09 May 2014

The Eyrea has moved... to a different area

I've really liked having The Eyrea on Blogger. I really have. But it wasn't its first home — originally it was on LinkedIn (ohhhh yeahhhh). So it's not like this hasn't happened before.

The Blogger version got set up on 31 March 2008. It's been a great run, but it's time for a change. And a real domain name.

Please click on over to www.katherine-hajer.com to visit the new digs.

Thank you for reading.

02 May 2014

#fridayflash: 8C

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, and Part 16.

Pepper sat on the cement platform substituting for a bed with her back against the wall. She kept her hands clasped lightly around her knees, ankles crossed, head tilted slightly up and rolled, just a little, towards the door.

It was a good position for the circumstances. The circumstances were that Alex, Doug, and three men she didn't recognise had just broken about every regulation the "company" had for interrogating and searching a prisoner. Pepper wanted to look casual and relaxed for the security cameras she wasn't supposed to know were in the ceiling corners of the room. Since in reality she was in a certain amount of pain, a true relaxed posture wasn't going to work.

Okay, she reflected, they hadn't actually used torture. They'd just been inconsiderate jerks about the cavity search. She rolled her head slightly away from the door. Deliberately inconsiderate jerks.

And Doug, bloody Doug with his questions.

"Where's the microSD card, Ellie?"

"What microSD card?"

"The one you said you had!"

"I said no such thing."

"You said you'd hidden it at Queen's Quay."

"You had a gun pointing at my face and I wanted to get away. I moved the interaction to somewhere I had the advantage."

Doug, breaking all the rules by showing how angry he was, while Alex just looked on with his usual hangdog expression. The interrogation had gone on forever, and she was pretty sure she'd never confirmed she knew about the memory card. It certainly wasn't on her. They'd torn apart her phone, her clothes, and nearly torn apart her looking for it, but what they didn't know is that Geoffrey had walked out the door with it just about when they were taking her to room 8C.

Pepper had always liked 8C for work, not that she'd used it much. Usually she would just hand off and then leave. It was at the end of the corridor, a little bigger than the other cells, and far more difficult to get out of. Even if the prisoner did manager to overpower any visitors, they were caught on camera doing so and it was easy to block off the end of the corridor.

She rubbed one hand over her knee. On the cameras it would just look like she had an itch, but she wanted to check the material used in the clothing they'd given her. It was some synthetic stuff with no discernible weave or knit. Flimsy. She'd have to give it a good twist before trying to strangle someone with it, and that would waste time she didn't have.

Someone was walking down the corridor. Pepper forced herself not to tense, but listened carefully, body posture slack. The footsteps stopped some distance away, and she heard a door click open. Probably 8B. The sounds faded.

If she had gleaned the situation correctly from the questioning, Alex and company were holding her because Doug, or someone working with Doug, had convinced them that she had stolen the data and put it on the microSD card. That she didn't possess a microSD card should have knocked a large hole in that theory, but she was still locked up, so they hadn't let go of the idea yet.

Either that or they were trying to figure out what else they could pin her with.

Pepper shifted position. Cinnamon and Geoffrey needed to come through before Doug got any more frustrated.

To be continued...

25 April 2014

#fridayflash: out of the frying pan

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, and Part 15.

"So how does a field agent score an office?" said Cinnamon, flopping into one of the visitor's chairs opposite Geoffrey's desk.

"I haven't actually been a field agent for a long time," said Geoffrey. He tossed the whiteboard markers he'd taken from the supply room onto his desk. "They just wheel me out when they need a middle-aged soft-looking type to pose as a businessman or some other sort of mark." He glanced at Pepper. "You should sit down, Ellie."

Pepper shook her head. She undid the clasp on her locket and handed it to Geoffrey, who put it around his own neck.

"All right," said Geoffrey, picking up one of the markers with one hand as he tucked the locket under his shirt with the other. "Debrief. I have to say, the engagement hand-off between myself and Sheila was textbook..." His voice cracked.

Someone knocked on the office door. Geoffrey nodded at Cinnamon, who got up slowly and went to open it.

"Geoffrey." A short man pushed his way past Cinnamon into the office. His suit looked like he'd slept in it.

"Alex." Geoffrey waved the whiteboard marker. "I was just going through a debrief on the DeBussy op."

"Good, good," said Alex. "I was just going to borrow Ellie from you."

"We'll be done in an hour," said Geoffrey.

"I'll have her back to you by lunchtime." Alex took Pepper under the arm and steered her out of the office. To Cinnamon's surprise, Pepper just let him do it.

Geoffrey put his finger to his lips and shook his head at Cinnamon. Then he took her arm the same way Alex had taken Pepper's and pushed her out of the office.

"What are you..."

"Sh." Geoffrey pointed back along the corridor. Cinnamon let him take her to the elevators, through the underground food court, and along the PATH walkway to St. Andrews subway station. She only spoke again when Geoffrey produced two subway tokens and dropped the first one into the turnstile.

"We are not just going to leave her there. I'm not. You go do whatever skull-and-dagger crap you think you need to do, but..."

"We're coming back for her," Geoffrey said quietly. Cinnamon rolled her eyes and passed through the turnstile, then waited for Geoffrey to feed it the second token and enter the station.

"We're going to pretend to be going back to your apartment," Geoffrey said into Cinnamon's ear as they descended the stairs to the waiting area. "Then we're going to go to my house. They're not going to believe Ellie, they're not going to believe you either, and while I might be able to shake them a little bit because I'm one of them, they're not going to believe me without some physical evidence to back me up."

The train arrived, nearly empty now that morning rush hour was over. Cinnamon slouched onto the first available set of empty seats, Geoffrey perching beside her.

"There isn't any physical evidence," said Cinnamon as the doors chimed closed. "We know Ellie found that card in DeBussy's hotel room because we know she wouldn't make that shit up, but all Doug and Co. have to do is claim she had it on her all along, that she's the one who stole it, and..."

"We have a little physical evidence," said Geoffrey. "And if we can get to my place in time, we'll have a little more." He stared at the cement walls of the subway tunnel rushing by the windows. "I just hope they haven't thought of it already. Right now it's down to how long Ellie can stretch things out."

18 April 2014

#fridayflash: simcoe street

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, and Part 14.

"So where are we?" said Cinnamon. Geoffrey had led them north through the bunker's second entrance tunnel, through a series of progressively older-looking underground passages, to a small room with red brick walls and a cobblestone floor.  The room was illuminated by a single incandescent bulb stuck in a rusty wire work lamp, showing the room was empty, but featured a newer-looking steel door opposite the rot-softened older one they'd just passed through.

Cinnamon noticed the orange electrical cord attached to the lamp ran into a hole drilled into one of the brick walls. The whole thing looked like it was meant to be temporary and then had been forgotten about.

The ceiling shuddered and rumbled as something large and heavy passed overhead. Cinnamon sprang back into the corridor, reaching for one of her guns. Pepper just clenched her fists and looked at Geoffrey.

"That was probably a dump truck," said Geoffrey. "Up until the mid-sixties, this was a debriefing room, and sometimes an isolation cell. We're underneath Simcoe Street, very near to where it intersects with King."

"What corner?" said Cinnamon.

"None of them," said Geoffrey. "We're on the south side, but we're underneath the actual street."

"And this is part of headquarters? It looks ancient."

"For around here it is. Rumour has it the Upper Canada Rebellion was partly planned in this very room." Geoffrey shrugged. "We — by 'we' I mean the company  — used to have a safe in here for documents, a table, a chair for the person asking the questions. This room got sealed up after the end of the Korean War — change in questioning policy. Couldn't use scary rooms anymore. Go figure."

"So they cleared out the furniture and..." said Cinnamon. "Just sealed it up?"

Geoffrey shook his head. "Someone must have screwed up with the paperwork. It got sealed up all right, but the furniture and the safe wasn't removed. When constructions workers building the Roy Thomson Hall accidentally found it in the late 70s, there were still two cups on the table."

"Was there anything in the safe?" said Pepper.

Geoffrey grinned without humour. "Not that anyone's been willing to admit to me." He pointed at the steel door. "We go through that, which leads to a tunnel that eventually goes under Wellington Street — the construction workers found a portion of that too, but they thought they sealed it up. Come on."

The walk was about fifteen minutes, although Cinnamon thought that between clambering over old rubble and jumping over small water pipe leaks, they couldn't have gone more than a couple of blocks. If she hadn't completely lost her bearings, they should have looped back south and to the west a little. That would put them underneath the underground shopping mall at Metro Hall — right at headquarters.

The tunnel turned to the right, and then ended abruptly at another steel door. To Cinnamon's surprise, Geoffrey simply grasped the door handle and turned it.

She checked Pepper's reaction, but Pepper had been silent and stone-faced since they'd left the underwater bunker. Cinnamon couldn't blame her. It was no fun being bait — you had to pretend to be more helpless than you really were.

The door was unlocked. Geoffrey quickly checked whatever was inside and closed the door again. "This is it," he said. "We go through this, we step into the admin office's stationery room. Anyone need sticky notes or highlighters while we're in here?"

"Ballpoint pens?" said Pepper.

"Sorry, Ellie, no weapons. They'd spot that."

"Just a well-sharpened pencil..." Pepper stopped talking when she saw the look on Geoffrey's face.

"Now as far as weapons go," said Geoffrey, turning to Cinnamon, "are you ready?"

Cinnamon shrugged. "Sure. It's a pain having all these guns holstered, but I'm okay. I'm just glad I do a lot of weight training. These things are heavy. And it's going to take me forever to get scanned and signed in by security."

"Don't worry about that. All right, here we go." Geoffrey turned the door knob again and pushed something behind it. Cinnamon heard the sound of metal scraping on cement for several seconds, and then Geoffrey's arm reappeared through the doorway, waving at them to follow him.

Cinnamon slipped through the doorway after Pepper. They now stood in a narrow room lit by fluorescent tubing, with metal utility shelves lining the entirety of every wall except the one opposite them. It had a frosted glass door in it that Cinnamon recognised as being the same design as all the rest of the interior doors in headquarters.

Pepper helped Geoffrey push the shelving unit back to in front of the door they'd just come through. Geoffrey checked the door behind it was closed completely.

"Ah! Here they are," he said, and grabbed a fistful of whiteboard markers from a small tub on the shelf they'd just moved. He strode up to the frosted glass door and opened it. "After you, ladies."

Pepper and Cinnamon walked into a bustling office area. A woman wearing a slightly better Chanel-style suit than the rest of the women in the area looked up from her laptop. "Field division out of stationery, Geoffrey?"

"The field division never has any stationery, Martha, you know that," said Geoffrey. "I need to do a debrief and task analysis with these two, and I had nothing at all to write with." He beamed a smile at Martha.

Cinnamon fought to hide her surprise as she noticed Martha blushing. "Oh you," she said. "You're just lucky we don't have to sign that stuff out."

Geoffrey thanked Martha with exaggerated gallantry, then led Cinnamon and Pepper to the elevator bays. A man in a maintenance engineer's uniform got on the elevator with them, but exited only one floor down.

"So in case anyone's wondering," said Geoffrey, "we really are going to my office for  a few minutes. At least long enough to make it look like a real meeting."

"Mostly I'm just wondering exactly how badly our security sucks," said Cinnamon.

To be continued...

14 April 2014

guest post from icy sedgwick: visuals in fiction

It can be easy when writing to sometimes fall into the trap of reducing visuals to personal appearance, or a vague nod in the direction of setting. Literary fiction conditions us to primarily consider feelings or moods, and genre fiction devolves into a collection of stereotypes. Some writers use visuals purely to repeatedly tell us how attractive a character is, and other visuals end up standing in for an archetype – witness the number of beefy barbarians or aristocratic vampires. But can visuals play a bigger role, particularly in world building, and help transport a reader into the setting that you’ve imagined, rather than into their own interpretation?
I’m a big fan of set design within films, and I think there is real potential to use set design within novellas too – you’re not just ‘writing’ the setting, you’re ‘designing’ the setting. It involves a little more conscious thought and planning about how rooms or settings will look, and what impact those visuals will have on the reader. Consider the way JK Rowling depicted Dolores Umbridge’s office in Hogwarts – her cutesy obsession with pink and kittens was possibly more monstrous even than her behaviour, but it was a deft touch that helped to make Umbridge even more detestable.
Obviously you don’t want to get carried away with the visuals. If you start describing every single stick of furniture in the room, a reader isn’t going to know what’s pertinent to the story, and they’re also going to switch off from the story after being bombarded with description. Anton Chekov came up with the idea, now known as Chekov’s Gun, that if you hang a gun on a wall in act one, you’d better use it by act three, or audiences (readers in this case) will wonder why it’s there. You want to paint a broad enough picture that readers can ‘see’ the setting, but include enough details to foreshadow future events and give away details about characterisation that’ll save you from having to artificially describe them yourself. A room with peeling wallpaper and damp patches on the ceiling lets us know the inhabitant is slovenly and disinterested in his environment without us having to ever say as much.
The visuals of The Necromancer’s Apprentice are a bit of a mixed bag. The Underground City, where we first meet Jyx, was based very heavily on Mary King Close and the Blair Street vaults of Edinburgh. Picture dank spaces, devoid of natural light, where the air is clogged by the soot from gas lamps and the tall, narrow tenement buildings stretch up into darkness. It’s a Victorian slum, inspired in part by Gustav DorĂ©’s nineteenth-century engravings of Whitechapel, where the alleys are called ‘closes’ because they’re so crammed together. By contrast, the part of the City Above that we get to see as Jyx travels to the Academy is based on Venice, all quiet canals and buildings with white shutters and delicate balconies, where Jyx can see the sky. It seemed a good way to set the two spaces up in contrast with each other, demonstrating the affluence and clean air of one, and the poverty of the other.
Yet that’s not all the visuals are for. True, they make good scene-setting, and people can quickly ‘see’ what sort of locations these are, and they can compare these imaginary locations with ones that they know in order to form connections or draw conclusions. You can also hide clues in the set design that like-minded people will pick up on, giving them a satisfactory ‘a-ha!’ moment when they recognise something in your design. When Jyx reaches the House of the Long Dead where he’ll be working for the necromancer general, he finds a lot of the art painted on the walls features figures drawn flat, in profile, which was my way of referencing Egyptian art. The Wolfkin are descended from Anubis, the Egyptian god of the dead, and he later discovers a statue of a man with the head of an ibis in my nod to Thoth, the god of knowledge. On their own, they just add to the set-dressing and help to build an atmosphere, but anyone who shares these interests will spot the references, and it should hopefully enhance their enjoyment of the story.
What about you? What kind of visuals do you like in your stories?

Icy Sedgwick was born in the North East of England, and lives and works in Newcastle. She has been writing with a view to doing so professionally for over ten years, and has had several stories included in anthologies, including Short Stack and Bloody Parchment: The Root Cellar & Other Stories.
She spends her non-writing time working on a PhD in Film Studies, considering the use of set design in contemporary horror. Icy had her first book, a pulp Western named The Guns of Retribution, published in 2011, and her horror fantasy, The Necromancer’s Apprentice, was released in March 2014.

11 April 2014

#fridayflash: concentration

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, and Part 13.

 Cinnamon ripped a fresh sheet of paper from the pad and set it on the cutting board she'd repurposed as a clipboard. At the top of the page, she wrote "DOUG" in giant letters. Underneath she jotted down a list:
  • recruited and graduated same year as me
  • always bombed every exercise and group activity
  • acts like he knows what's going on — not just a messenger boy
  • acts like he's in charge, not just of the goons for this job
  • rumour was he'd flunked his field procedures exams AND intelligence analysis
The pencil broke as she carved the last question mark into the paper. She swore, slapped the paper on the mess hall table with the others, and grabbed the pencil sharpener.

She glanced over the other notes as she jammed the pencil into the sharpener and gave it a few twirls. The top row was for notes on people: DeBussy, herself, Geoffrey and Pepper. She'd also included Munroe and some other people in research she thought could be involved. The second row was a timeline of all the major events which had happened, started with the job being assigned. The third row was for items: the decoy USB key and the real data on the microSD card Pepper had found, the files themselves, and an inventory of the weapons they'd filched from Doug and his goons before canoeing out into the lake.

Cinnamon tapped the spare pencil shavings into a wastepaper basket she'd found and made herself re-read every note in detail. She shook her head. "I can't see it," she said under her breath.

"Can't read your own handwriting?" said a voice from the doorway to the dormitory. Cinnamon clutched at the gun in her shoulder holster, then relaxed when she saw it was Geoffrey.

"Just trying to figure this out," Cinnamon said, gesturing at the papers.

"But you've been checking both entrances and the cameras too, right?" said Geoffrey, walking up to the table.

"Every fifteen minutes," said Cinnamon. "Nothing to report."

"Good," said Geoffrey. He picked up the notes on the data files. "This isn't accurate, you know." He tapped one of the entries in the list. "The data's sensitive, and it shouldn't be found off its isolated network, but that doesn't mean it would fetch much of a market price."

"It's Level 9," said Cinnamon. "It's not supposed to leave the building. You can't even transmit it on a dedicated line."

Geoffrey nodded as he replaced the paper on the table. "Yes, but that's just because it's from NATO, and anything we get from NATO always gets classified as Level 9. But you saw the file names. It's not like it's launch codes or submarine routes, or even a duty roster. Even journalists wouldn't give a shit about that stuff." He stepped back from the table. "No. NATO bureaucracy needs it, but it's useless outside of that particular environment. Wouldn't help you break in. Can't even be used with other accessible data to find out something interesting."

Cinnamon bit her lip. "I just wanted to do something useful while I was on watch. Maybe once I catch some sleep I'll be able to come up with something..."

"This is useful," said Geoffrey. He chuckled and pointed to the note on Doug. "Did you really get him against the mat while you had the flu?"

"It was worse than that," said Cinnamon. "I kicked him in the head. He was unconscious for thirty-seven seconds."

"I wonder if he knows that as well as you do," said Pepper, entering the mess hall. "What is all that?"

"Sheila's been breaking things down," said Geoffrey. "I think she's found something."


Geoffrey gave Pepper a look. "You're not going to like it."

Pepper leaned over the table and scanned the pages. "This is just recording what we know. Not a bad thing," she added quickly, glancing at Cinnamon. "Mercenary finds a mole willing to sell some data, arranges a buy, but a job for slightly different reasons thwarts him. Or it will once we can come in from the cold."

"But consider," said Geoffrey, picking up the note on DeBussy and holding it behind his back. "Now what's the story?"

"If you take him out of it, then..." Cinnamon's eyes widened, then narrowed. "But he is in it. Take him out and it distorts everything. It looks like it's all about Ellie."

"One way to find out," said Pepper. She locked eyes with Geoffrey. "You're going to have to bring me in."

"Yes," said Geoffrey. He shot a look at Cinnamon. "Get some sleep. The two of us will figure out how to stage this."

Cinnamon nodded and headed for the dormitory with a frown. She wasn't quite sure how she'd just been shut out of her own analysis.

She reached the bunk area and startled. Only one bunk was made up to sleep in.

That's against regulations! she thought. Then again, maybe Pepper and Geoffrey didn't care under the circumstances.

Pepper's voice floated into the dormitory from the mess hall. "This is Sarajevo all over again," she said.

"That's what worries me," said Geoffrey, and then he added something Cinnamon couldn't hear.

03 April 2014

#fridayflash: stock-taking

If you want to read the rest of the series, here are the links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, and Part 12.

"That sky's looking awfully pale," said Cinnamon. She was the only one facing east as Pepper and Geoffrey paddled the canoe to Lake Ontario's western shore.

"Can't do anything about it," said Geoffrey. He pointed at a spot slightly north of the canoe's course. "We need to head a little more that way. Damn condo developments have obliterated all the landmarks, not to mention half the shoreline shape."

"We could risk a quick geo check," said Pepper.

"It's okay," said Geoffrey. "I can see the Humber College campus from here, and that's all I really need to go by. At least they haven't moved that yet."

Any natural beach had been removed or covered with football-sized chunks of cement, which served the double purpose of both using up construction leftovers and making the shore too awkward to swim or dive from. Geoffrey instructed Pepper to navigate to a lonely dock that looked like it should have ripped up and carted off decades ago.

"We can tuck the canoe under this," he said, as Pepper helped Cinnamon disembark. "Just put the paddles inside and then push down and towards the dock, like so..." The canoe squeezed under the short end of the dock and disappeared underneath.

Cinnamon and Pepper followed Geoffrey off the dock and onto the adjoining parkland. Geoffrey walked into a close-cropped lawn surrounded by bicycle paths, checking the grass as he made a show of turning out his pockets, as if he'd just dropped his keys. Some joggers were making their way along the path from about a quarter-kilometre away.

"Here," said Geoffrey, stomping on what looked like a lawn sprinkler. The edge of a rusty utility tunnel cover popped up. Cinnamon and Pepper pretended to be helping him look for the imaginary keys as the joggers went past them.

All three of them did a visibility check. When they nodded to each other in agreement that they weren't being watched, Geoffrey prised up the tunnel cover and Pepper and Cinnamon slipped in. Geoffrey followed them, hitting a button on the tunnel wall that triggered the cover to fall back into place.

Geoffrey tapped both the women on the shoulder, and they leaned towards him. "This way," he whispered. Holding hands and walking in total darkness, they formed an awkward human chain as they made their way down the tunnel, Geoffrey in front with his free hand reaching before him. The tunnel was dry at least.

At the last they came to a door. Pepper listened to Geoffrey adjusting something in the dark. It reminded her of a job she'd been on once which had involved some safe-cracking. The sucking sound of water-tight seals giving way announced that Geoffrey had remembered how to unlock the door.

"It's like the door on a ship," he said quietly. "You'll have to step over."

Pepper waved her arm in front of her until she found Geoffrey's waiting hand, then let him guide her through the doorway. Cinnamon did the same, and they stood in the dark while Geoffrey sealed the door behind him.

"The good thing about that hatch is it's not just water-tight, but pretty soundproof," said Geoffrey in a more normal tone of voice. "Hang on..." Pepper and Cinnamon listened to him running his hands over the walls. There was the sharp sound of an industrial switch being thrown, and they stood blinking in the blue-white light of a series of fluorescent tubes.

The lighting showed that the tunnel they now stood in ran down a series of ramps, back out into the lake. Cinnamon wondered if the faint, intermittent sound she heard was a fluorescent tube on the blink or dripping lake water.

It was a long walk to the bunker itself. Geoffrey apologetically explained that there used to be some golf carts in the tunnel once it reached maximum depth and ran level, but they had been removed when the bunker was mothballed.

"It still gets a maintenance check on the last day of every month, so we don't have to worry too much about it being dangerous," he said. "But it's a bloody long walk. Sorry about that."

The bunker proper was sealed off from the end of the tunnel by a double set of sealed hatches. Geoffrey explained they were intended as an airlock in case the tunnel was breached but not the bunker.

Inside Geoffrey had to turn on another circuit's worth of fluorescent lights.

Cinnamon stared up at the interlocking triangles forming the inside of the domed main room. "This reminds me of something," she said.

"Ontario Place, the IMAX theatre," said Geoffrey. "The bunker's a series of Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes."

"Funny these don't get more notice from passing boats," said Pepper.

"Oh, we're well under the lake bed now," said Geoffrey. "Nothing to see but a couple of cameras, and even for 1980s tech they're pretty well camouflaged."

He led them to the sleeping quarters — several rows of military-style cots. "Bedding's in there," he said, pointing to some lockers. "I guess we ought to keep a watch. I can go first."

"I'll do it," said Cinnamon. "I didn't do any of the paddling, and I bet I woke up last out of the three of us."

Geoffrey hesitated, then nodded.

Cinnamon left Pepper and Geoffrey to sort out the cots and returned to the working/living space. She checked the camera feed, but it was still too dark to see anything outside, and she didn't want to risk the floodlights. She checked one of the steel desks near the camera station and found a pad of ruled paper and a fistful of pencils. Some more searching yielded a pencil sharpener.

Cinnamon thought for a moment, then headed for the mess area. She picked up a plastic cutting board. One side was scarred with knife-cuts, but the other side was unused and smooth. She brought it back to the camera area, tore a sheet of paper off the pad, put it against the smooth side of the cutting board, and began to write.