Uncle Harlow is Dead: Part 2

A continuation of the short film. Part 1 here.

INT: Crammed attic. Day.

PALMIRA and AMANDA dig through boxes of old junk. They’re both sweating.

AMANDA

You said it’s in the striped box, right?

PALMIRA

I can’t believe this. This is pointless.

AMANDA

This is the last thing Uncle Harlow ever put on this earth.

PALMIRA

You know Harlow nearly ate your dad’s savings clean through, right? Just through hardcore couch surfing.

AMANDA

So?

PALMIRA

So? He was a useless hunk of meat! He never did anything! I could just as easily sleep or watch cartoons instead of helping you. Would you like that?

AMANDA

I like cartoons.

PALMIRA

Not what I meant.

AMANDA

Do you like cartoons?

PALMIRA

Keep it on the down low, all right? It’s embarrassing for my age. I’m not even sure why I like them, it’s just the same formula over and over again. Anyways, that’s the point. I may not like this, but it’s what family members should do. Uncle Harlow never got that. He probably wouldn’t even do his own scavenger hunt.

AMANDA

I think this is it!

AMANDA pulls out an intricate moon mobile out of a striped box. She also finds a note at the bottom.

AMANDA

“This was one of the many projects I made to communicate with other astronauts, like Buzz Aldrin. It was an attempted antenna. Neil told me very useful things, such as how to create this device and how to meditate and how to understand death.” Are you ok?

PALMIRA

I’m fine. Really.

AMANDA

Do you think Neil Armstrong really was talking to Uncle Harlow?

PALMIRA

How old are you again?

AMANDA

Ok. “But as I got older, I noticed that Neil wasn’t very good at telling me facts or predicting the future. He wouldn’t tell me why. So at 18, I ran away to ask him in person.”

PALMIRA

Because teenage runaways always make the best astronaut candidates.

AMANDA

I’m going to read the next riddle. I can solve it myself, ok? I don’t need your help, even if it’s hard.

PALMIRA

If you say so.

AMANDA

All right, here we go.

“My spaceship wants to land here.

What starts with ‘r’ and rhymes with ‘giver’?”

Dangit!

EXT: Calm River. Day.

AMANDA and PALMIRA dig up stones by the river.

AMANDA

So what do you do when you’re not studying?

PALMIRA

When you’re older, you really don’t get any free time. But you do fewer things to waste your time too.

AMANDA

Really?

PALMIRA

Well, I suppose I could make time. But that’d be wrong of me. If I can work, I should. “Curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not.”

AMANDA

Who said that?

PALMIRA

Have you ever heard of Neil deGrasse Tyson?

AMANDA

No.

PALMIRA

(suddenly energized)

He’s this really cool astrophysicist. Now that I’m grown, I can study the stars, just like him.

AMANDA

You want to go into space? Like Harlow?

PALMIRA

Not exactly. But I have a better chance than he did. Did you know that Neil wanted to be an astrophysicist since he was 11? After living in the Bronx for most of his life, he was amazed to finally see the full night sky in Pennsylvania…

PALMIRA keeps talking as the sun lowers across the sky. By the time we look back, AMANDA is dead tired on the ground and PALMIRA is still talking.

PALMIRA

… and now he’s going to do a YouTube adaptation of StarTalk. Times are good for him. Pretty cool, huh?

AMANDA

I guess.

PALMIRA

You listening?

AMANDA

Yeah, yeah.

PALMIRA

So you see why I want to be him so much. He’s like another family member to me. I don’t know anyone else who has taught me more.

AMANDA

Would Tyson help us out with the scavenger hunt?

PALMIRA

Of course. Tyson’s main two goals are to know more than he did yesterday and to lessen the suffering of others. Why else would I do this?

Do you think it’s under the river?

AMANDA

One time I got angry at my dad, so I threw his iPad into the river and we found it a really really long time later.

PALMIRA

Your point?

AMANDA

It’d get washed away, silly.

PALMIRA

Question is, was Uncle Harlow that silly? It is a slow river.

PALMIRA puts her hands into the river, starts feeling around.

AMANDA

You think it might be deeper?

PALMIRA

Why should he start trying now? I got something.

PALMIRA pulls out a grimy Tupperware container filled with water. She opens it, pulls out a wet piece of folded paper and a round rock.

PALMIRA

Half of this is gone. “I found Neil at… astronomy club convention… went up to him… why don’t you recognize me… bodyguards smell sweaty close up… jail… never be an astronaut now… realization?” I think? The riddle looks ok.

“Fish answer to men whether they’re good or bad.

We put my only friend here; he was sad.”

The best he could do was rhyming ‘bad’ and ‘sad’? What the hell’s wrong with him? It’s like a swan song where the swan’s honking off-key.

AMANDA

He called everybody his ‘only friend.’

PALMIRA

And no one else in the family went to jail. It must be Finny’s old water tank. Which we sold. Can I go back to homework now?

AMANDA

You promised!

PALMIRA

To take you to the end. We can go there now.

AMANDA

No! We’ll just skip a clue!

PALMIRA

That’s not what Harlow wanted, I think.

AMANDA

When did you care? I don’t know what else to do. We can’t stop, we’re too far.

PALMIRA

We’d have to strip the house. You’re not serious.

You are serious.

AMANDA

WWTD.

PALMIRA

Huh?

AMANDA

What would Tyson do.

PALMIRA

Screw you. Wait, that’s probably not what he’d do.

INT: Various rooms of the converted farmhouse. Day.

Montage of house-searching set to “The Truth,” by Foster the People. Four hours later, AMANDA finds an old diary and begins reading through it. PALMIRA sees her.

PALMIRA

I though I had lost that forever.

AMANDA

Wow.

PALMIRA

Put that down.

AMANDA

Hey, what’s with this ‘mantra’ your book keeps-

PALMIRA

Give me that!

AMANDA

Wouldn’t Mr. Tyson tell me?

PALMIRA

Tyson wouldn’t’ve been stupid enough to come up with a mantra.

AMANDA

I’m sorry.

PALMIRA

Fine, it’s past.

AMANDA

So what is the mantra? What is a mantra?

PALMIRA

You promise not to laugh? Ok. You know how your mom and dad tell you when you’re young that you can do anything and be anything? I took that literally. I tried to make a mantra, a repeated phrase, that would let me walk through walls. At home, in class, at recess, I’d keep repeating nonsense words and walking my way into hospitals. My head smelled a lot like plaster those days. I didn’t see how stupid I was acting until about your age. I tried to change my name, I was so embarrassed. And then I started bullying to cover up for what a target I was, and that’s something we’re not getting into. I guess the point is that our family must be a little crazy. Or in my case, was.

AMANDA

When I was real little, my mom tells me I kept shaking my piggy bank even when all the money was out of it.

PALMIRA

Thanks.

AMANDA

You’re really smart. My dad keeps saying you’re so smart.

PALMIRA

Not naturally. That’s the thing.

AMANDA

Uncle Harlow was naturally-

PALMIRA

He was naturally awful. Because he got what he wanted in the end. They teach at the Buddhist group I’m attending that desire leads to suffering. But he didn’t suffer for his desire. We did.

AMANDA

What is wrong with you?

PALMIRA

What?

AMANDA

You’re no better! You want to get out of this, and it’s hurting me! What did Harlow ever do to you?

PALMIRA

I told you. I know the end of this.

AMANDA

But the search isn’t over yet.

PALMIRA

“It ends in death. Death is best.”

AMANDA

What?

PALMIRA

That’s it. That’s his last nugget of wisdom. Ow!

AMANDA

You’re lying!

PALMIRA

Would I?

PALMIRA descends the nearby stairs.

INT: Drab basement. Day.

PALMIRA pulls out a slip of paper from behind the TV.

PALMIRA

“The Last Words of Uncle Harlow: It ends in death. Death is best.” Feeling queasy, huh? I never looked up to Harlow, but I didn’t think he was this shit. That’s what he wanted us to find out. That life can be ruined so easily that you should just wait for death on a couch. The stars are up there and you’re born down here, and there’s nothing you can do since death takes us all. That’s his final gift to you, kid. What a swell guy.

AMANDA, crying, runs back up the stairs. PALMIRA sighs, sits down, and returns to studying. Fade to black.

When the lights fade back up, we see PALMIRA holding her head in hand. The words of her book seem to run together.

PALMIRA

What would Neil do?

She sees the book that AMANDA brought in at the start of all this. She picks it up. It’s called How We Made It To The Moon.

UNCLE HARLOW

(V.O.)

“Congratulations, my ‘only friends’! This is the beginning of my posthumous scavenger hunt. As Bilbo would say, ‘If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ They say beginnings are important because that’s where things begin.”

PALMIRA smiles, then realizes something.

INT: Disorganized study. Sunset.

AMANDA surfs through the bulky desktop computer, chin in hand, not really looking at anything. PALMIRA runs in.

PALMIRA

There’s more to the message.

AMANDA

Go away.

PALMIRA

I’m sorry about what I did to you.

AMANDA

That’s just what Tyson would say.

PALMIRA

There’s more to his final words. He put so much emphasis on beginnings in the intro letter. The beginning word of each riddle provides a clue. “This” “Is” “My” “Answer.” We don’t have the rest of the riddles, but we won’t need them.

AMANDA

So what?

PALMIRA

So his last words aren’t advice, they’re an admission. It was his realization in jail: that there aren’t any right or wrong answers in life. Not entirely true according to my Buddhist class, but he’s on to something. An easygoing message for an easygoing man. He didn’t need to become an astronaut or please his parents to become happy. For him, losing himself in sloth worked. He wants us to choose our own expectations for happiness.

AMANDA

It doesn’t add up.

PALMIRA

No, I mean-

AMANDA

Look at these. The fourth one doesn’t begin with “Answer,” it begins with “Fish.” “This” “Is” “My” “Fish.”

Silence. Then, PALMIRA and AMANDA share a long laugh.

AMANDA

Did you think of that all by yourself?

PALMIRA

Yeah.

AMANDA

You’re pretty smart.

PALMIRA

I guess so.

AMANDA

I like your answer better. Uncle Harlow was a dummy.

PALMIRA

Or maybe we just didn’t understand him.

AMANDA

Understand what?

PALMIRA

That’s the question. So now what?

AMANDA

What?

PALMIRA

Should we finish this? I mean, Harlow was a deadbeat, but he must’ve been severely depressed. Either way, I want him to stop sucking my energy. If we finish the hunt, we can bury him.

AMANDA

Because he wanted us to?

PALMIRA

This is my fish, remember? No, it’s because I want to. I’ve finally learned something from him.

AMANDA

This may be a bad thing to say, but I don’t think this is so important anymore.

PALMIRA

Of course it isn’t, he’s dead. The hunt’s for us. Let’s make it about us.

AMANDA

What’d you have in mind?

PALMIRA

Let’s take it slow, like he would. If we find another clue, so be it. But now, seems like taking a break to watch cartoons together would most befit his memory.

AMANDA

Yay!

PALMIRA

Only for a little bit, though. I’ve still got things to do.

As PALMIRA and AMANDA exit, we see that another note is half-underneath the computer.

UNCLE HARLOW

(V.O.)

“After leaving my cult, I knew my final lesson had to be lived and shared. So why put it in riddles and maps rather than telling you? My life was ruined too long ago to be an adventure. You still have a full life ahead. This hunt was a platform for your own adventure, your own unique way of discovering my wisdom. I hope you understand it. My last words are where I enjoyed my last few years.

If the beats of this journey come from you and your friends,

Where does your life begin and my story end?”

CREDITS

Uncle Harlow is Dead: Part 1

A few years ago, way back before I knew proper script formatting, I was asked by a classmate to write a short film script for his group. Events out of my control prevented me from sending this in on time, but I looked through it and decided it’s worth putting out there. Enjoy!

CHARACTERS

PALMIRA WEIGAND

Lines: 90

An overworked graduate student. Bitter and busy. She’s a huge fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, and is studying to be an astrophysicist just like him. She’s a try-hard, but please don’t tell her that.
AMANDA WEIGAND

Lines: 87

A dutiful 10-year-old cousin to Palmira. Loves her family. Takes matters seriously and expects to be taken seriously. Has little to no filter.
HARLOW WEIGAND

Lines: 2

A lazy man who tried to act wiser than he really was. Spent his time in the land of the living drinking, watching TV, and trying to hide his fat. Not appearing in this film.

SETTING

A spacious house in the countryside.

*********************************************

INT: Drab basement. Day.

PALMIRA WEIGAND sleeps at her desk, on top of her pile of astrophysics books and papers. Most of the room’s light comes from one window, a light that pierces the air over a large TV. PALMIRA wakes up and tries to read, but can’t keep her eyes open. She rests her head again, lightly pounding her book in frustration. We hear footsteps approaching down the stairs. PALMIRA wakes up and goes back to reading from her textbook. AMANDA WEIGAND runs in clutching a book by its cover.

AMANDA

I found it!

PALMIRA

I don’t have the time.

AMANDA

It’s the treasure hunt! It’s Uncle Harlow’s last wish!

PALMIRA

Oh. Wonderful.

AMANDA

You don’t even know what I’m talking about, do you?

PALMIRA

Yes I do. I know all about it. It’s wonderful. Now please, I’ve already lost half of spring break.

AMANDA

This is really important. I mean it this time. Please? I’ll leave you alone after this, I swear!

PALMIRA

I’m not trying to get rid of you.

AMANDA

You are! You told my dad I was too old to be babysat, and then you run off here to do your astriophissics or whatever!

PALMIRA

Ok, ok, I’ll listen.

AMANDA

Ok. You know when Uncle Harlow died, my mom looked through his will, where he says the last stuff he wants us to do and have…

PALMIRA

I know what a will is.

AMANDA

Well in the will, my mom found these instructions for a treasure hunt in this house. He said that if we complete the hunt we’ll ‘understand his life story’ and hear his last words. But we never found the first clue until just now! It was deep in his pile of old books.

PALMIRA

So if I finish this treasure hunt for you, you’ll let me study.

AMANDA

Yes!

PALMIRA stands up, reaches over the TV, and pulls out a sheet of paper from the tangle of cables resting there.

PALMIRA

Found it.

AMANDA

What? You cheated!

PALMIRA

I found it by accident two years ago. Look, “The Last Words of Uncle Harlow:”

AMANDA

La la la la la la la la la la can’t hear you!

PALMIRA

That was a good hunt. Thanks, Amanda.

AMANDA

C’mon, we gotta do this! It’s what he wanted!

PALMIRA

All Harlow wanted-

AMANDA

Uncle Harlow.

PALMIRA

All Uncle Harlow wanted was to watch TV 24-7. I bet all his clues ended up behind there.

AMANDA

You’re mean! Harlow planned this for us!

PALMIRA

I’ve got plans too. We played last Sunday. That was good enough for both of us.

PALMIRA starts taking notes in her book. AMANDA lets out a high-pitched screech, jolting PALMIRA’S pen. After a hyperventilation, AMANDA screams again.

PALMIRA

Christ! Grow up!

AMANDA

We’re doing this the right way, for Uncle Harlow. It’s what grown-ups do.

PALMIRA

Fine, fine, you’re right. I still reserve the right to walk out.

AMANDA

Yay! Ok, here’s what I found: “Congratulations, my ‘only friends’! This is the beginning of my posthumous scavenger hunt. As Bilbo would say, ‘If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.’ They say beginnings are important because that’s where things begin.”

PALMIRA rolls her eyes, scoffs.

AMANDA

Stop that!

PALMIRA

Sorry.

AMANDA

“Members of the Weigand tribe, you are about to go on an important quest, and learn about your dear Uncle Harlow’s life. You may not be prepared for the truth, but it is my truth. Adjust your thinking caps, it’s time for a riddle!

This starts the last part of my last will.

Begin at the site of Jack and Jill.”

Hmmmm… I wonder… it could be…

PALMIRA

(disbelief over obviousness of clue)

It’s a hill.

AMANDA

Yeah, I guess so.

EXT: Hill within walking distance of the house. Day.

AMANDA and PALMIRA climb up the hill. PALMIRA carries a shovel.

PALMIRA

Wow, what hard work. Think of all of the precious seconds he sacrificed for that ingenious riddle!

Am I being too sarcastic?

AMANDA

Yeah.

PALMIRA

Ok, sorry, that’s beneath me.

AMANDA

You should be nice to Uncle Harlow. I try really hard on things too, especially art class since my brother says I stink at it. I showed everyone my painting of a big party and everyone else said it was good, so I’m gonna make more.

PALMIRA

I just don’t know what to do. We know how this ends…

AMANDA

You know.

PALMIRA

… and none of us liked him. It’s why we don’t send monkeys to space anymore. We know what happens and no one wants to clean up the mess. Do you remember when you used to call him “Smelly Uncle?”

AMANDA

He’s my smelly uncle.

PALMIRA

Barely. I’m not sure you caught on to this, but when he claimed he’d forgotten our birthdays on purpose so he could surprise us later? He was lying. He’d actually forget.

AMANDA

He gave me that collector’s edition Hannah Montana: The Movie, and he’d share all those spicy chips with me.

PALMIRA

He gave a little, I guess. I suppose I should be grateful too.

AMANDA

My teacher tells me that gratitude is the sign of civilization.

PALMIRA

Oh, that reminds me. Thank you notes for my interviewers. Another thing I should be doing.

The two girls reach the top of the hill.

PALMIRA

Now I’m not sure if you’ve gone digging before, but it’s not as easy as it looks. If he’s any good at this, then he probably dug it in deep.

PALMIRA sticks her shovel into the ground. It only goes in half an inch before hitting a loud CLUNK.

PALMIRA

Huh. Well, this is Harlow we’re talking about.

PALMIRA and AMANDA soon dig up the box from its shallow hole.

AMANDA

Ok, let’s go. I’ve done a bunch of riddles before, even though I needed my mom’s help with my riddle book. I bet that last clue was just a warm-up.

PALMIRA

Sure.

AMANDA

I’m serious!

AMANDA pulls out a note from the box, which is a rusty, space-themed vintage lunchbox.

AMANDA

“When I was young, I would run to this hill if I ever needed to be alone. One day, an eight-year old me ran up here and didn’t want to go back down. My parents wouldn’t let me watch TV, they wanted me to find a goal for my life. That night, the moon came up full. A voice in my head gave me a purpose: to meet this voice one day on the moon. I looked through the newspapers and concluded that this voice belonged to Neil Armstrong.”

PALMIRA

Sounds like the plot of some weird kid’s cartoon.

AMANDA

“Is a nest where birds find their rest?

What room in the house do I hold ABOVE the rest?”

PALMIRA

Oh come on. Attic.

AMANDA

Now let’s see… it’ll be on the upper floors of the house…

PALMIRA

Attic.

AMANDA

It’s near where birds build their nests…

PALMIRA

Attic.

AMANDA

He likes the room…

PALMIRA

I’ve found this one too. It’s in the attic.

AMANDA

Ok, fine! It’s the stupid attic! Jeez!

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2.