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A series of black and white photographs:
The common subject is two boys, obviously brothers. There are pictures of them at three and five, eight and ten, twelve and fourteen, fifteen and seventeen. They are very handsome boys; the older one, THOMAS, is darker and mischievous-looking, the younger one, TIMOTHY, is blond and seems shy. In some pictures the boys are posed with a beautiful woman, MARION, who is obviously their mother.
The pictures are vibrant and active. And we can hear, faintly, the SOUNDS OF THEIR SUBJECTS.
One shows a four-year-old Timothy with a bleeding knee, and Thomas trying to apply a bandage.
Another shows the boys as teenagers in full ice hockey gear on the ice, flanking their proud mother. Thomas has a hockey puck in his mouth.
The following dialogue plays over the photos. One voice (TED) is adult, slightly rough, with an educated East Coast accent. The other (RUTH) belongs to a four-year-old girl.
Dead means they're broken.
Well . . . their bodies are broken, yes.
And they're under the ground?
Their bodies are, yes.
Tell me what dead is.
When you look at Thomas and Timothy in the photographs, do you remember the stories of what they were doing?
Well . . . Thomas and Timothy are alive in your imagination.
The car is not moving. SNOW blows in through the SMASHED WINDSHIELD. The car is ripped open. Broken glass, snow, and blood are scattered everywhere. Somehow the left turn signal is still TICKING.
Thomas sits in the driver's seat, his chest crushed by the steering wheel. Blood runs fromhis nose and mouth, his eyes are open. He is seventeen and dead.
From our P.O.V. in the right back seat we can't really see Timothy, but he doesn't seem to be moving.
The only sounds are the HOWLING SNOW STORM and the incessant TICKING of the turn signal.
EXT. COLE BACKYARD-DAY-EARLY SUMMER
We are close on the eyes of MARION COLE, a 39-year-old beautiful woman. We recognize her from the pictures, though she seems slightly older.
Sometimes, the way she blinks or the way her hair blows in the wind, it almost seems as if she is in SLOW MOTION.
She is lying on a lawn chair, her eyes focused on something distant. She is in the backyard of her large and casually elegant house in the Hamptons.
INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY-LATE AFTERNOON
TED holds RUTH, wrapped in a towel. Ruth's wet blond locks curl into salty ringlets. Ted is about 45 years old, but still very fit. They are looking at the series of expensively framed and matted photographs that line the long hallway. From the window at the end of the hall, you can see the ocean about a mile distant.
It makes me sad to think about them.
It makes me sad, too, Ruthie.
He kisses her gently.
But Mommy's sadder.
Well . . . yes.
EXT. COLE BACKYARD-MOMENTS LATER
Marion is looking at Ruth, who stands in front of her wearing a bathing suit and holding a little plastic shovel. Ruth is talking to Marion, and we see, as Marion does, the little girl talking, but all we hear is the TICKING of the turn signal.
INT. TED'S WORKROOM-SAME
Ted is on the phone, looking out the window at Ruth and Marion. Marion sits up, just as Ruth gets bored and runs away. The room is spare and bright and there are sketches and art supplies scattered all over. A cot sits against one wall. Ted holds a high-school yearbook on his lap.
Yes. Hold on.
Ted opens the yearbook to a specific page.
Does the boy have a driver's license?
(loud enough that we can hear it through the phone)
Certainly he has his license!
Ted pulls his ear away from the phone, wincing.
EXT. COLE BACKYARD-AFTER SUNSET
Marion is still in the chair, almost in the same position. Behind them, in the brightly lit house, we can see Ruth and the NANNY. Marion looks up at Ted, who stands near her. Ted is holding a copy of the Exeter yearbook, with his finger marking a page. She yawns and stretches and sits up, putting her feet on the ground. Ted drapes a pink cardigan over her shoulders.
It still gets cold at night.
Ted looks around the yard.
Jesus, look at this yard. We should clear out some of these straggly-looking flowerbeds.
Ted looks at Marion inquiringly, but she doesn't really respond.
And I want to put in a swimming pool.
For Ruth, when she gets older. Something like the one we had in Providence. They loved it.
Don't do that. It's better like it is. She likes to swim in the ocean.
And the lawn should be more like an athletic field.
Marion looks at him, but he can't look at her. Ted sits down next to her, opens the yearbook to page 178 and shows this to Marion.
Look at this picture.
Marion glances at it. Ted notes her reaction.
marion (too casual)
Why? Who is he?
He wants a summer job.
Well, with me. He wants to be a writer.
But what would he do with you?
It's mainly for the experience, I suppose. I mean, if he thinks he wants to be a writer, he should see how one works. He should see . . . what it takes.
But what exactly would he do?
Well . . . .
Ted watches Marion. She's lost in thought, looking at a picture of EDDIE running track in the yearbook. Ted watches her, and coldly sizes up her interest in Eddie. She traces her finger along the contour of Eddie's shoulder.
I've been thinking-I want to try separating. For the summer.
Marion rubs her eyes, sleepily. A moment passes.
ted (with tenderness)
I think we should try and see . . . if we might be happier apart.
She just nods. He pushes some hair out of her face.
Ted seems a little surprised at her easy assent.
They look at each other. There's nothing else to say.
EXT. COLE BACKYARD-MOMENTS LATER
Ted is gone. Marion looks down at the picture of Eddie caught in mid-stride.
EXT. EXETER CAMPUS-MORNING-PHOTOGRAPH
Eddie is running through the woods. He is running for the cross-country team. We follow him for a while; he just seems to go faster and faster, filled with youth and energy. Even though Eddie is sixteen and tall, he still looks like a young boy. Eddie runs through an ARCHED GATE.
INT. RENTAL APARTMENT-NIGHT
A black and white photograph of Thomas and Timothy standing underneath the same arched gate. This picture hangs in a strange, unfurnished little apartment. A few open cardboard boxes are scattered about. Marion is trying to set up the place by hanging a few photos. The little black and white TV is on and Marion is not really watching Ted being interviewed on an intimate, intellectual show like Charlie Rose. Ted is talking brightly and with humility about his work as a famous author of children's books.
interviewer (on tv)
. . . The Door in the Floor, a story about a male fetus who's not sure he wants to be born. One early reviewer said reading it to a child would be tantamount to abuse. Now it has something of a cult following . . .
ted (on tv)
The Door in the Floor was the first book I wrote after the death of my sons.
Marion changes the channel to some inane show.
INT. EDDIE'S FAMILY HOUSE-NIGHT
Eddie and his parents, MINTY and DOROTHY, are gathered around the tube, which is tuned to the same show. Ted exudes charm.
Eddie is rapt. He is still wearing his workout gear but has a pen and paper to take notes.
interviewer (on tv)
You began your career writing novels?
ted (on tv)
Yes, but they were terrible novels. Unfortunately, I had to write three of them before I realized that I am not a writer of adult fiction. I'm just an entertainer of children. And I like to draw.
Eddie is trying to listen to Ted, but his parents talk right over the TV.
Anyway, don't be nervous because he's famous. His sons were charming boys but mediocre students. They played a variety of the contact sports here at Exeter. They were both in my class,
C plus/B minus I recall. They probably wouldn't have been accepted at Exeter if Ted wasn't an alumnus.
He's been a very supportive alumnus.
Without question. Although he was also a mediocre student. Ted and I were in the same year, you know. We both chose the literary life, he as an author, I as an academic. Anyway, just pick up what you can, see if there's a method to his madness-that sort of thing.
interviewer (on tv)
. . . or why do cautionary tales for children come
so naturally to you?
ted (on tv)
Well . . . I think I can imagine their fears, and express them. In my stories you can see what's coming, but you don't see everything that's coming, I hope.
Eddie quickly jots this down, but continues to watch Ted closely.
INT. TELEVISION STUDIO-NIGHT
Ted sips his water.
In my opinion, there is no better opening to any story
than the opening of The Mouse Crawling Between the Walls.
I mean the first line . . . .
Tom woke up, but Tim did not.
A handsome black and white photo of Ted, smiling on the back of one of his books. Eddie is sitting, reading, wearing white cotton gloves. Eddie rubs his eyes, closes the book and then examines the photograph of Ted on the back flap. Ted looks as charming as ever.
INT. MASTER BEDROOM-NIGHT
Close on Ted's face. He is passed out, nude, snoring. The bedside table light is on. Ruth enters.
Daddy. I had a dream. I heard a sound.
Ted opens an eye.
What sort of sound, Ruthie?
It's in the house, but it's trying to be quiet.
Let's go look for it, then. A sound that's trying to be quiet.
Ted gets up, still nude, and picks Ruth up and carries her out into the hall.
INT. UPSTAIRS HALLWAY-NIGHT
They walk down the hallway that is lined with photographs.
Come out, sound.
Come out, sound!
What did it sound like?
It was a sound like someone trying not to make a sound.
Ted puts her down on the bed and pulls a pen and pad out of the night table drawer. Ted writes: It was a sound like someone trying not to make a sound. Ted puts the paper between his teeth and picks Ruth up again.
Your penis looks funny.
My penis is funny.
Ted carries Ruth back through the adjoining bathroom. He stops in front of a picture of Thomas and Timothy. In the picture, Thomas is Ruth's age and Timothy is two.
I'll tell you a story about a sound. One night, when
Thomas was your age, and Timothy was still in diapers,
Thomas heard a sound.
Did they both wake up?
Tom woke up, but Tim did not. It was the middle of the night. Tom woke up his father and asked him, "Did you hear that sound?" "What did it sound like?" his father asked. "It sounded like a monster with no arms and no legs, but it was trying to move," Tom said. "How could it move with no arms and no legs?" his father asked. "It slides on its fur" Tom said. "It pulls itself along with its teeth." "It has fur, and teeth, too!" his father exclaimed. "I told you-it's a monster," Tom said. "Let's go back to the room and listen for the sound," Tom's father said.
Ted walks with Ruth back into her bedroom and puts her in bed.
It was a sound like someone pulling nails out of the floorboards under the bed. It was a sound like, in the closet, if one of Mommy's dresses came alive and it tried to climb down off the hanger. It was a sound like a ghost in the attic.
What's an attic?
It's a big room above all the bedrooms.
Ruth looks at her ceiling, concerned.
"There's the sound again!" Tom whispered to his father. "It's a monster!" Tom cried. This time, Tim woke up. "It's just a mouse, crawling between the walls," his father said. Tim screamed. He didn't know what a mouse was. It frightened him to think of something crawling between the walls. But Tom asked his father, "It's just a mouse?" His father thumped against the wall with his hand and they listened to the mouse scurrying away. "If it comes back again," he said to Tom and Tim, "just hit the wall." "A mouse crawling between the walls! That's all it was", Tom said. He quickly fell asleep, but Tim was awake the whole night long, because he wanted to be awake when the thing
crawling between the walls came crawling back.
Eddie is reading along with the voice-over, and looking at the pictures.
Each time he thought he heard it, Tim hit the wall and the mouse scurried away-dragging its thick wet fur and its no arms and no legs with it.
INT. RUTH'S BEDROOM-NIGHT
And that . . . .
Is the end of the story.
Ted tucks her in. Somehow she doesn't seem comforted. Ted kisses her, picks up his piece of paper and stands up.
It's her turn at the other house tonight, remember? Tomorrow it's my turn, but she'll be here in the morning.
Are there mice in this house?
No, Ruthie. There's nothing crawling between our walls.
INT. RUTH'S BEDROOM-LATER
She can hear the sound of an IBM Selectric TYPEWRITER from the other room. And maybe the sound of something CRAWLING in the walls.
ruth (looking at the ceiling, in a whisper)
Attic . . . .
INT. RENTAL APARTMENT-NIGHT
Marion stands in front of the window, staring out at bugs swarming around a streetlight. The bugs become snow, snow falling past another streetlight. We hear the familiar TICKING.
INT. MINTY'S CAR-DAY
Close shot of a little, flashing, left-pointing arrow.
But the arrow is in Minty's car. Minty is driving, or rather waiting to turn left. Eddie is trying to refold a map. Eddie's mother, Dorothy, sits in the back seat.
So, Edward, is this the pilot's error, or the navigator's?
Maybe you should navigate and I'll drive.
So far your driving experience has been limited to Exeter, New Hampshire. I think it would be irresponsible of me to thrust you prematurely into the driver's seat in an entirely new state. Rhode Island and Connecticut each has their own quirky rules of the road.