EXT. THE SIDE OF THE ROAD — NIGHT.
The creak and crick of cicadas, warm air dripping through the vents. A cluster of orange lights stand guard around a granary half a mile down the road. There is a house far closer than they first noticed, but no lights are on.
MAGGIE: How do you turn the ceiling lamp on?
CAL: Doesn’t work.
MAGGIE: Of course it doesn’t. Gimme the headlights, then.
CAL: Someone might stop to help us with car troubles.
MAGGIE: They can fix the ceiling lamp.
He hands her his cellphone and turns the flashlight on.
CAL: Use this.
MAGGIE: I’m gonna need both hands.
She thrusts it back.
CAL: Just put it in your bra or something.
MAGGIE: Are we going to do this every time, Cal?
He gets out of the car and stretches. Jesus.
Maggie knows from many years as a camp councilor that she doesn’t need or want Cal to like her. She just needs him to listen. She calls him over from the edge of the barbed wire he paces by.
MAGGIE: Put some music back on. Please. Your choice.
She opens the passenger door and reveals Dave without looking at him. His head is propped on the opposite window. She unbuckles him. First hurdle down.
With a start, the car and stereo kick in again. They’re on the same song, but without lights.
Maggie grabs Dave by the ankles and quickly pulls him towards her. Dave slides into prone position. Luckily for her, none of him is visible in the nearly non-existent light. Cal is too busy rummaging with something in the glove compartment.
MAGGIE: Nevermind about that flashlight.
CAL: Just be patient, damn.
MAGGIE: No, I’m serious, I don’t–
The overhead light burns into being above her, and it takes every bit of Maggie’s strength not to run straight out the car and back to Clairsville.
MAGGIE: Shut it off! Shut it off!
The engine, along with the lights and music, cuts.
CAL: What the hell! I fixed your damn light!
Yes, and it was horrible. He didn’t look a day different.
MAGGIE: Thanks I– I’d rather just use my hands. There’s enough light.
She makes her way back to the bottle of Evan. Her pal Evan. I’m gonna need you today, buddy. On the passenger seat are a couple of .22 cartridges.
CAL: Hillybilly fuses. (laughing) Don’t worry about them. They’re safe.
MAGGIE: I know. Saw that episode of Mythbusters.
CAL: It’s where I got the idea.
MAGGIE: You’re such a redneck.
CAL: Not anatomically possible.
He sneaks by her and pops the bullets them back into the glove compartment. Wrapping back around the car as Maggie chugs, Cal turns the key again, starting nothing but the stereo.
CAL: Can I… You need anything?
MAGGIE: I’ll do it. Don’t worry about that. I’ll do it.
She pours a little more whiskey into the road and takes one last pull. She chases it with whatever is left in her Nalgene. The air around her is like a wetsuit full of warm water, but she can feel it loosening, the edges growing fuzzy.
She gets back out of the car and walks to Dave’s door. He almost fit along the whole back seat from head to knee. She looks at his shadow for as long as she needs to, then pulls off the shoes.
MAGGIE: We’re going to need other rules.
CAL: Like what?
Maggie considers the first:
— RULE 1) If you didn’t Save Dave last time, save him this time.
as she walks over to the other side of the car and gives a big tug on Dave’s pants. They only make it to his knees. With the right mindset she could be preparing him for bed. She used to do this to him anyway: it was a game they’d played, one of those strange couples rituals developed over the course of many intimate and giggle-prone nights together, The Big Chill soundtrack blasting in the background. Unbuttoning as many buttons as she can before she needs a break, she comes up with her first idea:
MAGGIE: You got gas today, so tomorrow I can get it.
CAL: I’ll get gas. The whole time.
MAGGIE: Really? Thanks.
— while teasing his pants off. They used to call it Jam-y Time, and it was decidedly non-sexual.
CAL: But you get your own food. I’m not eating Kale.
— RULE 2) Gas will be split.
A) Food will be personal.
CAL: Good. We done here?
No, but this is a good start. They need this. She grips Dave’s wrists and pulls his arms out the car. He’d make her do this too — he called it “going ragdoll” — and she had to angle his limbs into the holes of whatever clothes he was sleeping in. It was funny, really.
The shirt comes off easily after the arms went up. But he’s in an undershirt too, and it is splotched and freshly yellow, with a long streak of red in the back.
After he died, Maggie reminds herself. After. Right? Another pull.
MAGGIE: We’re not fucking around anymore, Cal. This isn’t some high-guy bullshit. This is real life. Real life needs rules.
She stands for a moment and stretches her back, feels her pocket absentmindedly for a pocket knife. But this isn’t camp and she doesn’t have one.
MAGGIE: Do you have a pocket knife?
He removes the keys and the music stops. The insects crowd back onto the soundstage, creaking and groaning as the band departs.He tosses her the whole set of keys (a bewilderingly large amount), with a small Swiss Army knife attached to the ring. She takes it off and tosses them back before turning again to Dave, unleashing the sewing scissors.
MAGGIE: We were not prepared for this, Cal. We handled ourselves well given the circumstances and all, yes —
She can’t help it anymore — she can’t reach him from the center from the road. She leans into the car, over his torso, to finish cutting the shirt off.
MAGGIE: — but we will not get very far without a set of ground rules, without a pla–
CAL: I got it, I’m with you, I understand. Let’s go. Gimme a rule.
The undershirt slides off easier than the Oxford. Should she put the new shirt on, or finish taking off the pants? Do one job before tackling another to be effective, right? But if he’s wearing both shirt and pants at once she can run away if someone drives up. It won’t be as suspicious. She thinks of the rum.
MAGGIE: No sleeping while the other person drives.
CAL: You’re gonna need rest. And you’re not driving.
MAGGIE: No more than two hours of sleeping?
CAL: I thought we were driving through the night.
MAGGIE: Well, you’ve got to check in with the driver every two hours to make sure they’re awake.
CAL: See, now you’re adding all sorts of preambles and clauses and shit. What constitutes a wake up? How long until you can resume sleep? If you get startled awake is it a new two hours, or part of the old–
MAGGIE: I’m not the one adding the conflict here, Cal, I just think we should be checking with each other to stay awake on the road!
She rips off Dave’s other pant leg. She doesn’t even realize she started on the pants. They slide off smoothly, as smoothly as ever, while Cal rants and raves about the tyranny of authority.
Neither of them can help but stare at Dave’s farmer-tanned body, at least his shins. His thighs look a bit like Munster cheese, the way pale people get when they don’t exercise much.
CAL: The rule is irrelevant. I’m going to do all the driving. So any sleep rule is for you. I can stay awake.
MAGGIE: You’ll let me drive at some point.
Might have been an inside thought, might have been an outside statement. Maggie doesn’t know and it doesn’t matter. She is currently wrestling with a much more important question–
Does she change his underwear? She thinks of a new rule instead.
MAGGIE: Rule 3) Be a good copilot.
She sees Cal nodding along, his quick, head-shuffling bobble of affirmation. She kinda hopes he’ll argue with her on it. Arguing takes up valuable brain space she’d rather not spend on her current task.
— RULE 3) Be a good copilot.
MAGGIE: Rule 4. More of a question, actually. What do we do when we get there?
She figures he’ll need some time to think of that one. And it could spawn some A-level arguing. In the meantime she thinks again of camp, specifically of changing little Ronnie MacArthur.
MAGGIE: I could Google it?
Best to move on to the shirt again. She pulls out the XXL monstrosity. There is a big map of Georgia in the middle with a bit of appropriation in the middle.
CAL: Jesus. That doesn’t stand out at all.
MAGGIE: What happened to hiding things in plain sight?
CAL: There are limits.
MAGGIE: Sounds like a preamble and some clauses to the wisdom of Calvert Saunders.
CAL: I’m a complex individual.
Maggie walks with the shirt to the other side of the car. She sees a couple sets of eyes, nothing but beads, glowing off the distance. She can’t tell how big the animals behind them are, but they can tell how big she is, and that’s all that matters.
MAGGIE: Can you put some music back on? Something upbeat and easy to listen to.
He turns the keys from the car and the music. It’s moody and depressing and somber and —
CAL: Music isn’t really up to me. It’s on shuffle and
She reaches between the front seats and changes the song.
Cal turns the music down, because he can’t turn it off, as the eyes in the woods dart away. A light turns on in nearby house.
CAL: You can’t just change the song like that! You see what you did there?
MAGGIE: The other song was depressing. I’m sick of listening to Dave’s depressing music.
CAL: Just let it do it’s thing.
MAGGIE: It’s been good to a point, but enough is enough. If you don’t like the song than you can choose something you want on your own.
Maggie reduces the shirt to a neck hole and carefully, using the rest of the shirt as a glove, slides Dave’e head through.
CAL: Stop messing with things just to mess with them.
Cal tries to change the song, but it just skips and keeps going.
CAL: Fucking Firebird.
In the backseat, Maggie’s hands speed up to keep pace with the snare drum as she slides Dave’s arms individually through shirt holes. The thing is technically on Dave, though it’s stuck at his shoulders.
CAL: The trip is for Dave. So new Rule 4) Dave is DJ.
MAGGIE: He’s not even listening.
CAL: It’s been good so far, right? Mostly??
She thinks of some of the songs he’d played, the ones that stood out. A couple would have fit on her own roadtrip playlist, she’d give him that. But a couple have also sucked.
MAGGIE: But not all of them. We should have a voice too. You’re the one who literally shouted to “Turn off the MumFucks and Sons” twenty minutes ago.
CAL: And he did.
Cal: Metaphorically speaking.
MAGGIE: You’re really going to let let an over-privileged white dude DJ who used to defend the fucking Beegees run the radio all trip?
How about 3 vetoes a day?
MAGGIE: 10, and we can skip until we find a song we want.
CAL: 5, and you can find your own song whenever.
— RULE 4) Dave is DJ
A) Passengers can skip up to 5 songs each day.
B) You may skip songs until you find the one you want.
Headlights appear in the distance. They can barely see them, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re there. Only a few minutes on the side of the road and their senses heighten. Each point of light is like a literal point poking into their awareness. They only have a few minutes until the car arrives.
MAGGIE: I need your help. We need to pick up Dave to get his pants on.
CAL: What? Just close the door and turn the lights off, we’ll be fine.
MAGGIE: We can get his pants on now, and we’re going to have to do it sooner or later, so–
CAL: It doesn’t matter, Rule #1, Maggie, put him in the car.
Her song is already ending; the car closing in. It disappears for a moment before cresting one hill closer.
MAGGIE: He’ll be suspicious!
CAL: Not my problem. It’s your turn to save him, isn’t it?
MAGGIE: Yeah but I need your help!
CAL: That’s not in your rules, is it?
Maggie, full of barely-contained anxiety, turns back towards the woods. She could bring him in there, but there are still the little eyes, (more of them) and she’s not sure she can make it back alone.
She looks at Cal with what she hopes are piercing eyes. Here’s what you wanted, she thinks. Here’s Dave’s two cents.
MAGGIE: Please help me, Cal.
CAL: (deep sigh)
He moves to her side.
CAL: I gotta hold him up. You do the dressing.
MAGGIE: We’re both gonna have to hold him up. Dave’s a fatass.
CAL: (deep sigh)
They each grab an arm and, on three, lift up his torso from the seat. The shirt, which Maggie had already prepped, falls loosely down to his waist. They set him down until he lays halfway out the car away from the road, legs free.
But the light from the oncoming car slides across Maggie’s chest and illuminates Dave’s dangling feet. They’re out of time. Cal slams the door shut.
MAGGIE: He’s still leaning out the other side.
CAL: Too late.
And he’s right. The car, a truck based on the absurd headlight height, pulls to their side of the road and just in front of them. The Firebird is angled away, keeping Dave hidden unless you notice the shadow outline of his head and hands stretching away from the truck’s headlights in surrender.
Cal positions himself between the lights and Dave, swallowing him up in his shadow.
MAGGIE: Good evening!
But there is no response. The lights throw everything around Maggie out a view, limiting her senses to everything that falls within the arresting beams and nothing more.
Cal slides up closer, so she grabs his hand. He flinches, barely, and keeps his head up. They’re rolling with it, people. The begging of James Brown seems to help.
MAGGIE: We don’t mean any harm. We just stopped to enjoy the stars.
She hopes there are actually stars. She remembers a sunset, all pink and purple, and she remembers seeing the stars at some point during some drive in her life that may be tonight’s. But it also feels cloudy, like the air is pressing from above, and she also feels drunk. She doesn’t dare look up.
MAGGIE: It’s hard to see with the headlights, haha.
For the first time she notices the sound of the truck’s motor. It drowns out everything else. It’s probably some young redneck in his first truck, a souped-up behemoth of a hemi that his dad (a dentist, she bets) bought him at 15. The thing is definitely red and has chrome flames on the front grill. A sticker of Calvin pissing on something (The U of A Football team, the Ford logo, A Democratic Donkey?) is likely in the back window. God she hates him, whoever he is, all of a sudden.
Just say something back!
He’s definitely some gooddamn townie (everyone’s a townie to someone) who thinks he’s hot shit by screwing with her. She’s seen a man shit in the street outside her parent’s NY apartment complex. She’d fractured her skull in the Sierra Nevadas, two days and a helicopter from rescue. She wasn’t scared by some hick townie from a hick fucking state and…
MAGGIE:… this hick fucking country road, you redneck sonofabitch. Go fuck a sheep if you’re so goddamn bored. Until then, move your overcompensating car onto another patch of the planet and leave us alone!
Cal backs away, but keeps his hand firmly in hers, squeezing just a little tighter. She keeps her eyes locked just above the twin beams of light, hoping she is staring into the soul of this peace-of-trash meddler shining his lights into their lives. Her life. Dave’s death.
Slowly, with an agonizing shifting of gravel and sand under the tires, the headlights rotate away. The truck pulls back onto the quiet asphalt and rolls alongside them. They see nothing inside, their pupils ricocheting back towards equilibrium. As far as they know, it’s all over right than and there, the cops already on the way, the papers drafting their headlines.
But the voice, when it comes, is far deeper and more guttural than she imagined it. It is the voice of Maggie being very wrong about the teenager driving.
HEADLIGHTS: Too whipped to open your mouth yourself, nigger?
The engine revs with the sound of curt, unfunny laughter, as if to say–
HOT ENGINE: Good call, boy. Good call.
— and with that, the truck is gone.
Maggie collapses into the door of the car as soon as the taillights crest over the final hill. Cal reveals the bottle of rum. He hands it to her, but only after a drink for himself.
CAL (shivering): It’s your turn.
MAGGIE: No. I need a break. I– I still gotta get pants on ‘im.
CAL (retaking the bottle, drinking): Not the booze. To Save Dave.
He sets the rum next to the tire.
CAL: Technically, you never saved him. You can’t save someone who was never in danger.
MAGGIE: He would have been in danger if he got out of the car.
CAL: No, I would have been in danger if he got out.
Oh the rum — “why’s all the rum gone!” It’s not, Maggie, it’s all right there, by Cal. Over past Cal — way over yonder. It’s cold, somehow. It is hot, cold, and drunk, and Dave still doesn’t have his pants on. The hell was she thinking? Nothing. That’s what. It’s been a long day — fuck coherence.
CAL: More importantly, you’re the one that put me in danger in the first place, so —
CAL: “A negros nothing but a coffee stain, that has but little reach. But spill that coffee near to a white woman? And that stain could use some bleach.”
Maggie, though she finds it profoundly unfunny, has to laugh.
MAGGIE: I guess it still is my turn then, huh?
CAL: But it was a good effort, I’ll give you that.
MAGGIE: I bet he was some little brat faking his voice with those voice changers. He wasn’t going to do anything. He was just a punk, a little punk. He was nothing. Nothing!
CAL: Maybe, maybe not. Doesn’t really matter, though. We’ve got the gun.
She squeezes her fingers around themselves, still shaking. But they’re not her fingers — they’re Cal’s. They disentangle.
She’d forgotten about the gun.
MAGGIE: Cal, we should go home. This isn’t sustainable. This is suicide.
CAL: We’re not going home yet. Not until we get Dave to his parents and we’re scott free. Come on — we need another rule. Help me out here.
MAGGIE: I — Look at you, adding rules.
CAL: Rule 5) Always add something to the car. Anything — conversation, skills, sacrifice. A little skin in the game.
— RULE 5) Always add something to the car.
MAGGIE: I like that.
CAL: It’s a rule I haven’t followed well enough today. So I’ll let you slide on all your demerits.
Maggie laughs. She looks up and noticed that there are actually stars. Plenty of them on their “hick country road,” she says with a laugh. Cal laughs too. The music behind them shifts into something calm and guitar heavy. New-folk stuff. Cal gets up and changes it. You can keep it if you want. Rule 4, remember?
He ends up on an Al Green song, thinks about it (Maggie knows this one, at least), then keeps moving on until he hits some hip-hop. Maggie’s never heard it. She swears they say “faggot” and “bitch” twice by the first chorus. She might not, too.
CAL: And before you say anything, I almost just got lynched for faking a relationship with my best-friend’s girlfriend. So excuse me if the Lumi-queers folk bullshit isn’t cutting it.
But she is able to turn the negative energy into positive movement, getting up awkwardly. Besides — it is a good beat. The kind of thing she can tune out to. She hasn’t tuned out in years, maybe. Maggie opens Dave’s door, ready to finish the job with that choice set of peanut pants.
Two new headlights stare her down.
–who jumps 15 feet in the air. Maggie sprints around to the other side of the car as the fox slips out of view.
She drops to her knees once more, fumbling with her phone.
MAGGIE: Dave? Dave? I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I forgot for a moment and oh shit–
She turns her light on and shines it on Dave’s face.
His clean, gorgeous face. Upside down, he looks like he’s making a silly smile at her, something intentionally grotesque. Except Dave could never contort his face into something grotesque. He was too boyish, too smooth and rounded. It’s the first time she’s seen his face since last night. Really seen it, at least. She wonders what the fox was even doing there. Had he come to pay respects? To explore the intruders? Did he come to lick the salt and waste, nothing more than an opportunist on the cusp of a feast? She notices that all of Dave’s old clothes were dragged away. That feels right. Picking herself up, she returns to Dave’s feet, angles him towards her (like a wheelbarrow) and pulls off his boxers.
No shit. No shit! She’s never felt more free. Freedom, after all, never feels so strong as its moments of absence.
Maggie stuffs his enormous feet into the sweatpants, then pulls them up as high as they’ll go. It’s easy with his feet dangling, and once they’re on she’s–
She tucks his feet and arms back into the car, then shuts the doors. She takes one last pull of rum and joins Cal, who is smoking a bubbler on the hood of the car.
CAL: We should keep driving tonight.
CAL: Yeah. That’s what I thought, too.
Then they finish their water bottles together. Maggie half-heartedly brushes her teeth with a gas station toothbrush, spraying the spittle into the bushes in a fine, uneven mist, as Cal turns off the Firebird.
CAL: We’ll get there tomorrow.
CAL: And then we’ll bring him to Big Dave, and Judy, and we’ll explain it all, and we’ll go home.
They sleep outside — Maggie on a small camping mattress she pulled out of the trunk (Cal would never use it, he was “tough”), Cal watching the road behind them for those headlights. At some point, they both believe that they get some sleep.
MAGGIE AND CAL FADE OUT.