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SLEEPLESS by Marian Cronin

SLEEPLESS | By Marian Cronin

INT. – TALK SHOW – NIGHT 

On an unfashionable LATE NIGHT set and covered in rabbit-ear fuzz, MEREDITH (34) smiles in painful anticipation. The  sparkles on her dress reflect the stage lights. A bit of pink  lipstick stains her teeth. 

Meredith sits across a broad desk from a generic Late Night  host probably named JIMMY SOMETHING (45). With a face of  stony resolve, he ignores both Meredith and the crowd that  chatters behind the camera. 

The band starts to play and Jimmy springs to life. He smiles  and graciously thanks the subdued crowd; he turns to Meredith  in practiced congeniality. 

JIMMY 

Welcome back to Late Night with Jimmy Something. We’re here with Meredith Handerson for the 11,343 night in a row. 

MEREDITH 

Hi, thank you, Jimmy. Thank you for having me. 

A halfhearted cheer from the audience. 

JIMMY 

We’re just coming back after talking a bit about your new project– 

MEREDITH

The novel, yeah. I’m excited about it. 

The audience cheers. 

JIMMY 

The novel idea, that’s right. It sounds very promising. I’m sure this will be the one– 

MEREDITH 

That puts me on the map. That’s what I’m hoping but I’m not being delusional about it– 

JIMMY 

–the one that you finish. 

With the first hint of enthusiasm, the audience laughs.

JIMMY (CONT) 

Anyway, in this next segment, we’ll explore your deepest, darkest fears! 

The audience chatters approvingly. 

MEREDITH 

Are you sure? I thought it was the musical segment. 

Meredith hastily hides a bejeweled microphone behind a  decorative pillow. The audience laughs. 

JIMMY 

I’m sure. Let’s talk about the dread–it sounds like you’ve opened some of those boxes in the attic, so to speak. 

MEREDITH 

That’s a metaphoric device from the novel– 

The audience oohs. 

JIMMY 

It’s not good! 

They laugh; Jimmy laughs with them. 

JIMMY (CONT) 

I mean, seriously, you’re telling me there are things in your past, things you’ve done and felt, that you don’t know about? 

MEREDITH 

It’s not that I don’t know about them, Jimmy. I know they’re there. They’re just unexamined– 

JIMMY 

So you keep unexamined boxes in your attic? 

The audience roars. 

JIMMY (CONT) 

I’m joking, of course. I’m joking. Beautiful imagery.

MEREDITH 

Thank you, Jimmy. 

The audience offers a contrite round of applause. 

JIMMY 

OK, we’ll skip that one. 

Jimmy tosses a notecard out of frame. Meredith’s smile grows  in mileage but not in warmth. 

JIMMY (CONT) 

What is your biggest fear? 

MEREDITH 

Heights. 

JIMMY 

Oh, come on! We can go deeper than that! 

MEREDITH 

It’s heights, Jimmy. I’m most afraid of heights. 

JIMMY 

Have you considered: the things that hide in the dark? 

MEREDITH 

Have you read my novel, Jimmy? 

The audience laughs. 

JIMMY 

What lurks just beyond the shadows of your perception, Meredith? 

MEREDITH 

You asked for my biggest fear, not a ranked list of all of them. But, yeah, that’s scary too. 

The audience chuckles. 

JIMMY 

Oh, we haven’t even hit the top three yet! 

The audience laughs and a divine countdown begins.

EXT. CLIFF’S EDGE – NIGHT 

In a blink, Meredith stands ten feet back from the edge of a  cliff with a rapidly dissolving edge. The wind blows heavy,  bringing fog to hide what lies below. 

MEREDITH 

Jimmy, no! Please! 

JIMMY (OS) 

How about that thing about catastrophic failure? Oh wait–that was real life! 

The audience cackles. The edge races towards Meredith’s feet;  she backs up against a wall, half a meter of cliff remains in  front of her. 

MEREDITH 

My fear of the unknown keeps me from diving fully into anything. I am afraid that I’ll never get the courage to stray. 

With Meredith’s toes hanging over the edge, the cliffside  stops receding. 

INT. – TALK SHOW – NIGHT 

The countdown stops and Meredith is back on the couch across  from Jimmy. Her hair is windswept; was it like that before? 

JIMMY 

There’s number 3! 

MEREDITH 

Number 3? 

JIMMY 

We both know it doesn’t end there. Tell us number 2, Meredith. 

Meredith hesitates; she glares hard at Jimmy Something.

INT. FAMILY ROOM, CHILDHOOD HOME – NIGHT 

Meredith’s MOM (64) and DAD (65) sit side by side on a couch. 

MOM 

I don’t miss Meredith.

DAD 

Who would? 

MOM 

I don’t like her clothes. 

DAD 

I don’t like her face. 

They laugh uproariously and clink wine glasses; the audience  laughs along until it dies off in a natural taper. 

MOM 

I hope she dies. 

INT. – TALK SHOW – NIGHT 

Meredith’s face is red, half-hidden, sobbing into her hands. 

JIMMY 

(to the crowd) 

It looks like she’s ready–what do you think? 

The crowd boos and Jimmy Something chuckles good-naturedly. 

JIMMY (CONT) 

(to the crowd) 

Alright, you asked for it! 

INT. FAMILY ROOM, CHILDHOOD HOME – NIGHT 

Dad tops off Mom’s wine glass. 

DAD 

You know, if I cared about her at all I’d worry about her health. 

MOM 

How does someone so poor get so fat? 

DAD 

I don’t care! 

They laugh. 

INT. – TALK SHOW – NIGHT 

Jimmy straightens his tie, Meredith steadies her labored breathing.

MEREDITH 

I’m afraid that every person I love and respect hates me. 

JIMMY 

Is that it? 

MEREDITH 

I’m afraid they’re right. 

Jimmy swivels in his seat and holds Meredith in interrogative  scrutiny. 

JIMMY 

That’s interesting. Talk more about that. 

MEREDITH 

I’m afraid that I’m annoying and stupid, or a raging narcissist, and people are going to start noticing soon. 

JIMMY 

Here on the set of Narcissism Nightly? You don’t say! 

The crowd laughs. 

MEREDITH 

I’m afraid that I’ve hidden my true nature for as long as I can. 

JIMMY 

Your true nature being…? 

MEREDITH 

Terrible, Jimmy. Just awful. 

The audience laughs. 

JIMMY 

That’s what I thought. I gotta say, that’s not a very original number 2, Mere. 

MEREDITH 

Well. That’s on the list too. 

Jimmy mimes disgust, the audience laughs, Jimmy Something  chuckles.

JIMMY 

Right, but not at number 1. Which is what we’re here to talk about now, folks! 

The audience cheers and whoops. Jimmy tosses a card. The band  plays. Meredith sobs. 

MEREDITH 

Please, Jimmy. 

JIMMY 

What’s number 1, Meredith? 

MEREDITH 

Jimmy, I can’t. 

The audience hollers. 

INT. – INTERROGATION ROOM – NIGHT 

Meredith sits in a chair too large for her, surrounded by  impenetrable darkness. The only light comes from above and  illuminates her in cold, harsh light. She looks down at her  feet, which dangle a foot above the floor. 

From the darkness, AN AUTHORITY FIGURE (45) looms large into  view. He towers over Meredith and hovers just out of sight.  Meredith cowers from this specter. 

AN AUTHORITY FIGURE 

You failed the test, Meredith. Did you study? 

MEREDITH 

Yes– 

AN AUTHORITY FIGURE 

Don’t lie! 

Meredith looks down at her feet again. 

MEREDITH 

No. 

AN AUTHORITY FIGURE 

And you stole Harold’s candy bar in the lunchroom 

MEREDITH 

No! THat’s not true! We traded.

AN AUTHORITY FIGURE 

Don’t lie! Who would trade their Snickers, Meredith? Who would do that?! 

MEREDITH 

I had Skittles! We traded! Ask Har–

Mid-sentence, Meredith’s voice dilates and stretches. The final syllable of Meredith’s unfinished alibi hangs in a low,  grotesque din that traverses the lifespan of the universe. 

AN AUTHORITY FIGURE 

And Harold is dead. 

Meredith speaks but no sound comes out. Her movements grow slow and sticky. 

AN AUTHORITY FIGURE 

And you killed him. 

Meredith’s mouth hangs open, she fights to pound her fists in slow-mo protest. Time is the consistency of chocolate pudding. 

AN AUTHORITY FIGURE (CONT) 

Just tell me you didn’t do it. Tell me you did not murder Harold for his Snickers bar in the lunchroom and I’ll believe you. 

Meredith has successfully mouthed the word “NO” but still no sound escapes. 

AN AUTHORITY FIGURE 

Just tell me what happened. Your silence will be considered an admission of guilt. 

An Authority Figure stamps a large red GUILTY conclusion onto  some papers. 

INT. – TALK SHOW – NIGHT 

Time returns to its proper consistency, and all the words she couldn’t speak come tumbling out of Meredith’s mouth. 

MEREDITH 

It wasn’t me! I was in the bathroom when Harold was murdered!

The audience roars in mocking laughter, Jimmy Something grimaces and Meredith reddens. 

JIMMY 

Too much information, Meredith! 

The crowd howls in glee; they hoot and jeer at Meredith and  she shrinks into the couch, which is now too big for her.  Jimmy looms over her like An Authority Figure. 

JIMMY (CONT) 

What is it, Mere? Have you figured it out yet? 

MEREDITH 

I’m afraid of being ignored. 

JIMMY 

Or worse…? 

MEREDITH 

I’m afraid I’ll never get the chance to speak at all. 

JIMMY 

Or, worse yet…? 

MEREDITH 

I’m afraid I will get the chance to speak and the words will be worthless. 

JIMMY 

You’re getting there! 

MEREDITH 

I’m afraid that the words will be worthless because I am not special. 

JIMMY 

You are an empty room in a boring house. 

MEREDITH 

You have read the novel. 

JIMMY 

I have! Let’s just say you have a lot to worry about. 

The crowd howls, louder and rowdier than any reaction of the night.

JIMMY (CONT) 

And that is all we have time for. 

The crowd cheers. 

JIMMY (CONT) 

Good night, folks, thank you for joining us. And, remember: 

Led by Jimmy Something, the crowd chants in practiced  taunting: 

JIMMY + EVERYONE 

You! Can’t! Hide! Anything! 

JIMMY 

That’s right. Good night folks. Back to your regularly scheduled nightmares. 

The scene fades, a plywood sign lowers from the heavens. “THE  END” is painted in an imperfect hand and the edges are bordered by strobing lightbulbs. One of the lightbulbs is out. 

 THE END 

About the Author:

Marian Cronin wrote the dark comedy, SLEEPLESS, during her downtime at preschool. Marian, a teacher and writer from Chicago, enjoys baking, house plants, and repurposing her nightmares as entertainment. Marian has a BA in Cinema Art & Science from Columbia College Chicago and has been writing fiction since grade school. For new writing, photos of her dog, and opinions on grave-robbing, follow Marian on Instagram @marian.did.it.