Eldritch Trial Separation

A PIER ALONG A SUNNY STRETCH OF CALIFORNIA SHORE. A SMALL CROWD GATHERS, LOOKS, AND POINTS.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) It was a day at the beach. The sun was there. Water and sand all over the place. Cruise ships and oil rigs littering the horizon as far as the eye could weep.

MAN ON PHONE ENTERS, SITS.

And all squandered on a man sitting at the end of the pier, half-assedly pretending to listen to a very angry woman’s voice on speakerphone berate him for his part in a years-long affair that has done irreparable damage to their marriage, family, and social media following.

MAN: Look. I know I’ve been a selfish, heartless bastard who cares little for your needs, wants, hopes, and dreams. And I know I’ve consistently and utterly failed to pay my fair share of, well, anything. I get it. My bad. But, I don’t understand why you’re so upset.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) As the woman started to categorically, chronologically, and somethingly explain, more or less, precisely why she was so upset with this selfish, heartless bastard, the selfish, heartless bastard decided he didn’t care…

MAN SHRUGS, TURN TO…

CROWD GATHERS, LOOKS, AND POINTS, ONLY NOW WITH GROWING CONCERN.

…and turned his fleeting attention to a gathering crowd pointing and gathering and crowding about something along the horizon.

CROWDER: It’s gone!

LOOKER: What’s gone?

POINTER: The oil rig!

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) The selfish, heartless bastard looked back out across the water, and wondered how anyone would even notice one oil rig went missing.

CROWDER: (TO MAN) Because I happened to be staring right at it. It was there one moment, gone the next.

GATHERER: Bullshit.

POINTER: (PETULANT WHINE) It’s true! I saw it sink right into the water, like the bottom fell out, or somethin’!

WOMAN: (PHONE) I’m sorry. Is this conversation about our rotting corpse of a relationship too distracting?

MAN: Yeah. A little. Sorry.

WOMAN: (PHONE) No, no. It wouldn’t be time spent with you if it wasn’t wasted.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Now. Had the man been paying any attention whatsoever, what turned out to be the woman’s last known words to anyone might have stung. But it was at this moment when something breached the water and swallowed one of the many cruise ships whole.

SOMETHING BREACHES THE WATER, SWALLOWS A CRUISE SHIP WHOLE.

And it was at that moment when the crowd lost its collective shit…

CROWD PANICS.

…children flipped, dogs clothed, fish strangled. Internet search histories ineffectively deleted. A man even defecated in a flower vase and nobody so much as took a photograph. Madness. Simply madness.

EVERYTHING GOES STILL, SILENT.

And then, it monstered onto the shore.

SOMETHING MONSTERS ONTO SHORE.

Suffice it to say, it was quite the sight. It was big, of course. Very large and very something, indeed. Not quite a fish, not quite a cuttlefish. Definitely something nobody had seen until they did.

SOMETHING LAYS WASTE TO ALL BEFORE IT.

And then, it just sort of made its way up the sand, as things like it do, onward to destroy humanity, or something. I’m not sure. Didn’t think to ask, which seems like quite the oversight, now that I think about it. The damnedest thing, though. I suppose you had to be there.

PANIC, DEATH, AND DESTRUCTION CONSUMES EVERYTHING.

Anyway. I forget where I was going with any of this.

IT’S OVER

The Council for the Disbursement of Pretty Bad News

A SPACE-STAGE WITH A SPACE-PODIUM AND A SPACE-MEDIA CIRCUS.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) The bad news is that the end of the world was announced sometime last Friday.

The good news, however, is that the Libertonian Council for the Disbursement of Pretty Bad News somehow booked intergalactic sexual healer and fashionista, G’lp the Turgid One, to deliver the bad news.

G’LP, A SPACE-PERSON, ENTERS, TAKES THE SPACE-PODIUM.

G’LP: Citizens of Earth. We regret to inform you that we have been informed that you have violated the terms of your lease. As per your agreement, you have thirty days to vacate the premises, at the end of which, any persons or belongings will be skinned alive, then hurled into the sun.

That said. We are aware of humanity’s hilariously limited ability to evacuate the planet in a timely manner.

So. In the spirit of appealing to our public image, we are offering two cages in the Earth Memorial Exhibit of the Schlemiel and Schlimazel Space-Safari Experience.

To enter for a chance to win, simply be one of the last two humans left alive at the end of your thirty-day eviction period. And if a winner cannot be decided by the end of your thirty-day eviction period, we will simply skin all of you alive, then hurl you into the sun anyway.

Thank you. And remember to have fun out there.

CUT TO:

A SMALL SHED CONVERTED INTO A CRAMPED OFFICE. JOHN JABOLONKSI SITS AT A TYPEWRITER AND A MICROPHONE, MAKES USE OF NEITHER.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) The announcement itself was broadcast across every major television network, radio station, and wi-fi enabled toaster and lotion dispenser on Earth.

Unfortunately, John Jablonksi, amateur professional and part-time amatuer…

JOHN: (WAVES TO AUDIENCE) Hello.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) …never heard this, as he was, at the time, pretending to work on his podcast in the half-converted storage shed he called his office.

JOHN: (TO AUDIENCE) Ignorance really is bliss.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Fortunately, his wife, Jillian Jablonski, did.

CUT TO:

A BATHROOM. JILLIAN JABLONSKI SITS ON THE TOILET, PHONE IN HAND, HEADPHONES ON HEAD, AND EYES SEIZED ON AN ELECTRIC TOOTHBRUSH.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Jillian, as it turns out, happened to be sitting on the toilet, listening to a podcast about the mating rituals of serial killers or something, when a voice on her electric toothbrush told her it was the end of the world.

And as G’lp the Turgid One’s impressively heartless, yet utterly tactless speech played on an inexplicably commercial-laden loop, a million thoughts shot through Jillian’s head.

JILLIAN STARES AND BLINKS AT NOTHING IN PARTICULAR.

Would she and John survive this?

JILLIAN CONSIDERS THIS.

Where would they go?

JILLIAN PUZZLES THIS.

How many people must she kill?

JILLIAN SMILES.

A BEAT. THEN…

Anyway. At some point, Jillian reached for toilet paper…

JILLIAN REACHES FOR THE TOILET PAPER…

and found none.

JILLIAN, INDEED, FINDS NONE.

Then she reached for the spare rolls in the cabinet beneath the sink in front of her…

JILLIAN REACHES FOR SPARE ROLLS…

and found none there as well.

JILLIAN, AGAIN, FINDS NOTHING.

Finally, she recalled an especially heated argument with John this morning…

JILLIAN STARES AND BLINKS. AGAIN.

something about John’s repeated failure to restock the toilet paper and his needing to do so before he plays in his little shed.

JILLIAN SWELLS WITH SILENT, RAGING BLOODLUST.

CUT TO:

JOHN’S SHED. JOHN, BLISSFULLY IGNORANT AND UNPRODUCTIVE.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) John, meanwhile, never knew of his wife’s admittedly petty grudge and subsequent raging bloodlust until he did.

JILLIAN ENTERS, BLUDGEONS JOHN WITH HIS OWN MICROPHONE.

JILLIAN: (TO AUDIENCE) Ignorance really is bliss.

Before the Fall

A war torn countryside. Homes and buildings reduced to smoldering rubble. People sick, dying, and generally unamused. Wholly unqualified doctors and priests stand about, pretending to look busy.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) The year is… I’m not sure. The place… Moronika, a once miserable place to live, now marginally worse on account of a bloody, costly, yet rather profitable war started for reasons no one can quite remember.

Slightly less sick and dying people, line-up by a cliffside. A COUNCILMAN sits behind a little table at the cliff edge. HUGO, an armed guard stands nearby.

And as the doctors tend to the dying and the priests pray for the dead, the living wait in line…

COUNCILMAN: Now serving number eleventy-seven.

MORONIKAN approaches.

MORONIKAN: Thank god! I thought I’d be stuck in this line forever.

COUNCILMAN: On behalf of the newly consolidated and collated Moronikan Monarchy Incorporated family, I do sincerely apologize for any wait. How may I assist you today?

MORONIKAN: (puzzles this) I’m not sure.

COUNCILMAN: Do you often stand in lines without rhyme, reason, or rhyme?

MORONIKAN: No. But a large, angry man covered in blood told a bunch of us to stand in this line.

 COUNCILMAN: Oh! So, Herman recommended you to us, then?

MORONIKAN: That’s right. I was standing in the bloody, smoldering rubble of what used to be my house and family–

COUNCILMAN: And now you’re in need of a new house and family?

MORONIKAN: That’s right. Some food would be nice, too.

COUNCILMAN: Of course. You might be a bit surprised to hear, but we’ve had a bit of a run on new houses, family, and food today.

MORONIKAN: Is that right?

COUNCILMAN: Oh, yes. It was a bit of a shock, but you know how it goes with these sorts of regime changes. All this death and destruction always motivates people to finally trade-in, move-up, sell-out, back-stab, and whatever other hyphenations they’ve put-off forever.

MORONIKAN: (nods) Of course.

Councilman hands Moronikan a pen and clipboard with several forms attached to it.

COUNCILMAN: Just fill this out for me real quick, and we’ll have you on your way.

Moronikan fills out, returns the forms.

MORONIKAN: There you go. I think I got it all right.

Councilman takes, looks over the forms.

COUNCILMAN: It does indeed. Now, if you’ll be so kind as to follow Hugo here to the edge of the cliff just over there, he’ll be happy to expedite the rest of your execution.

MORONIKAN: I’m sorry?

COUNCILMAN: Would you prefer self-checkout?

MORONIKAN: I’d rather not be executed.

Councilman double-checks the forms.

COUNCILMAN: But it says right here you voted in the last election.

MORONIKAN: Yes, but I don’t see why I should be executed for such a thing.

COUNCILMAN: Look. I’m sorry the system isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one we have.

MORONIKAN: Oh, sure. That might be all fine and good for you, Hugo, and the Moronikan board of executives–

COUNCILMAN: It really is.

MORONIKAN: Right. Well. Isn’t there any recourse for your average Moron?

COUNCILMAN: (considers this) Would you like a big, heavy rock to speed things up?

MORONIKAN: Will it cushion my fall?

COUNCILMAN: Would it help if I lied?

MORONIKAN: No.

COUNCILMAN: Exactly. Hugo?

Hugo escorts, casually throws Moronikan off the cliff.

(to Hugo) Thank you so much, Hugo. (to line) Now serving number eleventy-eight!

Grand Ghoulish (II-VI)

II-VI. WHAT SHE SAID

A bustling super-secret, super-freaky art gallery with clocks on a wall, teenagers frozen in ice sculptures, and HAROLD’S BRAIN in a jar, floating and bubbling in some clear solution. This monstrosity is somehow wired to an old laptop, a cheap pair of speakers, and a projector. Noisy, pixelated sights and sounds plucked out from Harold’s Brain flash and flicker on a wall.

A confused, yet confused PORTLY COUPLE with literal “bear hands” watch this morbid show.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) There are precisely two types of people in this world.

The first are those eclectic few showcasing their gaudy wealth in a secret art gallery located beneath the surface of the sort of affluent California “community” where everyone is as artificial as the grass, trees, and even the lightly-scented air. For fear of being assimilated, the name of this particular town escapes me at the moment.

(a beat, then…)

Meanwhile, the other sort are the art. And as Harold – or, more precisely, Harold’s skillfully preserved brain and eyes – stared at a clock hung between a pair of terrified teenagers frozen in freshly-carved ice sculptures, he took solace in the fact that while his most embarrassing memories were currently being projected on the wall behind him, at least the portly couple with matching bear-hands in front of him couldn’t tell he was crying.

BRENNIPHIA: (off) Hey, you!

Harold’s Brain bubbles at the sound of her voice. The feed briefly scrambles, then continues.

Portly Couple turn ever so slightly to their left to…

Brenniphia, now a pink bob cut in a silk sundress and adorable shoes, joins Portly Couple.

PORTLY COUPLE: Sophia!

BRENNIPHIA: I go by “Brenniphia” these days, actually. New me, new…well, new everything!

PORTLY COUPLE: (to each other) How naughty!

BRENNIPHIA: I see the two of you are enjoying Oliver’s work.

Portly Couple hold up their literal “bear hands”.

PORTLY #1: (gushes) Our grandson absolutely loves it!

PORTLY #2: Soph… I mean, Brenniphia… you’re looking so daring these days!

Brenniphia teases her hair, fingers glide across faint, but thick lines on her scalp.

BRENNIPHIA: I wasn’t going to keep it, but it kinda grew on me.

A woman’s voice, Sophia’s, crackles again and again from the cheap pair of speakers.

SOPHIA: (recording) What does that make me?

Brenniphia and Portly Couple turned to Harold’s Brain.

What does that make me? What does that make me?

Harold’s Brain bubbles in its solution. The projector flickers vague images, flashing frames of bodies in pieces and blurred faces.

What does that make me? What does that make me? What does that make me?

PORTLY #2: What is that awful thing?

BRENNIPHIA: One of Oliver’s little toys.

PORTLY #1: Bit gratuitous, isn’t it?

Brenniphia nods, “Mmhm.”

BRENNIPHIA: But don’t let Oliver hear you say that.

SOPHIA: (recording) He’s a magnificent surgeon…

BRENNIPHIA: I’m sorry. I better get Oliver over here to fix this.

SOPHIA: (recording) …you can only roll back the clock so far…

Portly Couple say their goodbyes, waddle off, paw-in-paw.

SOPHIA: (recording) Do they bother you?

Brenniphia turns to Harold’s Brain.

Harold’s Brain bubbles.

An uncomfortable silence. Then…

She begins to speak, thinks better of it, and then disappears into the crowd.

THE END

Grand Ghoulish (II-V)

II-V. CLICK II

A very large and dark room. No windows, no doors. No sound but the electric humming of medical equipment. No light but the harsh, cutting white of several, well-placed surgical lamps reflecting on impressively polished steel tools with lots of little blades and teeth.

Harold is on an operating table, unable to move. Only his face is lit and in clear view. His body is obscured by shadow and sheets. Wires run from his head and body to one of the humming bits of medical equipment.

HAROLD: (silently screams)

OLIVER: (off) Sorry, sorry.

Oliver, eating a sandwich in his desk chair, casually rolls out of the darkness, over to Harold. He flips a switch on the humming bit of medical equipment.

You looked like you had something to say.

HAROLD: (yelps)

OLIVER: (scoffs) Was that it? Go on. Get it out. Nobody can hear you scream.

HAROLD: (considers this) Pot to Kettle, how much more of a cliche can you be?

OLIVER: Not to put too fine a point on this, but I am a surgeon holding his wife’s lover captive in a big, secret laboratory.

HAROLD: Fair enough. But, where the Hell did you come from? I thought I was alone.

Oliver gestures to sandwich and feet.

OLIVER: Bit of lunch and socks.

HAROLD: Where’s Sophia?

OLIVER: Why? Feeling lonely?

HAROLD: What did you do to her?

OLIVER: (gestures with sandwich) I scooped out her brain and put it into the relatively younger body of a pink-haired woman who tried to sell me cologne from the trunk of her car.

HAROLD: Did none of that sound crazy to you?

OLIVER: Look. If it helps, you weren’t the first.

HAROLD: What?

OLIVER: Yeah. Sorry. There was this old flame from high school, a few coworkers, this guy from the social security office…

HAROLD: Bullshit.

OLIVER: Hey. I’m not even Sophia’s first husband. Now, that guy? Real piece of work. I got some good practice out of him, though.

HAROLD: Why would she do all that?

Oliver finishes his sandwich.

OLIVER: (shrugs) It makes her happy.

HAROLD: You’re shitting me.

Oliver picks up a shiney steel tool with the scary little blades and teeth.

OLIVER: You slept with my wife. I don’t think you get to shame other people’s kinks.

Harold seizes on the scary little blades and teeth, ignores everything else.

HAROLD: Jesus. If you’re going to kill me, just do it already.

Oliver picks at his teeth with the tool.

OLIVER: Don’t be so dramatic. I’m not going to kill you.

HAROLD: (puzzles this) You’re not?

OLIVER: Of course not. Keeping you alive is the whole point.

HAROLD: Wait. What?

Oliver rolls over to another switch, flips it.

The lights come on and reveal what is, more or less, a chrome-finished Salvador Dali painting. But instead of melted, sagging clocks, twisted figures, or surreal landscapes, Harold’s insides stretch and sag and drip on the outside, all over Oliver’s otherwise spartan, make-shift surgery room. Lungs are draped over the back of a chair. Entrails wrap around one of the surgical lights, across the operating table, and inexplicably tied on the other end to an old Victrola. Harold’s head dangles above this from several cables, with a number of tubes and wires clipped or stuck into this or that hole.

OLIVER: See, Harold?

Oliver holds up Harold’s still-beating heart, jangles it like a set of keys.

I’m a bit of an artist myself.

Harold ignores this, screams.

Oliver shakes his head disapprovingly, then flips the switch.

OLIVER: Yeah. That’s enough of that.

HAROLD: (silently curses)

OLIVER: What? I meant nobody else can hear you scream.

Grand Ghoulish (II-IV)

II-IV. BROKEN CLOCK

That third-floor master suite of a “stately manor” located in the expensive corner of a somehow even more expensive strip of Southern California coastline. Only this time it’s all rather messy. Furniture is tossed, flipped. The walls smothered in blood, gore, more blood, and bits of sick. Also, Sophia is dead in her bed. Harold, not dead, looks upon all this.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) What remained of Sophia slumped awkwardly in her bed. Swashes of blood, splatterings of brains, and bits of skull clung to everything. And as Harold looked on at this from the doorway, he couldn’t help but feel like he made a huge mistake by stopping for gas.

Now. To be perfectly fair to Harold, his grandmother’s near-mint wood panel Ford station wagon was one Hell of a gas guzzler. And the trip from their home in Buena Park to that manor by the sea was already a good hour-long trip down the 5, give or take. Between the forty-year old fuel efficiency standards and some inexplicable bumper-to-bumper gridlock that began and ended for seemingly no reason whatsoever, Harold had zero chance of arriving in time for some heroic save. In fact, Harold realized this back in Irvine. But he also realized that he was a failed photographer in his thirties, living in his elderly grandmother’s garage, and having a summer fling with a married woman. So when the congestion blinked out of existence somewhere around Lake Forest, Harold steered the Ford off the freeway, put several dollars worth of gas in the tank, double-backed a bit, and eventually made his way up to Sophia’s bedroom doorway where he continued standing about like he wasn’t at some grisly scene worth reporting immediately to the local authorities.

OLIVER: (off) Good thing you dropped your phone.

Oliver enters, freshly made up.

Otherwise, this could have gone–

Harold ignores this, breaks Oliver’s nose with a wild and wholly lucky punch.

Oliver brushes this off, pinches at his bleeding, crooked nose.

OLIVER: I suppose I owed you that.

Harold growls, looks for something large and heavy to beat Oliver with, repeatedly.

HAROLD: I’m only getting started.

OLIVER: You know, I completely agree.

HAROLD: (blinks) What?

BRENNIPHIA: (off) Harold.

HAROLD: Brennifer?

Harold turns, sees…

BRENNIPHIA, a woman with a pink faux hawk in sweatpants and a tattered Bon Jovi tee. Fresh surgical incisions wrap around her head. She looks like Brennifer, but talks and moves like Sophia…

What the Hell did he do to you?

BRENNIPHIA: These?

She glides her fingers over the incisions.

Do they bother you?

HAROLD: Sophia.

She steps closer.

BRENNIPHIA: It’s like I told you, Harold. Oliver’s a magnificent surgeon.

She embraces Harold.

HAROLD: I don’t understand…

She sticks a syringe into Harold’s neck.

BRENNIPHIA: Turns out…

She empties, removes the syringe from Harold.

…when the clock stops rolling back, you can just get yourself a new clock.

Harold collapses to the floor, stays there.

OLIVER: Did you see his face? I think we broke his little mind.

BRENNIPHIA: (gushes) Right? (gestures) But did you have to do that to my body?

Oliver looks upon his work, shrugs.

OLIVER: You’re not the only one who loves a little theatrics, Sweetie.

Brenniphia shakes head, sighs.

BRENNIPHIA: Shut up and help me move him.

OLIVER: Yes, Ma’am.

Grand Ghoulish (II-III)

II-III. AN UNEARTHLY SOUND

Grandma’s. Grandma sits on her couch, stares blankly at nothing in particular.

Harold tantrums into the house.

HAROLD: I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him!

GRANDMA: (yawns) Are those MacGuffin boys teasing you again?

HAROLD: (puzzles this) What? No. Grandma, the MacGuffins haven’t lived around here for years.

GRANDMA: Are you sure?

HAROLD: Yes, I’m sure. Remember? Their house burned down when Mr. MacGuffin’s meth lab blew up during a police raid.

GRANDMA: Our water was off all day!

The unearthly sound of a landline telephone rings. Harold answers.

HAROLD: Who’s this?

SOPHIA: (phone) (sobs) Harold?

HAROLD: Sophia? How’d you get this number?

SOPHIA: (phone) I’ve been calling your cell, but it keeps going to voicemail.

Harold checks his pockets and finds only his wallet and keys.

HAROLD: Aw, shit.

SOPHIA: (phone) Harold… Oliver found my phone. He knows everything.

HAROLD: Yeah, I kinda picked that up after he sucker-punched me at the gallery.

SOPHIA: (phone) He already found you?

HAROLD: Not gonna lie. I think I got off kinda easy, all things considered.

SOPHIA: (phone) (screams in that way one tends to do when their muscle-bound spouse suddenly returns home during an in-progress, infidelity-fueled rampage)

HAROLD: Sophia?!

Silence. Then…

Sophia, are you okay? Sophia, are you okay? Are you okay, Sophia? Sophia, are you okay? Sophia, are you okay? Are you okay, Sophia?

Another silence. Then…

Harold inspects the phone.

Oh. Battery’s dead.

GRANDMA: Harold, does this mean you’re going to be late with the rent again?

Harold ignores this, storms out the door.

Harold?

She walks to the door, watches Harold speed off in the station wagon.

(sighs) I’m never getting my car back.

Grand Ghoulish (II-II)

II-II. ONE PUNCH

THE ALLEY BEHIND THE SMALL ART GALLERY. BRENNIFER SPEAKS TO AN OFFICER. OFFICER SLOWLY, YET UN-ASSUREDLY TAKES NOTES ON A HANDY LITTLE NOTEPAD WITH A LITTLE PENCIL.

HAROLD, MEANWHILE, STANDS BY HIS GRANDMOTHER’S STATION WAGON, PATIENTLY WAITING FOR HIS CUE AS IF HE ISN’T ACTUALLY THERE. HE HOLDS A LARGE FRAMED PHOTOGRAPH UNDER EACH ARM.

OFFICER: Okay. So, would you mind going over this one more time for me?

BRENNIFER: What’s the point of writing all this down if you’re just going to have me repeat it?

OFFICER GESTURES TO THE AUDIENCE.

BRENNIFER: Oh. Right. (TO HAROLD) Go on, then.

HAROLD: You sure?

BRENNIFER: (GESTURES TO AUDIENCE) Wouldn’t want complaints about exposition.

HAROLD: (NODS) Of course.

HAROLD DROPS, SHATTERS FRAMED PHOTOS.

(PRETENDS TO CARE) Oh, no…

(TO BRENNIFER) Like that?

BRENNIFER: It’ll do.

OFFICER: That’s it?

BRENNIFER: Don’t make me have to do this again.

HAROLD: Yeah, what she said. Also, I didn’t bring any more of these to break.

OFFICER: Sorry.

BRENNIFER AND HAROLD GLARE, SHAKE HEADS AT OFFICER. THEN…

BRENNIFER: Right. So, that happened. And then, I walked over to Harold and said… (TO HAROLD) Everything okay? I heard screaming.

HAROLD: Yeah, it’s cool. I always scream when things are okay.

BRENNIFER: (GESTURES TO SHATTERED FRAMES) You need some help with that?

HAROLD: Nah. That was the last of it. Sorry it took me so long to come back for all this.

BRENNIFER: It’s cool. I’m sorry nobody bought anything.

HAROLD: Yeah… But at least I got some work out of it.

BRENNIFER: (PUZZLES THIS) (LAUGHS) Oh, yeah. That weird couple. How’d that work out?”

HAROLD: (LAUGHS) Sophia’s not weird…

BRENNIFER: (GRIMACES) Aw, shit…

HAROLD: (BLINKS) What?

BRENNIFER: You dumb bastard. How long have you been fucking her?

HAROLD: (CONSIDERS THIS) What?

BRENNIFER: (TO OFFICER) You getting this?

OFFICER: (READS) “You dumb bastard. How long have you been fucking her?” (TO BRENNIFER) What next?

BRENNIFER: Right. Well. Then, this dude comes up and–

OFFICER: Dude?

BRENNIFER: Just watch.

BRENNIFER GESTURES FOR THINGS TO PROCEED.

OLIVER ENTERS, PUNCHES AND KNOCKSOUT HAROLD.

OLIVER: (TO BRENNIFER) How was that?

BRENNIFER: Perfect. Thank you.

OLIVER EXITS.

OFFICER: Wait. You didn’t think to warn your friend–

BRENNIFER: (SHAKES HEAD) No, no, no… Harold and I screwed a few times in the utility closet after hours. We weren’t friends.

OFFICER TAKES IN THE PINK-HAIRED WOMAN IN FRONT OF HIM, WONDERS IF SHE SELLS MINERALS OR WEED. THEN…

OFFICER: Right. So, you didn’t think to warn Harold that a (READS NOTES) “very angry dude” was about to start a fight with him?

BRENNIFER: (SHAKES HEAD AGAIN) No. Not a fight – an ass-kicking. The dude threw one punch, then left.

OFFICER:  Okay… But why didn’t you say anything to Harold?

BRENNIFER: (SHRUGS) Maybe I thought he had it coming.

END SCENE.

Grand Ghoulish: II-I. Sex, Motels, and Voicemails

II-I. SEX, MOTELS, AND VOICEMAILS

THE MUSTY DARKNESS OF A ROOM AT A ROADSIDE MOTEL IN SOME FORGOTTEN CORNER OF SANTA ANA. HAROLD AND SOPHIA LOSE THEMSELVES IN EACH OTHER.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Their first hotel room felt like a lifetime ago. This one was their second room this week. Another stolen moment in a summer of stolen moments. They stole kisses at a mall like a couple of teenagers cutting class. Text messages became love notes. Love notes evolved into voicemails. Voicemails slipped into hushed late-night calls. Long drives and short make-out sessions in parking lots and malls quickly abandoned for more hotel rooms and lunch at her favorite places. And when Sophia paid with cash, Harold never asked why.

A PHONE RINGS AND RINGS AND RINGS…

SOPHIA ROLLS ATOP HAROLD, ANSWERS PHONE.

SOPHIA: (TO PHONE) I’m busy. What do you want?

SHE LISTENS AND “UH-HUHS” ALONG, ROLLS EYES, GESTURES, “BLAH-BLAH-BLAH.”

(GROWLS) Goodbye, Oliver…

SHE HANGS UP, TOSSES THE PHONE ASIDE.

(TO HAROLD) Where were we?

SHE PAWS AND NIBBLES HAROLD.

HAROLD: Everything cool?

SHE STOPS, LOOKS AT HAROLD AS IF HE’S THE STUPIDEST MAN ALIVE.

SOPHIA: What? Yeah, I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Why?

HAROLD: He just called.

SOPHIA: For fuck’s sake… You’re not going to start being a little bitch about this, are you?

HAROLD: (LIES POORLY) No… It’s just… isn’t this even a little fuckin’ weird to you?

SOPHIA: That’s funny… 

SHE ROLLS OFF HAROLD, GATHERS HER CLOTHES.

I didn’t know that was your conscience inside me a minute ago. My bad.

SOPHIA DISAPPEARS INTO THE SHOWER.

A BEAT.

HAROLD: (SIGHS) Goddammit.

END SCENE.

Grand Ghoulish: I-VI. Clock on the Wall

I-VI. CLOCK ON THE WALL

THE SANDY COASTLINE OF A SLIGHTLY MORE AFFLUENT COASTAL CALIFORNIA “COMMUNITY.” HOTELS AND BOATS ON ONE SIDE, BEACH ON THE OTHER. HAROLD AND SOPHIA SIT ON A BENCH. HE, A SLOBBISH CHIMP, WATCHES THE BOATS. SHE, A FASHIONABLE MESS, PERUSES A STACK OF PHOTOGRAPHS.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) It was a sweltering afternoon in a slightly more affluent coastal California “community” where nobody really likes each other, but are too medicated to care. The still air was thick and smelled of fish. And as Harold watched yet another yacht struggle to navigate the calm waters of the harbor, he concluded the world was wrong and life was meaningless.

SOPHIA: Would you do me?

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) They sat on a bench beneath the thinning shade of a patch of trees, yacht clubs and hotels to one side, families splashing about on a narrow stretch of sandy beach to the other. She was a fashionable mess of hair blowing in the wind, making her way through a stack of photographs of herself. He was very confused.

HAROLD: I’m sorry, I think an aneurysm burst. What were you saying?

SOPHIA IGNORES THIS, HOLDS UP A PARTICULARLY FLATTERING IMAGE IN WHICH SHE MADE CREATIVE USE OF A CHAIR, A MIRROR, AND THE CONTENTS OF A BOX SHE KEPT BURIED IN THE BACK OF HER CLOSET.

SOPHIA: I’d do me.

HAROLD: I’m glad you like them.

SOPHIA: (GUSHES) I love them! Don’t take this the wrong way, but how are you not getting more work?

HAROLD: (SHRUGS) What’s there to say? One minute, you’re young and full of shit and the world is yours. Next minute, you’re looking at a clock on the wall in an empty art gallery, wondering what the Hell you did so very, very wrong.

SOPHIA SEES THE MAN BESIDE HER, THEN THE STACK OF PHOTOGRAPHS IN HER HANDS.

SOPHIA: I haven’t seen myself… (BEAT) I haven’t felt this beautiful in years. Thank you, Harold.

SHE KISSES HIM.

HAROLD BLINKS.

Your lips are soft…

AND THEN SHE GATHERS HER THINGS, WALKS AWAY.

HAROLD WATCHES LIKE AN IDIOT, EVENTUALLY REALIZES HE SHOULD PROBABLY SAY OR DO SOMETHING.

HAROLD: (BLATHERS) Wait. What? Shit… I’m sorry, Sophia. I didn’t–

SOPHIA STOPS, TURNS TO HAROLD.

SOPHIA: I know you didn’t. I did.

HAROLD: Then, what’s the problem?

SOPHIA: (SMILES) No problem.

THEY SHARE A MOMENT. THEN…

SOPHIA EXITS, TOWARD THE NEARBY HOTELS.

HAROLD FOLLOWS.

END ACT ONE.

Grand Ghoulish: I-V. Click

I-V. CLICK

GRANDMA’S DARK KITCHEN. HAROLD, IN HIS UNDERWEAR, ON A ROLLING CHAIR OF SOME SORT, TYPES AND CLICKS AWAY AT A LAPTOP.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Harold edited erotic photos of a mostly naked married woman by the glow of his computer screen, and his mind wandered.

HAROLD WANDERS AND ROLLS TO:

THE THIRD-FLOOR MASTER SUITE OF A “STATELY MANOR.” SOPHIA WAITS, STILL DRESSED AS WE LOST SAW HER, UNAWARE THE SCENE HAS BEGUN.

HAROLD PUTS ON HIS CLOTHES FROM THE PREVIOUS SCENE AND PICKS UP A CAMERA.

SOPHIA REALIZES WHAT’S HAPPENING, POSES ON THE BED.

HAROLD, ONCE AGAIN FULLY CLOTHED, PHOTOGRAPHS SOPHIA FROM SOMEWHERE BETWEEN THE BED AND THAT WINDOW WITH THE BALCONY OVERLOOKING THE EXPENSIVE EVERYTHING. SHUTTERS CLICK, LIGHTS FLASH.

SOPHIA GROWS FRUSTRATED.

SOPHIA: (COOS) I don’t have cooties, ya know.

HAROLD LOOKS UP FROM HIS CAMERA, EYES NEVER LEAVING SOPHIA.

HAROLD: Huh?

SOPHIA: You’re so far away. Wouldn’t it help if you got a little closer?

HAROLD: (SHRUGS) Maybe.

SOPHIA: (POUTS) For someone who does this all the time, you sure are shy.

A BEAT. THEN…

HAROLD STEPS A LITTLE CLOSER, CONTINUES WITH ALL THE CLICKING AND FLASHING. SOPHIA CONTINUES POSING.

HAROLD: To be fair, most of these girls I photograph are…

SOPHIA: Younger?

HAROLD: Not married.

SOPHIA: (SCOLDS) Harold

CLICK, FLASH.

HAROLD: I’m teasing.

SOPHIA RELAXES, SMILES.

CLICK-CLICK-CLICK. FLASH-FLASH-FLASH.

HAROLD: Most of them are wannabe models who will never make it, settle on being whatever an “influencer” is, then turn to selling oils and pills and other people’s artwork.

SOPHIA: Sounds a bit harsh.

HAROLD: (SHAKES HEAD) I’m not judging. Just sharing.

SOPHIA SITS EXPOSED BENEATH THAT INTIMATELY DETAILED NUDE OIL INTERPRETATION OF HER YOUNGER SELF.

SOPHIA: (CONSIDERS THIS) So, what does that make me?

HAROLD STOPS.

HAROLD: I’m not sure yet.

A SILENCE. THEN…

HAROLD CONTINUES WITH THE CLICKING AND FLASHING, SOPHIA CONTINUES WITH THE POSING.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Many hours later, as Harold sat in the mild discomfort of an otherwise dark kitchen, beneath the wobbly blades of a ceiling fan, looking at dozens of photos of Sophia, he still wasn’t quite sure what to make of her.

Like the photos on his laptop, no two Sophias were the same. There was the refined woman in the silk sundress he met at the gallery, soft-spoken, curious, and resigned to the whims of a man who drags her by the wrist and parks in handicap spaces. A carefree mess in her vintage Bon Jovi tee smoking weed with Harold in his car. That confident young woman bound forever in canvas and oils. And every photograph was another Sophia looking back at him, her emotions and thoughts and urges scattered. One moment, she’s aware of how little she’s wearing and reaching for sheets, pretending she’s only being playful. The next, she’s ripping off her top and reaching for Harold with her eyes…

But it was the Sophia who caught his camera lingering too long on an old surgical scar that Harold kept coming back to.

SOPHIA GLIDES HER FINGERS OVER FAINT LINES RUNNING BENEATH HER ARMS AND BREASTS.

SOPHIA: These…? Oliver’s work. He’s a magnificent surgeon, but you can only roll back the clock so far. And time still leaves its scars.

HAROLD SAYS NOTHING…

…AND THE SILENCE CUTS AT SOPHIA LIKE HER HUSBAND’S SCALPEL.

Do they bother you?

HAROLD LOWERS HIS CAMERA, SEES THE MOSTLY NAKED WOMAN ON THE BED IN FRONT OF HIM. THEN…

HAROLD: No.

SOPHIA:  (SMILES) I tried to cover them up as best as I could.

HAROLD: They look fine. You look…

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Harold never finished his thought.

HAROLD RETURNS TO HIS CHAIR AND UNDERWEAR, ROLLS TO:

GRANDMA’S DARK KITCHEN.

HAROLD CONTINUES TYPING AND CLICKING AWAY AT A LAPTOP AS IF HE NEVER LEFT IT.

Back then, Oliver had returned by bursting through the front door and announcing his arrival like Ricky Ricardo. Whatever Harold might have been thinking at the time was replaced by the conflicting desires of leaping from the balcony window with the expensive view and running to the toilet.

GRANDMA ENTERS, ISN’T SURPRISED BY WHAT SHE FINDS.

But now, his Grandmother had walked in on her sweaty grandson in his underwear looking at erotic photographs of a mostly naked woman on his laptop.

GRANDMA: (SIGHS) Harold… I thought we talked about you doing this sort of thing in the kitchen.

HAROLD SLAMS THE LAPTOP SHUT.

HAROLD: I’m working and it’s hot in my garage!

END SCENE.

Grand Ghoulish: I-IV. Lavender

I-IV. LAVENDER

THE THIRD-FLOOR MASTER SUITE OF A “STATELY MANOR” LOCATED IN AN EXPENSIVE CORNER OF A SOMEHOW EVEN MORE EXPENSIVE STRIP OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COASTLINE. DOOR ON ONE SIDE, LARGE WINDOW WITH A BALCONY OVERLOOKING THE EXPENSIVE EVERYTHING ON THE OTHER. A TASTEFUL, YET EROTICLY-SIZED BED IN THE MIDDLE. AN INTIMATELY DETAILED NUDE OIL PAINTING OF SOPHIA ABOVE THIS.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) The house was little more than a modest four-bedroom home condensed into a cramped four-and-a-half thousand square feet. The Brazilian walnut flooring was several years old by now, and the wine cellar too small for even a moderate day-drinker.

HAROLD ENTERS, ROUGHLY FIFTY POUNDS OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND LIGHTING EQUIPMENT IN BOTH HANDS.

Sure, the view of the crystalline waters of the Pacific from the third-floor master suite was every bit as breathtaking as it was majestic. But, it could be better. 

HE SEIZES UPON THE INTIMATELY DETAILED NUDE OIL PAINTING OF SOPHIA.

In fact, Harold hardly noticed the view because he was preoccupied with the massive, intimately detailed nude oil painting of Sophia hanging over her bed.

SOPHIA ENTERS WEARING SOMEHOW LESS THAN THE PAINTING, JOINS HAROLD. YET AGAIN, HAROLD SOMEHOW FAILS TO NOTICE…

SOPHIA: My father-in-law used to be one hell of an artist.

HAROLD: Your father-in-law painted this?

HAROLD TURNS TO SOPHIA, DROPS BOTH HIS JAW AND THE ROUGHLY FIFTY POUNDS OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND LIGHTING EQUIPMENT.

SOPHIA: Yeah, but he’s dead now.

SOPHIA TURNS, CAUTIOUSLY NAVIGATES THE BROKEN PHOTOGRAPHY AND LIGHTING EQUIPMENT, AND LOOKS MELODRAMATICALLY OUT THE WINDOW.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Harold stood there in the bedroom of a mostly-naked married woman, among the several gym bags and rather expensive and broken light bulbs at his feet, a man at war with himself.

HAROLD GAWKS AT SOPHIA, TO THE INTIMATELY DETAILED NUDE OIL PAINTING, TO THE BROKEN PHOTOGRAPHY AND LIGHTING EQUIPMENT ALL AROUND HIM, AND THEN BACK TO SOPHIA.

On the one hand, he was an artist being paid to do his job. It hardly mattered that Sophia was a mature woman wearing only bits of tissue paper, floss, and a smile. The sort of haunting beauty many years removed from that painting, yet preserved by the carefree lifestyle of comically obscene wealth and the skilled hands of a well-compensated surgeon.

SOPHIA CROSSES BACK OVER THE BROKEN PHOTOGRAPHY AND LIGHTING EQUIPMENT, SEATS HERSELF AT THE FOOT OF THE BED. HAROLD CONTINUES TO GAWK.

But on the other less-skilled hand, Sophia hardly seemed to mind that Harold was gawking at her thighs and pondering aloud as to how soft they must feel, perhaps like very expensive toilet paper lightly scented in lavender.

SOPHIA: I thought you were a professional, Mr. Photographer?

HAROLD: Yeah. Me, too.

SOPHIA: Harold, I’m teasing.

HAROLD: I’m sorry. I think maybe this was a mistake.

SOPHIA: What. Why?

HAROLD: Well. You’re married, for one.

SOPHIA: Are you still on that? Oliver’s paying you to do this. He gave you a deposit, didn’t he?

HAROLD: Yeah, but…

SOPHIA: (GROANS, ROLLS EYES) Harold… The mostly-naked woman on her bed is paying you good money to take photos of her. So quit being such a chicken shit, and whip your camera out.

HAROLD: (NODS) Yes, Ma’am.

END SCENE.

Grand Ghoulish: I-III. Stately Manor

I-III. STATELY MANOR

A “STATELY MANOR” LOCATED IN AN EXPENSIVE CORNER OF A SOMEHOW EVEN MORE EXPENSIVE STRIP OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA COASTLINE.

HAROLD PILOTS A CLASSIC STATION WAGON FULL OF PHOTOGRAPHY AND LIGHTING EQUIPMENT TO A STOP IN THE DRIVEWAY, IDLES THERE. 

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) A near-mint condition wood panel Ford station wagon creaked and wheezed to a stop outside what Harold would later describe to his grandmother as a “stately manor,” and Harold idled there for another fifteen minutes.

HE ANXIOUSLY SNACKS AND ROLLS A “MARIJUANA CIGARETTE” AS THE NARRATOR PRATTLES ON AS IF IT FARTING MATTERS.

It was an acceptable Sunday morning in an expensive corner of Southern California. The sun hungover in the sky, half-wrapped in a thin, frayed sheet of moisture that scattered the light like shards of broken glass into exposed flesh. The wind whipped at the eyes, and the salt stuck to everything. And far too many people dressed up for morning sermons but who were really just heading out for mojitos and brunch. A stark contrast to the thick, still air of that semi-converted garage where Harold stewed in his own juices all night, except for that hour or so when the air chilled and warm rain kicked up all the dirt. The sort of heat that wraps around you like a wool blanket and has you gasping for breath when the water of a cold shower hits your skin. Or has you sticking your head in the freezer until you realize how this is stupid and isn’t helping at all, taking your grandmother’s keys without asking, leaving Buena Park behind in the rear view mirror, and then cruising south along the 5 with the window cranked all the way down. Sure, you’ll get there a little earlier than planned. But you can just hangout by the beach for a bit, maybe grab some breakfast. Except there is no parking, and there’s no way in Hell that you’re going to pay fifteen dollars for half a Cubano and some potato chips. So you drive around until you find a gas station with a restroom, and buy some donuts and a drink with an arrhythmic amount of caffeine, even though that’ll just get you all wired up and shaky, and you’ll smoke a bunch of weed to calm yourself down.

HAROLD NODS IN AGREEMENT, LIGHTS AND SMOKES JOINT.

But then you realize it’s almost time for your appointment, and now you have to not only drive up and through a gated community located somewhere on a hill looking out over a stretch of the Pacific, but also do so in a rickety car that handles like a rickety boat.

SOPHIA, A COMFORTABLE MESS OF HAIR IN SWEATPANTS AND A TATTERED BON JOVI TEE, STEPS OUT, APPROACHES THE STATION WAGON. NEITHER HAROLD NOR THE NARRATOR SEEM TO NOTICE…

And once you arrive, you’ll spend another fifteen minutes smoking even more marijuana in the hope of forgetting that you nearly hit a family walking their dog and most definitely hit someone’s latest model luxury vehicle, even if nobody noticed or–

SOPHIA: Harold?

HAROLD EVENTUALLY TURNS TO SOPHIA, LIT JOINT IN HIS HAND. HE ROLLS DOWN A WINDOW THAT IS VERY MUCH ALREADY DOWN.

HAROLD: Hi.

SOPHIA TAKES THE JOINT, TAKES A HIT.

SOPHIA: Nice car.

SOPHIA RETURNS THE JOINT, HAROLD TAKES A HIT.

HAROLD: Thanks. It’s my grandma’s.

END SCENE.

Grand Ghoulish: I-II. Bedsheet Curtains

I-II. BEDSHEET CURTAINS

A BEDROOM BY WAY OF A SEMI-CONVERTED GARAGE. PILES OF CLOTHES AND NEBULOUS GARBAGE STREWN ABOUT THE PLACE. BEDSHEET CURTAINS HANG IN THE WINDOW. HAROLD, IN ONLY HIS UNDERWEAR, TYPES AND CLICKS AWAY AT A LAPTOP SOMEWHERE AMONG HIS MESS.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) It was maybe sometime in the afternoon when the wholly unfamiliar sound of a phone ringing pulled Harold away from his computer.

A PHONE RINGS, HAROLD SEARCHES FOR IT.

He’d spent the last several hours perusing job listings on the internet, and arguably more time avoiding it. And between this, the heavy bedsheet nailed and drawn shut across the window in the room he rented, and the copious amount of marijuana he’d just smoked, pinning down precisely which pile of clothes contained his phone proved a bit of a challenge.

RINGING CONTINUES, HAROLD GETS WARMER…

But even as he waddled and crawled about that semi-converted garage in his underwear, the possibility of even remote human contact was as good an excuse as any to call off today’s depressing search for paid work.

HAROLD FINDS THE PHONE, LOOKS AT THE SCREEN, BUT DOESN’T ANSWER.

Unfortunately for Harold, the number on his phone’s screen was from an unknown caller. But fortunately for Harold, they left a voicemail.

HAROLD PLAYS THE VOICEMAIL.

SOPHIA: (VOICEMAIL) Harold, it’s Sophia. I couldn’t stop thinking about–

HAROLD HANGS UP, ATTEMPTS TO CALL SOPHIA BACK SEVERAL TIMES, BUT CAN’T GET THROUGH.

HAROLD: (MUTTERS) Why do people always call and leave a message, but never pick up when you–

SOFIA FINALLY ANSWERS THE PHONE.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) Harold?

HAROLD: (FAWNS) Sophia… I couldn’t stop thinking about you too.

AN UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE. THEN…

SOPHIA: (PHONE) What?

HAROLD: I said, “I couldn’t stop–”

SOPHIA: (PHONE) No. I got that.

HAROLD: Oh.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) What do you mean, “too”?

HAROLD: Your voicemail. You said…

SOPHIA: (PHONE) You didn’t finish listening to it, did you?

HAROLD: I did not.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) Of course.

HAROLD: What?

SOPHIA: (PHONE) I said, “I couldn’t stop thinking about you…”

HAROLD: Uh-huh.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) “…and your beautiful photos.”

HAROLD: (NODS) Gotcha. (A BEAT) Wait. How did you get my number? Your husband slapped my hand away when I tried giving him my business card.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) Yeah. Sorry about that.

HAROLD: I’m still kinda weirded out about that, actually.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) Harold, focus.

HAROLD: Yes, Ma’am.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) Look. It wasn’t easy getting your number. Is that awful woman from the gallery always such a pain?

HAROLD CONSIDERS THIS.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Harold neither confirmed nor denied this, mostly because he was too busy recalling the way he and Brennifer had hotboxed the utility closet and engaged in some vague approximation of sex after the gallery had closed for the evening. It wasn’t so much that the high had made sex difficult so much as it resulted in them failing to remove the various mops, half-filled buckets, and various harsh-smelling cleaning products before sealing themselves up for several sweltering, dizzying minutes. Certainly, this was not Harold’s finest hour. But it was mostly the way Brennifer had thrown several loose dollars and coins at him and refused to cuddle afterward that still left Harold feeling a little cheap.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) Harold?

HAROLD SNAPS OUT OF IT.

HAROLD: Sorry. I just realized I make really bad life choices.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) So, you’ll do it? You’ll take erotic photographs of me in the privacy of my bedroom while my husband is away?

HAROLD: I’m flattered, Sophia. A little creeped out by the weird way you guys keep phrasing it too, I guess. But, mostly flattered.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) So, what’s the problem?

HAROLD: You’re a married woman, Sophia. And your husband doesn’t seem like he’s onboard with this sorta thing.

SOPHIA: (PHONE) Oliver said it was a wonderful idea, didn’t he?

HAROLD: Yeah. That was kinda creepy, too. You get that, right?

SOPHIA: (PHONE) (CONSIDERS THIS) There’s five-hundred bucks in it for you.

HAROLD: When do you want me there?

SOPHIA: (PHONE) How does tomorrow work for you?

A NAGGINGLY SWEET-VOICED GRANDMA CALLS FROM SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE HAROLD’S BEDROOM BY WAY OF A SEMI-CONVERTED GARAGE.

GRANDMA: (OFF) Harold?

HAROLD GOES STILL AND SILENT, BURIES HIS PHONE IN HIS HANDS.

A SILENCE. THEN…

HAROLD BEGINS TO SPEAK…

GRANDMA VIOLENTLY BANGS ON THE WINDOW OF THE BEDROOM BY WAY OF A SEMI-CONVERTED GARAGE. THEN…

GRANDMA: (OFF) Harold, are you in there?

HAROLD: (SIGHS) Yes, Grandma?

GRANDMA: (OFF) Are you still driving me to my doctor’s appointment?

HAROLD: Yes, Grandma.

ANOTHER SILENCE. THEN…

GRANDMA: (OFF) Harold?

HAROLD: (SNAPS) I said, “Yes, Grandma”!

HAROLD REALIZES SOPHIA IS STILL ON THE PHONE AND HEARD EVERYTHING.

(TO SOPHIA) Yeah. Tomorrow works.

END SCENE.

Grand Ghoulish: I-I. Two Types of People

I-I. TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE

A SMALL ART GALLERY. A MAN, HAROLD, STARES AT A CLOCK HUNG ON THE WALL BETWEEN A PAIR OF PHOTOS OF A STICKY MOTEL ROOM. BRENNIFER, A PINK FAUX HAWK IN HORNED-RIMMED GLASSES AND A PANTSUIT, WORKS THE DOOR. A PALTRY SCATTERING OF LOOKIE-LOOS COME AND GO.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) There are precisely two types of people in this world.

The first are those daring few showcasing tasteful erotic photography on the walls of a small art gallery situated in the sort of affluent coastal California “community” where everyone drives the latest model luxury vehicle, grows their own pot, and insists on charging their rocks by moonlight. For the sake of legalities, the name of this particular town escapes me at the moment…

(A BEAT)

Meanwhile, the other sort aren’t complete idiots.

And as a man we’ll call “Harold” stood there in a mostly empty art gallery, staring up at a clock hung between a pair of before-and-after photos of a sticky motel room, he took solace in the fact that while his idiocy was on full display, at least nobody was around to witness it.

BRENNIFER APPROACHES HAROLD.

BRENNIFER: (THUNDERING LILT) Harold?

HAROLD TURNS TO BRENNIFER, STARTS TO SCREAM SOMETHING ABOUT PHONY CAPITALIST ELITES SUCKING ON THE TEAT OF ARTISTIC INTEGRITY, THEN DOESN’T.

HAROLD: Hey, Brennifer.

BRENNIFER: You okay?

HAROLD: (LIES POORLY) Yeah. I think so.

BRENNIFER LOOKS ABOUT THE EMPTY GALLERY, THEN BACK TO HAROLD.

BRENNIFER: Wow. Really?

HAROLD TAKES IN BRENNIFER.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Harold looked at Brennifer for a moment, wondering if the dead-eyed woman across from him sold either scented oils or pills when she wasn’t failing to sell other people’s artwork for money. “Pills,” he thought. “Definitely pills.”

HAROLD: Have we sold anything yet?

BRENNIFER: (SHAKES HEAD) No. But if it helps any, I’ve curated worse showings than this.

HAROLD: Really?

BRENNIFER: No. This is probably the worst.

HAROLD CONSIDERS THIS.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Harold considered this, then briefly imagined himself running through the gallery’s glass storefront and cackling his way down Main Street until finally succumbing to blood loss.

HAROLD CONSIDERS THIS AS WELL.

HAROLD: Thanks, Brennifer…

BRENNIFER: You’re welcome.

HAROLD: I didn’t finish.

BRENNIFER: Oh?

HAROLD: (SHAKES HEAD) No. I was going to say, “Thanks, Brennifer… (ANGRY, PETTY PAUSE) …for stomping on the shattered remains of my hopes and dreams.”

BRENNIFER: Oh.

HAROLD: Yup.

BRENNIFER: Sorry.

HAROLD TURNS BACK TO THE CLOCK.

HAROLD: (SIGHS) It’s fine. I didn’t want to have to carry home what little self-respect I had left.

BRENNIFER RETURNS TO THE DOOR AND LOOKIE-LOOS.

THE CLOCK BEGINS TO SPIN AWAY, INDICATING SOME SEMBLANCE OF THE PASSAGE OF TIME. LOOKIE-LOOS COME, LOOKIE-LOOS GO. HAROLD DOESN’T MOVE FROM HIS SPOT.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) The hours didn’t slip away so much as they shuffled by, fell over, cried that they’d fallen and can’t get back up, waited a moment, and then slowly got back to their feet before finally getting on with it.

During this time, Harold decided his feet hurt and got a chair.

HAROLD STEPS AWAY, RETURNS WITH A CHAIR. HE SITS AWKWARDLY ATOP THE CHAIR FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS SCENE FOR SOME REASON LOST EVEN TO HIM.

From atop his uneven, wholly uncomfortable chair that creaked and clattered every single time he shuffled his weight, Harold’s attention alternated between the clock on the wall and the scattered handful of disinterested locals and disinterested, broke tourists drifting in and out of the gallery.

AN OLDER, PLEASANT MAN WITH A ROMANIAN ACCENT APPROACHES, SPEAKS WITH HAROLD, POINTS TO A PHOTOGRAPH ON THE WALL.

NONE OF THIS REGISTERS WITH HAROLD.

MAN GIVES UP, RETURNS TO HIS PLEASANT, SQUATTISH WIFE.

MAN: I would love to buy that photograph, but that angry little man looked like he needed it more.

MAN AND WIFE EXIT IN ODDLY SINCERE DISAPPOINTMENT.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) This continued for much of the afternoon…

A SMALL, WRINKLY POTATO OF A WOMAN WITH A GREEN VISOR AND BAD HIGHLIGHTS SPEAKS WITH BRENNIFER.

until a wrinkly potato of a woman with a green visor and bad highlights in her hair asked Brennifer why the lady hadn’t put her phone away and asked the shaggy homeless man in the back to leave.

BRENNIFER SHRUGS.

POTATO HUFFS, LEAVES.

BRENNIFER APPROACHES HAROLD.

BRENNIFER: You need to leave.

HAROLD: What, leave? Why? This is my show.

BRENNIFER: You’re depressing everyone away.

HAROLD: (SCOFFS) “Depressing everyone away”? (GESTURES) There’s nobody here, Brennifer!

HAROLD’S EYES MEET THOSE OF A CONCERNED COUPLE IN MATCHING SHIRTS.

A SILENCE. THEN…

CONCERNED COUPLE SLOWLY, QUIETLY BACK OUT THE DOOR WITHOUT ANY SUDDEN MOVEMENTS.

(TO BRENNIFER) Okay. Maybe you have a point.

SOPHIA, A CHARMING, MATURE WOMAN IN A SILK SUNDRESS, ENTERS.

SOPHIA: Excuse me.

HAROLD AND BRENNIFER TURN TO SOPHIA.

SOPHIA APPROACHES.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) She was a cool forty poured into a silk sundress. Dark curls kissed the bare, tanned skin of her shoulders. And only the faint hint of laugh lines appearing about a pair of bedroom eyes as a devilish smile—

BRENNIFER: (SQUAWKS) Can I help you, Ma’am?

HAROLD SHOOS BRENNIFER AWAY WITH A WAVE OF HIS HAND, BUT WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A LOOK HER WAY.

HAROLD: Go vlog in the street, or something, will ya?

BRENNIFER CONSIDERS THIS, PRETENDS TO CARE, THINKS BETTER OF IT, THEN FLOATS AWAY AND OUT THE DOOR.

SOPHIA: Is she going to be okay?

HAROLD: (SHRUGS) How can I help you, Ms…

AN UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE.

SOPHIA EVENTUALLY PUTS TWO-AND-TWO TOGETHER, EXTENDS HER HAND.

SOPHIA: Sophia.

HAROLD LOOKS AT, EVENTUALLY TAKES SOPHIA’S HAND.

HAROLD: How can I help you, Ms. Sophia?

SOPHIA LOOKS AT HER HAND, BACK TO HAROLD, THEN… WITHDRAWS HER HAND.

SOPHIA: Aren’t you the janitor?

HAROLD: What? No, I’m the photographer.

SOPHIA: Wait. Really?

HAROLD: Yeah…

HAROLD GESTURES TO THE MANY PHOTOGRAPHS HANGING ON THE WALL, BUT SPECIFICALLY TO THE REASONABLY SIZED SIGN BY THE DOOR WITH BOTH HAROLD’S NAME AND FACE PRINTED ON IT.

These are all…

SOPHIA: I’m so sorry… (SNEAKS A LOOK AT THE SIGN BY THE DOOR) Harold.

HAROLD: Did you actually think I was the janitor?

SOPHIA SHRUGS.

HAROLD: Huh.

SOPHIA: I mean, you dress so… (GESTURES AT ALL OF HIM)

HAROLD: (SIGHS, SHAKES HEAD) No, I totally get it.

SOPHIA: Poor. You dress like a poor–

HAROLD: Yeah. I got it.

SHE LOOKS AT HIM, “DID YOU, THOUGH?”

SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE. BRENNIFER IS NEARLY RUN DOWN IN THE STREET BY A PASSING BIKE MESSENGER WHILE COMPLAINING ABOUT HER CRUMMY DAY AT WORK TO STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET. SHE SHOUTS AND SWEARS AND STORMS OFF.

EVERYONE LOOKS AND FROWNS UPON THIS.

HAROLD: So… Sophia. Did you see something you like?

SOPHIA: Actually, I wanted to inquire about a possible private session.

HAROLD: Seriously?

SOPHIA TURNS TOWARD A PHOTOGRAPH OF A NAKED WOMAN WISTFULLY LOOKING OUT ACROSS SANTIAGO CANYON AT SUNSET, SIGHS.

HAROLD: (BLINKS) Okay.

SOPHIA DRIFTS FROM ONE IMAGE TO THE NEXT, PAUSING DRAMATICALLY AS NECESSARY AS SHE SHARES SOME EMOTIONALLY CHARGED STORY ABOUT HER FADING BEAUTY AND THE MEN WHO ONCE PAINTED IMAGES OF HER.

HAROLD – AND THUS, US – TUNES IN AND OUT.

SOPHIA PAUSES JUST LONG ENOUGH, HAROLD ASSUMES SHE’S FINISHED.

HAROLD: I would love to photograph you, Sophia. But, why me?

SOPHIA: (CONSIDERS THIS) Do you believe in fate, Harold?

HAROLD: (DOESN’T CONSIDER THIS AT ALL) No, not really.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) And then for the sake of dramatic conflict, it was at this time that Sophia’s previously unmentioned husband appeared.

OLIVER, A MENACINGLY ATTRACTIVE, ATTRACTIVELY MENACING MAN, ENTERS.

He was a square jaw in khaki shorts. A head of luscious, perfectly coiffed hair wearing socks with sandals. Broad shoulders and meaty arms with a tiny wristwatch. Not since Charlton Heston descended from that mountain top in his finest robe and slippers has a chiseled work of divine art commanded the attention of all those in attendance.

OLIVER APPROACHES SOPHIA AND HAROLD.

So it didn’t surprise Harold that, even from atop his chair, he was but a boy, in both stature and dress, to the animated slab of beef before him. And all he could think to say was–

HAROLD: (FAWNS) Is that a tailored polo shirt?

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) It was.

HAROLD REACHES FOR, BUT DOESN’T QUITE TOUCH THE BEEFY MAN’S ARMS WITHOUT PERMISSION.

SOPHIA: Harold. This is my husband, Oliver.

HAROLD CATCHES, STOPS HIMSELF.

HAROLD: Husband?

OLIVER EXTENDS A HAND TO HAROLD LIKE A GREEK GOD REACHING OUT TO A CHIMP.

OLIVER: Doctor, actually.

HAROLD, THE CHIMP THAT HE IS, LOOKS AT, EVENTUALLY TAKES, SHAKES OLIVER’S HAND.

HAROLD: Of course you are.

OLIVER: Excuse me?

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) But before Harold could even begin to consider constructing a lie to hide this strange and confusing mix of fear, insecurity, and pure animal attraction… 

HAROLD SLOWLY, YET QUICKLY REALIZES OLIVER IS CRUSHING HIS HAND.

…he realized that what can only be described as Oliver’s massive paw was crushing his teeny-tiny baby-man hand.

HAROLD ATTEMPTS, FAILS TO NOT CURL UP IN PAIN AND AGONY.

And as the bones and joints of his teeny-tiny baby-man hands bent and popped in ways they never evolved to do, Harold recalled a date with a petite Vietnamese woman at a Japanese seafood restaurant.

HAROLD ESCAPES INTO HIS THOUGHTS.

He couldn’t remember the woman’s name, or even why this scenario occurred in the first place. But he did remember the way he struggled to crack the shell of a crab with the big metal cracker they’d given him. He also remembered the way he felt uncomfortable watching his date rip and tear crab leg after lobster claw with her bare hands.

HAROLD SNAPS BACK TO HIS PAINFUL REALITY, TAPS OUT.

HAROLD: (PAINED SQUIRMING) My hand…

OLIVER SLOWLY, YET SLOWLY REALIZES THE CHIMP IS ATTEMPTING TO COMMUNICATE SOMETHING.

(PAINED SQUIRMING) You’re crushing my hand…

OLIVER RELEASES WHAT REMAINS OF HAROLD’S HAND.

SOPHIA: Oliver’s an experimental surgeon.

HAROLD: (NURSES HAND) Experimental? What, like ripping people open with his bare hands?

OLIVER STARES DEEP INTO HAROLD’S SOUL.

OLIVER: What have you heard about my bear hands?

HAROLD: (TO SOPHIA) Is he serious?

SOPHIA: Probably.

OLIVER: (TO SOPHIA) Sweetie?

HAROLD & SOPHIA: Yes, Darling?

OLIVER: Why are you introducing me to the janitor?

HAROLD: Do I really dress that bad?

SOPHIA: He’s a photographer, Oliver.

OLIVER: Always good to have a hobby, I suppose. But why are we speaking with the help?

HAROLD: Rude.

SOPHIA: No. This is his show. These are his photographs on the wall.

OLIVER LOOKS ABOUT, MILDLY UNIMPRESSED.

HAROLD: My face is on the poster, man.

OLIVER: How quaint.

HAROLD: Thank you?

OLIVER: Bit gratuitous. though. All these pictures of naked people and their wobbly bits. Don’t people share this sort of thing on the internet for free these days?

SOPHIA: Oliver—

HAROLD: It’s okay. He’s not wrong.

OLIVER: See?

SOPHIA: (ROLLS EYES) Yes. Well. I want to book Harold’s services for a private session.

OLIVER: Is that right?

HAROLD: (SHRUGS) Yeah, I don’t get it either.

OLIVER: You want to take private, erotic photographs my wife?

HAROLD: Yes.

OLIVER: Possibly in some state of undress.

HAROLD: Uh-huh.

OLIVER: And you want to be paid to do such a thing?

HAROLD: Also yes.

BRENNIFER ENTERS.

BRENNIFER: (TO ALL) Anyone own the latest model luxury vehicle parked in the handicap spot across the street?

OLIVER: Yes. Why?

BRENNIFER: Because they’re towing it, Dude.

OLIVER: (GROANS) Not again. (TO HAROLD) Okay. Look. Henry?

HAROLD & SOPHIA: Harold.

OLIVER: Don’t correct a man when he’s giving you a job, Henry.

HAROLD: Yes, Sir.

OLIVER: I think it’s a wonderful idea to have a total stranger take erotic photos of my naked wife.

HAROLD: I mean, when you put it that way…

OLIVER: I did.

HAROLD: Right. Well. Let me get you a business card, and–

OLIVER SHAKES HEAD, SLAPS HAROLD’S HAND AWAY FROM HIS OWN POCKET.

OLIVER: No. Nope. No business cards.

HAROLD: What the hell?

OLIVER WIPES HIS HANDS CLEAN ON THE BACK OF SOPHIA’S DRESS.

OLIVER: I don’t do business cards.

HAROLD: (PUZZLES THIS) What?

OLIVER DISMISSES THIS WITH A WAVE OF HIS HAND, MUTTERS SOMETHING ABOUT POOR PEOPLE, THEN TAKES SOPHIA BY THE WRIST.

OLIVER: Don’t worry about it, Hank. We’ll find you.

HAROLD ATTEMPTS TO CORRECT OLIVER, BUT OLIVER AND SOPHIA ARE SOMEHOW ALREADY OUT THE DOOR.

HAROLD: (TO NOBODY) Did he threaten me? Cuz that sounded like he was threatening me, maybe.

BRENNIFER SPEAKS, WATCHES FROM THE DOORWAY.

BRENNIFER: A little. But if it helps any, they totally towed his car away. He’s super pissed.

HAROLD JOINS HER.

HAROLD: (SMILES) Yeah. That does kinda help.

END SCENE.

Removal Service

TADTHONY speaks from the alleyway behind a stripmall.

TADTHONY: I’m Tadthony Foreskin from Foreskin Removal Service. Do you need something removed from your home, office, or property?

Photos of assorted junk and garbage appear.

TADTHONY: (voice-over) Is there an old car parked on your lawn? Did someone leave your old printer, twenty-seven inch cathode ray tube television set, and assorted soiled, most definitely broken furniture on the curb? Maybe you have an unwanted houseguest or nosey child. I don’t know, and I don’t care. That’s your business.

Cut to Tadthony still in the alleyway as several GOONS forcefully remove SOMEBODY from the premises.

TADTHONY: My business, as I’ve previously stated, is removing things. And if it can be removed, let Foreskin remove it for you.

Cut to footage of Goons disposing of a Somebody-sized garbage bag off the side of PCH and into the ocean below.

TADTHONY: (voice-over) Foreskin Removal, a thing since I don’t want to talk about it.

A Complete Waste of Time

01. ON OUR PROGRAM TODAY (HECTOR’S)

STEVE: I’m Steve Arviso, and this is “A Complete Waste of Time.”

MUSIC: A SNATCH OF SOME UP-BEAT DIDDY.

STEVE: On today’s program, we’ll be speaking with Connie McGivens., a local barista and failed piano tuner; fish enthusiast Cyril Shenanigans; and Kyle DeWitt, local con-man and bookie.

But first, a message from our sponsor – Hector’s.

MUSIC: SENTIMENTAL PIANO MUSIC. UP, UNDER.

STEVE: Do you want produce at the lowest price possible? Did you forget your wife’s birthday again? Then stop by Hector’s Oranges and Flowers Boutique. Currently located by the First Street off-ramp in Santa Ana. Hector’s: we have oranges and flowers… and sometimes other things.

02. THE LAST WORD (w/ FINNEGAN HABERDASHER)

MUSIC: PEPPY, YET TERRIBLE SYNTH-ORGAN MUSIC.

FINNEGAN: Welcome back to “The Last Word.” I’m your host, Finnegan Haberdasher. Tonight’s last words come from–

SFX: KNOCKING AT THE DOOR.

Oh. Excuse me for one moment, folks.

SFX: MORE KNOCKING.

SFX: FINNEGAN STEPS AWAY, OPENS DOOR.

FINNEGAN: (off) Yes, I’m Finnegan Haberdasher. Yes, I know Anita Dickings. What’s this about–

SFX: BANG! A GUNMAN SHOOTS FINNEGAN, FINNEGAN DROPS DEAD.

SFX: THE GUNMAN FLEES, SPEEDS AWAY IN CAR.

MUSIC: PEPPY, YET TERRIBLE SYNTH-ORGAN MUSIC CONTINUES. BUT THEN…

SFX: THE GETAWAY CAR CRASHES.

SFX: POLITE APPLAUSE.

MUSIC: PEPPY, YET TERRIBLE SYNTH-ORGAN MUSIC PLAYS OUT FOR A BIT TOO LONG.

03. ON THE HOUR (7PM)

SFX: ANNOYING TICKING. UP, UNDER.

ULYSSES: Welcome back to “On the Hour,” the only program where it’s New Year’s Eve every hour, on the hour. I’m your host, Ulysses S. Scrimshaw.

At the tone, the time will be, precisely, 7 P.M. (a beat, then…) Aaaaand…

SFX: a silly toot of a horn.

ULYSSES: There you have it.

Please remember to keep your celebratory antics respectable. And please, drink in moderation. And if you feel this program may have felt inaccurate, please adjust your clock accordingly and replay this show until satisfied.

I was and still am Ulysses S. Scrimshaw, and this has been “On the Hour.” And we’ll see you again, in, oh, say, fifty-nine minutes.

Goodbye.

04. MAKE IT QUICK (ALAN WRENCH)

PORTER: Howdy there folks. I’m Porter House, and welcome to “Make it Quick.” We’re out here in the heart of Keepitdownnow, Wyoming to help today’s special guest, Mr. Alan Wrench. Seems our new friend got himself into quite a bit of trouble recently at the dog races. So, he called us up to… Oh, I think I see Mr. Wrench coming out of his house right now.

SFX: PORTER SHOOTS, KILLS MR. WRENCH.

PORTER: Wasn’t that a beaut?

Welp… that’s all she wrote for this episode of “Make it Quick.” I’m Porter House. And remember, you never hear the one with your name

SFX: PORTER FLEES, SPEEDS OFF IN CAR.

05. THE SOCIETY FOR THE PROLIFERATION OF MORSE CODE

MUSIC: A LAID BACK LOUNGE MEDLEY. UP, UNDER.

SFX: APPLAUSE.

HOST: Wasn’t that brilliant, folks? Absolutely brilliant. And we’ll be right back with even of that which I have previously stated to be – and most certainly continues to remain – brilliant.

But first, a word from today’s sponsor – The Society for the Proliferation of Morse Code.

MUSIC: MEDLEY CUTS OFF.

SFX: THE BEEPING AND BOOPING OF SOME NONSENSE IN MORSE CODE.

MUSIC: LAID BACK LOUNGE MEDLEY RETURNS. UP, UNDER.

HOST: Wise words. Very wise words, indeed, from our friends down at SPMC.

Welcome back, everyone. I’m your host, Thumb Upmybutt. And we now return you to another sixty-minutes of uninterrupted screaming and wailing.

MUSIC: MEDLEY CUTS OFF.

SFX: PAINED SCREAMING AND WAILING OF COUNTLESS DAMNED SOULS.

06. A MESSAGE FROM THE WHITE HOUSE

MUSIC: BLARING AND PRETENTIOUS “BREAKING NEWS” DIDDY.

SWEETLY: Good evening, I’m Fuhkme Sweetly. As chaos continues to engul our once great nation, the White House has released the following message in the hopes of bridging gaps, mending bridges, and generally stirring the pot.

MESSAGE: (recording) (assorted baboon sounds followed by silly snoring, a cuckoo clock, sawing wood, and a small, whistling steam locomotive

SWEETLY: Truly a bold and daring message for these challenging times.

I’m Fuhkme Sweetly, and this has been another crushing message from today’s White House. Goodnight, and try not cry too much.

MUSIC: BLARING AND PRETENTIOUS “BREAKING NEWS” DIDDY. UP, OUT.

07. THE UNTIMELY DEATH OF NATURE DOCUMENTARIAN BIFF WELLINGTON
BY WAY OF CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICH

SOUNDSCAPE: BIFF silently eating a chicken salad sandwich as he stands in a small lake or pond, surrounded by only a lovely stretch of wilderness untainted by man’s hubris.

SFX: Biff chokes, drops dead with a little splash.

A long, uncomfortable silence…

08. ON OUR PROGRAM TODAY (THE SECOND PART)

STEVE: Unfortunately, that’s all we have time for today. Please join us next time, when we’ll be sure to disappoint you even more.

I’m Steve Arviso, and this has been a complete waste of time.

MUSIC: A SNATCH OF SOME UP-BEAT DIDDY. UP, OUT.

The Untimely Demise of David Alexander

STEVE speaks outside a suspect motel in some suspect corner of somewhere.

STEVE: I’m a mistake, and welcome back to “Who is This Guy, and Why Does He Think We Care?”.

Our next story this evening is, in a sense, utter fiction. In another sense, it never happened. But had it happened, we’re pretty sure this is how things played out if we wrote it.

The place, The Castoff, a small motel in a forgotten corner of Southern California. The subject, David Alexander, age thirty-five, a man of little consequence.

Photo of DAVID appears.

STEVE: (voice-over) The Castoff’s humble night-manager, David’s most notable accomplishment in his largely ineffectual life was actually the way in which it ended.

Cut to graphic photographic evidence of David’s graphic demise.

Unfortunately for David, due to the horrific, highly improbable manner in which he… I wouldn’t say “passed away,” because that greatly undersells the nightmarish torment that preoccupied David in his final moments. But needless to say, David had neither the time nor inclination to comprehend the absurdity of his own situation.

In fact, the frightening, chaotic, yet effortlessly graceful dance of the cosmos which was David’s death proved so improbable…

Cut to a photo of DR. PATEL doing whatever it is these sorts do in a university setting so as to appear busy.

…that a successful attempt by Dr. Urvi Patel, of the University of California Irvine, to approximate the odds of it even occurring – odds so mind-boggling, mind you, that I can’t even be bothered to offer a comedic approximation of how impressively absurd they really are…

Cut to a censored photo of Dr. Patel doing whatever it is these sorts do in a university setting so as to appear busy, only this time they’re nude.

…well, it drove the poor woman insane.

Cut to a censored photo of a much happier, still very nude Dr. Patel reciting poetry to a small, yet attentive class.

She now exists in a slight, yet perpetual state of depression, and teaches creative writing courses at a community college in Colorado.

Cut to Steve, still outside the motel.

STEVE: For the safety of others, the location of Dr. Patel’s research remains classified. Though, there are rumors it’s stored away in an evidence locker somewhere in Anaheim.

That said. Fortunately for us, though admittedly not so much for her, Mrs. Leticia Trevino was there to witness David’s… let’s say, “incident.”

A series of unflattering, wholly incriminating photos of TISH appears.

STEVE: (voice-over) A long-term resident of the motel where David had worked for some fourteen years, Tish’s statements to the police and reporters in the days, months, and even years after the incident faced heavy scrutiny. And in all fairness, it’s not hard to see why. Tish was, and still is, an admitted drunk. To this day, some three years after the incident, Tish can still be found scuttling about the motel at her leisure, walking up and down and all around the place, hair a mess, and always sipping from a seemingly bottomless thermos of whiskey. When asked by one reporter why she felt compelled to drink so much, Tish plainly and simply replied…

Cut to Tish uncomfortably speaking to camera.

TISH: I like whiskey.

Cut to Steve now in the motel parking lot.

STEVE: David, meanwhile, never had an opportunity to speak with reporters on account that he was dead. But had he somehow the ability to speak from beyond the grave, David likely would have wanted to clarify a couple of things.

First, David would have corrected Tish’s claims that she found him a “weeping mess” in the motel parking lot. For one, he wasn’t crying. He was merely worked up over the rather emotional phone call he had just finished with his wife. If anything, they were the scattered few raindrops of the restrained, though highly emotional storm raging within David. And for another, had he been crying, which he most definitely was not. But had he been crying, it was because, as he had already explained to Tish, who subsequently downplayed this crucial bit of information in most of her interviews…

A series of photos of an understandably miserable woman (DENISE) appears.

STEVE: (voice-over) …David’s wife, Denise, had just then threatened to leave David and take their two children upon her discovery that David had squandered their meager savings on a failed microbrewery.

Cut to security footage of David drinking with Tish while on the clock.

And as David bared his soul in that motel parking lot, Tish drank. And as she drank, she thought about her own failed marriage. How she chose drinking and a surprisingly lucrative online poker career over her own husband and children. It had worked out pretty well for her, all things considered. Sure, she was living alone in a motel and unknowingly had a large mass growing on her liver. But even after child support, she was still clearing a cool three-grand every month, which had to count for something, right?

And so, halfway through a heartfelt and utterly tearless recounting of how he had screwed up his whole life by following his dreams, Tish cut-off David with a seemingly harmless question:

Cut to Tish trying to mind her own damned business.

TISH: All I said was, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Cut to Steve, now loitering about the motel.

STEVE: This brings us to the second thing that David would have clarified regarding his death: just how excruciatingly painful and frightening the whole ordeal truly was.

If you take Tish at her word, you come away believing David’s death was instantaneous, or close enough. One moment he was alive, the next he was not.

And it’s a story that has proved a comforting thought for David’s family, especially Denise, who, after all this, eventually forgave David’s flagrant disregard for his family’s financial future.

Sadly, Tish’s story simply isn’t true.

Cut to Steve in a motel room occupied by several disinterested and distracted occupants.

STEVE: Now. In all fairness, from Tish’s perspective, one can clearly understand why she saw David’s death as instantaneous.

Steve melts a little wax figure of a man in a spoon with a lighter.

Again, one moment David is standing in front of her, carrying on about his failed marriage and poor life choices. And then a moment later, David is little more than a pile of bones and clothes soaking and floating in the liquefied mess that was once his own flesh.

Steve gestures at the melted man in the spoon.

You see, Tish’s question had the unintended consequence of triggering, deep within David’s brain, the exact sequence of synapses–the precise chemical cacophony, if you will–required for the human body to self-destruct.

Cut to various medical science-y photos.

STEVE: (voice-over) In a moment so rare it drove Dr. Patel to write listless and pedantic poetry about it for the rest of her life, David seized, in a manner of speaking, on the most horrific thought imaginable by the human mind. And while nobody has dared to replicate David’s findings to ensure the scientific accuracy of it all, everyone has mostly come to agree it must have been something particularly spooky. The argument here being that nothing capable of liquefying the human body, if not instantly, then at least as instant as the human mind can perceive it, could possibly be as banal as your childhood sweetheart, and mother of your children, leaving you forever.

Cut to disturbing historical photos and illustrations of executions via blood-thirsty kangaroo rats.

Nor could it be as silly as having one’s genitals slowly removed by way of a small, rabid mammal surgically attached to them. This is, of course, done in such a way that the devouring of the genitals in a slower, more roundabout fashion is the preferred and surely more obvious manner of escape to even a creature as intellectually deficient as a moderately starved, intoxicated kangaroo rat.

Cut to Steve shambling awkwardly out of the motel room.

STEVE: To accurately describe David’s death requires details so outlandish that nobody would ever take them seriously. In fact, most reporters who initially interviewed Tish found the whole thing to be rather silly despite the obvious puddle of human goo carted away by local officials.

Thus the best description we can offer that concisely yet safely encapsulates the grisly nature of the equally untimely demise of Mr. David Alexander is this:

Cut to security footage of David literally melting into goo in front of a mildly confused, mostly annoyed Trish.

STEVE: (voice-over) Imagine a life-sized figure of a man crafted from lasagna melting beneath the heat of the midsummer sun, with its pulpy mess of tomato and chunky, gooey globs of meat and ricotta cheese slushing off in chunks, steadily revealing a skeleton that is, more or less, screaming in such a way that sounds like a frankly poor rendition of New Edition’s classic hit, “Mr. Telephone Man,” and all while gargling with Alfredo sauce.

It was a frightful mess, to say the least.

Cut to Steve inconspicuously walking away from the motel as several police cruisers arrive, lights flashing.

STEVE: As for how Tish’s view of this conflicts with David’s, simply imagine all this happening in slow motion. And just as the nightmare-inducing image of a man turning into what the bottom of a dumpster behind an Italian restaurant looks like is forever burned into your mind’s eye, slow it down several steps further.

Cut to Tish still trying to mind her own damned business.

STEVE: (voice-over) Three days after the incident, yet another reporter from yet another newspaper, disturbed by the rather enthusiastic and flippant manner in which Tish spoke, asked Tish how someone could carry on with their life as if they hadn’t witnessed something so horrific.

TISH: (shrugs) I like whiskey.

The Sound That Night (II-III)

II-III. A DEBT PAID

SOUNDSCAPE: THE STILL SILENCE OF A VAST AND ENDLESS DESERT.

SFX: BENNY ABSENTLY TOSSES ROCKS AT THE TRACKS.

BENNY: (bored sigh)

SFX: A COYOTE HOWLS.

BENNY: (looks up, out) Huh?

SFX: THE DISTANT SOUNDS OF AN APPROACHING HORSE.

BENNY: (sees something) Hey… (it clicks, all smiles) Hey! (laughing) He did it!

SFX: STRANGER ARRIVES ON HORSEBACK.

BENNY: You did it! You really did it! It is him, right?

SFX: STRANGER DISMOUNTS.

STRANGER: You tell me.

STRANGER GRABS A HANDFUL OF CLARENCE’S HAIR, PULLS HEAD UP.

CLARENCE: (pained groans) You can’t do this to me…

STRANGER: I can and I am.

BENNY: (looks on at CLARENCE) My God… the sight of him…

STRANGER: This your man?

BENNY: Yeah… Yeah, that’s Clarence.

SFX: STRANGER RELEASES CLARENCE.

Oh. Yeah. Right. (fumbles in pockets) I think this is yours.

SFX: BENNY DROPS TWO COINS IN THE STRANGER’S HAND.

I suppose this makes us even.

STRANGER: (agreeable grunt)

BENNY: (nods) Good. Good… (looks at CLARENCE) I still can’t believe that’s him. (to STRANGER) Ya know, I didn’t think about it till now, but… (emotional) with her folks, and now Clarence… me… Natalie’s all alone now.

STRANGER: Aren’t we all.

A SILENCE, THEN…

SFX: STRANGER TURNS, WALKS AWAY.

BENNY: What happens now? You… you take him to Hell, or somethin’?

STRANGER: My experience? Hell is what you make of it.

SFX: STRANGER MOUNTS HORSE.

BENNY: And me?

STRANGER: Follow the tracks west.

BENNY: (looks west) What’s out there?

STRANGER: (considers this) Maybe we’ll both find out someday.

BENNY: Yeah. I hope so.

SFX: STRANGER RIDES OFF INTO THE EAST.

A SILENCE, THEN…

SFX: BENNY WALKS WEST.

OUT.

THE END

The Sound That Night (II-II)

II-II. THE HUNT

SOUNDSCAPE: THE UNSUSPECTING AMBIENCE OF A CONVENIENTLY QUIET, ISOLATED STRETCH OF ROAD.

STRANGER: (voice-over) I’ve heard it said you never hear the one with your name on it. That’s why I make sure they see me coming first.

SFX: CRUISER DRIVES BY, AWAY.

SOUNDSCAPE: THE UNCOMFORTABLE INTERIOR OF THE POLICE CRUISER.

OFFICER JIMMY: So, uh… How’s Natalie doing?

CLARENCE: Why the sudden interest in my baby sister, Jimmy?

OFFICER JIMMY: No reason, Clarence. Just…making conversation, is all.

CLARENCE: (disapproving growl)

SFX: BANG! THE CRUISER’S TIRE BLOWS OUT.

SFX: CRUISER LOSES CONTROL, CRASHES.

SOUNDSCAPE: THE UNUSUALLY PEACEFUL ATMOSPHERE OF A QUIET, ISOLATED STRETCH OF ROAD AFTER A CRASH.

SFX: CLARENCE EXITS THE WRECKAGE.

CLARENCE: Jimmy? Jimmy! Jimmy, you brain-dead idjit! What the Hell was that all about?

SFX: A COYOTE HOWLS.

STRANGER: Clarence Middleton!

SFX: STRANGER APPEARS, APPROACHES ON HORSEBACK. SLOW, STEADY.

CLARENCE: Deputy Middle–! (wait, back it up) (barking) You! This your doing?!

OFFICER JIMMY: (off) (pained) Clarence?

CLARENCE: I’m here, Jimmy! Some horse-riding son-of-a-whore shot out our tire!

OFFICER JIMMY: (off) (pained) I ain’t doin’ so good, Clarence…

CLARENCE: Look what you did to Jimmy, you damned savage! 

STRANGER: He’ll live.

SFX: CLARENCE STRUGGLES TO HIS FEET.

CLARENCE: That right? And me? You gonna kill me, Cowboy?

STRANGER: Dead or alive, you’re—

CLARENCE: Fuck you!

SFX: BANG! CLARENCE SHOOTS STRANGER.

SFX: STRANGER DROPS DEAD OFF HIS HORSE.

A SILENCE. THEN…

SFX: CLARENCE LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY.

CLARENCE: Take that you stupid summna–

OFFICER JIMMY: (off) (pained) Clarence…

CLARENCE: I heard ya! Don’t you worry. I’ve got this one handled, Jimmy. You radio for–

SFX: BANG! STRANGER SHOOTS CLARENCE IN THE GUT.

CLARENCE: (weak-in-the-knees) Wha-What in the…

SFX: CLARENCE DROPS TO HIS KNEES.

SFX: THE STRANGER RISES TO HIS FEET.

STRANGER: Clarence Middleton.

CLARENCE: God in Heaven…

SFX: STRANGER APPROACHES, THE JANGLING OF SPURS PUNCTUATING EACH STEP. ONE STEP… TWO… THREE…

CLARENCE: No… No, I shot you. I shot you!

STRANGER: I don’t care.

CLARENCE: Who do you work for? Huh? Who sent you?

STRANGER: You’re wanted for the murder of Benicio Sierra.

CLARENCE: What? That filthy wet–?! Did his people send you? Huh? You idiot! I’m the police! You can’t–!

SFX: BANG! STRANGER SHOOTS CLARENCE, POINT BLANK.

SFX: CLARENCE DROPS DEAD.

STRANGER: I can, Deputy Middleton. And I will.

FADE.

To be continued…