April 27, 2016 Leave a comment
April 9, 2016 Leave a comment
My cousin Dana LisenBee and I have begun an ambitious project called Scrappers. The following short story is the seed from which we are developing a 10 minute short film. The screenplay (when it is complete you know I’ll post it here) is a pared down version, being made from Dana’s sheer film making genius, a couple of shoestrings and a host of prayers.
I’m not going to spill any beans regarding the entire project (that will take all day), but I hope you enjoy this seed.
“… Today marks the twentieth anniversary of our Gentry’s heroic journey to the stars in search of a new home for us all. The world’s richest and most influential people unselfishly chose to risk their lives to save the human race. The rest of us are tasked to produce as much as we can so that we will be prepared with an adequate supply of goods to take with us when we are called to join them…”
As the news achor on the laptop speaks, a thin, pale and unkempt woman quickly dresses herself. The laptop is old and worn, and sits on a simple card table with one metal folding chair next to it. A bowl of cereal, a spoon and a tall glass of milk are also on the table. A small, rickety bookshelf lies against the wall with only a few items in it: cereal, ramen noodles, powdered milk. A metal bucket sits atop the bookshelf. To the side is a small dorm-sized refrigerator; a butane griddle sits atop it. A curtain divides the storage shed. There is a gap in the center of the curtain.
“… We must continue to work hard for the good of all. The sacrifices we make today will benefit future generations. We live austerely so that our grandchildren will lack for nothing.”
Behind the curtain is a single mattress with a crumpled sheet and a thin pillow on it. Clothes are folded and stacked on the floor. On the other side of the mattress is an old couch with another sheet and pillow on it. In the corner beyond the head of the bed is a large pile of scrap metal and electronic parts. A vintage fighter pilot helmet sits atop the pile with its dark and reflective visor down.
“… Hold on a second…” the news anchor puts her hand to her ear for a brief moment. “Law Enforcement is on the scene of a hostage incident at the Gentry Chancellor’s Earthside home, and we have one of our cameras embedded with a SWAT team on site …” The screen splits, showing a castle. The camera rotates revealing a line of SWAT team members hugging a tall brick wall, weapons ready, moving silently toward the castle.
“Troop, come and eat your breakfast!” The woman calls out. She is wearing a plain white blouse and blue jeans, and sits in the chair pulling boots on. She looks anxiously at the laptop screen. “I’m taking you to a different school today.”
The helmet begins to rise above the pile of scrap. Beneath the helmet is an eleven year old boy wearing a pullover shirt and shorts. A backpack is strapped to his back. He holds something the size and shape of a deck of cards in his hand. He bounces over the mattress and through the curtain and explodes into the other half of the storage shed. “I did it, mom! I made a rat killer!”
“That’s great, Troop. Too bad we don’t have time for you to show me. Eat your breakfast. We’re late.” She poured some of the milk from the glass into the bowl of cereal. “And I want you to leave that stupid helmet here.”
The announcer continues. “We’re going to stay live with this news story.”
The camera has zoomed out again. A couple of SWAT team members crouch under one of the castle’s front windows. Two team members in front of the camera make hand signals, then dash to the front door. The SWAT team member with the news camera turns around and gives signals to the team members behind him. As he sprints to the front door the team members behind him run around the side of the castle. One of them tries the front door: it is unlocked.
Troop eats with the visor still down, ignoring the laptop screen altogether as he inspects the ‘rat killer’ now on the table. “I have to wear the helmet.”
His mother speaks. “Fine. Keep the helmet. But remember, you’re a young man now, and men don’t play with old helmets.” Her eyes are locked on the laptop screen. “Remember a couple of years ago when you were fiddling with the laptop and came across that secret gentry channel? That changed everything.”
“I wasn’t fiddling,” Troop says, “but I could learn how.”
On the screen another signal and a grenade is tossed in through the door. Suddenly there is a bright flash and a loud bang, and the SWAT team rushes in screaming for everyone to get down and surrender. A group of three people start to run out of the room and are shot down. Two team members struggle with another man, who screams “The Gentry aren’t trying to find a new home for us! They’re right up there hiding behind the moon -” he points to the sky – “waiting for us to die off so they can come back!” More team members help lift the man from the floor and holds him horizontal as he kicks and screams. Someone places a cloth bag over the man’s head, but he continues to yell. “It’s all a lie! They’re living like royalty up there while we starve! The people need to …” A gun is placed to the side of the man’s head and it is fired, killing the man instantly
Troop’s mother stares at the laptop screen with alarm. “Listen to me. Don’t believe anything the authorities say. Those of us left behind aren’t making all these supplies to take with us. We aren’t going anywhere.”
The boy’s eyes widen as they shift from the rat killer to his mother. “You may not go anywhere, but I’m going to be an intergalactic ship captain.”
The SWAT team coverage disappears, and once again the news anchor fills the screen. “Law Enforcement has been working for months to eliminate civil unrest. Just a second… we have more breaking news: The One World Security Division has just provided us with the names and photos of two people of great interest, believed to be the ringleaders behind the anarchists.” Two faces appear on the screen: a man and a woman. The woman is Troop’s mother. The news anchor speaks. “Thomas Bright and Ari Bishop.”
Troop looks up to the screen for the first time just as his mother closes the laptop. “Mom, you’re famous!”
“We have to go NOW!” Ari grabs Troop by the arm and they exit the storage shed.
“They won’t be here for three minutes,” Troop exclaims. Oh! I forgot something!” He breaks free, runs back in to get the rat killer and then follows her as they move through the complex.
It is early morning; judging by the fading darkness, the sun will arrive in a couple of hours. Ari leads Troop by the hand through the complex maze of storage sheds because he keeps stopping to stare upwards at the western stars. Even at this hour there are those squatting in the dirt in front of their sheds. None greet the two as they hurry by. If Troop turned his head earthward he would see the looks of resignation and frustration, apathy and anger in the sqatters’ faces. Instead, his attention lay among the moon, planets and stars.
The main thoroughfares is full of soldiers. Ari and Troop are careful to avoid them, so they take back alleys. From time to time they catch glimpses of soldiers wrestling with lone civilians, sometimes knocking them to the ground and beating them with fists, boots and rifle butts. Troop remains oblivious to the violence, screams and shouts, but Ari is obviously terrified.
As the morning sky hints at the sun’ arrival, the two reach a particular storage shed far from the main road. In front of it an elderly man sits on the ground with his face to the sky.
“Uncle Enoch,” Ari breathlessly says, “my cell has been compromised.” She and Ari sit across from the old man.
The old man speaks softly, but his voice and bearing is as one with authority. “I saw the news.” He bends close to Troop. “You’ve got yourself one incredible pilot helmet, kiddo.”
Troop locks his eyes on the old man. “I’m going to build my own ship and explore the universe!”
Uncle Enoch laughs and puts his hand on Troop’s helmet. “I know you will, Troop. You’ve got a special talent for creating things. Your mom told me the other day that you invented a water maker.”
Troop shrugs his backpack off and rummages through it for a few seconds, then withdraws something that looks like a vape sticking out of a tennis ball. He squeezes it a few times then takes a drink. He hands it to Uncle Enoch. “Try it. It kinds tastes sweet, but I’m working the bugs out.”
Uncle Enoch takes the water maker and studies it for a moment, then squeezes it like Troop did and draws from the tube. The old man’s eyes grow wide. “Remarkable!”
Troop beams at this and excitedly starts to search through his backpack again. “That’s nothing! Just wait til you see…”
Ari stops Troop in mid sentence. “Troop, we’re in a hurry this morning, but the next time we visit Uncle Enoch you can show him everything.”
Enoch hands the water maker back to Troop with a sad smile. “Next time, kiddo.” Troop mimics the old man’s expression, puts the water maker in the backpack and then resumes looking at the sky.
Ari shakes her head. “The camp doctor says Troop has a mild form of autism and wants him on medicine. I won’t do that to him. For now, though, I’m kind of glad he’s not completely tuned in to the world. He doesn’t need to know the danger we’re in.”
Enoch’s eyes sparkles. “I disagree. If anyone deserves to know, it’s Troop, Best tell him while you’ve got the chance. When Troop tapped into the gentry communications five years ago, he delivered us from the lies and propaganda we’d been fed. In a very real sense, he gave birth to the revolution. Until recently, the government had no clue how organized we are. Even now that they know who we are, it’s too late. We’re going to take back the planet.”
“I know everything,” Troop says quietly.
Ari nods her head with a grim look on her face. “Uncle Enoch, we have to get to the farm. I know the safe way to get there once we get out of the slums, but I need help getting to the other side of the fence. They know what I look like.”
Uncle Enoch grins. “You’ve come to the right place, kiddo.” He stands and whistles. In an instant a young man appears. He is wearing blue coveralls. Enoch says to him “Joey, I need you to get a couple of uniforms for Ari and her son, and then take them to the rear of the Luxury Goods building. Just give me a couple of minutes to spruce Ari up.” The young man nods and disappears around the storage shed.
“I don’t need help once we get out of the slums,” Ari says resolutely.
Enoch shakes his head. “They’ve got eyes almost everywhere. Even from above. I’m going to get you safely to the edge of town just beyond the industrial complex.”
Uncle Enoch and Ari steps inside his storage shed as Troop keeps his attention to the sky. As he watches the early morning sky, his face lights up. “A satellite!” He says this just above a whisper, then adds “Eyes.” then tracks it until he can no longer see it. He continues to look skyward hoping to see another satellite.
Shouts can be heard close by, followed by a short spate of gunfire. Troop watches the morning sky, unfazed by the sounds. A single gunshot and a woman screams. In a moment two soldiers breathlessly run into the front of Enoch’s storage shed. They regard Troop for a moment as they attempt to catch their breath. Automatic gunfire erupts nearby and they take off in that direction. Troop does not waver in the slightest.
The young man, Joey, returns with two coveralls. He knocks on the storage shed door and then enters. In a moment Enoch, Joey and Ari emerge from the shed. Ari wears one of the coveralls and has Troop’s in her hands. Her hair is now combed and slicked back. She sports a full beard and big, black-rimmed glasses. It looks like she has gained fifty pounds. Troop looks at her and laughs.
“Ok, bub,” she says in a deep voice. “Put these on and get ready. We’ve got a way to go.”
Uncle Enoch shakes hands with Troop and begins to give Ari a hug but stops short and grins. “I don’t hug men.” He shakes her hand firmly as if daring her to do the same, which she does effectively. “Tell my nephew I said he has to take time to rest, and to keep a low profile. There’s a lot more I want to say to him, but I’m too much a gentleman to ask my niece to relay such things, no matter how hard she tries to be a man.”
He gestures to Joey. “This fellow, Joey, will be your escort to the factories.”
Enoch looks at Ari. “You’re going to have to go through the town on your own, of course. You know where his farm is from there. But you’re going to need to get the town behind you before the sun comes up. Godspeed.”
Troop takes his mother’s hand as they begin to follow young Joey, and just before they get out of sight, turns and looks at Enoch with that sad smile on his face. “Next time, kiddo!”
Soon they are in an old Jeep Wrangler. Joey is driving, Ari rides shotgun and Troop sits quietly in the back seat trying to look older. They are in a line of cars going through a government check point. As they approach the gate, Troop takes his helmet off and lays it down between his feet. The it is their turn. A soldier lowers his face to Joey’s window and peers at the three for a full five seconds before asking for their papers. Joey hands them over casually and gives the soldier a more than friendly smile. The soldier ignores this as he scrutinizes the paperwork. Soon, though, he hands the papers back to Victor, and leaves his hand on Victor’s forearm a bit too long. “Don’t be late for work.” He motions at another soldier standing in front of the vehicle, and they both move out of the way. As soon as they move away from the checkpoint, Troop puts his helmet back on, and Ari loses her diguise.
The Wrangler is part of a long convoy headed to the factories, which can be seen in the distance. Ari turns to Troop. “I need you to listen to me now. Long before you and I was born our people used to live in a democracy. That meant everyone, regardless of their status, had a fair and equal say about how the government should be run that would benefit the majority.”
It was a Republic,” Troop says matter of factly.
Ari stares at him for a moment with a puzzled look on her face, then continues “In time, though, as the ‘Republic’ began to collapse under the weight of debt, a small group of the richest people in the world decided they wanted complete control. The only problem was that they were outnumbered by the poor, and the poor was on the verge of revolution. The rich tried all sorts of ways to reduce the poors’ population to make them easier to control -”
Troop inturrupts his mother. “They called it ‘thinning the herd.’”
Ari frowns. “Where do you come up with this stuff? Nevermind. I don’t think I want to know. Don’t interrupt me, it’s rude. Now where was I? The rich, the one percenters, the gentry, came up with this plan of secretly building a plush colony in space, hiding it behind the moon, and then moving there under the pretense that our planet was dying, and that they would volunteer to search the galaxy for a new home for us. The gentry created a single government – called the ‘One World Order’ – to better control us. They told us that we had to stock up on food and goods for when they came back to get us, and had a huge storage colony built on the moon for that purpose. When the gentry left us, we celebrated their unselfish courage and hoped for their safe and successful return. Instead, the gentry has been thriving up there while we’re getting thinner and thinner -”
Troop raises his hand. Ari sighs and gestures for him to talk. “I know all about it, mom.”
“Whatever, Troop.” Ari faces forward again. Troop smiles faintly and wipes dust from his dark visor.
The convoy approaches a huge complex of industrial structures that seems to stretch to the horizon. Joey maneuvers the car through the labyrith of manufacturing buildings until he reaches the back of the furthest building. They all get out of the car. Troop leans on the hood staring at the dissipating night sky; Ari follows Joey and they both put their attention on a long row of tall hedges.
It doesn’t take long for Joey to find what he is looking for: a subtle gap between two hedges. Ari discards her disguise, and they both takes the coveralls off and hand them to Joey, who smiles and wishes them good luck. With that, Ari and Troop disappear into the hedges.
On the other side of the hedges Ari and Troop find themselves at the ‘T’ of two roads. Straight ahead is a line of commercial buildings stretching out a few blocks. Only one business appears to be open, and a variety of vehicles are parked in front of it. As she watches, a delivery truck pulls up across the street and two men get out and walk to it. A police car is among the parked cars. Streetlights illuminate the businesses, but they won’t for long as the morning sun is soon to emerge. The crossroad to their left and right is lined with homes complete with mailboxes, cars in the driveways and well-manicured lawns.
“This is where the bad guys live, the ones who beat us, who kills us, who force us to survive in storage sheds and eat their scraps. While they live like this.” Ari’s hatred for them intensifies as she stands there hungry and cold, and she has to overcome the urge to go on a murderous rampage from house to house. She shifts her attention ahead beyond the businesses to the miles of crops stretching to the horizon. Troop absorbs it all in through the visor.
“Stay close to me,” Ari says softly but firmly. “and don’t make a sound.” She takes Troop’s hand again and they carefully advance to the rear of the businesses on the opposite side of the street from the diner.
They move stealthily past dumpsters, empty racks and miscellaneous pieces of junked equipment that dot the back of the building. More than once Ari has to pull Troop away from the discarded scrap. He is completely mesmerized by this cornucopia of discarded material.
As they creep by one place, the back door opens suddenly and a man holding a tied trashbag in his hand comes out. Troop does not seem to notice the man at all, for a bird flying in a lazy circle above them has captured his attention. He watches the bird intently, even as his mother rushes the surprised man and knocks him to the ground. She straddles the man and tries to choke him, but he is much stronger than her and easily bucks her off. The man rolls over onto his hands and knees to get up, but Ari is already on her feet and kicks him under the chin so hard he crumples to the ground again with blood pouring from his mouth.
Troop keeps watching the bird as it continues to circle above them. He steps a few feet away from the melee and says softly “Red-tailed hawk.”
Ari quickly shuts the back door of the business as the bloodied man spits out a sizable chunk of his tongue and stands. He comes after Ari with fists and rage. She crouches to make herself a smaller target. As he reaches Ari he tries to yell something, but a spray of blood showers down upon her and he can only manage a gutteral “ACK.” He swings a fist at her and it connects with the side of her head. Ari crumples to the ground as an explosion of pain dims her vision and tries to drag her into unconsciousness. The man kicks her in the stomach but she barely feels it because her brain is shutting down. Just as Ari is about to slip into sweet nothingness, she sees a rock the size of a loaf of bread within reach that is used to prop the door open, and an image of Troop wearing that stupid helmet coasts in the forefront of her mind. The man towers over her, his chest heaving, frothy blood drizzling down and fists looking the size of ham hocks. Ari gathers what strength she has left, grabs the rock with both hands and slams it into the man’s groin.
Troop is still oblivious to the fight, watching as the hawk swoops down and sits upon a power line above him. He says “I would fly all the time.”
The man doubles over, his big hands clutching at his groin. Ari pulls to her feet, the heavy rock in both her hands. She brings the rock down savagely upon the back of the man’s head; his body instantly becomes limp and he lands face down upon the ground. Ari staggers as the monsterous pain threatens to overwhelm her, and she falls to her knees, and in doing so brings the rock down upon his head, splitting it open like an old clay pot. She struggles to stand, refusing to let the pain overwhelm her, and leans agaist the dumpster watching Troop with his back to her looking up at the bird.
Fearing another employee coming out any one of the back doors, Ari hobbles over to Troop. “Let’s keep going.” Troop sadly waves goodbye to the hawk as Ari links her arm with his, trying not to lean too much on him. Troop looks over to his mother and sees the blood all over her face and clothes, then casually says “Cold water, soap and white vinegar will get that out easy.”
She manages a weak smile and they continue on behind the businesses until the businesses are behind them.
As the sun rises above the horizon Ari and Troop plods onward through thickets and orchards and freshly plowed fields. From time to time they pass by large farmhouses with huge barns, grain bins and heavy equipment, making sure they aren’t seen. As they skirt through a barren field they see a woman standing on top of a small hill. She holds a shovel, and a pile of dirt rests in front of her. As Troop and Ari watch, the woman bends down, picks up a small bundle and slowly places it into the ground. The woman stands over the grave, hands over her face. The sound of her weeping filters down to them and they stop for a moment.
As the woman on the hill shovels dirt into the ground, Troop turns to his mother and asks, “What is she doing?
Ari keeps her eyes on the scene on the hill. “I think it is a mother burying her child.”
“Why would she do that? Is the baby dead?”
“Yes. When you love somebody, that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Troop is silent for a moment. As they watch the woman they see her stop and look in their direction. After a moment she returns to her shovel.
“Mom,” Troop says quietly “how come we didn’t bury Grandma? When she died, you carried her to the side of the street, and the next morning she was gone. Everybody there does that.”
Ari replies somberly “We have to give them to the Soylent Green Division. I don’t know what happens after that.”
They resume their journey in silence. In a few minutes Troop says “Soylent Green was a movie way back in 1973. They took dead people and turned them into food.”
Ari steps away from Troop and says harshly “Where are you coming up with this junk? You can’t say things like that!”
Troop rapped his knuckles on the visor. “Here.”
“Troop, you have to stop making things up! That’s just an old helmet. It’s stupid and it looks stupid on you! I want you to leave it here right now!”
“Mom, it’s not stupid,” Troop says calmly as he takes the helmet off. “Put it on and you’ll see.” He holds it out for her to take. “Just try it on! You’ll see.”
Ari takes the helmet and looks at it angrily. “I’ll humor you and put it on. Then you have to leave it here.” She squeezes the helmet on her head.
On the inside of the visor a steady stream of information rolls by her vision. She sees a poorly drawn picture of a man running away from a bucket full of bodies. Below it are the words “SOYLENT GREEN,” and above it are words saying. “It’s the year 2022. People are still the same. They’ll do anything to get what they need, And they need SOYLENT GREEN” Ari suddenly feels as if she’s been punched in the stomach.
“Think of anything, mom. Anything!” Troop’s words seem far away.
Ari directs her thoughts to the revolution. On the left of the visor she sees tabs to documents from the One World Security Division, Law Enforcement and other agencies she’d never heard of before. On the right of the visor are tabs to documents by revolutionary members, plans, financial papers and the location of every revolutionary member. The center of the visor displays suggestions and strategies to defeat the establishment. She hears her own voice speak calmly in her ears: “Hello. I’m your personal assistant. Troop calls me his genie. It makes it easier for him to understand. I am the Master Computer over all information past, present and future. Troop reprogrammed me to serve the revolution. I let the gentry believe I serve them. Spying is fun.”
Ari takes the helmet off and gasps for air. “How did you… I didn’t know… What in the world… Do you realize… OH MY GOD, TROOP!” She falls to her knees and embraces Troop even though it hurts her everywhere. Troop smiles and calmly puts the helmet back on. Ari jumps up with renewed vigor and they continue on to the farm. Ari cannot stop talking excitedly, asking questions and discussing the way forward for the revolution.
At one point Troop digs into his backpack, pulls out a pair of sunglasses and gives them to his mom. “Now you have the same friend as I do.” Ari slips them on and squeals in excitement. She gives him more hugs than he’s gotten in a whole year.
The morning sun shines in the faces of Ari and Troop, warming their bodies to match the warmth in their hearts. They turn up a long, dusty road, and soon see a large white truck approach. A tall handsome man climbs down. “Good morning, Ari. I knew I’d be seeing you soon.” He smiles and Troop instantly likes him.
When Ari speaks, her voice is strong. “John, this is Troop, your son. Troop, this is John, your father.”
Troop takes his helmet off, and both the man and boy stare at each other. John approaches and holds out his arms. Troop hesitates for just a moment, and then his smile widens and a single tear rolls down his eye. He rushes into his father’s arms and they stay that way for a long time.
The three climb into the big truck. Troop looks through the back window and sees a pile of scrap metal and electronic parts. “What’s all that for?” he asks.
“I like to make things,” John replies.
John grins as he turns the truck around. “I thought so, just looking at your helmet.”
“I’m going to be an intergalactic traveler! I’m going to build my own spaceship and explore the universe!” Troop said with enthusiastic pride.
John points to a giant silo beside a barn almost as big as the spacious three-story estate not far away. “See that big grain bin? I’ll tell you a secret. I’m building a spaceship specifically for intergalactic exploration. I hope you can help me, Captain.”
A seductive female voice speaks calmly in the Captain’s Quarters:
Troop? You need to wake up now.”
I’m awake…I had the dream again.”
“The dream about your Mother…”
“Warning, proximity —“
A loud bang is heard and the ship shudders as something strikes it. The computer chuckles. “Proximity alert cancelled. Target, um, acquired.”