“Boxcar” by David-Matthew Barnes

A screenplay for a short film

Adapted from the one-act play

BOXCAR

EXT. AN ABANDONED TRAIN YARD; A SMALL AMERICAN TOWN – NIGHT

The night is providing a false sense of calm.

The hour is late.

Beyond a quiet, remote gas station is a cemetery for trains.

Stillness blankets the train yard. Empty, rusted rail cars litter the space, discarded and long forgotten.

Beyond the perimeter of a broken chain-link fence, the landscape is sparse and the horizon is endless. In the distance, a faint glow and flicker of lights indicates civilization exists in the form of a small town.

From opposite ends of the yard, two young men approach.

AUSTIN, 17, approaches from the left. He’s not as tough as he looks.

HARLEY, also 17, approaches from the right. Despite what he’s been through, he still has hope.

They meet in front of a rail car.

It’s clear they do not need words to speak.

Austin climbs up to the rail car. He reaches down and offers a hand to Harley.

INT. ABANDONED BOXCAR TRAIN – CONTINUED

The interior of the boxcar is dimly lit. Spill from the nearby neon gas station sign mixed with moonlight seeps in through cracks, creating an ethereal glow.

The boys find a place to sit.

AUSTIN
I think you had the right idea comin’ here, Harley.

HARLEY
When the whiskey kicks in, maybe it won’t be so scary.

AUSTIN
What are you scared of?

HARLEY
Nothing. (Beat.) Coyotes.

AUSTIN
They won’t mess with you unless you mess with them.

HARLEY
Tell that to my cousin Francine.

AUSTIN
What happened to her?

HARLEY
She got attacked by a pack of ‘em. They almost ripped her face off.

AUSTIN
(trying to convince them both)

I don’t think there’s coyotes in the train yard.

HARLEY
If you say so.

AUSTIN
You don’t believe me?

HARLEY
I think they’re everywhere.

AUSTIN
I wish some of ‘em would make their way over to the dance. Devour those fuckers.

HARLEY
I wonder why they call it Homecoming.

AUSTIN
It has to do with football.

HARLEY
Doesn’t everything?

AUSTIN
Spirit Week. You ever seen such a bunch of idiots?

HARLEY
We grew up with them. We’ve known they were dumb since childhood.

AUSTIN
You know…you could’ve gone if you wanted to…to the dance, I mean.

HARLEY
Why would I?

AUSTIN
Everybody else is.

HARLEY
You’re not.

AUSTIN
That’s because

HARLEY
Because?

AUSTIN
I’d rather be here with you.
(Beat.)
You feelin’ the same?

HARLEY
I think I’m feelin’ the whiskey now.

AUSTIN
It’s the cheap stuff. It’ll hit ya hard.

HARLEY
Lately it seems everything does.

AUSTIN
You gotta toughen up.

HARLEY
Like you?

AUSTIN
Yeah. Otherwise, those coyotes…they’ll tear your heart out.

HARLEY
What would’ve happened?

AUSTIN
What do you mean?

HARLEY
If we would’ve gone to the dance tonight.
(Beat.)
Both of us.
(Beat.)
Together.

AUSTIN
I don’t wanna think about that.

HARLEY
You’d think we’d be dead by morning?

AUSTIN
No. (Beat.) By midnight.

HARLEY
I should’ve drank more whiskey.

AUSTIN
I wish we had a radio.

HARLEY
What for? Neither one of us can sing.

AUSTIN
Naw. But we can dance.

HARLEY
You’re outta your mind.

AUSTIN
I am. (Beat.) That’s why you like me.

HARLEY
Among other reasons.

AUSTIN
Name ‘em. The reasons.

HARLEY
You want the entire list?

AUSTIN
Top five.

HARLEY
You’ll have to settle for three.

AUSTIN
Fine. I’ll take what I can get.

HARLEY
I like you because you do my World History homework for me.

AUSTIN
That’s because it takes you too long. I finish it so we can spend more time together.

HARLEY
I like you because I’m the only person who’s ever seen you cry.

AUSTIN
Now, don’t go tellin’ people about that. I’ll deny it. You hear me?

HARLEY
I like you because you’re good to me, Austin. You take care of me.

AUSTIN
Always have. Always will.

HARLEY
I like you…because you’re still here. You’re still alive.
(Beat.)
You didn’t die on me.

AUSTIN
That’s four things. You said I was only getting three.

HARLEY
I’ll tell you the rest later.

AUSTIN
There’s no rush. We got all night.

HARLEY
And then what?

AUSTIN
The sun comes up.

HARLEY
And it’s just another day.

AUSTIN
Hey, at least we got each other.

HARLEY
If anybody ever found out…

AUSTIN
Did you hear that?

HARLEY
No. What was it?

AUSTIN
I think it was a coyote. Outside.

HARLEY
In the train yard? I thought you said

AUSTIN
Maybe it’s hungry. I bet he’s looking for food.
(Beat.)
You want me to hold you?

HARLEY
Why?

AUSTIN
Because you look scared.

HARLEY
Not as scared as you do.

AUSTIN
I’m actually hungry.

HARLEY
Yeah, I forgot to eat dinner, too.

AUSTIN
In the morning, let’s go to Marie’s. We can get glazed donuts and chocolate milk.

HARLEY
Okay. They open at five ᴀᴍ.

AUSTIN
Even on a Saturday?

HARLEY
Oh, shit. Maybe they open later on the weekends. I don’t know.

AUSTIN
We’ll go by there when the sun comes up.

HARLEY
Are we spending the night here?

AUSTIN
Yeah.

HARLEY
Together?

AUSTIN
You don’t wanna be with me?

HARLEY
Of course I do. It’s just…we’ve never…

AUSTIN
I think I’m ready now.

HARLEY
I think I am, too.
(Beat.)
Maybe.

AUSTIN
Oh yeah?

HARLEY
You should’ve brought a radio.

AUSTIN
Or a gun.

HARLEY
Why would you say that?

AUSTIN
Not for me. To protect us. From the animals.

HARLEY
Who’s going to protect you?

AUSTIN
I don’t have anyone else.

HARLEY
Exactly. So, don’t go doing any more crazy shit like last weekend.

AUSTIN
I’m okay now.

HARLEY
No, you’re not.

AUSTIN
It’s only because I wanted to take you to the dance. It’s not fair.

HARLEY
We don’t make the rules. We gotta go some place where love is legal.

AUSTIN
When do we get to have a say in somethin’?

HARLEY
Once we get the hell outta here.

AUSTIN
(after a moment)
I tried.

HARLEY
I know you did.
(Beat.)
But you left something behind.

AUSTIN
I’m sorry.

HARLEY
We made a promise. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?

AUSTIN
It kept me alive.

HARLEY
I didn’t see it coming, Austin. I knew you were sad and fucked up over the shit you had going on at home. But I didn’t  know how bad it was for you. Cecilia said something was wrong with you. I told her, “Yeah, but that’s why I like him so much.” She told me to keep an eye on you, to look out for you. She didn’t realize you were doing that for me. That I couldn’t even take care of myself, let alone you.

INTERCUT – MONTAGE

As Harley speaks, we see the following sequence of events unfold:

VERONICA, also 17, rushes into and through Harley’s ramshackle house, searching for him. She is frantic when she finds him in his bedroom. Immediately, Harley knows something is wrong.

Austin is working in a retirement home, serving food to the residents. It’s clear he likes his job. It’s clear they like him.

Austin is leaving a military recruiter’s office, defeated.

Veronica is driving Harley to the hospital. The mood is tense.

She chain-smokes, while Harley fears the worst.

Harley and Veronica arrive at the hospital. Eventually, they take an elevator to the seventh floor. There, Harley approaches a locked metal door. Austin’s sad eyes appear in a narrow, small window in the door, pleading for love. The two boys speak with their eyes.

HARLEY (V.O.)
So, when Veronica showed up at my house that morning, I had a feeling. I knew she’d been crying and we both  know she never cries. I thought maybe something had happened to her aunt or maybe Rico and Candi had broken up again. I never imagined it was you. She said after school on Wednesday you went to the recruiters downtown because you were planning to join the Army. I called her a liar because you promised me you’d never leave me behind in this place. I told her you loved working in the cafeteria at the old folks home because you know they need you there. You know how to make tapioca just the way they like it. She said the Army rejected you. They turned you down. They didn’t want you. Is that why you did it? Or was it because people are figuring it out? They know what’s going on between us. Do we even have a word for this, for what me and you are to each other? What do you call us, Austin? In your head, I mean. In your dreams. The wild ones. I went with Veronica to the hospital because I didn’t believe her. I had to see you with my own eyes. We drove there in her uncle’s big-ass car. She chain-smoked and we listened to the radio. I don’t remember what song was playing because all I could think about was you. Finally, Veronica said, “Talk, Harley. Say something. Anything.” So, I did. I told her I realized there was no way in hell you’d ask me to go to Homecoming with you. I was better kept as a secret, tight and hard, close to your chest. I told her, “Austin said I was the best kisser. He wants to spend forever in each other’s arms and blah, blah, blah.” She wasn’t listening to me. She was thinking about her brother who blew his head off last Christmas Eve. She told me  once she found him underneath the tree.
(Beat.)
I felt empty when we got there. We got lost in the hospital looking for you. Then, some nurse told us you were in the psych ward on suicide watch on the seventh floor. As we rode the elevator up, I remembered it was Spirit Week at school. Nobody cared about nothing except that stupid football game and the dance that’s happening right now. I had more important things on my mind, like why was I watching my friends get pregnant, flunk out, overdose, be banished away to boarding schools by stepmothers whose smeared lipstick says it all.

END OF MONTAGE

We are back in the boxcar.

HARLEY
They wouldn’t let me in to see you. But you were there on the other side of that metal door. All I could see were your eyes through that small window. Just a little rectangle of glass. But that was all I needed. To see your beautiful eyes. And then I knew. The sadness inside of you was too much for you to bear.

AUSTIN
It still is.

HARLEY
I know.
(Beat.)
That’s why I’m here.

AUSTIN
I can’t make sense of it sometimes. Of what I feel for you.

HARLEY
Then I guess it’s a good thing we got each other.

AUSTIN
I would’ve asked you…if we were at Homecoming…I would’ve asked you to dance.
(Beat.)
What would you’ve said?

HARLEY
I probably would’ve said you’re a crazy son of a bitch.

AUSTIN
We already know that.

HARLEY
You know I can’t say no to you.

Austin stands. He extends a hand down to Harley. It’s an invitation.

AUSTIN
Then don’t.

Harley accepts the unspoken invitation by placing his hand in Austin’s. He stands.

Slowly, the two men begin to sway together, as if they were dancing to a love song only heard by them.

In the distance, the haunting cry of a wild coyote is heard.

They ignore the warning.

FADE OUT

David-Matthew Barnes is the award-winning author of several novels and collections of stage plays, monologues, scenes, and poetry. His screenplays and teleplays have been official selections in the Hollywood Screenplay Contest, the Inspired Minds Short Film and Screenplay Competition, the Shore Scripts Screenwriting Competition in London, and the Film Makers TV Writing Competition in Los Angeles. He has been an arts educator for more than a decade. For more information, please visit his website.

Kellyn Eaddy
Kellyn Eaddy
Senior Blog Editor; Social Media Specialist

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