Sometimes, inspiration hits you so hard and so fast that all you can do is try your best to hang on.
That’s what happened with this Not-So-Short-Short story.
It started life as a DM to my awesome friend @cortana02. 140 characters. Just an idea; a scene I had in my head. Two weeks later…It was a 37,000 word novella. I don’t know how that happened. I became completely obsessed with it. Forgetting-to-eat and forgetting-to-sleep level obsessed. I didn’t even write a New Years blog post because I was so absorbed in writing this. Silent Scream. (I tried. I got three sentences in).
I know I have left you guys hanging before (coughBLAMEcough) and I am honestly so sorry for that. I feel ashamed and embarrassed every time I think about it. For that reason, I wanted to wait for this to be completely finished to share it with you. And it is. It is finished. All my words are on the page. I feel strangely empty.
To begin with, I’ll be posting a new section every second day. I will then see how that goes and adjust accordingly if necessary. I can unequivocally promise you’ll never have to wait more than a few days to get the next installment because the entire story is finished. It’s just waiting for you to read it. I hope you do…While simultaneously feeling terrified at the prospect. I hope you are willing to take a chance on me.
At the beginning of each new section, you’ll see this: ***. This is not just a section break; it is also a hyperlink to YouTube and to a song I feel fits that particular scene. The soundtrack, as it were. You obviously don’t have to follow the links, but we all know how important music is to me. In my opinion the right soundtrack can take a scene to the next level.
As it states at the beginning, this was inspired by the drama surrounding the film Dallas Buyers Club and the anger over certain actors being chosen to play certain roles. If you aren’t familiar with that drama and would like to be (though it is not necessary) you can read about it here, here and here.
There are plenty of references to certain people and certain bands because I simply can’t help myself, so if you’d like to, you can play my drinking game #TakeAShotOfAlmondMilk. The rules are easy: Every time you find a reference, take a shot of almond milk. You can also tweet me @GirlWithWords using the hashtag and quoting the section to make me giggle. And giggle I shall!
Anyway. Enough rambling. Without further ado, I present…Silent Scream.
Inspired by the drama surrounding the film ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ and the anger over certain actors being chosen to play certain roles.
“Michael” he says quietly. “What’s going on with you? Talk to me. Please.” He tries to ignore the desperation he can hear in his voice.
“I’m fine, brother,” Michael says, turning away. He stares out the window like James is not there at all. James reaches out towards him, intending to put his hand on his shoulder. To be there for him like he used to be. Before.
But everything has changed.
The before is over.
Everything they used to share has become a distant memory. Things that were once as easy as breathing have now become like fighting against the tide. Even writing is too much. It’s all too much.
Silence hangs in the air. James drops his hand
“Michael” he says again. His voice cracks. “Please.”
“I said I’m fine, brother.” His tone leaves no room for discussion. James closes his eyes for a moment. He can feel him slipping away.
No, he thinks bitterly. If he’s honest, he felt him slipping away a long time ago.
He’s not slipping anymore.
James opens his eyes.
“Please let me help you.” His voice is barely above a whisper. “Please…Just talk to me. I can help you. I can help you if you let me.”
“Yeah. I’ve heard that one before. Look, just leave, brother. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m done talking about this,” Michael says, turning to face him. His eyes are bloodshot and unfocussed. “We’re done here.” He turns back to the window, leaning against the sill. “We’re done,” he repeats, softer this time. He stands there for a minute before walking away, leaving James staring at the place he once stood.
Moments later, James hears the sound of a car starting. Tires screech on the driveway as Michael backs out and speeds away. A weight settles in James’ chest. He shifts on his feet, but no position will dislodge it. Nothing he can do will ease the pressure.
“Kira,” he calls to his assistant, heading back downstairs. He ignores the questioning stares of the rest of the team. The people who want to know why Michael just dumped his folder on the table in the middle of the meeting and went upstairs. He tries not to, but he catches Kira’s eye. He sees his own pain and confusion reflected in the way she looks at him. In the way they all look at him. They want answers. They want to know if things are going to be okay. They need him.
Everyone always needs him. Everyone always wants him.
The thought is heavier than lead, so he lets it fall.
“Kira,” he says again, blocking out the stares. “I’m going for a run. Keep it going here until…” His voice trails off. Until what? Until they run out of material? Until they need Michael again?
They need Michael.
He needs Michael.
“Just send everyone home,” he says, grabbing his keys from the desk in front of him. “There’s not much more we can do today, and it’s getting late anyway.”
Kira has the good sense not to point out that it’s not even four pm yet.
He walks through a crowd of seven people with more prying eyes than any awards show he has ever been to, and heads for the front door. As soon as he closes the door, he takes off at a run. He doesn’t think about where he is going. His feet know. Muscle memory.
He slows to a jog as he approaches the gates. He still remembers the first time he found this place. His secret spot. He was twenty-two and had just moved to LA to pursue his dreams of becoming a screen writer. He was just starting out. Bright eyed and full of promise. Full of hope.
Sometimes getting what you want costs you more than you can afford to pay.
The gates are locked, as always, but he slips through the gap on the side. His heart is beating much too quickly, but he tells himself it’s from the run. The weight in his chest increases.
He makes his way up the hill until he reaches the clearing. The place. His place. He walks over to the fallen log and sits down, hanging his head in his hands. Despite his best efforts not to, he finds himself going over every detail of the last year. Every meeting. Every moment. Every argument. Every lie he told himself about Michael’s behaviour.
He’s just tired.
He’s just stressed.
He’s just got a lot going on.
He’s just falling apart while you’re too goddamn preoccupied to notice.
He retraces his steps, searching for the moment where it all went wrong, searching for the exact second that he lost him.
He lost him.
He lost Michael.
When he raises his head, his eyes are damp.
He clenches his jaw and stands up, refusing to fall apart. Refusing to feel the wave of pain and guilt threatening to wash over him. He looks out at the city. His city. The place where he found himself. The place where he made himself. The place that turned Michael’s life around. Before Michael joined him in LA, he was on the fast track to total self-destruction. The city saved him. The city saved them both.
And now I’ve let it fall spectacularly apart.
He shakes his head, dispelling the thought. He thinks about going home, but instead he stays up there for a few hours, watching the city. Imagining the people below going about their day, blissfully unaware that the entire world is falling apart. Unaware that everything he has worked so goddamn hard to build is crumbling before his eyes, and he is powerless to stop it.
As the sun begins to set, he walks a little further, stopping by the trees beside the water tank. He stands between the two biggest, watching the pink sky and remembering how he and Michael came up here the day their first movie, HEAT, was finally released.
“I can’t believe we did this. I can’t believe we wrote something that is now showing in cinemas around the world.”
Michael looks at him and grins.
“Hell yeah we fucking did!”
He smiles, but it’s not enough to fool Michael.
“What, brother? What is it? Still editing inside that head of yours?”
James chuckles and shakes his head. “No, I just…I just can’t believe we’re standing here right now. I can’t believe we made it. After all that pain, work, self-doubt…I didn’t think we would pull it off.”
Michael sighs. “Of course we pulled it off. You did. You’ve never had enough faith in yourself, J. You don’t see what everyone else sees. You don’t see the greatness within you.”
Michael smiles. He looks so much like their mother when he smiles.
“But, you know, that’s okay. I can see the greatness enough for both of us.”
James scoffs. “Yeah. Right.”
“Don’t scoff at me, little brother,” Michael says, shaking his head. “You are great. You are the most incredible person I know.”
James looks doubtful.
“Doubt me all you want; I know I speak the truth. Now come here and give your brother a hug. We fucking made a movie, dude! We made a movie.”
Crickets begin to chirp. A hawk screeches in the distance. James squeezes his eyes shut, attempting to force the memory from his mind. It doesn’t help. The images grow brighter. Louder. Taunting him. Hurting him.
He opens his eyes.
There’s a small shack a little way down the hill. He stares at it as the images flicker in his mind. Him and Michael sitting inside. Discussing the script. Their dream cast. Reading the vulgar graffiti left on the walls. Falling apart together.
Michael never fell apart. He kept it together. But James didn’t. James fell apart. The world thinks he is infallible, but he is just a man. He even wrote a screenplay about it, but they don’t see. They don’t want to see.
Michael is the only one who lets him fall apart.
He finds himself inside the shack with no recollection of walking there. He sits down on the dusty floor and looks around. Searching.
There. In the corner. He sees it.
The final line of HEAT: But maybe it’s better this way.
“What are you doing?” he asks Michael, watching him crawl over to the corner.
“Nothing,” Michael says, grinning. He moves back. James laughs.
“Oh great, so now there’s a line from HEAT in between ‘suck my dick’ and ‘Kurt Cobain was here.’”
Michael tosses the sharpie at him. “Come on, brother. This is exciting! How many hours have we spent in here? How many conversations have we had here? The spirit of the film is in here. We need to leave our mark. Your mark. Come on, write something.”
James laughs and uncaps the sharpie. He slides over to the wall and next to the quote, he writes ‘blow me’.
James blinks. The hawk screeches again. He stands up and wipes his face. He dries his hands on his t-shirt and looks at the walls of the shack. He reads the graffiti.
Chrissy was here.
I heart James Dean.
AD + HY 4ever.
Hundreds of messages from people who have come here and stood in this spot with the sole purpose of leaving a message. Of leaving their mark.
We need to leave a mark. Your mark.
The weight inside his chest becomes unbearable. Without thinking he balls his hand into a fist and punches the wall. The pain in his knuckles causes him to gasp, but the weight in his chest eases a little. Just a little. He draws his arm back and punches the wall again, over and over and over until the weight is gone and the hole in the wall is as big as the hole in his heart.
There, Mike, he thinks, breathing out jaggedly. I left my mark.
He turns and walks away, not trusting himself to stay there a second longer.
He walks down the hill, staring at his bloodied knuckles. He moves his fingers, feeling for any sign of permanent damage. His fingers all move easily enough, so he assumes he hasn’t done anything serious. Not like the last time. He’s so absorbed in checking that his fingers still work that it takes him a few minutes to register that there are two people walking in front of him. It takes him ever longer to register that it is a man and a little kid. A boy. He looks about seven. He’s crying. The man’s hand is gripped tightly around the boy’s wrist and he is speaking to him in quiet, hushed tones. James speeds up, intending to pass them so he can jog home before it gets too late.
“Shut up, Alexander,” he hears the man say as he gets within earshot. “Just shut up. No one gives a damn about your incessant whining.”
“Daddy, you’re hurting me,” the boy sobs, trying to pull his hand away. The man tightens his grip.
James hovers behind them indecisively. Every inch of him is screaming at him to go rip the man’s hand away, but he suppresses the urge. You don’t know what the situation is, he tells himself. There is probably a very good reason why he is holding that boy so tightly. Still. He decides not to pass them just yet. He slows down a little, watching.
“I’m hungry,” the boy says, sniffing. “Daddy I’m hungry.”
The man mumbles something in reply.
“I’m hungry,” the boy says again. “Please can I have something to eat? If I’m a good boy?”
The man jerks on the boys arm, pulling him further along like a dog on a leash.
“I’m hungry,” the man repeats in a mock-high voice. “I’m hungry, I’m hungry, I’m hungry. Yeah? Well I don’t give a shit.”
The hairs on the back of James’ neck stand up. His hands tingle, itching to curl into fists.
“I am so sick of you, Alexander,” the man is saying, tugging the boy along. “I didn’t ask for you. I didn’t want you. I don’t see why I have to have anything to do with you at all. You should be your whore mother’s burden. Not mine.”
The boy – Alexander – begins to wail. The man stops and slaps him across the face.
“WOULD YOU SHUT UP?!” he screams. James’ feet make the decision before he does. He stops in front of the man and spins around to face him.
“That’s not how you treat a child,” he says evenly.
“Mind you own goddamn business,” the man mutters, trying to sidestep him. He jerks Alexander’s arm again, causing him to whimper. James’ fingers curl up into his palms. He narrows his eyes.
“You’re hurting him. Let go of his wrist.”
The man stops and stares at him incredulously.
“Are you kidding me? Don’t tell me how to raise my son, jackass. Come on, Alexander.” He yanks his arm again, harder this time. James looks at Alexander. He has straight dirty blonde hair which hangs over his ears. Hazel eyes. A look of desperation. Of hope that someone will come and make his life better.
Suddenly, he is looking at seven-year old Michael. The kid from Jacksonville. The kid who just wanted to write all day. Live inside the worlds the two of them created with crayons and lined notebooks. Write, write, write.
The entire world
“Let him go.”
The man squints at him. The remaining light is fading fast.
“What did you say to me?”
James takes a step towards him. His body quivers with anticipation.
“I said,” he says, carefully enunciating each word, “Let. Him. Go.”
The man ignores him and tries to get around him. James steps in front of him again. Alexander stops wailing, but continues to sob quietly.
“Get out of my way,” the man says gruffly, yanking on Alexander’s arm for the third time. A surge of heat floods through James’ entire body. He grabs the man’s free arm and twists it around his back.
“I said,” he hisses right in his ear, “let your son go.” He twists his arm a little higher, increasing the pressure.
“Alright!” the man yells, dropping Alexander’s arm and raising his hand in the air in a show of submission. “Alright!”
James releases him. Alexander rubs his wrist and stares at him uncertainly. James notices a bruise forming under his eye. His body trembles.
“Are you okay?” he asks Alexander, crouching down to his level. “Are you alright?”
Alexander looks up at his father and doesn’t answer.
“Come on, Alexander,” the man says, putting his arm around him. “Let’s go home.”
They start to walk away. James watches them go. Suddenly, the man stops and turns around.
Say something, James thinks, daring him. Do something. Give me a reason to knock you the fuck out.
“You know, mate,” the man says, grabbing Alexander’s arm again. “This is my son. I will treat him as I see fit. You aren’t the one who has to live with him. You aren’t the one who had him dumped on you after his whore mother overdosed in some cheap hotel. How about you go get your own goddamn kids instead telling other people how to raise theirs.”
“I’m not your mate,” he says, walking towards them. “And this child is not going home with you.”
He man stares at him. “The fuck you just say?”
James stops in front of him. “Maybe you should get your hearing checked. I SAID, this child is not going home with you. You aren’t fit to be a father.”
The man’s eyes bulge. “Who the fuck are you to tell me that I’m not fit to be a father?”
Alexander starts to cry again. The man pulls on his arm and turns to face him.
“WILL YOU FOR ONCE IN YOUR GODDAMN LIFE JUST SHUT UP?!”
The world slows down. A dark patch spreads between Alexander’s legs. A puddle forms beneath his feet. He whimpers. He looks so much like Michael. So much like the brother he has lost.
If I can’t save Michael from the demons inside his head, James thinks, tightening his jaw, then I will at least save you from the demon standing beside you.
“Walk away,” he says softly to the man. “Walk away before you do something you regret.”
“What, and leave my son here with you? Not bloody likely.”
James stares him down. “What does it matter? You said you didn’t want him. I’m sure there’s someone who does.” He turns to Alexander. “Hey, little buddy. Do you have grandparents? An aunt or an uncle who you like to visit?”
Alexander nods. “Aunt Jenna. She gives me cupcakes.”
“Do you know where she lives? Or her phone number?”
“She lives in the green and white house. With the big trees. And the swings.”
“You have GOT to be KIDDING me,” the man says. “Come on, Alexander. We’re leaving.” He starts to turn away.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” James says, taking a step towards him.
“Oh yeah?” the man calls over his shoulder. “I’ve heard that one before.”
I’ve heard that one before.
James finds himself with his hand on the man’s shoulder. They both look at his bloody knuckles at the same time.
“Let me go,” the man says. He looks a little afraid.
“Let your son go first.”
The man blinks and takes a swing at James, clipping him in the side of the head. James staggers back then lunges at him, tackling him to the ground. Alexander manages to wiggle away before he gets caught in the fall.
“Get the fuck off me!” the man screams, punching James in the chest. James pins his arms down, holding him in place.
“What’s Jenna’s number?” he demands.
“Get off me!”
He leans forward, increasing the pressure.
“I asked you a question.”
“Fuck you!” The man spits in his face. James wipes it away and socks him in the jaw.
“I asked you a question,” he repeats.
The man tries to slide out from under him, but he can’t.
“I’m calling the police, you fucker,” he spits, dribbling blood. “I’m calling the goddamn police.”
“You do that,” James says through gritted teeth. “I’ll show them the bruises on your son. I’d venture a guess that the one under his eye and the one on his wrist aren’t the only ones.”
The man doesn’t say anything.
James can feel the man’s phone in his pocket, pressed against his leg.
“Fine,” he snarls. “I’ll get the number myself.”
He reaches around to grab the phone. He has to move his legs to get to it, and as soon as he does, the man takes the opportunity to try to escape.
“Fuck,” James mutters, abandoning the phone and pinning the man’s arms back over his head. He digs his knees into the man’s thighs to keep his legs still.
“Hey Alexander,” James says as calmly as he can. “Can you come get daddy’s phone out of his pocket?” He glances over his shoulder. Alexander is crouched behind a rock.
“It’s okay, buddy,” he says. “It’s okay. Get daddy’s phone and we’ll call Aunt Jenna to come get you, okay?”
Alexander stands up. “Will she have cupcakes?”
James smiles at him. “I bet she does. And hey, even if she doesn’t, how about I buy you one while we wait for her?”
Alexander looks doubtful. “I’m not apost to take food from strangers.”
“That’s right, Alexander,” the man pipes up. “You aren’t supposed to go anywhere with strangers, either.”
James glares at him and turns back to Alexander.
“Okay, buddy. That’s really smart. But I’ll tell you what. How about I give you my phone until your Aunt Jenna arrives, huh? That way if you get scared, you can call the police. Do you know how to call the police?”
“911!” Alexander says. “My teacher told me.”
“Your teacher is very clever,” James says. “So you take my phone and we’ll wait for your Aunt Jenna together. Okay?”
Alexander takes a couple of steps forward, then stops. “What’s your name?”
James pushes down on the man’s arms as he tries to twist out of his hold.
“Yes, your name.”
“My name is James,” he says. Alexander beams.
“Hello, James. My name is Alexander. Now we aren’t strangers anymore.”
James smiles. “No we aren’t, buddy. Now we’re friends. So can you come get your daddy’s phone?”
“Alexander, don’t,” the man says. Alexander ignores him and creeps over. He hesitates, watching his father like he’s suddenly going to spring up and attack him.
“It’s okay, buddy,” James says, pinching his fingers into the man’s arms. “I’ve got him. He can’t hurt you.”
The man tries to thrash his legs around.
“ALEXANDER IF YOU TAKE MY PHONE I SWEAR TO GOD YOU WILL REGRET IT!! YOU THINK IT’S BEEN BAD?! WAIT UNTIL I GET MY HANDS ON YOU, YOU LITTLE PIECE OF SHI—”
James lifts him up by the shoulders and smashes his head against the ground.
“Watch your mouth,” he growls. It takes every inch of self-control he has not to do it again. And again. And again. And again. The man falls silent. Alexander grabs the phone from his pocket and runs back behind the rock.
“Great job, buddy!” James calls over to him, keeping his eyes firmly trained on the man. “Now listen to me very carefully,” he says to the man. “I’m going to let you up now, and you are going to walk away. I’m going to call Alexander’s aunt and she is going to come get him. You are never going to see him again. Are we clear?”
James bashes his head on the ground again.
“I said are we clear??”
The man glares at him, but nods.
“Good.” James releases him. “Now walk away.”
He stands up and moves back, allowing the man to rise. He does, then lunges at James, attempting to tackle him to the ground. Alexander screams and ducks.
“You had to make this hard, didn’t you?” James spits, grabbing both his arms and twisting them around his back. “I’m giving you a chance to walk away. Take it, because if you touch me again, I’m going to knock your fucking head off.” He shoves the man forward. “Just go.”
The man stumbles but regains his balance before he falls to the ground. He turns back to look at Alexander.
“Fine. FINE!” he yells. “You want him?? Keep him! I never wanted him anyway! Don’t come crying to me when his Aunt Jenna don’t want him because I’m not taking him back! Do you hear me? I’M NOT TAKING HIM BACK.”
James takes a threatening step towards him. “Get the fuck out of here before I decide to kick the shit out of you just for fun,” he snarls.
The man opens his mouth to say more but decides against it, stumbling down the hill instead. James waits until he is out of sight before turning back towards Alexander, who is still cowering behind the rock.
“Michael?” he says quietly. His breath hitches in his throat and he quickly corrects himself. “Alexander? You okay there, buddy?”
Alexander peeks out from behind the rock. He still has the phone clutched in his hand.
“Is my daddy coming back?” he whispers. James shakes his head.
“No, buddy. We’re going to find you a new home. A nice one. Maybe with your Aunt Jenna. Maybe with your grandparents. Maybe with someone you haven’t even met yet. Someone nice. Someone who will take care of you.” He looks him in the eyes. His sweet, tear filled eyes.
“Your daddy will never hurt you again,” he says softly. “I promise.”
Alexander looks out towards where his father left. “You promise?”
James nods. Alexander crawls out from behind the rock and launches himself into James’ arms. James picks him up, not even caring about the dampness he can feel being pressed against his t-shirt.
“It’s alright, buddy,” he says, resting his head against Alexander’s head. “It’s alright. How about you give me that phone and we call your Aunt Jenna?”
Alexander sniffs and nods, handing it over.
“Can we have cupcakes?” he asks, twisting his fingers into James’ hair. James smiles.
“Sure, buddy. We can have whatever you’d like.”