Shut! The novelization, Day 5

It was late, and the couple was growing tired. Emily yawned. Then Melvin did too. “Look what you made me do,” Melvin joked. “Maybe it’s time for bed.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” Emily replied. She pulled her legs up onto the couch and rested her head in Melvin’s lap. “Lucky I don’t have to work tomorrow.”

After a few minutes of appreciated silence, Melvin gently lifted Emily off his lap. He stood up and stretched out his arms. ” I’m going to bed. You can stay there, join me, or whatever.”

Melvin crawled into bed, and Emily crawled in next to him. They pulled the covers over each other and quickly fell asleep. Later on, each of them would look back fondly on this night. The quietude and intimacy made it special. For once, Emily was affectionate, and Melvin was less anxious and more forthcoming. It wasn’t easy for either of them to express feelings in a way that wasn’t stilted.

This may come as a surprise considering Melvin’s penchant for chattering away about everything he was thinking. But that’s just the thing: it’s what he was thinking, and not what he was feeling. Of course reader, as a scientist of sorts, you’re well aware the center of emotion isn’t the heart, but the brain, thus the disconnect seems odd. But that’s the funny thing about emotion. It’s this sort of metadata that informs our approach toward a thought- like instructions to cook scrambled eggs instead of making them over easy.

I would contend there are two root emotions, fear and safety. Safety focuses on things which are beneficial or at least not potentially harmful. Fear covers anything that might be a threat to survival. Fear leads to sadness, anger, and other so-called negative emotions. It represents anything that threatens our life, including a sense of hopelessness. Melvin, being a very anxious sort, felt many negative emotions. For him, life was a very dangerous thing filled with constant threats like disease, war, famine. Emily was also very anxious, but instead of verbally processing everything, she intuitively chose to pull in, hide from threats.

Sometimes, Emily would perceive this dichotomy and think Melvin was very brave. But then she realized that actually, she was more perceptive, focused, and able to make decisions. It’s like she wasn’t retreating, but moving back, creating space to form a new vantage point. Melvin may have been a sort of brave, but Emily was a kind of creative. Realizing this, Emily was struck by how her vision of the world was directly tied to her neuroticism. That’s why, unlike Melvin, she justified her fear in talking to somebody to modify her anxiety through therapy or medication. What if that destroyed her creativity or intelligence? No, Emily couldn’t risk the thing she liked about hers of just to feel a little more like everybody else. Sometimes it was better to be unique, to be an outsider. At moments like that, Emily had mixed feelings. She’d always feel apart, but she could come to terms with it and maybe even love it. Was that the secret to survival? To happiness, even?

Shut! The novelization, Day 4

When Melvin and Emily got back to his apartment, he popped the bottle open while she got glasses. She poured since her hands were steadier. They sat on the couch and drank. She nuzzled up against him. He was never sure what to do with a nuzzled person.

Snuggling was just a little out of Melvin’s grasp. The first time he ever attempted to snuggle up with somebody, he haphazardly threw his arm around her shoulders. She pushed in to him, leaving his hand awkwardly hanging out a few inches from her arm. He tried to press his hand against the girl’s arm, but it was just a little too far, and his wrist bent uncomfortably while his fingers sort of stretched and dangled there. Teenage Melvin imagined this sophisticated girl secretly scoffing at his childish attempts at adult affection.

Teenage Melvin would have been envious of his adult self. Emily and Melvin fit the way a sock fits a foot. As Emily snuggled her head against him, Melvin wrapped his arms around her. This made drinking difficult for Emily. She’d try to take a sip and they’d both laugh. Sometimes, when this would happen, Emily would wiggle her arms helplessly and make dinosaur noises. It was sort of adorable. Melvin would laugh, and that made Emily feel good inside, like she was funny and charming instead of awkward and accident-prone. To remedy the drinking problem, m login would take Emily’s glass and tip it for her. She’d take little gulping sips and nudge the glass upward. Then, just for a laugh, Melvin would push his chin up against the rim and make a sort of gulping fish face. Emily would giggle,came the nauseatingly cute spectacle would restart itself a few times before Melvin would get tired, or Emily wouldn’t be thirsty and then they’d move on to talking.

“How are you liking the new apartment,” Emily asked.

“Oh, it’s fine,” Melvin replied.

What’s wrong?”

“Oh, well. Since you asked, I guess…well. It’s this uh, this door, you see. There’s just something about it.”

“What door?” Emily asked.

“That uh, that one over there,” Melvin replied, gesturing to the door.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“I uh, I don’t know.”

“How could you not know?”

“There’s just something about it,” Melvin replied. “I don’t know if it’s the handle or the door itself, or what, but I feel like it’s just got some kind of terrible secret, you know, like it’s one of those doors that eats people because it’s actually an ancient demon that thanks to millions of years in evolution, has come to look like a door in an apartment. Of course, there’s a country variant that looks more like a barn door, but it still…it waits for its prey, which would be people. And it waits for them to get curious. Maybe they’re looking for a place to store their umbrella. Oh could you imagine that? You just want s place to put your umbrella, and suddenly you’re in a pool of this demonic door’s stomach acid along with bits of dust bunnies and old shoes, and maybe a sweater or two, and it’s just horrible.”

“That’s quite story,” Emily replied. But it’s probably just a door.”

“Probably just a door? That’s the same thing it’s breakfast said,” Melvin replied.

At times like this, Melvin would get especially anxious. He had a particular nervous tick where he’d push the bridge of his glasses back up his nose and make a little bit of a sniffling sound, as though that could somehow keep the glasses in place.

“Well, maybe lets just forget about it for now,” Emily said. She could tell it already killed the mood. “Let’s drink more. How about I open the other two bottles and we just drink from them?”

Melvin shrugged. His mind was focused on the closet and all the stress it was causing him.

Emily took a swig. “Let’s play a game,” she suggested. “I’ll name a word, and you say the first thing that pops to mind. If you don’t answer immediately, you take a swig and the other person names a new word.”

Melvin laughed. “What? What kind of a game is that?”

“I don’t know. I just made it up. Wanna try it?”

“Sure”

“Okay, moon.”

“Dune.”

“Spoon.”

“Uh…”

“Now you have to drink!” Emily cried. Melvin took a big swig. “Okay, trip.”

“Flip.”

“Tip.”

“Rip.”

“Zip.”

“Clip.”

“Nip.”

“Sip.”

“Dip.”

“Blip.”

“Uh…” Emily was stumped. She took a big swig and giggled. Melvin laughed with her. His mood was improving, and they were both having some fun.

Shut! The novelization, Day 3

Melvin awoke on the floor. He looked up at the mysterious, menacing door. He got up, looked closely at the plain, round brass knob, then walked to the kitchen.

Melvin needed a drink of water, but there weren’t any cups yet. He cupped his hands under the sink and gulped down handfuls of water. Somehow feeling a bit wild. He imagined life as an ancient cave-dweller, clad in furs and rudimentary fabrics. Melvin turned off the sink, wiped his hands on his pants, and dug through his pocket. He pulled out his phone and sent a sweet text to Emily, then shoved the phone back in his pocket.

Why did thoughts of a simpler, rougher existence always prompt a need for connection and messy emotions? Melvin wondered if this is how drunk-texters felt as they sent garbled, emotionally raw messages to the ones they used to love.

Melvin checked the time. Movers would be here soon. He started writing out little sticky notes with the names of furniture or numbers of boxes. Melvin had numbered all his boxes so the movers could simply drop them in an assigned place. Melvin thought this was a clever idea. He fully expected praise from the movers. “Nobody’s ever thought of that. You’re a genius. A true logistician,” Melvin imagined the movers saying.

Instead, the movers arrived, begrudgingly dropped the boxes in their assigned spots, and left in a silent huff. They were tired of neurotic do-gooders like Melvin. Each mover longed for the day when they could simply pile things in a corner with no rhyme, reason, or irritating attempt at a system to slow them down and make them work harder. It’s not that the movers were lazy, it’s just they dreamed of a simpler life where people wouldn’t try to hassle each other through pointless exercises or red tape.

Melvin never realized the rich inner life of the movers as they silently went about their business. He only saw brutes. Melvin liked to imagine the movers were high school football stars who barely passed their classes and worked as movers because it was the only job that accommodated their brutal strength and incapacity for higher thought. It would come as a complete surprise to Melvin that two of them had been published by old-school book houses, and another had written dry academic articles on political philosophy and the inherent dangers of neoliberalism. One had even been accepted to a PhD program in astrophysics, but needed a more immediate source of income to pay for his ailing mother’s medical expenses. These were thoughtful people, to be sure, and demonstrated Melvin’s inability to see beyond surface-level observations.

Melvin’s analyst had commented on this numerous times. “If you can channel that neuroticism,” he’d say, “you could free your mind to do incredible things.”

The analyst was right. If Melvin spent half the brain power on writing that he would normally spend fretting about his girlfriend, then He could have written several screenplays by now. Of course, this is information from an all-knowing narrator. Neither Melvin nor his analyst knew exactly how much potential was being wasted.

After the movers finished their procession, Melvin began unboxing and arranging everything. He fretted about where to put things, despite his clever little system which he realized hadn’t quite factored in usability. It was a beautiful arrangement, but it wasn’t practical.

Melvin pulled out his phone and shot off another text to Emily, asking if she’d like to help him arrange things. “It could use your insight,” he’d say, stroking her ego.

Emily read the text and headed toward the apartment. She relished the idea of being together with him. At the same time, something was bothering her. Did Melvin only think of her as a tool? A servant whose practical ideas he needed, or was this a vain attempt to get into her pants.

When Emily arrived, she realized it was neither. Melvin paced in the corner, mired in indecision. Emily silently began unboxing things and placing them in piles. From there, she began placing things where they ought to be.

Upon inspection, one couldn’t imagine each thing belonging in any other place. Emily was brilliant. Her intuitive ability to arrange a room caused Melvin to secretly well up with emotions. He was so thankful, so moved, so impressed. Melvin couldn’t imagine anyone at any time mattering more to him than Emily. He wished he could express these feelings, but every time he tried, Melvin stuttered and stammered, unable to get more than a couple words out.

Finally, Emily arranged Melvin’s books, let out a sigh, and collapsed into a couch. “I’m exhausted,” she proclaimed.

“You’re a life-saver,” Melvin chimed in. Emily blushed, though, one couldn’t tell through the physical signs of exhaustion. “I’ll buy you dinner,” Melvin proclaimed.

“Good idea,” Emily replied.

“What are you hungry for,” Melvin asked.

“How about some comfort food. You know, cheesy, greasy, starchy.”

“Hmm…” Melvin replied, scratching his chin. His mind wandered across a map of the city, landing on each restaurant he knew, searching for that thing Emily wanted. Finally, he looked up at Emily and said, “I know the perfect place. They have a good Mac and cheese.”

“Excellent,” Emily replied, as she slowly peeled herself off the couch.

The haphazard couple left the apartment and walked to a nearby restaurant. It wasn’t quite a bistro, and it wasn’t exactly a bar. The menu was short and simple, and the cocktails were strong and old-fashioned. They each ordered a Mac and cheese. Neither of them ordered drinks. Melvin thought maybe they’d get something later. Emily felt dehydrated and wanted to stick with water. The day’s work left her drained.

“How about we stop by the liquor store, then head back to my place,” Melvin suggested.

Emily nodded. “Let’s get one of those fancy beers that come in the wine bottles.”

“I like your thinking,” Melvin said. He reached for Emily’s hand. Sometimes, it was obvious they were a couple.

The nearest liquor store was odd, to say the least. It had a funny smell, like something you want to keep sniffing, but for the wrong reasons. The lights were yellowed, and the signs faded. Crates of wine, beer, and spirits were piled haphazardly. In the back, in a small cooler, there was a strange selection of beers, PBR, a few tallboys of microbrews, and finally, the bottles they were looking for. Melvin grabbed two, not paying much attention to what they were. Emily didn’t seem phased. At the counter, an old man looked up at them. He punched a few keys, and the register rang. “Seventeen, fifty,” the man said. Melvin dug a twenty out of his pocket and dropped it on the counter. The old man rubbed the bill between his fingers before placing it in the till and getting Melvin his change. “Have a good one,” the man growled. Melvin and Emily hurried home, looking forward to intoxication.

Shut! The novelization, Day 2

Melvin’s heart started racing. His plans were sweaty. Something about this door handle didn’t seem right to him. He’d definitely have to bring this up with his analyst. And he’d have to talk to that odd super, and maybe the realtor he talked to. Did they manage the company, or did they own it? Maybe there was an owner he could talk to. Or maybe he should go to the library and do some research, dig through old newspapers and archives to see if he could find anything about this door or what might be lurking in the other side.

Melvin sat down on the floor, pulled out a pen and his writing notebook and started scribbling down ideas- about the door, what might be behind it, lists of possible search terms and categorizations, questions. Who was liable if something happened? Was it covered by insurance? What if there’s a clause in the lease about mysterious doorways? That seemed improbable, but at this point, Melvin was long gone.

As Melvin jotted frantically, a knock came from the front door. Melvin didn’t respond. Though, somewhere, in the back of his mind, he noticed. Actually, he noticed and thought about it and decided that maybe if he ignored it, then whomever was out there would go away or somehow be impressed by the pace of his work.

Of course, it turned out to be Emily, his uh… Well, you get the picture, dear reader.

Emily pushed the door open. “Melvy?” She called into the empty apartment.

“Oh, Em… Is that you? Wait, did I forget something? Did we have plans?” Melvin replied.

“Nope. Just thought I’d drop by. You know. See what’s happening. Can I help?”

“Uh… I… No. That’s alright. I think today I’m just going to arrange a few things. I’ve hired some movers to help with the big stuff tomorrow.”

“That seems sensible,” Emily replied. She looked down at her shoes as she shuffled back and forth a bit, hoping this meant Melvin had time to go out for dinner, or drinks or something.

There was an awkward lull in the conversation.

“Okay, well, I’ll just get going then, I guess,” Emily said, moving slowly back to the door.

“Good night, Em. Thanks for stopping by,” Melvin replied.

Emily stepped out the door and let out a big sigh. She wandered down the hallway and out the building into the warm summer air.

She reached into her pocket and checked her phone, hoping that maybe, and it seemed s bit crazy to her, that Melvin would text her, suggesting they try that new sushi place that opened up, or go for a walk through the park. Instead, she made her way home, struggling to figure out what she’d do for the rest of the night. Maybe she’d take up writing too, or watch a movie, or just go to bed early. The last one seemed ideal. Though it didn’t exactly put a spring in her step, early bedtime gave her a sense of direction.

Meanwhile, Melvin continued mulling over the mysterious door. He pulled open his phone and did a search about mysterious doors, dangerous doors, doors that were beautiful, inspiring, or led to good things. Though, Melvin had a feeling that nothing good could come from this ordinary door. This drab door which was the poster child for bland things like the color palate of Arizona, or English cooking, or episodic crime dramas on TV. Melvin started listing all the bland things he disliked, the color tan, polo shirts, economy-sized sedans, chain corner stores, airport bookstores, the list went on for pages.

If Melvin had been writing for a constructive reason, say, to exercise his creative muscles in preparation for a big new script, then his techniques like list writing would have been a veritable gold mine of source material and turns of phrase. The scripts he could write from this rambling mass of words could have been incredible. Instead, these pages would eventually be destroyed in an unspectacular fashion for no other reason than to dispose them. It wouldn’t even be Melvin’s doing. But, I simultaneously digress and get ahead of myself, reader.

Where was I? Oh yes. So, Melvin burned the midnight oil, writing and pacing across his new apartment. The downstairs neighbors hoped it was only the sound of moving. They’d later learn this was what Melvin normally sounded like, and it would drive them just a little crazy. They’d be eating breakfast or having sex, or watching TV, and somehow, the rhythmic pacing of Melvin would ruin each moment for them, but only enough to take away the color and excitement, never enough to motivate them to get off their asses and do something about it. No, Melvin’s neighbors never quite realized the sudden depression they felt was easily curable. They could never quite out their finger on it, frustrating them and their analysts and psychiatrists. “How can we help you if you can’t be more specific,” they’d cry.

Anyway, Melvin kept pacing and writing until finally, he got too tired. Melvin looked around and realized that he should have moved the bed. It seemed wierd to go back to the old place. Maybe he’d just curl up in the floor and use a sweater as a pillow. Or maybe he’d call Emily and stay over with her. He pulled out his phone, scrolled through his contacts, and hovered over her name. He almost pressed it, but he wondered, would she let him stay over? How could he make his intentions clear? He only needed a place to sleep. What if she offered him the couch? What about the bed? Or what if she wanted to snuggle? Melvin’s palms grew sweaty. He shoved the phone back in his pocket and resumed pacing.

Eventually, Melvin sat down on the floor, hoping that would be enough rest to get him by just a bit longer. It was almost daytime, and soon, his bed would arrive. As Melvin sat there, he noticed the weight of his eyelids as they slowly made their way downward, finally, Melvin fell asleep, leaning against a wall. Precedent seemed set, and somehow, the universe would find a way to never let him sleep there peacefully.

Melvin’s dream life was active. He dreamt that the city had been miniaturized. Major landmarks stood tall, while everything else was pushed into the ground, flattened into the background and thus, forgotten. Melvin and Emily were playing some sort of game, like Monopoly, where they’d work to buy significant places from each other in some kind of bid for control. But, instead, they just tried to skirt along the city, avoiding each other, refusing to buy or sell, and forcing the game to last forever. Finally, Melvin and Emily both reached out for an unclaimed skyscraper in the middle of the city. They’d travelled in concentric circles and found themselves at the same point. Reader: it doesn’t take a PhD in psychology to tell you, that dream was chock full of symbols. Too bad Melvin never remembered them long enough to relay them to his analyst.

Except that one time when Melvin had dreamt he was running down a mountain with a tiger while they were trying to escape an avalanche headed for Medieval city of Bagdad. The shrink puzzled it for a moment and asked Melvin what he thought it could mean. Melvin pondered it and suggested he was comparing himself to more successful people, but that in the end, everybody has problems. The shrink asked about Bagdad. Melvin didn’t know. They both sat in silence wondering where that come from before the shrink looked at his watch, got up, and left. He came back thirty minutes later with a cup of coffee and sat down. Then, the shrink slowly and quietly announced that Melvin’s time was up. Melvin got up and left.

Then, he spent the rest of the day parked in a bench, staring at the fountain, and wondering, “why Bagdad?”

A few days later, the analyst called. Melvin picked up the phone, and the analyst shouted “Arabian nights!” And promptly hung up. Melvin sat down, dragged his hands across his face and said, “oh, of course!”

Shut! The novelization, Day One

Melvin Seaburg winced a bit. He pushed the key into the handle and tried turning it. It jammed a bit. He tried again. Finally, he put they key back in his pocket and walked down the hall.

Melvin knocked on the super’s door. A gruff “yeah?” Came from the room.

“It’s uh, it’s Melvin. Seaburg. The new tenant in 203,” Melvin said.

The door opened. A short, stalky man, reminiscent of a mystical woodland creature, stood there smoking a cheap cigarette and holding a can of even cheaper beer.

“I don’t think my key works,” Melvin said.

“Yeah?”

“Uh, yeah.” Melvin wondered what kind of a mess he was getting himself into. His grandmother had always said, “always own, never rent. It’s the biggest thing that you’ll regret.” Melvin wondered if grandma was right. She was a realtor after all, and she knew a thing or two about real estate. Still, he could barely afford to rent, and he definitely didn’t have money for a down payment. Maybe if he could finally get a screenplay sold. But, that seemed unlikely. Comedy just wasn’t selling right now.

The super pushed past Melvin. “Let me see your key,” he grumbled.

Melvin fished the key out of his jacket pocket and dropped it into the super’s grubby, slab-like hands. In turn, the super pushed the key into the door, turn it, and swung the door open. He turned, looked at Melvin, and marched back to his lair-like apartment.

Melvin walked in and looked around. His imagination raced. Where would he put his writing desk? Maybe under the window, so the warmth of the sun would inspire him. Or maybe he’d get to distracted and fall too far behind in his work. Instead, he’d imagine long walks in the park with his, uh, his… I guess she was his girlfriend, but they were also more like friends. Not quite friends with benefits. They didn’t exactly conduct extracurricular activities, if you know what I mean. It’s not that they didn’t want to. It’s more like neither of them really wanted to initiate. He was concerned he’d do the wrong thing or push a boundary and ruin the relationship. She was worried he wasn’t actually interested, or that she wasn’t ready to be in a relationship again. It was easier for her to stay back and wallow in her independence without having to confront her feelings. She’s been hurt too many times. But, I digress.

Melvin walked down to the car and started carrying things into his new apartment. Since Melvin didn’t have much in the way of upper body strength, he only grabbed the light things, an odd book or two, a box of socks. Melvin had a lot of socks. He doesn’t remember how or why exactly, but he’d heard somewhere that one should always wear two layers of socks at all times and in all weather. Of course, sometimes this made Melvin incredibly uncomfortable. A hot summer day in a crowded room could ruin him. The smell of his sweating feet would start wafting up. Or at least, that’s what he imagined. In reality, nobody noticed Melvin’s feet, or his socks, or any odors, real or imagined. Actually, for a guy who wore two pairs of socks, Melvin’s shoes and feet were surprisingly odor-free. Or more like light-odor, like low-fat yogurt, or 2% milk. That’s not the most pleasant analogy, but it sure hits home, doesn’t it?

Melvin moved as much as he could by himself and started arranging things as best he could without any furniture. He started hanging up clothes and shelving books, albeit on the ground.

As Melvin explored all the nooks and crannies of his new home, he hit a snag. There was a plain door with a drab knob in a corner of the apartment next to a radiant heater. As Melvin’s hand reached out to wiggle the knob, he froze.

NaNoWriMo 2014

Taking inspiration from my friend Jon Olsen’s novelization of the Damon Packard film Reflections of Evil, I’ve decided to dedicate my 2014 NaNoWriMo efforts to the novelization of my short film Shut! which is also getting its world premiere later this month at the Starz Denver Film Festival. I’ll be posting daily updates as I write, so you can enjoy a very rough draft of the novel as it comes together.

If you want to see the film it’s based on and you’re in Denver, you can find showtimes and tickets for the “Adversity” Colorado shorts package at the 37th Starz Denver Film Festival here: www.denverfilm.org

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