[Scene Challenge]I have a head cold today, so it ended up being a better day for reading than writing. And ’twas lucky, because more than 110 entries came in for the most recent scene challenge. I’m happy to report that most were quite solid — significantly better than last time, though that was probably because the subject matter wasn’t as rigidly defined.

The best entries managed to incorporate the three required elements (fork, photo, phobia) gracefully. There were some easy-to-spot trends:

1. Combining two things

We had fear of forks, fear of photographs, photographs of forks — and fear of photographs of forks. Luis Calil’s scene needed tightening, but included many variations on the theme. I could imagine it in a play.

2. Fear of clowns

None of my top picks included the clown angle, but it was probably the single most-cited phobia. And I’m fully in that group. I would rather hold a snake or eat a spider than be in a room with a clown.

3. Psychiatrists/Psychologists

A natural choice, given the phobia aspect. I can’t recall any professional photographers in the mix, strangely.

From NY Rich:

INT. STAFF PSYCHOLOGIST OFFICE -- ARMY BASE (GEORGIA) -- DAY

Sterile, windowless, gray – standard government issue. Two wood-framed chairs sit on either side of a small end table with a tacky lamp. The walls are bare, except for the diplomas and a Successories poster on Leadership.

DR. BOOMER MIKELSON (40) sits across from his client. Tall, lean and balding, he’s dressed in a short sleeve dress shirt and high water pants. He sits cross-legged, leans back in his chair, strokes his goatee like a wannabe Freud.

Across from him is PVT. TEDDY SHEFFIELD (19), the client. He’s short and skinny, with a pockmarked complexion and ears like Dumbo’s. Exactly the kind of guy you’d love to run into -- if you’re the enemy. He sits nervously, wrings his hands, fidgets in his seat.

DR. MIKELSON

So, Teddy, we’ve been making good progress with the systematic desensitization. Let’s not throw all that away, okay? We have one more session and then you’ll be clear to apply for Ranger school again. You with me today?

TEDDY

Yeah, I guess. I’ve been thinking about today all week. Gave me the shits.

DR. MIKELSON

Okay, well, that’s understandable. It’s a big step. But you’re ready. Let’s get started.

Dr. Mikelson reaches into a folder and pulls out a photo of a large snake. He hands it to Teddy, who accepts with trembling hands.

DR. MIKELSON

Okay, Teddy. Look at the picture and tell me what you’re feeling.

Teddy takes a deep breath. His hands still shake. His face turns red.

DR. MIKELSON

Teddy, stay with me. This is review. We’ve done this already. Breathe. Tell me what you’re feeling.

TEDDY

Like I want to run away. Like I can’t get far enough away from this thing. My skin is crawling.

DR. MIKELSON

Okay, good. You want to run away but you’re not. Excellent. Anything else?

TEDDY

My stomach hurts. I may need to use the bathroom.

DR. MIKELSON

You be sure to let me know. Okay. Ready for the next step?

TEDDY

I don’t know. I think. Okay, okay.

Dr. Mikelson reaches into a bag. Pulls out a fork and knife and a small snake, which he puts on a plate. Teddy pushes his chair back as far as he can.

TEDDY

What the hell is that? Get it away! Get it away!

DR. MIKELSON

Do you want to be a Ranger, Teddy?

TEDDY

Yes.

DR. MIKELSON

Then you know can’t shit your pants every time you see a snake. You have to pass survival training. Snakes come with the territory. Now, you’ve been desensitized to talking about snakes, to a photo of a snake, to a rubber snake, and now the next step is a real snake.

TEDDY

I don’t want to do this.

DR. MIKELSON

It’s the only way.

TEDDY

What’s the fork for?

DR. MIKELSON

Ever hear of G. Gordon Liddy? The Watergate guy?

TEDDY

What’s Watergate?

Dr. Mikelson takes a deep breath.

DR. MIKELSON

Really? Nevermind. G. Gordon Liddy is a great American who, as a child, was deathly afraid of rats. So one day, in order to conquer his fear, he decided he would catch a rat, cook it, and eat it. No better way to show you’re not scared of something than to eat it.

TEDDY

You want me to eat that snake! Are you fucking crazy! No way! I can’t do it! You’re nuts!

DR. MIKELSON

Ranger school, Teddy.

He cuts a piece of the snake off, hands Teddy the empty fork. Teddy takes it, a look of absolute terror on his face.

DR. MIKELSON

Go ahead, you can do this. I have faith in you. You can do this.

Teddy trembles violently. He looks at Dr. Mikelson like a lost puppy, tears stream down his cheeks.

He tries to breathe. But it’s no use. Soon, his respiration is up and his eyes begin to twitch.

DR. MIKELSON

Teddy... You can do --

TEDDY

Noooooooo!

Without warning, Teddy hurls the fork at Dr. Mikelson, like a carnival knife thrower. Dr. Mikelson can’t react in time and the fork lodges in his forehead, as the blood trickles down his face.

DR. MIKELSON

Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Teddy curls up in fetal position in his chair, rocks back and forth as Dr. Mikelson’s screams fill the office.

INT. STAFF PSYCHOLOGIST OFFICE -- ARMY BASE (GEORGIA) -- DAY

SUPER: “One year later”

Sterile, gray – standard government issue, except there’s a window. Two wood-framed chairs sit on either side of a small end table with a tacky lamp. The walls are bare, except for the diplomas and a Successories poster on Commitment.

Dr. Mikelson sits across from DR. SMITH (50), an overweight, pasty man with oversized glasses and a lazy eye.

DR. SMITH

Okay, Boomer. You know how this goes. Let’s begin.

He pulls out a picture of a fork and shows it to Dr. Mikelson, who begins to tremble uncontrollably and then bursts into tears.

Just then, through the window, a platoon of Army Rangers jogs by -- including one Pvt. Teddy Sheffield.

DR. SMITH

Tell me what you’re feeling.

NY Rich also managed to include one of the other common threads: stabbing someone with a fork.

4. Never meta entry I didn’t like

Andy’s entry recalled The Koo-Koo-Roo Incident, while Jörg Fischer saw conspiracy in the contest itself.

5. Brevity is the soul of wit

Shorter is generally funnier. I really liked Synthian’s Loch Ness Monster bit:

EXT. LAKESHORE – DAY

TIN WHISTLE MUSIC and WAR DRUMS sound amongst Angellan Clover and SPLASHING waves. But all for naught, as...

EDDIE’S POV

is a slightly less breathtaking panorama... of GILLY THE CHUB.

THE CHUB

Look. In like-- less than a minute, this place is gonna be swarming with police. The newspapers are gonna come... and we’re just a couple-a kids. There is NO way they’re gonna let this be our discovery! They’re gonna take everything from us... and you KNOW it-- But there’s one thing they can’t take away. Because in the next thirty seconds... you’re gonna make a decision that’s gonna stay with you for the rest of your life.

Something SPLASHES and SQUAKS with a GARGLING WRETCH OS.

THE CHUB (CONT’D)

And I hope you can appreciate, that we’re in a unique situation right now... that we’re never gonna be in again. So ALL I’m sayin’ is: Dude... we could be the only two guys, ever... to have a juicy bite of Loch Ness Monster.

MONSTER (OS)

Ooaaaaaangh...

THE CHUB (CONT’D)

I know you got that whole... fucking terrified of sea food thing... but that doesn’t matter right now. Because I’m tellin ya’... if we do this! Science Guys ‘ll come pump our stomachs in like, not even 30 minutes, I swear to fuck.

Panicked FLIPPER SOUNDS.

THE CHUB (CONT’D)

And I know I said I’d give you five bucks... and it sucks about my dad dying in the boat and the bubbles and all. No doubt. I acknowledge... that was real fucked up! But right now... its not even about that. Its about something bigger.

He pulls out the Loch Ness photo and holds it out.

THE CHUB (CONT’D)

We had a dream dude. You remember that? We sat in my step mom’s shitty apartment and we stared at this picture in Weekly World News and we said: We are gonna put that mutherfucker in our mouth! And now three months and six thousand miles later the ONLY thing that survives my dad’s fucked up idea of a lake picnic is THIS FORK...

He raises the fork.

THE CHUB (CONT’D)

Fuck that dude... this shit is destiny.

(beat)

So I’m gonna ask you one more time. -- What’s it gonna be? Lets eat us some fuckin monster.

6. Photographs revealing infidelity

A natural choice. One favorite by Jef Blocker combined adultery with anthropomorphism in an amusing way. More conventional — but more likely to be a scene in an actual movie — was this entry by Craig:

INT. DINER – DAY

CHUCK is sitting in a booth, eating alone. LAWRENCE, a far from inconspicuous private detective, walks up to his table.

LAWRENCE

Charles Allen?

CHUCK

Yeah, that’s me. Somethin’ I can do for you?

LAWRENCE

Mind if I sit down?

CHUCK

(Turning his attention away from the stranger and back to his dinner)

I doubt it would matter if I do.

LAWRENCE

I imagine you’re right. Let me explain, Mr. Allen. My name is Lawrence Mead. I work as a private detective.

Chuck looks up from his plate, sauce hanging desperately to his lower lip

CHUCK

Really? I thought the trenchcoat was more of a fashion statement.

LAWRENCE

I’m glad you think this is funny, Mr. Allen. I’m here because of your father-in-law.

CHUCK

Oh, Jackson?

He stops to spear a bite of the meat on his plate. Shoving it into his mouth and not bothering to swallow before continuing.

CHUCK

(Continuing)

How is he? Still the same obnoxious self-aggrandizing--

LAWRENCE

(Cutting him off)

Rich. That’s how he is. Rich and convinced that these business trips of yours involve more than just business.

Chuck stabs another bite with his fork, and points it at Lawrence.

CHUCK

Look, if we’re going to talk business, you might want to get something to eat. The food here is great.

LAWRENCE

That’s all right. I don’t eat food that I haven’t made myself. After that movie, you know with the two girls down in Alabama, I just don’t trust what anybody else tries to serve me.

CHUCK

That’s pretty messed up, if you ask me Larry. You oughta talk to a shrink about that.

LAWRENCE

I didn’t ask you and I didn’t tell you to call me Larry. Besides, I don’t think I’ve got much of an appetite right now anyway.

Lawrence pulls out a photograph and pushes it across the table to Chuck.

LAWRENCE

Your beloved father-in-law is willing to pay me a lot to find out what’s going on when you leave your wife at home all the time for these trips.

He pushes another picture over to Chuck.

LAWRENCE

(Continuing)

A whole lot. Of course, if he gets what he wants, not only do you lose your wife, but you lose access to all her money. The way I see it, these pictures may be worth a good bit more to you than they are to him.

Chuck scrapes up the last of the food on his plate, and as he finishes the bite, picks up one of the photographs.

CHUCK

Fried Green Tomatoes.

(Off Lawrence’s confused look.)

The movie you were trying to think of, the one that’s got you so scared, that’s Fried Green Tomatoes. A chick flick.

He wipes his mouth with his napkin, then looks at the picture again with a smirk.

CHUCK

(Continuing)

Now, let’s talk business.

And the prize goes to…

Marvin, whose entry best demonstrated a key quality in comedy that probably merits its own post: funny writing keeps surprising you, like rumbling thunder you keep expecting to end. It’s not side-splitting, but it’s tight and sprightly.

INT. BEDROOM – DAY

An OLD MAN with liver spots sits at a desk, his back to us.

A KNOCK at the door.

It opens and BILLY, 16, walks in. He sports a James Taylor mane and a private school uniform.

BILLY

Hey Grandpa.

No answer.

Billy curiously looks over Grandpa’s shoulder. A disturbed look comes across his face as he watches his grandfather...

Use a knife and fork to cut into a photograph of an old woman. He slices off an arm and pops it in his mouth.

BILLY

Why are you eating that picture of Grandma?

GRANDPA

I ate all the others. I saved your grandmother for last.

BILLY

Why don’t you just go to the kitchen? We have food.

GRANDPA

You know I’m afraid of dogs. And yours scares the shit out of me. He won’t let me down the hall.

BILLY

We don’t have a dog.

Grandpa looks to Billy, realizing.

GRANDPA

You’re right. You don’t.

BILLY

Did you get into my acid again?

Grandpa nods, “Yes.”

BILLY

Come on.

He helps his grandfather up.

BILLY

Let’s go get you a whopper.

GRANDPA

Can I get chicken fries too?

BILLY

Sure.

As they exit.

BILLY

You smell like piss, Grandpa.

GRANDPA

What do think I’ve been drinking?

Congrats to Marvin and the many runners-up. For the next competition, I’ll probably put a limit on how many times a person can enter (ahem) and may cap the total number of entries. As always, suggestions welcome.