William Shatner’s A Twist in the Tale – Plot Synopsis: Charlie
“There are some things it’s nigh on impossible to explain. There are some “connections” made that defy logic. Some are evil, others strange; some might even teach us something about ourselves and how to live our lives… ”
Louise Adams (14) is new to Cranford – and she doesn’t like it. Cranford is a place where people either fit in or move on, and Louise knows which of her options she’d prefer. She and her mother Kath have moved to this old mining town after the disastrous breakup of the Adams’ marriage. Despite her very good relationship with Kath, Louise is so bitter about the circumstances of the divorce, and in particular her father’s new partner, that she is determined not to make any effort in her new school or her new life – in short, not to trust anyone, ever again. Her only consolations are running – at which she excels – and her loyal setter, Minty.
Louise’s talent at track has been noticed – both by the crusty but loveable coach, Mike Horan (late ‘60s), and Anna and Pat, two girls from Cranford High who first meet Louise at the Yacht Club with her father and are anxious to be friends. However, Loiuse rebuffs approaches from both parties – she won’t join the track team and she’d rather not socialise at all, thanks. Lou’s high-school teacher, Mrs. Yates, is beginning to be concerned about her: she feels that perhaps it is time for Louise to have some counselling. Kath is alarmed by the suggestion, and Lou rejects it out of hand: all she wants is to be left alone. As far as she is concerned, her running is therapy enough.
Louise’s favourite place to run is by the now-defunct mine, along the tracks that wind up through the wooded mountain. The only people in the town who take an active interest in the mine are Mike Horan, who still pans for the tiny flecks of gold there are left, and the mysterious Charlie (17): a pale, withdrawn boy who wears the Cranford High tracksuit, but is never seen in school. Louise has seen Charlie in the distance on several of her runs, but whenever she rounds a corner after him it’s as if he’s vanished into thin air.
Louise’s class is working on a project researching Cranford and its history. Mrs. Yates tries to encourage Louise to join in with a group, but she insists on working by herself – and for good measure rejects another invitation from Anna to come with the other kids to the local hangout after school. Instead Lou goes to the library alone to begin research on the mines … and looks up to find Charlie watching her silently from across the stacks – but before she can approach him, he has gone.
Louise is becoming genuinely interested in the history of the mines. On her next run she takes her camera with her to get some photographs for the project. To her annoyance, Charlie runs into frame just as the shutter descends. It’s not a propitious first meeting: he’s no more happy about having his photo taken than she is about having her shot of the deserted shaft ruined. To add insult to injury, Charlie tries to persuade Louise to stay away from the mines in future – out of danger. The fiercely independent Lou is infuriated.
But it seems she need not have worried about Charlie spoiling her photo. To her bewilderment, none of the prints show his image at all, and no one at the small school seems to know who she’s talking about when she describes him. Mrs. Yates has a suggestion to further her work, however – to check the Cranford Gazette “Morgue”, or archives, to see what old material might be held about the mines.
Louise finds none other than Mike Horan running the Morgue. In Mike she recognises a kindred spirit, despite her stubborn refusal to join his precious track squad. Mike too is a little uneasy about Lou continuing to run so close to the pits; when she describes the boy who warned her off, he listens closely – then finds her a photograph of Charlie dated … 1961. But how can a photograph of the adolescent boy she met be thirty-six years old? Why does her presence on the mountain make him so nervous, and what does any of it have to do with Mike Horan?
Louise’s next encounter with Charlie is dramatic. In her wish to be totally self-sufficient, she has paid too little attention to warnings about the danger of the mine: we open on her frozen with fear at the lip of the Cranford Pit, beyond the “DANGER” signals and the protecting fences. Charlie approaches silently from behind her – there is a frightening moment when it seems he might be about to push Louise to her death; instead, he seizes her wrist and pulls her clear just as the edge of the shaft caves in.
It’s certainly a hell of an ice-breaker, and quite soon – to the evident pleasure of both of them – the two are chatting like old friends. Charlie shares Lou’s interest in the workings of the old mine, and between that, their shared “loner” status and their joint excellence at running, they are well on the way to feeling they are soulmates.
Neither Kath nor, at first, Minty share Louise’s pleasure in her newfound friendship with Charlie. The loyal dog is curiously uneasy in the boy’s presence; Kath just can’t understand why Lou won’t bring him home to meet her, and – herself still hurting from her recent divorce – she’s suspicious of Charlie’s motives. Louise is indignant – isn’t making friends exactly what Kath has been bothering her to do?
She feels comfortable with Charlie in a way she hasn’t felt with anyone in a very long time: she feels she can trust him, that she can confide in him, and that he does not judge her. Apart from Mike, Charlie is the only person she tells about her sense of Len’s betrayal. Charlie is empathic – the loss (even the perceived loss) of a father is very difficult and lonely; he knows, he lost his own …
Back at school, Louise participates no more than she did before, and is being singled out by the school bully, Brenda, and a couple of her nasty cronies. They’re scornful of her stories of Charlie – oh right, the invisible boyfriend, the one in the photograph who wasn’t there? Louise tells herself she doesn’t care – she spends more and more time with Charlie, who even Minty has grown friendly toward. They run and hike and fish together, but to Louise’s disappointment, Charlie always refuses to come down into the town with her and meet Kath, or go to one of the school socials.
Clearly the situation cannot continue as it is forever, and the crisis comes when Brenda spies on Louise and Charlie – and discovers Louise apparently talking to herself. Brenda tells Anna and Pat that Lou’s crazy, talking to trees – and the adults’ concern about Louise and this mysterious boyfriend comes to a head. Lou’s furious – she feels invaded and misunderstood: she goes to Mike for comfort, and he shows her an astonishing thing: black-and-white footage of the disaster that finally closed the struggling mine. Three men were trapped below: we see, stepping forward to volunteer – Charlie.
The photographs, the footage, the fact that no one else seems ever to have seen Charlie – Louise is totally bewildered. Mike sends her to ask Charlie about it himself.
Finally Charlie explains. His father’s death in Korea, forty years before, and his mother’s following soon thereafter left him feeling bitter and hopeless: he volunteered for the rescue mission because he didn’t care what happened to him any more. And rescue he did – Mike Horan, who was partly crippled in the accident, but escaped with his life: and in this, he was luckier than Charlie.
Louise cries as Charlie tells her that she must never allow herself to feel hopeless or bitter: what she has is not a rehearsal, it is the real thing – her only life. She must forgive her father and be brave enough to trust other people again … and she must do one more thing for him, Charlie, to allow him to finally rest in peace.
Mike Horan has become almost frantic with worry as Louise has still not come home. From his point of view, we find her standing at the edge of the pit – is she about to throw herself in? But then Louise drops into the void a bunch of yellow roses … She looks round to find Mike smiling at her. This was her last gift to Charlie: the grief at his untimely death of someone who loved him.
They return home to find Kath in a state of great excitement. This boyfriend of Louise’s has gone right over the top: her room is filled to bursting with – yellow roses.