Concerned souls will be relieved to hear that a crow just alighted on the bust of Joseph just outside my dwelling’s door and dropped the expertly fileted exoskeleton of a desert locust at my doorstep.  A clear message that Cubeland Mystic is alive and well – I know of no one else who can manage it so neatly.  I can only imagine which of the world’s sins has been revealed to him and impressed on his soul that he should undertake so great a fast as the one he seems to be on, but I am glad he’s out there.

By way of marking the occasion, here’s a silly chunk from the screenplay for The Cloister.


McManus:  Brother Jerome told me that you and Tomaso did the chapel.

Rector:  Yes.

McManus:  It’s beautiful.

Rector:  Yes.

McManus:  Why don’t you let Tomaso teach painting?

Rector:  Because this is not an art school.

McManus:  If you think he’s dangerous, why do you let him roam around?

Rector (quoting from Job, almost to himself):  “Whence have you come?”  “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”  (to Father)  Mind your work, Father, and I’ll mind mine.


Tomaso (upon arrival of Sebastian):  When it rains, it pours.


Tomaso:  I saw your work on Matthew.  Very nice for a beginner.  Clever, and not too crudely done.

Sebastian (flattered):  Thank you.  Have I seen anything of yours?

Tomaso:  Oh, I doubt it.  The rector prefers to keep my work… sequestered.  I don’t blame him.  He knows how dangerous beauty can be to our way of life here.  The only things of mine he hasn’t got are the ones down in the caves.

Sebastian:  The caves?

Tomaso:  You haven’t been?  I can show you.  And if you like, I can show you a thing or two about technique as well.  Visit the larger outhouse around nine this evening.  Bring your brushes.

Evening, outside.  Father Sebastian, clearly nervous, walks quickly across the yard to the outhouse, opens the door, closes it and slips around behind.  Tomaso is waiting for him.  He motions Sebastian to be silent, then opens a trapdoor in the ground and descends a short flight of stairs.  Sebastian winces, afraid of the stench.  Tomaso motions him down, then closes the door over them.  They are in total darkness.

Tomaso:  The brothers who built this place were clever, as far as that goes.  Most people wouldn’t stay in the cleanout long enough to poke around.  Here we are.

We hear a door open, though we still can’t see anything.  Tomaso and Sebastian walk inside, then we hear the door close.  Then Tomaso lights an oil lamp, keeping the flame very low.

Tomaso:  Welcome to the underground.  Shall we?

The two walk down a long tunnel.

Cut to wine cellar, again in darkness.  A crack of light appears, and with a clink of bottles, one of the wine racks swings forward, revealing Tomaso and Sebastian.

Tomaso (grabbing a bottle of wine):  Let’s make this a party.  It isn’t every day I take an apprentice.

They disappear back down the tunnel, but Tomaso does not close the door.

Cut to large underground room.  Sebastian is unrolling and admiring sheets of Tomaso’s illuminated manuscript, a collection of which can be seen in a niche from which the stone has been rolled away.  Tomaso is taking pulls from the bottle of wine, watching Sebastian.

Sebastian:  Oh, Father… these are wonderful.

Tomaso rouses himself, swings around behind Sebastian, looks over Sebastian’s shoulder at the manuscript.

Tomaso:  You want to get at the truth between the lines.  But to do that, you’ve got to draw between the lines – what you leave out will be telling to the enlightened eye.  See here?

Sebastian:  Yes, yes.  It’s fabulous.  Will you teach me?

Tomaso:  Of course.  But first…

Tomaso presses his face into Sebastian’s neck and kisses him

Sebastian (frightened but aroused):  But Father… the rector said that anyone caught engaging in…

Tomaso (speaking very quietly, but with intensity):  The rector is a wise man, wise as a serpent.  He understands the role he is playing; he understands how important it is to the bishops who have, after all these years, thrown him a bone.  Above all, he understands the importance of keeping up appearances.  Boudreaux and his crowd don’t think old Malachi knows about these caves.  Really.  He knows, and he knows what goes on down here as well.  But he does nothing – out of sight, out of mind.  As long as what happens here stays down here, nobody gets hurt.  (smiles)  Not much, anyway.  Come here.

Cut to:  Brother Jerome, knocking and entering Rector’s office.

Jerome:  Inspection, Father.

Rector (not looking up from his book):  Keys are on the hook.

Jerome takes ring of keys from a hook on the wall beside the rector’s desk.  Cut to Jerome, carrying oil lamp, inspecting the dark, empty kitchen.  He checks the lock on the storeroom door.  As he turns to go, he hears a faint, short cry.  Startled, he turns back to the door and begins to undo the lock.  He opens the door and descends the stairs.

Scene:  Dawn, outside the rectory gates.

Two brothers are mounted on horseback.  Tomaso stands by one horse, Sebastian by the other. The rector is with them, talking with Sebastian.  Their  heads are bowed.  Rector makes the sign of the cross over Sebastian – he has just heard his confession.

Close up on Rector and Sebastian.

Rector:  This is not punishment, Father.  I’m not smiting you, in God’s name or anyone else’s.  It’s penance.

Rector approaches Tomaso.

Tomaso:  Tell me, Malachi, is this little exercise supposed to bend me or break me?  Are you hoping I’ll see the light, or just trying to soften me up?

Rector:  Are you sure you don’t want to make your confession?

Tomaso:  No point.  I do not repent.  I wouldn’t want to mock the sacrament.

Rector:  Think about what you’ve done to that boy.

Tomaso:  What I’ve done?  I’m not the one sending him into the desert.

Rector:  I’ll see you in a week, Father.

Tomaso and Sebastian mount the horses in front of the brothers, and they ride off into the desert.  The Rector watches them go, then turns and heads back through the gates.  The bell is ringing for the Angelus

Rector (to priests):  Fathers, you have noticed that two of your fellow priests are absent.  They will return in a week; no more need be said about it, either between yourselves or to them.  All you need do is remember them in your prayers.

Scene:  the sanctuary of the chapel, where the Rector and McManus are preparing for Mass, vesting, setting up cruets, etc.  McManus is agitated; the Rector notices.

Rector:  You’re worried for him.  Don’t be.  The caves provide excellent shelter.  Odds are, the week’ll do him some good.  The desert is great for prayer.  Nothing out there between you and God but your own ugly self.  (Almost to himself.)  And the devil, of course.  Yes, he’ll meet the devil out there face to face, maybe for the first time.  Hm.  (Addressing McManus again.)  Maybe you should worry for him.

(McManus eyes him; not quite sure he is serious.)

Rector:  At any rate, I’ll offer Mass today for him.  For both of them.

Scene:  interior of kitchen.  The air is heavy; the priests talk to each other in quiet murmurs.  Boudreaux enters.

Boudreaux:  That’s right, talk among yourselves.  That’s what we’re good at.

Father Martin:  Easy, Father.

Boudreaux:  I won’t be easy.  Those two bastards are yoked together like mules, pulling in opposite directions. They’ve been at it so long, they wouldn’t know what to do without each other.  But now, they’ve dragged Sebastian into their private holy war.

Father Martin:  You don’t think Sebastian was willing?

Boudreaux:   Spare me, Father.  That boy was all but helpless; he must have been worked over like hell in the seminary.  It’s a wonder he made it through.  He was even more of a mess when he arrived here; what kind of consent do you think he could give Tomaso?  We’ve been talking about being brought together as a force for change.  I say change begins at home.

Father Martin:  Careful, Alan.

Boudreaux:  I’m not the one who needs to be careful.  I’m not the one who buggered that boy, and I’m not the one who put him in the desert.

Shot of desert stretching out to the horizon.  Sound of hoofbeats.  Brother Jerome rides from horizon up to screen.  Father Sebastian is seated in front of him, his body upright but limp, leaning against the monk.

Jerome:  Father Malachi!  Father Malachi!

A minute passes.  Jerome wraps his arms around Sebastian, cradling him.  Gates open, Malachi and Brother Isaac come out.

Jerome:  Get Father Marx.

Brother Isaac runs back into the Cloister

Rector:  Sebastian… Oh, Lord Jesus…

Jerome lowers Sebastian to the Rector, who carries him into the cloister.  Father Marx comes running, other priests can be seen stepping out of buildings to see what’s going on.  Rector looks stricken as he carries Sebastian to infirmary.

Infirmary, interior:

Brother Jerome:  Shall I ride for help?

Father Marx:  No need.  He’s dead.  He was dead before he got here.

Rector:  What happened?

Father Marx:  I’m not a doctor.  It doesn’t look like heatstroke or dehydration, but beyond that…(he stops, notices Sebastian’s heel.)

Rector:  What?

Father Marx:  Look here, on his heel.  Snakebite.

Rector:  We warned him.  We sent a kit.

Father Marx:  Doesn’t look like he even tried to use it.  There’s no incision, no sign of a tourniquet.

Brother Jerome:  I found him right at the mouth of the cave.  His bag was just inside…

Rector looks at Jerome; Jerome falls silent.

(McManus sees a light flickering in the kitchen.  Suspecting that the pantry is being raided, he barges in, expecting to catch the thief in the act.  Instead, he finds the rector, sitting alone, glass in hand, the bottle of Burgundy open before him.  He is staring at nothing; he doesn’t even stir at McManus’ entrance.)

McManus:  Father?

Rector:  Hm?  Oh – Father.  I didn’t hear you come in.  What are you doing here?

McManus:  I thought someone was raiding the pantry.

Rector (smiling, realizing his position):  It looks as though you were right.  I repented of my earlier decision.  The bishop was kind to think of me.  Somebody did a fine job of hiding it, but I managed.

McManus (sly):  How is it?

Rector:  Marvelous.  Grab a glass – wine is better shared.

(They sit and drink in silence, McManus eyeing the Rector, waiting.)

Rector (surrendering to the urge to give voice to his fears, a new experience for him):  Father, I’m anxious about that boy.  I’m afraid he may not have died well.  He was so unsteady.  I’m afraid he may have died hating his seducer, or even hating me.  It’s a terrible thing to go to your judgment with hatred in your heart.

(Camera on McManus, who is shocked.  He was expecting some expression of remorse, even repentance – but not this.)

Rector (continuing):  Or worse – what if he lost faith altogether?  What if the devil got to him?  My God.  My God.  Pray for him, Father.

McManus:  I will…  I’ll pray for you, too.

Rector (catching the note of accusation in this):  Oh?  Yes, do that.  But keep an eye on the quality of your mercy.

McManus looks down, stung and a little embarrassed.  Rector, seeing this, comes out of himself and tries to cheer him up.

Rector:  Come on now, drink up.  “You give wine to gladden the heart of man.”  See if you can find some decent cheese and a little bit of bread to go with this, would you?  And don’t dally.  If the brothers catch us, I imagine we’ll have to share our spoils with them as well.

Morning in the sacristy; Malachi and McManus are vesting for Mass.  Rector pauses in his preparations, leans on the counter in front of him.  He winces slowly and exhales with a low groan.

McManus:  Father?

Rector:  Don’t worry.  I suppose I’m paying for my little indulgence last night.  Nature never forgives, hm?

Rector continues vesting.

Cut to chapel:  Schola is singing entrance acclamation.  McManus and rector process in through sanctuary door.  Rector is clearly unwell but determined not to falter.  As he bends to kiss altar before beginning Mass, his strength gives out.  He sinks to his knees, gripping the altar for support.  A ripple of shock goes through the chapel.  McManus rushes to aid him.  Rector tries to brush him off and rise on his own, but cannot.  Finally, he puts an arm around McManus’ shoulder and lets McManus help him back to the sanctuary.  The congregation is still standing, stunned and silent.  But camera rests on Tomaso, who looks interested, and Boudreaux, who looks enraged.

Rector:  Father… you say Mass this morning.  Don’t worry about a homily, just ask them to pray for Sebastian, and to guard against the devil.

McManus:  Yes, Father.

A moment later, McManus walks out into sanctuary, dressed in priest’s robes instead of acolyte’s, kissed the altar and begins Mass.

McManus:  In nomini Patri et Filii et Spirtu Sancti…

Infirmary:  Brother Marx is attending to the Rector.

Brother Marx:  I told you, Father, I’m not a doctor.  My guess is that you suffered a small heart attack, but I can’t even be sure of that.  You should be in a hospital.

Rector:  You know I can’t leave now.

Brother Marx:  Father, the bus comes tomorrow.  Sebastian’s body has to be on it.  Somebody needs to go and explain what happened to him, and that explanation will sound better coming from you than it would from anybody else.

Rector:  If I leave…

Brother Marx:  The sheep will be without a shepherd, and the wolves will enter the sheepfold?  Put McManus in charge.  People like him – at least, nobody hates him.  And everybody will know that his authority comes from you.

Rector:  He’s so young…like Sebastian…

Brother Marx:  Not like Sebastian.

Rector closes his eyes, nods slightly.

[Picture source.]


  1. Disturbing and excellent. Thanks?

  2. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    This is a ‘silly chunk from the screenplay’? Then I’m almost afraid to imagine what would happen in one of the less-silly chunks. Oz is kids’ stuff.

    McManus’ bungling of the Latin is a nice detail.

    The sense of impending punishment — of joylessly inevitable falling-short and of inescapable suffering as a consequence — is strong throughout. I especially like the fact that the Rector cannot even soften his own suffering with anything so innocent as a little good wine, without ‘nature’ getting back at him.

    Tomaso’s illuminations recall Daniel Mitsui’s thoughts on Caravaggio and Eric Gill, and the effects of their depravity on their art. Do you have any idea(s) about what Tomaso’s artwork might look like? Would there be anything ‘off’ about it?

    It’s a relief to get news of Cubeland Mystic. The just man is a light in darkness.

    • It’s only silly insofar as the whole project is silly, and the fact that it remains unfinished six years after its conception is silly.
      McManus’ bungling of the Latin is the kind of detail that makes a man believe in the Muse. As in, it helps to be stupid when you want to write a stupid thing.
      Thanks for the kind word. Punishment indeed.
      I imagine Tomaso’s art as being just brilliant and gorgeous enough to distract the viewer from their point, to point the viewer back to the artist.
      But yeah, the real point is the Mystic.

  3. Too much time on the Internet reduces me to leaving comments like “LURVE!” in response to such brilliance.


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