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“It's a question of whether you want emotional depth and an immersion into the storyspace or whether you want to build the tension and heighten interest by leaving the character hanging,” whispered Fen.
“She's only throwing a mug, what difference does it make?” whispered Ali in reply, demonstrating the action with her own mug.
“Why the mug anyway?” asked Fen, looking around the corner of a chair.
“It's my THAD.”
“Your what now?” whispered Fen, looking amused and ducking her head back down behind the chair.
“THAD. Talking Head Avoidance Device. The thing you put into the scene to avoid two characters just standing there talking to each other, like exploding snap or something,” Ali waved her tea mug around as she explained.
“Oh, sounds like an excuse to be anti-social to David Byrne,” whispered Fen
“Should we really be discussing this right now?”
Their problems had begun around twenty minutes earlier when the Cantina doors had opened and a man announcing himself as Ernest Scribbler had arrived to make their lives a living hell. Standing at the top of the Grand Staircase Ernest had explained to anyone listening,
“Here in the Cabaret, I know you appreciate fine comedy. I've been working on these classic jokes since I was a teenager and so far no one has laughed. Ladies and Gentleman, I am going to stay here and perform my routine for you non-stop until I get that laugh.” Ernest had then launched himself into a series of rejects from 'World's Worst Joke' books and no one had thought he was funny. He looked liked the living embodiment of beige, but he was desperate and therefore dangerous.
To begin with no one had taken him seriously. A little light heckling had been ignored and a couple of thrown Smibbles had been ripped to shreds with some rather deft moves from an innocent looking walking stick Ernest had been carrying. Eventually unable to take the dreadful punch-lines Bos had made a rush for the stairs, tripped on the remains of a Smibble and crashed to the floor at Ernest's feet where Ernest had stabbed Bos in the calf and then kicked him off the top step, to roll back down the staircase again. Unable to help him, the remaining cantinas had waited several anxious minutes for Bos to come around and then stop the bleeding with a makeshift tourniquet.
Ali looked out from between the the two arm-chairs. At the top of the grand staircase Ernest was still prattling away at his jokes. Kricket was quietly sobbing into the sleeve of her sweater and Hillz was cursing under her breath. Her shovel was stacked away in the umbrella stand with most of the other hand to hand weaponry the cantinas carried. Ali and Fen were crouching behind two squashy armchairs at the back of the cantina.
“Is there really no way out? “ Ali asked. Fen looked down at the map and shook her head.
“It's pointless. He's standing in front of all the doors and the teleporter. We know that the receptionist's knocked out cold so we'll get no help there. We can't make a break for the fireplace as we have to cover open ground and we know that he's got a slingshot. I just hope Cobra's alright.” Fen peered through the gap between the two chairs. At the top of the staircase it was just possible to make out Cobra's boots, visible in the dim light. “He was trussed up like a turkey with that bandoleer tie of his once the guy shot him down.”
“You told him, that buying that tie was a shell game, “ said Ali, tapping her pen against the writing pad. “I'm going to give this scene another go,” she said, “it's got to work somehow.”
“How can you write at a time like this?” whispered Fen.
“I'm a writer. What else can I do?” whispered Ali, turning over a page. Fen returned to peering through the gap between the chairs, taking a roll-call of the cantinas that were left. Most of them appeared to be catatonic or in a state of terror from the endless series of appalling punch-lines. Having accounted for as many writers as she could Fen returned to helping Ali straighten out the one paragraph that was left to edit before her competition entry was ready. Heads down and whispering ideas they began to sort out the point of view problem that had kept the writing from being it's usual masterpiece. After a few minutes they heard a cough.
“Ahem. Excuse me. I just couldn't help noticing that you're not cowering in fear.” It was Ernest. He'd walked over unnoticed while they were writing.
“Sorry. No. I've got a competition entry to write,” explained Ali, pointing at the writing pad. “3000 words by Wednesday. We just need to sort out this point of view question in the third paragraph.”
“What's the problem?” asked Ernest. Ali and Fen explained about the protagonist needing to throw a tea mug and that they hadn't worked out where the narrator needed to be to explain the scene. Ali demonstrated with her own mug.
“If I'm in my own head, how do I feel about throwing my own mug?” she asked, looking at the mug in a forlorn hope it would provide the answer. Ernest took the mug from her,
“The way I see it, you've got to speak with intensity as you throw the mug,” he said, “or you've got to say that she threw it with force,” he pitched his arm forward and the mug flew across the room shattering on the fireplace wall,
“Hey! That was my favourite tea mug. Now I'm pretty damn annoyed.”
“Oh sorry. Well look let me show you with this.” Ernest picked a nearby plant pot and drew back his arm. Fen rushed forward,
“No. Not my Prickly Pear, plants are good for the planet and you could hurt someone.” She wrestled it from Ernest's grip. Ernest snarled and reached for his slingshot. It was instinct. Fen slammed the plant straight into the nearest part of Ernest she could reach. He collapsed groaning, onto the floor, curling up in agony.
Ali said “You know you probably shouldn't have hit him in the...”
“Balls!” replied Fen, “No one messes with my cactus – Wendy