November Writing Challenge #20

 

 

IMG_6667November Writing Challenge #20

Cast:

An aging woman:  short graying hair, glasses, unfashionable clothing (Mom jeans, etc.)

 

Setting:

The curtain is open. A small rosy-red room with three walls.

Right wing:  three shelves attached to the upper part of the wall with brackets. On the top shelf, old dolls and stuffed animals:  Raggedy Ann and Andy, a gray satin elephant, a woolen lamb with a pink ribbon around its neck and a worn place on the nose where the straw stuffing is visible, a baby doll in a yellow bunting, several handmade Waldorf dolls. The downstage half of the middle shelf is also filled with dolls: mostly homemade fabric dolls and one old Ginny doll in a red dress, and one Beany Baby airedale sitting next to a Waldorf doll in orange leggings and an apple-print dress. A figurine of a mother holding a baby. On the same shelf, extending upstage, books, held up by a bookend and on the upstage side by a stack of bricks.  Up against the upstage wall, a large fabric doll wearing a rhinestone necklace in her black hair. On the bottom shelf, downstage, more dolls for about a quarter of the space: a German bisque baby, a ballet dancer in a blue felt cape, an old walking doll with tangled yellow hair and a blue dress, a Madame Alexander “Meg” doll in a dress of the same blue, a Russian nesting doll, several Polish dancers. And then books, separated with bookends, an earthenware turtle playing a harp, and a blue bowl fill of stones with a pelican bone on top. In front of the books, a mantle clock and a worn hammer. On the upstage end of the shelf, a tiny doll on a little rocking horse and a basket.  Beneath the shelves, a large dollhouse with a red roof sits on an old black steamer trunk. There is a dulcimer in the corner.

Left wing:  In the middle of the wall, a white bookcase, full of books and notebooks and papers. On the top of the bookcase, a mug full of colored pencils, a basket full of hats and mittens. Above the bookcase, a glass plaque of the Lord’s Prayer in German, held up by a chain. In the upstage corner, a green stool with a black battery charger on it, above it, a print of Utrillo’s “Eglise de Strine” framed in green.

Upstage center:  a double window with filmy curtains on either side, framing a view of bare trees. Centered before the window, a black paymaster’s desk with silver hardwear. In the center of the desk, an old, large desktop computer, a keyboard and a mouse on pads of red closed-cell foam. The screen saver is a photo of a smiling baby grabbing the face of a gray-haired, bearded man. On the back shelf of the desk, left of the computer a brass lamp with a green “Orient Express” label, a black and white photo of a young man in a parka with his hands in his pockets, standing in a forest. An old rolodex.  On the right side of the shelf, a blinking modem.  On the left side of the desk proper, a brass bucket containing a eyeglasses case, a DVD of “Tai Chi for Arthritis,” a list of Polish vocabulary words, and a notebook. Also a chunk of limestone, a Hummel figurine of two children praying under s shrine, a stack of postcards from Mexico and dated 1945, a pottery cup holding eyeglasses, a brass candlestick with a half-burned orange candle, a ceramic coaster featuring Santa Claus knitting a sock.

There is a big black desk chair in front of the desk with a purple shawl draped over the back.

 

The aging woman enters with a green pottery mug of coffee which she sets down on the coaster. She sits down in the chair.

 

Curtain

November Writing Challenge #16

Only 14 days to go. . .

 

Cast:

Peter: a tow truck driver

Jenn: a landscape worker

 

Scene:

A roadside. Jenn is standing beside a toy truck. The hood is up. There are small trees in the back of the truck. Peter enters sage left on his hands and knees, pushing a toy tow truck, making Brummm sounds. He parks beside Jenn’s truck and stands up.

 

Jenn: It’s about time. I called an hour ago.

Peter:  Too bad. I am twenty miles away, you know.

Jenn: I didn’t know. You’re just a number.

Peter:  Right. And the only tow around here. So, what’s the trouble?

Jenn: Alternator. Like I said on the phone.

Peter:  You sure?

Jenn:  Of course I’m sure. What, you assume I don’t know anything about cars? This is my truck. I work on it myself. If I had a spare alternator, I’d be on my way by now. Did you bring one?

Peter:  An alternator? No.

Jenn:  Why not?

Peter:  Didn’t have one in the shop. This is an old truck.

Jenn: I know that. That’s why I told you.

Peter: I’ll tow you back to the shop and have the boys check out the junk yard at the five corners.

Jenn: But you’ll charge me for the tow.

Peter:  Or, you could sit here and I’ll charge you the same for my mileage to and fro. Your choice.

Jenn:  Can’t win, then, can I?

Peter:  Nope. None of us ever wins.

Jenn: I don’t like that idea.

Peter:  What?  That we’re all losers?

Jenn:  Yeah, that one.

Peter:  Well, it’s true. Think about it. We’re born, right? Not our choice. Parents aren’t our choice, either. Or how many brains we’ve got. Or where we live. Could be some dump, could be a castle.

Jenn:  But lots of people do okay.

Peter:  Oh, well, doing okay. Yeah. That’s about it. Unless you’re Bill Gates or one of them, maybe just doing okay is all you get.

Jenn:  But—I’m doing okay. I’ve got this business, see? A little nursery, trees and bushes and stuff. And even some flowers. I like the work and I get paid enough.

Peter:  Enough for what?  You sure as hell got an old wreck of a truck.

Jenn:  But that’s not important. I mean, I’m not rich, but I have this business and enough to get by. I have a nice little house.

Peter:  Little, though, right? Nothing fancy.

Jenn:  I don’t need anything fancy. What I’ve got is more than most people.

Peter:  Well, okay, that kind of proves my point, doesn’t it?  Most people are losers. You think you’re doing okay just because you’re better off than most people, and that’s not saying much.

Jenn: What about you? Are you a loser?

Peter:  Sure. Of course I am. Most people are. If I weren’t, do you think I’d be doing this for a living? Oh, cars are okay, but if I could do anything I want, I’d be on a beach someplace in Florida.

Jenn: That would get old pretty fast.

Peter: How do you know? Ever tried it?

Jenn:  No, but just sitting around is boring.

Peter:  Oh, I wouldn’t just sit around. I’d have some beers, play some volleyball, maybe surf a little. And I’d have a beach house, you know, one of them on stilts. And I’d have parties with all my friends. A big enough house for them to stay. And we could go to clubs sometimes for the music.  And I could have a good guitar.

Jenn: You play guitar?

Peter:  Yup. But I don’t have a very good one. Taught myself when I was a kid. Always wanted to be a musician.

Jenn:  So you think you’re a loser because you aren’t a musician?

Peter:  I didn’t say that.

Jenn: Well, it’s what you meant. Your dreams didn’t come true, so you think you’re a loser.

Peter: Well, aren’t I?

Jenn:  No. Be serious. Nobody’s dreams come true. That doesn’t mean we’re losers.

Peter: What was your dream?

Jenn: None of your business.

Peter:  Hey, it’s only fair. I told you mine.

Jenn:  I wanted to be a musician, too.

Peter:  What instrument?

Jenn: Drums.

Peter:  So what happened?

Jenn: Parents thought girls shouldn’t play drums.

Peter: So you didn’t.

Jenn: Nope. I didn’t.

Peter:  Loser.  At least I’ve got a guitar.

Jenn:  Hey, that’s not fair. Drums cost a lot.

Peter:  Yeah, that was mean of me. Besides, all us losers have to stick together. I mean, that’s about all we’ve got, isn’t it? Our loserhood. We should have passwords and badges and stuff. We could have a lodge:  The great brotherhood of losers.

Jenn:  laughing  Well, maybe you’re right. But you know, there’s still dreams out there. Maybe they’ll come true for somebody.

Peter: Maybe. Well, talk doesn’t move trucks. Let’s go.  He closes the hood of her truck and attaches it to his tow truck. Hop in.

Both get on hands and knees and push their trucks toward stage left, while he makes car noises.

 

 

November Writing Challenge # 13-15

. . . because I’ve been thinking about it for a few days. With sincere apologies to the ghost of Samuel Beckett.

 

Cast:

Walker: tall & thin … he has salt & pepper hair … he walks, gazing up & away from the road, always … never looking ahead, behind, or down

Bigfoot

SCENE:  A road, with a single evergreen tree just to the left of center.  Bigfoot is sitting on the ground under the tree. Walker enters and stands beside Bigfoot.

 

8767 (cat typing) Bigfoot:  Nothing to be done.

Walker: Oh, well, but perhaps. . . Have you seen her?

Bigfoot:  No. Have you?

Walker: I have not seen her.

Bigfoot: She is not in the sky. I do not believe that she is in the sky.

Walker: The last time I saw her, she was in the sky. It was a sunny day, a shiny day. Five crows flew together across the road, flying in the same direction. North. The wind was from the south.

Bigfoot: What was she doing then?

Walker: With the crows. She was flying with the crows. Her arms were outstretched and her hair was flying like crow wings.

Bigfoot: Will she come back?

Walker: She will come back, so I am watching for her. All the time I’m watching for her.

Bigfoot:  I, too, am watching. Not in the sky. I am not watching in the sky.

Walker:  Are you happy now?

Bigfoot: Now? No. I am unhappy. Since the wind shifted to the south, I have been unhappy. The south wind carries the scent of oranges, and the scent of oranges always makes me cry.

Walker: Ah yes. Oranges. But is there not a scent of lemon?

Bigfoot:  No lemon. Not yet. Not this time of year. I’ve been thinking about killing myself.

Walker:  Will you do that?

Bigfoot:  Perhaps. Perhaps if I do not see her. Or if I do not see the crows. Or if the wind does not change.

Walker:  The crows will return. I am sure of that. Crows always return. Perhaps they will not be the same crows, but they will be crows,, flying hard through the sky. When the wind changes, you will see that there will be crows.

Bigfoot: Then perhaps I can live.  He stands up.

Walker: Will you go on?

Bigfoot: I might stay here. I might go on. Are you going on?

Walker:  Yes. I am going on. It is time for me to go on. The wind is changing.

Bigfoot:  Is it from the north?

Walker:  No. It is not yet from the north. This wind is from the south west. Tonight, maybe tomorrow, the wind will blow from the north.

Bigfoot: I think the smell of oranges is diminishing.

Walker:  Then perhaps you can live.

Bigfoot: Then perhaps I can live.

Walker:  Are you going on then?

Bigfoot:  I think I am not going on. I think I shall stay here. He sits down. I like this tree. There is an essence of life in this tree.  Perhaps if I stay here she will feel encouraged to return. Or the crows will be encouraged. In the meantime, nothing happens but the scent of oranges diminishing.

Walker:  Perhaps you could go on.

Bigfoot: If I go on, will something happen?

Walker:  Your feet will move. That is something.

Bigfoot:  But is that enough?

Walker: I do not know if that is enough for you. For me it is enough.

Bigfoot: It would not be enough for me. I shall stay. Until the wind changes, I shall stay.

Walker:  Do you have an umbrella?

Bigfoot: I do not have an umbrella. Should I have an umbrella?

Walker: Yes. You should have an umbrella if you will stay until the wind changes.

Bigfoot: For what reason?

Walker: When the wind changes, you may open the umbrella and the changed wind will take you somewhere else.

Bigfoot:  Is something happening somewhere else?

Walker:  Sometimes something is happening.

Bigfoot:  I do not have an umbrella. Perhaps I should go along. He stands.

Walker:  We could look for her together.

Bigfoot:  I could look on the ground and between the trees.

Walker: I will continue to look at the sky. I think she will come from the sky. When the crows return.

Bigfoot: When the wind changes.

Walker:  Yes. Shall we go?

Bigfoot:  Yes. Let’s go.

 

They do not move.

Curtain.

November Writing Challenge #11

. . . going by date, since I certainly haven’t written every day. See what can happen if I get a character?

Cast:

a poet/professional football player with an eating disorder

a therapist

 

Setting:

A therapist’s office—two chairs, a desk

The therapist is sitting behind the desk when the poet enters. There are items on the desk, pencils and so on. During the scene, the therapist periodically picks something up and fiddles with it.

 

Therapist: Sit down, sit down.

Poet: Thank you. sits

Long silence.

Therapist: So. What do you want to talk about?

Poet:  Food. I mean, food, really. I want to talk about food.

Therapist: Say more.

Poet:  Well, I mean, I like it. I really like it. I eat it all the time. I have to, for work. I mean, I play football, right, so I have to stay bulked up. So I eat. Food. Steaks and chops and all like that. Bread. Donuts. Cake. Hamburgers. Ice cream. My favorite is chocolate but I like cherry and peach and chunky monkey and strawberry and even sherbet. Lemon, orange, lime. That mixture, you know, that’s striped together. You can scoop it out in your bowl so it looks like a rainbow. Salad—not as much salad as I oughta, but some. Just lettuce and tomato is the best with French dressing or blue cheese. Hotdogs but with just mustard, no relish. French Fries. Pie. Apple pie is the best, but rum raisin is pretty good. And date cream. And coconut cream. And banana cream. Pumpkin if it’s not canned. Mincemeat on Thanksgiving, but not with ice cream, and peach. And. . .

Therapist: It seems to me that you talk about food.

Poet:  Right. You’ve got it. Once I start talking about food, I can’t stop. I mean, if I even think about it, right, I start talking about it. Baked beans. Macaroni and cheese. . .

Therapist: interrupting  I see. I see. Your job is football. I recognize you, as a matter of fact, and I’m a fan, but that ought not to affect our work together. Unless, of course, you have a problem with that.

Poet:  I don’t. Really. I mean, everybody who watches football knows who I am, so I’d have trouble finding a therapist who doesn’t know who I am. And even if they don’t watch football, there are those mustard commercials I do. You know where I eat hotdogs like it’s a test of some kind and one is plain, just in a bun, you know one of those soft kind of buns, not the whole wheat ones. Those are weird. If you’re going to eat a hotdog, you shouldn’t bother with whole wheat, unless you’re having a tofu hotdog but those are gross so why bother. And they say that a bunch of them even have meat in them anyway so what’s the point. And one of the hotdogs has relish and mustard and the other has just mustard and I always say in the commercial that I like the one with plain mustard the best, and I do, really. Relish kind of interferes with the taste of the hotdog, but mustard enhances it, if you know what I mean. Especially that red pepper relish. . .

Therapist:  interrupting  I understand that you also write poetry.

Poet:  I do. I kinda like to have that as a sideline, you know. It gives me something to think about when I’m working out. Words. How they go together. LIke hotdog and mustard. Hotdog and mustard. Hotdog and mustard. Hotdog and mustard. . .

Therapist:  I see. So do you write poems about food. . .

Poet: interrupting  I most write about food. I like the way food words go together. Brown bread and butter. Turkey and stuffing. Potatoes and gravy. Pancakes and syrup. Bacon and eggs. Steak and eggs. BLT. That’s one of my favorites. BLT. BLT. BLT. BLT. BLT. ..

Therapist: interrupting  I understand. What is your past experience with food? When you were a child, for instance?

Poet: I liked it. Mom says I was, like, always a good eater. A good little trencherman she said, whatever that means. She used to cut up hotdogs and put them into baked beans and I liked those. And chicken a la king. I like the sound of that, too. A la king. A la king. A la king.

Therapist: I can see that. So you always had enough to eat growing up?

Poet: Oh yeah. Mom was a good cook. Good mac and cheese, good hamburger casserole, good meatloaf. With baked potato and squash, usually and pie for dessert. And peanut butter sandwiches on homemade bread. With honey. Or jam. Or jelly. Or fluff.

Therapist: How long have you had this problem? Talking about food?

Poet: Is it a problem?

Therapist: Is it? I assumed that’s why you came to see me.

Poet: No! Why would that be a problem? No, I came to see you because my girlfriend wants to break up and I’m pretty depressed about that. We’ve been together for, like, five years.

Therapist: What are the reasons she gives for breaking up with you?

Poet: Communication. She says we have a communication problem.

Therapist: And how do you respond to that?

Poet: Well, I tell her that I don’t think we do. We go out all the time for dinner and talk. Chinese food, Mexican, sometimes Thai, but I don’t like that as well, and she doesn’t like Indian as much as I do because it’s too hot for her, even if she only gets the mild. Good old diner food sometimes, you know, hot turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce and some pickled beets on the side. And sometimes we go out to breakfast. She always gets just yogurt and granola, though, so I don’t see the point. And I like sausage gravy on biscuits. Or sometimes three eggs over easy, or a cheese omelet with white toast. And sometimes. . .

Therapist: What does your girlfriend like to talk about?

Poet: Oh, well, she talks about plants. She grows a lot of plants. African violets and things. Ferns. Those hanging ones with the shiny leaves. Stuff like that. She talks about those all the time. They need water and stuff. Fertilizer. But she doesn’t have a garden outdoors. Just house plants. Nothing she can eat. But she has room, and sometimes I’m like, “Hey, you could like grow spinach and broccoli and lettuce and tomatoes and all like that. Grow your own stuff for BLTs except the bacon part. I really like that combination:  BLT, BLT, BLT . . . .

The therapist slowly gets up and extis, while the poet happily repeats BLT until the curtain comes down

 

November Writing Challenge #10

Gotta work on the ending. Or not.

 

November Writing Challenge #10

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

Cast:

Snow White, sixty years later (age 76)  (her husband is Charming)—she is kind

Sleeping Beauty, sixty  years later (76)  (her husband is Gallant) —analytical

Cinderella, sixty years later (82)  (her husband is Handsome)—a little bitchy

~they may be dressed like modern women, but with tiaras, or they might be dressed as Disney or fairy-tale characters, but they should be gray-haired and elderly

 

Setting:

A kitchen—era depending on director’s decision, but in keeping with the costumes

the three are seated around a table, drinking coffee or tea or something out of goblets

 

Snow White:  So, Grumpy came to visit last week. He’s the only one left, and he hasn’t changed a bit. He even looks the same. I think he was born old.

Sleeping Beauty:  I thought Dopey was still alive? I always thought Happy would outlast us all, given his optimism. He was always so robust. And he was the first one to go, wasn’t he?

Snow White:  He was. That took us all by surprise. But Dopey died about a month ago. Grumpy, bless his heart, took care of him until the end. I wanted them to come here to the palace where I could look after them, but Grumpy insisted that Dopey would be more comfortable in familiar surroundings. He was probably right. I wanted to go down to the cottage to see him, but my hip was acting up and Charming thought the ride would be too much for me.

Cinderella:  Sounds like Charming. Sometimes I think you two are lucky to have husbands who look out for you. Handsome just doesn’t seem to care what I do.

Sleeping Beauty:  That makes sense, though, doesn’t it? After all, our husbands had to bring us back from the dead, so naturally they worry.

Cinderella:  And all Handsome had to do was ram a shoe on my foot.

Snow White:  And speaking of husbands—I think Gallant is beginning to fail. He can’t remember anything these days—really can’t remember. And he’s taken to standing on the balcony and staring vaguely into space. I got the royal physician to look at him, but there’s nothing that can be done, he says. Age. Funny how that happens. And sad. I can’t imagine the world without him.

Cinderella:  Handsome has taken to humming. All the time. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if he hummed tunes, but it’s just humming.  She hums tunelessly.

Sleeping Beauty:  Well, it could be worse. We’ve had them for many years now. Sixty years! We were such children then, when they carried us off.

Snow White:  I was sixteen. A child indeed. All I’d known was the death of my mother and the cruelty of my stepmother, and then the kindness of the gamekeeper (Cinderella snickers) —he was kind. He was a good man. He said I reminded him of his daughter. Had it not been for him, I would have been killed. And the dear dwarves. . .

Sleeping Beauty:  I was sixteen, too. Sixty years ago!  But then, I fell into that sleep when I was sixteen and was awakened when I was technically one hundred and sixteen. I’d still like to know how she suspended time.  I missed so much. It was quite a shock to enter the modern world. The castle was so out of date! But my father let Gallant take charge of updating everything. Poor mother never adjusted, though, and to her dying day she dressed like someone from the Dark Ages.

Cinderella:  Well, sixty years ago, I was older than the two of you. Twenty-two. Old enough to know better. I thought I’d never get out of that appalling house, out from under the yoke of those awful girls and that witch of a stepmother. You two were lucky.

Sleeping Beauty:  I don’t think Snow White was so lucky. She had a very traumatic childhood. I was lucky, though. The world revolved around me. It just stopped for awhile.

Snow White:  And I was lucky in a way. I wouldn’t trade my time in the forest for anything.

Cinderella:  But think how much better things would have been if your mother hadn’t died or even if your father hadn’t remarried. You probably would have been married off to Charming anyway.

Snow White: Perhaps.

Sleeping Beauty: Well, it’s useless to imagine what might have happened. What happened, happened.

Cinderella:  And I suppose what will happen, will happen?  Que sera, sera?

Sleeping Beauty:  What?

Cinderella: We have a new court jester. A young man from Spain. He says that all the time. Que sera, sera.  What will be, will be.

Sleeping Beauty:  I’m not sure I believe that. After all, we have some choices.

Cinderella: I know I did. I wanted to go to that ball, so I found a way.

Sleeping Beauty:  At least in the Grimm version you did. Disney made you pretty passive. Actually, he made all of us passive. Me the most of all, I think. All I did was fall asleep.

Cinderella: Isn’t that all you did?

Sleeping Beauty:  No! I can’t believe we’ve known one another all these years and I’ve never told you!

Snow White:  Tell us.

Sleeping Beauty:  I heard the curse—you know—the fairy who wasn’t invited. So burning the spinning wheels was my idea. But then, my father had to figure out where to get thread for the weaving. I helped him set up a deal with the kingdom of Gallant the Fourth. So—-

Snow White:  So your Gallant would have known about you from tales told by his father and grandfather—

Sleeping Beauty:  Yes indeed. I like to think I played a part in my own rescue.

Cinderella:  I still think I had more to do with my fate than you two.

Snow White:  In the Grimm version.

Cinderella: Well, of course, the Grimm version.

Sleeping Beauty:  But you just used the word “fate.” Can we, in fact, influence our “fate”? Or is fate something that happens inevitably? Are we also “fated” to do those things which lead to an already determined outcome?

Cinderella:  Oh Beauty, honestly. Are you a queen or a philosopher?

Snow White:  There’s no reason one can’t be both, I think.

Cinderella: It’s fate.

Snow White:  Let’s not quarrel. We’re old now. We don’t know how many more years we’ll be able to meet like this. You were both good enough to come here this year since I can’t ride. And next year, who knows?

Sleeping Beauty:  You’re right.

Cinderella: You are. We’re lucky women, all three of us. There have been ups and downs, but maybe we really have been living happily ever after.

November Writing Challenge #9 with revisions of #6

This worked better than the story, which isn’t saying much:

 

November Writing Challenge #6—ACT I

Setting:  a church sanctuary, elaborate, Victorian/Gothic. Altar with hangings, candlesticks. A cross above, not quite in the center. A font stage left, with the cross on the lid tipped to the side. There is a door in the wall next to the altar, on the right side. A chair up against each side wall. Dimly lit, as a church would be without electric lights in the middle of an autumn morning.

Cast:

Father William, The New Priest—a fresh-faced young man. In clericals.

Martha, The Altar Guild Lady—a middle-aged woman, very efficient and brisk.

Father Grayson, The Old Priest—under the altar, which is moveable, and can be raised

lowered. He is spectral and wearing a black cassock.

Florist—not a speaking part

 

As the curtain opens, Father William and Martha are standing in front of the altar, continuing a conversation.

 

William: Martha, I told the vestry that I don’t want to make any changes in the building, but I do think that straightening out that cross isn’t extreme.  I think I should just get a step ladder and get up there and move it before the service tonight.

Martha: Oh, but then you’d have to step on the altar.

William:  I’d take the fair linen off, first, of course, and put down newspapers.

Martha:  That’s not what I meant, Father. Standing on the altar.  .  .

William:  I understand. But it’s off-center. And surely when it was hung in the first place, someone had to stand on the altar.

Martha:  Father Tomlinson often commented on that cross. He believed that it was hung that way for a purpose.

William: Perhaps it was. But I believe that purpose has been fulfilled, and I shall move it to the center. And while I’m up there, if you like, I’ll give the paneling a good rubdown with whatever polish you recommend. Would you mind taking the fair linen and other things off? I’m afraid I’m not good at that sort of thing.

Martha (somewhat mollified): Certainly I can remove the things properly. And I’ll fetch some polish. I have just the thing in the sacristy closet.  Exits

William:  I thought you might. He is visibly relieved.

Martha returns wearing a pair of white gloves. She hands a pair to him.

Martha:  You may help me with the candlesticks. Be careful. They’re heavy. Father Tomlinson didn’t like is ladies to move them without gloves.

He puts the gloves on, and each of them lifts a candlestick from the altar. They carry them through the door. When they have gone, the altar shifts slightly so that the cross appears to be in the center. They return, without gloves. Martha has a tube to roll up the fair linen, and she begins to do that while William stands back and watches. He looks at the cross, clearly puzzled.

William:  Martha, could you come over here for a minute? She leaves the rolling and stands beside him.

Is it my imagination, or is the cross in the center now?

Martha:  I believe it is. But wait. . . she goes back to the altar and looks at the floor. The altar has moved. Look!  William joins her and examines the floor.

William: Did we. . . bump it? When we removed the candlesticks?

Martha: I doubt it. Try moving it.  He tries, and fails. “Bumping it” is out of the question.

William: You’re right. Was there an earthquake? But—nothing else is out of place. We would have felt something. . .

Martha: The altar has a solid marble top. I doubt that an earthquake would move it at all.

William:  Well, I guess I don’t have to move the cross.

Martha:  But now the altar is off center.

William:  And since we can’t move that, it will have to stay that way. I suppose we can put the things back.  Martha unrolls the linen again, and smooths it, while William ponders, and examines the altar and the floor. They exit. While they are gone, the altar moves back to its original place. They enter, in white gloves, carrying candlesticks, which they put on the altar. William steps back.

William:  Martha. Look.  She joins him. They look at one another in puzzlement.  All right. I think we’d better leave this. No ladder, no moving, no polishing. I must think about this. Thank you for your help. It looks as if everything is all set for the service tomorrow night.

Martha:  Except the flowers. They’ll be delivered at six. You’ll be here. (not a question)

William: Yes. My first service. All Souls’ Day. (To himself) I must remember the list of names.

Martha:  It will be sad to hear Father Tomlinson’s name on that list this year.

William:  We’ll all be on that list one day, Martha. One thing we can be sure about.

Martha:  (darkly) Assuming there is still a church and a congregation. I do hope you can make a difference. Father Tomlinson tried, but he was not well.

William:  I’m sure he did his best. The Bishop would not have sent me here if he thought the situation without hope. Thank you for your good work. Everything looks very nice.

Martha: So I’ll go now.

William: And I’ll see you this evening.

Martha:  Of course. Good morning, Father.

William:  Good morning. . .

She exits, and he stands in front of the altar with his arms folded.  

William:  All right. Whoever you are, whatever you are, I know about you. The Bishop told me there was something amiss here, and there is. That cross, that crooked font, the organ that won’t stay in tune, the bell that won’t ring no matter how many times it’s rehung, the fact that no one has been baptized or married here for one hundred years. . .  I want this foolishness to stop. And I will get to the bottom of it. I know about you. I even think I know your name. I’m off to search for the missing vestry records. And if I must, if you will not repent, I will do an exorcism, old-fashioned though that may be. As he speaks, the cross falls off the wall.  So. You see the writing on the wall:  “Mene, mene, tekel, parsin.”  Your days are numbered.  Exits.

 

ACT 2

The curtain rises on the dark sanctuary. William enters, carrying a flashlight. He stands in front of the altar and shines the light on the crooked cross.

William: I do know your name.  I found the missing records, hidden, as the Bishop suspected they’d be. Well hidden, so no one in the parish has ever found them. Buried in the bottom of a trunk in the crawl space in the attic. You are in fact Henry Malachi Grayson, the third rector of this parish. You were not universally beloved, and in fact, the vestry minutes from that time indicate that the Bishop had been asked to remove you from this cure, but it was not necessary because one Sunday morning you were not here. You were not in the rectory. You were nowhere to be found. Letters were written to your remote cousins in New York, but they had not seen you. You disappered. You are the haunting. And I want you to come forth and tell me, now, in the name of Christ, why you are haunting this place?

There is a rustling, and Father Grayson, ghostly, appears from behind the dark altar. The lights go up enough to make things more visible.

Grayson: Murder.

William:  Whose murder?

Grayson:  Mine.

William:  He sits down in the chair opposite the font. Grayson stands in front of him.  Tell me. I command you.

Grayson: (As if reciting lines by rote.) They were too young and they did not belong here.

William:  Who?

Grayson: The people who came on that Saturday. The woman was with child.

William: Strangers?

Grayson: (testy) Of course they were strangers. I would not have turned away members of my own flock. I would have chastised them, of course, as was my duty, but I would not have turned them away.

William:  What did they ask of you?

Grayson:  Marriage, in the holy church.

William:  And you refused.

Grayson:  Of course I refused.  (back to rote recitation) The man had not been baptized, the girl had fallen away. The child was conceived in sin. The man was coarse and loud. When I told him that I would marry them only if he repented and was baptized, and only if they both repented of their sin, he picked up a candlestick—(pointing to the candlesticks on the altar) and struck me. I died.

William:  And what happened then? Where did they go? What did they do with your body?

Grayson: (contemptuous) I do not know. I was dead. And so here I am, unavenged, unshriven, forbidden the heavenly mansions until my corpse is discovered and anointed.

William:  Perhaps you should repent.

Grayson: Of what should I repent? I was murdered by a hooligan.

William:  Lack of charity, perhaps. Arrogance. Pride. Bearing False Witness. Maybe. . . lust. Maybe. . . fornication.

The ghost raises its arms in a classical sort of haunting position. William is unmoved.

William: That’s it, isn’t it? You seduced that girl and she conceived. The man with her was not her lover but her father. When you refused to acknowledge your fault, he struck you and you struck him. And there was murder—but not yours.  You’ve told yourself that story from your place in purgatory for so long that you’ve come to believe it.

Grayson:  This is outrage.

William:  Indeed it is. Where did you hide the bodies, Grayson? I command you to tell me.

Grayson: (snarling)  The altar. You fool, look behind the altar.

William (stands)  And you must move it.  I command you. If you want rest for your soul, Grayson, you must do this thing. And you must confess.

Grayson gestures and the altar rises. There are two skeletons curled on the floor.

William: And now, if you would be free, confess.

Grayson is clearly beaten. He kneels, sobbing.

Grayson:  Bless me father, for I have sinned.  William stands above him.  She and her father were drifers who came to me for help. She was naive and very pretty. I gave them money for food and lodging in a boarding house, and I gave her money for nice things and I took advantage of her. She conceived and told her father. They came to me, begging me to marry her. I refused. I said that she was a whore. Her father was a strong man. He struck me. I lifted a candlestick from the altar and struck him and he fell. The girl screamed. I struck her. I hid their corpses behind the altar and sealed the seams with pitch so there would be little smell. I took clothes from the poor box to wear, and I took what money I had, and I took a train out west, where no one knew me. I died of cholera, in a no account town in Ohio. And when I came before the judgement seat, I was sentenced to return to this place until I repented. And I did not repent, but told myself the lie I told you. I confess that I have sinned, and I humbly repent. Save me, father, save me.

William:  Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis.

The lights go out, the altar is lowered, and Grayson exits in the dark. William exits also. He reemerges from the sanctuary as the lights go on—as if he’d flicked a switch. The cross is in the center, and the lid on the font is righted. 

William: I’ll leave them. What better place for two sad souls than under an altar. May they rest in peace.  He looks at his watch.  It’s nearly six. And here come the flowers. I’m going to ring the bell.

Florist enters from the audience and he helps put the flowers on the altar, then exits through the audience while she/he continues to arrange them.

There is a sound of bells.

November Writing Challenge #6

One that I kind of like, at last. A redo of a failed story. This is Act One. I’m taking the weekend off.

 

November Writing Challenge #6–ACT I

Setting:  a church sanctuary, elaborate, Victorian/Gothic. Altar with hangings, candlesticks. A cross above, not quite in the center. A font stage left, with the cross on the lid tipped to the side. There is a door in the wall next to the altar, on the right side. Dimly lit, as a church would be without electric lights.

Cast:

Father William, The New Priest—a fresh-faced young man, determined to do things right, but     not deterred by the memory of Father Tomlinson his predecessor. In clericals.

Martha, The Altar Guild Lady—a middle-aged woman, very efficient and brisk.

Sacred to the memory of Father Tomlinson

Father Grayson, The Old Priest—under the altar, which is moveable.

He is spectral and wearing a black cassock.

As the curtain opens, Father William and Martha are standing in front of the altar, continuing a conversation.

William: I think I should just get a step ladder and get up there and move it.

Martha: Oh, but then you’d have to step on the altar.

William:  I’d take the fair linen off, first, of course, and put down newspapers.

Martha:  That’s not what I meant, Father. Standing on the altar.  .  .

William:  I understand. But it’s off-center. And surely when it was hung in the first place, someone had to stand on the altar.

Martha:  Father Tomlinson often commented on that cross. He believed that it was hung that way for a purpose.

William: Perhaps it was. But I believe that purpose has been fulfilled, and I shall move it to the center. And while I’m up there, if you like, I’ll give the paneling a good rubdown with whatever polish you recommend. Would you mind taking the fair linen and other things off? I’m afraid I’m not good at that sort of thing.

Martha (somewhat mollified): Certainly I can remove the things properly. And I’ll fetch some polish. I have just the thing in the sacristy closet.  Exits

William:  I thought you might. He is visibly relieved.

Martha returns wearing a pair of white gloves. She hands a pair to him.

Martha:  You may help me with the candlesticks.

He puts the gloves on, and each of them lifts a candlestick from the altar. They carry them through the door. When they have gone, the altar shifts slightly so that the cross appears to be in the center. They return, without gloves. Martha has a tube to roll up the fair linen, and she begins to do that while William stands back and watches. He looks at the cross, clearly puzzled.

William:  Martha, could you come over here for a minute? She leaves the rolling and stands beside him.

Is it my imagination, or is the cross in the center now?

Martha:  I believe it is. But wait. . . she goes back to the altar and looks at the floor. The altar has moved. Look!  William joins her and examines the floor.

William: Did we. . . bump it? When we removed the candlesticks?

Martha: I doubt it. Try moving it.  He tries, and fails. “Bumping it” is out of the question.

William: You’re right. Was there an earthquake? But—nothing else is out of place. We would have felt something. . .

Martha: The altar has a solid marble top. I doubt that an earthquake would move it at all.

William:  Well, I guess I don’t have to move the cross.

Martha:  But now the altar is off center.

William:  And since I can’t move that, it will have to stay that way. I suppose we can put the things back.  Martha unrolls the linen again, and smooths it, while William ponders, and examines the altar and the floor. They exit. While they are gone, the altar moves back to its original place. They enter, in white gloves, carrying candlesticks, which they put on the altar. William steps back.

William:  Martha. Look.  She joins him. They look at one another in puzzlement.  All right. I think we’d better leave this. No ladder, no moving, no polishing. I must think about this. Thank you for your help. It looks as if everything is all set for the service tonight.

Martha:  Except the flowers. They’ll be delivered at six. You’ll be here. (not a question)

William: Yes. All Souls’ Day. I must remember the list of names.

Martha:  It will be sad to hear Father Tomlinson’s name on that list this year.

William:  We’ll all be on that list one day, Martha. One thing we can be sure about.

Martha:  (darkly) Assuming there is still a church and a congregation.

William:  Yes, of course, assuming that, which I do.  Thank you for your good work. Everything looks very nice.

Martha: So I’ll go now.

William: And I’ll see you this evening.

Martha:  Of course. Good afternoon, Father.

William:  Good afternoon. . .

She exits, and he stands in front of the altar with his arms folded.  

William:  All right. Whoever you are, whatever you are, I know about you. The Bishop told me there was something amiss here, and there is. That cross, that crooked font, the organ that won’t stay in tune, the bell that won’t ring no matter how many times it’s rehung, the fact that no one has been baptized here for fifty years. . .  I know about you. And I want this to stop. And I will get to the bottom of it. And if I must, I will do an exorcism, old-fashioned though that may be. As he speaks, the cross falls off the wall.  So. You see the writing on the wall?  “Mene, mene, tekel, parsin.”  Your days are numbered.  Exits.