The Sound

Transcribed from tape labeled, “Taylor.”

TAYLOR: “It sounded like a pod of whales, and looked like a sea of lights.”

My Layla passed away a few years ago. One morning she woke up and died. Doctor said something popped in her head. I never talked about it much. I guess a lot of us wish we had. I know I do.

I heard on the news it started at 12:42, when all the lights went out. Some people online said it was later than that. Of course, some said it was earlier. I don’t know what time I heard The Sound. I only remember it was late, and cold. But, The Sound? The Sound… it was soft, pleasant. “It sounded like a pod of whales, but it looked like a sea of lights.” Sometimes I wish I could keep waking up to it. Sometimes, I dream that I do.

Layla waited for me outside the front door of our apartment. Pale in white, like the day I married her. And in The Sound, I heard her voice. She called, she cried. She said things – things only she knew. Things only I knew. Things she shouldn’t know. Called me awful names when I wouldn’t let her in. All I wanted to do was let her in.

I never thought I deserved Layla. She was too kind, too sweet, too understanding. Too trusting. I was a mess before she met me.

I was a mess when she married me. I was a bigger mess after she left me. I don’t know what I am now. But to see her standing there? I didn’t deserve to have her back. But I’m starting to think, maybe… maybe I deserved what came next.

From the window, I saw others opening their doors. They let in whatever they saw. I once heard someone saw a cat. So, who knows? But they saw what they saw. We all heard what we heard. And some of them… they opened their doors, and let that light in.

Our neighbors – sweet girl, awful mother. We used to hear them scream at each other through the walls. One day I realized the fighting stopped. Saw the girl one day in the laundry room, and she was all smiles. That night, when the sound began, she was screaming at her mother to go away. Screaming and screaming, “You’re gone, you’re gone! I killed you! You’re gone!” She kept her door closed.

The woman across from us… she opened her door. She’s gone now. Like everyone else.

My neighbor moved the next day. I helped her load a few boxes and bags into her car. We didn’t say anything the entire time. Box, car, box, car. (CHUCKLES) She didn’t even thank me, now that I think about it. But before she drove off, she, uh… She said, “It sounded like a pod of whales, and looked like a sea of lights.” I don’t know where she is now. I guess she’s gone too.

264 Hours

Transcribed from tape labeled “Sergio.”

SERGIO: When I try to sleep, all I see is a man’s eye dangling in a way that eyes shouldn’t.

I haven’t slept in about… seven days? I’m not sure. What day is it?

I once read a man went like, 264 hours without sleep. I don’t know what happened after that. Maybe he died.

I saw a guy die once. Did I ever tell you about that? Not too long ago, actually.

I’d been working overtime, extra shifts. Whatever I could get. We had to get some serious work done on my wife’s car. Cost a fortune.

One night, I’m scheduled to work swing. My wife needed my car, so I got a lift to work. But I was on my own going the other way, though. Had to take the bus.

(SIGHS) All I wanted was to get home.

It’s like a forty-five minute trip home. Straight shot, which is nice. No transfers. But that’s plenty of time for something to go wrong.

The old man was there when I got on. The kids came in about ten minutes later. Buncha college kids – not anymore, of course. But they were at the time. And they were laughing, giving the driver a hard time. I think they were drunk.

Something about the old man caught their eye. Maybe it was just him being there. Could’a been me.

It started with some jokes. One of them pulled out their phone, started recording the whole thing. Made the old man the star of their pretend late-night talk show. They sat there on all sides of him, asking all sorts of personal, awful questions they had no business asking. I can still hear the twisted way one of them cackled. Not a laugh like the others, but a cackle. Like this was the funniest thing in the world to them, but they hated it at the same time. It was… sick.

The old man wouldn’t play along. They got mad. And then, they hit him.

I love hockey. Something about the raw, hard-hitting nature of it. This big kid – red hair, something he thought was a beard – he body checked the old man – boom! – right against the glass. Shook the whole bus.

The bus driver didn’t say anything, he just pulled over and ran. Maybe I should’ve done the same.

Sometimes I wonder if those kids were just bad people. Not that I’m much better. I sat there and watched it happen.

They pounced on him, stomped on the old man like they were putting out a fire. By the time they stopped, his head… his head, it… it looked like a kicked-in jack-o-lantern.

Sometimes I wonder why he was there. Where didn’t that old man get to? It keeps me up at night, that old man and his eye.

Lexi

Transcribed from tape labeled “Lexi.”

LEXI: Sometimes I dream of a shape of a man, little more than a vague approximation – two arms, two legs, something like a head. Maybe more, sometimes less.

At least, I think it’s a dream. Pretty sure.

Most nights it stands outside my home, beneath the dirty glow of the street light. Other nights, closer. Sometimes on my lawn, beneath my orange tree… or, uh… at my door.

They stand there, looking at me looking at them from behind the safety of the curtains hanging in the window of my living room, this shape lost in fractured light and shadow. It shouldn’t see me, but it does. I can feel it.

Trim

The girl sat in a chair in the kitchen of a small house in an unincorporated corner of Anaheim, a bed sheet tied around her neck. Polyps stretched and reached from the pores on her face, the skin there twitching and pulling taut. Their slender tendrils writhing, flicking, and teasing at thin slits of light slipping in from where the curtains were drawn and pinned shut. And a boy, not much younger than the girl, stood across from her, a pair of his mother’s scissors trembling in his chubby fist.

“I think this is going to hurt,” the boy said.

The girl nodded. “Yeah. Do it.”

Tearing Me Apart (Sam)

DENA: I still have this picture of us from that day. See? That’s the three of us, sitting on the sand a little bit out that way. Cassi is the one on the left, Sam’s the brunette in her swimsuit. And that’s me, sitting on a bit of driftwood. It’s been… God, it’ll be fifteen years this summer. I’m older now than Sam ever was. Has it really been that long?

We, uh… We were all coworkers. We all worked at [REDACTED]. Remember those? (LAUGHS) I guess I’m showing my age. But, uh… Cassi and I, we were both just kids then – we went to the same college, actually. Sam was a bit older than the two of us, but you couldn’t really tell by the way she acted. The two of them worked together for a bit before I came along. I transferred to that location a little less than a year before that photo was taken.

(SIGHS) If we only knew…

I’m sorry. It’s… It’s been a long time, but it hasn’t. Ya know?

Umm…

A SILENCE.

Anyway. The three of us were close, I guess. We talked a lot. We even went out for drinks after work, especially if we all got stuck working the night shift on a Friday or Saturday. You start doing that, you get to talking and sharing. Sometimes a little bit more than you probably should. Sam shared – a lot. But she never said much about her husband. With everything she told us, Cassi and I knew Sam like a sister or a… or, her gynecologist. Ya know? I knew more about her body than my own. I knew the name of her high school boyfriend – that I still remember. But I couldn’t tell you her husband’s name.

One night while we’re locking up, Cassi asks Sam why she’s been looking so tired all the time lately. And that’s when Sam told us her husband left her.

An hour later, we’re drinking and talking. And Sam tells us how she found all these messages and photos on her husband’s phone. They were watching TV, and he left to use the toilet. And he just left his phone there, with all this opened up for anyone to see – he was that checked out. And as she’s looking at all this, he comes back and sees her looking at all this. And she said that’s when he told her he was leaving. Just like that. He said that, turned around, packed a bunch of his things, and walked out. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since.

The three of us didn’t work together for a while after that. It was just the way the schedule came out, I guess. At one point, Cassi got to thinking Sam had asked not to work with us anymore. But I don’t think Sam would have done that.

After a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, we all worked the same Friday night together. Cassi got there first. And as I’m clocking in, we both see Sam walk through the door, looking like the living dead. She must have lost twenty pounds in just a few weeks. Her hair looked thinner. We asked if she was feeling sick, and she just sort of waved at us and said it was a bit of food poisoning.

I don’t remember who suggested the beach first, if it was Cassi or me. It was warming up lately and we’d been throwing the idea around for a while, but our schedules hadn’t lined up in forever. But at some point that night, Cassi looks at the schedule and sees we all have that Saturday off. So, she and I start talking about maybe going to the beach first thing in the morning. A minute later, Cassi shouts across the store, “Hey, Sammy! You wanna see me in my bikini tomorrow morning?”

Sam said, “No,” actually. (LAUGHS) But, uh… Cassi eventually convinced her. Somehow.

A SILENCE.

I only saw Sam two more times after that day at the beach. This is the way I like to remember her.

Sam emailed us that and a bunch of other photos later that same night. She was so happy to use this expensive looking camera of hers, with all these lenses and accessories. The way she ran all over the sand and tide pools, snapping a photo of the waves and seagulls and starfish, you’d never think anything was wrong. Like, everything that had been pulling her in every direction let go all at once. Even if only for that morning. She didn’t even realize she’d cut her foot on something until after she sent the photos.

I didn’t see Sam again for another week, but Cassi worked with her that Tuesday. Cassi actually called me up during their shift, asking me to keep an eye on Sam, telling me how Sam somehow looked worse than ever, that she was hobbling around on one foot and complaining about an infection on the other. By the time I saw it on Friday, the skin above her ankle was all red and tender, with these blistering sores that oozed and stuck to her socks. Sam said she was taking antibiotics and left it at that.

I was scheduled to work with Sam two nights later, but she never showed.

A week passed before anyone started asking questions. Two weeks passed before Cassi and I agreed to visit Sam’s apartment after work.

Sam lived in this cute little one-bedroom with her husband, just a block away from the store we all worked at. (LAUGHS) It was a five minute walk, but she still drove every day.

We knocked and knocked at her door until one of Sam’s neighbors stepped out and told us nobody had been in or out lately. They figured she’d run off or something. But the way they described Sam… they said she was a loud girl, always fighting with her boyfriend. Even after he’d left, they still heard Sam crying and screaming day and night. But now it’d been silent for a day or so.

We, uh… Cassi, that is – she managed to get us into Sam’s apartment.

A SILENCE.

It was dark. Very dark. All the lights were off, the curtains were drawn and pinned shut. And warm, so very warm with the way the doors and windows were closed up. But the smell… It smelled like dead fish and sea water. You could hear the hot water running from every faucet – in the kitchen, in the… in the, uh…

I threw up immediately, just as soon as Cassi opened the door and that thick, moist wall hit me in the face like a brick.

Cassi went in ahead. A minute later, I heard her screaming.

The carpet was so wet I almost slipped while walking down the hall to her bedroom. I remember that too. I took out this little setup she had there, with these photos of her dog and sister and mom. Knocked all of that to the ground.

But, uh…

Jesus.

(HEAVY SIGH)

There was… blood… blood and, uh, rotting flesh. Everywhere. The carpet, the walls. Like it had melted and dripped all over the place.

(SOBS)

I’m sorry. I just…

No. No, I’m okay.

(BREATHES)

Cassi is just… She’s screaming in Sam’s bedroom. Screaming and screaming and screaming. And it’s so hot and wet everywhere. And I’m still trying to catch my balance. I had to throw my shoes away after that, they were just soaked and caked in all of the, uh… They were ruined. Just ruined.

But I get into the bedroom, and there’s this leg on the floor. Like, just sitting there. Right there on the carpet by the bed, like it had fallen off in her sleep. Like it had melted off.

And then we looked in the bathroom.

Uh…

(NERVOUS LAUGHTER)

I turned on the light, and we found her. We found Sam.

(EXHALES)

Most of Sam was floating there in the tub, in this… (SNIFFS) this soupy mess of salt water, blood, and, uh… (CLEARS THROAT) and everything else. One of her arms was missing from the shoulder down. The other was a half-melted glob of goo. And her… Her other leg was floating in a puddle on the tile.

I remember screaming, and then not much after that.

A SILENCE.

I still dream of that day on the beach. It’s the rest I wish I could forget.

IT’S OVER

Brixby

ANONYMOUS: Mr. Brixby stepped out for his nightly smoke at a little past one in the morning. Fifteen minutes later, I’m watching him get his arms plucked off behind a dumpster.

I’d been working at the El Dorado for about two, three years by that point. I was hired to cover the swing shift a few nights a week, then it just sort of took over my whole life. Eventually, they had me working mornings and graveyard so often that it felt like I lived there as much as everyone else.

Mr. Brixby was what we called a “long-term resident.” Most of our guests were. Not that there were ever many guests for much of the year. Not outside the summer tourists. It wasn’t exactly anyone’s first-choice. And the ones who stuck around weren’t exactly there by choice, if you get what I mean. Mr. Brixby was one of those. He said he was there for work, but I don’t think any of us knew what he actually did for a living. But he was a nice guy. Paid his rent on time. Loved to talk about the latest tech toy he’d picked up somewhere. This one time, he came back from wherever with this 3D camcorder. Remember those?

Anyway. When he wasn’t out doing whatever it is he did when he wasn’t there, Mr. Brixby was usually in his room. The only time he ever stepped out before morning was for his nightly smoke. In fact, he was in a smoking room. Had been the whole time he lived there. So, I never understood why he always stepped out to smoke in the parking lot, same time every night. I’d say it was for the fresh air, but…

When I worked graveyard, I’d empty out the lobby trash cans and join him. We’d just talk about his latest toy, movies. Not the most stimulating conversation, I guess. But his weed was great. And plentiful.

The night it all happened, I was working graveyard. And I saw Mr. Brixby step out that night too, same time, same way. But before I could get to all the cans and join him, this couple came stumbling in, belching and farting something about needing a room for the night. If they hadn’t been so drunk, I wouldn’t have taken so long to get out there. Or maybe I should’ve just told them to kick rocks – it wouldn’t have been the first time. And I think about that a lot, ya know. If I had just gotten out there sooner, maybe, uh, Mr. Brixby wouldn’t…

Anyway. I get out there some fifteen minutes later, and I don’t see Mr. Brixby anywhere. His car’s parked back there. Not even a whiff of smoke. Just me, a bunch of dripping garbage bags, and a dark, empty lot.

So, I go to the dumpster.

SILENCE.

Working graveyard at a motel, you see your fair share of freaks and crazy shit. I’ve seen people hiding in other people’s rooms. I’ve been threatened by people meth’d out of their mind. We even got cursed once, this family we kicked out laid out these weird, I dunno… markings? They drew markings in salt at the front entrance as they left with all their shit. But you never expect to see a man being…

(SIGHS) I know what the cops and papers said, but it wasn’t some coyote. I was there, not them. I saw them. And, look. I know it sounds how it sounds. But there were two… At first, I thought it was a couple of homeless guys digging in the dumpster. It happens. But…

One of them was holding Mr. Brixby there by the arm, twisting it, and he’s got Mr. Brixby doubled over on his knees, like this. And his eyes are screaming – I see his eyes looking at me looking at him, and I can see they’re screaming – but nothing’s coming out his mouth. And the other one is there, just off to the side, eating Mr. Brixby’s other arm. Just gnawing and tearing away at it like, uh… like one of those big turkey legs you get at the fair.

And then, I screamed.

The cops showed up not long after. One of our other guests must have heard me out there screaming and called. But by the time they got there, those two… I told the police the same thing I told the papers, and somehow they turned it into a story about a coyote attack. But I told them I saw two homeless men attacking Mr. Brixby and that they both took off running, over the fence and into the river trail.

Truth is, I don’t know what I saw that night. Or maybe I know exactly what I saw, and I can’t even admit it to myself. But whatever I saw, I guess my screaming scared them off. And I did see where they went. But they didn’t run. And they didn’t head for the river trail.

SILENCE.

My family didn’t exactly live in the best part of town when I was growing up. I still don’t, really. It was never bad, but… This is an old town. There’s a lot of the old sewer lines and drainage running beneath any given block, ya know? So even in the nicest house on the nicest street, you’re likely to find a cockroach here and there – those big ones that look like they could run off with a small dog if it tried. They crawl out of the sink, out of the bathtub. Had one climb out of our toilet once. When I screamed, those things dropped what was left of Mr. Brixby, fluttered these fleshy flaps or wings on their back, and scurried down an old storm drain. I don’t know how, but they… squeezed and slipped right down through that small hole. (SNAPS FINGERS) Just like that.

Just like that.

IT’S OVER

Mark

MARK: My wife and I used to rent a place a couple of blocks up that way. She got a new job and we moved here to cut down on the commute. That sort of thing. It’s a nice little spot, isn’t it? Quiet. Lots of sun. Plenty of trees. Parking’s a little… But we made it work.

SILENCE.

Sorry. Drifted away for a second.

Anyway. The first few nights, I slept better than I had in years. But after that… I don’t know. Maybe it was the stress from the move, sleeping in a new place with new sounds and new people making sounds, but after that first week, I’m sleeping less and less. I’d just lie there in bed for hours until I’d dozed off without even realizing it. Eventually, I’m up pacing for just as long, back and forth, back and forth, until the sun’s starting to rise and my feet beg me to stop. I don’t want to read, I don’t want to look at a screen, I don’t want to listen to music. I just want to sleep. But I can’t.

After a couple of weeks of me waking her up and keeping her up, my wife went from concerned to annoyed to leaving me a hand-rolled joint and a note that said, “If you’re going to huff and puff for several miles all night, I would prefer you do so outside.”

So, I went for a walk.

I went for a lot of walks, actually. A lot of walks on a lot of nights. And something about doing that, walking around when the rest of the world was asleep, it worked for me. I still wasn’t sleeping much, but I was sleeping.

And as I kept doing this, I developed a little routine. I’d walk up Gomer, cross to Pyle, and then back up around Howard or Fine. Just like that. I liked to watch the ships come into the harbor from the hill.

That’s where I first saw the old man.

Actually, I’m not sure when I first saw him. One night, it was like he was just there. I mean, nothing stood out about him. Not really. Aside from him being this one-hundred-year-old man walking up Pyle at two in the morning with what had to be about twenty, thirty pounds of something in this large canvas bag. I never saw him in or around a car or bus. Every store in walking distance closed hours earlier. But every night, there he was, inching his way up the hill with that heavy bag of his. Crawling in and out of the shadows and street lights.

It never even crossed my mind to offer to help the old man with that bag of his. Not once. Not until that woman did.

Can’t remember her name off the top of my head, but there was a bit about the woman in the news. I think. Right after it all happened. I didn’t know her, but I’d seen her around here before. Probably lived in one of these apartments. She was always in workout gear, always out for a jog. A lot of people run by you like you’re not even there, but she’d always look your way, give a little wave or smile or nod.

That night, I heard the woman before I saw her. They were standing right over there, on the other side of Pyle. I was standing about here, bunch of cars parked in front of me, and I heard someone say something. I don’t know what she said exactly, but with it being as quiet as it is at night around here, I still heard her say something to the old man from this far up the street. Maybe she was trying to get around him, or she turned the corner and almost ran into him. Anyway, I heard someone say something, so I looked around and saw her standing over there with him. And she pointed at his bag, clearly offering to help. But the old man shook his head and waved his free hand at her and clutched that heavy bag with the other. The way he’s acting, I figured he’s told her, “No, thanks,” and wants to be on his way. But then, she insisted. And then, he resisted. And they went back and forth like that for a minute.

Finally, the old man relented.

I remember reading something about how the woman had some kind of heart defect. That she must have just dropped dead on her jog that night, blissfully unaware that her heart was ready to stop at any second. It’s a cute story. But, uh…

(SCOFFS) Look. I know this sounds absolutely crazy. And I feel crazy for even being here, telling you all this and hearing myself say it out loud. I know I’m crazy every bit as I know that woman didn’t drop dead from a bad heart. I know there was an old man with a, uh… a bag. This plain, normal, not-crazy looking bag with, I dunno, something in it just as plain, normal, and not crazy. But when he opened the bag and she looked at whatever it was she found there, that’s when she dropped dead. She didn’t tip over. She didn’t clutch at her heart. She didn’t even try to brace herself. She just, uh… It was like she was a puppet and someone cut her strings. Whatever held her up was just… gone. And then, she… she collapsed and folded up on herself. Just right over there. Sometimes, I think I heard her ribs cracking.

And the old man, he stood there for a bit. I don’t know how long, but he stood there. He didn’t look around. Didn’t call for help. He just stood there, shaking his head.

And then, he left. Same way he always did. Walked right up Pyle, passed me like I wasn’t even there, and then over the hill.

SILENCE.

Sorry. I was just…

Anyway. That was, uh… that was years ago now. I don’t go out much after dark these days.

IT’S OVER

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

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.