La La La Lost Mystery Box

by Chris McGinty

I’ll start by saying there will be absolutely no spoilers for the show “Lost” in this blog post. It’s safe to read if you haven’t seen the show yet. I can’t promise the same if anyone reads this and comments. I will discuss complaints people have had in a generic way, but I’m not going to get into the plot of the show. What I will say (still generic) is that almost everyone I’ve talked to who didn’t like the end of “Lost” misunderstood what the end of the show meant. There is literally a moment in the last episode when one of the characters debunks what some thought was happening and some still walked away thinking that was it all along.

Miguel misunderstood, and therefore hated, the ending of “Lost.” We’ve had this conversation on its own and in the context of writing problems with Star Wars Episodes 7 through 9. JJ Abrams was involved with both, so the sins of one series can be superimposed on the sins of the other. It’s something that Miguel calls “Mystery Box Writing.” I don’t believe it’s his original term, but he uses it to mean a story with a bunch of unanswered questions. One way to handle a story of this nature is to finally answer one question while introducing one or two more questions to the audience. This is what “Lost” did very well.

You know how before the commercial break, you thought you were starting to understand what is going on…

I’ve watched “Lost” in its entirety twice. My second time through was grading the paper. I was looking for indications that the writers knew what they were doing all along; because those who were disappointed with the ending believe that the writers had no clue. My conclusion is they definitely knew what picture they were painting, but you could see where they dipped the brush in the wrong colour a few times and had trouble covering up the mistakes.

The truth is that a couple of seasons in, they were having trouble with the show because ABC wouldn’t give them a clear answer about how many season there would be. Once they had a clear end date, they got back on track. There were a few elements they introduced in that time that they dropped and never really gave a satisfactory explanation for. But the overall plan for the show was all there, and it was told very clearly if you understand it.

Here’s what I think is happening in the minds of those who believe that the writers had no idea what was going on with the story. There are two basic types of writers and we all favor one of the two types to some extent. The architect (aka plotter) plans and designs, sometimes meticulously, and often spends more time planning than writing. The gardener (aka pantser, like flying by the seat of your pants) lets the story unfold as they write.

I’m more of a gardener, because I rarely know how a story is going to end when I start it. In fact, Miguel has gotten mad at me a couple of times. In one story I decided I would write until the characters walked into their hotel room and regardless of what happened that was the end of the story. In another story, I decided the story started at the beginning of a car ride when someone was accidentally shot and ended when the car ride was over. With that one I ended up going a little farther than the car ride, because the story really needed it to happen. The reason I made these declarations in my head is because I was writing to let the characters and the situation dictate what happened. Not knowing how it ended, I needed to know when it ended.

I’m not saying that I’m great at gardener writing, but some of us do handle it better. I’ve abandoned plenty of stories because I don’t know what happens next and the characters and situations aren’t strong enough for the next scene to seem obvious. When I do have strong characters and story components, though, I do a pretty good job of getting it right.

“Lost” was architected very strongly for the beginning and the end of the show, but as they didn’t believe the show would last very long, they let the garden grow until they realized they would need to build the greenhouse. ABC just wouldn’t tell them how big the greenhouse was going to be, so they started building what they could until that was clear.

It looks like the writers of “Lost” submitted this one. It says, “Come up with as many reasonable explanations for why there’s a polar bear as you can. We’re dying over here.”

There’s another debate Miguel and I have had about “Whose Line is It Anyway” (Spoiler Alert! Everything is made up and the points don’t matter. That’s right. The points are like those people who didn’t like the end of “Lost.” They don’t matter.). Miguel, for a while, didn’t believe that they were really making things up on the spot. I had some hypotheses about how the show worked, and after doing some research I had it mostly right. Miguel initially just denied that what they were doing was even possible. It had to be scripted. I was examining the show trying to work out how they did it.

Nathan and me from around a decade and a half ago attempting to do the props game. We get a couple of good ones in there.

It’s for this reason I don’t believe there are many shows flying by the seat of their pants so much they don’t have the slightest clue what’s going on. I’ve taken the time to examine how that kind of thing might work, and it makes sense to me. Sometimes when the comedian bombs they had a bad night, but sometimes they had a bad audience.

It’s really not that hard to come up with the end of a story and then figure out how to get there. When you have an entire writing team, I’m going to err with the belief that one of them could throw out an answer to any presented mystery, whether it’s a good answer or not. The conceit that they had “no idea” what they were doing is a little hard to accept when you can watch the first four episodes knowing the ending and catch clue after clue in conversations that didn’t seem important at the time.

Watch this. I’m going to write a short story right now, based only on an explanation of what’s going on that I just made up. I’m even going to be nice and tell you how it ends in the very first sentence. I’m going to do one draft with light editing and leave it. You tell me when you’re done reading it if I had “no idea” what I was doing even though I don’t know how I’m going to start the story or get to the end I have in mind.

“Don’t try this by yourself!” by Smaku is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Night Mike Tried to Take Karla to the Prom

by Chris McGinty

The problem was that Mike didn’t know that Karla was already at the prom, or that night might have gone better. He went to her house, to her best friend’s house, and even by her job that night not knowing that she was already at the prom. He would realize by the end of the night that some dates were more difficult to keep.

Mike saw Karla standing at her locker the week of prom. He had thought about asking her, but he hadn’t seen her around since he came back. He was out of school for a month and a half with mononucleosis. It was pretty severe and he slept almost the entire time. He walked up to Karla.

“Hey, there. I’ve actually been looking for you since I got back.”

“Hi, Mike. It was crazy while you were gone. There is so much I could tell you about.”

“I would love to hear all about it too. Would you like to go to the prom with me? I can pick you up around six and you can catch me up on everything that’s happened.”

“That sounds so good. It’ll be nice for you to join me.”

Mike didn’t remember even telling Karla goodbye when he walked off. He was on cloud nine, dancing in heaven, and all those silly clichés. He was so sure she would have already been asked by someone. She was easily the smartest and prettiest girl at the school, at least who would talk to him, but unlike the others she was nice and didn’t come off as stuck up.

Mike saw his friend, Biswa, later that day. He told Biswa about asking Karla to the prom and how happy he was that she hadn’t already been asked. Biswa looked at Mike a little funny when he said this. He was sure it was a little strand of jealousy, because Biswa and Karla had gone out on a couple of dates in their junior year, but it didn’t really work out. Mike was a little upset when Biswa mumbled, “Well, I guess you have a type then.”

“I guess I do. I haven’t seen you in almost two months and you don’t even seem happy to see me.”

“I am,” Biswa said, “but I guess it’s weird that you would ask Carla out.”

“Why are you acting like this?” Mike said, he turned and walked away, frustration getting the better of him.

“Wait, Mike,” he heard Biswa yelling after him, “did you…”

But Mike didn’t want to hear it, “I’ll talk with you later,” and he walked faster to get through the doors. It was an unfortunate argument to have, because they wouldn’t see each other before prom night to have a chance to apologize, and if Mike could have only known it was the last time he would see Biswa alive, he wouldn’t have walked away.

Mike showed up at Karla’s house at six the night of the prom, as they had discussed. He knocked and he heard a loud thump, a crash, and then a dog barking. He was sure the next thing would be Karla’s father yelling at the dog. Karla loved the dog; her father not so much. Mike learned that the night he took Karla to a football game before he was stricken with the mononucleosis. He stood at the door until he started to feel foolish. No one was answering, and aside from the dog he was starting to believe no one was home. He rang the doorbell and got the same result, so he started walking back to his car.

Something bothered him. The dog didn’t sound like he was barking at a stranger. He sounded sad in a way. Mike sat in the front seat of his car and called Karla on the phone. It went straight to voicemail. He wasn’t mad. He hadn’t seen Karla since he asked her, and he really should have verified their date. He just didn’t think Karla the type to forget something like that. Then he heard the dog howl horribly again. It sent chills down his spine.

He hesitated long enough to question his motives, but he finally got out of the car and walked to the front door. He tried it and it was locked, supporting the notion that no one was home. The dog howled again. It sound frightened. Mike went to the back door and found it unlocked. He called out to the house, but got no answer except from the dog, Bowser.

Karla told him the night of the football game that Bowser was named after the Super Mario character. Bowser looked ill as he walked over to Mike, so unlike the night he first met the dog. It was as though Mike hadn’t been the only one having health problems for the last month and a half. They had the tower food dishes with the reservoirs to refill the dishes. The food was gone and the water was almost gone. Mike filled both. It would be evidence he had “broke in,” but Karla would probably think dad filled it and vice versa.

Mike was about to leave when he saw the potted plant Bowser knocked over when Mike knocked on the door. Bowser likely ran into the table that probably once held a land line phone, but now was more likely used for keys… and notes. Bowser had knocked over a note as well. All Mike could see was “Daddy,” on the note, so he walked to it.

“Daddy, I’m going to Carla’s to get ready. Can you pick me up there? Love you!”

Carla with a “C” was the best friend of Karla with a “K.” She must have gone there to get ready. Carla with a “C” lived right down the street. He decided he would just drive over there and own up to going into the house. Bowser sounded so forlorn that he felt justified. Bowser actually raised his head up from the food and whimpered when Mike left. Mike felt a little guilty leaving him that way.

As Mike drove to Carla’s, he had an odd thought. Could Biswa have thought Mike asked out Carla with a “C” and maybe thought it was a slight to the Karla he had already took on a date. “Wait, Mike. Did you…” Did you mean Karla with a “K”? He must have realized it while Mike was walking away. He would have to apologize if Biswa was there tonight. What a dumb thing to have an argument over.

When Mike got to the other Carla’s house, it was pretty much the same situation as when he went to pick up the Karla he was taking to prom. No one answered the door, but at least there was no pitiful dog howling. He opened the door of his car right as the door of the house opened a little.

“What do you want?” a woman’s voice, probably Carla with a “C’s” mom.

“I’m looking for Karla…”

“She’s at work.”

The door slammed.

Mike didn’t even have a chance to clarify that he meant the Karla that wasn’t her daughter. Occam’s razor might have suggested that the best course of action would be to go to the prom and wait to hear from Karla, but Mike didn’t think of that until after the next two stops. In the whole comedy of errors where something (or in this case someone) is always in the last place you look, Mike prolonged the agony of the whole evening by first trying Karla’s house again and being met only by the lonely howling of Bowser and then getting the dumb idea to go by Karla’s work, because maybe both Karla’s were at their jobs that night.

Karla was part of a work for school credit program that seniors could sign up for and she found a job cleaning and restocking linens at a local hospital. She said that she had applied there at sixteen, but it was volunteers only at that age, so when she got into the work program at seventeen, she applied again and they hired her on.

Mike approached the front desk in the main hospital where he found one person. He asked for Karla Jones. This was the penultimate error in the comedy that was starting to feel more tragic every minute that he wasn’t getting to the prom which had started at 7:00 and it was now almost 7:30. He presumed that since he was at the front desk, the woman would look up Karla Jones the worker, not Karla Jones the patient. Later, when he finally thought to just drive to the prom, he would smile at how upset the woman became.

“I’m so sorry. That patient died two weeks ago.”

Mike, not expecting this, looked at the woman wildly, and laughed.

“Are you family?”

“No, it’s not that,” Mike said, trying hard not to sound condescending because he knew he was the one who asked the question wrong, “Karla Jones is someone who works here…”

It turned out that that wasn’t even true. After finally reaching the linens supervisor, the woman at the desk was informed that Karla Jones didn’t work there anymore.

As Mike walked to his car, he remembered Karla’s declaration that it was crazy while Mike was gone and there was so much she could tell him about. Clearly, quitting her job was one of those things. It was then that he resolved to just go to the prom and wait for Karla to call him. If Biswa was there, he could make amends for the argument. He could maybe even embarrass Biswa by making him dance with him. It wasn’t that Biswa hated dancing; it’s that Biswa hated the way Mike danced. It didn’t matter. Biswa wasn’t going to be at the dance and Mike wouldn’t know it until after he finally found Karla.

It was simply that Biswa was at home sick. It was no sooner that Mike got back from his illness that Biswa found himself afflicted with the flu for a week. It was nothing to do with why Mike and Biswa never got to talk things out. Mike did what people do sometimes when they are in a hurry. He ran a light that he misjudged completely. And Mike did what people do sometimes when they get into a bad car wreck. He died behind the wheel at the scene of the accident.

Mike barely understood what he was seeing when he came to again. He was standing for one thing. He wasn’t seated behind the wheel of the car. He was somewhere that seemed… magical. It was heaven. He simultaneously knew it and couldn’t believe it. He had faith, but sometimes even the most faithful had doubts. He no longer had doubts.

“I was hoping you would let Bowser out, but since you fed him he’ll probably still be alive when he’s found.”

Mike turned to Karla’s voice and she was standing there in the same clothes she was wearing when he asked her out earlier in the week.

“I’m a little underdressed for prom,” she said, and Mike could see all around her young men and women, teenagers really, dancing a slow dance to an angel’s choir, “would you like to dance?”

Mike didn’t know what to say. He never got to apologize to Biswa, and he was certain now that Biswa believed he’d asked out Carla with a “C.” He was rightfully disgusted given that Karla with a “K” had died and he thought Mike was asking out her best friend. “Wait, Mike. Did you…” Did you hear that Karla died? Biswa must have realized it when Mike was walking away. Karla had died when Mike was sleeping off the mononucleosis, and hadn’t heard the news.

Mike and Karla held each other tight, cheek to cheek, and swayed back and forth.

“How did it happen?” he asked her.

“Pretty much the same as happened to you,” she said.

He felt a tear. He wasn’t sure if it was if it was his or hers.

“Daddy picked me up at Carla’s one night to go to church.”

Karla had been both patient and worker at the hospital. The linens supervisor was probably legally obligated to only state that Karla no longer worked for the hospital.

“We were hit by a drunk driver. Daddy died instantly.”

Instinctively, Mike said, “I’m sorry.”

Karla laughed and drew her face back from his, cocking it slightly to her left, “He’s right over there.”

Mike looked and saw Karla’s father standing with a few other parents.

“He’s chaperoning, so you better behave.”

Mike laughed.

“I died later in the hospital,” Karla said, “but the angels asked me to hang out a while longer.”

“So I could ask you to the prom.”

“Yeah. It seems kind of cruel in a way, but they knew you would join us so I agreed. It’s wonderful here, Mike. Everything you would expect heaven to be.”

“It’s wonderful so far,” Mike said, pressing his cheek to Karla’s once again, and they danced for what felt like eternity.

The End

Chris McGinty has been a blogger and short story writer for somewhere between 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 years.

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