Measured by the number of entries, the first-ever John August Scene Challenge was a surprising success. In terms of quality, well, there was a disappointing sameness that I’m going to blame on the limited nature of the assignment.
Many entries were just a slightly-better version of the existing scene. While a lot of rewriting is polishing and optimizing, a challenge like this one should be seen as a call to arms. Fortune favors the bold, because really, what have you got to lose trying an outlandish approach? It’s not like you’re going to get voted off.1
That’s why I’m handing first place to Liz (#57), who went in a vastly different direction with the scene. It’s not perfect, but it’s disturbing in an interesting way, which counts for a lot. It’s like American Pie as remade by Lars Von Trier.
INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – DAY
Lying in a hospital bed is all that remains of Shane, 19, former college athlete. A chart at the foot of his bed lists his diagnosis as bacterial meningitis, and chronicles a horrifying list of failed treatments and emergency surgeries he has undergone since his admission three days ago. Both his legs and his left arm are now amputated, bandaged-wrapped stumps.
Shane lies in bed, staring off into space. In the background, a television set bolted to the wall is playing an old episode of Star Trek. Shane begins to focus in on the television. The vacant expression on his face is slowly replaced by one of annoyance.
I cannae do it, Captain! Not in three hours!
We need that warp drive, Mr. Scott, and we need it now!
Shane’s eyes drift to where the remote control is located, on a small table to the left of his hospital bed. He moves his left arm-stump, attempting to get at it, but can’t.
But sir, it’s impossible! You cannae change the laws of physics!
Making an heroic effort, Shane reaches across his body with his good right arm, and attempts to grab the remote. Unfortunately his effort knocks it on the floor. Shane slumps back on his pillow, staring at the ceiling and trying not to cry. He makes a concerted effort to think about something else. Meanwhile, the Star Trek has moved on to a scene with Kirk and a beautiful alien. Shane doesn’t want to watch, but can’t help it. There’s nothing he can do about it.
A quirky expression crosses Shane’s face as he suddenly realizes there may yet be something fun within his reach. He steals a glance around the room. An elderly man on a respirator is asleep in the next bed, but there are no nurses in sight. With his remaining good hand, Shane reaches underneath his sheets, and begins quietly pleasuring himself. He closes his eyes, enjoying it.
Shane’s eyes pop open to see DUSTIN(19) and SAM(20) standing over his hospital bed, aghast.
Oh my God.
Guys! Uh, this isn’t as bad as it looks.
Sam and Dustin are speechless.
Dude... That’s quite possibly the bravest thing I think I’ve ever heard anyone say.
You’re cut to pieces and you nearly died, and it’s not as bad as it looks?
Oh... No, I mean, I wasn’t just, uh, whackin’ it to Star Trek... That’s just what’s on... The remote’s on the floor there...
(not knowing whether to laugh or cry)
It’s good to know you still got all the important parts.
Guess I’m just lucky that way.
Dude, you could totally get a job as a sperm donor. I heard they pay fifty bucks a load!
Oh yeah? I’m there, man.
Shane’s false bravado is slipping, and he barely gets out the previous line. He turns his head away from his buddies, and rubs his eyes against his left shoulder-stump.
(glaring at Sam accusingly, but speaking to Shane)
We’ll come by later. We should let you get some rest.
(still not looking at them as Dustin hurries Sam out)
Alone again, with his masturbating success now overshadowed by the bleakness of his future prospects, Shane weeps silently, tears running down his cheeks and pooling on the bed.
Of the more conventional entries, my favorite was probably by Eric Szyszka (#18), who recognized that since the audience fully expects Shane to get caught whacking off, the real opportunity comes in reaching for unexpected references. In this case, Blingons.
INT. SHANE’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
SHANE, 20’s, sits in front of his laptop. Circles encase his sleep-deprived eyes as he types away at his keyboard. A TV set blares in the background; he ignores it.
“Term paper” rests in the upper left-hand corner of the page.
Shane checks the time 6:30 AM. Early sunlight peeks through the window.
He suddenly gets a pop-up ad. A nude woman.
His brow raises and he clicks it.
A small chested woman.
Mm, not bad. Not really my-
Shane stops in his tracks as he leers up to the TV.
MARINA SIRTIS, portraying Counselor Deanna Troi in a low-cut top, is featured prominently in the shot.
Shane’s lips curl in delight. He starts to masturbate.
LIEUTENANT WORF enters the scene.
Shane suddenly jumps back and grabs his remote.
Thank god for TiVo.
He rewinds the scene.
DUSTIN, 20’s, Shane’s roommate, abruptly enters the room.
You wouldn’t believe where I woke up this morning! Do you remember Cynthia?
Lieutenant Worf enters the scene, just as before.
Dustin notices Shane.
Jesus Christ, dude!
Shane quickly covers himself.
Don’t you fucking knock?
It’s my room too, dick. Wait a second, you jerk off to Blingons?
What the fuck is a Blingon?
Bling? That’s so wrong.
Uh, no. B is for black, racist, not “black men wear jewelry.”
This is too good not to wake Sam over.
Dustin bangs on the wall.
Hey, Sam! Shane’s beats it to Blingons.
Sam staggers in; half asleep.
Dude, you like Michael Dorn?
No, you fucking assholes. Okay, I was jerking off, you caught me. But I wasn’t doing it to Klingon or Blingons or whatever, okay? This is what I was jerking off to.
Shane rewinds the episode too far.
The TiVo freezes on a frame of WESLEY CRUSHER – A 15 year old boy.
No! It wasn’t-
Dustin starts to leave.
I’m putting in a housing transfer.
I’m impressed by all the readers who took the time to enter.2 Notably, nearly every scene was better than original, which should give Shane plenty of ammunition to say, “Suck it, Sam.” I fully plan to do this again with a bit more open-ended assignment.
Do you agree or disagree with my assessments? The comments section is your chance to stump for what you think should have won. Just keep in mind that campaigning for your own entry is lame, and will probably be exposed.