I’m super pleased to announce that my satire novella THE DARK SIDE OF THE GLASS is returning to print as CITY BY NIGHT, published by Short Fuse. The Cover Reveal is on its way, but in the meantime, how would you like to read the first three chapters for free? They will be released one at a time on Wattpad this week, leading up to the October 6th publication date. And if you’ll be at Con-Volution on October 7th, join us for the release party!
This is a story about Mary, number one fan of the hottest cult vampire detective TV show, City by Night…until it becomes all too real.
An accident with the Craft Services truck sends her hurtling into the world of the show, and Mary is thrilled–who wouldn’t want to live alongside their favorite TV characters? Unfortunately, living in TV-land isn’t all that Mary thought it would be. The charm fades when Mary realizes that the extras still don’t speak, the matte paintings don’t become real, and all the infuriating flaws in the writing are just amplified when you have to try to interact with the shallow characters. And then, of course, the lead character Richmond DuNoir falls for her!
Sure, fine, he’s hot…but he’s also a bit, well, poorly written. And his admiration comes with its own set of problems: Antonio, Richmond’s psychotic stalker, has a habit of killing off the girls-of-the-week. Not only is Mary disillusioned with what she thought was a lush world until she had to try to maneuver in it, now she’s about to be murdered by one of the stupidest clichés in the history of television in a world that, pardon the pun, totally sucks.
A loving satire of the Toronto film industry, vampire-cop television, and what it really means to be a “fan” from award-winning science fiction author J.M. Frey.
Chapter One : 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 hands under her shoulders and push herself onto her knees.
Rain has pooled in her upturned left ear. Her toes are frozen. Everything aches. Her head throbs. Her knees and her palms burn. Her left arm and left leg are bleeding, both from jagged gashes right above the joint that look way, way grosser than anything she’s ever seen people sporting after a visit to the Effects Makeup trailer. There’s grit in the long cut, 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 that 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 it looks like something out of a cinematographer’s wet dream. There’s grass between the sidewalk and the road, and it’s wet from a storm that must have passed over her while she was unconscious, if her wet hair and ear are anything to go by. The air smells of…nothing.
Nothing at all. For reasons Mary can’t fathom—reasons which make her heart beat faster, her shoulders ratchet up to her ears—this unnerves her. It’s unnatural.
There’s no one on the barren street. It’s a strangely harmonious mix of residential and storefronts 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, but she doesn’t own a cellular phone herself because she never wanted to be distracted at work. She hates her coworkers when they tap away with their thumbs, 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 the cliché about the 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.
There is no one on the street. There doesn’t even seem to be anyone in the houses. The Craft Services van driver, her boss, and her co-workers have all just abandoned her, left her for dead on the side of the road. Clearly, nobody came after her. Nobody even stopped to make sure she was alive, as far as she can tell.
That says a lot more about how they think of her than Mr. Geary’s horrible insults about her scripts. The ungrateful…jerky jerks! Mary thinks, clutching at the gash on her arm.
She has given City By Night two goddamned years of her life. She just wants the show to love her in return. 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 second. Her left hand dips unconsciously into her empty pocket, which is its own sort of special agony. She nearly cries when she realizes 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—female and far too perky for Mary’s dark frame of mind—comes on and asks what she needs or where she would like to be connected. “I need help,” Mary says into the handset. 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 and an ambulance is on the way.”
Mary winces; she’s too young to be called “ma’am” just yet, and it’s another dig at her self-esteem that she really does not need today. It’s pretty thoroughly dug already.
“Thanks,” she says, and lets the handset clatter out of her grip, relieved because it was pressing into her road burn. She slumps down the side of the phone booth to wait. She folds bruised elbows over bruised knees and rests her head back against the Plexiglass and tries to stay awake. She 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 counts. The cord for the phone handset isn’t long enough to reach all the way down to her ear, 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 that she’s in shock isn’t supposed to be funny, but she realizes belatedly that 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, already signed 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, but 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 the liquid feels so warm, and her skin is getting so cold.
She wonders if she should be mad for a bit, just 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. That 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; that black leather jacket that Richmond DuNoir favors (whose style Mary has copied), in the signature red silk shirt that makes his smoky dark skin take on the depth of velvet, that 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 full of marbles and cotton now, and it’s getting harder and harder to do anything as simple as moistening 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, dark 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.”
He looks like he wants to argue with her, but cuts himself off, halted by the sudden approaching wail of sirens. The ambulance screeches to a halt beside her, washing 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-colored 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.