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"We've stepped out of a safe line somewhere ..." A screen adaptation of Algernon Blackwood's celebrated story by Wayne Kyle Spitzer.
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T H E W I L L O W S
Wayne K. Spitzer
Based Upon “The Willows”
and Other Works by
Jan 12, 2008
Algernon Blackwood's "The Willows" | A Scriptment
WGA Registration no#
ACT 1, SCENE 1
EXT. A MIGHTY RIVER. DAY.
Opening Image / Titles sequence. Aerial view rushing headlong over a winding Canadian river. Camera flies at dizzying speed over rapids, through sunlit mist. We hear an ecstatic, almost painful shriek which seems to tear through Nature itself. We hear the hum of some region beyond, which becomes a roar! Camera dips and climbs, swooping around river boulders, spiraling between crags, diving into the current and out again, like a dolphin. A base hum builds, inexorably, as we see a triangle-shaped spit of land appear—the point of which divides the river—draw near. The small island is crowded with willow bushes. We rush to a halt on a FIGURE IN A HOODED PARKA, standing immobile before the bushes with its back turned toward us. The figure begins to turn around....
ACT 1, SCENE 2
INT. NEW YORK SUBWAY. DAY.
The L-train rushes past. Cut briefly to conductor’s POV as the train roars down the track. ABRAHAM O’MALLY, 39, thin, pale, and clean-shaven, awakens as if from dream, still gripping the pole. He is wedged between other commuters. A subway beggar is pleading...
Ladies and gentlemen, please, anything would help.
I am a victim of identity theft and starving. Also I
have difficulty breathing due to emphysema...
ABE looks past the man at a beautiful young woman in a long, black coat, seated at the front of the car. She swipes the hair out of her eyes as she reads her magazine. A small flower is tucked above her ear. Another train swoops close outside the window, mesmerizing ABE with its blur of fluorescent faces. He looks at his watch as the conductor calls the next stop. As he gathers his briefcase and disembarks, we hear the beggar continue...
Ladies and gentlemen, please. I am both starving
Out on the platform ABE pauses before a street musician, who is sitting cross-legged on a small rug, playing Pan Pipes. ABE looks down at him almost adoringly, pale-blue eyes sparkling. He lays a bill in the basket and hustles off. As the L-train leaves yet another train blasts past on the opposite side of the platform.
ACT 1, SCENE 3
EXT. NEW YORK CITY. DAY.
ABE moves down the packed sidewalk, turning his shoulders to part the crowd. He glimpses the woman in black, ahead of him, about to cross the street, and is so compelled by her that he steps right in front of a NYC bus—is drawn back by a stranger.
Jesus, man! Pay attention!
He glimpses her once more after the bus passes, then she is swallowed by the crowd.
ABE emerges from the rotating glass door into the lobby of Macmillan’s New York Register and hustles for the elevator, but misses it. He glances at his watch. He notices a large figure standing in front of the gas fireplace by the waterfall; the figure is wearing a parka with the hood down and has his back to him. There is a briefcase by his feet. The figure also looks at his watch.
The elevator chimes and its doors roll open. ABE steps in, not realizing how crowded it is. He bumbles into a co-worker who spills piping hot coffee on him. Nursing the burn, he sees the figure by the fire turn—as the elevator doors close.
Squeezed amongst his co-workers, ABE watches the glowing numbers. A woman talks into her cell phone.
WOMAN WITH CELL-PHONE:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well it was the wrong color
and the wrong brand. We had to drive all the
way back—huh? Yeah, we got lost. Isn’t that
awful? All that effort in precisely the wrong
ABE nearly leaps from the elevator as its doors open, and quickly shuffles to the men’s room. He rolls up his sleeves and pours cold water on the burn. He lingers a moment over the sink, grateful for the solitude. The face in the mirror is gaunt, white, almost sickly.
He hurries to his cubicle. His editor, a stern African-American named T.S. JOSHI, rolls back in his chair as he passes.
That you, O’Malley?
ABE settles into his cubicle, which is crowded with potted plants as well as stacks of paperwork. The plants don’t seem to be doing very well. The cubicle’s walls are covered in journalism awards, as well as photos from various canoeing trips. Abraham is much younger in the pictures, 17 in some, 22 in others. There is another man in the pictures as well, scarcely older. He has scarcely had a chance to sit down when a co-worker brings in another stack of paperwork.
I’ll just...put these on the floor.
ABE logs onto his computer and gets the “You’ve got mail” alert. There is a picture of himself, about 18, at the Senior Prom; standing next to him is a stunning woman of Asian heritage. His editor is at the door before he can check his email.
Sorry about the title change. And the quote
cut. Had to fit a sidebar.
It’s okay. Your paper.
It’s Time-Warner’s paper. I just work here,
(looks at his watch)
15 minutes. Shall we say...my place?
JOSHI turns to go, pauses, holds up some copy.
‘Spirals We Cannot Make?’
(throws up his hands)
ABE opens his email, finds a message waiting from a [email protected] He freezes. When at last he clicks on it, it reads: “Go with the flow. Silence is golden.”
ACT 1, SCENE 4
INT. JOSHI’S OFFICE. DAY.
ABE enters JOSHI’s office, and immediately freezes. There is someone in the room besides them: a biggish man, wearing boots, blue-jeans, and a flannel shirt. He is seated half on the window sill, looking out, so that we cannot see his face. ABE notices that the chair in front of JOSHI’s desk has a nylon parka with fur-lined hood thrown over it. He also notices that JOSHI has a file out, a thick one, and is thumbing through it. There are forms and brochures lying out on his desk.
Come in and have a seat, Abe.
ABE looks at the free chair, alone against the wall. He sits down, tentatively. He is white as a wraith. JOSHI begins reading from ABE’s employee file: his tardies, the no-shows, the missed deadlines, the length over-runs, etc. His overall assessment is grim.
Abe, you’re a brilliant writer, and a prolific reporter.
But, and it beats me how else to say this...
Outside the window, sky-scrapers loom.
Look...Abe. See those skyscrapers out there?
(altering his voice)
Why, yessuh, I do. Faith holds those buildings
up, don’t it? And straight lines and rules and
(reverts to normal)
Look, if I’m canned then can me, just spare me
the Richard Wright grandiloquence....
JOSHI flashes him a stern look. The stranger at the window tries to suppress a chuckle. ABE looks at him angrily.
This is funny to you?
The big man turns around. ABE does a double-take before recognizing him.
A little, I confess. If I were you...I’d go with the
flow. Silence is golden, you know. Even in labor
ABE can only look on, stunned.
JOSHI seems at once alarmed and charmed by the big man’s gravitas.
Abraham, meet SWEDEN MURDOCH. He runs
Centaur Excursions, out of Canada.
ABE and SWEDEN shake hands; the hand of the latter easily dwarfs the former. The men’s eyes say much that isn’t verbalized. Once everyone is seated JOSHI explains that SWEDEN conducts corporate challenge excursions out of his headquarters in Alberta, and that the Register has contracted with him to offer teamwork and motivational training for its employees, “...all of whom need it. Some more than others.” He then asks SWEDEN to go into more detail, which the man does, with gusto, explaining how the excursions operate.
...designed to build confidence and encourage
hyper-focus. To inspire teamwork, basically.
Sounds swell! When do we go? And who are
No team-mates, not on this first one. It’ll be
just you...and SWEDEN.
Because I’m in that bad of shape?
Because you’re not a team-player—no bloody river-
run’s going to change that. Because my thankless job
is to still sell newspapers to people who can get every-
thing off the Internet for free. Because the corporate
guys want better productivity and the health insurance
discount. Because I want a story—a big one—that will
have to be published in installments because you write
in big, looping spirals (spins his arms wildly), which
people seem to like, especially those people who hand
out the little gold bowling trophy things. This ultimately
means I get to spend more time on the golf course, and
fuck the circulation. And because you’re in that bad of
shape. I mean, look at you.
And...if I turn it down?
JOSHI takes the thick file and tosses it into an entire box labeled ‘AB.’
Then I will give it to your replacement. One who
knows how to write...horizontally? Between the
little blue lines?
ABE looks at JOSHI, then at SWEDEN, who merely shrugs.
ACT 1, SCENE 5
EXT. NEW YORK CITY. DAY.
A double-decker tourist bus passes as ABE, SWEDEN and JOSHI emerge from the front doors of the Macmillan’s New York Register, talking. JOSHI is putting on his overcoat. It’s lunch hour.
Not in the mood for sushi, really. Think I’ll just
hit the—the Hudson place.
(puts on hat, claps ABE on the shoulder)
Hell. Take the rest of the day. Buy Mr. Murdoch
a beer—put it on the account. Get to know each other.
ABE says something typical.
Straighten him out...
He tips his hat to them, heads off into the crowd. ABE and SWEDEN look at each other amidst the bustle; a breeze blows. Their cheeks flush in the frigid air.
(clasps SWEDEN’S shoulder)
It’s good to see you.
(returns the gesture)
You look well.
SWEDEN looks at ABE as though in deep thought. He doesn’t say anything.
How is she?
I’ll tell you all about it. Including how I pulled
off getting you out of New York!
ACT 1, SCENE 6
INT. A PUB. DAY.
A new frosted pitcher of beer is sat down by an equally frosty New York waitress. ABE and SWEDEN are drinking beer at a little bar on the Hudson, a few blocks from Ground Zero. The men are laughing and seem to be “well on their way.” They talk about their youthful adventures: camping in the Canadian wilds, canoeing down the Danube, graduating from Princeton University. They talk about their Canadian canoe, “The Centaur,” and “Jumbo,” the enormous supply bag....
Adventures before thirty....
Thirty! Before 20!
Whatever became of her, anyway—my Canadian
canoe? I don’t....
There is an awkward silence.
SWEDEN tells the tale; how they left for the Northwest after the confrontation with ABE, and how he came into money when his grandfather passed and bought a home and some acreage in the mountains of Alberta. How Lillith and he founded Centaur Excursions and had a daughter, Manya. That he fell desperately in love with that daughter as well as “his own private Eden.” That the two were similar spirits who spent their days traipsing the wilderness while Lillith and he grew apart. How she left, eventually.
Faded away rather.
You—haven’t seen her? Nor heard from her?
There’s a bittersweet lull in the conversation.
You might have known. That was the way with
her, always. Silent as a river, and as brutal.
(takes his hand)
But we remain, old friend.
ABE goes on to say how happy he is that SWEDEN has made contact, and how bitterly alone he is in New York City. He expresses his delight at canoeing together once again, and how perhaps it heralds a whole new era for them.
A toast! To canoeing comrades, reunited. And
to more incredible adventures!
SWEDEN clinks his mug, but appears suddenly distant.
He glances at his watch, which gives ABE pause. ABE sees him take a pill from a bottle—swallow it back with a shot of beer.
(holds a fist to his chest, stares into the fireplace)
ACT 1, SCENE 7
INT. NEW YORK SUBWAY. NIGHT.
ABE and SWEDEN ride the subway to Brooklyn. The train clamors and rocks. ABE appears about as happy as when we last saw him on the train.
We’re flying, yes? Were the tickets costly?
SWEDEN looks sidelong at him, grins mischievously.
SWEDEN spreads a map over ABE’S kitchen table, taps it decisively. They are standing. ABE’S cat winds between their legs.
SWEDEN tells him where the homestead is, which will be their jumping-off point. It is near Edson, Alberta—remote but not entirely cut-off from rail and other services. He announces his plan to shoot Tiroga Falls, which consists of Class IV rapids—a very dangerous endeavor without pre-scouting.
This isn’t the usual tour, as you might have guessed.
It’s the run I moved up here for; a run I’d only attempt
with you in the boat. Not even Manya’s up to it, much
as she’s willing...
ABE is probably beginning to hesitate at this point. They sit down. Much of the trip will take place in the valleys and marshlands of the Athabascan and Whirlpool Rivers, in the approximate geographical range from Great Slave Lake in the north to Lesser Slave Lake in the south—David Thompson’s country, brutal, godforsaken, and rich in the history of the fur trade and the Iroquois; a stark, haunted land. After seven days, SWEDEN’S DAUGHTER, MANYA, will drive to the town of Athabasca, and pick them up.
ABE immediately voices concern about the extremity of the undertaking. It’s far more ambitious than their youthful adventures and they’re not exactly young men, anymore (SWEDEN, older than ABE, has just turned 40). SWEDEN counters with a passionate argument for living in the moment, “because that’s all we have, you know.” When ABE enquires about supplies and so forth, he is told:
It’s all planned out. I’ve taken care of everything...
You could have said something. I’d have been glad to
Not on your life, old man. I owed you this.
I don’t know what to say.
You don’t have to say anything. We’ve been friends
for 20 years. The pleasure’s mine.
(stares at the map in
awe, shakes his head)
Little early for a mid-life crisis, isn’t it?
(looks at him, eyes glinting)
No such thing, ‘too early.’
(gets up with a grunt)
Only ‘too late.’
He pauses in the entrance to the hallway.
Where’s the head around here?
ABE tells him end of the hall, to the left. He watches SWEDEN as the big man moves down the hall and vanishes around the corner. ABE sits straight, arms at his sides. The clock ticks. ABE watches for him to return over the table and the spread out map; over the back of his empty chair...onto which ABE’S cat hops.
ACT 1, SCENE 8
EXT. ANTRAK TRAIN. DAY.
Viewed from the air, an Amtrak train arcs across West Virginia’s acres of Maple forests, whistle blowing. Inside, ABE and SWEDEN sit squeezed amongst each other, ABE by the window. He seems to be enjoying the experience compared the New York subway!
(marveling out the window)
What a landscape!
(looks out across him)
Yuh. Not like from the air, is it?
Down here you can roll about with her a bit!
The train continues on through Indiana, past Lake Michigan and into Chicago, where there’s a humorous bit, perhaps, as the men struggle to change trains. At last they settle aboard the good old Empire Builder, which carries them further west, through Wisconsin and Minnesota, and finally across the barrens of North Dakota by night. The train’s head-lamp cuts through the darkness, like a canoe’s prow through water. Inside, SWEDEN is sleeping heavily, while ABE reads by the overhead light. Perhaps he is reading a book about Northwest folklore and its indigenous peoples. Perhaps there’s a cut-away to the conductor’s POV as the train races down the tracks, visible only so far as the train’s head-lamp extends.
The world rolls over to day again. The train thunders north from Seattle, Washington. There is yet another change over, this time to a Canadian line. The train streams under and past the camera as they push northeast through British Columbia, climb the Canadian Rockies, and descend into Alberta’s majestic pine forests.
ABE awakens against the window, notices SWEDEN is not there. He looks out the window, craning his neck at the towering evergreens; the sun flickers over his face. He starts at a heavy, grating sound as the entire train shifts noticeably; he sits upright. Another train whooshes past in the opposite direction, thundering past in a blur, only a few feet away. It is loaded with logs. ABE presses a cheek to the glass, watches as the trains roar past each other.
ABE finds SWEDEN in the view car, sitting in one of those seats which face sideways against the window. He’s brought him a cup of coffee. SWEDEN appears lost in thought, gazing up at the evergreens, which are huge! ABE touches his shoulder, which brings him around. ABE hands him the coffee.
This is why I chose the train. ... I’ve always flown.
This time I wanted to see. That snow-crusted peak?
I’ve never seen that before. It’s a facet of reality I
would have missed; now, having seen it, I see better—
see life better, I mean. I’m more alive because of it.
(marvels at the sweep of his thoughts)
Oh, Sweden. We’re young! You’ll see it again,
I’m sure. Lots of times!
There’s a shift as before, and as before, a log train blurs past in the opposite direction, rumbling, roaring, screaming. The conductor announces the next stop—Edson, Alberta.
This is our stop.
They gather their bags and disembark, only to find themselves the only living beings in what passes for a train station. ABE looks around, at the lonely, desolate mountains, at the evergreens which tower like sentinels. The train hisses steam and rumbles off down the tracks. ABE seems utterly flabbergasted.
I don’t know. I expected something—an inn,
(gazes off down the valley)
No, not here.
Indeed! ... Is there a ‘here’ here, at all?
We hear the sound of an engine far off, a humming roar which seems to emanate from the trees themselves. We catch glimpses of a dark shape between the trunks, a vehicle of some sort, though it is masked by the evergreens. There is a road back there, evidently.
A big pick-up bounces into view at last, grinds to a halt beside them. We cannot as yet see the driver. ABE is not pleased as he throws his bags into the payload, follows SWEDEN to the passenger-side door. SWEDEN holds the door open; ABE climbs in. The truck is being driven by a shortish, olive-skinned woman with high cheek bones and dark, cow-brown eyes. Long, black hair spills from beneath her woolen cap. She smiles.
O’Malley, I presume?
ABE looks at SWEDEN, who shrugs, then back at the woman.
Abe, meet my daughter. Manya.
Hello. Come on, we’re losing all the heat—and hang
on. This can get a little rough.
They pile in, slam the door. A logo on the door reads: CENTAUR EXCURSIONS LLC. The truck bounces out of the lot and back onto the dirt road. Exposition needing dealt with may be dealt with here, as they rumble through the trees down winding mountain passes.
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