Twilight (of the Idols) Zone
BLACK AND WHITE
EXTERIOR: Ground Zero, NYC. CLOSE ON:
The late Rod Serling, looking none too shabby, calm, cool, omniscient, like it’s 1962, and he’s still smoking!
“Submitted for your approval: a man barely alive, a man without thoughts or dreams, a man without history or conscience, a man who works long hours for compensation of decreasing value. You are about to meet a certain Mr. Strom Bone, a typical American on a most atypical day, here, in the Twilight (of the Idols) Zone…”
INTERIOR. A one-bedroom Apartment in NYC. STROM BONE, tall, lean, awkward. wearing a dark suit. Sweating, panicked, pale and smoking, he sips a cup of coffee hurriedly, flips through the NEW YORK TIMES and fondles THE MAID.
It was only days ago, though it seems like centuries. Morning was regular enough. Woke up, read in the New York Times about how Saddam was on the war path again, kissed the maid good-bye -agency perk– and went off to work my usual long hours for devaluted comisery or whatever the hell the guy in the black suit said.
EXT. BUSY STREET. A STRANGER whips out an automatic pistol and mows down several other STRANGERS.
BONE (VOICE OVER)
I am, or was, a fact checker for the Homeland Security/TIPS Handbook and Weekly Guide. Yeah, I know. I’ve heard all the jokes before, so don’t knock yourself out (“Finding a fact at Homeland Security is like…” yadda yadda badda boom). But you’d be surprised. There are serious facts about securing The Homeland that most folks don’t know. Like this tip in the upcoming issue: “If you see a stranger you don’t know pull out a heretofore concealed handgun and ‘light up’ several other strangers whom you do not know, it’s probably a SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY and should be reported to the TIPS hotline IMMEDIATELY…” Now, if it had been a known and trusted companion who smoked the strangers, or if the strangers weren’t strangers, but cherished friends, the incident would be a bummer, definitely, maybe even a crime, depending on the shooter’s objective, motivation, such and such and so on, but it would not fall under the category of SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY, warranting a call to the Hotline and perhaps the services of Homeland Security. People should know these things.
INT. A CLUTTERED OFFICE.
Anyway, I was at the office when the Aliens from Outer Space, The Kahunas, they called themselves, crashed a big assembly meeting at the UN and broadcast themselves on every TV and Computer screen on the whole damn planet.
INT. THE UN ASSEMBLY. The KAHUNAS are BEARDED and HUGE, real PAUL BUNYAN types in LUMBERJACK attire; the women wear loose cotton PEASANT FROCKS and THICK-SOLED SANDALS and are somewhat hirsute above the ankles.
Fidelio, the guy I share my office with speaks like six different languages, everything but English, which is probably why they put us together, so we couldn’t share info, poured over his paperwork and I mine when the Kahunas made themselves known on the overhead monitors that poured news, sitcoms and other suspicious activities into our office 24/7. Fidelio was tuned to some Spanish or Korean Station, I couldn’t tell, while my monitor gushed regular Homeland TV.
CUT TO: INT. Bone’s Office.
The Alien on Fidelio’s screen spoke directly to my head, in English, without moving his lips. Transmitted his thoughts telepathically, and I imagine Fidelio ‘heard’ them in French or Spanish or Swahili or whatever he was tuned into at the time.
FIDELIO watches the screen and nods in understanding.
These Kahunas had mojo alright. They stimulated our endorphins and god know what other illicit chemicals in our brains, took the war on drugs straight to the source. Dirty fighting, but we fell for it. We had no choice. Every time we tried to resist they made us feel…happy. Sneaky bastards.
A THICK BOOK with strange letters on the cover.
They left several copies of a book at the UN but it was in some foreign Alien cockamamie language so who the hell could read it? Finally in a joint effort by some of NATO’s top code crackers they puzzled out the large-print title, “How to Save Man,” which seemed innocuous enough, too innocuous. I for one was suspicious. The crack code-crackers moved on to the sub-title.
PULL BACK reveals SIX CRACK CODE CRACKERS arguing over the book.
The Kahunas promised to show us their world of clean plenty and peace and all that suspiciously commie-sounding crap, but you had to sign up for a six-month “training course,” to qualify for the trip.
EXT. MONTAGE of DESPERATE MASSES rushing to board grade B movie-type FLYING SAUCERS.
Hell, you never saw such a run on all those space ships they had parked like chartered buses in open fields all over the world. They’d zip away and come back in a few days for more “students.” I wondered where the hell their planet was anyway or what kind of technology they were using to zip back and forth like that. When one of the newsmen asked the Big Kahuna how they got around so fast, he said, or rather, telepathed, “We harness the power of the stars.” “Nuclear?” asked the talking Head. “Light,” said the Big Kahuna.
EXT. BIG KAHUNA giving interview to reporters.
After several thousand people worldwide went off and more were lining up to take the trip to Kahuna U. I got The Call from Headquarters. “Why me?” I asked. I had an eye for detail, they claimed. And anyway, I wasn’t particularly important — even the goddamn alien Kahunas could see that – so I would arouse less suspicion than say, Tom Ridge. I asked, “When?” Headquarters said, “Yesterday.”
INT. BONE riding the C LOCAL in his suit, and carrying his briefcase.
So I took the C Train to Yankee Stadium, where the chartered flights to Kahuna were taking off hourly (go figure). Man, you should have seen all the people in the stands waiting their turn. Thermoses, knapsacks, sleeping bags…like a friggin’ Grateful Dead Concert.
EXT. YANKEE Stadium. The field is crowded with people and FLYING SAUCERS. The stands are packed to capacity.
Of course I got to the head of the line as a VIP “student,” and was formally greeted by the Kahuna’s Manhattan Liaison.
EXT. SECOND BASE. A KAHUNA leads BONE ahead of a long line of people and up the steps of a SAUCER.
I was just about on board when one of those NATO code crackers I recognized from TV came running toward the ship huffing and puffing.
EXT. THE INFIELD. A CODE CRACKER runs frantically toward the SHIP parked on second base.
Don’t go! Get off the Ship! We deciphered the subtitle. It’s… it’s…”An Environmental Cookbook!”
The CODE CRACKER watches the automatic doors of the FLYING SAUCER close.
CUT TO: INT. FLYING SAUCER. CLOSE ON BONE, sweating, smoking, as he nervously completes his story.
But the doors had already begun to close; we were trapped. Sure enough, the Kahunas on the ship explained to me that the “course” I was to take was based on the text of “How to Save Man: An Environmental Cookbook!”- all about organic farming and diversified crops and renewable energy sources and…good god…immediate and absolute renunciation of fossil fuels…I always thought humans were about the worst mistake of Creation but we had nothing on these Kahunas…
PULL BACK REVEALS
BONE on a bench sandwiched between GEORGE W. BUSH and SADDAM HUSSEIN. All three men are GLUM. Bone snubs out his cigarette and reaches for another. Saddam GRABS Bone’s hand.
Haven’t we had enough, my friend? I believe we have had enough smoke today.
Yeah. What’re you tryin’ to do, kill us all?
ENTER SERLING smoking coolly, his back to the three men.
SADDAM (Shaking his fist)
Put out the damn cigarette or I will kill you!
DUBYA (Squaring his Chin)
I must concurrent. Unless you stop igniting those Weapons of Mass Destruction, dour consequences will ensue!
BONE (nervous, to SERLING)
Better listen to ‘em, Big Guy. These freaks are facing some monster petroleum withdrawl. They’re liable to do anything.
Yes. We are going on the “natch.”
The horror. The horror.
SERLING flicks his butt insouciantly, and grins.
Strom Bone, a man who stepped off life’s treadmill to climb the stairway to Kahuna, is about to join two most unlikely scholars in the age-old study of “How to Save Man.” Here, in that most prestigious of Universities, “The Twilight (of the Idols) Zone.”
MUSIC. FADE OUT.
ADAM ENGEL lives in NYC and communicates often with the late Rod Serling, with whom he collaborated on this brief teleplay. He (and Serling) welcome comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.