“Here,” he says and plops down a manuscript. He has eyes so earnest they gleam like headlights on bright.
“I have written a screenplay.”
And now, I think, is the time to run. To tell him I’ve got a train to catch, a job to do, a dog to walk, a hole I’ve got to crawl into — anything! For I fear his next words will be . . .
“And I’d like you to read it.”
Only he doesn’t say, “Read.” He says, “Critique.” And then his lips twitch. And he gives a laugh that he perhaps meant to sound evil — heh, heh, heh! Yet, comes out sounding more like he’s been goosed.
They say it pays to have friends. But maybe not if they’re nuts.
I swallow. “What’s it about?” From the size, I would guess it’s a biopic of Methuselah. In slow motion.
“It’s a horror story,” he says. He’s got that right. If I have to read it, it’s a nightmare.
He leans at me. “It’s the ultimate Japanese screamer. One that will scare the socks off the Western world.”
I’m scared already. Because I swear I just saw the manuscript move all by itself. Inching itself toward the waste can.
He says, “I call it . . . ‘Cryptomeria.’ “
My turn to give a goosey laugh. “Hold your Halloween horses! Cryptomeria is a tree!”
“Right. Cryptomeria japonica. The Japanese cedar.”
“You wrote a horror script about trees?”
“Yeah,” he says and sits down. “What is spookier than one of those giant, gnarled cedars, fading in from the morning mist at some mountain Shinto shrine? They’re 100 percent creepy.”
“But . . . all they do is stand there.”
He taps the manuscript. “Not in this story. Here they wage war on human flesh.”
“But . . . they’re trees!”
“What do they do? Throw apples? Like in ‘The Wizard of Oz’?”
“Don’t be silly! They’re cedars! They have no apples!” He puts arm one slowly around me. “What they do is . . . GET you!” And he almost jerks me from my chair. “And then they make you one with the wood.”
I stare at him. “I think your head is already one with the wood.”
He edges back. “No, no, no. The West is enamored with mystical Japan — ninja and ghosts and stuff. Think of ‘The Ring’! Think of ‘Juon.’ This will be the next big Japanese scare.”
He sweeps one hand through the air, as if revealing a title. ” ‘Cryptomeria!’ I can see the box office lines already.”
“Yes. I can believe you’re seeing things.”
He raises a finger to make me pause and then leafs through his script, stopping at what looks like page 300. “Listen to this . . .”
And he relates a scene where the hero sneaks into this ancient library at night, to research about the trees. Yet, outside the entrance stands a cedar. While the hero flips through yellowed texts, there are branches scratching at the window. Then when he leaves, the tree is again at the entrance.
“But get this . . .” My friend’s eyebrows arch. “Now it’s on the other side!”
Around us, coffee shop chatter continues unabated. I blink. He clears his throat. “Now it’s on the other side!”
“I heard you!”
“Isn’t that spooky?”
“Listen. Movies are all about making money. Do you think people are going to lay down hard-earned cash to see a film about trees?”
“Yes! Remember, ‘Night of the Lepus,’ about giant rabbits? Or ‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space?’ They’re classics! And ‘Cryptomeria’ will be creepier and chillier than either! Especially in 3D!”
“You know . . . with craggy limbs sweeping over the audience. And allergy pollen wafting in the air.”
“Now that is scary. What happens in the end?”
“In the end, the trees take over the government.”
I shrug. “Couldn’t be any worse than now. Maybe even better. Fewer speeches, at least.”
“So . . . you’ll read it? And give me advice?”
I tell him I can give him advice without reading a single page. His shoulders sag. “You think I’m being stupid.”
“Some people are born stupid. Others develop stupidity over time. And yet others have stupidity thrust upon them.”
“And in my case?”
“You hit the trifecta.”
I ask where he ever got this idea.
“Well . . . the trees ARE spooky. The way they stand there looking at you, with all the twisted bark and pine needles and stuff. In the right light, with the right make-up, gosh, they’re terrifying.” I sip coffee. “Besides, I was inspired by the genus name . . . Cryptomeria. It’s perfect for a horror film.”
“So what happens if I read it? Will you listen to what I say?”
“Well, before that, you’ll have to read the sequel as well: ‘Cryptomeria 2: Branching Out.’ “
I glance at my watch, slap my head, and tell him, “Sorry! I have to go walk a dog!”
“Yeah, well watch your back,” he hollers, with an ounce of spite in his voice. “The trees are everywhere!”
“Don’t worry,” I say as I step away, “When it comes to trees, the dog will know what to do.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5