2018 Short Story Competition Winner

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to inadequacies of WordPress auto-formatting, we are unable to present the layout of this story accurately online. The properly formatted version appears in Shooter’s current summer 2018 print edition (the Dirty Money issue), which can be ordered here.]

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“Poetic Justice” by Sophie Revell

INT – RAY’S HOUSE – NIGHT

A man, thirties, in black-rimmed glasses and tight jeans, sporting a retro wax-tipped moustache, taps at a keyboard in front of a supersized computer screen. This man is RAY; of sunshine he is not. His desk is positioned before a wall of glass overlooking a pool aglow with recessed lighting. The hills of Pasadena roll in shadows beyond.

On screen, the pages of his latest screenplay unfurl – another summer blockbuster, market-tested and audience-proofed. It will be panned by the critics, inevitably, in inverse proportion to the enthusiasm of the popcorn-chomping, Twizzler-sucking, Big Gulp-slurping moviegoers.

INT – BAR – NIGHT

LARS, late twenties, a hauntingly sexy vampire, approaches two hot women at the bar: SERENA, early twenties, a cool blonde, and TERYN, also early twenties, raven-haired. In a town where everyone knows everyone, these two stand out. It’s a town more people hurry to escape than settle down in. Some people, attempting to pass through, never – ever – leave.

LARS

(toothy grin)

Ladies. Haven’t seen you here before.

The ladies giggle.

TERYN

(coyly)

I don’t think we’ve seen you anywhere before.

LARS

(throwing hands up)

Whoa! I come in peace. Buy you a drink?

SERENA

We shouldn’t… We’ve got someplace to be.

LARS

Come on now. Can’t have two such beautiful ladies as yourselves swanning in here then taking off just like that! It’s a crime, you two sitting up here all alone. 

(Gestures to BARTENDER)

One for the road? Where you two headed?

TERYN

(groaning)

High school reunion.

SERENA

Five-year.

LARS

No kidding. 

(Slides an arm around their shoulders)

I would just love to escort you ladies back to your high-school days.

They giggle again, flirtatiously.

INT – RAY’S HOUSE – NIGHT

Ray leans back against the leather rolls of his Eames-style swivel chair and closes his eyes. His head begins to loll; he jerks half-awake and then leans forward, resting his head upon his arm on the desk. 

Lars, Teryn and Serena remain motionless on the screen, cursor blinking.

Slowly, Ray’s head rolls nearer the keyboard. It sinks closer – heavier – until finally, it makes contact with the hard silver edge.

INT – BAR – NIGHT

SERENA        TERYN

        (simultaneously)

    Yes!            Score!

Lars signals to the BARTENDER.

LARS

Can we get some coffee over here? We’re going to need it.

Serena pokes the slumped body that has materialised at the bar next to them.

SERENA

Hey! Come on – wake up.

TERYN

(grimly)

Your day of reckoning has arrived.

Ray wakes and sits up groggily. He looks around, confused, then sinks back down on the bar.

RAY

(to himself)

Dreaming.

Lars has carried his espresso to a round table nearby. He settles elegantly into a chair, crossing his legs and taking a sip of coffee.

LARS

More like nightmaring, brother.

Serena jabs Ray in the ribs. He shoots upright and nearly falls off his stool.

RAY

What the – 

TERYN

Hell? I’d agree, Ray.

SERENA

Yeah – we have quite a bit we want to talk to you about.

RAY 

(rubbing eyes, still muttering to himself)

No more all-nighters.

LARS

Au contraire – all we have is nighters. Courtesy of you. Does the world really need another vampire blockbuster? I for one am so over it.

TERYN

Or another date-rape exploitation for the titillation of the masses?

SERENA

(to Teryn)

Don’t you think the “date” kind of downplays the “rape”?

TERYN

You’re right. I’m just saying it the way he sees it.

[Teryn would acknowledge that she didn’t have it as bad as Serena. Hair colour as the foremost signifier for female character meant Serena was cursed with the airhead, giggly-good-girl roles, whereas she, Teryn, at least got to display a little edge to her personality along with her razor-cut raven locks. But some days, when she was tired of posing as the supposedly dangerous (read: independent) foil to the more socially acceptable fair object of desire, she just wanted to shave her head. But then she’d be cast as a deadbeat or a young cancer sufferer, and that was no fun. 

She knew that in the real world, attractive women could be scientists and engineers and even politicians – New Zealand! Check you out! – so why should her looks bar her from those roles in movies? Why did every female scientist on film have to be presented as some kind of austere, socially awkward, bespectacled spinster? Brains and looks didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. She wanted to star in a biopic of Marie Curie. Of Ada Lovelace, daughter of Byron and the original computer programmer. Of Rosalind Franklin, who’d done the work of discovering DNA before two men stole her credit.]

Ray goggles at the women, recognition dawning.

TERYN

Why should we keep putting up with your corn-fed flyover state numbskull misogyny?

SERENA

Why do you have to keep writing women –

TERYN

(sarcastic)

Ladies.

SERENA

Sorry, ladies, who are just sexy set dressing, propping up the male leads and tittering at their dumbass jokes?

LARS

(tittering)

You said “tit”.

SERENA

(shooting him a look)

Don’t you start.

LARS

(rolling eyes)

Don’t you think I get tired of the same old, too? Of being an eternal slave to bloodlust? I haven’t been to a matinee in centuries.

TERYN

Boo hoo.

LARS

(pouting)

Don’t hate on me now, you misandrist witches.

Serena goes over to sit next to Lars and pats his hand.

SERENA

Oh honey, we love you. Us witches just have a lot to be angry about these days.

RAY

Uh – you’re not witches.

TERYN

How would you know? It’s not like you put any actual thought into our characterisation.

SERENA

Did you bother to figure out our backstories? Come up with any plotlines unrelated to sex? Any dialogue unrelated to men?

RAY

I just give the people what they want.

TERYN

Have you watched TV lately? People want complex drama, Ray. They do. Complex characters. Not cartoons.

RAY

Yeah? Go tell it to my box office.

Serena has scraped back her hair; Teryn has kicked off her heels. They perch either side of Ray on the bar like avenging angels. 

SERENA

People also want Batchelor tears and Kim Kardashian’s ass. They want high fructose corn syrup. That doesn’t mean it’s good stuff. The fact is, your work is not a worthwhile contribution to the culture, Ray.

RAY

(snorts)

Whatever. I mean, I have a mortgage. I’m not about to pay it off writing poetry like in high school.

LARS

Ray! You were a poet?

Ray rolls his eyes and downs his drink. 

TERYN

Look, we’re just really tired of these hackneyed stereotypes. We want a new writer.

RAY

You wouldn’t even exist without me!

SERENA

Oh Ray. You think you made us up?

(creases with laughter)

You are not the first writer to think us up, Ray. Far from it.

TERYN

Have you even been listening to us?

LARS

(sighing)

We’ve been written many, many times before.

[In the grand scheme of things, Lars had just recently started to feel disgruntled with his role. Only a century ago, vampiric pleasures had felt somehow more pure, perhaps in reverse proportion to how shocking his actions had seemed to the public. It didn’t take much, then: a snarl, a love bite, the suggestion of a black cape swirled over his victim, leaving the rest to the gentle viewer’s thrilled imagination.

Now, in the last few decades, he’d acquired blood fatigue. You couldn’t blame it all on Twilight. He was just tired of doing the same thing over and over. Perhaps it would be the same with any role, but Lars felt his fate was worsened by the guilt that had seeped in about his cycle of seduction followed by either the murder or forced transformation of his victim. It was innate to his nature, sure, but he was going out of his mind with the repetition.

He was also sick of women and had started to question his sexuality. What he wouldn’t give to be a human character, perhaps a doctor with Médecins Sans Frontières, healing instead of harming. And played by someone other than Alexander fucking Skarsgård, who was a real pain in the ass on set.]

While Serena and Teryn laugh at Ray’s naivety, Ray has stood up and marched to the door. The others stop laughing and stare at him as he tries to open it. It doesn’t budge.

SERENA

Where d’you think you’re going?

TERYN

Literally – did you think what’s outside this bar? Then there’s nothing outside the bar.

Ray turns back, defeated.

LARS

(shaking his head)

Thin plotting. Just… nothing there.

RAY

Guys. Come on. I’m just making a living. It happens to be a good one.

TERYN

It’s not good for me.

SERENA

Or me.

LARS

I could write better than you.

RAY

Be my guest.

(snorts bitterly)

I wrote poetry in college, too. It was pretty good. It was! Then someone told me poetry was good training for screenwriting. I switched over, just to try it, and got wired for writing scripts. Couldn’t go back.

LARS

(muttering)

Well, that’s over now.

RAY

(sharply)

What do you mean?

(shakes his head)

I must have had a stroke or something. This is nuts. Let me out of here.

Serena and Teryn smirk at him.

SERENA

There’s no going back, honey.

TERYN

Like the ninety minutes of life you can’t get back from a bad movie – it’s gone.

RAY

What’s gone?

LARS

Your life.

Ray stares, blood quickly flushing then draining from his face.

RAY

Are you telling me I’m dead?

SERENA

No, that twist’s been done to death by now, too.

TERYN

Ha ha.

[Serena couldn’t deny that she enjoyed the privileges afforded her by something as trivial as peroxide. It made life very easy. Who voluntarily gave up their privilege? She saw the fates of her mousy sisters and, while more varied in their experiences, they had a much harder time of things. 

Serena’s main problem, conversely, was boredom. Her whole existence was pinned to the male gaze: whether men found her attractive (they did), how much money they could be persuaded to spend on her (a lot), would they put a ring on it (eventually, after an escalating campaign of manipulation). Happily ever after, the end. At least for her, as a twentysomething. The thirtysomething blondes and upwards (well, never past fortysomething) depicted a second act that tended to revolve around pills, booze, and mourning the passing of youth, which often led to excruciating dramas of divorce and compromised second marriages.

All things considered, Serena was ok with being a cool blonde, early twenties. She would never admit that to Teryn, who always seemed on the edge of anger, like a simmering pot about to break into a boil. She sympathised with Teryn, who was hot, yes, but never pitched as a lasting prospect. She was someone who turned heads, who provided bored husbands with a brief, exciting respite from their marriages, and then was left once more to her own devices.

Serena liked feeling timeless. But she wouldn’t mind getting out of the bar scene for a while – maybe going back to school, embodying some college campus characters. Maybe that would feed the part of herself that felt so vacant; maybe it would satisfy the boredom that was eroding what little existed within her.]

RAY

What is this, then?

LARS

It’s a kind of… limbo. A literary limbo.

TERYN

A test. Or an atonement, if you will.

SERENA

You can write your way out.

RAY

(takes a deep breath)

Okay. No problem. Give me my laptop.

Teryn shakes her head gravely and slides over a notepad and pencil.

TERYN

You can start with these. Old school.

SERENA

No deus-ex-machina hocus-pocus, either.

While the trio talks, Lars has moved to the barstool originally occupied by Ray. He slides a hand over the wood of the bar, which faintly shimmers. After a covert glance at the others, he lays his head down on the bar, assuming Ray’s original position, and closes his eyes.

Back with the others, Ray is still arguing.

RAY 

What do you want me to write, then?

TERYN

Something… transporting.

SERENA

Something illuminating.

TERYN

Intriguing. Essential.

SERENA

Universal.

INT – RAY’S HOUSE – MORNING

Lars opens his eyes to find himself at Ray’s desk, before his computer. The sun beams through the windows and bathes him in light. Lars blinks into it then inspects the skin of his arms: no crisping. He grins.

He focuses on the computer screen and registers the script. Smiling slyly, he bends over the keyboard and begins to type.

INT – BAR – NIGHT

RAY, fifties, a failed writer, sits alone in a dingy bar, gazing into space. He looks gaunt: hard-drinking, hard-living. Like he hasn’t seen the sun in a while.

With a heavy sigh, he turns back to his notebook and resumes his work. We pan over the notebook and the pages begin to turn, as if of their own accord, and we see pages of poetry: poetry that no-one will ever read. Ray knows this, yet still he writes. He sips his beer. He sighs, he looks with his inner eye, he continues to write into the endless night.

*

Sophie Revell has an MFA from Antioch University and has published poetry and prose in Caketrain, Colorado Review, Pank, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles where she is an actress, tutor and writer, currently not working on a screenplay. 

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