Boxcar by David-Matthews Barnes

David-Matthew Barnes is the award-winning author of several novels and collections of stage plays, monologues, scenes, and poetry. His screenplays and teleplays have been official selections in the Hollywood Screenplay Contest, the Inspired Minds Short Film and Screenplay Competition, the Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition in London, and the Film Makers TV Writing Competition in Los Angeles. He has been an arts educator for more than a decade. For more information, please visit http://www.davidmatthewbarnes.com.

 

 

BOXCAR

A screenplay for a short film

Adapted from the one-act play

 

EXT. AN ABANDONED TRAIN YARD; A SMALL AMERICAN TOWN – NIGHT

The night is providing a false sense of calm.

The hour is late.

Beyond a quiet, remote gas station is a cemetery for trains.

Stillness blankets the train yard. Empty, rusted rail cars litter the space, discarded and long forgotten.

Beyond the perimeter of a broken chain linked fence, the landscape is sparse and the horizon is endless. In the distance, a faint glow and flicker of lights indicates civilization exists in the form of a small town.

From opposite ends of the yard, two young men approach.

AUSTIN, 17, approaches from the left. He’s not as tough as he looks.

HARLEY, also 17, approaches from the right. Despite what he’s been through, he still has hope.

They meet in front of a rail car.

It’s clear they do not need words to speak.

Austin climbs up to the rail car. He reaches down and offers a hand to Harley.

INT. ABANDONED BOXCAR TRAIN – CONTINUED

The interior of the boxcar is dimly lit. Spill from the nearby neon gas station sign mixed with moonlight seeps in through cracks, creating an ethereal glow.

 

The boys find a place to sit.

AUSTIN

I think you had the right idea comin’

here, Harley.

HARLEY

When the whiskey kicks in, maybe it

won’t be so scary.

AUSTIN

What are you scared of?

HARLEY

Nothing. (Beat.) Coyotes.

AUSTIN

They won’t mess with you unless you

mess with them.

HARLEY

Tell that to my cousin Francine.

AUSTIN

What happened to her?

HARLEY

She got attacked by a pack of ‘em.

They almost ripped her face off.

AUSTIN

(trying to convince them both)

I don’t think there’s coyotes in the

train yard.

HARLEY

If you say so.

AUSTIN

You don’t believe me?

HARLEY

I think they’re everywhere.

AUSTIN

I wish some of ‘em would make their way

over to the dance. Devour those fuckers.

HARLEY

I wonder why they call it Homecoming.

AUSTIN

It has to do with football.

HARLEY

Doesn’t everything?

AUSTIN

Spirit week. You ever seen such a bunch

of idiots?

HARLEY

We grew up with them. We’ve known they

were dumb since childhood.

AUSTIN

You know…you could’ve gone if you

wanted to…to the dance, I mean.

HARLEY

Why would I?

AUSTIN

Everybody else is.

HARLEY

You’re not.

AUSTIN

That’s because…

HARLEY

Because?

AUSTIN

I’d rather be here with you.

(Beat.)

You feelin’ the same?

HARLEY

I think I’m feelin’ the whiskey now.

AUSTIN

It’s the cheap stuff. It’ll hit ya hard.

HARLEY

Lately it seems everything does.

AUSTIN

You gotta toughen up.

HARLEY

Like you?

AUSTIN

Yeah. Otherwise, those coyotes…

they’ll tear your heart out.

HARLEY

What would’ve happened?

AUSTIN

What do you mean?

HARLEY

If we would’ve gone to the dance tonight.

(Beat.)

Both of us.

(Beat.)

Together.

AUSTIN

I don’t wanna think about that.

HARLEY

You’d think we’d be dead my morning?

AUSTIN

No. (Beat.) By midnight.

HARLEY

I should’ve drank more whiskey.

AUSTIN

I wish we had a radio.

HARLEY

What for? Neither one of us can sing.

AUSTIN

Naw. But we can dance.

HARLEY

You’re outta your mind.

AUSTIN

I am. (Beat.) That’s why you like me.

HARLEY

Among other reasons.

AUSTIN

Name ‘em. The reasons.

HARLEY

You want the entire list?

AUSTIN

Top five.

HARLEY

You’ll have to settle for three.

AUSTIN

Fine. I’ll take what I can get.

HARLEY

I like you because you do my World

History homework for me.

AUSTIN

That’s because it takes you too long. I

finish it so we can spend more time

together.

HARLEY

I like you because I’m the only person

who’s ever seen you cry.

AUSTIN

Now, don’t go tellin’ people about that.

I’ll deny it. You hear me?

HARLEY

I like you because you’re good to me,

Austin. You take care of me.

AUSTIN

Always have. Always will.

HARLEY

I like you…because you’re still here.

You’re still alive.

(Beat.)

You didn’t die on me.

AUSTIN

That’s four things. You said I was only

getting three.

HARLEY

I’ll tell you the rest later.

AUSTIN

There’s no rush. We got all night.

HARLEY

And then what?

AUSTIN

The sun comes up.

HARLEY

And it’s just another day.

AUSTIN

Hey, at least we got each other.

HARLEY

If anybody ever found out…

AUSTIN

Did you hear that?

HARLEY

No. What was it?

AUSTIN

I think it was a coyote. Outside.

HARLEY

In the train yard? I thought you said…

AUSTIN

Maybe it’s hungry. I bet he’s looking

for food.

     (Beat.)

You want me to hold you?

HARLEY

Why?

AUSTIN

Because you looked scared.

HARLEY

Not as scared as you do.

AUSTIN

I’m actually hungry.

HARLEY

Yeah, I forgot to eat dinner, too.

AUSTIN

In the morning, let’s go to Marie’s.

We can get glazed donuts and chocolate

milk.

HARLEY

Okay. They open at five a.m.

AUSTIN

Even on a Saturday?

HARLEY

Oh, shit. Maybe they open later on the

weekends. I don’t know.

AUSTIN

We’ll go by there when the sun comes up.

HARLEY

Are we spending the night here?

AUSTIN

Yeah.

HARLEY

Together?

AUSTIN

You don’t wanna be with me?

HARLEY

Of course I do. It’s just…we’ve never…

AUSTIN

I think I’m ready now.

HARLEY

I think I am, too.

     (Beat.)

Maybe.

AUSTIN

Oh yeah?

HARLEY

You should’ve brought a radio.

AUSTIN

Or a gun.

HARLEY

Why would you say that?

AUSTIN

Not for me. To protect us. From the

animals.

HARLEY

Who’s going to protect you?

AUSTIN

I don’t have anyone else.

HARLEY

Exactly. So, don’t go doing any more

crazy shit like last weekend.

AUSTIN

I’m okay now.

HARLEY

No, you’re not.

AUSTIN

It’s only because I wanted to take you

to the dance. It’s not fair.

HARLEY

We don’t make the rules. We gotta go

some place where love is legal.

AUSTIN

When do we get to have a say in somethin’?

HARLEY

Once we get the hell outta here.

AUSTIN

(after a moment)

I tried.

HARLEY

I know you did.

(Beat.)

But you left something behind.

AUSTIN

I’m sorry.

HARLEY

We made a promise. Doesn’t that mean

anything to you?

AUSTIN

It kept me alive.

HARLEY

I didn’t see it coming, Austin. I knew

you were sad and fucked up over the shit

you had going on at home. But I didn’t

know how bad it was for you. Cecilia

said something was wrong with you. I

told her, “Yeah, but that’s why I like

him so much.” She told me to keep an eye

on you, to look out for you. She didn’t

realize you were doing that for me. That

I couldn’t even take care of myself, let

alone you.

INTERCUT – MONTAGE

As Harley speaks, we see the following sequence of events unfold:

-VERONICA, also 17, rushes into and through Harley’s ramshackle house, searching for him. She is frantic when she finds him in his bedroom. Immediately, Harley knows something is wrong.

-Austin is working in a retirement home, serving food to the residents. It’s clear he likes his job. It’s clear they like him.

-Austin is leaving a military recruiter’s office, defeated.

-Veronica is driving Harley to the hospital. The mood is tense. Veronica chain smokes, while Harley fears the worst.

-Harley and Veronica arrive at the hospital. Eventually, they take an elevator to the seventh floor. There, Harley approaches a locked metal door. Austin’s sad eyes appear in a narrow, small window in the door, pleading for love. They two boys speak with their eyes.

          HARLEY (V.O.)

So, when Veronica showed up at my

house that morning, I had a feeling.

I knew she’d been crying and we both

know she never cries. I thought maybe

something had happened to her aunt or

maybe Rico and Candi had broken up

again. I never imagined it was you.

She said afterschool on Wednesday you

went to the recruiters downtown because

you were planning to join the Army. I

called her a liar because you promised

me you’d never leave me behind in this

place. I told her you loved working in

the cafeteria at the old folks home

because you know they need you there.

You know how to make tapioca just the

way they like it. She said the Army

rejected you. They turned you down. They

didn’t want you. Is that why you did it?

Or was it because people are figuring it

out? They know what’s going on between

Do we even have a word for this, for

what me and you are to each other? What

do you call us, Austin? In your head, I

mean. In your dreams. The wild ones. I

went with Veronica to the hospital

because I didn’t believe her. I had to

see you with my own eyes. We drove their

in her uncle’s big ass car. She chain

smoked and we listened to the radio. I

don’t remember what song was playing

because all I could think about was you.

Finally, Veronica said, “Talk, Harley.

Say something. Anything.” So, I did. I

told her I realized there was no way in

hell you’d ask me to go to Homecoming with

you. I was better kept as a secret, tight

HARLEY (V.O.)

     (cont’d)

and hard, close to your chest. I told her, “Austin said I was the best kisser. He

wants to spend forever in each other’s

arms and blah, blah, blah.” She wasn’t

listening to me. She was thinking about

her brother who blew his head off

last Christmas Eve. She told me once

she found him underneath the tree.

(Beat.)

I felt empty when we got there. We got

lost in the hospital looking for you.

Then, some nurse told us you were in

the psych ward on suicide watch on the

seventh floor. As we rode the elevator

up, I remembered it was spirit week at

school. Nobody cared about nothing except

that stupid football game and the dance

that’s happening right now. I had more

important things on my mind, like why was

I watching my friends get pregnant, flunk

out, overdose, be banished away to

boarding schools by step-mothers whose

smeared lipstick says it all.

 

END OF FLASHBACK/MONTAGE

We are back in the boxcar.

   HARLEY

They wouldn’t let me in to see you. But

you were there on the other side of that

metal door. All I could see were your

eyes through that small window. Just a

little rectangle of glass. But that was

all I needed. To see your beautiful eyes.

And then I knew. The sadness inside of

you was too much for you to bear.

AUSTIN

It still is.

HARLEY

I know.

(Beat.)

That’s why I’m here.

AUSTIN

I can’t make sense of it sometime. Of

what I feel for you.

HARLEY

Then I guess it’s a good thing we got

each other.

AUSTIN

I would’ve asked you…if we were at

Homecoming…I would’ve asked you dance.

(Beat.)

What would’ve you said?

HARLEY

I probably would’ve said you’re a crazy

son of a bitch.

AUSTIN

We already know that.

HARLEY

You know I can’t say no to you.

Austin stands. He extends a hand down to Harley. It’s an invitation.

 

AUSTIN

Then don’t.

Harley accepts the unspoken invitation by placing his hand in Austin’s. He stands.

Slowly, the two men begin to sway together, as if they were dancing to a love song only heard by them.

In the distance, the haunting cry of a wild coyote is heard.

They ignore the warning.

                                                                                  FADE OUT

Short Play by Emma Johnson-Rivard

Emma Johnson-Rivard is a Masters student at Hamline University. She received her undergraduate degree in Film Studies at Smith College in Massachusetts and currently lives in Minnesota with her dogs and far too many books. Her work has appeared in Mistake House, the Olive Press, and the Santa Ana River Review.

 

The Painter Seeks A Muse And The Historian Lectures on Jack The Ripper

A short play

Two friends sit drinking coffee. The Historian carries a book bag. The PAINTER has a portfolio and is taking notes on a piece of paper.

PAINTER

Be as honest as you can.

HISTORIAN

I wasn’t aware people interviewed their muses.

PAINTER

I don’t have to take notes, if that makes it easier.

HISTORIAN

Studies show that handwritten notes improve memory retention and increased comprehension of abstract concepts.

PAINTER

So…

HISTORIAN

Go ahead.

PAINTER

Thank you. I just wanted to say, you don’t have to answer everything. I’d like you to be hones, but if there’s anywhere you don’t want me to go, just say so.

HISTORIAN

That’s very polite of you.

PAINTER

I don’t want to hurt anyone with my work unless I mean to.

HISTORIAN

Do you mean to hurt people?

PAINTER

Sometimes I mean to insult them or force you to see a painful truth. I mean “you” as the collective, not you personally, of course. I very rarely direct my work at specific, individual people, and only then to historical figures or politicians.

HISTORIAN

Because they expect it?

PAINTER

I suppose they do. But it’s more because they’ve shifted into the background of our collective unconsciousness. They mean something more than themselves. And sometimes they cause great harm or great innovation by being more than themselves.

HISTORIAN

So a painting of Copernicus is more important than a painting of a crowd?

PAINTER

I wouldn’t say it’s more important. Just different. And I’d probably work with Galileo, anyway.

HISTORIAN

You’re pretty good at this.

PAINTER

Thank you.

HISTORIAN

Do you write papers?

PAINTER

Sometimes. The collective you tends to think there’s this great divine between painters and historians, but we’re all academics, really. We take notes and draw conclusions.

HISTORIAN

And neither of us get rich.

The Painter laughs.

PAINTER

Nope! Though I’m supposed to be interviewing you.

HISTORIAN

My apologies. I got carried away.

PAINTER

That’s fine. Do you mind if I begin?

HISTORIAN

Not at all.

PAINTER

Excellent. As I said, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. But I’d like you to be as honest as you can.

HISTORIAN

I understand.

PAINTER

Then I’ll jump right in. Why do you study historical crime?

HISTORIAN

Why do I study it, or why should the collective you study it?

PAINTER

Both, please.

HISTORIAN

I research crimes concerning women; whether as perpetrators, bystanders, or victims. It became a fascination of mine in high school when I saw this movie about Jack the Ripper and I found myself wondering about the women. The ones who died, of course, but their families as well. Annie Chapman had three children. No one really talks about them.

PAINTER

She was the first victim?

HISTORIAN

Second. She was murdered on September 8th, 1880.

PAINTER

So you write about the Ripper.

HISTORIAN

No. I don’t care about the Ripper.

PAINTER

Just the women.

HISTORIAN

Looking at the crimes is a way of looking at multiple levels of society all at once. How these women died is extremely well documented. Working backwards, I try to get a picture of how they lived.

PAINTER

Like with the Ripper.

HISTORIAN

I don’t want to talk about him.

PAINTER

So why look at crimes at all? If you’re interested in the lives of Victorian women, I can think of other ways you could do it without encountering such gruesome history.

HISTORIAN

You’re not the first person to ask me that. With this kind of history, it’s easy to get drawn into the sensation of the narrative. Make a spectacle of the blood and guts. And I can’t speak to why other people are drawn to this particular field, but for me, there was a profound sense of injustice that women like Annie Chapman are remembered for what was probably the worst moment of their lives. The reason people know her name is because she was murdered and the collective we, as you said, has developed this whole subculture around the person who killed her. You can buy replicas of the knife. People dress up as Gentleman Jack for Halloween. And the general consensus is that Annie and the others put themselves into dangerous situations and got themselves killed. The dominant narrative in this case is about the grand mystery of revealing the killer. It’s treated as an intellectual puzzle and not a tragedy. The truth is, Annie Chapman and the other women died because a man who hated women decided to murder them because of it.

PAINTER

So you don’t have any theories about who the Ripper was?

HISTORIAN

Everyone has theories. I have my own, but there’s not enough evidence to prove them.

PAINTER

Does his identity matter at all?

HISTORIAN

I’m not saying we shouldn’t look or that there’s anything wrong with trying to figure it out. People have done very thoughtful, important work trying to close the case. It’s too late for the victims and their families, but the pursuit of justice isn’t something that should come with a time limit. But I also think that the whole conversation has shifted to putting this almost mythical killer on a pedestal. It’s become the legend of Jack the Ripper and his so called “perfect murders” rather than a historical evil we should be working to eradicate in the present. When we come to the point where you’ve got people idealizing this kind of violence against women, then you know we’ve got a problem.

PAINTER

What do you mean, idealizing the violence

 

HISTORIAN

The Ripper has become a sort of folk hero, in the collective consciousness. He’s called a criminal genius, his crimes are praised for how they were carried out. You can buy replicas of the knife we think he used, for God’s sake.

PAINTER

Is this something you find with a lot of the cases you study?

HISTORIAN

Occasionally, though never to this extreme as the Ripper case.

PAINTER

Why do you think that is?

HISTORIAN

Victorian crimes were reported to the public in a very specific way. Information was released episodically and it was purposefully sensationalized. Criminal cases and trials were followed closely by the public. Executions were treated like county fairs. People sold food, souvenirs; people made a day out of it. The Ripper case also touched on a lot of fears that people were grappling with at the time, but didn’t necessarily have an outlet to express. That time period in London saw extreme wealth disparities, and tensions between various ethnic and religious groups were quite high. People were afraid. A lot of prejudice came out of the proverbial woodwork because of it. And people in London, especially around the Whitechapel area, lived in very close proximity to each other, in horribly squalid conditions.

PAINTER

There wasn’t any way to escape.

HISTORIAN

Exactly. The Ripper case brought a lot of that tension to the surface and so there was a great deal of interest in the case. But I’d say even back then, the crimes started developing a mythology of their own. “Jack can’t be caught, he’s a monster, a criminal mastermind”, things like that. And of course he was never caught. The mystery appeals to people.

PAINTER

But there are a lot of unsolved crimes in the world.

HISTORIAN

Thousands. Part of the problem, at least from my perspective, is the facts of the case are consistently overshadowed by the legend. Jack the Ripper wasn’t a criminal mastermind who just vanished into the night; the police didn’t have access to what we would consider standard forensic tests, the victims were all vulnerable, and Whitechapel was a notoriously dark area. I mean that literally; there was a great deal of smog and the public street lamps of the time were quite weak. Furthermore, it wasn’t difficult to avoid the police. We know from other accounts that the Whitechapel police wore a specific type of boot, and these boots made a distinct sound on the cobblestone roads. So even before a criminal would see a policeman, they would hear him coming. Add that to the fact that the patrol routes were predictable, and even a moderately clever criminal could avoid detection at night.

PAINTER

So Jack wasn’t so special after all.

HISTORIAN

No. He was a criminal and he never saw justice for his crimes, but that was hardly unique for the time. People zero in on the legend rather than the facts of the case.

PAINTER

Given your feelings about the way the case is approached today, why research it at all?

HISTORIAN

I want to say because someone should do justice to the memory of the victims. And I do want that, I want these women to be seen as whole people instead of just props in the saga of Jack the Ripper, but I’m also very aware that I can’t speak for these women. I can only speak about them. There’s always a risk of turning them into props of my own; I’m not arrogant to think I’m above that.

PAINTER

That sounds difficult.

HISTORIAN

I believe we should be thoughtful about history, especially as it concerns violence against women. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

PAINTER

I agree. If we never tried to engage with the past, how would we ever learn from it?

HISTORIAN

Is this helping at all? I don’t know what painters look for.

PAINTER

You’re being very helpful. I appreciate how honest you’ve been with me.

HISTORIAN

All right.

PAINTER

You should dubious.

HISTORIAN

I guess I don’t see what you’re getting out of this.

PAINTER

Quite honestly, it’s part of my process. I don’t think many people like saying this, but the majority of artists are scavengers. We take pieces from the world around us and mash them together. I don’t want to paint just for myself, so I have to step outside my own wants and aesthetics, and think about what bothers other people. What haunts them, like the Ripper case haunts you.

HISTORIAN

I’m not a Ripperologist.

PAINTER

I know, but it’s something you feel deeply about. And to be entirely cavalier about it, that’s something I can use. That need to remember these women as they really were, when they’ve already been distorted into some strange myth. I don’t think I’ll sit down and paint Annie Chapman when we’re done. I’m not that literal. But I’ll be thinking about her as I work, about how deeply you feel for the truth of this case, and something will probably come of that.

HISTORIAN

I’m not sure I understand.

PAINTER

I know it’s strange.

HISTORIAN

This work is strange.

PAINTER

You’re quite right! But it is important, I think. Otherwise it might be lost.

HISTORIAN

I want someone to remember Annie Chapman as a person. Just one to remember her and not the Ripper.

The Painter smiles.

PAINTER

I promise at least one person will.

HISTORIAN

Thank you.

PAINTER

Shall we continue? There’s still so much I want to ask you.

HISTORIAN

Yes. That would be all right. There’s a lot to tell.

PAINTER

I’ll do my best.

HISTORIAN

I know. Will you show me, when it’s done?

PAINTER

The painting?

HISTORIAN

Yes.

PAINTER

Of course.

HISTORIAN

Then let’s begin.

Blackout.