Life in Place

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Miry Brook Johnson (Womens, Screenplay Award 2021)
Screenplay Type
In 1568, a spiritual healer known only as the Flanders Man is murdered in his Belgium village for the two magical wooden spheres with healing powers which he created, known only as the “Pockets.” Three distant cousins are destined to unravel the mystery of the “Pockets” they are here to protect.


By Andria Goldin

Scene One:  Present Day, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

                    Place: Work studio for the Art Restoration Department

“She’s coming out of it.” Jon said, his big blue eyes peering over the young woman lying on the Victorian couch, moaning low in her unconsciousness. “Bring some water.”

The city street sirens and honking were beginning to emerge as they did most days at 4:00 PM outside of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ras was bent over the Caravaggio painting he was resuscitating, his clean and even brush strokes not missing a beat. “I will be right there.” He said calmly as if called for dinner.

“How’s our girl doing?” he asked, peeling off the latex gloves from his hands. He went to the sink to wash them.

“Not so great. It looks like she had a really rough trip.” Jon’s concern was on par with every time Klemme went to the “other side. “Trip” was their euphemism when these happened. He took a bottle of Tylenol from his lab coat pocket.

The first time this happened it scared the bejesus out of Jon and Ras (his last name really was Raspberry).

Klemme emitted another deep loud moan as if to concur with Jon’s assessment.

Ras walked to the back of the couch and peered over to look at Klemme, still semi-conscious.

            “Yes, she is taking her time today,” Ras said, very concerned. “How long was she out this time?”

“Almost three hours.”

Ras leaned over very close to the disturbed young woman’s face. Gently he said, “Klemme, Klemme, come on back. We are here. We are waiting for you.”

Klemme writhed in her struggle to “get out” from wherever she was.

“That’s all right, we are right here, waiting for you. Come on, girl.” Ras’s comforting voice always brought her back.

“She always listens to you.” Jon teased. “If it were me talking she’d be running back to whatever century she’s in this time.”

“I’m coming – give me a minute.” Klemme’s voice sounded like a slow motion recording whose batteries had died, deep and thick as molasses.

“I’m going to swing by Lincoln Center and pick up the ABT tickets on the way home.” Ras said conversationally. Klemme love of ballet, and she actually still had the moves from her dancing lessons as a child. Her birthday was in a couple of weeks.

“Oh thank you. That is so nice of you guys. What time is it?”

“It’s only a little after seven.” Jon said. They knew she hated it when they stayed late for her, though Ras and Jon never minded.

“Oh, God. I’m sorry. Go home guys.” She sat up, stretched and yawned.

Jon handed her the bottle of water. Klemme took a long sip. “Thank you again. Very grateful,” she muttered.

Ras asked, “How bad was the migraine?”

“It’s not a migraine. I keep telling you that.”

“We are calling it a migraine,” Jon said with assured authority.

Ras and Jon, satisfied that Klemme was okay, pulled up their stools close to the couch.

“What happened this time?”

“Tell us everything.”

“Good night, gentlemen, I will see you tomorrow.”

“We’ve really have to start taping this stuff.” Ras whispered to Jon.

Scene Two:  Present Day, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

                    Place: Work studio for the Art Restoration Department

The next morning Klemme, Jon and Ras were working on preparations for a Bruegel exhibit.

“I’ve always loved this one,” Jon said pulling a print out from the others splayed across the table.

Klemme moved in closer to the print. It still caught her breath every time she viewed it. Bruegel’s Children’s’ Games always made her feel a deep love as her eyes roamed over the landscape of the painting. The scene was life at its happiest; people at their best enjoying their children’s wonderment. A moment in time which simply captured the pleasure of living.

“Oh look, there is my mother!” Klemme exclaimed. “Isn’t her dress pretty? It’s new. Her name was Jemma. She’s playing tiles with her older sister, my aunt. I know that street. Our house was up that street and two blocks over. I was there the other day.”

“Where is this Klemme? Exactly. Do you know?” Jon asked.

“Itterbeek. It is about twenty minutes west of Brussels and about an hour and twenty to Ghent.”

But something was disturbing Klemme. A far away apprehension she couldn’t grab onto. It had to do with the tiles.

“They had special writing on them. There was a game my father showed me. I tossed them six times. Only six times and my father wrote down the symbols that came up at every toss. them.”

“What kind of writing?,” Jon asked. “There were so many languages.”

“I don’t know. They had numbers on them and squiggly lines. They made up some code. You tossed them six times to learn the code……” Her voice drifted and she reached deep into her memory. “I think it may have come from the Flanders Man.”

“The who?” Ras said sharply. He thought he knew his history of Old World Netherlands (Flemish) but had never heard of this.

“The Flanders Man,” Klemme said softly. She had never said his name aloud before. She now felt incredibly sad, on the verge of crying. “He was such a good man. That’s all!”

Klemme shut the conversation down. Jon and Ras had seen this before, whenever she was getting too close to something painful.

“My mother died young. I had to take over the responsibility of the household. I can still read and understand Old Dutch during my trips. My name was Mieke.”

“Jeez, Klem,” Jon said softly.

“Can you tell us a little more about The Flanders Man, Klemme…..?” Ras asked quietly.

The “strange” crept into her entire body. The textbook definition is apprehension – a defense against bad news.

“There was an apprentice.” Klemme began. An orphan who Flanders Man took in when he was about seven. He learned all his skills from him, framing canvasses, working with palette knives, doing woodwork – everything.”

She took a sigh. “He was really cute,” she said affectionately. “At least to an eight year old like myself.”

“Do you remember his name?” Jon asked in suspense.

"He was known only as the Apprentice."

Scene Three: 1568, Itterbeek, Belgium

            Place: Flanders Man’s Studio

The whoosh in the air was as audible as the clatter of the tiles landing in the candle light.

Three men were knelt on the floor of the Flanders Man’s studio in a circle.


The Apprentice collected the three tiles into his hands and tossed them in the air again.

Flanders Man’s sharp blue eyes watched the pattern the tile formed in the air like a hawk, especially when they broke through the kinetic energy and peaked before they returned to earth.

He thought about it.

“No. Again.”

The Apprentice repeated the exercise. Whoosh! Clatter! Silence.

“Write that down.”

Gerardus Mercator, renowned cartographer from the County of Flanders studied how the tiles had landed and carefully noted them in his journal.

“Good. Again, please.”

The men continued into the night; candle light reflecting the devotion of the Apprentice, the extreme intelligence of the cartographer and the spiritual reception of a silver haired man known only as the Flanders Man. 

Hours later Flanders Man finally said quietly, “We have it. The tiles have told us the necessary combinations of latitudes, longitudes and dates. They are clear. We now have the combinations of what will keep the Spheres alive and surviving until the end of time.”

“If you could keep this journal for safekeeping until after the Viewing, I will then start making the Globe.” The cartographer stood up to go.

“Thank you, Mercator.” Flanders Man shook his hand and bid him good night.

He handed the journal to the Apprentice.      

“Thank you, Son. Take care of this, please.”

Scene Four: 1568, Itterbeek, Belgium

                     Place: Flanders Man’s Studio

Flanders Man was beloved in the village. He had an aura of mystery about him. He was a Seer and a Healer. He divined his works of art work, always expressed with honor, love and humor. 

Occasionally a group of villagers would come together at Flanders Man’s studio to attend an evening lecture or a closed art show.

This evening nine men and women gathered in his studio, personally invited by Flanders Man. They dressed in the modest garb which defined who they were. The Blacksmith, the Baker, the Fisherman, the Innkeeper, the Farmer, the Laundress, the Skater, the Carpenter, a man named Tom and a man next to him who was not invited.

“Good evening. Thank you all for coming. What I am about to reveal tonight is the culmination of my life’s work. In fact, it defines the purpose of my destiny.”

He continued, “I ask that no one is to speak of what you are about to see. I personally invited you here tonight because I believe I can rely on your trust.

“What I am about to show you is work beyond my capabilities. I followed the instructions I heard from what I determine as a Divine power. They are wooden carvings which I call “Spheres” and they are a living entity unto themselves. Protecting them could mean sacrificing your life.”

The Skater asked, “Flanders Man, what does your work of art represent?”

“Peace of mind,” he said simply. He noticed the two men in the back exchanged scowling looks.

“If any of you are uncomfortable with this, you are welcome to leave. Please. There is no obligation here to view my next object d’art.”

Tom stood up as if he were a Jack in the Box. “My apologies, Flanders Man, but I don’t think I should stay.”

“Have a good evening, Tom. Forgive me for taking your time,” Flanders Man said graciously. Know your enemies, he said to himself.

The younger uninvited man stayed.

Flanders Man laid on the table two Boxwood Spheres with such intricate dimensional carvings that did not seem humanly possible. One was about two and a half inches in diameter, the other one, two inches.

The gasp was audible. The feeling of joy, equivalent to a seeing a newborn baby overtook them.

“Here, let me show you.”

With that, Flanders Man gently opened the larger Sphere at its diameter so both halves of the inner Sphere were shining up to Heaven. The carvings inside were miniscule exquisite and nearly obscured by the pure light emanating from the open Sphere, filling the room with colors.

Sweet giggles merged in with gaining laughter and tears, except for the young man who stood away from the group.

Flanders Man closed the Sphere, pleased that the boxwood had done its job so well.

“As you can see, the Spheres are the light of inspiration but, as with any living entity, they need to be kept alive. And that is our job.

“If you are brave enough to protect them, they will survive. If you are not ready when called upon, you could die. And that goes for the future generations these Spheres will be handed down to.”

“But, Flanders Man, why do the Spheres need protection? They would bring such joy to everyone.” asked the Blacksmith.

“If you could have ownership of the Spheres would you take them?”

The Blacksmith was startled. He simply did not think that way.

“There are selfish people who would rather keep the Spheres for themselves. They see it as a power over others when they have exclusive use of them. They would kill the spirit of the Spheres quickly.”

“What would you have us do?” The Farmer asked.

I ask that we form a coven here tonight to protect the Boxwood Spheres and all their powers.”

The Flanders Man moved his gaze to the young man, who was shifting his feet with trepidation. His face a deep red, his anguish all over it. He looked down in shame before the group. Flanders Man felt nothing but compassion for the man’s deep anxiety.

“What is it, dear Sir?” Flanders Man asked.

The man’s tears would not spill. He started to hyperventilate; he was so filled with conflict. “I have been forsaken. The Boxwoods did not speak to me.”

“What is your name, Sir?”

“Tommaso. My uncle brought me here.”

That did not surprise Flanders Man. The root meaning of Thomas was "twin", "alike looking man." Like uncle. Like nephew. These two men were here for the same reason.

Flanders Man went back to the front of the room where the group naturally formed a circle around him. Tommaso  joined them. The Apprentice handed out a candle to each one of them.

Flanders Man lit his candle and passed it to the Skater who received the flame.

“The ultimate objective of these divined Spheres is to bring peace of mind and direction to the troubled souls who choose to contemplate them.”

As Flanders Man spoke the Skater gave his flame to the villager next to him and repeated the chant, and so on around the circle.

After the newly ordained Keepers left, Flanders Man turned to his son.

“There are two traitors, Apprentice. Not one.

“We must work quickly.”

Scene Five: Present Day, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

         Place: Work studio for the Art Restoration Department

Klemme continued with what she was seeing.

“My father was known in the Village as the Skater. It was 1568. I had just turned eight. He showed me the two beautifully carved Boxwood Spheres he had taken from Flanders Man for safekeeping. He said they held magic powers and that I must never tell anyone about them. They glowed. I have never felt happier before in that life or since in any of my other lives.

 “I had them only a few weeks when something began to change. Whatever vibrations that were coming from the Spheres became very foreboding. Scary. I told my father and he looked so concerned.

“I’ll take them back to Flanders Man in the morning,” he had said.

Klemme started to shake her head as her face clouded over. “But I couldn’t wait. I woke up – must have been midnight or so. The light from the Spheres was putrid green. I was starting to feel really sick…”

Scene Six: 1568, Itterbeek, Belgium

                  Place: Flanders Man’s Studio

Mieke  ran through the village streets darting into alley ways to avoid the lamplighter who always made a second round before he retired until dawn.

By the time she reached Flanders Man’s studio door, she was breathless. She could feel the Boxwood Spheres practically burning the apron she had wrapped them in. She then became aware of angry voices coming from the brightly lit studio. Mieke looked through a side window and saw Flanders Man calmly addressing two men standing in front of him.

“I don’t have them, Tommaso,” he patiently repeated.

Tommaso was fuming. “Of course you do, Flanders Man. I saw them the other night. People will die if you do not give them to me.” He took a threatening step towards Flanders Man.

The other man moved his hand slowly up and down his sheathed dagger.  

Flanders Man stood quietly with dignity. His hands folded in front of him. He did not engage in untruths.

Mieke then saw the Apprentice was hiding behind the curtain to the supply room. She suddenly realized her life and the Apprentice’s life were in as much danger as Flanders Man, if they were discovered.

“Flanders Man, I don’t want to hurt you.” Tommaso said in desperation. “Tell me where they are and we will go in peace.”

“The Boxwood Sphere’s will survive for centuries if protected by the right hands. Your motives are not honorable, Tommaso. You know this. To gain financially by selling them to evil brokers is below you. Do not do this.”

“That’s enough!”

Scene Seven: 1568, Itterbeek, Belgium

            Place: Flanders Man’s Studio

Flanders Man lay stricken on the floor, his blood spurting from his neck.

His murderers had fled.

The Apprentice pushed the curtain away and ran to his father in time to say goodbye.

“I love you Papa. You taught me well. I will make you proud.”

His blue eyes blinked slowly in understanding and then Flanders Man left his life.

Mieke was confused. “Papa?”

“Yes. My name is John Van Auken. Flanders Man was my father. We must move fast Mieke. Do you have the Spheres? 

Mieke nodded.

“Good. Give them to me.”

Van Auken grabbed her shoulders tight and spoke into her face. “Mieke, you must listen to me! There is a second set of spheres. They are buried deep by the north side of the big Beech tree behind the house. Wait three days and then come back and dig them up. They are in a silver box. Have your father help you. You must take them to Ghent immediately. Do not delay. Do you understand?”

Mieke was trembling, but she understood. “Who in Ghent do we take them to?”

“There is much revolt right now in Ghent. It is too dangerous to meet with anyone in public. Leave them at St. Bavo’s Cathedral. They just finished installing the new cornerstone. You will find a gap between the back of the cornerstone and the church foundation. That is intentional. Slip the silver box in there. A Keeper will be watching for you. But you must do this. Not you father.”


“A person who cares for the safekeeping of the Spheres. Ask your father. He is a Keeper.” 

He looked up and listened to the roar of angry men. “They are coming. They are going to burn the house down. You must run.”

The blazing torches were almost upon them.

“Mieke – Go!”

“What about you?”

“I must disappear. But I will always know where you are.”

The Apprentice grabbed the journal the cartographer had left and Mieke’s apron with the Spheres and was gone.

Mieke ran past everyone in the village who was running towards the burning inferno.

End of Scene