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Friday Feature: Sharyon A. Culberson



Sharyon A. Culberson has a background in creating content dedicated to social justice, as well as facilitating and moderating conversations that promote a more egalitarian society. She has developed and presented programming on DEI, anti-bias, micro-aggressions, and reducing sexual violence to universities, corporations, all five branches of the U.S. armed forces, and the U.S. House of Representatives. As an actor, Sharyon has has appeared on stages across the country, most recently appearing as ‘Britney’ on “The Chi”. She has also co-starred in “Chicago PD,” “Chicago Fire,” “The Big Leap” and “Proven Innocent."  She has been in several Independent films over the last few years - one of which won the “Best Sci-Fi” award for the HollyShorts Film Festival. Sharyon is currently featured in several commercial spots and an upcoming episode of “Mayor of Kingstown” on Paramount Plus. She has also been published as a contributor in a number of anthologies centering Afro-Futurism, including “Black Imaginations: Black Voices on Black Futures” published by McSweeneys, and “Into a Black Beyond: Authoring our Futures” published by Contextos.  Sharyon’s main area of expertise and interest is creating and performing content that introduces perspectives of overlooked and marginalized societies, with the goal of increasing empathy. Her first feature film project, ”Black Joy Always Wins” and her first short film screenplay “Daughters” (now in post-production) have placed as semi and quarter-finalists in a number of screenplay competitions. Her piece “Space is the Place” is an homage to her years as a military contractor, with all of the complications and opportunities that the military affords many US citizens.



SPACE IS THE PLACE



INT. SHARY'S APARTMENT, DAY


SISSY (Early 50s, earthy), pours bourbon liberally from an

elaborate decanter. She takes a long swig from the glass.


SISSY

If you're wrong...


SHARY (late 40s, Sissy's sister, decorated military

officer), joins her at the table with the bourbon.


SHARY

- I'm not. And it's way more

complex than right or wrong. It's

about what you want. For right now,

and for all of our futures.


Sissy rolls her eyes and flops on the couch, slightly

spilling her drink.


SISSY

Such a cornball. Ugh - and stop

interrupting me all the time.


Shary cracks a smile.


SHARY

My bad. Please continue, Sara.


Sissy makes a face.


SISSY

Really? I haven't heard that name

since granddaddy died - who I see

left you his bourbon decanter, by

the way. Everybody knew I had my eye

on that.


Shary carefully pours herself a drink, and stands over

Sissy.


SHARY

It's a biblical name, Sissy...and

you know I got the decanter because

I followed in his footsteps with

joining the Air Force. Plus, he said

you didn't need any more help

escaping reality.


SISSY

He didn't say that shit - asshole!

And I don't see how you can bring up

reality and the bible in the same

breath anyway.


SHARY

You're so damned disrespectful.

Granddaddy's probably turning in his

grave -


SISSY

-shit, if he's turning in his grave,

it's more likely because you drank

the last of his good bourbon.


Shary notices the empty decanter on the table and winces.


SHARY

Oh, dang! I meant to grab another

bottle yesterday.


SISSY

Not like you to forget to get a

bottle of anything.


SHARY

Is everything a joke to you? Let's

focus on the future, shall we?

Sissy sits a spell stirring the ice in her glass, thinking.


SISSY

The future, eh'? Wouldn't we be

selling our future if we do this?


SHARY

C'mon - don't start with that

foolishness again. This is progress!

How do you think Big Daddy felt when

he first got to Chicago?


SISSY

You still call him that? Gross...


SHARY

What? He hated "great-grandpa", so -


SISSY

His name was Sammy - I'ma call him

Sammy dammit. And you know he didn't

even look white people in the eye

until 1998. You wanna follow his

lead?


SHARY

'Cause they were dangerous! That

kept him and us alive! Look - the

point is, there is no progress

without a good amount of risk

involved - and everyone in our

family, including you, knows that

well.


Sissy drains her glass, and sighs loudly.


SISSY

Fine, whatever...tell me the details

again?


SHARY

The long and the short is this. If

all of our known current relatives

relocate to the Alpha-12 space

station, we'll be eligible for the

newly minted 'future family'

program. And since we'll be the

first ones there,they'll financially

provide for any and all debts and

living costs with a stipend that

increases with inflation for the

next eleven generations.


Sissy whistles.


SISSY

Inflation in space? Of course. Shit,

that does sound good though - what

about education?


SHARY

They can either attend the schools

established by the military on the

space station, or attend via zoom to

any schools on Earth - and it's also

covered for up to three PhD's per

person.


SISSY

Cotdam!


SHARY

I knew your nerdy butt would like

that part.


Sissy chuckles to herself for a bit, then stops abruptly,

suddenly solemn.


SISSY

You know your nieces would love this

program.


SHARY

I do. Have you talked to them?


SISSY

No. They haven't returned any of my

calls or emails. Last I heard,

they're refusing all communication

with me unless I donate to that

damned cult - eh, church they belong

to.


Shary touches Sissy's shoulder, consoling her.


SHARY

At least you know they're safe.


SISSY

...if you call that safe.


SHARY

You know bringing them to the

program could help you all

reconcile.


Sissy jumps to her feet, angry.


SISSY

Selling my children to the

government is not what I consider to

be a way to make amends!


SHARY

Don't get dramatic, I'm just

saying -


SISSY

Being the sister of possibly the

largest slave trader since the

sixteen hundreds feels like pure

drama to me.


SHARY

Jesus, here we go...


SISSY

I just want to know why you? Why us?

How did we get this 'opportunity' to

relocate our entire family to space?


Shary hesitates uncomfortably for a moment, then answers.


SHARY

Look, you know I'm up for Lieutenant

General. The President herself said

the optics of being the 'first Black

space family' on Alpha-twelve would

be wonderful for the country -


SISSY

- heh. Optics. Here we go again.


SHARY

I know you don't care about your

appearance, but some of us -


Sissy walks to the door.


SISSY

Fuck this! If you're gonna insult

me, you can stick that deal right up

your optics.


Shary yells after her.


SHARY

Ok, you just sleep on it. Let's talk

again tomorrow? I'll have a fresh

bottle for you!


INT. SHARY'S APARTMENT, THE NEXT DAY


Shary uncorks a new bottle, sniffs the cork, and passes it

to Sissy.


SISSY

So you were right...


SHARY

Of course I was! ...About what?


SISSY

About your nieces. As soon as I

mentioned the money, they damn near

started packing.


Shary takes a seat, smiling smugly.


SHARY

Because they understand how to

invest in their future!


Sissy stares into her empty glass a moment, her brow

furrowed.


SISSY

Future...what did John and Michael

say?


SHARY

Fill your glass?


Shary fills Sissy's glass all the way to the top. Sissy

chuckles.


SISSY

You tryna get me drunk? You know

that doesn't end well.


Shary shrugs, and takes a swig directly from the bottle.


SHARY

Ha! Don't I know it. Have you heard

from the doctor yet?


SISSY

Yes. And don't think I didn't notice

you changing the subject.


SHARY

Now who's changing the subject?


Sissy takes a large gulp from her glass, then sighs with

resign.

SISSY

Yes, I've heard. It's inoperable.


SHARY

Fuck!


SISSY

This must be that good shit if it's

got you cussing.


Shary takes her glass to the window, and stares out of it,

her eyes filling with tears.


SHARY

It's just...there's so much to do

still. To be! This isn't fair.


Sissy approaches her Shary and embraces her. They stay like

that for a while, until..


SISSY

That's why I'm so concerned with

this deal. It's very possible I

won't be around to stand up for this

next generation of ours very long.


Shary breaks away from the embrace roughly and sits back on

the couch.


SHARY

Michael and John are fine with the

deal.


SISSY

But...


SHARY

...but they said they'd prefer to

have limited to no contact with me

even on the space station. They

claim to not want my grandchildren

to get attached to me and 'be

inconsistent in their lives like I'm

known to be'.


Sissy joins her on the couch.


SISSY

Ouch.


Shary stands suddenly, enraged.


SHARY

So why can't you just get with the

program?! It seems you have nothing

to lose at this point!


Sissy stares for a while at her sister.


SISSY

Nothing to lose but my values, my

lineage, and my soul.


SHARY

What about me!? What about

everything I've worked for? Do you

not care about helping your family?

Are you that damned selfish?!


SISSY

I thought we established what

happens when you call me names.


Shary catches herself, and calms down.


SHARY

You're right, I'm sorry. Just finish

your drink. You can stay here

tonight if you want - I don't want

you driving home in this state.


Sissy speaks slowly, filled with rage and years of

resentment.


SISSY

Don't do it. Whatever you want to

pull, don't pull that, 'You're just

thinking of my well-being' bullshit

again.


SHARY

But I am! I just don't want you

driving in a state -


SISSY

Like you do? Like GrandDaddy was

three months ago when he ran into

that tree!? Like you were when you

got caught with your sons in the

car, lost custody, and went to the

military to avoid jail time? Get off

your fucking moral high horse before

you give us all goddamned nose

bleeds.


Shary calmly places her glass down, and walks over to her

sister, leaving barely an inch between their noses.


SHARY

You fucking ungrateful bitch. Our

entire family has done nothing but

save you and make excuses for your

hippy-dippy attitude, and all you do

is disgrace us and disrespect your

name. You don't deserve half of what

you've been given, and I -


Sissy lunges at Shary, and they start wrestling on the

floor. After about a minute of a tussle, Sissy

'accidentally' bangs her head on the coffee table leg and

knocks herself out.


INT. SHARY'S APARTMENT, DAY


Sissy comes to on the couch with an ice pack on her head.

Shary notices she's conscious again, and brings her a glass

of water.


SISSY

I guess shit got a little out of

hand yesterday.


SHARY

You could say that.


SISSY

I suppose I owe you an apology.

Can't believe two middle-aged women

came down to fisticuffs.


Sissy chuckles. Shary remains stoic.


SHARY

No apologies necessary.

Sissy starts gathering her things.


SISSY

I am gonna go ahead and head out

though. We may need to take a little

space for a while.


SHARY

You can have all you need.


Sissy gives her sister a funny look, then finishes

gathering her things. She opens the door to the apartment

and steps into the hallway...to see that the complex

hallway fades into a moving walkway on Alpha twelve!


Sissy turns around to re-enter the apartment, but the door

has slid shut on her one-person pod, carrying her to

another level.


Sissy begins to scream and bang on the inside of the pod,

but her scream fades into the distance as we hear:


ROBOT VOICE

Welcome to Alpha Twelve, the

premiere space station for

civilians. We hope you enjoy your

stay.


As the camera zooms out of the walkway, and out of the

space station to show that it's miles away from earth.


FADE TO BLACK



###



Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.



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