A Better Man

When David Zaragoza, a recovering alcoholic, fails to convince those he hurt in his past life that his attempts to become a better man are sincere, he finds himself at the mercy of both his personal demons and a strange woman with an even stranger scar.


This screenplay is currently in-progress. Follow me on Twitter to stay up-to-date as the project develops.

Read the original rough draft/treatment of here.


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FADE IN

NOTE: The opening sequence set at location “HOUSE” is initially presented in the style of a 1950s, three-camera sitcom--black and white, “stage” acting, canned laughter.

EXT. HOUSE – DAY

A beautiful little house with a white picket fence in a beautiful little suburb. The lawn is pristine. The rose bushes lining the property award-winning. It’s all like something out of “Leave it to Beaver.”

INT. HOUSE/LIVING ROOM – DAY

The inside is as immaculate as the exterior. The decor simple, warm and inviting. It’s as if it were designed with a TV audience in mind.

A man dressed in a tailored three-piece suit and fedora enters. This is DAVID ZARAGOZA, man of the house.

DAVID

Honey, I’m home!

CHERYL, David’s wife, appears from the kitchen. She looks like Mrs. June Cleaver in her lovely little house dress with apron combo. She’s the sweetest little house wife ever. Almost too perfect to be real.

CHERYL

Welcome home, Dear!

She greets him with an embrace and a kiss. And then, she pulls away. She’s just realized something.

CHERYL (CONT’D)

Oh, but you’re so early! Did something happen at the office?

David laughs playfully at this.

DAVID

No, I just missed you is all.

She smiles and kisses him a second time. This is the sweetest thing she’s ever heard.

CHERYL

Oh, David, I’ve missed you too.

DAVID

(sniffing at the air)

Something smells wonderful.

CHERYL

That would be dinner.

(pouting)

But it won’t be ready for at least another hour. I’m sorry, Dear.

He rubs and pats his own belly.

DAVID

I’m sure I can manage the wait.

Cheryl smiles at this.

CHERYL

You must be exhausted. Let’s get you nice and comfortable.

She helps David get comfortable. She takes his hat, coat, and briefcase before guiding him to his favorite chair. David pretends to not find any of this appealing.

CHERYL (CONT’D)

Now, you wait right there.

She quickly disappears into the kitchen only to reappear just as quickly. She now has a beer in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

David takes these without thinking.

DAVID

Thank you, Honey.

NOTE: For the remaining duration of the sequence, things take on the style of American horror movies of the 1930s.

And then...

David trembles at the mere sight of the beer in his hand. His breath shortens. He sweats bullets. He’s terrified of the beer can in his hand, but he has no earthly idea why.

Cheryl is nowhere near as concerned as David.

CHERYL

David? David-dear, are you all right?

David doesn’t hear this. He’s a million miles away right now.

CHERYL

I didn’t buy the wrong brand again, did I?

And then, he snaps out of his daze.

DAVID

No. No, I, uh...just--

He stops, looks at Cheryl, sees the disappointment in her eyes, and then thinks better of it.

DAVID (CONT’D)

It’s perfect, Honey. Thank you.

She relaxes and smiles.

CHERYL

Oh, thank goodness.

She kisses him once more.

CHERYL

Now, you relax and enjoy yourself. I’ll be right back. I’ve got to run to the neighbors and borrow a few things.

She turns to leave.

DAVID

Cheryl?

She stops and turns to David.

CHERYL

Yes, Dear?

DAVID

I love you.

She smiles a big smile at this sweet husband of hers.

CHERYL

I love you too.

And then, she leaves.

David looks longingly at the beer.

The BEER looks back.

And then...

David opens the beer, and drinks.

A pleasant silence.

And then...

David TRANSFORMS into something inhuman. The change is painful and violent. His body twists and turns, bends and snaps its new monstrous form. His SCREAMS fill the house.

Cheryl returns. She’s clearly heard David’s screams.

CHERYL

David? Dear, is everything all right?

She reaches for her husband.

A horrifying BEAST-MAN snaps around and SNARLS and DROOLS.

Cheryl YELPS in fear. And then, she’s utterly consumed by silent, abject horror.

The Beast-Man, covered in the tattered remnants of a three-piece suit, rises to its feet. It stares at and looms over Cheryl like an angry bear or gorilla.

A silence.

CHERYL

David?

And then...

The Beast-Man strikes.

EXT. HOUSE – DAY

Cheryl’s screams echo up and down the street and all across the suburb.

INT. HOUSE/LIVING ROOM – DAY

The house is silent and dark.

Blood stains the walls, broken furniture, and everything in-between.

Cheryl’s tattered remains rest at the feet of the Beast-Man.

The Beast-Man stands victorious over his prey. He huffs and puffs through gore-clogged teeth. His claws drip with goo. Large, dead eyes stare off into the abyss.

RANDY (V.O.)

David?

INT. MEETING ROOM – DAY

A group therapy session in some small backroom. Modern Day. The really-real world.

THE GROUP

A collection of characters, big and small, men and women and other. They sit in an intimate circle. And all eyes are on

DAVID

No suit, hat, or jacket. Just a modern day mess of a man. He sits silently in his chair. His mind is somewhere else.

RANDY (O.S.)

Earth to David.

David snaps out of his daze. He looks up and across to

RANDY

a middle-aged hippie with a heart of gold and eyes that have seen some serious shit in his younger days.

RANDY

You still with us, amigo?

DAVID

Yeah. Yeah, sorry.

RANDY

Cool. Okay.

(beat)

Thank you for sharing with us, David. I know that couldn’t have been easy.

An uncomfortable silence.

RANDY

So, how about a break?

EXT. PARKING LOT – DAY

The Group is scattered about the lot. They talk and smoke and play on their phones.

David stands alone, holding something up to the light.

A COIN

A six-month sobriety chip. It shines in the light.

David’s not very impressed.

RANDY (O.S.)

You should be proud of yourself.

David turns to

RANDY

The old hippie stands beside David, puffing away on a vape pen. It’s as if he appeared out of thin air.

RANDY (CONT’D)

I know six months might not seem like much. But change is fuckin’ hard, man. For some of us, it’s damn near impossible. That right there...

He gestures to the COIN in David’s hand.

RANDY (CONT’D)

That’s proof you’re up to the challenge.

David laughs at this.

DAVID

Doesn’t really feel like it. I’ve hurt a lot of people, Randy.

Randy processes this.

RANDY

Yeah. Yeah, maybe you did. But you ain’t some monster. If you were, I don’t think you’d be here worrying so much about it. Those dreams of yours? That’s just all the guilt and regret and pain and doubt trying to drag you down. Don’t get me wrong--those feelings are really real. But you ain’t a monster unless you let yourself be one.

DAVID

What if other people still see me like that? The people I hurt.

RANDY

Then maybe it’s time you show them something different.

David and Randy share a moment there in the chaos of the parking lot.

DAVID

Thanks, Randy.

RANDY

No problemo, amigo. No problemo at all.

EXT. TOWN – DAY

A bustling little college town. Traveling into and through it is like a trip back in time. The main street is lined with small dress and antique and coffee shops. At the center of it all is the town square where old couples sit on benches and watch the children play.

David makes his way through this on foot. He comes to a stop at

A BAR

A small, local dive. The music and merriment and chaos pours out into the street from its always-open front doors.

DAVID

stands outside the bar’s doors. He watches as people enter and leave. The sounds of the bar call to him like a siren song.

DAVID’S HAND

nervously fidgets with the COIN.

David takes a deep breath, holds it, and then enters the bar.

INT. BAR – NIGHT

A “hipster-chic“ version of an old-town college dive joint with a luxurious speakeasy vibe.

David makes a beeline for

THE BAR

A bartender keeps himself busy with small tasks. This is MILES WARREN, and he’s not happy to see David.

MILES

Didn’t think we’d be seeing much of you anymore.

David saddles up.

DAVID

What can I say? I’m a man who defies expectations.

David sets the COIN on the bar.

MILES

The shit is this?

DAVID

Defying expectations.

Miles takes the CHIP and inspects it.

MILES

You’re on the fuckin’ wagon?

DAVID

That’s right.

Miles sets the COIN back down with authority, sliding it back across to David.

MILES

I’m happy for you, David. Really, I am. But you’ve got to leave before Cheryl catches you in here.

David returns the COIN to his pocket.

DAVID

Well, I hope she does. I wanted to talk with her too.

MILES

No. No chance.

DAVID

I’m just asking for five minutes.

MILES

That right? Cuz I sorta remember the last time you two “talked” ended with one of you needing stitches and the other dragged away in cuffs.

David winces. He doesn’t notice he’s rubbing at his own wrists at the thought of this.

DAVID

Yeah, that’s the way I remember it too.

MILES

Do you? Good. Then get to steppin’ before you’re escorted out.

(beat)

Besides, you know the rules. This place is for customers only. No loitering.

DAVID

Yeah, so gimme something.

MILES

Seriously? What about all this shit just now about defying expectations?

DAVID

I’m not askin’ for a fuckin’ beer, Miles. Okay? Just gimme something without a lot of sugar.

An uncomfortable silence.

MILES

Fuck off. I have real customers.

Miles turns to leave.

David pulls a slip of paper from his pocket and tosses it on the bar.

DAVID

Check that out.

Miles ignores this, pours several drinks, turns to David, eyes the slip of paper, and then reads it.

MILES

My name’s on here. The shit is this?

DAVID

That, my friend, is a list of everyone I have ever hurt with my drinking.

MILES

And?

DAVID

(reciting from memory)

“Step 9: Make direct amends to such people wherever possible.”

MILES

David...

DAVID

Five minutes. That’s all I’m asking for.

MILES

And if she don’t want to see you?

DAVID

Then, I’ll fuck off--peacefully, quietly. You’ll never see me here again. But if she does? Then I can at least try to do right by her.

Another silence.

Miles returns to the list to David.

MILES

One drink. Five minutes.

DAVID

Deal.

MILES

Cheryl’s on her lunch. I’ll let her know you’re here when she gets back in.

DAVID

Thanks, Miles. And I swear, you don’t have anything to worry about.

MILES

Yeah, it ain’t me I’m worried about.

Miles walks off.

David eyes the crowd and plays it cool. He watches the other patrons talk and laugh and cheer on their favorite team on the TV.

And then...

His attention seizes on the drinks in their hands, and then to the assorted bottles behind the bar.

The bottles stare right back.

David fishes the COIN from his pocket again and clutches at it like a rosary.

EXT. BAR/PATIO – NIGHT

A CROWD OF BAR PATRONS gather and huddle close, drawn to the warmth of the deck torches. Cigarettes in one hand, drinks in the other. The flames dance and flicker on the stainless steel, washing everything in a soft glow.

TARZAN, an alpha male-type dressed in khakis and a polo shirt two sizes too small, approaches JANE, a pretty young thing.

Tarzan not so good with words. Tarzan let muscles speak for him.

Jane likes what Tarzan’s muscles have to say. She feels the veiny masses that are Tarzan’s arms and laughs in that way young ladies are want to do when they’re trying to flatter young men.

DAVID

watches this from a distant table as he nurses a can of Red Bull. His attention split between Tarzan, Jane, and the bar’s PATIO DOOR.

And then...

Jane YELPS.

Tarzan stands there with his meaty paw wrapped around Jane’s willowy arm. Jane desperately tries to free herself. And everyone but David seems to be doing their damnedest to ignore this.

JANE

Step-off, will ya? Jesus, just step the fuck off!

TARZAN

Cut the bullshit. Flaunting your tits like that, feeling up my guns the way you are? There’s no need to be such a fucking tease.

CHERYL (O.S.)

Look familiar?

David turns to find a stunning but exhausted woman beside him. This is the real CHERYL, a woman who embodies the old adage, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”

Cheryl seats herself. Close, but only close enough.

DAVID

Was I really that bad?

CHERYL

Not always.

DAVID

But often enough.

CHERYL

We all have our demons.

DAVID

Yeah? And what was yours?

CHERYL

What can I say? I liked the bad boys.

(wistfully)

Something about the way a man just took whatever he wanted from me...

(back to reality)

Stupid me, though. Took a few visits to the ER to learn when enough was enough.

DAVID

Cheryl--

CHERYL

That’s my name. So, what’s your game? Miles says you’ve found Jesus, or some shit. You want to make it right between me, you, and the Lord. That about it?

David nods.

DAVID

Yeah, something like that.

CHERYL

You moving back to town?

DAVID

No. Got myself a room at The Castaway Inn. But only for one night. Just long enough to talk about us.

CHERYL

Okay, us--you and me? That’s long over with. Let’s make that very clear right now.

CHERYL

Look, I’m going to be straight with you. Maybe God and Jesus forgive you, but I don’t think I can. Maybe that’s a little fucked up, or whatever. I dunno. It’s not like I want to feel this way. I just do.

DAVID

Cheryl, you have every right to hate me.

CHERYL

I don’t hate you, David. Not anymore.

She sighs.

CHERYL (CONT’D)

Look, I had a lot of time to think about you and me and all the messed up shit we did to each other when I was laid up in a hospital bed. Honestly? Between all the booze and pain killers, I don’t remember too much of that night. But I do still kinda remember my sister yelling at me, calling me a stupid piece of pussy for sticking with you for so long. All while the nurse stapled my head shut.

DAVID

I’m sorry.

CHERYL

Me too.

David reaches for her hand. Cheryl reflexively pulls it back, as if burned by fire.

An uncomfortable silence.

DAVID

I know there’s nothing that I can do or say to make up for all the awful shit I’ve done. Not to you, or anyone else. I don’t like the man that I was when I was still drinking. I don’t think I really like the man I am now. Not yet. But I am sorry. And I am trying to be a better man. I guess I just wanted you to know that.

CHERYL

That’s beautiful, David. I mean it. Did you stand in the mirror when you practiced that?

DAVID

Cheryl--

CHERYL

We’re done here, David.

DAVID

Cheryl, please.

CHERYL

That shit might go over a bit better with some of the other people on that little list of yours. But it don’t do much for me. I know you, David. I know it wasn’t the fucking drinking that made you act like such a piece of shit. Okay? That was all you. It always was.

She shows the scar on her head, a pale zig-zag void of hair.

CHERYL (CONT’D)

You see this? You did this, David. The staples, the scar, the cracked rib. It wasn’t the drinking of the drugs. This shit was all you. So, you want to come in here and give me a little speech to help you sleep better at night? That’s fine. I hope you can one of these days. But if you think that you can make things right between us? That ship fucking sailed off into the sunset a very long time ago.

He reaches for her.

DAVID

I didn’t mean--

She swats his hand away. Hard. Loud.

CHERYL

(panicked)

Don’t fucking touch me!

The whole place goes silent. All eyes are on David and Cheryl. Even Tarzan and Jane are left in stunned silence.

CHERYL

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to blow up like that. How’s about I get back to work, and you crawl back to whatever urine-soaked hellhole you came out of, okay?

DAVID

Yeah. Okay.

David stands and walks away, leaving the COIN behind on the table.

CHERYL

Take some fuckin’ responsibility for once, David..

Cheryl watches David hop the patio fence and disappear into the night.

And then...

She looks at the COIN atop the table. She takes it, looks at it, and then sighs a frustrated sigh.

CHERYL

Why do you have to be such an asshole?

She heads back into the bar.

EXT. LIQUOR STORE – NIGHT

A corner liquor store just around the corner from THE BAR.

INT. LIQUOR STORE – NIGHT

A not entirely empty corner store. The CLERK does his best to not look too bored between customers.

David stares at the BEER cooler.

The WALL OF BEER stares back.

And then...

David gets the feeling someone is watching him. He turns to

A WOMAN

stares at David. Her skin is deathly pale. She wears a long jacket and a scarf wrapped tight around her face. Her dark, unkempt hair flows over her.

David stares back, then behind himself, and then back at the Woman.

She’s still there. Still staring.

DAVID

Yeah, okay. Fuck this.

He reaches into the cooler, picks his poison, and then heads for

THE REGISTER

The Clerk rings David up.

David stands there, staring at the BEER.

The BEER stares back.

The CLERK stares at David.

CLERK

Hey, uh, cash, debit, or credit?

David snaps out of it.

DAVID

Yeah. Just, uh--just forget about it.

David walks away, stops, then turns to the Clerk.

DAVID

Oh, you might want to keep an eye on the chick with the scarf back there.

(gesturing)

Back by the cooler.

The Clerk looks BACK THERE.

DAVID (O.S.)

She’s not lookin’ so good.

There’s nobody BACK THERE.

The Clerk looks back to

David is already out the door.

EXT. TOWN -- NIGHT

The town is a sea of bodies and rivers of cars flowing here and there. COUPLES walk arm in arm to and from their favorite restaurants and bars. GROUPS of friends and family flock together.

David walks aimlessly among this, alone, sober, and empty handed. The WOMAN from the LIQUOR STORE lingers close by. Close, but never too close. A shape in David’s peripheral. Always present, but never seen.

EXT. TOWN/OUTSKIRTS

The edge of town, far from the bustling chaos of the shops and bars. Here, the shops are closed. Streets are darker. Traffic is nonexistent.

David walks through the still darkness. The Woman follows close behind.

INTERSECTION

Green lights turn red.

David stops at the corner, and waits.

And then...

A NOISE.

David turns back and sees how absolutely alone he is. Not a soul in sight in every direction.

And then, he turns back to the

INTERSECTION

Red lights turn green. “DON’T WALK” turns to “WALK.”

David steps forward.

And then...

The same NOISE.

David turns to see

THE WOMAN

stands beneath a street light, staring at David. Her body is a twisted, broken mess. Half her face masked in shadow. The other half covered in a CRIMSON MASK, blood running down and dripping from her chin.

An uncomfortable silence.

DAVID

Hey. You need help, or somethin’, Lady?

The Woman says nothing. She only stumbles and shuffles awkwardly toward David.

David takes a step back.

DAVID

Hey. Hey, are you okay?

Again, the Woman says nothing. She only stutter steps and stumbles closer and closer.

David steps back, again and again.

She takes a step, he takes a step back.

David reaches the curb, nearly stumbles off, and catches himself.

The Woman pushes forward.

David stands on the curb like a man on the edge of a cliff, unsure if he should stand his ground or jump.

She gets close. Too close.

And then...

She stops.

David looks at the Woman.

The Woman looks back at him with dead eyes.

WOMAN

Home...

He thinks about this, and then gestures down the way.

DAVID

That way?

And then...

She goes THAT WAY.

Green lights turn red.

The Woman stops at the corner, waiting.

David watches this.

Red lights turn green.

The Woman stutter-steps and stumbles her way across the street and down THAT WAY.

David watches her disappear down THAT WAY.

Green lights turn red.

David stands alone in still silence, waiting.

Red lights turn green.

David steps forward into the intersection.

SHRIEKING. Distant, but growing closer way too fast.

David stops dead in his tracks and turns to

THE WOMAN

is coming right for him. A shape in the distance getting closer and closer. A walk turns into a sprint. The sprint turns into an animal-like dash.

David can’t even process what he’s seeing.

And then, the Woman leaps through the INTERSECTION and pounces on David.

And then...

A BUS pulls up. It’s doors open with a WHOOSH. The BUS DRIVER, a hefty man too old for this shit, looks out at

DAVID AND THE WOMAN

The two are wrapped around each other, on top of one another. Are they drunk and at each other’s throats, or in desperate need of a room?

DRIVER

Getting on?

David looks at the Bus Driver, then to the Woman, and then back to the Bus Driver.

DAVID

No. Just catching our breath. Thanks, though.

A silence.

And then...

The Bus Driver closes the doors and rolls out.

David watches the Bus disappear down the road.

WOMAN

(muttering)

Beautiful...

DAVID

I bet you say that to all the boys.

He tries to move, but can’t. She’s got him pinned down. And she’s dead weight.

DAVID

Shit. Sorry. Okay, I can’t--hold up a sec.

David struggles free. He helps the Woman up and over to a

BUS STOP BENCH

They sit together. She struggles to stay upright. He holds her up and in place.

DAVID

A’ight. So what were you saying?

She mutters again.

DAVID

You gotta speak up, lady. I don’t hear too good anymore on account of my tinnitus. Too many late nights at the bars standing by the jukebox. Ya feel me?

The Woman goes limps.

DAVID

Jesus--!

David catches her and holds her upright.

She looks up to him. Her dark hair and scarf obscure everything but her eyes.

WOMAN

(clearer)

Beautiful.

He pretends to take in the night sky.

DAVID

It is a nice night, ain’t it?

David turns back to the Woman.

The Woman’s clothes are fashionable but stained. Her skin is covered in thick scars. She bleeds from a nasty-looking wound along her hairline.

DAVID

So, uh, I’d love to soak up the ambiance a little more--really, I would. But I--

She touches his face with an outreached hand. He instantly goes calm.

They share a moment.

And then...

The Woman lurches forward and vomits.

DAVID

Fucking--you’re pretty fucked up, aren’t you, Lady?

The Woman looks up at David. Fresh vomit and drool runs thick down and through her scarf. Chunks of something are caught in her hair.

WOMAN

Am I beautiful?

David looks at the hot mess in front of him.

DAVID

Yeah, sure.

He helps her upright again.

DAVID (CONT’D)

So you got yourself a name, beautiful?

A drunken beat.

WOMAN

Tien.

David processes everything. And then...

DAVID

Can I buy you a drink, Tien?

TO BE CONTINUED...