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A Long Road
SETTING (a screenplay): 40’s. The sky is thundering over a small city, darkened by night’s veil, thick storm clouds blocking the phosphorescence of stars. Lightening periodically brightens the streets, a flood of yellow seeping into corners to procure darkness for just seconds. Street lamps line the road, illuminating cars parked for the night and tall buildings tracing the edges of the street far into the distance until all fades into black. The picture is black and white. AT FADE IN a man emerges from his duplex, a raincoat pulled over his head. He is holding in his arms a manila envelope expanded to its capacity with a stack of papers. He moves to the street, searching for a cab, but nothing comes down the road, not even a regular car.
NARRATOR: 34 Farlength Road. Jeremy Clemens, a man living on his own after the death of his mother, sits to write a play. He knows the story, has gotten to know the characters and the time and the location. But what he does not know, is that the very play he writes is destined to change the world—to change humanity for the better, to save them from a darkness as of yet invisible to the mortal eye far in the distance. Although, what may be seen by some as mere accident threatens the existence of his manuscript -- a quivering flame moves ever so slightly to extinguish it; a stack of scrap papers wait beside it, hoping to be mistakenly mixed in and then unknowingly tossed out; and several drinks stand looming over it, wishing to topple over upon the manuscript and stain away its meaning, and ultimately, its future. But what if such things were not just fate or accident, but a dark presence—a satanic interference hoping to rob humanity of its possible rescue?
(Eventually, a single taxi pulls into sight, stopping right before the man. The man gets into the taxi)
JEREMY: Can’t believe this weather. Fine for weeks… (He shakes his head) now this.
(A silence. The sound of rain against the metal roof. Jeremy looks into the front seat. The driver sits firmly with both hands on the steering wheel, his cab driver’s hat pulled somewhat downward, casting shadow over his face)
TAXI DRIVER: (His voice is soft yet projected, his diction sharp enough to cut) Where to?
JEREMY: I, uh, need to get to Goodhouse Publishers.
TAXI DRIVER: For?
JEREMY: (A pause) Excuse me? (Thunder rumbles.)
TAXI DRIVER: You’ll be there in a moment, sir.
(The taxi begins to move once more. There is an eerie silence that hangs over them, Jeremy trying to keep his eyes out the window but cannot resist looking into the shadow of the man’s face. Jeremy pulls his manila envelope close, holding it tightly.)
TAXI DRIVER: Goodhouse Publishers. That what’s in the folder? A manuscript?
JEREMY: Yeah, yes… finally, that is. (He laughs, somewhat) I’ve just had some, y’know, bad luck with it over the past few weeks. A few mistakes, all accidents, of course. Quite strange, really. I was a little—
TAXI DRIVER: Mistakes are not always accidental.
JEREMY: No, no… (Pause) I suppose not. But I had written this nearly a couple times—they all somehow were lost or… destroyed, someway or another. Finally, I—I, well, I just decided to sit down and write it in one sitting. (He laughs) And here it is now… done and safe. Almost as if something was working against me all this time.
TAXI DRIVER: Could I ask your name? (More thunder) So I could read your book once it’s out.
JEREMY: (He looks onto the envelope) It’s, well, it’s a play, actually. Are you an actor?
TAXI DRIVER: You could call me that. (The rain becomes more severe. The windshield wipers hasten)
JEREMY: Might I have seen you in any productions?
TAXI DRIVER: I’ve not been in anything you’d know of. Most of the time, I’ve been under a disguise in my roles. No one really knows who I am until afterward, for the most part. Would you mind if I glanced at your script, by any chance? Just curious.
JEREMY: (He pauses and looks down onto the envelope. He pulls it closer.) I’d rather keep it near, to be honest. Nothing personal. It’s just… it’s just my only copy. I’m a little eager to arrive and make a second one.
TAXI DRIVER: We’re almost there, sir. I’d quite appreciate it if you could let me see it. Just for a moment.
(The taxi slows as it pulls along side the street corner, Goodhouse Publishers beside them. The taxi driver turns to face Jeremy, and lightning illuminates his face but somehow it remains shadowed anyway.)
TAXI DRIVER: There’d be no charge for the ride, sir, if I could see it. You’d walk away for free, unharmed.
JEREMY: Excuse me? (He grows tense)
TAXI DRIVER: You’d walk away for free.
JEREMY: That’s not what you said.
(Very loud thunder)
TAXI DRIVER: You look worried, Mr. Clemens.
(Jeremy empties his pockets of money, knowing that he avoided the question after being asked his name the first time. He quickly steps out of the car and into the rain)
TAXI DRIVER: You can’t keep it under your arm forever, Jeremy!
(Jeremy slams the door as the taxi driver finishes, and Jeremy heads inside, almost running. When he walks through the rotating doors, a soft, melodic tone rings, indicating one’s arrival. The sound of rain is muffled, but still heard quietly, humming outside. He approaches the front counter where he sees the back of a woman’s head, looking onto her desk. His feet echo back at him against the walls.)
JEREMY: Lorraine, I just… I just had a very strange cab driver -- he, well, he knew my naï‚¾
(He pauses as the woman turns. It is not Lorraine)
RECEPTIONIST: Can I help you?
(Jeremy looks on her desk but sees no nameplate)
JEREMY: Where is Lorraine?
RECEPTIONIST: Lorraine? (Thunder)
(Jeremy looks around. Everything looks familiar, but he has never seen the woman)
JEREMY: Are you a new receptionist?
RECEPTIONIST: No, no, I’ve worked here for years. (She stands. Jeremy cannot help but notice that her office wear is rather promiscuous. She moves about the room, turning off lights, preparing to close for the night.) We’re closing, so I don’t think you’d have an appointment this late. What’s your name? I’d recognize it if you did.
JEREMY: Jeremy Clemens. My publisher, uh, Walter Scott, said he’d be here late. Said I could drop my script off.
(She pauses and looks to the manila folder Jeremy is clutching. Muffled wind begins to wail outside).
RECEPTIONIST: Oh, finished a big project, did you? Are you proud of it? (She reaches for the folder, but he pulls it away sharply. She looks at him.) Okay, sorry. Curiosity got the best of me.
JEREMY: I don’t suppose you do that to all the company’s clients.
RECEPTIONIST: (There is a long silence while she stares into his eyes, as if she knows something important and hidden) Only the attractive ones.
(She turns and continues cleaning for closing, the vestibule entrance dimming as she turns off lights)
RCEPTIONIST: What’s it about? Your story.
JEREMY: I’d like to be buzzed up to Mr. Scott’s office, if I could. I don’t mean to be rude. I just really, really would feel much more comfortable if I could just get this a second copy…
RECEPTIONIST: Well, I need to just turn off the lights and pick up a few things while I’m over here. I’ll buzz you up in a moment. Just give me a little summary while I finish. (She looks at him, her eyes mysterious yet warm)
JEREMY: (He pauses for a moment, then begins to speak again as she cleans) It’s just… nothing, really.
RECEPTIONIST: You wrote a play about nothing?
JEREMY: (He swallows) Well, I, no, that’s not what I mean. It’s… it’s about a man, you see, and he’s lost his way a little. Emotionally, that is. His mother has just died. He’d been caring for her for months. He’s a little shaken up.
RECEPTIONIST: And so what does he do?
JEREMY: He… he tries to ignore his depression. But deep down, somewhere, he knows, and he feels, that a piece of him died on that same night his mother did.
RECEPTIONIST: And he goes looking for this piece of him?
JEREMY: Yes… he moves to a new town, and gets a job as a servant to a rich family. First, though, he needs to walk there, as no one in town seems willing to go down the very long road with him to the house. They all warn him, though, not to talk to anyone he might come across along the way. Not till he arrives.
RECEPTIONIST: And he does… talk to someone along the way.
JEREMY: How did you know?
RECEPTIONIST: (She approaches him) Well, isn’t that how it always goes? (She begins to circle him closely) A man, on his way somewhere new -- somewhere mysterious. Of course the locals know all about this mysterious place. They warn him, tell him not to go there, not to talk to anyone he finds… but he ignores their warning. There’s never any plot without ignorance, you see. Just people talking. (Her finger begins to trace him as she encircles him) You know what people in mourning really need? Hm?
(Jeremy shakes his head)
RECEPTIONIST: (She stops directly in front of him) Love. (Thunder) Someone to touch. (Lighting) I like writers. They’re so smart… intuitive. Writers always see more. They see people. And I don’t just mean making eye-contact, you actually see me. Feel me. (She pulls his hand around her back)
JEREMY: I-I’m sorry, M-Ms. This is inappropriate. I don’t want us to do anything we’d regret, make any mistakes.
RECEPTIONIST: Mistakes aren’t always accidental. (Silence. This is the same thing the taxi driver said. She sighs) Writers. You’re too nice. Talk forever about one thing, silent about another.
(She moves over to her desk)
RECEPTIONIST: Come. I’m passing you.
JEREMY: Passing me?
RECEPTIONIST: Buzzing you. I’m buzzing you down to the publisher.
JEREMY: That’s not what you said.
RECEPTIONIST: (She looks at him deeply again) Follow me.
(The rain becomes heavier)
RECEPTIONIST: Come on, to the elevator.
(They walk into a lengthy hallway, its walls narrow and its lighting dark, with the exception of a few lamps hung on the wall above each elevator entrance. They cast halos of light around each door, the rest black with night. Plants stand at attention within the darkness, their leaves protruding into the halos of light like arms attempting to seize whoever steps into it.)
(The woman moves to the wall where a panel of buttons is beside the elevator door. She holds down the 6th button, and Jeremy notices that it is the basement level 6th floor.)
JEREMY: Walter Scott—he’s, uh, on the 8th floor… not in the basement level, either.
RECEPTIONIST: Walter Scott has had his office moved. (She speaks into the wall as she holds the button down.) Last one for the night, I promise. Man needs to get to the sixth floor.
ELEVATOR OPERATOR: Be up in a second.
(The woman releases the button from beneath her finger, casting Jeremy one last gaze before walking away and disappearing around a corner. He stands in silence for a minute, following the arrow indicating the floor level the elevator is currently rising to. As it reaches 0, the number lights and a ding echoes. The doors part to reveal a 40’s elevator, a man in uniform, his face in shadow as the lighting is quite faint.)
ELEVATOR OPERATOR: Sir. (A nod)
(Jeremy moves into the elevator, hesitantly. The ride is smooth, except for some infrequent elevator rattling, the lights dimming to return once again. The rain is completely muted. There is no elevator music. Jeremy watches the top of the elevator as he descends, looking on the arrow as it slowly moves to the 6th floor sign. As it arrives, the doors part, revealing what appears to be an unfinished basement corridor instead of the normal office building.)
JEREMY: I’m sorry, but this—this doesn’t look quite… right.
ELEVATOR OPERATOR: (He turns to look at Jeremy, his face still shadowed.) It is right.
ELEVATOR OPERATOR: Sixth floor, sir, your destination. (His arm motions for Jeremy to step out.) Sixth corridor, sixth door to the left.
(Jeremy steps out, glancing in both directions, his breath unfurling through the air. The elevator door begins to close behind him, and Jeremy calls out after it)
JEREMY: Hey—wait—hold on a second. (But the elevator is closed, and Jeremy slams a fist into the door, and the noise echoes in both directions) This isn’t right!
(However, no one can here him. He has no choice but to proceed down the hall, lights flickering, a mysterious wet stain dripping down the cement wall cracks. Muffled, frustrated voices can be heard from each door he passes, resonating through the thin walls, until Jeremy reaches the sixth door to the left. It is oddly labeled)
(Jeremy turns the handle and enters, surprised to see that the room is the opposite of the corridor—lavish, almost like a mansion, and warm, even, almost hot. There is a fireplace, its flames nearly escaping the confines of it. There are several paintings, all large, depicting 16th century figures. Vine-like wallpaper covers the walls. A man turns as Jeremy enters; he is wearing a dark tuxedo, his hair slick and his features gaunt.)
PUBLISHER: Mr. Clemens! Here to see Mr. Walter Scott, I presume?
JEREMY: (Jeremy looks around. The fireplace is crackling. He notices a large dinner table covered with a gluttonous amount of food.) I, ah, yes. I am. (He nods) Who’re you? I don’t mean to sound rude—I, just, well, don’t recognize you. Or know you, I think. Do I?
PUBLISHER: Everyone knows of me somewhat.
JEREMY: What’s your name?
(Silence. Jeremy looks at the man distrustfully, obviously avoiding the question.)
PUBLISHER: Plenty of food.
(Jeremy looks onto the food.)
JEREMY: No, I don’t plan to stay long. I just need to see Mr. Scott.
PUBLISHER: Mr. Scott is busy.
(The fire roars for a moment)
PUBLISHER: Please, sit, eat.
JEREMY: (Jeremy looks to the food once more.) Well, I suppose I could. I’ve skipped all my meals today. Finishing my play, you see.
PUBLISHER: Ah, a play. Would you mind if I took a quick look? (He comes around the desk, as Jeremy sits, his hand extended out. Jeremy looks at the man’s hand nervously, cautiously, hesitant to allow anyone near his work. Jeremy suddenly jumps up from the table, as if remembering something.
JEREMY: No, I shouldn’t eat—I need a copy made. That’s most important.
(The man puts his hands on Jeremy’s shoulders and lowers him back into the chair)
PUBLISHER: Oh, dear you. You’re all flustered (He laughs). Let’s eat. We’ll worry about business once our stomachs are obliged.
JEREMY: I’d like to speak with Mr. Scott.
PUBLISHER: (His tone becomes serious, his actions freezing, and his eyes pierce Jeremy) I told you he is busy. (There is a long pause as the two men stare at each other, but the man’s eyes look away again, and he laughs once more.) Eat. (He pats Jeremy on the back.) Relax.
(Jeremy eats slowly at first, but as he realizes that the food is flawless, he cannot help but gorge himself with prodigal effort. The publisher simply watches, smirking. Shots of Jeremy eating continue, showing that time is passing, and eventually Jeremy has eaten everything on the table. He begins to look around for something, though, unable to find it, when the publisher reveals a single glass of champagne in his hand. Jeremy looks around for a glass, but finds none.)
PUBLISHER: Looking for something? (Silence)
PUBLISHER: Then to where are you eyes wandering? (Silence)
JEREMY: I’m just… just thirsty, is all.
PUBLISHER: Oh, I apologize. This here is the last glass of champagne, you see. (He takes a tiny sip.)
(Jeremy stares at it longingly, beginning to grow uncomfortable as he fully realizes how much the vast amount of food has made him thirsty. His mouth is dry.)
PUBLISHER: Well, if you’d like the drink, you may take it, I suppose. You’ve just eaten everything else, but, whatever makes you happy, you may have. (His tone is rather disgusted. He holds out his glass, but as Jeremy reaches for it, he pulls it away.) But, just one thing. Could I peek at your play?
(There is a momentary pause as Jeremy tries to think; he has done his best to keep it safe up to this point, holding it near him at all time, eager for the second copy—which is still unmade—but he cannot deny his oppressing thirst, and so he unwillingly nods his head, accepting the glass and pushing his manila envelope across the table. Before the publisher opens it, he speaks again.)
PUBLISHER: Sorry about your mother, by the way. Must be hard.
JEREMY: Excuse me?
PUBLISHER: Your mother. Read about it in the newspaper. A difficult sickness to go through, isn’t it?
JEREMY: I wasn’t aware of it being in the newspaper.
PUBLISHER: Obituaries. I write them on the side.
(Jeremy nods. The publisher opens the manila envelope and begins to read; all the while Jeremy taps his fingers, looking to the door, hoping that Mr. Scott will soon arrive.)
PUBLISHER: A Long Road—the title. It’s quite nice. The long roads are always the most difficult. That’s when you know you must persevere.
( At length, the man looks up from reading.)
PUBLISHER: This is good, Jeremy. Very good. (He nods as he reads)
JEREMY: Thanks… I only hope Mr. Scott agrees with you. (The publisher looks up at this.)
PUBLISHER: (He sniggers) Mr. Scott, Mr. Scott—man wouldn’t know a fine piece of literature if someone were to mail Shakespeare to his office. (He shakes his head. He closes the envelope, and all grows quiet as he leans forward onto the table, his eyes staring at Jeremy, his voice softening.) Jeremy. I have a proposition. I’d like to publish this for you—forget about Mr. Walter Scott, just sign on with me.
(There is a pause. Jeremy doesn’t know quite how to respond)
PUBLISHER: I promise you, I would do everything in my power to assure the success of your work. It’s good. It’s very good, of what I’ve read, Jeremy. With the right publisher this could do very well. Very well, indeed. And, well, with the wrong publisher—with Mr. Scott… (He shakes his head.)
JEREMY: I—I have a contract with M-Mr. Scott. I couldn’t.
PUBLISHER: This one? (He holds Jeremy’s contract with Mr. Scott into the air.) All you have to do is sign another, and this one is exempt. (The man reveals another contract and slides it down to Jeremy with a pen. Jeremy stares at it.) Go on.
(Jeremy holds it, beginning to read, but the publisher stops him)
PUBLISHER: Just sign it, Jeremy—don’t tangle yourself with the fine print.
JEREMY: Then can we make copies?
PUBLISHER: Right away.
(Jeremy quickly signs after this confirmation, smiling and excited. The publisher allows a large smile to run across his face.)
PUBLISHER: Good, good, Jeremy. You’ve dropped off the manuscript, signed away—and now it’s safe. Go home and rest assured of that. I’ll make several copies before I leave the building tonight.
JEREMY: Thank you, sir, thank you very much. (He stands and shakes the man’s hand.)
PUBLISHER: Return tomorrow morning and we’ll begin with the details.
(After their goodbyes, Jeremy exits and returns home for night. He sleeps in his bed, happy and relieved. In the morning, he readies himself and returns to Goodhouse Publishers, taking a cab with a normal driver, and arrives at the building. He enters and sees Lorraine at the front desk.)
JEREMY: Lorraine, good morning.
LORRAINE: Jeremy? Where were you last night? Mr. Scott was waiting for you. He stayed in his office and you never showed up.
JEREMY: Me? Where were you last night? There was a woman I’ve never seen before—
LORRAINE: Jeremy. I was here as long as Mr. Scott was.
(His face tenses. There is a silence.)
LORRAINE: Both Mr. Scott and I waited for you.
JEREMY: No—I, I came and there was another woman. You weren’t here. She brought me to Mr. Scott’s new office—
LORRAINE: New office? Are you feeling all right? Mr. Scott hasn’t changed offices, Jeremy. He’s on the 8th floor still.
JEREMY: I think it’s you who isn’t feeling all right, Lorraine. I came. I was here—there was a woman—
LORRAINE: What was her name? Hm? (She crosses her arms)
JEREMY: (He pauses) She didn’t tell me.
LORRAINE: Oh, really… and where did this â€˜woman’ take you.
JEREMY: She, she didn’t take—well, she led me to the elevator, and then the man lowered me to the sixth floor of the basement level. Where Mr. Scott’s new office is, isn’t it?
LORRAINE: Mr. Scott doesn’t have a new office, Jeremy—I just told you that. And we don’t have a sixth basement level.
JEREMY: Yes—I talked to a man there… I decided to publish with him instead.
LORRAINE: Jeremy, you’re on a contract.
JEREMY: The man took care of it.
LORRAINE: Oh, all right—and what was his name?
JEREMY: He… he didn’t say.
(It begins to rain again.)
LORRAINE: Jeremy. I… I don’t know what—what happened last night? We don’t have any new receptionist, and I don’t know of any publisher on the sixth floor. There isn’t even a sixth floor basement level, to begin with, Jeremy. (She shakes her head)
(Thunder. Jeremy begins to buckle at the knees, but he straightens himself out, placing a hand to his forehead.)
JEREMY: I, I—there—
LORRAINE: Jeremy, oh, I think you are sick. Come here. (She approaches. He begins to wobble but she catches his balance.) Jeremy! What’s wrong? (She sounds very worried.)
JEREMY: My play—it’s… I gave it to that man! My only copy! (He collapses, and she tries to hold his weight but she cannot, and he falls to the floor. Things begin to move in slow motion, and all quiets, voices echoing.)
LORRAINE: I’m calling an ambulance, Jeremy.
(He watches as she runs to the desk, clutching a phone in her shaking hand. His vision begins to dim, and all he can do in response to his shock is mutter, over and over again, â€˜my play, my play—my only copy’, until all fades to black.)