Tag Archives: writing

Reconstitution (Full Screenplay)

Hoped for/ideal cast:
Jean Connelly:  Bryce Dallas Howard
Stanley Balto:  Denzel Washington
Wolfram Smidgen:  James McAvoy
Vera:  Kate McKinnon
President Lang:  Bryan Cranston

 

 

Reconstitution

A Screenplay by
Robert Lampros

 

View from the back of the White House Press Room, the platform is empty except for the podium and two flags, the chairs are filled, journalists making last minute notes and talking to each other.  In the left corner by the platform stands a Secret Service Agent, while the right wall is lined with cameramen holding shoulder-mounted news cameras.

Jean sits in the second to last row of chairs, holding a digital tablet, preparing to record audio and take notes.  View of podium from her perspective, over the heads of the journalists in the dozen or so rows in front of her.  She turns and looks back at the line of reporters standing behind the last row of chairs, they wait quietly for the President to appear.  Jean faces forward and sits up straighter, looking over the heads at Deborah, a woman in the first row of chairs talking quickly to the man sitting next to her.

The President enters the room and steps up to the podium.

PRESIDENT LANG    
January twenty-fifth, two thousand eighteen, will be remembered, not merely as a tragic day, but more significantly as a day when truth prevailed over falsehood.  The people who died in Dubthach Stadium yesterday, the fathers, caring patriarchs of bright, beautiful families.  The mothers, loving protectors and nurturers of vibrant, happy children.  The sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who all gathered to celebrate life together peacefully…  They came to watch a basketball game in the company of those they know and value most, their closest family and friends.

Jean thinks of something and writes a few notes on her tablet.

PRESIDENT LANG
The moment the shots began, and terror wrenched the peace of that atmosphere apart, evil struck a blow against the very fabric of our society—that which makes us one nation, one America.  Our freedom to assemble and enjoy ourselves without fear of oppression or violent attack constitutes the essence of what makes it such a blessing to be American.  Without this freedom the principles our forebears labored, fought, and died for, don’t shine through and illuminate this land.  But those principles did shine through yesterday, in the midst and aftermath of the violence, our better angels showed up and went to work.  The Koreston Police, Fire Department, the stadium’s security officers, employees, the shellshocked players and spectators at the game, and indeed the victims themselves, responded to the emergency with courage, strength, and a real concern for the safety and well-being of others at the scene.  A greater love prevailed yesterday, a selfless love, far truer than hate, doubt, or terror.  And no matter how they might try to destroy our love, the terrorists can not and shall not win, because the war’s already won.  Thank you.

Wolfram stands up in front of the platform.

WOLFRAM                
We’re only answering a few questions today.  This isn’t the time to discuss the attack’s implications for security, gun rights, or foreign policy, so please limit your questions to the shooting itself.

He steps aside.

PRESIDENT LANG                
Nods to a journalist in the third row.
Mr. Gregson.

GREGSON                 
Thank you, Mr. President.  Can you tell us more about Mizreb’s connections to KESG (pronounced key-sig), or other organized terror groups?

PRESIDENT LANG    
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are working with the Koreston Police and the suspect’s family to know more about his motives and possible involvement with active terror groups.  Mrs. Chambet.

CHAMBET                 
Have the authorities discovered evidence of Adnan planning the attack with anyone?  A student from the University, friend or family member?

PRESIDENT LANG
So far there has not been any indication of Adnan Mizreb having planned the shooting with a partner or partners.  His parents are hardworking American citizens.  His father is a pharmaceutical chemist, his mother sells dresses in a shopping mall.  These are typical Americans like you and me.  As the investigation continues, all pertinent facts will be released.  Deborah, why don’t you close the meeting today.

DEBORAH
Mr. President, considering this marks the fourth mass murder involving an assault weapon in the last twelve months, do you regret your failure to compromise on gun control during your first term?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at Deborah for a moment, then down at podium.

WOLFRAM
Surprised and angered, almost walks over to conclude the meeting, but hesitates.

PRESIDENT LANG    
Judging from what we know at present the suspect obtained the gun illegally.  While this particular type of rifle is available to purchase in a majority of States, I do not believe gun control restrictions would have played a significant role in preventing this attack.  That’s it for today, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform with Wolfram following.  Jean stands up as the room ignites with voices, texting, and phone calls.  She looks once more at Deborah and starts edging her way out of the row of chairs.

President Lang and Wolfram walk down a West Wing hallway toward the Roosevelt Room.

PRESIDENT LANG                
Straight for the jugular.

WOLFRAM
My fault, Mr. President.  I should have closed the meeting immediately after your statement.

PRESIDENT LANG
You’d think twenty-two bodies in the morgue would prompt a bit of respect from that woman.

WOLFRAM
All’s fair in war, sir.

They turn a corner.

WOLFRAM
Should we run the interview with Mizreb’s family, sir?

PRESIDENT LANG
Yeah, go ahead.

They enter the Roosevelt Room, where a Secret Service agent stands near the door, and two men and a woman sit at the table with laptops and papers in front of them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Where are we?

MAN 1            
Adnan’s closest friend at the University’s been talking.  He says they went target shooting a few times about an hour south of town, mostly corn fields and woods there.  He claims, and I quote, “Addie wouldn’t take the M4, only the .38 Special.  It was like the rifle was sacred or something.”

PRESIDENT LANG
What about the motive?

WOMAN                    
Sounds more like a Columbine than a religion or politically motivated attack.  These guys were angry, at their peers, at themselves, the faces they saw on tv.  Mizreb joked about making an RPG where the shooter could walk into the world of television and “shred the stars of his favorite shows.”

WOLFRAM
That’s cute.

MAN 1
The friend didn’t quite share his desire for carnage.  Jonathan tried to calm him down when he took it too far, change the subject to girls or video games.

PRESIDENT LANG
Where are they on the source of the weapon?

MAN 2
We think he bought the M4A1 from a dealer in Chicago.  Mainly sells narcotics, but acquires a stray bag of firearms on occasion.  The thirty-eight we don’t know yet.

PRESIDENT LANG
Find out, please.

MAN 2            
Yes, Mr. President.

*       *       *

Jean drives on a street in Washington D.C., talking to Vera on speaker phone.

JEAN
Can you grab lunch today?

VERA
I can’t leave work, but if you stop by I’ll have André fix you something.  How’d the press thing go?

JEAN
President Lang made a beautiful statement about the shooting, then Deborah Elm burned him on gun control.

VERA
You didn’t ask a question?

JEAN
No, they ended the session after that.  I’ll see you at eleven, okay?

She walks into a busy news studio, past several side offices, through the main room, and past a news desk where two reporters are broadcasting.  Jean stands watching for a minute.

TODD
If your ride is bumpier than usual in to work today, you might blame potholes.

SHEILA
Seen them all over, turns out you may drive over fewer than normal right now.  CDN’s Monique Green has been checkin’ out the roads, and has more on why that is.  Hey, Monique.

MONIQUE
Via monitor.
Hey, guys, you know our warm weather has been really good for the D.C. Department of Transportation.  We’re driving along now on Brewster Rd. in northwest D.C., and we’ve got some potholes here on this stretch.  There are a couple of trucks in front of us—you know, the extreme freezing and then the thawing, that’s what makes the craters in the road.  Here we go, oh yeah, we got some, and then on the other side of the street here…

Jean’s boss, Stanley, stands beside her behind the cameras, and they talk quietly.

STANLEY
Smidgen sent an email, reproving the “shameful conduct” of Mrs. Elm this morning.

JEAN
Smiles faintly.

STANLEY
“In the wake of a national tragedy there is expected a modest level of dignified restraint, and reverence for the Office of President of the United States.”

JEAN
Did she respond?

STANLEY
Not yet.  Knowing her she will, though.

JEAN
May I have a word with you in your office?

STANLEY
Always.

They enter Stanley’s office and he closes the door behind her.  He pulls out the chair, walks around the desk, and they sit facing each other.

STANLEY
What’s up, Jean?

JEAN
I want to have a sit down with the President, one-on-one, to discuss his stance on gun control.

STANLEY
Stares at her a moment.
You want to have a televised conversation with President Thomas Lang about the one issue he’s refused to talk about for six years?

JEAN
Yeah.

STANLEY
You.

JEAN
Thanks a lot, Stanley.

STANLEY
You aren’t the most logical choice for an interviewer.

JEAN
I’m a D.C. journalist with a successful nightly program.  Whether he knows it yet or not he’s going to need to give America a thorough answer for his intractability on this issue, more than reciting the Second Amendment.

STANLEY
Probably so, but why would he sit down with you?

Medium closeup on Jean’s face as she looks at him, thinking.

Adnan Mizreb’s burial, a priest, a few government officials, police officers, and two groundskeepers stand around the closed casket in a cemetery on a quiet hillside.  Medium closeup on small headstone reading:

RESTING PEACEFULLY
IN THE ARMS OF GOD
A.M.
1999-2018

Also engraved on the headstone, a thin bouquet of flowers growing up the left side, curling slightly over the letters.

PRIEST
Reading from a prayer book.
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.  The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned…

View of Mizreb’s parents’ house from outside where a number of vehicles, reporters, and angry protesters line the street.  Inside the sunlit living room, Mr. Mizreb sits on a couch with luminous window blinds behind him.  We see through the lens of one of the cameras being used to film the interview.

INTERVIEWER                      
Can you tell us something about what Adnan was like growing up?

MIZREB
Adnan was a playful child.  He spent hours running with the other children in our neighborhood, in the streets and fields around our home.  They’d make up different games, cops and robbers, king of the mountain, and he would never want to come inside for dinner. 
Laughs weakly, tears in his eyes.
He just wanted to keep running around outside.

INTERVIEWER
How about when he got older, in middle school and high school, what did he like to do?

MIZREB
Normal things, you know.  Athletics, video games…  He did not like to study, but, uh…
Shrugs his shoulders, stares blankly.

INTERVIEWER                      
What teenager does?

MIZREB
Smiles.
Right.  Adnan, he did have frequent tantrums in his older years.  If his mom or I told him to work harder for a test or term paper, he’d occasionally lose his temper and yell, or go into his room and slam the door, and we’d hear him cussing.  He did not like being told what to do, my son.  He was, oh, what is the word?  Bullheaded.

INTERVIEWER
Smiles warmly.
Thank you, sir.  Can you tell us more about your whole family?  How did you and your wife meet?

Jean sits at a small table near the front window in the restaurant Vera manages.  She looks out the window at cars passing on the street.  Vera falls into the chair across from her and freezes her face in a goofy smile.

JEAN
Laughs.
What’d you order?

VERA
Are you ready?

JEAN
Just tell me what I’m eating.

VERA
Are… you… ready?

JEAN
Yes, I’m ready.

VERA
André is preparing for you our smoked trout BLT—

JEAN
Ooooh…

VERA
And on the side flash-fried Brussels sprouts with garlic and lime.

JEAN
More intensely.
Ooooooh…

VERA
And for dessert…

JEAN
Yeah?

VERA
Are you ready?

JEAN
Anger.

VERA
Warm banana and ale bread pudding.

JEAN
Oh!
Drops head on tabletop.

VERA
A la mooode.

JEAN
You’re too good to me, Vera. 
Glances around the semi-crowded restaurant.
How’s business?

VERA
Not great.  We’re working on a Spring menu that’ll have people crawling on the ceiling.

JEAN
What?

VERA
Points up and raises eyebrows.

JEAN
That’s, a little terrifying.

VERA
What’s up with you?

JEAN
Preparing for an interview.

VERA
Interview, what interview?  You never…  You never said anything about an interview.  With whom is this interview taking place?

JEAN
Mouths silently.
The President.

VERA
Mouths silently.
The who?

JEAN
Glances covertly side to side, whispers.
The President of the United States.

VERA
Exaggerated surprise and realization.
Wait, I thought you’re a local news person.

JEAN
I am, and that’s exactly why he’ll grant the interview.  I’m gonna call him and say, “President Lang, this is Jean Connelly with CDN News.  You’ve been neglecting the local press.  It’s high time you gave me an hour to sit down and talk about gun control.”

VERA
You think he will?

JEAN
Probably not.

VERA
Yeah, no way in hell.

Mizreb’s parents’ living room, interview being concluded.

INTERVIEWER
Mr. Mizreb, given the horrific nature of your son’s crime, is there anything you want America to know about Adnan?

MIZREB
I know that certain people are afraid of people like me.  I was born in Iran, I have brown skin, and there are those from my birthplace who despise this country.  However, this is not who I am, nor my wife, Ranim.  We are true Americans.  Our son…
Starts crying.
His hate… 

Breaks down into heavy weeping.

INTERVIEWER
Okay, that’s enough.  Turn the camera off, please.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen on a bench near a fountain in a park (preferably a fountain with mermaids).  He’s eating a sandwich and talking on his phone.

WOLFRAM
Did you get enough for the full half hour? 
Waits while interviewer responds.
Great, send it over and we’ll take a look.

President Lang sits at his desk in the Oval Office, reading some papers.  The phone beeps, and his assistant speaks over the intercom.

ASSISTANT
Mr. President?

PRESIDENT LANG
Yes, ma’am?

ASSISTANT
Stanley Balto, the head of CDN News, left a message for you to please call him at your convenience.  He said he has something important to discuss regarding the shooting.

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks up from papers and thinks for a second.

Stanley and Jean wait in his office, Jean in a chair and Stanley pacing behind his desk.

STANLEY      
Stops pacing.
What makes you think he won’t laugh and tell us to go cover the St. Albans Walk-a-Thon?

JEAN
Steve’s already covering the St. Albans Walk-a-Thon.

Phone rings.  Stanley looks at Jean, and picks it up.

STANLEY
CDN News, this is Mr. Balto.

Oval Office, President Lang on the phone.

PRESIDENT LANG
Hello, Mr. Balto, I just received your message.  What information do you have about the attack?

Stanley’s office.

STANLEY
No information, Mr. President.  A journalist of mine has a proposal she believes to be of the utmost importance to our country, uh, in light of recent events.

Oval Office.

PRESIDENT LANG
Okay, let’s hear it.

Stanley holds phone out to Jean.  She walks to the desk and starts talking.

JEAN
Hello, Mr. President.  I’m sorry to trouble you right now, I know you’re very busy.  My name is Jean Connelly and I’m a nightly anchor for CDN.

PRESIDENT LANG
Through phone.
I know you, Jean, I watch your show on occasion.

JEAN
Well, as you also know, this latest tragedy has got people as serious as ever about gun control regulations.  Contrary to what you said at the meeting today, a near majority of the American people believe a ban on assault rifles could’ve helped to prevent the massacre in Koreston and the losses of many other lives over the past year.  I think—and I don’t want to overstep any boundaries here—it would be a very good idea for you to talk with someone politically neutral about your stance on this issue, and how you plan to address the problem during your remaining two years in office.

PRESIDENT LANG
Someone like you, perhaps?

JEAN
I’d be a new face for the public.  There’d be no grounds for personal bias among the viewership, sir.

PRESIDENT LANG
Silent for a few seconds.
This is a good idea, Ms. Connelly.  Let me run it by some folks and get back to you.  We may prefer a more familiar and established interviewer for this particular job.

JEAN
I understand, sir.  Thank you for your time.
She hangs up the phone, and she and Stanley stand quietly for a moment.

Interrogation room, Adnan’s friend, Jonathan, talks to an interrogator.

JONATHAN
No, it wasn’t like he was planning some jihad, holy war attack or something.  Addie didn’t even pray.

INTERVIEWER
You didn’t know about the shooting ahead of time?

JONATHAN
No way.  I told you this already, ten times already.  I knew he was gonna do something, I didn’t think he’d actually pull the trigger.  It’s like I said, it was…
Searches for the word.
Fantasy.

INTERVIEWER
You had no knowledge of when or where this attack would take place?

JONATHAN
No.

INTERVIEWER
Are you willing to take a polygraph to confirm that?

JONATHAN
Vehemently.
Yes.

Aerial view of Washington D.C., fast forward through late afternoon and beautiful sunset.

President Lang and Wolfram sit in Air Force One with some other officials and Secret Service agents as the plane prepares to take off.

WOLFRAM                
It can’t be McFeely or they’ll accuse us of lobbing you easy pitches.  It’s got to be someone from LQVN, or someone else, someone new.

PRESIDENT LANG
Not Connelly?

WOLFRAM
Laughs.
No, sir.

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks out window at lights passing along runway.
Keep the press about this trip to a minimum, will you?  I don’t want it to look like a PR exhibition.

WOLFRAM
With all due respect, sir, we need to bolster your image concerning this issue.  As long as you’re visiting the wounded and bereaved, we might as well—

PRESIDENT LANG
The public knows about this trip, they don’t need to see it.  Request a minimum of coverage please, Mr. Smidgen.

Reaction shot of Wolfram looking irritated, then subduing his anger.

Jean alone in her house that evening, laying on the couch, reading a book.  Quiet music from the stereo.  The title of the book is A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays, by Mary McCarthy.  She finishes reading a chapter and sets the book aside, walks over to the window, and looks outside at the quiet street.

Jean walks down the suburban street at night, past one-story houses and under the occasional streetlight.  It’s cold and she has her hands in her coat pockets, she tilts her head back and looks up as she walks, looks up at the softly twinkling stars beyond the treetops.

Jean back in her house after the walk.  She checks her phone and sees that Vera called while she was out, and calls her back.  Their conversation cuts back and forth from Jean’s house to Vera’s house, while some of their lines are heard through the phone without a cut.

VERA
Hey, Jean, how’s it goin’, babe?

JEAN
I’m bored but I don’t feel like working.  Why’d you call?

VERA
Just checkin’ on my babes.  Seein’ how my Jeanie’s doin’.

JEAN
I could use another bread pudding, actually.

VERA
Oh, next time you gotta try the Warm Apple Crostada with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce.  It’s part of our dinner menu.

JEAN
How’s Alex doing?

VERA
Who?

JEAN
Your husband.

VERA
Oh, he’s around.  On the roof, probably, with his telescope.  Did you see the news?  About the President?

JEAN
Yeah, he’s in Koreston.

VERA
Yep, and he’s doing the interview.

JEAN
What?

VERA
They announced it just now, he’s gonna discuss his position on gun control with Charles Stockton, and air it this Sunday evening.

JEAN
Silent, medium closeup on her face.

VERA
That’s good, right?

JEAN
Silent.

VERA
You didn’t think he’d do the interview with you, did you?  For reals?

JEAN
Not really, no.  Thanks for telling me, Vera.  See ya later.

VERA
Wait, waaaaiii—
Jean hangs up the phone.

The next morning in Jean’s office, she sits at her desk reading over the notes for her show that day.  Close-up on the sheet of paper and slow pan down over the typed headlines and stories.
–     Sixteen year-old girl missing from Alexandria, Virginia.

(brief story follows)
–     Russian spy ship spotted off the coast of Delaware.
(brief story follows)
–     Congress moves to strike down D.C.’s assisted suicide law.
(brief story follows)
–     Police search for suspects after ATM theft.
(brief story follows)
–     Man killed by vehicle in Md. identified.
(brief story follows)

Stanley walks up and knocks on the open door.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.

JEAN
Don’t even say it.

STANLEY
If it makes you feel better—

JEAN
Ah…  Yeah?

STANLEY
Reveals heart-shaped box of chocolates from behind his back, smiles, then walks over and sets them on her desk.

JEAN
Smiles.
Chocolates?  Valentine’s Day isn’t for two weeks.

STANLEY
Sits down in a chair across from her.

JEAN
Oh, no.  Here we go.

STANLEY
You know the first week you started working here, the first day—the Monday after I hired you…

JEAN
Waits impatiently.

STANLEY
You walked in with your bag slung crooked around your shoulder, venti chai latte in your hand, ready to save the world.

JEAN
Please, spare me this talk.

STANLEY
I thought you’d drop out after a couple months, work for higher pay somewhere, and fewer hours, but no.  You stuck with us.

JEAN
Smiles artificially, nods.

STANLEY
Since then you’ve been the motor of this operation.

JEAN
The motor?

STANLEY
Ferrari, Formula 1, all cylinders firing, engine of this place.  One of the best decisions I’ve made.
Looks down for a second.  
This town…  It’s the lion’s den.  We have to keep our arms out, wide.  And trust we don’t get eaten alive.  
Stands up, walks over, and kisses the top of her head, then walks to the door, and pauses.
All set for today’s broadcast?

JEAN
Nods lightly, tears in her eyes.

STANLEY
Okay.
Walks away.

*       *       *

A woman lays in a hospital bed with her leg slightly elevated in a cast, and her left shoulder bandaged due to a bullet wound.  She flips through channels on the television with the remote in her right hand.  A nurse enters.

NURSE
Hi, Savannah.  How’s it going today?

SAVANNAH
Oh, not bad.  These soaps are terrible.

NURSE
Looks at tv.
I thought you loved Nightdreams Exposed.

SAVANNAH
I did, until Manuel started an affair with Persephone’s step daughter.  Is it time for meds again? 

NURSE
Actually, you have a visitor, all the way from Washington D.C.  President Lang?

He enters the hospital room, waves, and stands at the foot of Savannah’s bed, and smiles at her.

Wolfram stands near a window in a quiet area on the same floor of the hospital, talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listens for a few seconds, looking out the window.
We have to give them something…  Half our country’s screaming for blood, if we don’t—

Looks out window, listens.
If we don’t throw them a bone, at least tightening restrictions, we’re going to have a million anti-gun activists loading up on weapons.

Hospital room, President Lang sits beside Savannah’s bed.

PRESIDENT LANG
Middle school or high school?

SAVANNAH
Ninth grade.  She just started going to “ragers.”

PRESIDENT LANG
Smiles.
Most kids are more responsible than they let on.  I think they exaggerate their wildness sometimes to scare us, make us care more.  Jeremy likes to brag about his close calls on the road, when he’s angry at me, at least.

SAVANNAH
Aren’t they the worst?  My mama would have whooped me senseless if I’d said some of these words.

Wolfram at the window.

WOLFRAM
Okay.  Okay, yes, sir.  I will pass that along to the President.
Listens for a second, stares out coldly at the horizon.
We’ll see how this plays out next week.

Hospital room.

PRESIDENT LANG
What was your favorite movie when you were a kid?

SAVANNAH
It’s a Wonderful Life.  Watching Jimmy Stewart around the holidays just made me feel… safer.  What was yours?

PRESIDENT LANG
The French Connection.  Well, Savannah, we’re certainly working to make you feel safer now.  God bless you.

CDN News Studio, Stanley sits at a news desk preparing to speak live on television.  We see him on the screen of a news camera, then on a monitor, then straight ahead, centered in the frame.

STANLEY
Good evening, Washington.  I’m Stanley Balto.  I run the newsroom here at CDN.  I’ve lived and worked in the D.C. area for most of my life, and I can proudly say, in spite of its many flaws, this city is my home.  In a couple of days the President is going to give an interview about one of the major issues dividing our nation.  We don’t often discuss these kinds of issues here, we mostly report on things like weather, traffic, and local news of a more idiosyncratic character, but I wanted to say a few words tonight about what has become a foreboding subject in the minds of many Americans.  When news comes in of another shooting, whether it’s a murder/robbery in the street or a mass shooting in a different city, part of me wishes that firearms just didn’t exist.

Wolfram rushes into the living room of his apartment, picks up the remote from the table, clicks on the television, and turns to channel five.

STANLEY
On Wolfram’s tv.
And I agree, we live in a problematic world.  My question for you, and for the leaders here in Washington, and for gun rights advocates all over the world, is how far are we willing to stretch our ideals in order to combat the world’s problems?

Center frame in newsroom.
I don’t have any answers.  It’s challenging enough for me to keep my studio operating at a halfway functional level.  But I do know this.  Something has to change, today.  We need new laws, new restrictions, and new programs regarding gun control that more closely line up with the America we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.  Above all, we need courage here in Washington.  I hope we see some of that overdue courage in the President’s interview this Sunday.  Thank you for listening.  Stay tuned for Jean Connelly and our nightly news.

*       *       *

Jean sits alone in an all but empty bar, stirring a whiskey with a straw. Close-up on her face as she watches the ice cubes revolve in the glass. Flashback to her loading a bag into a packed car in the lot of a condo complex. A man stands behind the car, talking quickly, the sound is muffled and the words unintelligible.

ROB
Suddenly the words are clear.
It wasn’t you, Jean, it wasn’t you or me. Don’t waste this.
Extends hands, steps toward her.

JEAN
Stay—away from me.

ROB
You don’t know what you’re doing.

JEAN
Turns from organizing the bags in her car.
I’m jumping ship. I’m leaving a bad situation… before we both drown.

She closes the door, walks around the back of the car, through his outstretched arms, and gets in the driver’s seat.

Back in the bar, she keeps stirring the whiskey. Two young women sit a few seats down, talking and laughing.

WOMAN 1
Can we have three more Apple Jacks, please?
Looks over at Jean.
Do a shot with us.

JEAN
No, thanks, I’ve had more than enough.

WOMAN 1
You might as well. We’re in the vortex.

JEAN
The vortex?

WOMAN 2
Yeah, the place where good men go to fall.

JEAN
Keeps looking, thinks for a second.

President Lang and an assistant stand in a side room of the White House as he finishes preparing for his interview.

PRESIDENT LANG
The amendment clearly states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I understand the necessity to adapt this nation’s laws to better help us govern this land, but this is the Constitution, established to “provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liverty.” The blessings of Lib—of Liberty.

ASSISTANT
Sounds great, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Don’t flatter me, Ms. Baker. I sound like a malfunctioning robot.

ASSISTANT
“What do you say to those who hold the view that the Second Amendment is completely obsolete in today’s America?”

PRESIDENT LANG
I sympathize with the desire to see stricter gun regulations, however I would strongly caution anyone who’d dare to label any part of this document obsolete, especially of the Bill of Rights.

ASSISTANT
“Do you have any firearms, President Lang?”

Wolfram stands on the balcony of his high-rise apartment, staring out toward the Capitol Building. Storm clouds, lightning, and thunder on the horizon.

Jean sits in her office at CDN, watching footage of Jonathan’s (Adnan’s friend’s) interview on a news website.

INTERVIEWER
We know that Mizreb purchased the rifle from a drug dealer in Chicago, but we haven’t been able to trace the source of the other gun, the .38, not used in the attack. Can you tell us where he got that one?

JONATHAN
Looks down quickly and shakes his head.
I don’t know for sure where he got the revolver.

She reverses the video and watches Jonathan’s response again.

JONATHAN
Looks down quickly and shakes his head.
I don’t know for sure where he got the revolver.

President Lang and Charles Stockton in the Blue Room of the White House, cameras rolling.

PRESIDENT LANG
I sympathize with the desire to see stricter gun regulations, however I would strongly caution anyone who’d dare to label any part of this document obsolete, especially of the Bill of Rights.

STOCKTON
Do you have any firearms, President Lang?

PRESIDENT LANG
I do not own any guns, no. I do have several friends, some old college buddies, whom I go hunting with on occasion. Deer, turkey, quail, a couple times a year, but I don’t have guns of my own.

Jean in her office, searching through old news articles online, comes across an article in The Columbus Observer from two thousand and ten. “Driver, Pygmy Goat Wounded at Fair.” She starts reading.

Blue Room, interview.

STOCKTON
What do you have to say to people who claim your intractable position on gun control is the result of billions of dollars from the gun lobby, and has nothing to do with our civil liberties?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’d recommend that they take a look at my record. My years in office have demonstrated a profound respect for the Constitution of the United States.

Jean’s office. She continues reading the article. Close-up on screen:
Both the demolition derby driver and the goat were shot by a .38 caliber revolver, however the shooter could not be identified. Acer said, “He darted out from behind the trees by the changing tents and fired four quick shots.”

Blue room, interview.

PRESIDENT LANG
To be completely honest, Mr. Stockton, I don’t like guns. When I get news of yet another mass shooting, or of one more gun-related death in the streets of this or any city across our nation, there’s a part of me that wishes firearms just didn’t exist. The tragedy in Koreston has solidified the necessity for regulations on the sale and distribution of certain types of guns in every State in America. I pray the time it takes to implement those restrictions doesn’t give opportunity for the loss of more innocent lives.

*       *       *

Jean, Vera, and two children, a three year-old girl and five year-old boy, walk up to the edge of the Red Panda exhibit at the D.C. Zoo.

VERA
Look, Squibbles, look at the pandas.

MARY
Those not pandas.

JEAN
They’re red pandas, see? Right there on the sign.

MATTHEW
Red Pandas?

VERA
They’re kind of like sloths. They just sit there in the tree all day. Don’t they remind you of your Uncle Alex?

The four of them walk slowly over a bridge spanning the elephant exhibit.

JEAN
This could mean a big shift in Lang’s approval ratings in the next two years.

VERA
Can he even make a change like this in that amount of time?

JEAN
He’s going to try. He wouldn’t say what he said unless he was planning to follow through immediately.

VERA
What’d your boss say?

JEAN
Freaked. Last thing he expected to hear.

They approach the fence of the alligator pond, where half a dozen gators swim and lay 5-10 yards away from them.

VERA
Extends arms like jaws and closes them on Matthew’s face and head.
Chomp, chomp, chomp.

MATTHEW
Shrieks and darts away.

JEAN
You’re probably the worst grownup at the Zoo today.

Jean and Vera sitting at the bar in her restaurant, not very crowded, the large window on the opposite side of the room bright with sunlight.

VERA
Takes a sip of her drink.
Your hair looks delicious in this lighting.

JEAN
Looks at her, surprised and alluring.

VERA
Golden-strawberry angel hair pasta.

JEAN
Brushes it back over her shoulder.

VERA
With olive oil and cinnamon.

JEAN
Be careful. I might steal you away from your husband.

VERA
Pshhh. He’d pay you to take me.

JEAN
I used to think we could actually change. All of us, you know, wake up and live… without chains on.

VERA
Squints thoughtfully.

JEAN
I thought I could help the people here stop pushing and pulling and just believe in ideals again.

VERA
You do.

JEAN
Huh?

VERA
You help me believe.

JEAN
In the traffic report? The weather? The propped-up scandal of the week?

VERA
In God. And in truth. Because you report on the little stuff, it helps me believe in everything. And be careful what you say, I feed people food for a living, and they just turn around and poop it out.

JEAN
Ugh.

VERA
Fart sound from mouth.
You give people info, stuff that matters. Some of it really does make a difference.

JEAN
This country needs to know… We’re not alone.

*       *       *

Classroom of the University in Koreston. A female professor stands at the whiteboard in a small lecture hall, half-full of students.

PROFESSOR
Writes on board:
Muscogee
Seminole
Chickasaw
Choctaw
Cherokee
Turns and speaks.
Thousands of Native Americans from each of these tribes were forced to leave their homes and walk westward.
Turns and draws arched lines from right to left.
Starting in 1830, and by 1837 about twenty-five million acres of land had been made available for the settlers. Can anyone tell me from the reading, approximately how many Native Americans died on their journey?

After class, a female student, Melissa, stops at the desk on her way out.

MELISSA
Do you have the essay I turned in last week? On the Boston Tea Party and civil rights?

PROFESSOR
Hi, Melissa. I think so…
Flips through a binder on the table.
I don’t see it here, I must have left it at home. How are you holding up?

MELISSA
I’m fine.
Smiles.

She walks down a hallway of the building, checks emails on her cell phone. One email has the subject line, “Coffee Tonight?” and is from dhasselhoff@hotmail.com. Melissa looks confused for a moment, and keeps walking.

Wolfram sits alone in his apartment, a laptop on the table in front of him. The screen shows a photo of the President and Stockton during the interview. The headline reads: “No More Innocent Lives,” says President. Wolfram stands up, irritated, and walks back and forth behind the couch. He laughs incredulously. A thought occurs to him, and he stops walking.

Jean works out on an elliptical machine at the gym, sweating, and reading a book on her tablet. On her way to her car, her phone rings.

STANLEY
Through phone.
Not coming in today?

JEAN
I’m polishing my report on the eagle sanctuary. Joe will record it tonight.

STANLEY
In his office.
Alright, alright.

JEAN
Getting into her car.
There’s something else, about the shooting in Koreston. Mizreb’s friend has been hiding something.

STANLEY
Thinks for a moment.
Careful what you search for, Jeanie. Quite a few snakes in the grass today.

Jonathan sits at a table in a coffee shop similar to Starbuck’s, scrolling through messages on his phone. Melissa sits down across from him.

JONATHAN
Sets phone aside.
Thanks for meeting me. I know it’s been crazy recently.

MELISSA
What do you want to talk about?

JONATHAN
Who contacted you? The police? The Feds?

MELISSA
Confused.
Nobody. No one at all.

JONATHAN
Leans forward.
Don’t lie to me. There are… a lot of things I can do, to make your life… difficult.

MELISSA
Threatening me now? You think that’s smart?

JONATHAN
More calmly.
No. You’re right. Don’t think I won’t know about it. If you do start talking, I’ll know.
Looks around the coffee shop.
Addie would want us to stick together.

MELISSA
Laughs.
Try to understand, you’re not my boss. You’re not my boyfriend. Jonathan, you… Please don’t contact me again.
Stands up, walks away.

A U.S. General, General Albertson, walks down a hallway in the Pentagon, and enters his office. On the desk beside his keyboard is a paper coffee cup. He picks it up, removes the lid, and dumps a small amount of liquid into the trash can beside his desk, then turns the cup upside down and slides a circular paper disc off the bottom. He turns the disc over, and reads the typed message. Close-up on the words:

The field only reveals to man
his own folly and despair,
and victory is an illusion
of philosophers and fools.

The General places the paper disc between his palms, and rubs his hands quickly back and forth for about ten seconds. He turns it over and reads:
                                                             s         o   l          d
                                                                  v          s
                                                                      s                      o   s

He walks into the bathroom, drops the disc in the toilet, and flushes.

*       *       *

Through a handheld news camera, Jean walks down a gravel road, past large cages with various kinds of eagles inside.

JEAN
Holding microphone.
Some of these majestic birds are free to leave their cages and take to the sky, however there are a number of injured eagles which must remain in captivity until they have healed and can safely fly and hunt in the wild.

She slows and approaches a sign on the front of a cage holding two bald eagles, one perched on an artificial tree limb and another standing on the ground facing the camera.

JEAN
Points at the sign with the eagles’ names.
Here we have Ahab and Archer. They must have grouped them together because they have similar sounding names. It looks like the one on the ground might have an injured talon, he’s kind of bowlegged on one side. As you can see, the one on the branch looks healthy.

The eagle on the limb spreads and flaps its wings.

JEAN
Hello, wow! Powerful wings indeed.

Wolfram Smidgen sits alone at a café table in a shopping mall, drinking espresso from a tiny mug, and glancing around nervously. On the table is a newspaper, open and folded back in quarters. He sees Stanley enter the café area, and stands up to greet him.

STANLEY
Good to see you, Mr. Smidgen. I hope you haven’t been waiting very long.

WOLFRAM
Not at all. It’s nice to see you too, Mr. Balto. Thanks for sitting down with me.

STANLEY
Of course. How can I help you?

WOLFRAM
Well, I’m sorry. I’m sorry Ms. Connelly wasn’t able to host the interview she’d suggested. Charles seemed like a better choice to present such a pivotal moment.

STANLEY
I think Jean understood that. She’s grateful you took her advice.

WOLFRAM
Slides newspaper around so Stanley can read it. Headline: Lang Calls Committee On Gun Regs.
The President is moving quickly on this. We need qualified journalists to help with the PR. If yourself and Ms. Connelly would be willing, we’d like you to do a special on recent gun violence in the U.S., to be aired on LQVN.

STANLEY
Laughs, nods slowly.
Mr. Smidgen, I’ve lived in this city for about as many years as you’ve been alive, but even before that I learned you never get something for nothing. You either have to buy it, steal it, or spend a lifetime earning it. I’d say thanks for the offer but that wouldn’t be too honest, seeing as it’s likely some kind of shark bait. Why don’t we just part ways?

WAITER
Approaches.
Can I get you something to drink, sir?

STANLEY
No, thank you.
Stands up to leave.

WOLFRAM
It’s a legitimate offer, Mr. Balto. Your experience could be useful in bringing the President, and our government, through a critical situation.

STANLEY
Extends right hand.
Please tell him I’m sorry.

They shake hands, and Stanley walks away.

Jean stands facing the news camera, speaking into a microphone. Behind her the row of eagle cages extends down the gravel road into the background.

JEAN
As we’ve observed today, the Washington D.C. Eagle Sanctuary is both home and hospital to some of the most exquisite birds of prey in the world. From the relatively small Booted eagle, to the much larger Steller’s sea eagle, the variety of species here is astounding, and includes, of course, the national emblem of our country, the American Bald Eagle.

A man with a bald eagle perched on his forearm walks into the frame, and transfers the bird onto Jean’s left shoulder. She winces slightly and tilts sideways under its weight.

JEAN
Struggling as the eagle grapples for a better hold on her shoulder.
You might not know this, but one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, wanted to make the turkey our national bird. Right now I kind of wish they would have.

Pan right from Jean and eagle on a screen in the studio, to Jean seated at her news desk watching the last few seconds of her report. She turns to face the camera.

JEAN
Thank you for watching, everyone. I hope you enjoyed that report as much as I did. This has been the CDN Evening News. Our Capital, Your City.

*       *       *

White House Press Room, the seats are filled, journalists, cameras, the podium stands alone on the platform.  Wolfram steps into the frame and rests his hands on the podium, looking out over the crowded room.

WOLFRAM
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I’d like to give a brief statement in order to clarify to some extent the truth, regarding the allegations surrounding the President’s decision to pass laws restricting the sale and distribution of certain firearms.  The notion that anyone in this administration has worked in conjunction with KESG (pronounced key-sig), accepted funding from any terrorist organization, or granted them any measure of influence in shaping our domestic or foreign policy, is outrageous.  The Koreston shooting was the last straw, and while he has been quiet about this issue until now, President Lang intends to complete the work of implementing responsible gun regulations by the end of next year—in spite of the swarming cloud of unfounded theories obstructing that work right now.  Whether or not members of KESG or other terror groups would benefit from such laws being passed in the United States is simply irrelevant.  The questions we should be asking are, “Will this legislation be good for Americans?”  “How likely is it that this legislation will contribute to a safer more peaceful homeland?”  “What should we do to facilitate tranquility, prosperity, and wellness for future generations?”
Looks down at notes.
We need to focus on goals that align with the true values of this nation, and not on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform and exits the room to an uproar of questions and flashing cameras.

Inside a gun/army surplus/survival store, the camera moves past a wall with hunting rifles, assault rifles, and shotguns mounted and leaning against it, then curves left and down, moving over a long glass counter and a row of dozens of handguns, then turns left and up, passing boxes of ammunition, kevlar vests, various targets, and other supplies, then curves left again, completing a spiral, and settling on Jean, a cameraman, and an employee who is speaking.

KEVIN
I take it shooting maybe two, three times a month.  She’s a beautiful weapon, the ACR.

JEAN
Do you ever use it for hunting?

KEVIN
Hunting with automatic weapons is illegal in the State of Alabama.  No, I fire that gun at the rifle range, strictly at the rifle range.

JEAN
How many guns do you have, total, if you don’t mind saying?

KEVIN
Including pistols?

JEAN
Yes, everything.

KEVIN
Thinks for a few seconds.
Twenty-five—no, there’s the five-shot Remington, the cross bow…  Do cross bows count?

JEAN
No, just firearms.

KEVIN
Twenty-six, then.

JEAN
What would you say to people who want to make selling certain types of firearms illegal?

KEVIN
Looks silently at her for a moment.
I’d tell ‘em I’ve got a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and that’s a right our Forefathers guaranteed to protect us from tyrannous governments.  It’s a right I hold near and dear.

Medium close-up on Jean nodding.

Jean and two crew members driving down a street in an SUV, through a residential area of Alabama, past houses and cars and people every so often, working in their yards or walking on the sidewalk.  Silence inside the car.  They pull up to a hotel in a fairly nice area of the town, and Jean gets out at the front entrance, while the other two drive off to park.

She enters her hotel room, sets her backpack on a chair by the door, and walks over to the mini-fridge.  She takes a bar of chocolate and small bottle of brandy out, and sits in a chair by the glass door.  Medium-close shot of her leaning back in her chair, tipping the front chair legs off the floor, eating the chocolate, and staring out the window.

Jean jogs along streets and paths in Tuscaloosa, while listening to Modest Mouse’s, “Missed the Boat,” on headphones.  We see different scenic views of the town in the early evening.  She returns to the hotel and meets her crew in the lobby.

JEAN
You two look handsome.  Where ya off to?

CAMERAMAN
Remy wants to check out the karaoke bar up the street.  You want to go?

JEAN
No, I’m kind of tired.

REMY
Sings.
Somewhere, beyond the sea…  Somewhere, waiting for me…  My lover stands—

JEAN
Starts walking away.
Hate to miss that.

Television screen showing Adnan as a child, swinging a plastic bat as his dad pitches tennis balls to him in a small backyard.  The video camera bounces and drifts slightly, and his mother says, “Good hit, Addie!” when he hits a ball and starts to run the imaginary bases.  Next on the screen, the camera approaches his mother in the kitchen of their home, as she prepares Chicken Shawarma Kabobs and rice, and we hear Adnan’s voice:

ADNAN
And here is my beautiful mother, making my favorite dinner, chicken shawarma.
He zooms in on the line of kabobs on the stovetop, then back out at his mom.
Pose for the camera, Mama.

RANIM
Go away, Adnan, I am busy.
She pushes the camera away.

Next on the screen, an indoor skating rink where middle schoolers are playing roller hockey.

MIZREB
From behind the camera in the stands, as Adnan steals the puck and breaks away toward the goal.
Go, Son, go!

He takes a shot and misses wide, the fans jump in their seats and settle down again.

Mr. Mizreb pays for the stack of DVD’s at the front counter, takes his credit card and receipt, and leaves with the stack in his hands.  It is morning.  As he approaches the corner of a gray brick building, a man on the other side of the street starts crossing towards him.  We see Mr. Mizreb walking down the sidewalk, beyond the shooter’s back, about forty feet away.  He sees him and keeps walking, the shooter draws a black handgun, Mr. Mizreb sees it and drops the DVD’s and raises his hands.  The shooter fires a bullet into his heart, but Mr. Mizreb manages to turn and start running.  The shooter fires a bullet into his right shoulder blade, and he falls forward and sideways against the gray brick wall.  He looks up, dazed, at the shooter.  Close-up of the gun in profile as it fires one more bullet.  Slow fade to black.

Jean and her crew load their bags into the SUV in front of the hotel.  Her phone rings.  She checks the name.

JEAN
Hey, Stanley.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.  Did you all leave yet?

JEAN
Packing the car right now.

STANLEY
I need you back in D.C.  Adnan’s father’s just been killed.

She closes the car door, looks up in disbelief.

*       *       *

Wolfram sits across the table from a beautiful woman in an elegant, dimly lit restaurant.  As they silently finish eating their lunch entrées, he glances up at her and sips his wine.  The door to his apartment opens and they enter, Wolfram first, then he closes and locks it behind her.

WOLFRAM
Would you like some more wine, I have—

The woman pushes him back against the door and kisses him.  He lets her, but doesn’t reciprocate her enthusiasm.

WOLFRAM
Just a moment.

WOMAN
Stops kissing his neck.
Huh?

WOLFRAM
Just… one second.
He places his keys and wallet in a bowl on the kitchen table, removes his jacket, and hangs it on the back of a chair.
Are you sure you don’t want another glass?

She walks slowly towards him, takes his tie in her hand, turns, and leads him through the living room and down the hall.

In his bedroom (still daytime), he sits propped up in bed with his laptop in front of him, while the woman sleeps naked beside him.  On the screen is an article and photo of the corner where Mr. Mizreb was shot, a perimeter of yellow tape, crowded with police, journalists, and civilians.

In the Roosevelt Room, President Lang, Wolfram, two men in military uniforms, and a few others sit quietly at the table, while two Secret Service Agents stand beside the doors.  Lang stands up and paces back and forth behind his chair, then stops and leans forward on the chair back, looking around at each person seated at the table.  They continue waiting for a few seconds.  A voice speaks from one of the laptops, which shows a mountain range in the desert.

SOLDIER
The target has entered the red zone, sir.

GENERAL
Thank you, Captain.
He turns to look at the President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Bows his head, closes his eyes for a moment, looks at the General, and nods.

GENERAL
Fire when ready, Captain.

A missile launches from a U.S. Military base in the desert, flies low through the air as the land rushes by below.  The rocket accelerates over the low plain leading toward the mountain range several miles ahead, toward a cave-like opening at the foot of one of the mountains, a few vehicles and crates outside the entrance.  The missile enters and detonates, fire erupts from the opening, followed by dust and falling boulders from above, sealing the cave shut.  Silence, and the view of the mountain becomes the same image on the General’s laptop in the Roosevelt Room.  He turns and nods to the President.

On his way out the door, Wolfram is accompanied by Lang, and they walk out through the White House together.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thanks for your help today, Secretary Smidgen.

WOLFRAM
My pleasure, sir.  I’ll have a statement drawn up for the evening report.

PRESIDENT LANG
“Our battle is more full of names than yours,
 Our men more perfect in the use of arms,
 Our armour all as strong, our cause the best;
 Then reason will our hearts should be as good.”

WOLFRAM
You think we should let Shakespeare handle our PR from now on?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’m sure he’d refuse.

WOLFRAM
Smiles.
What should we do about Mosul?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at him sternly for a second.
Tell the truth.

Jean and Vera on exercise bikes, sweating, in the back row of a crowded Spin class, and talking over the music (If possible, “You Shook Me All Night Long/Good Girl” Remix), with occasional interruptions from the instructor.

VERA
Two more months of this, my buns are gonna be rock hard.

JEAN
You already have a great body.  It’s me who needs to get in shape.

INSTRUCTOR
Okay, Ladies, let’s take it up out of the saddle.
She stands up on her bicycle, and the rest of the class does likewise.
Still on a flat road, we’re approaching our first hill.

JEAN
Did you hear about Adnan Mizreb’s father?

VERA
Course.  I haven’t isolated myself completely.

JEAN
They’re saying it was a lone gunman, a guy who went crazy, and hates Muslims.

VERA
Well, his son was a terrorist.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Find those glutes, wake ‘em up!
She dials up the resistance on her bike and starts pedaling faster.

JEAN
I don’t think his dad had anything to do with the attack.  I think it was all him, and his buddy, Jonathan.

VERA
That smokin’ little frat boy?  They cleared him already.

JEAN
Yes, they did.

INSTRUCTOR
Back in the saddle.  We’re headin’ back to our jumps.
Sits down again.
Take it down, keep it here.

The rest of the class sits down and dials down the resistance on their bikes.

VERA
What about your big special report?

JEAN
We have some more footage to get, but so far we’re on schedule.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Up…
Stands up riding, class follows.
Down…

Sits down, class follows.
Up…

Stands up again, class follows.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen in a park with the dome of the Capitol Building in the background.  He’s talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listening, composedly distressed.
Do you understand what’s happening?  …The truth is coming to light.  Lang’s accounts are being investigated by three different committees, as we speak…  I hope to God they find no ties between them…

Listens, settling his eyes on the Capitol Building.
I’m telling you to wait.

Jean introduces the evening news from her desk in the studio.

JEAN
To camera.
Tonight on CDN Evening News, a bus carrying nineteen children and three adults, including the driver, overturned yesterday on a Maryland interstate, on its way to Washington D.C. for a field trip.  Four students and one teacher have been hospitalized, and the teacher, Terry Isaacs, is in critical condition.  Also, The Sound of Music heads to the Kennedy Center this week.  Nathaniel Waterloo, who plays Captain Georg von Trapp, stopped by CDN to talk about the upcoming production.  But first…

Footage of a staggered line of brown and yellow ducklings waddling up a “duck ramp” at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

JEAN-VO
Ducklings are in luck!  Two new ramps have been installed at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool to provide easier water access to families of ducks—and the ducklings have already figured out how to use the new amenity.

The ducklings turn and waddle toward the water, starting down the declined plank over the ledge.  They slip and fall, sliding and splashing into the pool, as Jean talks.

JEAN-VO
Warmer weather has allowed for an increase in the pool’s duckling population, but its slanted edge was making it difficult for them to get back into the water.

Stanley approaches Jean as she’s removing her microphone after the broadcast.

STANLEY
Good show, lady.

JEAN
Thank you, kind sir.

STANLEY
Cup of coffee, ten minutes?

They stand between two stone lions on the front steps of the CDN News studio.

STANLEY
Will the special be done in time to meet the new deadline?

JEAN
Saturday’s the day.

STANLEY
Can Joe finish editing without you?

JEAN
I trust him with it.  Whether or not Smidgen’s people approve it is a different story.

STANLEY
Don’t worry about that.  Listen, we need everything ready by the time that special airs.  Mizreb’s death may be the start.  We have to act before the earthquake gets worse.

JEAN
You want me to go to Koreston?

STANLEY
Go, get what you need, and be back by Sunday.  Who knows, your work might be what saved the world after all.

*       *       *

An underground warehouse in the Middle East, four guards armed with assault rifles stand on opposite walls near the steps at the front of a large room full of crates and various containers of weapons, ammunition, and chemicals.  The sound of the metal door at the top of the steps (out of frame), clanking and swinging open.  A voice shouts (in Arabic), “Hurry up, lock it in!”  The sound of a metal case dropping on metal rails, and the voice yells (in Arabic), “Careful!”  The sound of the case sliding down the rails on either side of the steps, and the backs of two men, side by side, walking backwards down the steps with the case in front of them (about the size of a refrigerator), come into view at the bottom of the steps, and slide the case onto two pallets on the floor in front of the steps.  The guards don’t move as the five men transporting the case center it on the pallets and prepare to store it among the other crates of weapons.

In the small bedroom of a house in an unspecified Middle Eastern city, a white man (soldier) in plain clothes sits at a table with a laptop in front of him.  On the screen, bank account information showing a recent transfer of $75,000,000.  He opens a new window on the screen, a blank message box, and types, “The beans have been planted.  Say hello to the farmer.” and clicks send.

General Albertson sits at the desk in his office, reading an email on his computer.  The phone beeps and his secretary’s voice speaks.

SECRETARY
General Albertson, President Lang for you, sir.

He stops reading and looks from the screen to the telephone, thinks for a moment.

GENERAL ALBERTSON
Thank you, Sarah.
Picks up phone.
Hello, Mr. President…  I’m doing well, how about yourself?

Obligatory smile.
Of course, not the fairest weather…

Listens for fifteen seconds as Lang speaks.
Yes, sir.  I will be there.  Eight o’clock…  You too, Mr. President.  Mm-hm, God bless.

Hangs up phone, sits back and stares blankly at screen for a moment.

In the classroom at the University in Koreston, Melissa sits among students spaced every other chair, taking an exam.  Close-up on page, multiple choice question:  “A prominent leader and medicine man of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, he both raided and resisted U.S. and Mexican forces in southwestern American territories and northern Mexican states, following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848.

a) Chief Touch the Clouds
b) Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)
c) Tisquantum (Squanto)
d) Geronimo
e) Sacagawea

She reads over the answers, and circles “d.”  She exits the class and sees Jean standing across the hall waiting for her, but Melissa doesn’t seem to recognize her.

JEAN
Walks after her.
Melissa.  Can we talk for a minute?

MELISSA
Keeps walking.

JEAN
Catches up to her, walks alongside.
I can help you, if you talk to me.

Jean and Melissa sit at a table in a study room of the University library.  The front wall of the room is glass, and we see them speaking for a few seconds but don’t hear what they are saying.

MELISSA
We weren’t even officially “together.”  I went over to his place once or twice a week, and we’d watch tv and hang out.  Neither of us wanted a relationship.

JEAN
Why didn’t you tell the police?

MELISSA
Adnan and I stopped seeing each other almost half a year ago.  What could I have told them?

JEAN
It was serious enough for his mother to know about you.

MELISSA
He exaggerates.  He probably told her so she’d think he was normal.

JEAN
Melissa, I know there’s nothing I can say to make sense of what happened—the shooting.  And I know you know more than you’re letting on.  I’m trying to help us to be more protected from this type of violence in the future.

MELISSA
Glances up at her, then back down at the table.

JEAN
When you were with him, did you ever see or hear anything that might indicate his being connected to a terrorist network?

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen stands behind a row of desks in a room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  A large flat-screen tv almost covers the wall in front of them, and is divided into twelve equal sections, each one showing a different news channel, some from foreign countries.  Most of the sections are muted, while a few have people speaking and footage playing simultaneously.  Headlines: 

  1. Dutch Lawmakers Approve U.K. Trade Deal with Ukraine
  2. KESG Blast Kills Dozens at Family Gathering in Iraq
  3. More Than 150 Pot Shops Busted in Detroit
  4. South Korea Leader Orders Investigation into Unreported U.S. Launches
  5. Bangladesh Cyclone Wreaks Havoc in Rohingya Refugee Camps

He walks down a hallway, past several doorways, and stops at one to lean in and talk to his assistant.

WOLFRAM
I’m going out to grab some lunch.

ASSISTANT
Okay, Mr. Secretary.

He walks through the hall toward the front entrance of the building.  View of doors from outside, one door opens and Wolfram emerges, starts down steps and down the walkway to the street.  As he walks toward Pennsylvania Avenue, the camera zooms out at a medium-fast pace to reveal the entirety of the Eisenhower Building, the front courtyard, and then the White House and front lawn next door, continuing to zoom out until all of downtown D.C. is visible in the frame.

On a restaurant patio overlooking a lake, college students stand and sit around tables, drinking beer and eating appetizers.  Jean stands inside the glass doors, looking out at the students.  She sees Jonathan sitting with a few other kids, talking and laughing.  Jonathan slides three empty glasses onto the outside bar.

JONATHAN
Three more Heineken’s, please.

BARTENDER
Coming right up.

JEAN
Finally getting back to normal around here, huh?

JONATHAN
Looks quickly at her.
You’re that reporter.  Don’t you have a show coming up in a few days?

JEAN
That’s the plan.  I’m hoping you can answer a question for me first.

JONATHAN
One question?

JEAN
What do you think they’re going to do when they find out you pushed Adnan into killing all those people?

JONATHAN
Laughs.
I don’t know what you heard, but—

JEAN
God knows.  And the authorities know about Fairfield.

JONATHAN
So what?  I didn’t shoot those people, Addie did.  You get the hell away from me.

JEAN
What you did as a child, plus giving Addie the .38, your life’s over.  Good luck finding a job.

JONATHAN
Angry.
I don’t need a—

Looks away, then back at her.
This is harassment.  You have no right to be here.

Leaves a twenty on the bar, takes the beers, and walks away.

Smidgen walks along a street, turns into a park, and continues on a path while fixing a thin black adhesive strip to a black zip drive.  Near the center of the park is a fountain (different fountain than the earlier scene), light crowd in the surrounding area.  He enters the square and walks past the fountain, bending quickly to hide the zip drive underneath its outer edge.  He glances around rapidly as he keeps walking and exits the square on the other side.

Deborah Elm rides in the passenger seat of a golf cart, beside a man with gray hair, and they stop on a fairway a few hundred feet from the green.  She removes her phone from her pocket and checks the message:  Private Number: “Keating Park.  Center fountain.  Southeast side, under the outer edge.”

Early evening, as the sun is setting, she walks toward the fountain, a little nervous, and kneels down to look under the edge.  Seeing the zip drive, she stands up and walks a few paces, removes it, puts it in her pocket and keeps walking.

*       *       *

Stanley and Joe in the editing room at CDN, watching Jean’s gun violence special on the center screen.  She is walking down the sidewalk in a quiet, sunny neighborhood, and talking into a microphone.

JEAN
Some believe having the right to carry a concealed firearm serves to promote peace, by discouraging would-be attackers from preying on others.
She stops walking.
But what’s keeping the people who lawfully carry guns from misusing them in public—with potentially fatal consequences?

The special cuts to Jean interviewing a man in the front yard of his house.

JEAN
Have you ever drawn a weapon on a human being?

MAN
Few times.  Never had to shoot nobody.

Monique knocks on the door to the editing room, and opens it.

MONIQUE
Mr. Balto, you might want to see this.

They walk into the main studio, where a few large screens are showing a national news channel with Deborah Elm speaking to the camera.

DEBORAH
We can clearly hear President Lang’s voice on this recording.  There is no question that this is the President of the United States.
The screen splits to show a man at another desk.
In your opinion, is there any way to tell when this conversation took place?

He starts replying, as Stanley reacts.

STANLEY
No, no, no…  What is this?

EXPERT
So we know the file was saved onto the drive approximately forty-eight hours ago, but we can’t as yet determine when the President spoke these words.

DEBORAH
Can we hear the recording again, please?

PRESIDENT LANG
Slight static.
The next one gets cleared by me…  Make sure they know that…

Angry.
Now they can trace those weapons to us.

DEBORAH
An investigation into the specific types, quantities, and locations of the weapons is currently underway.  Neither President Lang, nor any member of his administration, has made a statement.

JOE
Could it be fake?  Can they fabricate someone’s voice like that?

STANLEY
They can and they did.
He looks at the screen a moment longer, then turns and starts to leave.

JOE
What about the show, are we gonna—

STANLEY
On his way out.
Still on, tomorrow night.

Jean sitting near the back of an airplane, dark outside.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Bell rings.
Good evening, passengers, please fasten your seatbelts and return your seat backs to their upright and locked positions.  We will be landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport in about fifteen minutes.  I repeat, we will be landing in Washington D.C. in about fifteen minutes.

Aerial view of D.C. at night, followed by a time-lapse shot of the sun rising over the downtown area.

A conference room in the Capitol Building, twenty or so of the President’s Advisors, Generals, and Chiefs-of-Staff, (including Wolfram and General Albertson), sit quietly around a long rectangular table.  President Lang enters, walks to the head of the table, pulls out the chair, sits down, and looks up at them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thank you all for being here this morning.  I don’t intend to bore you with any stale anecdotes about the time before I came to Washington, the years when the thought of my becoming President would have been pretty funny.  I should say that I’ve always loved this nation.  It’s not our freedom that I love, or our ideals, our values, or our history.  I love it cause it’s mine.  And yours, and the bums who sleep outside on benches, or in the woods, it’s theirs too.  The United States is everyone’s.

When I took office I swore to faithfully execute my duties, and to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.  In the course of carrying out that promise I’ve made some enemies, some of whom are right here at this table.  Some have devoted themselves to undermining my work with blatant lies, vindictive accusations, and treasonous plots to cast my presidency in the most sinister shades of darkness.  Don’t think for one instant that either your actions, or your intentions, have gone unobserved.

A number of you might cringe upon hearing this again, but my grandfather fought and died for this country in the first World War.  He took a stand for this place, marched off to hell, and died there, in part so we could serve here, free from the threat of hell overtaking our own shores.  If you disagree with my agenda to increase regulations on certain firearms, that’s fine, you’re free to oppose me.  But if you’re operating under the assumption that you have any chance of getting away with treachery…
He looks around at them again.
You’d better take a step back, and find a different way to go.

He stands up, walks out of the silent room.

*       *       *

Stanley in the control room of CDN, watching a national news channel as Jean and their crew prepare for the broadcast.  On the screen, four people sit behind a desk talking fervently about the audio recording.

ANCHOR
We have to be real, here.  How much evidence do you need?  There are at least two offshore bank accounts holding a combined five hundred and thirty million dollars, which have been linked to known business associates of men in Lang’s administration, and now we have undeniable proof that he oversaw an illegal arms trade.  What could convince you at this point?

GUEST
Hold on, can we back up a second?  The accounts being linked to President Lang’s administration, hasn’t been proven yet—

ANCHOR
Rolls his eyes.
Hasn’t been—okay, I guess it hasn’t been proven that you’ve appeared as a guest on this program, either.

Stanley watches, dismayed, then looks out at Jean behind the desk in the studio.  A crew member in the control room starts calling his name, but he keeps looking at her as she reads over her notes, then looks back at him through the glass, and smiles.

CREW MEMBER
Speaks into headset microphone.
Yes, sir, Mr. Stockton, he’s ready.
Switches microphone off.
Stanley, you in there?  They’re ready to roll at LQVN.

STANLEY
Puts on headset.
All set, Ms. Connelly?

JEAN
Takes a breath, and nods.

The intro to LQVN’s Thursday night program begins on two of the monitors in the CDN control room, while Jean stays on the other screens.  Charles Stockton appears facing the camera, from his desk at LQVN.

STOCKTON
Good evening, ladies and gentleman.  Tonight we have a special report from a journalist you may not know.  She’s a local D.C. reporter named Jean Connelly, and she hosts the CDN nightly news on weekdays at six p.m.  Jean’s been traveling the country for the last few weeks, interviewing and doing research on the subject of gun violence in America.  Here she is to introduce the piece, live from Washington.  Hello, Jean.

JEAN
Hi, Mr. Stockton.  Thanks for letting me be a part of your show.  It’s an honor to be here.  Before we air the special, I’d like to address a couple issues that are of the utmost importance to the American people.  The shooting last month in Koreston was, as we all know, a senseless tragedy.

Wolfram sits staring at the tv in his apartment, half-empty whiskey bottle on the table in front of him.

JEAN
Adnan Mizreb was a severely disturbed young man, isolated, depressed, and therefore vulnerable to hatred and evil.  However despite what most of the media, and the authorities have stated, he was not the only one responsible for the attack.

Vera lays stretched out on the couch in her house, a glass of wine and a bowl of Funyuns on the table.

VERA
Alex, get in here, Jeanie’s thing is on tv.

JEAN
Adnan’s friend, Jonathan Rand, who’s now in custody, both helped him to plan and pressured him into committing the murders, as well as supplying Adnan with the thirty-eight caliber revolver as a backup weapon.  Jonathan acquired the gun at least eight years ago, and possibly used it in two thousand ten to wound a driver at a demolition derby in Fairfield, Ohio, where his older brother was competing.

Wolfram watches tv, anxious and perplexed.

JEAN
An anonymous source who was close to Adnan has claimed and is willing to testify that Jonathan, quote, “offered her money to help him go through with it.”
She pauses a moment, looks down at her notes.
The last point I’d like to address concerns the recent accusations directed at President Lang and his administration.  After the Koreston shooting I spoke with the President about interviewing him on the topic of gun control, but later Secretary Smidgen informed us of their decision to go with a more experienced journalist.
Flashback to Wolfram and Stanley at the café as Jean continues talking.
Soon after the interview, my boss received an offer to begin work on a special to be aired nationally, the program we’ll be showing tonight.
Flashback to Stanley and Lang talking (new scene), then investigators searching files on computers, and monitoring Smidgen’s communications).
When Stanley saw the Secretary’s change of heart about our competence, he could tell something was wrong, and went to talk with President Lang, who discovered not only Smidgen’s connections to certain members of KESG, but also his efforts to spread the lies we’ve been hearing.

Wolfram watches Jean on tv, realizes what’s happening and becomes enraged, then back to Jean in the studio.

JEAN
As for the audio that’s just been released, it’s easy enough to replicate a person’s voice now.  We managed to do more than that in less than twenty-four hours.

She turns to look at the large screen beside the news desk, where an image of the White House Press Room appears, the empty platform, podium, two flags, cameramen, and chairs full of journalists.  Wolfram enters the room and steps up to the podium.

WOLFRAM
Hello, America.  I falsified evidence in order to frame Thomas Lang.
Smiles, and walks out of the frame.

Wolfram in his apartment, bows his head for a second, then grips the edge of the glass table and flips it over, shattering it against the tv and wall.

WOLFRAM
Points at Jean’s face on the cracked screen.
I’m gonna kill you.

He walks down the hall toward his bedroom, and we see Jean and hear fragments of her words through the broken tv.  Wolfram walks out of the dark hallway with a small black handgun, over the shattered glass on the carpet, and to the front door, opens it, and walks out into the hallway of his apartment building.  He slams the door and starts left toward the elevators, about one hundred feet away, where a Secret Service Agent steps into view.  Wolfram sees him, keeps walking, and starts to raise the gun.  The Agent draws his gun and shoots Wolfram in the right shoulder, his arm falls to his side, but he does not drop the gun.  Staggering a little, he keeps walking, reaching over with his left hand to take the gun from his right.

SECRET SERVICE AGENT
Aiming at him.
Don’t do this, sir.

Wolfram grips the gun in his left hand, walking slowly, about forty feet from the Agent, and raises it quickly to shoulder level, and the Agent fires a bullet through Wolfram’s heart.  He falls forward and sideways against the wall, similar to Mr. Mizreb, and lies dead with his upper back and head against the wall.  The Agent approaches slowly and kicks the gun away. 

*       *       *

Upper and Lower Senate Garden, bright, sunny, early Spring, the sound of the fountain and a few people sitting and walking nearby.  Jean sits on a bench with the Capitol Building in the background.  Vera approaches, and she smiles.

VERA
Hey, hot stuff.  Want to have a drink?

JEAN
With you?  Anytime.

VERA
How do I know you won’t run away, to New York or something, and leave me stranded here?

JEAN
Looks down at her feet, up again.
To be honest, there’s a good chance I’ll do that.  I’ll come back and visit.
She stands up, and they start walking along the row of trees.

The camera rises above the fountain as they walk away, their conversation slowly fading out.

VERA
Can I come with you?

JEAN
Come with me?  I don’t even know your name, lady.

VERA
Mi nombre es Antonella.  Cómo te llamas, Rojita?

JEAN
This… isn’t fun anymore.

VERA
No, please…  Let’s do the whole day like this.

JEAN
Shut up, Vera.

VERA

 

 

~  Music and Credits  ~

 

Reconstitution, Part IV

Hoped for/ideal cast:
Jean Connelly:  Bryce Dallas Howard
Stanley Balto:  Denzel Washington
Wolfram Smidgen:  James McAvoy
Vera:  Kate McKinnon
President Lang:  Bryan Cranston

 

Reconstitution
(Part IV)

 

An underground warehouse in the Middle East, four guards armed with assault rifles stand on opposite walls near the steps at the front of a large room full of crates and various containers of weapons, ammunition, and chemicals.  The sound of the metal door at the top of the steps (out of frame), clanking and swinging open.  A voice shouts (in Arabic), “Hurry up, lock it in!”  The sound of a metal case dropping on metal rails, and the voice yells (in Arabic), “Careful!”  The sound of the case sliding down the rails on either side of the steps, and the backs of two men, side by side, walking backwards down the steps with the case in front of them (about the size of a refrigerator), come into view at the bottom of the steps, and slide the case onto two pallets on the floor in front of the steps.  The guards don’t move as the five men transporting the case center it on the pallets and prepare to store it among the other crates of weapons.

In the small bedroom of a house in an unspecified Middle Eastern city, a white man (soldier) in plain clothes sits at a table with a laptop in front of him.  On the screen, bank account information showing a recent transfer of $75,000,000.  He opens a new window on the screen, a blank message box, and types, “The beans have been planted.  Say hello to the farmer.” and clicks send.

The U.S. General who received the coffee cup message sits at the desk in his office, reading an email on his computer.  The phone beeps and his secretary’s voice speaks.

SECRETARY
General Albertson, President Lang for you, sir.

He stops reading and looks from the screen to the telephone, thinks for a moment.

GENERAL ALBERTSON
Thank you, Sarah.
Picks up phone.
Hello, Mr. President…  I’m doing well, how about yourself?

Obligatory smile.
Of course, not the fairest weather…

Listens for fifteen seconds as Lang speaks.
Yes, sir.  I will be there.  Eight o’clock…  You too, Mr. President.  Mm-hm, God bless.

Hangs up phone, sits back and stares blankly at screen for a moment.

In the classroom at the University in Koreston, Melissa sits among students spaced every other chair, taking an exam.  Close-up on page, multiple choice question:  “A prominent leader and medicine man of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, he both raided and resisted U.S. and Mexican forces in southwestern American territories and northern Mexican states, following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848.

a) Chief Touch the Clouds
b) Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)
c) Tisquantum (Squanto)
d) Geronimo
e) Sacagawea

She reads over the answers, and circles “d.”  She exits the class and sees Jean standing across the hall waiting for her, but Melissa doesn’t seem to recognize her.

JEAN
Walks after her.
Melissa.  Can we talk for a minute?

MELISSA
Keeps walking.

JEAN
Catches up to her, walks alongside.
I can help you, if you talk to me.

Jean and Melissa sit at a table in a study room of the University Library.  The front wall of the room is glass, and we see them speaking for a few seconds but don’t hear what they are saying.

MELISSA
We weren’t even officially “together.”  I went over to his place once or twice a week, and we’d watch tv and hang out.  Neither of us wanted a relationship.

JEAN
Why didn’t you tell the police?

MELISSA
Adnan and I stopped seeing each other almost half a year ago.  What could I have told them?

JEAN
It was serious enough for his mother to know about you.

MELISSA
He exaggerates.  He probably told her so she’d think he was normal.

JEAN
Melissa, I know there’s nothing I can say to make sense of what happened—the shooting.  And I know you know more than you’re letting on.  I’m trying to help us to be more protected from this type of violence in the future.

MELISSA
Glances up at her, then back down at the table.

JEAN
When you were with him, did you ever see or hear anything that might indicate his being connected to a terrorist network?

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen stands behind a row of desks in a room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  A large flat-screen tv almost covers the wall in front of them, and is divided into twelve equal sections, each one showing a different news channel, some from foreign countries.  Most of the sections are muted, while a few have people speaking and footage playing simultaneously.  Headlines: 

  1. Dutch Lawmakers Approve U.K. Trade Deal with Ukraine
  2. KESG Blast Kills Dozens at Family Gathering in Iraq
  3. More Than 150 Pot Shops Busted in Detroit
  4. South Korea Leader Orders Investigation into Unreported U.S. Launches
  5. Bangladesh Cyclone Wreaks Havoc in Rohingya Refugee Camps

He walks down a hallway, past several doorways, and stops at one to lean in and talk to his assistant.

WOLFRAM
I’m going out to grab some lunch.

ASSISTANT
Okay, Mr. Secretary.

He walks through the hall toward the front entrance of the building.  View of doors from outside, one door opens and Wolfram emerges, starts down steps and down the walkway to the street.  As he walks toward Pennsylvania Avenue, the camera zooms out at a medium-fast pace to reveal the entirety of the Eisenhower Building, the front courtyard, and then the White House and front lawn next door, continuing to zoom out until all of downtown D.C. is visible in the frame.

On a restaurant patio overlooking a lake, college students stand and sit around tables, drinking beer and eating appetizers.  Jean stands inside the glass doors, looking out at the students.  She sees Jonathan sitting with a few other kids, talking and laughing.  Jonathan slides three empty glasses onto the outside bar.

JONATHAN
Three more Heineken’s, please.

BARTENDER
Coming right up.

JEAN
Finally getting back to normal around here, huh?

JONATHAN
Looks quickly at her.
You’re that reporter.  Don’t you have a show coming up in a few days?

JEAN
That’s the plan.  I’m hoping you can answer a question for me first.

JONATHAN
One question?

JEAN
What do you think they’re going to do when they find out you pushed Adnan into killing all those people?

JONATHAN
Laughs.
I don’t know what you heard, but—

JEAN
God knows.  And the authorities know about Fairfield.

JONATHAN
So what?  I didn’t shoot those people, Addie did.  You get the hell away from me.

JEAN
What you did as a child, plus giving Addie the .38, your life’s over.  Good luck finding a job.

JONATHAN
Angry.
I don’t need a—

Looks away, then back at her.
This is harassment.  You have no right to be here.

Leaves a twenty on the bar, takes the beers, and walks away.

Smidgen walks along a street, turns into a park, and continues on a path while fixing a thin black adhesive strip to a black zip drive.  Near the center of the park is a fountain (different fountain than the earlier scene), light crowd in the surrounding area.  He enters the square and walks past the fountain, bending quickly to hide the zip drive underneath its outer edge.  He glances around rapidly as he keeps walking and exits the square on the other side.

Deborah Elm rides in the passenger seat of a golf cart, beside a man with gray hair, and they stop on a fairway a few hundred feet from the green.  She removes her phone from her pocket and checks the message:  Private Number: “Keating Park.  Center fountain.  Southeast side, under the outer edge.”

Early evening, as the sun is setting, she walks toward the fountain, a little nervous, and kneels down to look under the edge.  Seeing the zip drive, she stands up and walks a few paces, removes it, puts it in her pocket and keeps walking.

*       *       *

Stanley and Joe in the editing room at CDN, watching Jean’s gun violence special on the center screen.  She is walking down the sidewalk in a quiet, sunny neighborhood, and talking into a microphone.

JEAN
Some believe having the right to carry a concealed firearm serves to promote peace, by discouraging would-be attackers from preying on others.
She stops walking.
But what’s keeping the people who lawfully carry guns from misusing them in public—with potentially fatal consequences?

The special cuts to Jean interviewing a man in the front yard of his house.

JEAN
Have you ever drawn a weapon on a human being?

MAN
Few times.  Never had to shoot nobody.

Monique knocks on the door to the editing room, and opens it.

MONIQUE
Mr. Balto, you might want to see this.

They walk into the main studio, where a few large screens are showing a national news channel with Deborah Elm speaking to the camera.

DEBORAH
We can clearly hear President Lang’s voice on this recording.  There is no question that this is the President of the United States.
The screen splits to show a man at another desk.
In your opinion, is there any way to tell when this conversation took place?

He starts replying, as Stanley reacts.

STANLEY
No, no, no…  What is this?

EXPERT
So we know the file was saved onto the drive approximately forty-eight hours ago, but we can’t as yet determine when the President spoke these words.

DEBORAH
Can we hear the recording again, please?

PRESIDENT LANG
Slight static.
The next one gets cleared by me…  Make sure they know that…

Angry.
Now they can trace those weapons to us.

DEBORAH
An investigation into the specific types, quantities, and locations of the weapons is currently underway.  Neither President Lang, nor any member of his administration, has made a statement.

JOE
Could it be fake?  Can they fabricate someone’s voice like that?

STANLEY
They can and they did.
He looks at the screen a moment longer, then turns and starts to leave.

JOE
What about the show, are we gonna—

STANLEY
On his way out.
Still on, tomorrow night.

Jean sitting near the back of an airplane, dark outside.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Bell rings.
Good evening, passengers, please fasten your seatbelts and return your seat backs to their upright and locked positions.  We will be landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport in about fifteen minutes.  I repeat, we will be landing in Washington D.C. in about fifteen minutes.

Aerial view of D.C. at night, followed by a time-lapse shot of the sun rising over the downtown area.

A conference room in the Capitol Building, twenty or so of the President’s Advisors, Generals, and Chiefs-of-Staff, (including Wolfram and General Albertson), sit quietly around a long rectangular table.  President Lang enters, walks to the head of the table, pulls out the chair, sits down, and looks up at them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thank you all for being here this morning.  I don’t intend to bore you with any stale anecdotes about the time before I came to Washington, the years when the thought of my becoming President would have been pretty funny.  I should say that I’ve always loved this nation.  It’s not our freedom that I love, or our ideals, our values, or our history.  I love it cause it’s mine.  And yours, and the bums who sleep outside on benches, or in the woods, it’s theirs too.  The United States is everyone’s.

When I took office I swore to faithfully execute my duties, and to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.  In the course of carrying out that promise I’ve made some enemies, some of whom are right here at this table.  Some have devoted themselves to undermining my work with blatant lies, vindictive accusations, and treasonous plots to cast my presidency in the most sinister shades of darkness.  Don’t think for one instant that either your actions, or your intentions, have gone unobserved.

A number of you might cringe upon hearing this again, but my grandfather fought and died for this country in the first World War.  He took a stand for this place, marched off to hell, and died there, in part so we could serve here, free from the threat of hell overtaking our own shores.  If you disagree with my agenda to increase regulations on certain firearms, that’s fine, you’re free to oppose me.  But if you’re operating under the assumption that you have any chance of getting away with treachery…
He looks around at them again.
You’d better take a step back, and find a different way to go.

He stands up, walks out of the silent room.

 

(End of Part IV)

 

Undivided Lines: Short Stories

https://www.amazon.com/Undivided-Lines-Robert-Lampros/dp/1539766810/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Undivided Lines is a collection of stories about wisdom, love, adventure, and redemption, featuring a diverse range of characters who brave challenging and life-altering experiences.  From a tenacious senator defending the legacy of his work, to a Native American youth fighting for survival in his homeland, to a new mother traveling the galaxy to solve the mystery of her husband’s disappearance, these stories entertain, amaze, and enlighten.

3 Free Paperback Copies Available (for U.S. residents):  Email rlampros27@yahoo.com or reply with your email address in the comment section below.

From Undivided Lines:

Communion

I heard the sound of flowing water and saw the outline of plants and trees by the bank.  I felt for my bow and ran down the path beside the river, able to see the light brown earth in the night.  The path curved with the riverbank.  I couldn’t see the water but could hear it rushing downstream, like a spirit in communion with life, the sound of power in harmony.

At the fork where one path led into the trees below the highest hill on this side of the river, I followed it and turned parallel to the hillside.  Even though it was dark I left the path and climbed up where there weren’t many thorns or bushes.  Before I reached the crest of the hill the sun had started to rise.

Waiting for the light with my back against the trunk of a Callum tree, I looked up with closed eyes, and stretched my arms toward the heavens.  I shook my bow in glory for God so He would bless my hunt that day, and quietly sang the song my uncle taught me, a song of gratitude and need.  The sun burnt the sky over the hills in layers of orange, pink, and yellow, with the deep green night still overhead.  A few more minutes and the land would reveal itself, and the deer come out to seek their food.

I knelt behind a line of bushes on the western slope of the hill where I could see all the way to the river.  Within an hour a doe appeared from the north, walking south along the bank near the path, fifty feet or so from the water, stopping frequently to chew grass or tear leaves from a low branch.  I waited.  If she was a mother her children had been weaned by now, for there were no other deer in sight.  Slowly I stood up, circled around the southwest side of the hill, downwind of course, avoiding leaves and sticks and pausing behind trees for cover.

A short distance uphill and three hundred feet south of the deer, I stopped behind the trunk of an old Callum and drew my bow.  She raised her head from the brush she was chewing, and lowered it again.  I closed my left eye, took aim at the hollow between her neck and left shoulder, drew my bow to full extension, and released the arrow.

After dressing the deer and eating lunch, I returned to my camp to salt the meat and prepare a gift for my family.  My way since leaving the village has been to bring them an offering from every kill.  Many capable hunters abide there, but this makes life easier for my mother, sisters, and uncle, and is an honorable gesture.  Packing the steaks into my bag, storing my share at my camp, and filling my canteen at the river, I left for the village, hoping to return before midnight.

I ran most of the way to the village, walking when my breath grew heavy, then running again after a minute or two.  This was early Fall when some leaves were changing color.  I heard their song as I ran and imagined myself flying through the air with the leaves on the tallest trees.  I flew over paths and jumped over fallen trees and leaped across streams from rock to rock, keeping my eyes and ears open for people and predators.  The bow on my back and ax in my belt gave me courage because I knew how to use them.

Entering the village one hour from sunset, I found my mother resting in the tent as her stew cooked over the fire outside.  She smiled in bed and lifted her arms for me.  I showed her the offering of meat and she called my sister, Nali, who peeked inside and stuck out her tongue at me, then took the meat away to store it.  Mother told the news of our tribe from the last two weeks.  I listened to some of it, but not all, because my mother’s voice is sharp and she speaks many words.  She said my uncle was struggling with the elders to set up a camp in the southern grasslands for the winter.  The winter before had been hungry due to hunters from other tribes killing game in our hills.  She asked me to stay for dinner that night but I said no, I hoped to return to my own camp by midnight, which was the truth.

Leaving the village at sunset I stopped at the market to see if Zeeba would give me some vegetables, she is like my aunt, but her husband, Temul, was there instead.  I thought about finding my uncle before I left, but I knew that he was busy.  The woods were dark when I left.  This was no problem because I had run the trails in the dark many times before, and the moon would be high and bright that night.

Coyotes yipped and howled after sunset, and sometimes bears and wolves came near the village, but that was rare.  As the moon rose I ran and kept running, not slowing for breath, alive with the spirit of life and the joy of life.  My legs and heart felt strong as I ran, flying with the leaves on the tallest trees.  Leaping over streams, launching off fallen trees on the path, climbing steep rises, and soaring down hills, the blood in my veins flowed through me, electrifying my journey in the quiet night.

The final stretch of the trip curved up along the river near my camp.  The moon shone brighter than the night before, the path and trees looked clearer, and I could see the light dancing on the surface of the water.  Coming to the fork where one of the paths led into the trees below the highest hill, a sharp rush surprised me and an arrow pierced a tree on the riverbank.  The next arrow hit the water, and the next tore through the brush as I ran behind a tree by the path.  The angle of the arrows showed the bowman to be one hundred and fifty feet away on the hillside, but he could have run down afterwards to fight me hand-to-hand.  I removed the ax from my belt and held it ready.  Without a sound the man appeared to my left, ten feet away by the path.  He had traded his bow for a crescent-shaped machete hanging beside his knee.  He saw my ax.

“I do not wish to fight you,” I said loudly.

“You seldom do,” he said back.  He was one of the Rihnlo Tribe.

“I have nothing to steal, except my bow and this ax.”

“It is enough,” he smiled.  This was when I knew that one of us would die.

More swiftly than I expected, his blade hissed beneath my chin then swung around below my knees, so I had to jump in order to dodge it.  The Rihnlo was fast and well-trained, but I was a champion of my village, and knew I could defeat him.  Watching the center of his chest as he weaved side to side, I saw his next strike before he did, and sank my ax into his throat.  The Rihnlo died at my feet, and I set his body and spirit free upon the river.

Dawn broke the next day and I returned to the hillside to collect his bow and other possessions.  Walking out of my camp I heard footsteps behind me in the leaves.  I was not alarmed because these were not the footsteps of a warrior. Gathering the bow and arrows from the hillside, and finding no other tools or goods there, I climbed to the crest of the highest hill where I had watched the sunrise the day before.  Leaning back against a large Callum tree, I let the one following me come within twenty feet, and called, “You are a friend of the Rihnlo I killed last night.  Come forward so I can see you.”

The person approached and I stepped out from behind the tree.  In front of me stood a woman with a baby in her arms, sleeping.  She looked at me and said nothing as the sun shone orange and gold on her and on the tiny child.  I stood looking and she stood looking, and this is how I met my wife.

 

Reconstitution, Part III

Hoped for/ideal cast:
Jean Connelly:  Bryce Dallas Howard
Stanley Balto:  Denzel Washington
Wolfram Smidgen:  James McAvoy
Vera:  Kate McKinnon
President Lang:  Bryan Cranston

 

Reconstitution
(Part III)

 

White House Press Room, the seats are filled, journalists, cameras, the podium stands alone on the platform.  Wolfram steps into the frame and rests his hands on the podium, looking out over the crowded room.

WOLFRAM
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I’d like to give a brief statement in order to clarify to some extent the truth, regarding the allegations surrounding the President’s decision to pass laws restricting the sale and distribution of certain firearms.  The notion that anyone in this administration has worked in conjunction with KESG (pronounced key-sig), accepted funding from any terrorist organization, or granted them any measure of influence in shaping our domestic or foreign policy, is outrageous.  The Koreston shooting was the last straw, and while he has been quiet about this issue until now, President Lang intends to complete the work of implementing responsible gun regulations by the end of next year—in spite of the swarming cloud of unfounded theories obstructing that work right now.  Whether or not members of KESG or other terror groups would benefit from such laws being passed in the United States is simply irrelevant.  The questions we should be asking are, “Will this legislation be good for Americans?”  “How likely is it that this legislation will contribute to a safer more peaceful homeland?”  “What should we do to facilitate tranquility, prosperity, and wellness for future generations?”
Looks down at notes.
We need to focus on goals that align with the true values of this nation, and not on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform and exits the room to an uproar of questions and flashing cameras.

Inside a gun/army surplus/survival store, the camera moves past a wall with hunting rifles, assault rifles, and shotguns mounted and leaning against it, then curves left and down, moving over a long glass counter and a row of dozens of handguns, then turns left and up, passing boxes of ammunition, kevlar vests, various targets, and other supplies, then curves left again, completing a spiral, and settling on Jean, a cameraman, and an employee who is speaking.

KEVIN
I take it shooting maybe two, three times a month.  She’s a beautiful weapon, the ACR.

JEAN
Do you ever use it for hunting?

KEVIN
Hunting with automatic weapons is illegal in the State of Alabama.  No, I fire that gun at the rifle range, strictly at the rifle range.

JEAN
How many guns do you have, total, if you don’t mind saying?

KEVIN
Including pistols?

JEAN
Yes, everything.

KEVIN
Thinks for a few seconds.
Twenty-five—no, there’s the five-shot Remington, the cross bow…  Do cross bows count?

JEAN
No, just firearms.

KEVIN
Twenty-six, then.

JEAN
What would you say to people who want to make selling certain types of firearms illegal?

KEVIN
Looks silently at her for a moment.
I’d tell ‘em I’ve got a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and that’s a right our Forefathers guaranteed to protect us from tyrannous governments.  It’s a right I hold near and dear.

Medium close-up on Jean nodding.

Jean and two crew members driving down a street in an SUV, through a residential area of Alabama, past houses and cars and people every so often, working in their yards or walking on the sidewalk.  Silence inside the car.  They pull up to a hotel in a fairly nice area of the town, and Jean gets out at the front entrance, while the other two drive off to park.

She enters her hotel room, sets her backpack on a chair by the door, and walks over to the mini-fridge.  She takes a bar of chocolate and small bottle of brandy out, and sits in a chair by the glass door.  Medium-close shot of her leaning back in her chair, tipping the front chair legs off the floor, eating the chocolate, and staring out the window.

Jean jogs along streets and paths in Tuscaloosa, while listening to Modest Mouse’s, “Missed the Boat,” on headphones.  We see different scenic views of the town in the early evening.  She returns to the hotel and meets her crew in the lobby.

JEAN
You two look handsome.  Where ya off to?

CAMERAMAN
Remy wants to check out the karaoke bar up the street.  You want to go?

JEAN
No, I’m kind of tired.

REMY
Sings.
Somewhere, beyond the sea…  Somewhere, waiting for me…  My lover stands—

JEAN
Starts walking away.
Hate to miss that.

Television screen showing Adnan as a child, swinging a plastic bat as his dad pitches tennis balls to him in a small backyard.  The video camera bounces and drifts slightly, and his mother says, “Good hit, Addie!” when he hits a ball, and starts to run the imaginary bases.  Next on the screen, the camera approaches his mother in the kitchen of their home, as she prepares Chicken Shawarma Kabobs and rice, and we hear Adnan’s voice:

ADNAN
And here is my beautiful mother, making my favorite dinner, chicken shawarma.
He zooms in on the line of kabobs on the stovetop, then back out at his mom.
Pose for the camera, Mama.

RANIM
Go away, Adnan, I am busy.
She pushes the camera away.

Next on the screen, an indoor skating rink where middle schoolers are playing roller hockey.

MIZREB
From behind the camera in the stands, as Adnan steals the puck and breaks away toward the goal.
Go, Son, go!

He takes a shot and misses wide, the fans jump in their seats and settle down again.

Mr. Mizreb pays for the stack of DVD’s at the front counter, takes his credit card and receipt, and leaves with the stack in his hands.  It is morning.  As he approaches the corner of a gray brick building, a man on the other side of the street starts crossing towards him.  We see Mr. Mizreb walking down the sidewalk, beyond the shooter’s back, about forty feet away.  He sees him and keeps walking, the shooter draws a black handgun, Mr. Mizreb sees it and drops the DVD’s and raises his hands.  The shooter fires a bullet into his heart, but Mr. Mizreb manages to turn and start running.  The shooter fires a bullet into his right shoulder blade, and he falls forward and sideways against the gray brick wall.  He looks up, dazed, at the shooter.  Close-up of the gun in profile as it fires one more bullet.  Slow fade to black.

Jean and her crew load their bags into the SUV in front of the hotel.  Her phone rings.  She checks the name.

JEAN
Hey, Stanley.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.  Did you all leave yet?

JEAN
Packing the car right now.

STANLEY
I need you back in D.C.  Adnan’s father’s just been killed.

She closes the car door, looks up in disbelief.

*       *       *

Wolfram sits across the table from a beautiful woman in an elegant, dimly lit restaurant.  As they silently finish eating their lunch entrées, he glances up at her and sips his wine.  The door to his apartment opens and they enter, Wolfram first, then he closes and locks it behind her.

WOLFRAM
Would you like some more wine, I have—

The woman pushes him back against the door and kisses him.  He lets her, but doesn’t reciprocate her enthusiasm.

WOLFRAM
Just a moment.

WOMAN
Stops kissing his neck.
Huh?

WOLFRAM
Just… one second.
He places his keys and wallet in a bowl on the kitchen table, removes his jacket, and hangs it on the back of a chair.
Are you sure you don’t want another glass?

She walks slowly towards him, takes his tie in her hand, turns, and leads him through the living room and down the hall.

In his bedroom (still daytime), he sits propped up in bed with his laptop in front of him, while the woman sleeps naked beside him.  On the screen is an article and photo of the corner where Mr. Mizreb was shot, a perimeter of yellow tape, crowded with police, journalists, and civilians.

In the Roosevelt Room, President Lang, Wolfram, two men in military uniforms, and a few others sit quietly at the table, while two Secret Service Agents stand beside the doors.  Lang stands up and paces back and forth behind his chair, then stops and leans forward on the chair back, looking around at each person seated at the table.  They continue waiting for a few seconds.  A voice speaks from one of the laptops, which shows a mountain range in the desert.

SOLDIER
The target has entered the red zone, sir.

GENERAL
Thank you, Captain.
He turns to look at the President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Bows his head, closes his eyes for a moment, looks at the General, and nods.

GENERAL
Fire when ready, Captain.

A missile launches from a U.S. Military base in the desert, flies low through the air as the land rushes by below.  The rocket accelerates over the low plain leading toward the mountain range several miles ahead, toward a cave-like opening at the foot of one of the mountains, a few vehicles and crates outside the entrance.  The missile enters and detonates, fire erupts from the opening, followed by dust and falling boulders from above, sealing the cave shut.  Silence, and the view of the mountain becomes the same image on the General’s laptop in the Roosevelt Room.  He turns and nods to the President.

On his way out the door, Wolfram is accompanied by Lang, and they walk out through the White House together.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thanks for your help today, Secretary Smidgen.

WOLFRAM
My pleasure, sir.  I’ll have a statement drawn up for the evening report.

PRESIDENT LANG
“Our battle is more full of names than yours,
 Our men more perfect in the use of arms,
 Our armour all as strong, our cause the best;
 Then reason will our hearts should be as good.”

WOLFRAM
You think we should let Shakespeare handle our PR from now on?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’m sure he’d refuse.

WOLFRAM
Smiles.
What should we do about Mosul?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at him sternly for a second.
Tell the truth.

Jean and Vera on exercise bikes, sweating, in the back row of a crowded Spin class, and talking over the music (If possible, “You Shook Me All Night Long/Good Girl” Remix), with occasional interruptions from the instructor.

VERA
Two more months of this, my buns are gonna be rock hard.

JEAN
You already have a great body.  It’s me who needs to get in shape.

INSTRUCTOR
Okay, Ladies, let’s take it up out of the saddle.
She stands up on her bicycle, and the rest of the class does likewise.
Still on a flat road, we’re approaching our first hill.

JEAN
Did you hear about Adnan Mizreb’s father?

VERA
Course.  I haven’t isolated myself completely.

JEAN
They’re saying it was a lone gunman, a guy who went crazy, and hates Muslims.

VERA
Well, his son was a terrorist.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Find those glutes, wake ‘em up!
She dials up the resistance on her bike and starts pedaling faster.

JEAN
I don’t think his dad had anything to do with the attack.  I think it was all him, and his buddy, Jonathan.

VERA
That smokin’ little frat boy?  They cleared him already.

JEAN
Yes, they did.

INSTRUCTOR
Back in the saddle.  We’re headin’ back to our jumps.
Sits down again.
Take it down, keep it here.

The rest of the class sits down and dials down the resistance on their bikes.

VERA
What about your big special report?

JEAN
We have some more footage to get, but so far we’re on schedule.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Up…
Stands up riding, class follows.
Down…

Sits down, class follows.
Up…

Stands up again, class follows.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen in a park with the dome of the Capitol Building in the background.  He’s talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listening, composedly distressed.
Do you understand what’s happening?  …The truth is coming to light.  Lang’s accounts are being investigated by three different committees, as we speak…  I hope to God they find no ties between them…

Listens, settling his eyes on the Capitol Building.
I’m telling you to wait.

Jean introduces the evening news from her desk in the studio.

JEAN
To camera.
Tonight on CDN Evening News, a bus carrying nineteen children and three adults, including the driver, overturned yesterday on a Maryland interstate, on its way to Washington D.C. for a field trip.  Four students and one teacher have been hospitalized, and the teacher, Terry Isaacs, is in critical condition.  Also, The Sound of Music heads to the Kennedy Center this week.  Nathaniel Waterloo, who plays Captain Georg von Trapp stopped by CDN to talk about the upcoming production.  But first…

Footage of a staggered line of brown and yellow ducklings waddling up a “duck ramp” at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

JEAN-VO
Ducklings are in luck!  Two new ramps have been installed at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool to provide easier water access to families of ducks—and the ducklings have already figured out how to use the new amenity.

The ducklings turn and waddle toward the water, starting down the declined plank over the ledge.  They slip and fall, sliding and splashing into the pool, as Jean talks.

JEAN-VO
Warmer weather has allowed for an increase in the pool’s duckling population, but its slanted edge was making it difficult for them to get back into the water.

Stanley approaches Jean as she’s removing her microphone after the broadcast.

STANLEY
Good show, lady.

JEAN
Thank you, kind sir.

STANLEY
Cup of coffee, ten minutes?

They stand between two stone lions on the front steps of the CDN News studio.

STANLEY
Will the special be done in time to meet the new deadline?

JEAN
Saturday’s the day.

STANLEY
Can Joe finish editing without you?

JEAN
I trust him with it.  Whether or not Smidgen’s people approve it is a different story.

STANLEY
Don’t worry about that.  Listen, we need everything ready by the time that special airs.  Mizreb’s death may be the start.  We have to act before the earthquake gets worse.

JEAN
You want me to go to Koreston?

STANLEY
Go, get what you need, and be back by Sunday.  Who knows, your work might be what saved the world after all.

 

~ End of Part III ~

Politics and the English Language

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers. I will come back to this presently, and I hope that by that time the meaning of what I have said here will have become clearer. Meanwhile, here are five specimens of the English language as it is now habitually written.

These five passages have not been picked out because they are especially bad — I could have quoted far worse if I had chosen — but because they illustrate various of the mental vices from which we now suffer. They are a little below the average, but are fairly representative examples. I number them so that I can refer back to them when necessary:

1. I am not, indeed, sure whether it is not true to say that the Milton who once seemed not unlike a seventeenth-century Shelley had not become, out of an experience ever more bitter in each year, more alien [sic] to the founder of that Jesuit sect which nothing could induce him to tolerate.

Professor Harold Laski (Essay in Freedom of Expression)

2. Above all, we cannot play ducks and drakes with a native battery of idioms which prescribes egregious collocations of vocables as the Basic put up with for tolerate, or put at a loss for bewilder.

Professor Lancelot Hogben (Interglossia)

3. On the one side we have the free personality: by definition it is not neurotic, for it has neither conflict nor dream. Its desires, such as they are, are transparent, for they are just what institutional approval keeps in the forefront of consciousness; another institutional pattern would alter their number and intensity; there is little in them that is natural, irreducible, or culturally dangerous. But on the other side, the social bond itself is nothing but the mutual reflection of these self-secure integrities. Recall the definition of love. Is not this the very picture of a small academic? Where is there a place in this hall of mirrors for either personality or fraternity?

Essay on psychology in Politics (New York)

4. All the ‘best people’ from the gentlemen’s clubs, and all the frantic fascist captains, united in common hatred of Socialism and bestial horror at the rising tide of the mass revolutionary movement, have turned to acts of provocation, to foul incendiarism, to medieval legends of poisoned wells, to legalize their own destruction of proletarian organizations, and rouse the agitated petty-bourgeoise to chauvinistic fervor on behalf of the fight against the revolutionary way out of the crisis.

Communist pamphlet

5. If a new spirit is to be infused into this old country, there is one thorny and contentious reform which must be tackled, and that is the humanization and galvanization of the B.B.C. Timidity here will bespeak canker and atrophy of the soul. The heart of Britain may be sound and of strong beat, for instance, but the British lion’s roar at present is like that of Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream — as gentle as any sucking dove. A virile new Britain cannot continue indefinitely to be traduced in the eyes or rather ears, of the world by the effete languors of Langham Place, brazenly masquerading as ‘standard English’. When the Voice of Britain is heard at nine o’clock, better far and infinitely less ludicrous to hear aitches honestly dropped than the present priggish, inflated, inhibited, school-ma’amish arch braying of blameless bashful mewing maidens!

Letter in Tribune

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. I list below, with notes and examples, various of the tricks by means of which the work of prose-construction is habitually dodged.

DYING METAPHORS. A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves. Examples are: Ring the changes on, take up the cudgel for, toe the line, ride roughshod over, stand shoulder to shoulder with, play into the hands of, no axe to grind, grist to the mill, fishing in troubled waters, on the order of the day, Achilles’ heel, swan song, hotbed. Many of these are used without knowledge of their meaning (what is a ‘rift’, for instance?), and incompatible metaphors are frequently mixed, a sure sign that the writer is not interested in what he is saying. Some metaphors now current have been twisted out of their original meaning without those who use them even being aware of the fact. For example, toe the line is sometimes written as tow the line. Another example is the hammer and the anvil, now always used with the implication that the anvil gets the worst of it. In real life it is always the anvil that breaks the hammer, never the other way about: a writer who stopped to think what he was saying would avoid perverting the original phrase.

OPERATORS OR VERBAL FALSE LIMBS. These save the trouble of picking out appropriate verbs and nouns, and at the same time pad each sentence with extra syllables which give it an appearance of symmetry. Characteristic phrases are render inoperative, militate against, make contact with, be subjected to, give rise to, give grounds for, have the effect of, play a leading part (role) in, make itself felt, take effect, exhibit a tendency to, serve the purpose of, etc., etc. The keynote is the elimination of simple verbs. Instead of being a single word, such as break, stop, spoil, mend, kill, a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb such as prove, serve, form, play, render. In addition, the passive voice is wherever possible used in preference to the active, and noun constructions are used instead of gerunds (by examination of instead of by examining). The range of verbs is further cut down by means of the -ize and de- formations, and the banal statements are given an appearance of profundity by means of the not un- formation. Simple conjunctions and prepositions are replaced by such phrases as with respect to, having regard to, the fact that, by dint of, in view of, in the interests of, on the hypothesis that; and the ends of sentences are saved by anticlimax by such resounding commonplaces as greatly to be desired, cannot be left out of account, a development to be expected in the near future, deserving of serious consideration, brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and so on and so forth.

PRETENTIOUS DICTION. Words like phenomenon, element, individual (as noun), objective, categorical, effective, virtual, basic, primary, promote, constitute, exhibit, exploit, utilize, eliminate, liquidate, are used to dress up a simple statement and give an air of scientific impartiality to biased judgements. Adjectives like epoch-making, epic, historic, unforgettable, triumphant, age-old, inevitable, inexorable, veritable, are used to dignify the sordid process of international politics, while writing that aims at glorifying war usually takes on an archaic colour, its characteristic words being: realm, throne, chariot, mailed fist, trident, sword, shield, buckler, banner, jackboot, clarion. Foreign words and expressions such as cul de sac, ancien regime, deus ex machina, mutatis mutandis, status quo, gleichschaltung, weltanschauung, are used to give an air of culture and elegance. Except for the useful abbreviations i. e., e. g. and etc., there is no real need for any of the hundreds of foreign phrases now current in the English language. Bad writers, and especially scientific, political, and sociological writers, are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones, and unnecessary words like expedite, ameliorate, predict, extraneous, deracinated, clandestine, subaqueous, and hundreds of others constantly gain ground from their Anglo-Saxon numbers(1). The jargon peculiar to Marxist writing (hyena, hangman, cannibal, petty bourgeois, these gentry, lackey, flunkey, mad dog, White Guard, etc.) consists largely of words translated from Russian, German, or French; but the normal way of coining a new word is to use Latin or Greek root with the appropriate affix and, where necessary, the size formation. It is often easier to make up words of this kind (deregionalize, impermissible, extramarital, non-fragmentary and so forth) than to think up the English words that will cover one’s meaning. The result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness.

MEANINGLESS WORDS. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning(2). Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly ever expected to do so by the reader. When one critic writes, ‘The outstanding feature of Mr. X’s work is its living quality’, while another writes, ‘The immediately striking thing about Mr. X’s work is its peculiar deadness’, the reader accepts this as a simple difference opinion. If words like black and white were involved, instead of the jargon words dead and living, he would see at once that language was being used in an improper way. Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Now that I have made this catalogue of swindles and perversions, let me give another example of the kind of writing that they lead to. This time it must of its nature be an imaginary one. I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations — race, battle, bread — dissolve into the vague phrases ‘success or failure in competitive activities’. This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing — no one capable of using phrases like ‘objective considerations of contemporary phenomena’ — would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness. Now analyze these two sentences a little more closely. The first contains forty-nine words but only sixty syllables, and all its words are those of everyday life. The second contains thirty-eight words of ninety syllables: eighteen of those words are from Latin roots, and one from Greek. The first sentence contains six vivid images, and only one phrase (‘time and chance’) that could be called vague. The second contains not a single fresh, arresting phrase, and in spite of its ninety syllables it gives only a shortened version of the meaning contained in the first. Yet without a doubt it is the second kind of sentence that is gaining ground in modern English. I do not want to exaggerate. This kind of writing is not yet universal, and outcrops of simplicity will occur here and there in the worst-written page. Still, if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from Ecclesiastes.

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is not an unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think. If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for the words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphonious. When you are composing in a hurry — when you are dictating to a stenographer, for instance, or making a public speech — it is natural to fall into a pretentious, Latinized style. Tags like a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind or a conclusion to which all of us would readily assent will save many a sentence from coming down with a bump. By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash — as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot — it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. Look again at the examples I gave at the beginning of this essay. Professor Laski (1) uses five negatives in fifty three words. One of these is superfluous, making nonsense of the whole passage, and in addition there is the slip — alien for akin — making further nonsense, and several avoidable pieces of clumsiness which increase the general vagueness. Professor Hogben (2) plays ducks and drakes with a battery which is able to write prescriptions, and, while disapproving of the everyday phrase put up with, is unwilling to look egregious up in the dictionary and see what it means; (3), if one takes an uncharitable attitude towards it, is simply meaningless: probably one could work out its intended meaning by reading the whole of the article in which it occurs. In (4), the writer knows more or less what he wants to say, but an accumulation of stale phrases chokes him like tea leaves blocking a sink. In (5), words and meaning have almost parted company. People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning — they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another — but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly? But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble. You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in. The will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself. It is at this point that the special connection between politics and the debasement of language becomes clear.

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour, seems to demand a lifeless, imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, ‘I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so’. Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

‘While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.’

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find — this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify — that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship.

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient. Phrases like a not unjustifiable assumption, leaves much to be desired, would serve no good purpose, a consideration which we should do well to bear in mind, are a continuous temptation, a packet of aspirins always at one’s elbow. Look back through this essay, and for certain you will find that I have again and again committed the very faults I am protesting against. By this morning’s post I have received a pamphlet dealing with conditions in Germany. The author tells me that he ‘felt impelled’ to write it. I open it at random, and here is almost the first sentence I see: ‘[The Allies] have an opportunity not only of achieving a radical transformation of Germany’s social and political structure in such a way as to avoid a nationalistic reaction in Germany itself, but at the same time of laying the foundations of a co-operative and unified Europe.’ You see, he ‘feels impelled’ to write — feels, presumably, that he has something new to say — and yet his words, like cavalry horses answering the bugle, group themselves automatically into the familiar dreary pattern. This invasion of one’s mind by ready-made phrases (lay the foundations, achieve a radical transformation) can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one’s brain.

I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words and constructions. So far as the general tone or spirit of a language goes, this may be true, but it is not true in detail. Silly words and expressions have often disappeared, not through any evolutionary process but owing to the conscious action of a minority. Two recent examples were explore every avenue and leave no stone unturned, which were killed by the jeers of a few journalists. There is a long list of flyblown metaphors which could similarly be got rid of if enough people would interest themselves in the job; and it should also be possible to laugh the not un- formation out of existence(3), to reduce the amount of Latin and Greek in the average sentence, to drive out foreign phrases and strayed scientific words, and, in general, to make pretentiousness unfashionable. But all these are minor points. The defence of the English language implies more than this, and perhaps it is best to start by saying what it does not imply.

To begin with it has nothing to do with archaism, with the salvaging of obsolete words and turns of speech, or with the setting up of a ‘standard English’ which must never be departed from. On the contrary, it is especially concerned with the scrapping of every word or idiom which has outworn its usefulness. It has nothing to do with correct grammar and syntax, which are of no importance so long as one makes one’s meaning clear, or with the avoidance of Americanisms, or with having what is called a ‘good prose style’. On the other hand, it is not concerned with fake simplicity and the attempt to make written English colloquial. Nor does it even imply in every case preferring the Saxon word to the Latin one, though it does imply using the fewest and shortest words that will cover one’s meaning. What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them. When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally. But one can often be in doubt about the effect of a word or a phrase, and one needs rules that one can rely on when instinct fails. I think the following rules will cover most cases:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article.

I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought. Stuart Chase and others have come near to claiming that all abstract words are meaningless, and have used this as a pretext for advocating a kind of political quietism. Since you don’t know what Fascism is, how can you struggle against Fascism? One need not swallow such absurdities as this, but one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.

1946

_____

1) An interesting illustration of this is the way in which the English flower names which were in use till very recently are being ousted by Greek ones, snapdragon becoming antirrhinum, forget-me-not becoming myosotis, etc. It is hard to see any practical reason for this change of fashion: it is probably due to an instinctive turning-awayfrom the more homely word and a vague feeling that the Greek word is scientific. [back]

2) Example: ‘Comfort’s catholicity of perception and image, strangely Whitmanesque in range, almost the exact opposite in aesthetic compulsion, continues to evoke that trembling atmospheric accumulative hinting at a cruel, an inexorably serene timelessness… Wrey Gardiner scores by aiming at simple bull’s-eyes with precision. Only they are not so simple, and through this contented sadness runs more than the surface bitter-sweet of resignation’. (Poetry Quarterly.) [back]

3) One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field. [back]

THE END

 

The Real Eternal Friday

     They decided to meet at the Chinese restaurant next door to the bowling alley, because the food there was great, and although the bowling alley hosted a league on Thursday nights and got super crowded, almost no one dined in at the restaurant.  Most of the business came from takeout orders, so the four of them could eat and talk in peace.

     Jessica and Sathvik showed up at about the same time and requested the booth in the corner by the window.  “Let me get that for you,” he said, helping remove her coat.  “How’ve you been, Jess?”

     “Oh, not bad.  I have a thousand different things to do by the end of the week, and I haven’t started on any.”

     “Sounds like a typical week, then,” he smiled.

     “Yep, pretty much.  How are you doing, Sathvik?”

     “I’ve got two thousand things to do this week, and I actually have started a few of them.”

     “You overachiever,” she scowled.

     “Really?  You guys want to sit by the window?”  A tall guy with a blonde semi-mohawk stood by the front door.  “Hello, I’m with them,” he waved to the hostess.

     “Stanley, what’s up, broseph?”

     “Sathvik.  Jessica,” he nodded, tossing his jacket on the window ledge.  “Have you guys ordered yet?”

     “What’s wrong with by the window?” asked Jessica.

     “It just feels so… public.”

     “We are in public, restaurants are public places,” said Sathvik.  “No, we haven’t ordered yet.”

     “Let’s get some fried wontons.”

     “Ugh, no thank you.  I’m fat enough as it is.”

     “You’re not fat, Jess.”

     “Yes, I am, Stan.”

     “No, you’re not.”

     “How about spring rolls?  Those are pretty healthy.”

     “Okay.”

     “Sounds good.”  Jessica motioned for the waiter.

     “Are you ready to order?”

     “We’d like some apps, and drinks,” said Stanley.  “Our friend is running a little late.  We’ll wait till he shows up to order our entrées.  Jess, what do you want to drink?”

     “I’ll have wine, please.  Red, merlot, or whatever is cheapest.”

     “Sathvik?”

     “Dr. Pepper, if you have it.”

     “What if they only have Pibb?”

     “We have Dr. Pepper,” said the waiter.  “For you, sir?”

     “I’ll have a Tsingtao.”

     “What if they only have Sapporo?” asked Jessica.

     “Don’t speak,” said Stanley.

     Jake arrived as they were arguing over who should get the last spring roll.  “Sorry, guys, my mom threw a bunch of work at me, like she does every time I go over there.  Hey, is anyone gonna eat that spring roll?”

     As soon as they’d ordered their food they started the meeting.  Sathvik suggested they each take a few minutes to present their work so far, including a brief summary of their sections, their focus, themes, what they’d written, the tone and perspective of their writing, etc., and after everyone had gotten a chance to talk they could address specific concerns and discuss the big picture of the book in light of what they’d heard.

     “My section begins with the last date I had with Laura.”

     “The one when—”

     “Yes, when she broke up with me.”

     “Good call,” said Jessica.

     “I tell it like an action piece, put the reader in my shoes, my mind.  It’s graduation, we’re launching out into the world, no more school, new jobs, high hopes for the future, and then, bam.”

     “Bam.”

     “She drops the H-bomb.”

     “What’s the H-bomb?” asked Stanley.

     “You don’t know what the H-bomb is?”

     “The Hydrogen bomb,” said Sathvik.  “The most destructive weapon known to man.  It’s a metaphor, Stan, she told me she wanted to break up.”

     “She broke his heart,” said Jessica.

     “She crushed my heart.  And that’s how I introduce my life since then.  I talk about my work, the shift from college to career, my social life, my perspective on romance and dating, and go through some of the experiences I’ve had since breaking up with Laura.”

     “It sounds like a journal,” said Stanley.

     “It’s more objective than that.”

     “Do you mention specific people?”

     “I describe a few of the dates I went on.  Where we went, what we discussed, good and bad vibes, how the nights ended.  I changed all the names of course.”

     “How many women have you dated?”

     “Since Laura?  Two, one of whom is… ongoing.”

     “Girlfriend?”

     “Not officially.”

     “Does she know about the book?” asked Jake.

     “Of course.  Alright, who’s next?”  He pointed at Jessica.

     “Why me?”  She rolled her eyes.  “Fine.  I begin with my first kiss.”

     “Aww, how sweet.”

     “Shut up, Stan.  Twelve years-old, my last year at summer camp, spin the bottle with the boys in the pavilion.”

     “What was his name?”

     “None of your business.”

     “Dang, someone’s touchy tonight.”

     “Let her talk, Stan,” Jake grumbled.

     “Thank you.  Start with my first kiss, jump from there to my boyfriends in high school, juxtapose that with the dreams I’d acquired from books, movies, imagination.  I’ve only really outlined the piece so far.  It’s good, but it’s…”

     “Sad.”

     “Miserable.  Quite fitting in fact, for such is my love life.”

     “What about Todd?”

     “I’ll reference that as a transitional period, when I realized not all men are evil.  It’s a work in progress.  I intend to mine a nugget of hope from the dark solitude of my existence.  Okay, who’s next?”

     “Fair enough,” said Sathvik.  “Jake, how about you?”

     “Look at that smile,” laughed Jessica.

     “Y’all already know what my section’s about.”

     “The coolest lady on the planet,” she and Sathvik said in unison.

     “Great, so it’s a love letter,” said Stanley.

     “It’s about love, it isn’t a love letter.”

     “How did you start?”

     “With something my dad told me when I was a kid.  On the way home from junior high one day, he turned to me when we were stopped at a stoplight, and said, ‘Jacob, a man’s got two jobs to do in this world.  Serve the Lord, and love his wife.’  I start with that and go on to talk about Abbie.”

     “What do you focus on?” asked Stanley.

     “Everything.  Her eyes, her hair, her nose, her lips…”

     They all laughed.

     “Do you talk about race at all?” he asked.

     “Here and there.”

     “Why is that important?” asked Jessica.

     “It’s not,” said Stanley, “but it’s interesting.  He’s black, she’s white, it could provide some good material for a book about relationships.”

     “I mention race in my section,” said Sathvik, “the cultural aspect, my parents’ views on dating, establish a background for where I’m at now.”

     “He shouldn’t have to write about race if he doesn’t want to.”

     “I’m not saying he has to, I’m just saying readers might find it interesting.  The conflicts, social stigmas, prejudice, stuff like that.”

     “I get it,” said Jake.  “I considered going that route, but honestly I’d rather make it about Abbie and me, more than about Abbie and me and the world.  We’ve been together for three and a half amazing years, and yeah, the race thing has been a factor, but it’s not what we’re about.”

     The waiter set a large tray holding the group’s entrées on a foldable stand next to the table.  “Moo Shu Pork?  Okay.  Chicken Lo Mein?  Okay.  General Tsao’s Chicken?  Okay.  Mongolian Beef?  Okay.  May I refill your drinks?  Yes.  No.  Yes.  Yes.  Okay, thank you.”

     “This looks uber-delish,” said Jessica.

     “Uber-delish?” said Sathvik.

     “You’re a bunch of uber-dorks,” said Stanley.

     “What are you writing, Stan?” Jake asked as they dug in to their meal.

     “Confessions… of the Studliest Stud in Studderton.”

     “Sounds delightful,” said Jessica.

     “Sounds fictional,” said Sathvik.

     “Very funny, Vik.  No, I’m actually doing a story about the future.  I’m writing about my wife, whoever she is, and how I’d like it to be someday.  We wake up in the morning, eat breakfast together, joke and laugh and kiss each other.  How marriage is supposed to be, you know, through my eyes.”

     “That actually does sound delightful.”

     “What are you going to call it?”

     “The Real Eternal Friday.”

 

Snap Back

Explanations for inhuman miscalculations
guard against conscientious estimations,
at the height of political, 
global realizations of one’s
inexplicable moral violations.

Understanding extremes of spiritual resilience
refills deepest wells of divine benevolence,
rewards tireless wars, superhuman endurance,
etching names and faces in walls
beyond the wings of our deliverance.

Before the air crashes earthward
into sharpest winter daggers,
and the final, precarious breath,
sever anti-Christian affirmations,
seek upward, outward, skyward…

 

The Corner Club Press, Issue 21, Vol. 6

http://thecornerclubpress.weebly.com/issues.html

From Issue 21, Volume 6:

Games
by Robert Lampros

The breath, before the starting whistle,
open air over grass or dust,
teams in formation, crashing forward
in halting visions of their minds,
a stillness captured by the light.

Days when battles stormed the earth
like rumbling torrents of hailing skies,
when shields landed silently
on the dark red ground, survivors
cried to each other, lifting their eyes.

What people do for sport, for glory,
power, money, fame, might haunt them,
cast them in a towering flame,
the victories of yesterday may crumble
into glowing ashes of one’s own shame.

Rising into sight above the field,
does the sun perceive the bodies,
fallen temples of lost and angry souls?
Will the winners sense the shaded eyes,
or feel the warmth that makes us new?

 

Last Year’s Resolution, Ch. 12

A couple weeks before Solitaire High School’s winter break, Eddie stopped by for a quick talk followed by a question and answer session with the students. The school enrolled about a hundred and fifty kids, who all gathered in the gymnasium with the administration and faculty after lunch.

The principal introduced him as, “Mr. Edmund Stovender, the most talented writer of his generation,” an epithet that embarrassed him but succeeded in rousing the attention of the distracted students. After speaking for half an hour about his childhood in Iowa, his love of books as a teenager, his early career, and the lessons he’d learned from his novels, he concluded on a note of encouragement, stressing the importance of faith and perseverance in one’s quest for achievement in any field. “Does anyone have any questions?”

A young lady in the second to last row raised her hand. “Hi, Mr. Stovender, my name is Margaret, my friends call me Marge. What are you working on now, if you don’t mind telling us?”

“Oh, not at all. It’s a new type of project for me, a medieval science fiction novel about a space knight, Sir Remo Daggenthorp, who travels the galaxy protecting civilizations from attacks by various plagues, predators, invasions, and things. It’s kind of a metaphor for my own spiritual journey. Who’s next? You there in the red hat.”

“How much money you got?”

“Excuse me,” said one of the teachers, “do you mind elaborating on your last statement? How exactly is that a metaphor for your spiritual life?”

“Sure, sure. Well, it’s no secret that there’s a war happening right now, in our country, the world, and the universe, and like any good human I’m trying to do my part to crush the devil. Good vs. evil, Light vs. dark, Love vs. hate, you know how it goes. ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’”

“Are the aliens like the locusts from the Book of Revelation?” asked a young man in the first row.

“Not necessarily, although there is a species of mutant condor from the planet Taldrathon which bears certain similarities. No, I think of the alien invaders as evil influences, such as hatred, anger, jealousy, lust, greed, carelessness, unrighteous fear, anything that threatens our peace and safety here… Including the monsters from Revelation, of course.”

“My neighbor saw one on the roof of the Makermart last week. He said it was big, and had giant knife-teeth.” A number of students gasped.

“It’s alright,” he said, “don’t worry about the hell creatures. They can not touch us who have faith. Are there any more questions?”

“How long have you been married to Ms. Altnikov?”

He laughed nervously, “Actually, Marie and I aren’t technically married in the official legal sense of the word, although we do plan to marry soon, at some point. With all the fire and wrath this past summer it’s been difficult to set a date—”

“Christmas,” called Marie, and the students turned and looked.

“Sorry, what?”

“You and me, let’s get married on Christmas.” Shrieks and laughter arose from the crowd.

“Okay, if you wish. Christmas Day. And you’re all invited,” he raised his voice as they broke into cheers and applause. “Everyone in Solitaire is invited!”

“Ed-dee, Ed-dee, Ed-dee, Ed-dee…” They clapped and cheered as he walked over to hug Marie and kiss her cheek on his way out.

“Thank you, students,” he waved from the door. “God bless you all, and God bless America.”

*         *         *

A few days before the wedding she interrupted one of his writing sessions to see if he wanted to go sledding. “Marie, check this out, come here.” On the desk lay an open Bible, an open magazine, and Eddie’s phone with words on the screen.

“What is this, research?”

“Sort of. Not for the book though. Listen to this, Revelation, Chapter 22: ‘In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.’

“Okay, now listen to this, this is from a story by Vladimir Nabokov they published in The New Yorker a while back: ‘Embracing my shoulders for an instant with his dovelike wings, the angel pronounced a single word, and in his voice I recognized all those beloved, those silenced voices. The word he spoke was so marvelous that, with a sigh, I closed my eyes and bowed my head still lower. The fragrance and the melody of the word spread through my veins, rose like a sun within my brain; the countless cavities within my consciousness caught up and repeated its lustrous edenic song.’

“Now, last one, here are the last two verses of John Newton’s ‘Amazing Grace’: ‘The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine, but God, who called me here below, will be forever mine. When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.’” He took a deep breath and smiled up at her.

“I thought you were working on Nebulaic Stormrider today.”

“I was, I got sidetracked. Did you follow my reading? I think the name of God we receive in the New Jerusalem is going to be like the word in Nabokov’s story, a word of eternal praise to Christ, like John Newton describes, having no boundaries in time or space, and by receiving that name on our foreheads it’s like we merge with Him, and we become eternal too, like divine Light or Spirit.”

“Sure sounds nice,” she nodded.

“It’s better than nice,” he laughed. “It’s… Perfection.”

“Right, perfection. So how about it? You, me, a couple plastic tubs, and a hill full of frozen water. Sound good?”

“You wanna race me?”

“Pshhh, you know I’m gonna race you.”

Eddie stared intensely at her. “You wanna race me?”

She bent down so her face was directly in front of his. “You know I’m gonna race you.”

*         *         *

The days leading up to Christmas were busy and stressful with wedding preparations. Both the ceremony and reception would take place at the highest point in Solitaire, the rooftop of the Makermart Superstore. He paid the tent people and the superstore people an extra twenty-five thousand each and hired the staff of the hardware department to stake an orange safety fence around the roof’s perimeter. He and Marie agreed to spend Christmas Eve apart, so he slept in the guest room of Frank Drummond’s house. Frank was the town sheriff.

 

Happenstance

The arched ceiling lent the public library an air of tranquil liberty, as if it were easier to breathe inside than it was out on the street.  Jerry sat down at one of the large rectangular tables between the rows of bookshelves, removed his notepad, his pocket Thesaurus, and three Bic pens.  This day marked the commencement of a new kind of project for him.  Moderate success as a novelist and short story writer had helped to supplement his VA benefits in recent years, but lately he’d felt like trying something new.  Instead of another suspense novel or historical short fiction collection, he would embark on the creation of an epic poem in the tradition of Homer or Milton, a work to further distinguish him and solidify his literary legacy.

Forests of the Meremac,” he wrote on the top line of his notepad, “Part I.”  While contemplating the first image of the poem he noticed a woman three tables down, staring at him.  A beautiful woman, relatively young, sad-looking, the skin around her eyes slightly puffy as though she had been crying.  Upon making eye contact with him she smiled, awakening a brightness in her face that prompted him to smile back, and kindly nod a greeting.

The woman stood up, passed quietly up the aisle toward him, letting her fingertips graze the cotton fabric on Jerry’s shoulder, then proceeding out the door into the side lot of the library.  After making love to her in his car, he learned that her name was Lana and she worked at the Thai restaurant about a mile away.  She visited the library on her lunch break to enjoy its peace and quiet.  She told him goodbye, she had to get back to work, and maybe she’d see him around sometime.

Returning to the table and unpacking his things, Jerry recommenced the writing of his poem, envisioning the landscapes he’d seen, the oceans, cliffs, rivers, plains, and forests in all the places he’d traveled to throughout the world.  Finding no sufficiently powerful image to begin the piece, he turned to some of the books from which he hoped to draw inspiration.

First, he quoted Homer, the war metaphors of Agamemnon and his soldiers overwhelming the Trojan Army in The Iliad.  “Even as a lion easily crushes the speechless young of a swift deer, coming into its lair, seizing them in its powerful teeth and taking away their tender life—”

Next, he drew from The Odyssey, Circe’s warning to Odysseus to resist the Sirens’ song.  “If any one unwarily draws in too close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and warble him to death with the sweetness of their song.  There is a great heap of dead men’s bones lying all around, with the flesh still rotting off them.”

Third, he recalled the envious cry of Satan upon seeing Adam and Eve for the first time in Paradise Lost.  “Into our room of bliss thus high advanc’t/Creatures of other mould, earth-born perhaps/Not Spirits, yet to heav’nly Spirits bright/Little inferior; whom my thoughts pursue/With wonder, and could love, so lively shines/In them Divine resemblance, and such grace/The hand that formd them on thir shape hath pourd.”

Again he tried putting his pen to paper, and again he found no image, nor even one word, to start with.  Opting rather to devote the afternoon to promotional work, he collected his things and drove home to use his office computer.  He lived alone, and that evening he thought of Lana, replaying the details of their encounter outside the library.  He wondered if she might meet him again.  It was possible she’d intended it as a one-time, no strings attached type of connection, although she did say, “See you around,” when they said goodbye.  Jerry scratched the neck of his overfed border collie.  “Same deal tomorrow, Saucer.  We’ll try the poem again tomorrow.”

No sign of her the next day, or the next, or the next, and no matter how he struggled Jerry couldn’t produce a single line of his epic poem.  He’d sit there pondering, for hours some days, mining his intellect for the ideal words, moods, and images to catapult his readers into a grand thrilling adventure.  His fiction had practically written itself in the past, but poetry was different.  With fiction all he had to do was ramble on like he was telling a story to a group of friends around a campfire.  With poems each word had to count, every line had to radiate aesthetic power.

A week of fruitless writing sessions elapsed before he decided to stop by the Thai restaurant where Lana worked.  Worst case scenario, she wouldn’t want to see him and would ask him to leave.  Best case scenario, she’d be happy to see him and would go on a date that very evening.  The restaurant was empty, which wasn’t surprising at two forty-five.  No one at the desk to greet him.  Behind the desk an enormous golden dragon, the length of a small car, sat mounted on a base of elaborately carved jade.  The base rested on a wide cutout in the wall that looked designed to hold an aquarium of exotic fish.  He stood admiring the dragon for a moment, beholding its dynamic posture, intricate features, and shiny gold scales, its blazing yellow eyes fixed on him.

“Can-help you, sir?” a man shouted through the cutout.  One of the cooks, perhaps the only cook, had spotted him from the kitchen.

“Oh, hello.  Is Lana here?  I’m looking for Lana.”

“Lana went home.  She gone today.  Come back, tomorrow.”

“Do you happen to have her phone number?”  Jerry raised his thumb and pinky to his ear.  “Phone number?”

The cook peered over the dragon through the cutout.  “Ah, yes.  Wait a minute.”  A minute later he marched around the wall to hand him a slip of paper.  “Lana house.  You friend.  See you now.  Bye.”

Jerry left, unfolding the paper as he walked down the sidewalk.  It read:  Lana Kendrol, 2103 Sentry St., Apt. 3-D1.  He consulted his phone for directions.

The beige brick building was located in a courtyard with seven other identical buildings.  The buzzer for 3-D1 had a blank plastic strip beside it, and made no sound when Jerry pressed it, so he started up the steps.  Rounding the banister between the second and third floors, the words, “He who does not gather with me scatters,” spray-painted in tall black letters, halted him at the foot of the final set of stairs.  “He who does not gather with me scatters,” he said slowly, lightly wheezing.  The source of the words eluded him.  They reminded him of a bedtime story his grandma used to read.  Scratching his head, he carried on up the stairs and knocked loudly on Lana’s door.  No sound inside, no music or voices, until she appeared.

“Jerry?”

“Hi, Lana,” he smiled.  “I’m sorry to surprise you like this.  You never gave me your number.  The cook at your restaurant, he told me where you live.  I just wanted your phone number, but he—I’m sorry, are you busy right now?”

“Well, it is my day off.  I was trying to relax a bit.  Food service is no joke.  The pay isn’t bad, though.”  Noticing his breathing, she invited him in.

“Nice place,” he said, glancing around the small yet stylishly decorated living room.

“Thank you, sir,” she handed him a beer.  “So what brings you here?”

“Good question,” he laughed.  “I’ve been trying to write this poem, it’s an epic poem, you know, like The Odyssey or Paradise Lost.  That’s what I was doing at the library last week.”

Lana sipped her beer.  “How’s it going so far?”

“Not well.”

“No?”

“No.  For the first time in my career I can’t seem to start the damn thing.  Usually the words just roll out like, like the gears of a clock.”

“Quite the metaphor,” she smiled.

“Simile, actually—not really important.  Look, do you wanna go out sometime?  I had a great time the other day and I’d like to see you again, more formally, hopefully, like a date.”

Lana froze with the glass halfway to her lips.  “Jerry, I have a boyfriend.”

“What?”

“Sorry, yeah, I thought you knew.  What happened last Tuesday was…  I just needed to feel better.”

He sat still for a second as the words sank in.  “You mean your boyfriend doesn’t care if you…”

“It’s not like I tell him about it, but yeah, he knows.  We have an agreement.”

“Huh… Alright.  In that case, I guess I’ll be leaving.”  He set his beer on the table and stood up.

“You’re not upset, are you?”

“Me?  No, why should I be?  I’m sorry to show up like this.”

“Don’t be.  Please.”  Lana’s eyes were kind, sincere.

On his drive home he switched the radio to the Classic Rock station.  He drove slowly, carefully rounding corners, gradually applying the brakes and gas.  One of his all-time favorite songs started playing, and he turned it up until it hurt his ears.  Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song, and make it better…