The Dancer and the Shattered Shell

It’s like this when dark comes: you get inside. The rule is simple and absolute.

Anna is running late after she finishes her audition. The auditorium doors close behind her and lock. The auditors will be there all night — but dancers can’t stay while they deliberate. It’s 5:42pm on a late winter evening. She’s never been out this late before.

She hurries but something on her foot hurts; she pushed too hard during the audition. The pain is near her heel so she keeps her weight forward, but the awkward gait slows her down. She checks her watch again. It’s taken her five minutes to make it two blocks. She’s not going to make it home before dark.

The cost to stay somewhere overnight is beyond her reach. She’s going to have to squat somewhere. Up ahead she hears the catcallers hollering for any strays (like herself) to come inside, for a price, of course. Anna turns down an alley to her right. Between the buildings it’s dark already. Goosebumps chase each other down her arms. She needs to get inside. These buildings, which are nothing but big stretches of red brick and broken, boarded windows, appear unoccupied. Anna tries one of the doors. Locked. She curses but doesn’t waste time trying another one. Instead she goes straight to one of the windows and pushes at a rotted piece of plywood. 

Anna tosses the bag with her dance gear into the building. Then she lifts herself over the sill, avoiding the tiny shards of glass that remain even after years of wind and rain. But, if no one comes to clean, there’s no reason for anything to move, right? That’s a law of physics. She climbs through without a scrape. Quickly she lifts the rotted plywood back into place. It’s not perfect but it will serve. Sighing, Anna leans her back against the wood and takes in the room around her.

The floor is cold cement, she feels the chill through her sneakers, and it stretches for what could be a couple acres. Bare. Empty. The walls seem sturdy enough. Then Anna looks up.

Half the ceiling is gone. And by gone it is gone twenty stories upward. It’s like a giant meteor ripped through. There’s a pile of debris along the rear wall — a giant shadowy mound. Anna is not in a building. She is in an empty, shattered shell of a building. Through the huge hole she sees stars beginning to shine.
Anna turns to yank the plywood away, ready to run screaming for help down the street. But she’s too late.

The swarm is already overhead. She hears the distinctive metallic series of fast clickclickclicks bouncing off every surface. It’s the sound of tinnitus growing wings. Tiny flashes of light flicker among the bots, like fireflies. They’re searching for heat signatures. Soon they’ll find her. She’s the only heat to be found in this cold little hell. 

Years ago, the nanobots surpassed what was believed about artificial intelligence. The bots were designed to heal humans and became a staple of modern medicine. Billions of the things were manufactured. Then the bots broke down their designated boundaries and began utilizing humans for their own purposes. Hunting via heat, the bots figured out humans are easier to spot after the sun goes down — less confusion about what’s a living creature versus a hot sidewalk. Now Anna is caught. It’s just a matter of time.

Strangely, she doesn’t feel anything but a numb bitterness. Hours of practice, years of going everyday to Madame Robard’s, the recitals. Even fucking learning French. All for nothing.

The moldy plywood slips down soundlessly behind her back — as useless as it ever was. “Merde,” she whispers.

The bots have found her. A handful come barreling down the open shaft of the building. No bigger than mosquitoes, though they are louder. They go for her feet. Her injury from the audition. Even now, she thinks, they heal first.  The bots were unable to fully escape their original programming.

Anna kicks, sending a couple loose. The kick feels good. She performs a half-assed jete. The bots on her shoes clear off. Don’t like sudden movement, huh

She feels the weight of her body. Her center of gravity feels low because she’s so scared. The bots are coming back and, overhead, she hears more. Her breath comes in hard bursts, and each inhalation feels like a needle. Her trembling arms move into second position. Her feet follow suit — the opening position of her audition performance. She counts off eight — the clickclickclick is louder; they’re dropping down like rain. She moves.

The opening tempe-leve is fast, faster than Anna has ever practiced. She moves through her choreography quickly; the clickclickclick adding to her nervous energy. The bots keep their distance, like they think a stray swipe of her hand might be mortal. Anna comes to the end of her choreography and begins to improvise. She can’t bear the thought of being still now that she’s in motion — another law of physics. She can’t keep the allegro pace, however.

She slows but the bots don’t move any closer.

The clickclickclick shifts pace too, as if the bots sense the change in her movement and are imitating her with their sounds. But she must be imagining that? Anna arches into an arabasque. She looks up. The room is filled with the hovering swarm of bots. They arc around, creating an upside-down bowl of air over her. The only light is from their flashes, which fill the space like tiny spotlights.

Then the clicks begin to sound more random — almost like applause. A small pulse moves through them, which terrifies Anna. She falls out of the arabasque and spins into another series of movements.

It’s not her imagination. The clickclickclick becomes more regular, matching her motion, giving her a beat. She wonders what it means when machines pause to admire beauty. And Anna dances.     

*This is my response to Chuck Wendig’s 1000 word story prompt over at Terribleminds 
**The prompts came from a random title generator that you guys should totally check out: Title Generator

The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence Review!

For those of you in the Colorado Springs area (or those of you who might just be passing by…) here’s a review of  the play I’m currently involved with as co-producer.

Special thanks to Bill Wheeler, who hosts a great theater blog that you should check out in general!

Here’s snapshot of What It’s All About: 
A finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and winner of the 2014 John Gassner award, Madeleine George’s The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence brings Watson, our favorite sidekick, to the forefront as he struggles to become the protagonist of his own story. Moving through time, The Watson Intelligence explores Watson through several different incarnations. We meet the classical Dr. John Watson of Sherlock Holmes fame, the tireless engineering assistant Thomas A. Watson of Alexander Graham Bell, the contemporary Joshua Watson of the ‘Dweeb Team’, and WATSON, IBM’s super computer that became Jeopardy! champ. These four Watson iterations merge, rising to face the mystery, romance, intimacy, and technology of a new world – revealing that real heroes are often unsung.

If you’re interested in coming and checking it out, we’ve already finished our first weekend, but here’s the stuff you need for everything coming up! (Also, here’s the Springs Ensemble Theatre’s website.)

THE [CURIOUS CASE OF THE] WATSON INTELLIGENCE will be performed at Springs Ensemble Theatre, located at 1903 E. Cache La Poudre Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80909. The play runs Jan 21 – Feb 7, (Jan 21-23, Jan 28-31, & Feb 4-7). Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m., Sunday performances are at 4:00 p.m. Seating is limited, so reservations are recommended. Tickets are $15, with group rates available. $10 student rush tickets are available for every performance (valid ID is required, rush tickets are only available at the box office 5 minutes before the performance).

Change the Geography!!!!

This is less of an exploration of Tana French’s work, than a post giving permission to do what she does: change the geography of a real place if it suits your story and don’t apologize for it.

All of French’s novels take place in Dublin, but if you tried to follow her street directions (kinda like people do for James Joyce’s Ulysses on Bloomsbury Day) you will get hopelessly lost. Because the places don’t exist.

What does making up geography do for you as a writer.

One word: FREEDOM.

You can do what you want, when you want, and you don’t have to reference maps or your own memory, if your setting happens to be a place you know and love. It saves you endless back-and-forth checking. It allows you to put obstacles in the character’s way. It allows you to make the setting your own.

So, if you’ve been stuck in a real city or other location and have rearranged whole plot points because of the plain-old existence of  certain things in your real-life setting, feel free to move some stuff around. Add a mile or two. Create a detour. Imagine a short-cut. Or extend a highway. If you do it in a convincingly descriptive way, no one will bat an eyelash.

And you can just add a note, like French does at the end of Faithful Place:

“Faithful Place did exist once, but it was on the other side of the River Liffey — northside, in the warren of streets that made up the red-light district of Monto, rather than southside in the Liberties — and it was gone long before the events of this book. Every corner of the Liberties is layered with centuries of its own history, and I didn’t want to belittle any of that by pushing an actual street’s stories and inhabitants aside to make way for my fictional story and characters. So, instead, I’ve played fast and loose with Dublin geography: resurrected Faithful Place, moved it across the river, and added this book into the decades when the street doesn’t have a history of its own to be pushed aside.
As always, any inaccuracies, deliberate or otherwise, are mine.”