And lo, it is the end of September, and time for another Pictonaut Challenge.  This is a very early draft (as in I started it at 18:54 and finished it about 10 minutes ago) and lacks my usual levels of whimsy.  And that is all I can think to say about that.

She is standing on the edge of the golden yellow nothing, cape flapping in the breeze (although where the breeze issues from is a bit problematic, as the wind machine still isn’t working properly).

“Do I look enigmatic enough?” she asks.  The director grunts, which she thinks means yes.  He doesn’t tend to say very much, just communicates in gestures and text messages.

She sets off across the sandy wastes, trudging towards the mountain with the determined air of one on a quest.  She has watched all the Lord of the Rings movies to prepare for this – and not just the normal cuts, the extended versions where you get more of Boromir and Saruman, easily the best characters in the whole thing.

She does her best to believe in her surroundings – the wobbly cardboard cut out mountain range, and the strangely metallic earth beneath her feet (god knows where they found enough money to buy all those cans of spray paint, it must have cost them a fortune and the effect really isn’t that convincing…  They’ll probably fix it during the editing process).  It’s best to believe in what you’re doing, Mr Phillips, her drama teacher, said before the summer.  That way you can bring real emotion into the part.  He hadn’t seemed all that convinced, to be honest, but she assumes there is a reason why he tells his classes this.

A flurry of gold sprayed soil flicks up over the toe of her boot and into the hole at the seam.  She grimaces – it’s going to get inside the sock and squish up under her toes now – but she doesn’t miss a step.  The movie must come first.

* * *

The director watches with disbelief.  None of his volunteers has ever taken one of these films so seriously, has thrown themselves into a part with such gusto. To be honest he had thought about cancelling this year – he’s got enough crappy Youtube movies in his portfolio by now, and none has come even close to going viral.

He was beginning to think there was no point in pretending any longer – nobody else thinks he has the makings of a decent director and past experience seems to confirm this – when along comes this girl, responding to an advert on gumtree which he doesn’t even remember posting.  She’s read the script and done her research and interpreted the character for fucks sake – none of the others ever did that.

He let her audition because she asked, and she seemed pretty good – well, as good as she could do when speaking his stilted words.  It really is a diabolical script.  He wonders what thoughts are going through her head as she journies onward across the dunes – painted gold, for crying out loud, what was Kirsty thinking of when she bought all that paint?

“It was dirt cheap,” she’d said excitedly, “they wanted rid of it all quickly so the guy did me a deal!”

She’s blown three quarters of the budget on this deal, and now his sandy dreamscape is littered with strange gold clumps, and everyone’s shoes are covered with glitter.

Charlotte is nearly at the cut out mountain by now, he realises with a start – he should’ve shouted cut ages ago.  She looks enormous next to this tiny hill.

“Cut,” he croaks now, his throat aching with the heat, “that was great… but lets do that one more time please.”

* * *

Kirsty knows she shouldn’t be jealous of the new girl, but she can’t help it somehow.  There’s a strange quiet about her, she’s clearly a weirdo – she brought her own cape after all, and what self respecting person provides their own freakin’ cape?  But it seems to be giving her some sort of enigmatic charm.  Kirsty doesn’t hold with charm, she thinks it means that the person exuding it has something to hide.

But she wouldn’t be doing half so well without Kirsty’s excellent set, none of them can deny that.  It looks properly amazing, all that gold, just like a real fantasy desert.  Well, if there was such a thing as a fantasy desert.

This script is better than the last one, in Kirsty’s opinion, but still not brilliant.  Still, everyone likes a quest story, don’t they.  Something to fight for, a holy grail or a magic ring or whatever – an adventure you can get your teeth into.  They shot the bit with the monster yesterday and that looked really great, the poster paint made for really convincing pus dripping from the wound on New Girl’s arm.  She’s called Charlotte, apparently, but Kirsty can’t bring herself to call her that, however good she might be, even if she is a proper hope for the future.  After all, she wouldn’t be able to act like that without Kirsty’s production knowledge.  The fever dream, a result of the poison in the poster paint pus wound – it’s going to be epic.

Unlike the efforts of Danny and Emily Austen, she thinks, with satisfaction.  They’re doing some kind of stupid talking heads thing, sitting inside their dad’s garage pretending like they’re Alan Bennett or something, wearing actual oversized glasses and floral shawls and pretending to be old.  Like anyone’s going to watch that online.

This, on the other hand – this has depth.  Wait until they get some soaring music over the top, it’ll be a real tear jerker.  Nobody will be able to resist it and they’ll win the rating wars, and maybe get a carton of food for the street.  Her stomach rumbles at the thought, and she tries not to think about the last time they ate something.  It’s been a while.

* * *

Sandrine marches determinedly across the golden sand.  The time has come to stop staring enigmatically into the distance and to deliver the secret scroll into the heart of the mountain, as the prophecy decreed she must do afore she was even born.  She is hungry and thirsty and the sand stings her luminous eyes, but she pays all of this no mind.  She has a job to do, and she will not fail her people now.

* * *

The teachers watch the last of the entries on Youtube.  It’s a fantasy tale about a prophecy, with a fairly decent climax involving a journey across a desert and a showdown with a goblin king.

“Good effort,” says Mr Phillips, stifling a yawn.

“Bit overlong for my tastes,” says his colleague, a wiry exchange teacher whose name they have all forgotten.

“Why are we even debating it,” the head asks with a bored expression.  “You know the drill.  Give it to the twins.”

For a fleeting moment, it looks like Mr Phillips might rebel – but he thinks better of it, as he always does.

“Yes, Mrs Austen,” he says, trying to ignore how much weight those other kids have lost.  He prepares the food parcel with steady fingers, hands it over obediently.

Mrs Austen begins the journey home.