Providence, On All Fours
“Providence, On All Fours” is a surreal screenplay about feeling alienated and paranoid in a space that should be familiar and comfortable. It gets at immigrant tensions and feelings of being watched, of confusion, and of being trapped within a space that has become hostile. The story is about how confusing and impossible to understand our fears really are.
INT. COUPLE’S TREEHOUSE – DAY
As bright yellow sunlight is coming in through the windows, JIN (30) hears some animal like a donkey with a sand-paper throat BRAYING in the distance before the sounds of BIRDS SINGING comes to take up the empty space. He sees his wife is not in bed with him this morning.
Jin shuffles out of bed slowly. He opens a drawer next to his bed and puts on his glasses. A black flashlight rolls out and back as he opens and closes the drawer.
Jin walks to a larger nearby drawer and puts clothes on. A simple green T-shirt, jeans, and a coat. Their treehouse is gorgeous in the morning; it’s lived in with nice, colourful embroideries around the house. There are a number of half-finished embroideries in the drawer.
One of the embroideries, in its circular holder and sewn with blue and pink fabrics shows the image of a woman bending down on all fours to pick up flowers.
Jin climbs down the ladder.
EXT. GARDEN IN THE WOODS – SAME
When he reaches the bottom, his feet CRUNCH into bright autumn leaves, and he turns around to see MICHIKO (32), with long, straight black hair facing him. She’s standing by their garden, pulling out ripe turnips, rupturing the earth and spraying green leaves with brown dirt.
He’s watching us again.
Jin looks up and sees in the distance and behind the cover of trees, a NAKED WHITE MAN (50), standing in the sunlight, watching them.
Jin stares him down, and the two of them make eye contact.
They stare at each other for many long seconds, and like an animal in the woods, Naked Man disappears behind the treeline.
Sixth day. I’ve been counting.
She pulls up another turnip.
Getting closer too. I’ve been watching it.
What do you think he wants?
Fuck if I know.
He’s just trying to freak us out.
Well it’s working.
Mid-autumn and all the trees are bright red and orange. Jin bends over and starts helping Michiko with some of the turnips, roots like fingers caressing his hands as he lifts them from the dirt.
He puts the turnip on a pile of other dirt-caked vegetables and pulls out a small pocket knife from his jeans. He puts a gentle hand on Michiko’s shoulder and she turns around to meet him properly for the first time today.
Maybe hold onto this and just keep it on you all the time. Just in case, you know? And to make you feel a little safer if you see him and I’m not around.
Michiko frowns and takes the pocket knife. Their bodies are close together as they talk.
We’re gardeners Jin. We just plant things in the ground and enjoy ourselves out here. What am I supposed to do with this?
It’s just in case, Michiko. Honestly, I don’t think he’s gonna do anything. He’s just trying to scare us.
You said that.
A pause and Michiko breaks away, picks up some turnips, shakes the dirt off, and puts them in a wood basket.
I’m sorry Jin…this is just fucking with me.
Her hands are caked with dark earth, emulsified with yesterday’s rain, a paste clinging to the lines of her palms.
We’ll be fine.
He looks at the trees surrounding their treehouse home as they extend on forever, vibrant reds and yellows, and listens to the sound of Michiko’s feet CRUNCHING on dry leaves.
The cauliflowers are gonna be good to pick soon. Before it starts snowing.
Jin sees something in the treeline, turns to look at it, realizes it’s just a shadow and takes a few breaths. The sound of Michiko’s footsteps in the background, CRUNCHING on dead leaves.
INT. COUPLE’S TREEHOUSE – NIGHT
Michiko and Jin are in bed, their bodies pressed close together and fast asleep.
There’s a sound that resembles a BRAYING DONKEY outside their window. It’s loud and drawn out, guttural, like keening. Painful CRYING.
This sound goes on for a while, and Michiko is the first to wake up. She opens her eyes slowly at first, and furrows her brow. She quickly nudges Jin who groggily wakes up, hearing the horrible BRAYING sound.
Michiko’s eyes are wide open now.
What is that?
Sounds like an animal.
Jin turns around in bed to turn on the bedside lamp, painting the walls with a dull orange glow.
Jin gets out of bed, and Michiko follows close after him, Michiko in a big shirt that works as a nightdress. He grabs the flashlight from out of the desk while the BRAYING continues, long and drawn out, making both of them tense.
Jin grabs the flashlight in the drawer while Michiko gets the pocketknife on their desk, and they walk over to a large window looking out over their garden.
Michiko gasps and she points at a large silhouette in the middle of their garden making the noise. Jin clicks the flashlight on and shines it over the figure.
They see, crouched on all fours, Naked Man from the woods, BRAYING like a donkey, using all his energy to do so, strained with a red face and a thick neck, causing his veins to pop.
Almost looks like he’s grieving, BRAYING like a donkey there, scaring Jin and Michiko, but all they can do is stare and watch as Naked Man continues BRAYING and BRAYING and BRAYING.
Let’s get him, come on.
Michiko leaves the window, starts storming off.
Right as she does so, Naked Man stops his braying, stands up as fast as he can, and runs off into the woods again.
Wait! Wait. He’s gone.
He looks up at Michiko, who’s standing by their ladder. She turns around, sits down cross-legged, and starts crying.
Jin sits down across from her and holds her in his arms.
Michiko finally sits back up and takes a few breaths; it looks like she’s just woken up from a night terror.
What WAS that?! What WAS THAT?!
Jin holds her tight in his arms. He’s shaking too.
EXT. GARDEN IN THE WOODS – DAY
A pair of bird’s feet, broken off at the ankles, cling onto a piece of log by their garden, the rest of the bird missing, just the yellow clawed fingers, gripping tight to brown bark.
Jin walks up close and inspects the feet, Michiko close by.
Must’ve gotten eaten. Their foot muscles hold on because of reflex sometimes.
Michiko stares at the feet and yawns, deep rings around her eyes, it’s obvious she didn’t get any sleep last night.
She walks up close behind Jin and presses her body up against his and holds his hand.
You need to know I love you, Jin. I love you so much.
I love you too, but stop. We’re gonna be fine.
I think he put those feet there.
Jin stares at the feet again, pulls them off and tosses them into the woods as far and as hard as he can.
Just some unlucky animal.
Michiko’s breathing quickens, panic starting to simmer.
That’s what he wants to do to us, it’s a threat.
We’ll be fine, Michiko. He can’t do anything to us. He’s just some naked man. We have a knife. A couple of things actually. We don’t need to be scared.
I worry sometimes that he’s sacred.
There’s nothing wrong with that…I-I think I’m just tired.
Michiko shuffles away slowly, sits down in a patch of dry leaves, and puts her head in her hands.
The morning sun shines down on the pair of chicken feet, disembodied and laying in the dirt. WIND comes and covers the feet in a layer of dried leaves.
INT. COUPLE’S TREEHOUSE – NIGHT
Jin is woken up by Michiko grabbing his arm. It’s dark in the room but her eyes are wide open. She’s got the pocketknife in her hand.
He’s here. I heard him.
Jin blinks, wakes up more.
He flips over and turns the bedside lamp on, the dull orange a spotlight on Michiko’s panic.
In the garden again?
By the ladder. I can hear feet.
They both stare at the ladder leading down, nothing but dark shadow below the fourth wood step.
They stare at the top of the ladder for a few seconds before Michiko gets out of bed and walks to the entrance of their home. She stands above the hole and looks down.
She peers down for a few seconds more before her face changes and her eyes focus in on something at the bottom.
There he is! He’s there!
She looks up at Jin, face full of determination, before she looks back down and puts a foot down firmly on a ladder step.
Wait! What’re you doing?!
We have to get him NOW Jin. Or he’ll get us first!
She’s already climbing down, only her head visible over the entrance now.
Jin jumps out of bed, and climbs down the ladder after Michiko.
EXT. GARDEN IN THE WOODS – SAME
Jin alights from the ladder, and Michiko is peering off into the dark.
You saw him here?
He was right there.
The knife in her hand is shaking as she moves her head around, trying to look for the figure in the dark. It’s heavy darkness at this hour, nothing but the silhouettes of trees.
She sees something.
There he is! There!
I don’t see shit.
She takes off running, and in a moment is swallowed up by the dark of night.
Jin runs after where she went, but already loses the SOUND OF HER FEET. He swivels around in the dark for a moment before realizing he’s lost her.
He runs back to the treehouse, their room glowing a dull orange in the night, and he climbs back up the ladder.
INT. COUPLE’S TREEHOUSE – SAME
Jin’s head crowns over the entrance of their home, as he emerges climbing up the ladder.
Head sweating and anxious he turns around and yells when he sees Naked Man sitting on their bed.
Naked Man has a face full of concern, his eyes big, his face and demeanour innocent, sitting on the bed, trying not to take up too much space.
Whoa! Hey! You alright man? What’s wrong?
Where is she?! Where did she go?!
Relax guy! Who’re you talking about?
My wife! She — fuck you!
Whoa! What’s going on, man?
Jin runs over to the desk, and YANKS a drawer clean out, grabs the flashlight inside, and runs to the ladder, starts climbing down.
The structure has changed and he only ends up climbing back down into his own treehouse home.
He turns around and sees Naked Man sitting again, innocently on the bed, body hunched over, and trying not to take up too much space.
Complete silence in the room except for Jin’s LABOURED BREATHING as he stares at Naked Man.
What’s happening man? You can talk to me about it if you need to.
Jin’s eyes are massive, full of fear.
What’s happening?! What’s happening?!
He runs back to the ladder and climbs down. Only to yet again climb down back into his own home where Naked Man is sitting on his bed.
Jin sees Naked Man, and panic overwhelms him; out of options, he runs at Naked Man with the black flashlight in his hand, ready to bludgeon him to death with it.
With little effort, Naked Man grabs Jin and completely overpowers him, pushing him to the ground and incapacitating him with his weight.
Jin can barely breathe as he’s being pushed to the ground. One arm is awkwardly splayed out, with his other arm held behind his back with one of Naked Man’s hands.
Jin SCREAMS and tries to thrash, but barely manages to move.
Hey man! It’s gonna be alright. It’s gonna be alright. You’re just panicking. It’s gonna be okay. It’s all gonna be fine, okay? You’re alright. Hey, hey, this is gonna pass. This is gonna pass, alright? Just hang in there.
Jin keeps SCREAMING until he runs out of energy, his whole face red. When things are silent, his LABOURED BREATHING is audible.
Okay…okay. I’m good. I’m-I’m not panicking anymore. Get-get off me please.
Naked Man sits above Jin for a second longer before he nods his head and gets off.
Jin immediately gets to his feet and stares at Naked Man.
Naked Man has a face full of worry and concern. The two of them stare each other down for ten long seconds, the dull orange glow of the bedside lamp making them look sick.
Jin turns around and runs for the ladder again.
He climbs onto it, and climbs all the way down only to yet again end up in his bedroom with Naked Man again.
This time, however, Naked Man is quiet and looks sad. As if something has happened. His eyes trail the ground with disappointment.
Jin stands by the ladder unsure of what to do.
The sound of BRAYING begins. Long and drawn out. Almost exactly like the first night. Like the imitation of a donkey, a painful crying and keening travelling through the night air.
Jin walks towards the window, where the sound is coming from.
He looks out and shines a light on the silhouette out in the middle of his garden where he sees Michiko, naked and on all fours, her face red with strain as she BRAYS like a donkey at the top of her lungs.
FADE TO BLACK
Shaun Phuah is a writer from Malaysia currently living in Canada, dreaming occasionally and writing surrealism.