Fiction: Joe Sacksteder
GAME IN THE SAND
They have finished securing Karl to the hood of the Chevy using the collected belts of everyone involved in production. Karl is unsure of many things. If his reflection will be visible in the windshield. If it will be obvious how slowly they’re driving the truck. If he can slip through the harness they’ve rigged. If a cop will drive by and call cut. I’d hate for you to drop the camera, Ernst wishes him luck. I’d hate for you to have to steal another one. As if sensing the cameraman’s discomfort, both actors botch the one line they have between them.
INT. TRUCK — DAY
ALRICK BERLING (25) is driving the beat-up truck. His father UWE (50) is in the passenger seat. To the passenger side, rolling sand dunes. Sappy COUNTRY MUSIC plays on the radio, almost inaudible.
Alrick is dressed in a style that might be called “business beach,” with a pastel button-down shirt tucked into khakis. On his feet, Top-Siders. His hair blond and neatly styled. His attractive face is set and humorless, his gaze unwavering.
Uwe wears an old trucker hat and a pearl-button shirt with epaulets, cowboy boots on his feet, a pack of cigarettes in his front pocket. His hair is salt-and-pepper, his cheeks course with stubble. His face is pocked, maybe scarred, his eyes dark.
Uwe has some sort of mental disorder, like one that might result from a head trauma. He doesn’t speak strangely, just slowly, and he’s slow to process information. He nods his head too often and seems to have little control over his fingers.
Alrick turns off the RADIO.
You have to promise not to
EXT. ROAD — MOMENTS LATER
The truck SWERVES suddenly, as if the driver has lost control. It comes to an abrupt stop on the side of the road.
Can you tell there’s no dog in the back of the truck? Ernst wants to know. Should we go get the dog? Karl says no to the first, yes to the second. The angle is such that you can’t see the bed. But we’ve left that dog too long. If someone comes across it— It’ll be fine, Ernst insists. At least go check on the guys, Karl says. Looks like they got thrown around in there a little bit.
EINT. TRUCK — CONTINUOUS
Uwe is behaving childishly, sobbing to himself as he holds his knees to his chest and rocks back and forth.
Having been cuffed, Alrick rubs his jaw. His appraisal of his father is disgusted but not angry. He anticipated this scene and is not surprised by it.
Now’s the time for courage. You
have to be a man.
Uwe presses himself against the passenger side door, as if trying to get as far away from his son as possible. Hatred is in his eyes.
Courage means doing what’s right,
what’s kind, even when it seems
like unkindness. I’ve been
dreading this trip for weeks, but
it can’t wait any longer. It’s
INT. TRUCK — MINUTES LATER
They are driving again, but in a heavy silence. Uwe has turned his shoulder to his son, is brooding. This stretches out for an uncomfortable length of time.
The dog is still there when they return to the unofficial access point to the dunes and the sea beyond them. Leashed to a tree, the dog tries to jump joyfully at the return of its unbeknownst abandoners. But its old age and feebleness show, qualities that Ernst had insisted upon. The dog’s owner was originally supposed to accompany them on the shoot as “Animal Wrangler,” but had cancelled last minute, entrusting the dog to Peter (Uwe). Despite its advanced age, the dog keeps disobeying the script and leaping from the bed of the truck every time Peter opens the hatch. Peter is forced to light cigarette after cigarette, exacerbating the tension between him and Ernst.
INT./EXT. TRUCK/PARKING AREA — MINUTES LATER
The pair arrives at their destination. The parking area is wayward and overgrown with tufts of grass sprouting through what may or may not be a patch of asphalt. No other cars are present.
Getting out of the car, Uwe, now smoking a CIGARETTE, walks around to the bed of the truck. A DOG is in the back of the van, wagging its tail excitedly. Uwe lets down the hatch, but the dog is too old to jump down by itself. Uwe has to pick it up and set it on the ground.
Alrick produces a SHOTGUN from behind the seats of the truck.
He walks around to the back of the truck where Uwe is playing with the dog. He gets a SHOVEL out of the bed.
He begins to walk toward the dunes, but neither Uwe nor the dog follow him. Alrick notices, turns, and steps toward them. The dog cowers.
Alrick sees the predicament he’s in. The dog won’t follow him.
Dog never liked me.
He knows why we’re here. Somehow.
He’s not going to come unless you
Uwe sadly considers. His son grows impatient.
The trip’s for him, remember. And
for you. It wasn’t easy for me to
get this time off … Or I can
shoot him here.
Someone might drive by. Might see.
It’s no crime to kill a cancerous
The logistical problem, as Karl had warned Ernst, is that the dog will follow Lukas (Alrick). Ernst eventually cracks a joke about nailing the dog’s ass to the sand, and Peter takes offense. Ernst tells Peter to save the drama for the scene, where he could use a little more of it. Lukas begins complaining again about the dialogue in the upcoming scene, that it still feels too leading and stilted, causing Ernst to launch into one of his by-now-famous sermons about how the scene has moved into stylized unreality and that we must not think as humans think. Ernst has no desire for collaborators, only co-conspirators.
EXT. DUNES — MINUTES LATER
The trio is walking along the dunes, Uwe between his son and the dog.
This is the right place. We had
such wonderful holidays here.
Remember when I was training for
football and I would run up and
down the Pyramid?
I tried to run with you – so did
He looks down at the dog. The dog’s name is ______.
But I’d only make it about halfway
up. I’m afraid those days are
behind us, for ______ and me.
And Mom would make sandwiches and
I wish she was here. She’d be able
to help take care of ______ and we
wouldn’t have to do this.
I think you’re right. But we can’t
uncrash her plane.
Uwe is struggling more and more visibly with his emotions now. But he’s no longer thinking of the dog.
How come we couldn’t have a funeral
for her? Buy her a tombstone
I’ve told you this. Her body was
But don’t they sometimes have
funerals when there’s no body?
What about soldiers?
Soldiers are different. Those
aren’t real funerals, anyway.
Those are memorials.
Alrick picks up a piece of driftwood lying in the sand. He tries to hand it to his father.
Uwe looks sickened. He shakes his head.
From recollecting the past, Alrick is showing his first emotions so far. It should be clear, however, and not too subtly, that this is rather mediocre melodramatic acting.
We’re coming to the end. Throw the
stick for ______. Let him remember
for a moment what it was like to be
a young dog here on holiday.
This display of emotion seems to win over Uwe. He sees a sympathetic side to his son. They seem to have made a connection.
Uwe nods and takes the stick. He waves it in front of the disinterested dog.
He throws the stick.
The dog watches the stick but makes no attempt to run after it.
Go get it. Go get it, boy.
The dog lopes off in the direction of the stick. He picks it up and brings it back to the father and son.
Ernst takes over control of the Arri, and Karl is trying to hide his resentment. Ernst has set up the Sony at a side angle and tells Karl to keep him and the Arri in frame and to leave the Sony running until he says cut. Egomaniac that he is, the crew has no difficulty believing that Ernst is making his own making-of. With a crew of just four, there’s no one to capture sound now, and Ernst is left holding the boom in the crux of his elbow. He says the heat is degrading the celluloid and he wants to get this scene in one shot. Are you ready to cry? he asks Peter. Peter is ready to glare, that’s for sure.
EXT. DUNES — MINUTES LATER
The three are standing still, Alrick across from Uwe and the dog, who are side-by-side.
I’ll do it. He’s my dog, so it’s
Your eyes aren’t good anymore, and
your hands shake. If you don’t hit
him perfectly, he’ll suffer before
Uwe considers, then nods.
Any last words?
Uwe is fighting his tears and losing.
He was a good dog. He was loyal
and he never complained, even when
he got old and weak and we had to
give him medicine. Was it his
fault he got sick? No, it’s just
what happens to an old dog.
Alrick points the gun at the dog. Then he raises it up and shoots his father in the chest.
The dog BARKS and Uwe falls to the ground. The dog stands above him as he convulses for a few seconds before dying. At the end, he seems to try to reach up with one hand, either to the dog or his son.
Alrick is breathing hard. He stands there holding the gun for an uncomfortable amount of time, as much as eight whole seconds. Finally, he looks at the camera—or just above, rather.
Ernst keeps his eye to the camera and says nothing. What a bang! Lukas laughs. So real. He grins and looks down at Peter, still lying on the ground and being attended to by the dog. All right, Lukas says, I’m saying cut. It’s over, Peter. The smile leaves Lukas’s face. He realizes that there was a live round in the gun and that he has killed Peter. This should not be too dramatic.
INT. VAN — DAY (FLASHBACK)
Ernst is driving the van, Peter in the passenger seat. Lukas and Karl are not in the car but are following them in the truck. Peter, of course, is not in character, so he no longer acts mentally impaired.
Both Ernst and Peter look broodingly upset. They are in the middle of an argument.
You go too far, Ernst. Once again.
The Academy never lets anyone use
it. Once a year it gets brought
out of the equipment closet. But
the door was open and I knew that I
somehow had a right to it. The
films I will make will justify the
theft. In fact, it wasn’t even
It was theft. I’m not surprised.
Piglets nursing from a dead sow.
There’s a word for that kind of
filmmaking: ‘snuff.’ The thing
about snuff is that anybody can do
it. It takes no talent, just
What you call badness, I call guts.
Should I turn the van around, now
that we’re three hours from home?
Because we’ve already invested so
much, I’ll help you finish it.
But, after this film, I’m out.
Yes, you’re out.
And you’re returning the camera when
we get back. That’s my condition.
Do I actually have to point it at him? Lukas asks. Karl and Peter are unloading supplies from the van. Lukas is examining the shotgun. If it was a side angle, the answer would be no, Ernst tells him. But with the angle I’m planning, they’ll be able to tell. Peter takes the gun and checks the chambers. I don’t like guns and I don’t like having them pointed at me. Ernst holds his hand out for the shotgun, and Peter gives it to him. Ernst points the shotgun under his own chin and pulls the trigger. A hollow CLICK sounds. Do you think I’m completely stupid?
EXT. DUNES — DAY (RETURN TO PRESENT)
Back in the film “Game in the Sand,” Lukas is again the character Alrick, but it is obvious that he is no longer acting. He is distraught over having killed Peter. He is also fearful for his own life and knows that he is implicated in the crime. He is sweaty and is breathing very hard. He no longer holds the gun.
Peter lies dead on the ground, and the dog is WHINING over his body.
The entrance to the scene is messy, as it’s uncertain whether or not Lukas will pull himself together to finish filming.
Pick up the shovel.
Lukas picks up the shovel but looks at it as if it is a foreign tool of unknown purpose.
ERNST (O.C.) (CONT’D)
Start digging. About three feet to
the left of his body.
He starts digging.
Ernst stands at the top of a tall dune, looking over the sea. Wind moves through his hair and he has a deep and distant look in his eyes, as if he can see a farther horizon than most men. His look says, “The die is cast.” This moment of meditation should be that of a prototypical Romantic mystic.
EXT. DUNES — DAY
A landscape of majestic dunes against a stunning sky. Alrick and the dog can be seen descending one dune, walking toward the camera. Cue an ancient recording of Josquin’s “Absolom fili mi.” (The oldest you can find. I want to hear the wax.) Alrick carries the shovel but not the gun.
Alrick and the dog walk toward the parked truck. A very posh BMW pulls up beside the truck. Alrick gets into the passenger side of the BMW.
The car pulls away.
Leave the dog behind.
“Game in the Sand” is the title story of Joe Sacksteder’s debut collection, which will be released by Sarabande Books in 2019. His album of Werner Herzog audio collages, Fugitive Traces, is available from Punctum Books. He’s a PhD candidate at the University of Utah, where he’s managing editor of Quarterly West. Recent publications include Denver Quarterly, Florida Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and Bateau.
Image: clarita, morguefile.com