Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Bedtime Story





FADE IN:


EXTERIOR. DEAD-END STREET. LATE NIGHT.


A street in an older neighbourhood. The houses are all over hundred years old. Many of the houses have large front porches. The street lights are on, casting orange light. No cars are on the road and no people are walking on the street. Only one house has an exterior light on.


A young MAN, in his mid-twenties, sits in an old ARMCHAIR on the lit PORCH. He is drinking a BEER and listening to the RADIO.


As we move closer, we see that he sits slumped in the CHAIR. He is attractive, but his face is pale and he has dark circles under his eyes. His skin glistens with sweat. He wears a faded t-shirt and shorts.


RADIO ANNOUNCER (V.O.)
Another record-breaking day on the way. The daytime high will be thirty-five degrees, but with the humidity it will feel more like 50. We’re over 30 days into this heat wave and no relief in sight. Right now, it’s 25.


MAN shuts off the RADIO and sips his BEER. We hear CRICKETS and FROGS in the background. As MAN speaks, we begin to hear birds singing.


MAN (V.O.)
I hadn’t slept in weeks. All I could get were a few restless hours of not awake, not all the way asleep.


(pause)


Life got strange. Out of focus and lacking all colour. All I could think about was sleep. The one thing I couldn’t get.


(pause)


So I spent my nights watching the street and listening to the sounds of the river at the end of the street.


MAN (V.O.) (CONT)
I learned what the sky looked like as night lightens towards day, that the birds sing loudest just before sunrise.


(pause)


I waited for sleep or sunrise. Whichever came first.


MAN looks up the street. He sees a young WOMAN, also in her mid-twenties, walking slowly down the street.


She walks very slowly, with her body held very straight, like a dancer. She is beautiful. Between the orange glow of the STREETLIGHTS, she fades out of view. She wears pyjamas in a bright printed fabric. Her feet are bare. Her face is blank and her gaze is fixed forward. The MAN watches the WOMAN walk by.


MAN stands up and walks to the bottom step of the porch. He watches the WOMAN walk to the end of the street. As he watches, we see his face change from confusion to understanding.


MAN runs out into the street and past the WOMAN. He stands in front of her and places his hands on her shoulders. She stops walking, but her face remains blank and somewhat slack.


MAN
(quietly)
Hey. Wake up.


MAN shakes WOMAN gently. Her expression changes as she wakes up. She looks around as if unsure of where she is, but she is not afraid or startled.

WOMAN
I – uh – I, where am I?


MAN
Well, you’re on Knox Street. Almost at the river, actually. You were sleepwalking, I think. You just about went for a swim in the river.


WOMAN
I do that. Sleepwalk, I mean.


She smiles at MAN. Her smile is open and friendly.


WOMAN
Thanks for stopping me. Although, you know, a swim would be kind of nice in this heat. Don’t you think?


MAN
I guess, but not in there. Smell that? That dead smell? That’s the river. It stinks a bit more every day. I think it’s drying up. You’d end up more dirty than clean in that water.


They say nothing for a few beats. They stand on the street looking at each other. It is not an awkward pause. MAN appears to be sleepwalking now.


MAN becomes alert again and takes his hands from her shoulders.


MAN
Can I give you a ride home? Where do you live?


WOMAN
I’m over on Leslie. Usually, I don’t leave the yard, but sometimes – I walk a little farther. But I think this is the farthest I’ve ever gone.


MAN
Let me take you home.


INTERIOR. CAR. EARLY MORNING.


The car is stopped. WOMAN is asleep with her head against the window. MAN watches her sleep for a few moments and then wakes her. She stretches and yawns.


We hear BIRDS singing loudly.


WOMAN
Sorry! Since the heat wave started, all I do is sleep. As soon as I sit still, I’m out.


She snaps her fingers.


WOMAN
Like that.


MAN
I wish I slept like that. Ever since it started, I’ve had the worst insomnia. Pills, booze, herbal teas, counting sheep, nothing works. Every night, I sleep less.


WOMAN takes his face in her hands and looks into his eyes. They are very close. They look as if they are about to kiss.


WOMAN
You’re the most exhausted person I’ve ever met. I feel sleepy just breathing the same air as you.


She sits back and pats his cheek. She undoes her seatbelt and gets out of the car. She leans in the door.


WOMAN
Good morning! Thanks for saving me from the river.


MAN watches as she walks away. We only see him watching her. We do not see her. He leans his head against the steering wheel.


EXTERIOR. PORCH. DAY LIGHT.


MAN sits on porch in an armchair. He is looking at the street.


We hear CICADAS buzzing in the background. MAN is tired and sweaty.


WOMAN comes in from off frame. She moves quickly, bounding up the stairs. She carries a PILLOW. She is smiling. She is wearing different pyjamas, but these are also brightly coloured.


WOMAN
Hello, sleepy-head! Or should I say, sleepless-head?


MAN
Hi! How are you? Did you sleep OK once you got home?
(He is more energetic as he speaks to her.)
He stands up to greet her.


WOMAN
Yes. But you didn’t.
(pause)
So I’m here to sleep with you.


MAN hesitates. He looks surprised. WOMAN walks past him and into the house.


WOMAN (OFF SCREEN)
Literally, I mean! Where’s your room?


MAN is confused. He pauses to think about what she means, but he’s too tired to understand. He shrugs his shoulders and follows her inside.


INTERIOR. BEDROOM. DAY


WOMAN makes the bed. She tucks sheets in and smooths the surface. She closes blinds so the room is dim. MAN watches her. Her PILLOW is on the bed.


WOMAN
There. The bed is very important. You should feel secure when you’re sleeping. It should feel like the safest place in the world. You should be able to slide into the sheets like a letter into an envelope.


MAN
I’m not sleeping because I don’t make my bed?


WOMAN
Well, it doesn’t help.
(pause)
Now get in.


She past the bed firmly. MAN gets into the bed. WOMAN gets in beside him. She lies on her side, facing the wall. He lies on his back. His posture is stiff. He does not touch her. As she speaks, he follows her directions. She is relaxed.


WOMAN
Come closer. I want you to feel me breathing.
(pause)
That’s right.
(pause)
Now, put your arm around me. There.
(pause)
Now, close your eyes.
(pause)
Breathe in deeply.
(pause)
Exhale slowly.
(pause)
Relax your muscles. One at a time. Let it go. Feel how relaxed I am? How loose? Melt into the bed. Let it hold you up.


MAN
Now what?


WOMAN
Pay attention to how I breathe. Breathe with me.


Her voice is slowing her words are harder to hear.


WOMAN
Breathe slowly and relax.


We hear them both breathing together. Their breathing slows as they sleep. We watch them sleep for several moments.


INTERIOR. BEDROOM. EARLY EVENING.


We hear RAIN outside. LIGHTNING lights the room bright blue intermittently. THUNDER rumbles in the distance.


MAN is alone in the bed. His eyes open. He sees that she is gone. Her PILLOW is also gone. For a moment, he lies still, looking at where she was. He appears lost for a moment.


He sits up, yawns and stretches. As he gets out of bed, we see the change in his appearance. He looks relaxed, but awake. He lays his hand on the place in the bed where she was and smiles.


EXTERIOR. PORCH. EARLY EVENING.

The RAIN continues. MAN is standing on the porch looking at the street. He holds his hand to catch rain. He is smiling.


We hear the RADIO faintly:


RADIO ANNOUNCER (VOICE OVER)
As a cold front moves in, we’ll have rain and thunder for most of the evening.


Tomorrow’s high is 23 degrees. Right now, outside our studio, it’s 20 and rain.
We hear faint music on the RADIO.


MAN (VOICE OVER)
For the first time in weeks, I could sleep.
(pause)
For the first time, I was awake.

THE END

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Make You Scared



October felt like summer. Which Carly didn’t think was super weird, only a little weird. Maybe it was global warming. Last year, in Grade 6, they’d done a project on acid rain and Mr. Thomson said that pollution was making the weather change. Carly’s grandma said acid rain was making the crows bigger. Her dad said that wasn’t true, but maybe it was. Who knew what all the chemicals could do?


That’s why Grace worried about whatever was in the barrels down at the old dump where they played. Steffie always rolled her eyes whenever Grace started going on about the barrels. Steffie figured (and Carly agreed with her) that so long as they didn’t actually touch the barrels, it was probably fine. They were probably stuff that people used to use for something but now everyone knew it was bad.


Honestly, they should have worried more about the old car batteries. They were really handy as footing for the bridges Carly and Steffie had built across the creek that cut through the old dump. They were really careful not to touch the batteries that were split or leaking. Carly’s dad had told her that old batteries were full of acid and could even explode. Which would be kind of cool, as long as no one got hurt.


If their parents knew where they played, they’d probably tell the girls not to go back there. But their parents never really asked where they went if they were each other. Anyway, Carly noticed they didn’t spend as much time roaming town on their bikes. These days, Grace usually wanted to hang out in someone’s room, looking at magazines and trying on clothes. That was OK. But it wasn’t always super fun.


Even though it was hot and sunny, Grace wanted Carly and Steffie’s opinion on a bunch of clothes she’d got from her cousin in Toronto. They were hand-me-downs, but not like the stuff Grace got from her aunts which were from Sears or Zellers or Biway. Steffie, everyone knew, had to wear clothes her mom bought when the thrift store had their bag sale. Some kids made fun of Steffie, but Steffie always said she didn’t give a shit.


Grace didn’t like that Steffie swore. She said it made Steffie sound trashy. Steffie would laugh and say she was trashy so who the fuck cared? Carly secretly wanted to be able to talk like Steffie. She sounded so cool and older. Like Carly knew that Grace thought she was more mature than the other two girls, but Carly was pretty sure Steffie really was. Steffie smoked and swore and had been making her own dinners since she was five years old because her mom worked nights down at the bar and her older brother and sister didn’t really look after her.


Anyway, Grace’s cousin’s clothes had names that were a big deal. Grace said they weren’t rich, but Steffie would always say “bullshit” because Grace’s family wasn’t rich compared to the rest of their family, but they still had two cars and her dad’s car had a phone in it. No one else in town had a phone in their car and only a few families had two cars.


“What do you think? I don’t look fat in this?” Grace spun around. Steffie looked up from her magazine and shrugged. Carly said no. Grace was so skinny that when she breathed there was a deep hollow at the bottom of her throat. She’d lost a lot of weight over the summer.


Grace’s mom opened the bedroom door. “Girls! It’s a beautiful day. Get out there and get some exercise! Take your bikes somewhere.” She didn’t wait for an answer. But she didn’t shut the door either.


“Wanna go to the old dump?” Carly asked.


Grace grimaced. “Aren’t we getting a bit old to play in the dirt?”


Steffie laughed with a rough edge. She was starting to sound a lot like Granny D, Carly thought. Granny D was Carly’s great-grandma and she smoked a lot.


“Maybe,” said Steffie. “But there’s sure as shit no adults around.”


So Grace changed into old clothes and they took off on their bikes.


The light was golden and the trees had already lost most of their leaves. It was weird to be out when it was so hot and the trees weren’t green. The season felt all mixed up. Carly’s mom said it could snow any time now.


A white car went by. Carly saw Grace flinch. She knew why. They all did. They’d seen the news. Even if their parents didn’t think they knew. Two girls from the next town over had been found dead that summer. The papers said both girls had been seen talking to a man in a white car.


Carly had studied the pictures of the girls in the paper. They had cool girl hair. The kind with really high bangs that Carly’s mom didn’t like and Carly’s hair wouldn’t hold anyway. Grace had tried and no matter how much hair spray they put in, Carly’s bangs would collapse instantly. Anyway, these girls were pretty. Not like supermodels, but like the pretty girls at school. Melissa and Jennifer. Lots of girls were named Melissa and Jennifer. The dead girls were just like them. Except they were dead.


It could happen to anyone. Carly tried not to think about it. But whenever a white car went by, she wondered.


That morning, on the radio, she’d heard a third girl had disappeared. Her dad had sighed and switched to a different station. Her parents had looked at each other. It was like the look she and Grace would give each other in class where they didn’t have to talk, they just knew. They could have a whole conversation. But Carly didn’t know what her parents were saying to each other.


The dump was kind of a creepy place. The trees were bare and black and the corn field that surrounded it on three sides was brown. Anything could be in there. Steffie had got Carly to watch a horror movie where terrible things hid in the corn field.


It could happen to anyone.


Carly was sweating and hot. They all wore sweatshirts because it was fall and you couldn’t leave the house without your mom making you wear something too hot because it might get cold. She thought about taking her sweatshirt off but the t-shirt she had on was old and a little tight. She didn’t like how her stomach folded. None of the magazine models had rolls when they sat down. Neither did Grace. Or Steffie.


Steffie had tied her sweatshirt around her waist. She was wearing one of her brother’s heavy metal t-shirts. It was too big and she’d rolled up the sleeves. She looked tough and with the cigarette hanging out of her mouth, she looked up about sixteen, Carly thought. No one would grab Steffie.


Steffie reached into her backpack and grinned. Glass clinked. Steffie handed Grace and Carly each a wine cooler. Last sleepover at one of the Jennies’ houses they’d all had wine coolers. They were really good, like pop, but the booze made you feel all relaxed. Grace had only had one. Carly had had two and she’d loved the light-headedness, the way everything had been funnier and easier. Jenny B had gotten drunk and thrown up, but they’d told Jenny A’s mom that it’d been from too much candy. Jenny A’s sister who was in university had bought the coolers for them. They’d all chipped in some money.


Carly was pretty sure these coolers were from Steffie’s mom’s fridge. She was pretty sure Ms Wilson wouldn’t notice they were gone or would think her older kids had taken them. It was weird to go over to a house where the kids were home way more than any grown up. Ms Wilson worked a lot and Carly had never asked what had happened to Steffie’s dad. He was alive. That was all Steffie would say. Steffie’s sister and brother had other dads. Grace’s mom hated that, but Carly’s mom said it wasn’t really anyone’s business because life was complicated and it wasn’t right to judge people.


“Hey, can I have a smoke?” Carly asked.


Steffie tossed her the pack and a lighter. Carly put a cigarette in her mouth and tried to light it. It kept going out. “You have to breathe in as you light it,” Steffie said. “It’ll go out if you don’t.”


Carly blushed. She didn’t know. All her aunts and uncles and grandparents smoked, but she’d never thought about the mechanics.


Steffie offered a cigarette to Grace who turned it down. “My sister says they help her stay skinny,” Steffie said with a smile. Grace huffed and took one.


Carly and Grace coughed. A lot. Pretty quickly, Carly figured out how much she could breathe in without coughing. It made her brain fizzy, the smoke, and she knew she liked it as much as the coolers.


Grace stopped after like two drags. “This is gross,” she said and went to stub her cigarette out in the dirt.


“Hey, give it here.” Steffie wiggled her fingers at Grace and took the cigarette. She carefully knocked the glowing tip off and put it back in the pack. “There’s still a lot left.”


They drank their warm coolers. Carly gave up worrying about her stomach rolls and took off her sweatshirt. She balled it up and used it for a pillow so she could lie down. The sun was hot and she felt sleepy. “Did you see that white car?” she said, surprising herself. They never talked about the dead girls.


“Yeah. Don’t think it was that guy though. He drives a Toyota. That was a Crown Vic. Like cops drive,” Steffie said. Her brother was obsessed with cars. He had a black Camaro that he drove up and down the main drag on Friday nights.


“Still. It’s kind of scary,” Carly said.


“Do you think that girl’s still alive? The one they’re looking for?” Grace asked. Her voice sounded small.


“God, I hope not,” Steffie said.


“What? Why?” Carly asked.


“You read the paper. You were bragging about it in class.” Steffie slipped into a mocking imitation of Carly. “Miss Andrews, I read three newspapers every weekend. We get The Star, The Sun and The Herald.”


“Yeah. So?”


“So. You read what he did. He raped them. He tortured them. And then he killed them, chopped them up and threw them away like garbage.”


Carly had read that. But she hadn’t understood everything. She hated admitting it, even to herself. She read the papers every weekend because her dad said it was good to develop a sense of the world. Also, newspapers were written so Grade Threes could read them, so she felt like she should know what all the words meant. But she didn’t. Her dad had given her this big dictionary as big as the one in the library that had its own stand. But she hadn’t looked up rape because she didn’t really want to know what it meant.


“What’s rape?” Grace asked and Carly was happy that she had so Carly wouldn’t look stupid.


“My sister told me," Steffie said. "It’s sex. But like, when the guy forces you. It really hurts. And those girls were probably really scared. They say he keeps them for days and just does whatever he wants to them. So you better hope that girl’s dead or that guy’s had her for like a week and imagine how awful that is.” Steffie chugged the rest of her cooler and reached into her backpack for another one.


Carly closed her eyes against the sun. She could still smoke with her eyes closed. It was too scary to think about. She couldn’t think about anything else. It could happen to anyone. It could happen to her.


A cloud covered the sun and the light went away. The wind rattled through the corn, shaking the dry leaves, making a rustling sound. It was suddenly colder.


“Can we go to the donut shop?” Grace asked. “It’s kind of spooky here.”


“Yeah. Good idea,” Carly said. She sat up. Steffie looked at her cooler. It was half gone. She nodded and then drank the rest of it, fast.


They stood up and brushed the dirt off their shorts.


Something rustled in the corn field. But the wind had died down. Carly looked at Grace. Grace bit her lip. “It’s probably just a squirrel or something,” Steffie whispered.


The rustling got louder. Carly felt her heart beating hard. Get on your bike, she told herself, but she couldn't move. They were here and no one knew. She didn’t even know if anyone else knew this place existed. They’d found it by accident a few years ago.


The rustling got louder, closer. Steffie grabbed Carly’s hand and squeezed it hard. Her hand was sweaty against Carly’s hand, but Carly didn’t pull away. She grabbed Grace’s hand with her free hand and yanked Grace closer.


A shape appeared. It was a man with a gun. They screamed all together and Carly, kind of outside of herself, thought it was the loudest sound she had ever heard.


“Jesus Christ!” the man yelled and dropped the gun. It was a BB gun. He clutched at his chest. He was old. Like as old Carly’s grandpa. “You girls just about gave me heart attack!”


Steffie started to laugh. It was a jagged laugh, almost like tears. She pulled away from Carly and was nearly doubled over, laughing. “We thought--- we thought--,” Steffie said, but she could hardly speak.


“What the hell are you girls doing here?” the man asked. “This isn’t a place to play. Get out of here!”


“Yes, sir. We’re leaving,” Grace said, smiling at the man.


He kicked at a bottle. “Have you been drinking back here? I oughta call your parents.”


Carly grabbed Steffie by the arm. “Let’s go,” she whispered.


With the man watching them, they picked up their bikes and walked them over the berm that separated the old dump from the train tracks. Once they were on the other side, along the train tracks, they got on their bikes. Carly was in the lead and she biked as fast she could until they were back at the street. She came to a stop and Grace nearly ran into her.


“Oh my god,” Carly said. She pulled her sweatshirt off and tied it around her waist. She held out her hand and watched it tremble. “Look at that!”


Grace laughed. “I’ve never been so scared! Did you hear me scream?”


“I’m going to hear that forever,” said Steffie. She started to laugh again. “Holy shit. We nearly killed that old guy. Hey, you wanna get slushies at the store? I’m so fucking hot.”


“Yeah. Why the hell not?” Grace said. Carly laughed to hear Grace almost swear.

They didn’t start biking right away. For a few minutes, they stood, straddling their bikes. Carly felt her heart start to slow. Her legs felt wobbly and her head light. She didn’t know if she wanted to laugh or cry. She had never been that scared before. But she was pretty sure she’d be that scared again. Everything seemed scary now.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Brighter Green



I heard people like stories like mine. Do you think you’ll be able to sell it? Remember what we agreed on. I get half because I’m giving you the words. You are my amanuensis; I am your muse. Sure, you’ll stretch it out. You’ll add colour. After all, you get paid by the word.

My story has an ordinary enough beginning. Once there was a little girl who was very happy. She had everything her heart desired. It is true. I only had to say, “I want that” and my doting mother and father would be sure to get it for me. My mother was a great beauty. My father was a great industrialist. They had conflicting ideas about what my fate would be. My mother wanted me to grow up to purchase them nearness to the aristocracy through a titled marriage. My father, realizing he wasn’t destined to have sons, wanted me to be equipped to take over the family business.

My father died when I was twelve years old. My mother remarried quickly, although not so quickly that it was unseemly. She was young enough and very beautiful. My father’s will had left his factories and works to me with an uncle acting in my stead until I was of age. So my mother had no access to our family’s former fortune. Did my father suspect she’d shut down his beloved industries? Very likely.

At any rate, my mother married a man who seemed to make money from air. My stepfather was not titled, but was a gentleman. He had properties from which he drew an income. He had nothing to do but go back and forth from country to city as the season required with intervals of travelling. He was not unkind to me, but he was very often not there.

He too had a daughter and no sons. My stepsister, Charlotte, was very beautiful. She was two years older than me and was well schooled in all the necessary talents for a woman of her station. She had a quick mind that had not been developed with any sort of learning, but she had not wasted it. Rather, she put her considerable intelligence into making use of the people around her. I was of no use to her, so she ignored me.

My mother saw Charlotte and realized right away that in the marriage game, she’d be better to back Charlotte than me.They shared a common view of the world.

It’s not that I am ill-looking. I know that I am not. After all, if I were ugly, your readers would have no interest in my story, would they?

My mother transferred all of her attentions, all of her affections to my stepsister. My stepfather drifted the periphery of our lives, supplying money, but little else. I was very lonely. My mother refused to send me to school. After all, why waste any resources on the ill-favoured child? If she had any plans for me, I believe it was to care for her and my stepfather once my stepsister had made her glorious match.

Yet, I kept up my studies as best I could. I corresponded with my uncle to keep informed about my business interests. I fully intended to take them over the moment I turned twenty-one.

I built a laboratory in one of the outbuildings on the property. My father’s main business had been in creating synthetic dyes. I wanted to keep up his work and see if I could develop a greater variety of colours. Only, I wanted to make ones that were not poisonous to both the wearer and the worker. One of the virtues of being unwanted and ignored is freedom.

To occupy my hands during the times I was forced to sit with my mother and stepsister, I learned to sew. After all, constructing a garment is no different than engineering. It is all about fitting pieces together.

My stepsister was enormously proud of her green eyes. She despaired of ever finding a dress that would exactly match her eyes. I saw my opportunity to reach out to my stepsister, to do something for her.

One day, while she was complaining of this, I happened to mention that I had developed a green dye that might suit her. I showed her a silk handkerchief I had dyed with it. She clapped her hands and said that was exactly what she wanted for her ball gown. For once, she was interested in my work. She followed me out to my shed to see what other colours I could create for her.

I dressed her in bright greens, vivid blues, blood reds. I designed dresses for my stepsister that put Parisian dressmakers to shame. I hired children from the village to stir my dye pots and girls to sew my creations. I wouldn’t let anyone enter our workplace. My mother, seeing how my work would set her favoured child off to advantage, permitted this work.

Everything Charlotte wore, from her stockings to her gowns to the artificial flowers in her hair and the gloves on her hands passed through my little factory.

She had so many proposals. That season, she shone like a butterfly, a tropical bird, a rare flower.

All those men who didn’t see that her beauty was only on her surface. She had no heart. She thought only of herself. And my mother thought only of her and they both thought only of the status of the sir or lord or duke they’d catch in their web.

She landed a duke. But you know this. Your paper covered the preparations for her wedding quite extensively if I recall.

Of course I made her wedding dress and her trousseau. I laced her into her corset with my own hands, pulling the laces so tightly that Charlotte could span her waist with her tiny hands. I helped her shove her feet into her tiny silk shoes. I hung the veil over her face.

The vows were read. The groom kissed his bride, the bishop announced them as man and wife, the bells rang.

We all retired to the wedding breakfast where the guests, were shocked to see the bride, the beautiful new duchess, collapse. She was dead before she hit the ground. The bride’s lovely stepmother who treated the bride as her own daughter also collapsed and died. Her beautiful purple dress ruined when she spilled her wine down her front.

It would’ve been a medical mystery except for one particularly sharp young doctor who read the paper, saw our names and remembered treating a child who worked on our property for a nasty chemical burn. The child had made me out as some kind of witch, with boiling cauldrons of terrible poisons.

She wanted colours that didn’t exist in nature. I gave them to her. They wanted her to catch a title. She did. It’s too bad the experimental dyes I created were poisonous.

I hear your readers are angry that I’m being transported rather than hanged. But after all, I was found guilty of manslaughter.

What the papers did not report is that I married several weeks before my stepsister. I married one of my father’s former employees. My uncle transferred the company to him. He’s coming with me to Australia. A new world is full of new possibilities.