Now Leaving New Winslow

(Scene begins with JAKE driving through a wooded area of central Massachusetts. There is music playing low in his speakers as he drives.)

(JAKE is twenty-seven, from Virginia. He’s on his way to see a graduate program at UMass Amherst. He’s friendly and a little shy, but extremely serious about his writing and studies even if he’s not particularly great at them.)

JAKE (muttering)

Fuck. Thanks, GPS. “Get off the highway here. Back roads are quicker. Oh wait, no service. Bye-bye.”

(He starts tapping on his cell phone screen as though that might suddenly make the GPS work again. JAKE groans.)

JAKE

I don’t even…God, it really did bring me into the middle of the woods and drop out. Maybe I should try to find somewhere with service, rather than try to guess my way there in the middle of some state I’ve never even visited before.

(Pause)

JAKE

Oh, what’s that sign say? “Pelham ten miles, New Winslow two miles.” I guess that answers that.

(His stomach rumbles)

JAKE

Alright, find downtown and get some service and food. This is Massachusetts, there has to be a Dunkin’ Donuts within five miles of here. I’m pretty sure that’s the law.

(Jake turns and starts driving down another road. As he’s driving, his music dissolves into static.)

JAKE

Aaand there goes the radio. (sighs)

(Jake drives in silence for a moment as he gets into town.)

JAKE

Shit, there really isn’t anything here, is there? Town hall…oh, perfect, a bar. Keegan’s. Looks like they’ll have food at the very least.

(He pulls into the parking lot, shuts off the car, and gets out. The parking lot is gravel and crunches under his footsteps as he walks into the bar.)

(JAKE opens the heavy wooden door of Keegan’s and walks inside. The jukebox is playing, but it’s pretty quiet and there isn’t anyone else there. He starts to walk up toward the bar.)

JAKE

Hello?

(The kitchen door swings open and NOAH walks out. NOAH is the bartender. He’s thirty years old, cheerful and charming, with a strong Massachusetts accent.)

NOAH

Hey! Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in. Can I get you something?

JAKE

Are you doing lunch right now?

NOAH

Yeah, lunch specials are up on the board over there.

(There’s a pause as JAKE looks over the options.)

JAKE

Um…I’ll get the chicken tenders and fries, thanks. With ranch dressing.

NOAH

Coming right up! Drink with it?

JAKE

Just water, please.

(NOAH fills a glass, sets it on the bar, then walks back into the kitchen, the galley door swinging shut behind him. JAKE sits down at the bar and starts looking around.)

JAKE (laughing slightly)

Wow, this place looks like a movie set. Ugh, still no service though. 

(The gallery store swings back open as NOAH returns, carrying a plate of tenders and fries. He sets it down on the bar in front of JAKE.)

JAKE

Thanks! Wow, that was fast.

(He dips a tender and takes a bite)

NOAH (with mischief in his lowered voice)

The secret is, they’ve been under a heat lamp for three days.

(JAKE chokes and NOAH starts laughing.)

NOAH

I’m just fucking with you, man. They’re fresh.

(JAKE laughs a little uncertainly, but starts eating again.)

NOAH

So are you just passing through? I don’t think I’ve seen you in here before. I’ve only been bartending for a few months now, but I think I pretty much know everyone who comes in.

JAKE

Yeah, I’m heading out to Amherst, but my GPS died right after it took me off the highway. I figured I’d look for somewhere with service to take a break and get some lunch.

NOAH

Yeah, we can help with the lunch, but you might be shit out of luck with phone service. Amherst isn’t too far from here though, maybe an hour. I can give you directions.

JAKE

Oh, great! Thanks. Yeah, the open house for the masters program I’m looking at is tomorrow, so I was hoping to get to Amherst with enough time to get a solid night’s sleep.

NOAH

Masters program? What do you study?

JAKE (shifting a little awkwardly)

Um, I’m a writer.

NOAH

Oh yeah? What do you write? Anything I’d know?

JAKE

Not unless you subscribe to some really obscure literary magazines. I’ve published a couple short stories, but still haven’t found the right fit for a novel.

NOAH

Fit?

JAKE

Idea, I guess? Inspiration? Nothing’s really clicked.

NOAH 

Hey, don’t worry, you’ll find it eventually.

(NOAH’s got an easy, casual charm that could easily slip into flirting. JAKE is starting to notice it.)

JAKE

I guess. I mean, I love writing short stories and I’m passionate about writing in general. So I’m happy where I am. Just looking for more.

NOAH (teasing)

Passionate, huh?

JAKE (flustered)

I mean-

NOAH (cutting him off)

No, I know what you mean. You gotta have something to be passionate about. It’s good. You need something that sets you on fire, you know?

JAKE (distracted)

Right. Right.

(The phone rings out back)

NOAH

Excuse me a sec.

(He walks into the back and JAKE continues eating his lunch. After a moment, he takes out his phone and waves it around a little, like he’s hoping to get service.)

JAKE

Come on…I just need like one bar…

NOAH (smirking)

You can wave that thing around all day, it’s not gonna get any service.

(JAKE jumps, startled.)

NOAH

I don’t think anyone gets service in here. I usually don’t until I’m a little closer to home.

JAKE

Where do you live?

NOAH (flirting)

Why do you want to know? 

JAKE (mortified)

I-I mean, I-

NOAH

Here, let me grab that plate and I’ll write you out what you need. But just remember, you’re in New Winslow. So it might not matter anyway.

JAKE

What do you mean?

NOAH

Oh, you’re not from around here.

JAKE

No, I’m from Virginia.

NOAH

Well, this is going to sound nuts, but there’s an old curse on this town. Sometimes it’ll just hold onto you and not let you go.

JAKE

Like figuratively?

NOAH

No. Like literally stop you at the town line. No one know how or why it happens, just that someone must have been both powerful and pissed a long time ago. Sometimes people get trapped in the town and no one knows how long it’ll be til they get out.

JAKE

Are you stuck?

NOAH

Nope. Just never saw a reason to leave.

(There’s a pause while JAKE absorbs what NOAH just said. Then he starts laughing.)

JAKE

You’re just fucking with me, aren’t you? Do you do that to every guy who comes in or am I just special?

NOAH

I’ve never been more serious in my life. You can ask anyone who lives here. Not that people like to talk about it, but it’s the truth.

JAKE (shaking his head and still not believing, but enjoying the talk)

Sure thing. What’d you say your name was?

NOAH

Noah. You?

JAKE

Jake. 

NOAH

It’s nice to meet you, Jake. 

(They shake hands. There’s a little pause with a pleasant sort of tension to it.)

NOAH

Anyway, let me get you those directions.

(He pulls out some paper and starts writing, the pen scratching rapidly as he writes down the directions for JAKE. He then picks it up and hands it to JAKE.)

NOAH

Alright, so when you leave here, you’re going to take a left out of the parking lot, then follow these instructions. This’ll get you back to the highway, which really is your best bet. It’s a little longer, but way more straightforward than whatever back roads the GPS sent you on.

JAKE

You’re a lifesaver, Noah. Thank you so much.

NOAH

Happy to help. 

(JAKE pulls out his wallet and hands NOAH some money.)

JAKE

Here. For the lunch. I don’t need any change.

NOAH

You don’t need change on a twenty for a seven dollar meal? Are you sure?

JAKE

You saved me hours of frustration. I really appreciate it.

(JAKE stands up.)

JAKE

I should get moving. Thank you for everything.

NOAH

Not a problem, you’re good company. Good luck with your masters program. And your writing. And if you’re ever back in the area…stop on in.

(The last part is very obviously flirting and JAKE is into it. He gives a low laugh.)

JAKE

I’ll keep that in mind. Take care, Noah.

NOAH

You too, Jake.

(Jake gets up and walks out of the bar. His feet crunch on the gravel as he gets back in his car, starts it up, and stops to study the directions for a moment.)

JAKE

This isn’t bad at all. Basically back in the direction I came from. 

(He pulls out and starts driving again. The radio is still on low, playing static. After a few seconds, music starts to poke through, but it’s still mostly static.)

JAKE(reading) 

At the town line, go straight another mile, then turn left…okay. So there’s the town line…

(The car stops. The radio is still playing and the engine is running, but the car stops short.)

JAKE

What the fuck?

(He steps on the gas, but the car isn’t moving. He reverses and it works fine, but does the same thing as soon as he hits the town line.)

JAKE

You can’t be fucking serious.

(He gets out of the car, walks up to the hood, and stops like he just slammed into a barrier. Which, in a way, he just did.)

JAKE (stunned)

What…No…no way…

(He stumbles back into his car, reverses, turns, and speeds back into town.)

—-

(Moments later, JAKE is back at Keegans. He doesn’t even turn the car off, just parks, jumps out, and runs back into the bar.)

JAKE (shouting, panicky)

NOAH!

(The kitchen door swings open and NOAH comes rushing out.)

NOAH

Jake? What are you doing…oh.

JAKE

I thought you were lying! I thought it was just a joke.

NOAH

Nope, not a joke. But it’s okay. If you’re lucky it fades after a little while. Come on, let’s go back and try.

NOAH (Shouting) 

Olivia! I’m taking my lunch break outside! I’ll be back in a little bit.

OLIVIA (off-screen and faint)

Okay!

(NOAH and JAKE leave the bar.)

JAKE

How the fuck…How the FUCK is this real? There’s no way.

NOAH

Oh, there’s very much a way.

(They drive in silence for a moment, until they arrive at the town line. Once again, the car stops short.)

NOAH

Yeah…you’re stuck.

JAKE (on the verge of panic)

Oh god…oh god, oh god, oh god. No, I don’t…How is this…

NOAH (gently)

Hey, it’s okay. If it doesn’t happen now, we usually try again in an hour or so. Can you stay calm for an hour?

(JAKE considers this, then lets out a long breath.)

JAKE (calmer, but still shaky)

Yeah…yeah, I think so. 

NOAH

Okay. We’ll just find a way to kill the hour and then try again.

JAKE (more to himself than Noah)

Just gotta find a way to make it not last a thousand years…

NOAH (the flirtiness creeping back into his voice)

I mean, I think I know a few ways to keep you occupied. If you want, that is…

JAKE (with a disbelieving laugh)

Are you hitting on me? Right now?

NOAH

If you’re into it? I just figured…it’s not like you have anything else to do for an hour…

JAKE

No, I’m into it. I am into it.

NOAH (voice low)

Turn around and go down the road like a hundred feet. There’s a spot there.

(Jake laughs, a little disbelieving but very into it. He pulls around and starts driving as the scene fades out.)

(Scene fades in with NOAH and JAKE are driving back to the town line.)

NOAH

Alright, it’s been an hour and a half. Let’s give it a go.

JAKE

So…what happens if this doesn’t work?

NOAH

In the short term? I guess we go back and you show me how to do that thing you did before.

JAKE (laughing but nervous)

And in the long run?

(There’s a long pause)

NOAH

We figure that out when we need to.

(They’re silent for a moment while they drive up to the town line.)

JAKE

There it is…here goes nothing.

(He speeds up and they both brace themselves for impact. But instead the car whips right through.)

JAKE

YES!

(He pulls over and kisses NOAH.) 

JAKE

We did it! Thank you!

NOAH

Like I said, happy to help! Let me out here, I don’t want you to risk getting stuck again right away.

JAKE

Are you sure? 

NOAH

Oh yeah, I’m only about a mile away. I have to head back to work anyway, my lunch break is long over and my boss is going to think I’m dead.

(He opens the door and gets out)

NOAH

Nice to meet you, Jake. Good luck with everything. If you’re ever in the area again, come find me.

JAKE

I’ll definitely do that!

(He definitely won’t and Noah knows it.)

(NOAH closes the car door and JAKE drives away. NOAH starts to walk back into town, humming softly. Weird and cursed or not, this is home and he’s fully comfortable here.)

END