The Dark Side Of The Glass
Concerning Rabbit Holes and All That
When Mary comes to, she is lying face down in the grass beside the road.
Her first conscious thought, beyond Ow ow ow, is How long have I been lying here? Followed closely by Ouch and Am I really so unimportant that nobody has helped me? and Ouch and Where am I? Followed again by Ouch as she tries to get her palms under her shoulders and push herself onto her knees.
Rain has pooled in her upturned left ear, and her toes are frozen.
Everything aches. Her head throbs. Her knees and palms burn. Her left arm and left leg are bleeding from jagged gashes right above the joints look way, way grosser than anything she’s ever seen people sporting after a visit to the Makeup or Effects trailers. There’s grit in the long cut of her arm, and when Mary flexes her fingers she can feel the sickening grind of grains of dust against her muscles. It feels disgusting, the way that frogs squashed by a little boy’s shoe is disgusting, with a sort of oozing pop.
The Craft Services van that hit her is nowhere to be seen. The studio is gone, too, even though she was pretty sure she hadn’t run that far. Something warm and salty stings her left eye.
She’s on a street she doesn’t recognize, at night, with streetlamps that only mostly work. They cast an amber glow over the glistening pavement, so perfectly moody that the scenery looks like something out of a cinematographer’s wet dream. There’s grass between the sidewalk and the road, and it’s wet with a storm which must have passed over Mary while she was unconscious, if her wet hair and the rain that was in her ear are anything to go by. The air smells of…nothing.
Nothing at all. For reasons Mary can’t fathom, it makes her heart beat faster, her shoulders ratchet up to her ears. It’s unnatural.
The street is barren. It’s a strangely harmonious mix of residential and store-fronts made out of the converted ground floors of houses, all dark and closed up for the night. There is, by some strange cosmic luck, or fate, or universal synergy, a phone booth less than a block away, on the corner. Mary hasn’t seen a phone booth in years, and she’s one of the few people who still uses them. She doesn’t own a cellular phone. She never wanted to be distracted at work. She hates it when her coworkers when tap away with their thumbs on their ridiculously tiny number pads instead of paying attention to who is going in and out of the studio gate, like they’re being paid to do.
It takes Mary a few minutes to get upright. She is reminded unpleasantly of a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti: weak and tottering, but too afraid of attracting the wrong attention to bleat for help.
Her head throbs again, and then a very stupid realization bubbles up to the surface of her muzzy brain. She is alone. Totally alone. There is no one on the street. There doesn’t even seem to be anyone in the houses. The whole place just feels empty. The Craft Services van driver, her boss, her co-workers have all just abandoned her, left her for dead on the side of the road. Nobody came after her. Nobody came out of a building. Nobody even stopped to make sure she was alive.
That says a lot more about how they think of her than horrible Mr. Geary’s horrible insults about her not-actually-horrible scripts. The ungrateful…jerky jerks! Mary thinks, clutching at the gash in her arm. She used to have respect for Mark Geary, show runner, creator of the characters she has enshrined in her heart, executive producer and gentleman in all the press. But not anymore. He is an asshole. The crew are all assholes. Even the stars are assholes.
Mary has given City By Night two goddamned years of her life. She just wants the show to love her back. Is that so very much to ask?
Apparently, it is.
Anger fuels her enough to get her over to the phone booth, helps her exchange pain for momentum. Clutching at the scarred metal frame of the door to stay upright, she stares in stupid incomprehension at the coin slot for a moment. Unthinkingly, she dips her left hand into her empty pocket, which is its own sort of special agony. She nearly cries when she discovers that she has no quarters. It takes her a few more fuzzy, swimming moments to realize she can probably make emergency calls for free. Hopeful, she fumbles up the handset and dials zero. The operator comes on, female and far too perky for Mary’s dark frame of mind, asking what Mary needs or where she would like to be connected.
“I need help,” Mary says into the receiver. She can practically hear the operator frowning, because, duh, why else would she be talking to one? “I was…I think I was hit by a car. A van. Whatever.”
“Holy sugar!” the operator says, all professionalism thrown out the window. Mary wonders if the operator calls her husband punkin. “Stay where you are, Ma’am. We’re tracing the call. An ambulance is on the way.”
Mary winces; she’s too young to be called “ma’am”, and it’s another dig at her self-esteem that she really does not need today. It’s pretty thoroughly dug already.
“Thanks,” Mary says, and lets the handset clatter out of her grip, relieved because it was pressing into the road burn on the heel of her hand. She slumps down the side of the phone booth to wait. She folds bruised elbows over her bruised knees and rests her head back against the Plexiglass and tries to stay awake. She’s read that you’re not supposed to go to sleep if you’ve hit your head, and she thinks getting smacked in the skull with a Craft Services van probably counts. The blunt object to end all blunt objects. The cord for the phone isn’t long enough to reach all the way down to her head, so she just lets it dangle, detachedly amused by the way the operator’s voice is squawking out at her. She’s pretty sure that she’s probably in shock. She’s also pretty sure that the fact she’s in shock isn’t supposed to be funny, but she realizes belatedly she’s giggling all the same.
Hysteria makes Mary drift for a while. She’s aware of closing her eyes, of replaying every time Crispin Okafor winked at her from the back seat of his car. The way she received the cast photo poster after the Season One wrap party, where Crispin had already signed it with what she assumed at the time was a personal message. She thinks about how much she threw herself into the show, and how she’s never seemed to notice or care that she has been bouncing off of brick walls.
It’s a sucky thought. She stops giggling and lets herself be sad for a little while.
She might have even cried. By then, her head is pounding and her whole body is like one, stiff, hot rip. She thinks maybe the wetness on her face is tears, but it could also be rain, or blood; it’s hard to keep track, especially when it feels so warm and her skin is getting so cold.
She wonders if she should be mad for a bit, to change things up, keep her life interesting until the ambulance arrives, but she isn’t sure whether she should be madder at the crew or herself for being so gullible, and she spirals her back down into depressing aching sadness again so she decides to stay there.
And somewhere in all of that, she thinks she sees Crispin Okafor. Crispin, the damnably beautiful lead actor who knows just the right way to smirk at a paparazzi camera, what angle he should hold his head and shoulders at, is sticking his face into the phone booth. He’s dressed in his costume: the black leather jacket that his alter-ego Leondre DuNoir favours (and whose style Mary has copied), in the signature red silk shirt that makes his smoky dark skin take on the depth of velvet, that familiar little fake look of honest concern.
“Miss?” he asks softly. “Miss, are you all right?”
“Fuck off, Crispin,” she says back. At least she thinks she says it. It might come out just as a slur; her mouth feels like it’s full of marbles and cotton now, and it’s getting harder and harder to do anything as simple as moisten her lips. Of course, Mary very rarely swears, so it could be that, too. She feels like this is an appropriate time to start, though.
“Miss, I think you’re pretty badly hurt.”
“Go away,” she says, miserably. “You’re the last person I want to see right now.”
He startles visibly, eyes becoming dramatic white spots on his shadowed face. Overdone, she thinks. You’re trying too hard to emote. Retake.
“You know me?” he asks.
“Seriously, I said go away.”
She’s not sure he would have gone if it wasn’t for the sudden approaching wail of the ambulance sirens. Before he can answer, the ambulance is screeching to a halt beside her, turning the interior of the phone booth red and blue by turns, painting the already pale skin of her arms with deathly tints: blood-red and dead-flesh-blue and back to skin-coloured before alternating again. Crispin is gone between flares, melting artistically into the darkness.
Mary’s head starts throbbing worse in the flashing light, and she is pretty sure she’s going to vomit any second, now. She wishes Crispin had hung around long enough so she could do it on his goddamned shoes.
Mary is a parking production assistant on City By Night when the television crew goes on location. She thinks her job is totally awesome because, according to Mary, City By Night is pretty much the best show that has ever been on the air. She gets up at four o’clock in the morning every day, and she doesn’t have weekends, but that’s okay, because she gets time off during hiatus. Before she leaves her apartment, she has a cup of coffee and a bowl of granola. She bundles up into her fleece vest and faux leather jacket, even in August, because the air blowing off Lake Ontario can be cold before the sun rises. (Well, that and because it makes her look like Leondre.) She touches the faces of the actors on the poster pinned to the back of her front door, smiling or snarling according to their characters, and runs her fingers over the slightly raised silver sharpie scrawl:
Mary, couldn’t do it without you!
Mary catches the streetcar, rumbling red pieces of crap that Toronto can’t seem to get to stop squealing, and goes down to the lakefront studio to pick up her daily stack of small orange traffic cones. She picks up the day’s map and takes city transit to the location, or uses up one of her monthly allotments of taxi chits if the transit isn’t convenient. By six thirty in the morning, she has the blocks all staked out—this much space for the actor’s trailers, a side street over there for Hair and Makeup and Effects, this space as a parking lot for everyone’s vehicles and drivers, over there for Craft Services, and of course the street on which they are going to be shooting. Sometimes, in the cold hush of pre-dawn, she walks down those streets and imagines that she is an extra in the shot, or perhaps a guest star explaining her supernatural mystery of the week to the hero.
Morning commuters complain. They wave their middle fingers at her when she explains patiently that the city has leased the property to the show for a few days, a week at most, and it’s not her fault that they didn’t inform their patrons ahead of time. “Besides,” she asks them, “won’t it be exciting to see your regular parking spot on TV?” The commuters don’t usually agree.
“City by Night?” They shout, “That show’s a piece of shit!” or “I’m so sick of this vampire crap!” or “City by Night? That stuff has been done to undeath! Har har har!”
The citizens of Toronto like the money the film industry brings in well enough; they just don’t like the inconvenience of the actual filming itself. But Mary thinks that her job is glamorous, even on—especially on—the days when it’s at its least glamorous. She protects the lot. She keeps out people desperate to park in the wide empty spaces, makes sure only the crew she knows by sight or with the correct paperwork can get in. And it is wonderful. The horrible burnt coffee from the Craft Services van is wonderful; the way she can’t feel her toes and fingers and the tip of her nose is wonderful; working long hours is wonderful. Better than wonderful.
It’s glamorous. It’s television. It has to be.
And Mary knows her job is important, though the production team never stops to tell her so; because they never stop to tell her so. They are too busy. It is her job, her very important job, which lets the creative people get on with their busy days, their own hectic art-making. If it wasn’t for her, they would waste hours and hours every single day just trying to find parking spaces, and then the show would never have get made and then the network would pull their funding and it would be cancelled. Worse than that, some school bus on a field trip might pull up and take the precious principle’s trailer parking spot, and nobody wants a zillion kids screaming around the set while the transport coordinator is trying to shout at the driver about permits. Mary’s job is vital.
Every day, at around eleven, the Craft Services van starts to make greasy burgers, crisp fries, and wilted salads; at around three, the director and camera chief arrive to survey what the lighting and rigging crew, set decorators, and construction crews had spent the day preparing. At about three thirty, the principles arrive. Crispin, teeth like pearls against his dark lips, always winks at her behind his equally dark glasses when he goes by. She’s certain of it.
After all, he signed her poster personally. He couldn’t do it without her.
Around the time when the sun starts to set, a different Production Assistant comes to relieve her, and Mary is done for the day. Mary doesn’t like the other PA—he’s a panderer. He waves and says hi and chats with the people already on the lot. It’s sickening to watch the way he tries to climb the ranks by bringing donuts, or coming in twenty minutes early to hang out with the incoming crew, instead of just buckling down and doing his job. When promotion time comes, Mary knows hard work wins over fake geniality any time.
Mary goes home, bumbling along on the streetcar with the rest of the exhausted, rudeish commuters. She’s thought about getting a cat. She’d like someone to say “hi” to when she comes home. But she is afraid that her long hours would be unfair to any animal, and so she got a ficus instead. She says “Hello, puss,” and pats its topmost leaves as she walks in the door, and only sometimes giggles at her own silliness. City By Night airs Thursdays at 8 p.m., so on those days she goes swimming in her building’s pool, and makes a nice dinner and opens a bottle of wine, and watches it. She only turns the TV off after she’s seen her name in the credits.
The first time the show aired its pilot episode, she was on the phone with her mother. They watched it together, the whole hour (forty-three minutes plus commercials); her mother screamed when she saw Mary’s name scroll by.
The other nights of the week, Mary goes online straight after coming home. She checks her email, scrolls through the LiveJournal and Facebook communities about the show, checks out what is trending on Twitter, and reads some City By Night fan fiction. She’s always been tempted to write some of her own, but she’s employed by the program so she’s never sure if writing fan fiction would count as a breach of contract.
Besides, Mary is saving all her story ideas for the production team.
Mary writes scripts. She knows how they’re supposed to look, she’s seen the real scripts before—at least, she’s seen the pages that deal with what she’s supposed to stake out.
Mary gives the production team one script a month. She always wraps it in a brown production envelope and slips it under the executive-producer-slash-showrunner’s office door when she picks up her cones. The first Monday of the month, every month; he might be worried if she didn’t, might think she was sick. They haven’t made any of her stories, yet, but there’s been a few lines, sprinkled in, here and there, she’s sure were hers first. She doesn’t demand royalties, though, because she is just grateful that they’d used what she’s written, just grateful she gets to work on a show that she loves so much, and has such a large and loyal and interesting fanbase.
Mary goes to the science fiction and fantasy media conventions. In Toronto, there’s nearly one a month, so she’s never starved for choice. She doesn’t get in line to get an autograph from the principles, though. That would be weird. She’s certain they’d recognize her. She thinks she probably wouldn’t have to pay, might even get her own nametag saying “guest” if she told the organizers who she was. But she likes the ability to walk around unrecognized, to be able to observe and overhear the fans.
At 9 o’clock, when the show is over, or she’s finished reading, or she’s back from the convention, Mary goes to bed and smiles in her sleep because she loves her job, she really, really does.
At least, she used to.
Mary is startled back to herself when she manages to get a good look at the city crest patch on the arm of the paramedic. She is in an ambulance, strapped to the gurney so she can’t roll around the interior of the box. The paramedic is beside her, threading an IV tube of some sort of something clearish – maybe saline solution or morphine or something, Mary can’t tell – onto the needle he just stuck into the back of her hand.
“Huh?” Mary says. She tries to strain her head up to get a better look at the patch, because she knows this crest, the stylized waxing moon, the made up skyline. She’s seen it before. Lots.
The other paramedic, the pretty woman who looks like every extra ever whom Mary has had to wave through the checkpoint, pushes her back down. “Lie still, hon,” she says, in this forced, stilted way. “We’re almost at the hospital.”
“What hospital?” Mary asks, feeling suddenly frantic. But frantic is exhausting, so she breathes out and concentrates real hard on not straining against the safety restraints on the gurney instead. “Where am I?”
The paramedics exchange a glance over her supine body. Mary can all but hear the tense music building in the background, the familiar saxophone flourish that indicates this week’s mystery has begun.
“Night City, hon,” the woman says. “Where else?”
Mary suddenly wishes she was a fainter. That she could gulp air prettily and flop backwards and the world would just go away for a little while. At least, for as long as it would take for all of this to start to make sense. That would make all of this so much easier to deal with. Instead she relaxes back onto the gurney and tries not to think too hard.
“Night City,” she repeats. “I’ve gone crazy. That’s it. I worked too hard. I’ve had a psychotic break. My mother was right. Oh, God.”
The paramedics say nothing. Maybe they’re not allowed to improvise. Maybe they can’t speak unless a character carrying the plot asks them a question. Maybe they can only react.
“This is a joke, right?” Mary asks. “This can’t really be real.”
“Why not?” the man asks.
“Because Night City is fiction. It’s Toronto, dressed up to look like New York.” Mary grimaces. “Only it comes across like Detroit because the budget doesn’t allow for getting permits on the nice streets!”
The paramedics exchange another glance.
“Lie still, hon,” the woman says. “We’re almost to the hospital.”
“You said your line already,” Mary snarks. Like swearing, Mary generally refrains from snark, but she can’t seem to control her mouth. Probably because of the shock—things that she normally holds onto tightly keep flying out of her, and she doesn’t know how to stop it. Worse, she’s afraid she might actually mean them.
Then everything gets fuzzy; somebody has turned on the morphine drip.
This is the script, she’s certain this is the script. They are going to make this one, for sure. They haven’t made any of the others, but this one is perfect! She re-read it one last time before she went to bed the night before; there are small spelling corrections made in Liquid Paper and neat, careful strokes of her black ball point pen. She’s even indicated which pages were rewrites, by printing them on canary, rose, or robin’s egg blue pages as fitting the number of versions they went through.
Mary walks to the door of the executive-producer-slash-showrunner’s office and stops. The light is on, spilling out from the cracks in the ill fitted jambs in buttery slices. He has never been in his office when she dropped the script off before. Mary hesitates.
Inside, she hears voices.
“Every first Monday,” one of them says, and she knows that voice. It’s him, the executive-producer-slash-showrunner, Mark Geary. “Just wait. Two years we’ve done this show, and she drops one off every first Monday, without fail.”
Mary’s chest swells with pride. He is waiting for her scripts, now. How fantastic! She doesn’t even wait to see how the other voice replies. She is elated, so buoyant that her hand seems to lift itself. She knocks.
In the office, someone says “shhhh!” and then Mark Geary opens the door.
“Hiya, Mister Geary,” she says. “Mark.” She holds up the brown envelope, grinning. “Right on time!”
“It sure is, Mary,” he says. He is grinning so hard, and his cheeks are so red that it looks like he’d been laughing a lot, recently. She wonders if it was because he thought of a really great joke for a script. That would be cool. He smells a little bit of scotch, but Mary ignores it. Mr. Geary would never be so unprofessional as to drink at work. That isn’t something that happens on her set.
She tries to peer around Mr. Geary, but he is filling up the whole of the door, keeping his body tight between the jamb and the knob. Mary realizes he is trying to hide whoever is in the office with him.
Maybe he wants to keep his mystery writer a secret from them! It is an exciting thought.
It makes Mary’s toes wriggle in her boots, and the skin along the back of her neck prickle.
Mary jiggles the envelope, because Mr. Geary hasn’t reached up to take it yet. She thought he’d be more impatient, thought he’d snatch it right out of her hands like a hungry wolf. He was just being polite. Yes, that’s what it is. Mr. Geary has always been very polite.
“Right, right,” Mr. Geary says. He wipes his palms on the thighs of his jeans and takes the envelope. “Thanks, Mary. Have a good morning.”
“You too, Mister Geary! Mark, I mean! I, uh, I’ll see you later. On set? Right?”
“Sure thing, Mary,” he says. He is grinning really hard again; maybe he has been really anticipating getting time to read her new script. He has rolled it up in his hands like a bludgeon.
“I won’t keep you away from it,” she says, making an abortive gesture towards the envelope. The motion feels funny and awkward, even to her, so she stops before it becomes too prominent.
He closes the door before she is all the way out in the hall, and it makes her happy. He must be really eager!
She starts to walk down the hall, aware of the voices hushed in anticipation. When she gets far enough away, she stops. She reaches down quietly, and takes off her boots and tiptoes back, crouching down beside the jamb to listen. Even Mary is not above some much needed ego stroking.
There is the crinkle of the envelope being opened, the delicious dry slide of paper on paper, and then a whispered murmur. “I’ll be damned,” Mr. Geary says. “I was right.”
“What?” asks another voice, and Mary is stunned to realize it is Crispin; Crispin Okafor, the lead actor, coming to work ten hours early just so he can read her scripts. Or maybe staying late. Mary has to press a fist into her mouth to keep from squealing with excitement.
“This title,” Mr. Geary says.
“Yes?” And that is the chief director’s voice. Director and actor and showrunner, all at once!
Yes? Mary thought.
“It’s even worse than the last one.”
Crispin guffaws. The Director whistles. Mary swallows hard.
“God, she just won’t stop,” says Mr. Geary. “We haven’t made one damned script, but she keeps writing them. We can’t even return them ’cause she never leaves a forwarding address, and she personally picks up all of her paycheques. Look at this; another dumb original character! As if we have the cash to hire another wannabe starlet! God, if she wasn’t so damned good at what we actually pay her to do, she’d have been fired an age ago.”
Mary swallows again, and it tastes sour.
“At least she has passion,” says Crispin, and he sounds…cynical. He doesn’t sound anything like the deep-voiced, honest, earnest man that he plays. Or the enthusiastic, grateful actor he is in interviews. “At least she’s not bored.”
“Oh, shut up,” says the director. “Whose fault is it that you signed the three year contract? Not mine.”
“I didn’t know the show was going to be so vapid,” Crispin snapped back. “What’s she got here? Maybe it won’t be half so dull as what I actually have to say.” There is the rustle of paper, a short silence. Mary can hear her heart pounding in her ears, and it is speeding up. “Nope, this dialogue is actually worse. Who’d have thought that was possible? Maybe you should hire her as a screenwriter—this would guarantee the series will tank. Why won’t they just cancel us already? This is hell.”
“Just stick it out for twenty more episodes,” Mr. Geary says. “Then we’ll have made enough money back on this genre garbage from all the douchey little goth kids.”
“And production insurance,” the director says, and his voice is gleeful.
Mary’s heart starts pounding so hard she has to press the heel of her palm against her chest to make sure it stays inside her skin.
Mr. Geary snorts. “You could actually mount that production on Broadway you’ve been moaning about.”
Crispin says, “I had an idea about the swordfight—” but Mary doesn’t hear the rest.
What she does hear is the distinctive sound of a thick sheaf of papers thunking into the bottom of a metal waste basket.
She stands up, forgetting that she has her boots in her hands, still. Her fingers are shaking too much to hold them, and they go crashing to the ground. Mary is horrified. Mary is mortified.
Mary loves City by Night. She loves the haunted, tortured Leondre DuNoir, the heartless villain Antonio, the innocent but spunky street kid Sherri. She loves the romance of eternity, the juxtaposition between the darkness of the vampire soul and the light Leondre so yearns for. She loves the way Leondre throws himself into each mystery, the way he feels he owes the world his goodness because so much bad has been done to him. She loves all of the little mysteries and all of the flashbacks. She loves the rich historical costumes. She loves her job, and she loves everything about the show, and she hates that everybody who makes it doesn’t.
They are mean for teasing her. Mean for not taking her seriously. Mean for leading her on. Mean for not making her scripts when she knows, she knows they’re exactly what the show needs to revive it, she knows her scripts are exactly what the fans want because she’s read their stories and admired their art, because she’s actually talked to them at the conventions. She knows because she is a fan, too. And that, it seems, is more than they can say for themselves.
She thinks that it is not fair.
Her heart breaks to hear that Crispin and Mr. Geary don’t care about their fans at all. That they hate them.
It is not fair that people who dislike the show are responsible for making it. It is not fair that they thought it up and still hate it. It is not fair that they don’t appreciate their fans the way Mary does!
So Mary runs.
She doesn’t pick up her traffic cones at the little office. She doesn’t even bother to pick up her boots. She just runs. She thinks she hears the door to Mr. Geary’s office open, thinks she hears Crispin call her name, “Mary!” but she doesn’t stop to check.
She just wants to get away.
She runs. She knows that her face is hot and the tips of her ears are burning and there is something searing and golf-ball sized pressed against the back of her larynx, against the backs of both of her eyes. She runs. She knows that her hands are shaking, even as she pumps them in fists by her sides.
She runs. Away from the lot, away from the show, away from the embarrassment. She doesn’t know where she is running to with no shoes, only that it is down the hall, out the door. She runs into the parking lot in her sock feet on a cold, wet March morning, onto the sidewalk and partway across the road.
She doesn’t see the Craft Services van coming around the corner. She knows that it often turns illegally on the red light. She knows the driver’s habits. She smells the grease, familiar as her own shampoo.
But she doesn’t see the van.
Not even when it is too late.
Don’t know what a Mary Sue (Meta Sue) is? Read about it here.
Response to some frequently asked questions:
Yes, this novella is a little bit of satire and a little bit of parody. It is meant to satirize and parody the very popular vampire-detective genre, the Toronto filmmaking scene, and fandom. It is meant to do so lovingly, and from a place of great admiration for the fan community, fan fiction, Mary Sues, and cosplay.
It is also a bit of having a laugh with myself. “Fanthropology” sounds so serious! It’s much more fun to write a story that makes the same points than an essay. (Though for those who inquire, my MA Thesis on Mary/Meta Sues is available to the public).
Definition of parody is available here.
*The Dark Side Of The Glass