Lit Up
Published in

Lit Up

MITChell

INT. LEO’S KITCHEN — MORNING, OCT. 18

Leo sits at a round kitchen table with his back turned to a rain-speckled window, watching a small TV set on the kitchen counter. His hair is still undone, and the newscasters on the TV could almost be a dream, he seems so sleepy. The house is so quiet that the spoon he uses rings like a dinner bell when he corrals the last surviving soggy renegades of his cereal at the bottom of the bowl. On the TV, an eerily handsome newscaster, EMILIO, calls to a reporter.

EMILIO (ON TV)

And now, Adele, let’s hear from you about the story

that’s catching everyone’s attention in

the heartland of Kentuckiana.

The news program cuts to ADELE, who stands in front of a green screen that fills with panoramic shots of Mitchell and the Persimmon Festival.

ADELE (ON TV)

Hi there, Emilio! I’m here in Mitchell, where

the county police and the state troopers are

still searching for a local boy, Dirk Sharp,

who’s been missing since the end of the festival

the town throws every year. To the people here

in little Mitchell, Indiana, the festival

sticks out sweetly as a bright spot in what

has otherwise been a steady decline since

the nationwide recession set up shop.

It’s a time to come together, to eat as much

persimmon pudding as you can — and I can

confirm how good that tastes after trying

a batch made by what I’ve been told is the best,

affectionately Aunt Garth — and to

forget about the empty factories,

like Carpenter Body Works, which used to be

the largest school bus maker in the nation.

That factory sits abandoned now, and even

Lehigh Cement, which helped supply the cement

used to make the Empire State Building,

is almost completely automated these days.

The jobs are drying up, and times are tough.

You could almost say that the curtain’s been

pulled back on this idyllic little town.

And the Persimmon Festival’s no different.

Besides the other stories this reporter’s

unearthed about the festivals this year —

the twelve-year-old who ran away

from home to join the carnies, the girl

who lost a finger in a horrible swing

accident — I can now confirm that Dirk

is thought to have been seen conversing with

workers at the carnival the night

he disappeared. Which of course begs the question,

was this poor innocent boy from the very heart

of our great nation, this ordinary boy,

the latest victim of the plague that’s sweeping

across our streets? Did Dirk Sharp overdose

on crystal meth he bought off workers at

the festival? I mean, it’s clear to me,

and I have tried to make it clear to all

our viewers in Kentuckiana,

how prevalent these types of drugs are

amongst these outside, underpaid, sometimes

illicit groups like these carnival people…

The news show cuts suddenly back to Emilio at his desk, who smiles forgivingly, almost insidiously, while Leo slurps the milk left from his cereal.

EMILIO (ON TV)
(laughing, neither with
you or at you, but somehow
about you)

All right, Adele, thanks for that. Now we turn

to another story that concerns us all so dearly,

and which just happens to involve the same

town in Indiana. When we last

reported on the Hereafter data breach,

we told you about the mounting evidence

that broken intelligent machines unchecked

by Hereafter’s parent company,

Neverland Production House, have been

abusing Hereafter users. That evidence

appeared to be consolidated by

the people who perpetrated the first leak,

setting up a moral showdown that,

like so many other topics we hear

about today, has galvanized the youth

around a new cause. And a boy in Mitchell,

who says his friend was abused before committing

suicide last summer, has harnessed all

the powers of the internet to make

a statement of support. The boy, named Rich,

has put a site together that explains his cause,

and asks for signatures. And wouldn’t you know it,

he got one thousand signatures in just

three whole days. Isn’t that something? We reached

out to Rich to get a comment, and this

is what he had to say.

RICH (ON TV)

You know, I’m just

happy that I get to make a difference.

EMILIO (ON TV)
(again, bringing the
attention back to himself)

Let me tell you, that really warms the heart…

And now…moving on to the weather…

Leo, somewhat ironically excited into wakefulness, points his milk-slick spoon at the TV and presses his face into a fake cheerfulness that overflows with sarcastic neighborhood pride.

LEO
(tauntingly)

Emilio, I get to make a difference!

Then make your own website you fucking hack.

One million signatures won’t change a thing.

CUT TO:

INT. A CLASSROOM IN MITCHELL HIGH SCHOOL — MORNING

Leo sits at a desk in the middle of a row near the windows in the classroom. The classroom seems bright compared to the cloudy sky, which grasps for a hold on the building with its misty fingers.

Several groups of students around Leo hold varying conversations, some of them bright with early morning emotion, but Leo is not drawn in by the animated discussions. Instead, he sits at the desk with his laptop computer open, working on the same website that Rich took credit for on the news not an hour before.

Leo looks up when the bell rings, and when the teacher walks in with Shelly his face freezes. Possibly shocked, he closes his computer. The room is suddenly so quiet that you can hear the laptop click shut.

TEACHER

Back to your seats. I need to take the count.

Shelly, who nervously holds her backpack to her chest like a teddy bear, adjusts her glasses and leans in to say something to the teacher that no one else in the classroom can hear.

TEACHER
(too loud to maintain the
friendly confidentiality)

Your seat’s the same. You’ve only been gone a month.

Shelly blushes as the teacher points to a seat beside Leo, who waves when she walks over to take her seat.

Shelly, however, has receded into some place in her own awareness that is more private than the classroom, and she does not answer Leo’s friendly gesture with anything more than half a smile.

INT. A HALLWAY IN MITCHELL HIGH SCHOOL — NOON

Shelly opens her blue locker and exchanges her books amid the hustle and bustle of students making their way to the next class. She is so distracted by her own thoughts that she hardly notices Leo when he stops beside her.

LEO
(nervously trying to hide
how difficult this is)

So how was the time off?

CUT TO:

INT. A COUNSELOR’S OFFICE — FLASHBACK

Shelly sits engulfed in a bulky leather couch that, in its superfluous attempt at comfort, only succeeds in being disturbing. Her mind also appears to be consumed by something intangibly hungry.

A COUNSELOR who holds a pad of paper in her hand, and who sits in a stiff wooden chair under a cross that hangs on a singularly bare wall, the other walls being covered with motivational posters and empathetic comic strips neatly cut from the local paper, lightly coughs to get Shelly’s attention. Shelly, however, remains fixed in her own thoughts.

COUNSELOR
(as stiff as her chair,
almost commanding)

So, how are you

dealing with things today?

BACK TO:

INT. A HALLWAY IN MITCHELL HIGH SCHOOL — NOON

Shelly quickly stuffs the books she needs into her backpack as if they were the memories she is repressing. Then she finally acknowledges Leo.

SHELLY
(equally nervous, equally
scared and difficult)

It was fine.

Leo gives Shelly a look that helps her open up, at least a little bit.

SHELLY (CONT’D)

I mean,

I’m still so grounded that I’d bet my dad

probably has the teachers spying on me.

LEO
(concerned and unconvinced)

That’s rough…

Shelly pauses, perhaps to send some silent message to Leo via the wavering glint in her eye.

SHELLY

So…I better get to class.

Shelly forgets to close her locker in her rush to leave Leo, who fights off his surprise and shuts the locker door for her. When Leo turns around, he sees that Rich has stopped Shelly further down the hall, and his face sours with regret, or maybe with the awareness that something might have been unattainably lost.

Rich smiles at Shelly as if the unfortunate first half of this last semester never happened, and Shelly is visibly repulsed by the lack of any effect recent circumstances have had on him. She is especially repulsed, you might think, by the lack of effect her own circumstances have had.

RICH

Hey! I just missed Leo and I need

to talk to him. You seen him anywhere?

SHELLY

He’s right over there.

RICH

Oh…

Shelly tries to walk around Rich, but he puts an arm out to stop her.

RICH

What’s up with that

computer first?

SHELLY

What computer?

Rich suddenly masks himself in seriousness.

RICH

You know —

that computer.

Shelly raises her eyebrows.

RICH
(exasperated)

The one where they got stuck —

Rich leans in close, containing himself and looking around suspiciously.

RICH (CONT’D)

— that Flori and RJ got stuck in when

we did that thing at Carpenter’s.

SHELLY

Oh, that.

RICH

Yeah, that.

SHELLY

Well, what about it?

RICH

Is it good?

Like, is it fixed yet? I figured that

Hannah would have it going now, or something.

Rich looks over Shelly’s shoulder, maybe for Leo.

RICH (CONT’D)
(tooting his own unearned
and out of tune horn)

And if Hannah can’t, then I can give it a try.

I’m getting pretty good at computer stuffs.

I could get Leo and we could come by your place

after school or something.

SHELLY

Rich, you know

I’m still grounded. And I can’t have people come

over to my place right now.

RICH

It’s just…

SHELLY
(somewhat cracking)

I can’t help it. Sorry.

Rich steps back from Shelly, opening their secret space to make room for his anger and disappointment.

RICH

That isn’t even your

computer. It’s Leo’s…and RJ’s.

SHELLY

I can’t

change how things are right now.

RICH

The Shelly

I knew before this happened wouldn’t have been

so selfish.

CUT TO:

INT. A COUNSELOR’S OFFICE — FLASHBACK

Shelly, pulled back into another time, is engulfed in the same disturbingly voluptuous leather couch at the counselor’s office. The counselor gives Shelly a look that blocks her progression down some mental hallway, similar to how Rich just stopped her in the high school.

COUNSELOR

So you think your parents are

overreacting by grounding you like that?

SHELLY

I don’t know. Maybe not…

Shelly tries to adjust the way she is sitting on the couch, but she is stuck like a bug to flypaper.

SHELLY (CONT’D)

I guess it feels

more like they’re trying to protect me than

punish me, like they’re afraid that if

they let me go, I’ll disappear like Dirk.

The counselor smiles benevolently, trying to hide her sudden cat-like interest.

COUNSELOR

Is that how you feel, too?

BACK TO:

INT. A HALLWAY IN MITCHELL HIGH SCHOOL — NOON

SHELLY
(starting around Rich)

Just let me go.

Rich doesn’t move. His anger abates, transforming into a plea.

SHELLY (CONT’D)

I have to be there for me right now. Just me.

Shelly jumps around Rich and hurries down the hall to her next class without looking back. Rich turns to Leo with an awkward smile, mouthing silently, “What did I do?”

Leo squints sarcastically and shakes his head, then starts down the hall in the opposite direction. Rich calls after him, but Leo turns into the stairwell and disappears, leaving him alone amidst the small thunder of footsteps, the crash of the bell, and the growing flood of students.

CUT TO:

EXT. MITCHELL HIGH SCHOOL PARKING LOT — AFTERNOON

The ring of the day’s last bell at Mitchell High School can be heard from the deserted parking lot. The onrush of students is anti-climatic, more like a lost migration of tired birds than a stampede. First one student, then several leave the doors and head for their cars. They are followed by others, and the crowd grows slowly as the first start their vehicles, turn on their radios, and drive away.

The outpouring of music and humming engines starts to liven the crowd of students, and an abrupt change comes over those that are left standing on the asphalt. Shelly is there with Leo, smiling and laughing at something he says. You could almost imagine that she’s carefree, that the last few months had never happened, and that her brother, as bothersome as he can be, never disappeared.

A girl, HAUNTED GIRL, comes up to Shelly and Leo with a handful of flyers that flutter in the wind. She hands one to Shelly, who takes it and looks at it out of politeness more than anything else. The flier has a log cabin covered in cobwebs and surrounded by jack-o-lanterns printed in the center. The words “HAUNTED VILLAGE” are printed at the top, and a date is printed on the bottom.

HAUNTED GIRL

You don’t want to miss the party at

the Haunted Village this year! There’s lots of rumors

getting tossed around — crazy stuff —

and I’m not really supposed to talk about it,

but anyways, you want to be there for sure.

The haunted girl runs off to hand out more flyers, and Leo laughs when she’s finally out of earshot.

LEO
(unaware of how
uncomfortably close to
home he’s hitting)

Costumes and all that crap. They’re all still

becoming afterversions of themselves —

they just don’t know it yet.

Shelly does her best to fake a laugh. Then she sees someone in the crowd, and her smile melts, solidifying into an obsidian-sharp surface full of animosity.

LEO
(trying to save the mood)

What’s up, doc?

Shelly doesn’t answer, but her eyes are easy to follow. Leo traces her gaze across the parking lot to find Hannah standing near the opposite curb. Hannah briefly acknowledges them with a shake of her head before her mother, Linda, pulls up to take her home.

CUT TO:

INT — A COUNSELOR’S OFFICE — FLASHBACK

COUNSELOR

What would

you do if it was true?

SHELLY
(caught off guard, slowly
mounting her defense)

It isn’t. He’s not dead.

He’s lost somewhere. They —

COUNSELOR

Dirk could be with God.

SHELLY

He’s not —

COUNSELOR

But that could be a soothing thought…?

SHELLY

It’s not that soothing, because he’s not dead.

COUNSELOR

He could be happy. Happier than he was —

SHELLY

Why do they always have to be happy?

Shelly catches herself before completely falling into the counselor’s line of thought. She rises off the couch slightly and grips the armrests as if she is afraid of drifting away.

SHELLY (CONT’D)

How many times do I need to repeat it?

BACK TO:

EXT. MITCHELL HIGH SCHOOL PARKING LOT — AFTERNOON

Leo looks at Hannah, who gets in her mother’s old car. He shakes his head and turns back to Shelly.

LEO

Don’t blame her. She’s scared like everybody else.

Hannah glances at Leo and Shelly from behind the passenger window, and her stare lingers as her mother pulls away from the curb.

CUT TO:

Missed MitcHELL the first time around? Read or reread the first half of the story here:

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Welcome to Lit Up -The Land of Little Tales. Here you can read and submit short stories, flash fiction, poetry - in brief, your own legend. We're starting little. But that's how all big stories begin.

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Cole Hardman

Cole Hardman

508 Followers

I’m an engineer with a passion for poetry and literary theory.