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A Shack in the Woods

For some reason, whenever I try to remember what went down that night, I remember it as a kind of film, partly because I wasn’t there to witness each moment, so that the best my mind can do is recreate events as we did so many movies and TV shows in our day, those elaborate reenactments “based on true events” that ever tried to shoehorn the incoherent, the random, the ultimately meaningless moments that make up so much of life into familiar narrative frameworks that helped delude us into thinking everything we did was part of some grand story moving ever toward catharsis, which is to say this rather filmic method of remembering probably owes to my own nascent desire to cram that night’s deaths into a tidy little story called A Shack in the Woods, and, in so doing, imbue the senseless with some semblance of sense. But, if it were a movie, here would be its script:

 

FADE IN:

 

EXT. WOODED TRAIL -- EVENING

 

Gunfire rings out in the darkness. CAPTAIN CUSTER comes peglegging down the trail, furious, brandishing a shotgun. TWO MERCENARIES in night-vision goggles flank him, M4s at the ready.

 

CUT TO:

 

Three men are lying in prone positions staggered along the trail, aiming their rifles in Custer’s direction: CHIEF, a Native American with long black hair; JASON, a black man who was once a child soldier in Africa; and RAGNAR, a white man whose forearms are sleeved with Viking tattoos and which he constantly flexes in a kind of nervous tic). NEO, a young and somewhat surferish lieutenant, is standing in the trail. Neo turns to the others. 

 

NEO

Follow my lead.

 

CUT TO:

 

LARD ASS, a tall and gangly white man in his mid-40s, runs through the woods after PIPPIN, a young black transgender man, who is chasing a bright white POLAR BEAR into the eerie, moonlit woods. 

 

CUT TO:

 

As CUSTER and the TWO MERCENARIES arrive, NEO is standing in the trail, hands up. Custer sees TWO DEAD MERCENARIES on the ground and instantly trains his shotgun on Neo. The mercenaries shield Custer while taking aim at the men in the grass. 

 

CUSTER

Speak fast, Neo!

 

NEO

Pippin ran at the bear. Lard Ass chased him. That one fired at Lard Ass. I ordered him to stand down. He turned his gun toward me. I shot him. The other attempted to engage me. Chief shot him. 

 

MERCENARY 1

(Scoffing)

LOL!

 

NEO

That’s what happened.

 

MERCENARY 2

(Scoffing)

LMFAO!

 

Tension is palpable. All the men are prepared for a fight.

 

CUSTER

Stand down.

 

NEO

Sir?

 

CUSTER

All of you, stand down!

 

The mercenaries are looking from their dead comrades to one another, as if working out a plan. But as Custer speaks, men on both sides reluctantly lower their weapons. 

 

CUSTER

We’ll have the truth of this but—

 

NEO

Sir, I told you—

 

CUSTER

For now, we continue to the headwaters. 

 

NEO

But sir—

 

CUSTER

If you say sir to me one more time I swear to every god of every panoply I will blow your sir-saying head off. Now move out.

 

Custer seems to know his mercenaries’ thoughts and turns his shotgun toward the nearer of the two, almost a casual gesture. 

 

CUSTER

Do we have a problem?

 

The mercenaries shake their heads. All fall in line and move out. 

 

CUT TO:

 

This scene is filtered through the green tint of MERCENARY ONE’s night-vision goggles. The wind has died down. It is eerily quiet. There is a curve in the trail, bending around a stand of large trees on the right. There is a sound ahead. A snap. We stop. We wait. More snaps. A whine that grows more excitable. More snaps. A low moan. ZOMBIES approach. 

 

CUT TO:

 

PIPPIN is alone in the woods. He can no longer see the bear’s whiteness. He looks around, sure he hears a sound. Nothing. He should be afraid but he is crying, deeply sad. He hears a sound. He turns. Nothing. He turns again and ... LARD ASS grabs hold of him, claps his hand over the boy’s mouth, hushes him. There is another sound in the woods. They look, squint, trying to penetrate the darkness. They start to back away. 

 

CUT TO:

 

Several ZOMBIES lurch forward out of the woods, eyes glowing a nuclear green in the light of the night-vision goggles. There is a fight: 

 

An OVERWEIGHT ZOMBIE’s head explodes in a neon, phosphorescent mist. OTHER NONDESCRIPT ZOMBIES tumble down a ledge from above, come up clawing and scraping from the trail. We see muzzle blasts and a two OUTDOORSMEN ZOMBIES IN CAMOFLAUGE lurching back and a NOSELESS ZOMBIE’s head bursting and the flash of a machete swinging down, lodging in the skull of a TEENAGE GIRL ZOMBIE at the feet of the man wearing the goggles. Amidst this chaotic din, we hear CUSTER’s voice ring out madly as he says

 

CUSTER

Look for him! the white zombie! Do you see him? no? Sing out if you see! 

 

CUT TO:

 

Something is stalking PIPPIN and LARD ASS through the forest. The sound of gunshots can be heard echoing in the distance. Whether it be bear pursuing them or whether it be zombie, Pippin resists his friend’s help. Maybe he doesn’t care if he dies. Maybe Pippin doesn’t believe in death. There are tear-tracks streaking the dust on his cheeks, but he is smiling madly, almost in cosmic bliss.

 

PIPPIN

It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. 

 

LARD ASS

Come on. Don’t give up on me now, you little moron. 

 

Lard Ass pulls him by the hand, keeps yanking him up a hill, up the hill, up the hill, toward something — yes, a shack in the woods!

 

CUT TO:

 

Through the night vision, we see that most of the ZOMBIES have been dispatched now. They are strewn all over the ground, as on a battlefield. Some are still crawling, writhing through viscera. 

 

Knives and machetes and hatchets are flashing. JASON, the ex-child soldier from Sierra Leone who went on to be an American soldier, looks on at this scene, squinting. He remembers the following in quick flashbacks:

 

-- Sierra Leone many years before. A YOUNG JASON looks on in the aftermath of slaughter. Bodies lying and writhing just this way in a burned and burning village. Child soldiers going around chopping just the same. Laughing. But not really laughing. Jason swings his machete. 

 

-- Afghanistan more than a decade before. A TWENTYSOMETHING JASON looks on in the aftermath of a gun battle along a high mountain road. Bodies lying and writhing. Two American soldiers in full gear. Two AFGHANI FIGHTERS in traditional garb. TWO U.S. SOLDIERS approach. One curses and shoots 15 or 20 rounds into the bodies of the dead enemy. Jason notices a spot where two dead men, one AMERICAN and the other AFGHANI, are lying close to one another, their gore intermingling indistinguishably on a bed of rock. 

 

Coming to, looking at the carnage here, now, where all the bodies are intertwined, and in this strange light, it’s impossible to tell if these are slaughtered zombies or humans.

 

CUT TO:

 

No more gunshots ring out. A TRIO OF BUMBLING ZOMBIES move through the woods, pushing through tree limbs down below, looking this way and that for LARD ASS and PIPPIN, who are hiding, catching their breath in the shack on a hill just above the zombies. Supplies are stockpiled. Food. Water. Ammunition. It is dark, dank, but somehow cozy. The two whisper.

 

LARD ASS

If the others made it, they’re going to come for us, Pippin. They’ll find this.

 

PIPPIN

Whatever. It’s okay. 

 

LARD ASS

No, it’s not.   

 

PIPPIN

I called it. 

 

LARD ASS

Called what?  

 

PIPPIN

Base.

 

LARD ASS

Base? Like tag? 

 

PIPPIN

No one can get us here.

 

LARD ASS rubs PIPPIN lovingly on the hand. 

 

LARD ASS

You crazy little shithead.

 

CUT TO:

 

No more night vision. It is barely starting to get light. We see a small lake at the base of a hill. We can see where zombies might come down through a draw, over the mountain pass. CUSTER stands processing what he sees. He looks around in a panic.

 

CUSTER

But where — where is the white one?

 

There are two zombies present: a BLACK FEDEX DRIVER ZOMBIE and a NEPALESE UPS DRIVER ZOMBIE. Both totter at the water’s edge, watching spawned-out salmon decay. 

 

RAGNAR

That’s what all this was for? a couple delivery boys?

 

NEO

(To Custer)

What now, Captain?

 

Custer doesn’t answer. He strides calmly toward the remaining zombies, as if he’s just going to ask them some questions. The others watch, confused. When Custer reaches them, his calm demeanor vanishes. He whips out a machete and chops them, coldly, without emotion, and chops them and chops them and chops them and chops them and chops them. And then he chops them some more. 

 

All the men are standing with their arms crossed, uneasy. Each looks on the verge of saying something. But no one speaks up. Custer steps back from his insane slaughter, closes his eyes, takes a deep, cleansing breath as if he just finished his morning yoga. 

 

Then he opens his eyes, looks at the others and calmly says 

 

CUSTER

Anyway... Hunt down the traitors.

 

CUT TO:

 

PIPPIN and LARD ASS are sitting in the shack. Lard Ass is leaning against the wall; Pippin is sitting before him, leaning against Lard Ass’s upbent legs. They hear the others coming through the woods. The others are calling for them, telling them to come out. 

 

PIPPIN

This is a good base. Let’s not go out.

 

LARD ASS

You got it. 

 

PIPPIN

I like it here.

 

LARD ASS

Me too.

 

PIPPIN

What about blackberries?

 

LARD ASS

Blackberries? 

 

PIPPIN

Do you like blackberries?

 

LARD ASS

Um... yeah. I love blackberries. 

 

PIPPIN

Because I saw bushes on the trail. I could pick them. And you could catch salmon. We’ll live like her.

 

LARD ASS

Who? 

 

PIPPIN

The bear, silly. We’ll live like the bear.

 

More muffled shouting from the woods. The others are drawing near. Lard Ass sighs.

 

CUT TO:

 

The cluster of men moves through the woods. JASON, CHIEF, NEO, and RAGNAR look to each other. They don’t know what is about to happen but they make eye signals to make sure the others are ready for whatever goes down. MERCENARY 2 is watching them; he signals to MERCENARY 1. A fight seems almost inevitable. But CUSTER is unaware. He calls out in a kind voice while walking.

 

CUSTER

Pippin! come out, Pippin! I know you’re afraid of me! but I had to gag you! had to protect you from you! just as Custer sometimes has to be protected from Custer! Do you understand? I won’t hurt you! I find you ... oddly curative! a walking, talking anti-depressant! Prozac for Custer! Come on out now! don’t be afraid! 

 

Custer cocks his shotgun.

 

CUSTER

Come on! I’d no more hurt you than myself!

 

CUT TO:

 

PIPPIN pricks up his ears, hearing CUSTER’s voice. 

 

PIPPIN

I’m glad the bear got away.

 

LARD ASS

Me too. You know what, Pippin?

 

PIPPIN

Hmm?

 

LARD ASS

What you did was so brave. I really wish I’d known you before all this. You — you’re a good person. Just good. All the way down.

 

Pippin is content, smiling. Lard Ass raises his pistol. He shoots his friend in the back of the head. Then he puts the barrel in his own mouth and fires upward. 

 

CUT TO:

 

Deep in the woods, two gunshots. The POLAR BEAR turns, glances back over its massive shoulder. It listens. It sniffs the air. Then it ambles on into the darkness. 

 

FADE OUT

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