One Page Stories – Third Web

Not This Time

The van hadn’t gone very far; after the little boy had tumbled out and run off, it had taken nearly a full minute to get the girl back into the van, and another minute to careen out of the neighbourhood. By then, the boy’s screams had attracted more attention than the three men had wanted or anticipated, and they sped conspicuously when before they had tried to blend in with regular traffic.

Several minutes went by, and the driver of the van began to think they had gotten away; the girl was still struggling, but the other two men were holding her down – she couldn’t kick her way out again, and her mouth was still taped up. The driver started to relax.

But suddenly a police car appeared behind the van, and then another, and another. Their lights were flashing; their sirens wailed. The driver of the van panicked, flinging the van recklessly from one lane to the next, but the police cars kept pace. Soon six cars had surrounded the van and forced it to the side of the road.

The three men jumped out of the van and fled on foot, pursued by half a dozen police officers with guns drawn. The other officers cautiously approached the van, opening the back doors to find a girl tied up and wrapped in duct tape. “You’re okay!” they shouted, climbing in and kneeling down beside her. “You’re okay!” The girl looked scared and relieved at the same time; as soon as the tape was removed from her mouth, she croaked, “Where’s the little boy?”

One of the officers put a hand on her shoulder. “Jacob?” he said. “He’s how we found you. He’s okay.”

The girl slumped down and began to cry. “Thank God,” she sobbed. “Thank God.”

Two of the officers helped her down out of the van and led her to one of the squad cars. The officers left in the van began looking at piles of items collected in the corners amidst the tangle of ropes and blankets. There were articles of clothing, odds and ends of jewelry, and a few handbags. “Collect all these,” one officer said to another. “It looks like this girl and Jacob aren’t the first ones thrown into this van.”

“Look at this,” a third officer interjected, tipping up a wooden shadow box. “It’s a jersey,” she noted, angling the box so that the others could see inside it. “It’s been signed by Stan Lee.”

“There’s a receipt taped to it,” the first officer said. “It might tell us who owned that jersey.” He stepped out of the van. “Stop collecting,” he decided. “Let’s seal it up and take the whole van in for processing.”

The officer holding up the shadow box laid it gently back where she had found it. “I think Jacob and this girl are really lucky,” she commented as she climbed out of the van. “It looks like a lot of people didn’t get away.”

“Yeah,” the first officer said. He closed the doors to the van. “Yeah.” He went over to the car where the girl sat sobbing into her hands and shaking. She had saved little Jacob’s life, and could easily have lost her own. “But you’re safe,” the officer whispered to himself. He shook his head, and glanced back at the van. “You’re safe.” He wondered about the owners of all those items they had found, wondered how many of them were dead. “What the hell’s wrong with people?” he asked no one in particular, and got into the squad car.

The Thing I Like About …

Twelve Signs of Love (TV): she doesn’t end up with the guy.

In Twelve Signs of Love, the main character has been dating a high school sweetheart for some time, and she’s beginning to feel that he’s never going to commit to her, or be the romantic person she was hoping he would be. In the first episode, they have a falling out (that really does seem to be her fault), and they part ways. She decides that he was “simply the wrong zodiac”, and, as a journalist with a weekly column, she begins dating men who have the other eleven zodiac signs and writing about it.

Surely somewhere among them is her true love.

Of course, the audience finds the original high school sweetheart to be perfectly acceptable and personable. We think they make a cute couple, and they clearly care about each other very much. We assume that by the end of her experimentation, she’ll end up with him.

And maybe she eventually does – I’ve only watched the first season.

But at the end of the first season, he decides to be with another woman who has captured his heart, and the main character realizes that she wants him to move on and be happy, that she’s perfectly okay with letting him go even though it feels a little … strange. And she finds herself drawn to one of the men she dated for the purposes of her weekly column – and he is acceptable and personable too, and they make a cute couple too.

It isn’t just that she’s competent to live on her own without a man, or even that she puts his happiness ahead of her own selfish desires. It’s that she genuinely (at least at the end of Season One) feels happy to let him go, to see him with someone who brings out the romance and commitment he hadn’t been able to bring to her. It’s that she really is willing to let go of it all, and once she does that, she realizes that their “falling out” was actually just the way their hearts were going. It’s that, after spending her life wanting so much to be safe and secure, her real happiness began when she opened herself up to something new.

I’m looking forward to Season Two … I hope they don’t bring her back to “safe”.

The Thing I Like About …

… That “Hell No” trailer for the film-that’s-unfortunately-not-real:  that it sends the same message actual horror films are sending.

In the trailer, sensible people make sensible decisions: cops wait for back-up, college kids don’t enter the spooky cabin in the woods, guys don’t follow cheerleaders into insane asylums to play with Ouija boards … and everyone lives.  In actual horror films, college kids do a host of stupid things, like going into haunted houses, cabins in the woods, insane asylums, dark tunnels, spooky attics, poorly lit basements … and so on.  They follow blood trails instead of calling the police.  They follow the strange sounds as though they actually want to know what’s making them.  Walk down a creepy forest trail in the middle of the night? – how else can they be attacked by serial killers, chainsaw maniacs, vengeful spirits, zombies, cannibals, lunatics, werewolves, aliens, or hordes of irradiated spiders!

But they do these stupid things for the same reason the “Hell No” crowd was not doing them: they’re demonstrating how actions become consequences.  Crazed mountain men? – they’re chasing you because you took a wrong turn.  Ghosts possessing your children? – that happened because you insulted the ghosts, or stole their house, or used their belongings, or any number of things that you did.  Demons eating your girlfriend? – well, you shouldn’t have bought that Ouija board.  It’s not the bad guys’ fault … it’s yours.

In the “Hell No” trailer, no bad things happened because everyone made good decisions.  The characters’ survival was their own doing.  In real horror films, horrible things happen because everyone makes bad decisions.  The characters’ demise is their own doing.  Either way, the message is the same – these events can be controlled… by YOU!

People who don’t like horror films don’t always appreciate what the films are doing – they’re letting the audience live in a world where unhappy events, evil that occurs, and bad guys that exist are entities that can be predicted or outwitted or understood.  If we behave a certain way, then we can guarantee what will happen.  If we don’t behave like the dopes in horror movies, then we can guarantee our own safety.  Horror movies – and the “Hell No” trailer – allow people to forget that real evil pretty much does whatever it likes, no matter what we do, with no guarantees, no safety, and no warning.

Suddenly a monster-filled cabin in the woods seems like a comfort, doesn’t it?

The Thing I Like About …

Tank:  the part with the bikers.

Tank is the story of a man whose son Billy, wrongly imprisoned by a corrupt sheriff, is rescued by his Sherman-tank-wielding father, Zack.  For days they travel through the back woods of Georgia, attempting to get to the Tennessee state line and legitimate law enforcement.  At the state line, the corrupt sheriff and his henchmen create a barrier of eighteen-wheelers and a mud-field that stops the tank just short of the state-line.

But this father and son haven’t been isolated in their flight to justice.  Their struggle has been sent to every news reporting agency anyone could think of, Billy’s mom has been on television asking every mother who can hear her to call the governor of Tennessee, and Billy himself has been in radio contact with a news crew, explaining that his dad – injured and in need of medical attention – had been there for him, and so now he will stay with his dad.

A group of motorcycle riders, watching on the news at a bar, express respect and admiration for Billy and his dad.  When the sheriff sets up the barrier at the border, they show up too.  They contrive a ramp so that one of the bikers can leap to the trapped tank, and that biker risks life and limb to jump out there and bring the tow-rope to Billy.  They grab the rope – as does everyone else who has collected on the Tennessee side of the state-line.  And all those people hanging onto this rope start to move this huge Sherman tank through the mud.

I’m not sure if this is a realistic possibility; I’ve never tugged on a tank, with or without the help of burly, road-hardened motorcycle enthusiasts.  But I know that the kind of corruption the bad guys demonstrated is all too possible – and often an unhappy fact.  I know too that parents’ greatest worries are over things we cannot possibly control, that we spend our lives hoping that the world will be kind to our children and being able to do about it absolutely nothing; a movie that allows us to drive a tank to save our little guy is therefore a good movie, no matter how plausible or implausible it might be.

When the world becomes hostile and unfair and vicious, I would like to think there are fathers with tanks, and bikers, and groups of decent people waiting to pull the aggrieved to safety.  I would like to think that the evil in the world can be thwarted as easily as a corrupt sheriff can be thrown into the mud and laughed at.  I would like to think that the part with the bikers is plausible, and that, if we work together with good intentions and courage, it will eventually be the corrupt-sheriff part of Tank that seems unlikely.

The Thing I Like About …

Monsters, Inc.:  Sully’s self-discovery.

Monsters, Inc. shows a monsters’ world where everything is pretty much the way it is in the human world – ordinary folk getting up and going to work, worrying about the energy crisis, trying to date pretty receptionists, and forgetting to file paperwork.  Scaring children is just something they have to do, to harvest screams to fuel their city; they don’t do it out of malice.  In fact, they believe that human children are toxic, and may actually be more afraid of them than the children are of the monsters.

But when Boo enters Monstropolis, Sully treats her as he would any child – he looks after her, he nurtures her, he honours her privacy, he tucks her in at night.  When he thinks she’s been crushed by the trash compacter, he’s devastated.  When she’s happy, he’s happy.  And he keeps her safe.

As he struggles to return Boo to the human world, he finds himself railroaded into a training session, where he is obliged to “scare” the training dummy.  Rushed, frustrated, and nervous, Sully turns with full scare-power and bellows at the training dummy, overloading the simulation technology and scaring the trainees as well.  And there, in the corner, watching him in confused fear, is Boo – who runs away from a Sully she suddenly doesn’t recognize.

Sully watches the playback of his scare-moment – he watches his face on the film as he deliberately scares the dummy, and he sees what it does to Boo.  In that instant, he sees what he is – what he shows to children every day – and that this persona he adopts at work is nothing like the person he would rather be.  He decides to change, and he never scares another child again.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hectic nature of the modern world – to become stressed by a host of things, to let ourselves get tired and grumpy, to take our frustrations out on the people around us, especially our children who have no way to mitigate the situation.  Depending on how badly we deal with our stress, our children get to see a lesser us ranging from slightly absent to full-on directionless anger.  They get to deal with the worst parts of the grown-up world, from the very people who are supposed to shield them from it.  And we often tell ourselves we must do things this way because we are making a life for them – for the children who may not particularly think it’s a good  life being made.

It’s easy to spend our lives pretending we’re doing it right, but at any moment we choose, we can play back that video-tape of our “work” face and see what we’re really giving the world.  Sully could have made excuses to Boo, and told her to grow up and deal with it, and told himself that he was in the right, with a couple extra scares just to make the point about how “right” it is – but he chose to accept it, to apologize, and to change.

I hope, as I work to make a good life for my family, that I can look as honestly at myself as this cartoon character, and that I can be as brave and willing to change for the better as he is.