Day of the Unread
Ext. – small all-night coffee shop, neon diffused by heavy rain.
Lead in shot – couple run into the cafe, trying to escape the downpour.
Int. Shabby cafe, few customers.
Clock over counter shows 3.27 a.m.
Wet couple go to back of shop, giggle together as waiter approaches, bored, sleepy expression.
Bored, sleepy expression?
Come on, son, which was it to be? Was he bored and sleepy? Tired and surly? Only working nights at this dump to cover unfair child maintenance?
He looked up from the screen as the waiter refilled his coffee cup, a slight smile, not particularly bored and/or tired looking expression. Just resigned to staying awake until the early staff came on at six.
Six days, and this is all he'd managed. The screenplay was definitely not flying onto the page!
Cradling the weak coffee, he stared out at the miserable weather. Mood as bleak as the February morning.
Eyes drawn to the headlights coming from his left – this guy was moving. The Range Rover hurtled past the coffee shop, hitting the junction way to fast to make the turn, skidding in the rain, the vehicle spun onto the pavement, driver's side crunching into a post box, rebounding into the street, colliding with the oncoming heavy street sweeping truck
Twisted metal, further distorted as the truck braked. Rain and steam mixing with oil and petrol. Rainbows on the roadway.
"Christ! Ring 999, Phil!" Pulling on his damp jacket, he ran into the rain.
The truck driver stood shocked in the rain, "He came out of nowhere, mate, didn't stand a chance, did you see? Not my bloody fault!"
The driver of the once-beautiful 4x4 slumped over the wheel, airbag deflating, red on white. Blood obscured his features.
No pulse. Petrol fumes filled the air.
Fearing a fire, and conscious he may be causing more injuries, he gingerly pulled the seatbeltless driver from the wreckage.
He was still giving CPR as the street was illuminated with blue lights.
The private room was stiflingly hot, dozens of flower bouquets and fruit baskets surrounded the bed. Medical equipment, low key but expensively cutting edge, lurked in the rather garish jungle.
"You have five minutes. Please do not over excite Mr Johnson. No direct references to the incident. No personal questions about his health. I remind you that you have signed a legal non-disclosure document," the P.A. forced a smile and ushered him into the jungle.
The figure on the bed, bandaged and plastered, beckoned him closer. Even through the bruises and bandaging, the famous face was instantly recognisable. He took the one chair, embarrassed by the hideously loud scraping sounds, as he moved closer to hear the whispering voice.
"Thank you." A faint smile on bruised lips.
For one of the world's leading authors, two words spoke thousands.
"Anything, anything I can ever do..." A simple but classy business card was extended. No name, no agent's details, just what appeared to be a private mobile number engraved on the expensive card.
"Call me. I will help..." the hand drooped and that was it, his audience over, he was escorted out of the room and made his way back to the flat.
The only thing he'd ever witnessed, the only story handed to him on an, albeit rather bloody plate, and he'd signed away his rights for fear of being sued!
The blank screen glowed mockingly as he slammed the door and headed to the pub instead.
The sitting room held six writers, each cashing in a favour, each struggling with blocks, dead-end research, fighting the wasteland of the re-write, the eternal foe, the blank page, had drawn them all to this opulent setting.
In contrast to their failures, every piece of furniture, every wall, even the magazines seemingly randomly arranged on coffee tables, boasted awards, covers from all major publications, Man of the Year, Nobel, Booker, Pulitzer, Neustadt, Hugo, the list was endless.
Framed jackets, stunning artwork, each and every one a number one best seller, jostled for wall space.
A shrine to the genius that now held court.
Daniel Johnson, now in his sixties, sat before a low table, idly toying with an ornate pocket watch and gently spinning a gilded globe.
He held up the watch, gleaming in the understated lights, and began.
"Twenty-four hours. Use it as you will, five minutes a day, a half-hour here and there, or use the whole day at once, the choice is yours," he spun the globe, jabbing a finger, pinning the earth beneath his touch, "One-mile radius of your chosen location: use it all, use a few feet, a street, a house, a single room. Again, the choice is yours".
The five struggling authors peered at the legend, eager to begin.
"Once the allotted time in that place is used, you will be returned. Free to use your findings in any way you choose – with one obvious exception. This meeting and what follows will never, ever, be mentioned. No matter what wild ideas are stimulated, this will never be spoken of or committed to paper, real or electronic, once you step through that door. Strict penalties will be incurred should any of you break this single rule."
With that said and the mumbled agreements offered, Johnson turned to the first.
"Maria? Still struggling with that war-torn romance?" His smile and the pain in her eyes showed he already new the answer, he touched the globe, France, Rue de Foignard, Saint-Aubin-du-Plain?"
Maria nodded agreement.
"May 12th, 1942?"
Again the nod.
Johnson held out the pocket watch.
"Press this lever once you arrive, twenty- four hours from that moment, I hope you find your lovers. Good luck, my dear – I look forward to my signed copy!"
And so it went, each writer choosing, or being prompted into, a specific location, a date and an identical pocket watch. Each thanked Johnson and promised he would indeed have the first copy, duly and gratefully signed.
Then there was one.
"Where and when? A difficult choice my friend!" The globe spun, finger stopping it mid-Atlantic, "Wartime drama, U-boats, Titanic, castaways?"
Again the spin. "Ah South America! Tales of drug cartels, survival in the jungles, ancient races living undiscovered?"
"Middle East? No? Africa, Europe, India? The choice is yours."
The globe spun, dizziness threatened his senses. Johnson's finger eased the vertigo.
"U.K. England. Whitechapel. Osborn Street. May I suggest April 3rd, 1888?"
He held out the pocket watch.
"Twenty-four hours to find the Ripper! Horror, crime, historical significance, an end to speculation with a first-hand account? You'll be famous, my friend!"
Promising a signed first edition, he couldn't wait to get out into the fresh air. What a waste of time!
He'd saved the guy's bloody life! He was expecting at least some advice, a contact shared, the offer of a proof read, but this?
He leant back against the cool garden wall, gulping in the summer air. This guy was a loon and the people who lapped up the madness were just as bad.
"Second thoughts?" The man struck a match, inhaling deeply on the cigarette before continuing, "At least you won't have to spend hours on a bloody plane! I hate flying, makes me wonder why I'm trying to write a bloody Western!"
"Sorry? Plane? You've lost me."
The man reached up and plucked a round fruit from the tree, unidentifiable in the twilight.
"Imagine trying to pinpoint a specific location as the world turns? While it hurtles through space?" He turned the fruit. "Now try again as it spins and orbits the sun? Now add it the fact our galaxy is also spinning....gets harder obviously. Now pick a date, calculate exactly, to within one mile, where that point in space would've been, say two hundred years ago?" the cigarette burnt brightly with frightening speed, "Almost bleedin' impossible, even for him! That's why we have to physically be there when we press the button and start the clock ticking!"
"You really believe this rubbish, don't you?"
"This is my third draft, my friend, not only do I believe it, I've lived it!"
With that the cigarette was ground out and he crunched off along the garden path, turning to shout, "Enjoy Whitechapel, watch out for strangers with razors!"
He felt slightly daft standing amongst the Bangladeshi restaurants along Brick Lane. Exotic smells made his stomach rumble as he stood at the start of the short stretch of road that was Osborn Street.
Modern London bustled all around as he ducked into a doorway and pulled out the pocket watch.
He thumbed the lever as the door opened and a rather extravagantly dressed waiter pushed by, bin bags thrown into the dumpster, the waiter muttered something in Bengali and slammed the door behind him.
Bright neon signs and sodium street lighting dimmed as the lever was pressed.
He looked up at the fluttering gas lamps that now lined the London Street. Gone were the street signs in Arabic, horse drawn carriages replacing cars and buses, bustles and bodices replacing saris, top hats instead of topis and turbans.
He left the doorway, ignoring the offers from the throngs of cheap prostitutes, conscious of the stares his modern clothes were getting, and headed into the night, in search of a story, eager for twenty-four hours of real research to begin.