly established, which is important, since the plot centers around Halloween costumes that turn the wearer into whatever costume they’ve chosen.  Trick-or-treating is a bit more harrowing when the little monsters that show up on your doorstep are actual monsters.

With our usual heroine, Buffy, sidelined by magical means, it falls on Alyson Hannigan’s Willow Rosenberg to take charge and figure out what is going on, something the very shy Willow is not comfortable doing.  The other main characters, particularly Anthony Stewart Head’s Giles, get their moments to shine.  Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans will recognize Armin Shimerman as Principal Snyder (Or maybe not, since he’s out of his usual Ferengi makeup.  Shimerman was working on both shows in the late 90s.), and the episode marks one of Seth Green’s first appearances as Oz.  He would later become a series regular.

If you’re looking for a quick bit of Halloween fun without worrying about a ton of series backstory, this episode of Buffy should work nicely.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Our Season Thus Far

A few weeks ago in THIS post, I previewed the new television series premiering this Fall that I would be watching.  Now that the new series have aired a couple of episodes (well, most of them), I’ve gotten a sense of what the shows are going to be like and whether or not I will be sticking around.  Let’s see where things stand:

CONSTANTINE – This one is easy.  The show doesn’t premiere until this Friday - 10/24.

 

GOTHAM ­– Gotham was the first of the new shows to air, and, as of this writing, I’ve been able to watch four episodes, which has given me a sense of what the show is going to be.  I have to admit that I am divided.  Certain elements I like quite a bit.  The Oswald Cobblepot plot is moving along nicely, and I like the actor they’ve cast in the role, Robin Lord Taylor.   The show has also backed off on all of the foreshadowing, which was pretty heavy-handed in the pilot.  Instead of having Harvey Bullock slam Edward Nigma for telling so many riddles, they’re letting Nigma just do his thing. 

The last two episodes have been entertaining and given us killers with unusual MOs, while not going so far as to make them the kind of full-on freaks that Batman will be facing later on.  More problematically, these episodes have struggled to find a way to work Jada Pinkett Smith’s Fish Mooney and David Mazouz’ Bruce Wayne into the story (Admittedly, the 10/13 episode was more successful on the Bruce front).  I imagine this is going to be a continuing issue going forward, particularly with Bruce.

What it comes down to is that I like the show more than I don’t, but I really wonder how it can sustain itself.  Everything just seems to be happening way too early.  If this was the first season of a show where Bruce was just completing his training, basically a Batman: Year Zero, I think I’d be more on board.  We could see the pieces moving into place in Gotham, and maybe the first season would end with Bruce donning the cowl for the first time.  Most of the characters and elements of Gotham would completely work in such a scenario.  Jim Gordon’s relationship with Barbara is the one exception. 

The FOX network just ordered six more episodes, so it sounds like the show will be sticking around.  And for now, so will I.

 

SELFIE – After the pilot, I wondered how this show would sustain itself.  The second episode answered the question by undoing a bit of the character progress made in the pilot.  At the end of the first episode, Karen Gillan’s Eliza had made some steps toward being a better person with the help of John Cho’s Henry.  He’s still helping her in the second episode, but she doesn’t seem to be nearly as driven to change.  Also seemingly-erased was the bonding she’d done with her neighbor.  I can understand this decision, since it did seem like they were moving through avenues of character growth at a fairly rapid clip in the pilot. 

Episode two was a mix of funny and awful.  Henry’s Facebook adventures were amusing but seemed a bit dated considering how long Facebook has been around.  This is not a show that is going to age well.  Eliza’s plot was nearly intolerable, and I say that even though I adore Karen Gillan.  

I decided to give the show one more chance, but it was precariously close to losing its place on my DVR when the third episode aired.  Unfortunately for Selfie, the third episode was pretty much a comedy-free zone.  I chuckled once.  Gillan and Cho deserve so much better.  Based on the show’s ratings, I’m not the only one tuning out.  It may very well be one of the first cancelations of the season.

 

THE FLASH – I’ve only had two episodes to use to evaluate this series, and, despite the fact that the pilot had a lot of positive buzz, I wasn’t incredibly impressed.  The dialogue was incredibly hokey in spots, and I wasn’t sold on Grant Gustin as Barry Allen.  That said, I think they handled the basic premise well.  The villains on parent series Arrow can be regular humans with fighting skills or maybe technology or drug enhancements because Oliver Queen is just a guy who can fight and who’s good with a bow and arrow.  The Flash, meanwhile, needs more of a challenge.  Using the explosion of the particle accelerator to create an entire array of metahumans for him to face provides that challenge.  Also, the glimpse of the news article from 2024 at the end of the pilot was quite the hook.  A Crisis?  Really?  I can’t imagine that the creators are planning on a ten-year run, so I’m very curious to find out how they are going to play this out.

Episode two was a big improvement.  The dialogue was stronger, Gustin’s take on Barry grew on me, and I really enjoyed the relationship between Barry and Detective Joe West, played by Jesse L. Martin.  Also, Tom Cavanagh’s Dr. Harrison Wells continues to be intriguing.  If The Flash can maintain or preferably build on what I saw in the second episode, I’m on board.

 

GRACEPOINT – I knew going in that this was going to be an odd show to watch, since I’d seen every episode of the British version, Broadchurch.  So far, the first few episodes have stuck very close to the original series.  The changes, such as what Nick Nolte’s character does when he's not running a store, have been incredibly minor.  Nolte, arguably the biggest name in the cast, hasn’t had enough screen-time to make an impression.  David Tennant is playing the same character again, and I haven’t noticed any big differences in his portrayal, other than his efforts at an American accent.  Anna Gunn is doing solid work as Detective Ellie Miller, but the rest of the cast is so far just kind of there. 

I’ve gathered from reading comments from TV critics who have had access to the entire ten-episode run that the divergence comes around episode seven.  I suppose I could just start watching then, but I’m going to stick with this to refresh my memory on all of the characters and clues before we head down the new path.  That is, of course, assuming that FOX airs all of the episodes.  The ratings have not been good.

 

A TO Z – I enjoyed the pilot for this series, but the first 10 minutes of episode two almost brought my relationship with the show to an abrupt close.  We were already getting hit with romantic comedy clichés.  Also, the supporting characters, other than the Indian programmer, were annoying me.  I stuck it out because I still like the two leads (Cristin Milioti and Ben Feldman).  The ending of the episode brought back the sweetness of the pilot that I enjoyed and bought the show another week of life in my DVR. 

Episode Three, however, continued the downward trend I saw with the second episode.  Once again, we were in the land of Three’s Company level misunderstandings.  I diligently finished the episode, though, and then I erased the series recording from my DVR.  Sorry, Cristin.  Maybe your next series will be better.  And I have a feeling she’ll be looking for a new one soon, since A to Z’s ratings have been pretty awful.

 

So Gotham, The Flash, and Gracepoint (For its limited run) join the likes of Doctor Who, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Top Gear in my weekly watch list.  I’m sure they’re relieved.  It remains to be seen if Constantine will make the cut.

If you’re interested in television ratings from a brutally realistic perspective, I recommend following Cancellation Bear on Twitter (@TheCancelBear).  Find out if your favorite show will survive or become bear chow.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Choose Your Own Adventure

Do you remember Choose Your Own Adventure books?  I loved them back in the day.  There were certain books I read multiple times to find the path to the best ending which was, of course, the ultimate goal of the series.  They function like a literary RPG in which you are the star of your own written adventure.  Progressions of choices lead you inexorably to an end - some optimal, some bland, and some deadly.  I won't detail all the ways in which Choose Your Own Adventure books operated, I'll instead throw up a link to their site here so you can discover either nostalgia or something new for yourself. 
I have long been obsessed with writing Choose Your Own Adventure tales of my own.  They're much harder to write than you might originally think.  You essentially have to write an entire series of small related tales that entwine and keep track of all the different branches of each choice and which end each leads to.  When I was working the box office of the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver in the days before its tragic closure due to Livent bankruptcy (a historical tale for another time) it inspired a Choose Your Own Adventure tale starring my then-manager and various other employees of the struggling theatre.  Then later, in New Zealand, I wrote a never-finished series for a dear friend which involved mailing pages to her and waiting for her choice to reach me before continuing the story.  It was a glorious correspondence.
It's that latter attempt that inspired this.  On its own, as a standalone, this is not at all a striking story.  In fact, nothing happens.  It's very dull.  The beauty of it will lie in your participation.  It's the choice you collectively make in the comments that will propel the story and reveal the hidden plot threads.  Unless you interact with this tale, it will never exist.
So, without any further ado, I present my Choose Your Own Adventure.  All rights belong to Chooseco and I use this only with the intent to respect and pay homage to a foundation of my childhood reading.
Let's begin.
 

Choose Your Own Adventure

You’re bored.  Sitting on the steps, chin in hand, you can’t muster the interest to continue the book face down next to you.  The yard is lit by the last of the summer sun and everything is a glorious burnished orange hue.  You decide the night is far too enticing to spend bored on your back porch so you get up and cross the yard to the gate that separates your property from the undeveloped land beyond.  When you unlatch the gate you hear a small sound.  A sort of rasp or light growl.  You look around but see nothing, no animals, nobody else around.  With a shrug you dismiss the sound, step through the gate, and shut it firmly behind you.

In front of you stretches the land that seems to be used as both a rough green space and a dumping ground.  Far off on your right an old couch leans against a refrigerator with no door.  Straight ahead of you is a swath of overgrown grass and struggling shrubs that breaks into a sudden woodsy area.  To your left the ground slopes sharply downwards.  At the end of the slope there is a small side street and across the street sits a graveyard.  The sun has now hit the furious red stage of setting and shadows are long and thin across everything.  You hear the rasp again.  Frowning you scan the ground but can see no animal, nothing that would have made the noise.  

The air is fresh but not cold.  You breathe deeply and feel like exploring the land beyond your yard.  But which way should you go?

If you check out the old couch and refrigerator to see if the growl belongs to a lost animal, turn to Page 3.

If you decide to walk straight across the grass to the wooded area, turn to Page 6.

If you’re more in the mood for exploring the cemetery, turn to Page 7.

 

- Corinne Simpson

 

Nathan's Laserium: The Witch

 

Here is one of those 100-word stories where no word is allowed to be used more than once. It's based on a real-life incident though of course all the details are speculative. 

 

Seventy years old, Mrs. Josephine Rice decided to live.  Widowed two decades ago, vitality had inexorably ebbed away.  No longer. Hallowe’en night found, camouflaged amongst youthful costumed hordes, a magnificently garbed matron, archetypal mother of all witches loosed upon Earth. Well, at least, the neighborhood. Baba Yaga, Nightshade, Jadis and Elphaba resurrected.  Perfected.

Their doorbells rung, generous revelers answer expecting tiny imps, mischievous mites. Instead, wrinkled hands proffer gaping pillowcase. “Trick or treat!” Voice rasping, yet exuberant, anachronistically conveying childhood’s highest ideals. Momentarily taken aback, most homeowners hesitate mere seconds before bestowing candy, joyously, thinking, “May I be so alive.”

 

- Nathan Waddell