Hot Desk Extract: Love Letters from Mushroom Kingdom
As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Ren Jiang worked on Love Letters from Mushroom Kingdom, a magical realist screenplay following the romantic relationship between characters Yi Ling and Ning Xi.
This excerpt is set in the lovers’ shared, invented world, whose physical form is crumbling as a result of their deteriorating relationship. In these closing scenes, Yi Ling and Ning Xi break up for the final time.
Note: Dialogue in [ ] are spoken in Mandarin.
INT. TRAIN CARRIAGE – LATE AFTERNOON.
Yi Ling watches Ning Xi gather their belongings at the other end of the carriage, waiting for them to leave something behind on purpose.
Ning Xi picks up their bags, slinging a large backpack over their shoulders. The strawberry earphone pouch is clipped securely to the bag with a carabiner.
Alarmed at this, Yi Ling jumps up. As she stands, pearls tumble from the folds of her clothes, her pockets, out of her ears, her hair. They drop to the floor and scatter around the carriage, their sound like rain.
Yi Ling tries to account for the pearls, following their escape, but most of them are already irretrievable, disappearing into crevasses too small to reach.
Ning Xi turns at the noise, and the pair makes eye contact across the carriage. Ning Xi holds Yi Ling’s panicked stare with an unfamiliar sternness.
Ning Xi’s face says: Please convince me to stay on this train.
Catching on, Yi Ling shrugs sadly: I’m sorry. I need to survive this first.
As Yi Ling bends to pick up the pearls, Ning Xi turns back to the door, exasperated.
CU NING XI’S REFLECTION IN THE WINDOW, AS THEY BLINK BACK TEARS, BEFORE DECIDING TO JUST LET THEM RUN.
The train pulls into the station with a painfully slow screech.
This stop is dkfj]13′[;ias-cfqitfs.
A hoarse beep as the doors open.
This alerts Yi Ling. She realises it’s too late, and reaches for the door just as they close.
Ning Xi stands on the platform outside, looking back at Yi Ling, silent.
CU YI LING’S FACE IN THE REFLECTION OF THE DOOR AS THE TRAIN PULLS AWAY FROM THE STATION.
INT. TRAIN CARRIAGE – LATER.
The carriage is completely empty. There are countless tiny white mushrooms——saprobes——growing in the cracks.
Their tendrils reach through the vents, the gaps in the windows, the gaps between seats.
Yi Ling sits alone among these mushrooms, taking care not to squish them.
The train is bumpy. It also seems to suddenly speed up, slow down, speed up again, with no pattern.
It’s cold. Yi Ling stands up to close a window, but it is jammed and can’t be moved.
Outside, the wind sings.
Yi Ling is listening to the same song on repeat, but the signal seems to be off. The music chips and fragments through her headphones.
She squints and tries to make out her surroundings outside. The Mushroom Kingdom is decrepit, unrecognisable. Is it snowing?
ANNOUNCEMENT (V.O.) (CONT’D)
Th- ne3xwt-st203p – is—.
B30e3rfkcsl3aldf/]’1/. Twfhis w031plkl
b30e—the fin10al st30op. T3han13kk y309fou fo34r—
The announcement crackles and cuts off.
After what seems like forever, the train halts. The doors open and Yi Ling pokes her head out, peering around.
EXT. FINAL STOP – CONTINUOUS.
Yi Ling’s surroundings are grey. It’s getting close to sunset, although the sun is nowhere to be seen. Heavy clumps of clouds cover the sky. The little sunlight that comes through the gaps is piercing, uncomfortable.
Yi Ling steps off the train, unsure. She turns to look at the carriage behind her. The doors do not close. The train does not leave.
She wanders to one end of the platform and finds a rusted-over ladder attached to the wall. She slings her bag over her shoulders and climbs down.
At the base is a large defunct tunnel, moss covering the walls and and tall grass growing over the damp ground.
Ning Xi is standing at the mouth of the tunnel, shifting from side to side to stay warm.
They look up as Yi Ling approaches.
Oh hello stranger.
It’s cold at the end of the world.
Yeah I always thought it would be unbearably hot.
Ning Xi rubs their hands together.
YI LING (CONT’D)
Did you walk from the last stop?
Ning Xi blows steam into their palms. They don’t respond.
YI LING (CONT’D)
Yi Ling steps a little closer. The two huddle for warmth.
I don’t know. I feel like…I feel like an asshole if we leave it with no closure.
Yi Ling nods.
NING XI (CONT’D)
I like that breaking up is the healthiest thing we’ve ever done together.
(bittersweetly smiling) Yeah.
They embrace. Linger. Break apart.
[So…see you never?]
Hahahaha no. We are queer in the same city, of course we’re going to see each other again.
Ning Xi laughs.
YI LING (CONT’D)
[I’m not interested in being friends. But I do want you to be happy.]
NING XI (CONT’D)
[I think…that I did feel loved. In that active, chosen way.]
[And I’m actually…really not a fan of the outdoors.]
Above them, the train horn sounds.
Image of train tracks going through a misty forest by Wirestock Creators.
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