Set Present Time. Suburban neighborhood. Backdrop sunny, blue sky, distant hills, but a dark pall hugging charred tree tops, suggesting recent fires, and dank atmosphere.
Chorus in black-hooded robes, heads bowed, arms folded tight to body, hum discordantly – low in front of curtain. Curtain rises on street scene: once beautiful homes graffiti-ed, broken windows, smashed bird bath, broken fountain. The chorus retreats US center, in a crescendo-ing hum, then silence as grey-ish filtered early morning light rises on a disheveled lone female quickly searching through a garbage bin on the sidewalk.
A shot is heard – the female rises erect, alert, looking around for close danger. No one appears. The woman relaxes her stance, continues her search, and finds a torn one-armed rag doll. She stares at the doll a moment, then holds it close, silently weeping as music begins. She wipes her tears as she sings:
What have we done? What have I become? Is this reality now?
I can’t believe this awful dream, I’ve got to wake somehow.
She puts the doll in her coat pocket.
Enter two children, dirty & hungry, salvaging. They see the woman and turn back.
“No, stop! It’s ok – I won’t hurt you!” The children stop hesitantly.
“I’m looking for food too. We can look together.” They look doubtful. The woman takes the rag doll out of her pocket. “Look, you can have this, if you want it?” She holds out the doll to them.
The boy steps in front of his sister, stopping her from going closer.
“I know you don’t trust me, but I’m really not going to hurt you, or take anything from you. I’d just like to help – and have some company.”
The boy relaxes and lets his sister take the doll.
“If we stick together, we can try to help each other, alright?”
The children nod in expressionless agreement.
“Are your parents alive?” The children look down, unanswering.
“Oh, you don’t know? I’m sorry.” The woman looks toward a fenced compound on a near hill. “Sometimes the Citadel cooks throw out scraps or bones, but you’ve got to get there early and be fast to get anything. Do you want to come with me?”
The children look hungry, but doubtful. “You don’t have to go near, you can wait by the trees, and I’ll try to get what I can – if there is anything today.”
The children follow the woman off SL.
The woman and children enter in front of the curtain, SR, through a line of trees.
“You wait here. Don’t eat the mushrooms, they’re poisonous.” The woman points to mushrooms growing around and on the trees. “And if you see anyone, pick some and pretend you’re going to eat them, but don’t really put them in your mouth. The juice can make you very sick, especially when you haven’t eaten anything else. They’ll think you’re stupid and won’t bother you because they think you’ll die soon anyway.”
The choir chants low ominous sounds, becoming louder as the curtain opens to reveal barbed wire fencing with a metal prison-door like gate, and security cameras facing all directions. Choir falls silent.
The woman walks up where a window is seen from the fence, her face obscured by a tattered scarf. She searches the ground for scraps and finds none. As she waits, others begin gathering. The woman stands more erect, but does not look at anyone. A figure appears in the window looking out at the gathering crowd, and closes the curtain. Some soft cries and groans are heard among the crowd, the signal that no food will be thrown today. They begin shuffling off stage L&R. The woman and three men remain in hopeful expectancy. One man puts his hands on the fence as the others are too late to warn him. The shock jolts him, and he cries out from the powerful surge.
The window curtain opens slightly, and the figure in the window looks at the remaining few. Two large meaty bones are thrown out over the fence. The woman has drawn a knife and readies for a fight. Choir takes up chant, pantomiming the actors with voice and action in their group. DS man draws a knife and the woman lunges, slashing his arm. He retaliates, narrowly missing her shoulder as the woman ducks and slashes again, missing his leg. US man has grabbed a bone and the woman lunges at her foe’s face with her knife, meeting his shin with her foot, stomping down. Choir finishes tones in triumphant harmony, reforms original stance.
The woman grabs the remaining bone and runs, the man limping after her in pursuit. The choir takes up a crescendo-ing chant for the chase. As the woman nears the line of trees, the man catches her shoulder, but the children rush out screaming and running toward them, the woman using the moment to plunge her knife in through his ribs and twists it in deep. He falls dead. The choir ceases their chanting through rushing expelled air.
Curtain opens on the woman and children sitting around a fire where a pot containing the meaty bone and gathered roots has cooked. They share one cup, sipping the broth. The woman watches the area for intruders, but none come.
The woman speaks: “When I was your age, my parent’s left my sister and me in the care of the Citadel home while they went to look for work – before the Citadel fell to Bolinger. They never returned, and my sister and I tried to find them when I was old enough to travel longer distances on our own. She knew about wild plants – what could be eaten, or used for medicine. Bolinger’s guards found us. My sister died defending me. I had fainted and they left me alone in the woods. I came to next to my sister’s body, and I cried through the night. No one came to help, and I had nothing to bury her with, so I covered her with nettles, leaves, and branches. I wandered through the woods hoping I’d find some help, and came across a family that let me travel with them, probably because I was still young enough that I wasn’t a threat, and acted as a look out for them when they hunted or stole food and things they needed. I learned to steal too, but I never got used to it, and I finally found work washing clothes for food and shelter at the Citadel. I spoke up to Bolinger’s men mistreating an older woman, and was beat and thrown out. I’ve been on my own ever since. I’d like to know what happened to you, if you’re willing to tell me?”
The boy looks at his sister, and back at the woman, and speaks: “We woke up one day last week and our parents were gone, and they haven’t come back”.
“Did you live far from where I first saw you?”
“No, we left our camp trying to find something to eat – and then we met you…”
“It’s OK. I know what it’s like being alone and lost – inside and out.” The woman smiles, and gestures toward his sister. “Does your sister talk?”
“Yes, but not since our mother and father left.”
“I’m sorry. I hope they find you again soon. We can stick together until then.”
“I’d like that.” The boy looks at his sister who has moved closer to him, and he says – “We’d like that.”
“We need to find somewhere to sleep tonight, and maybe I’ll find somewhere to work for food tomorrow.”
“I can work too”, the boy says.
“I think your work is taking care of your sister. It looks like you both could use a washing, so we’ll go to the falls. Have you been?”
“No. My father said to stay away because it’s too dangerous. The rocks are slippery and you could fall and die on the jagged rocks under the falls, and there are bad people who live there that like to eat children.”
“It’s trolls who like to eat children, and they don’t live at the Falls. They live in fairy tales and made up stories. Your father was right that the rocks are slippery, and there are jagged rocks in the water below, but that’s where the sweetest fish are too – when there are any to find.”
As the woman and children walk through the woods, the chorus begins a low hum and appear in staggered relief in the woods. They cease humming as forest dwellers who have been watching the woman and children’s progress step out to confront them.
A man speaks: “Where do you think you’re going?”
The woman says: “We mean you no harm. I am bringing my children to safe sleep for the night, and then we’re on our way out of these woods.”
“There is payment required for safe passage.”
“But we have no coin or goods to offer.”
“Then you’ll turn back the way you came, and hurry through, or you may not make it out at all.”
The girl holds out the rag doll which the man takes and rips off the other arm, throwing the doll roughly back at the girl. The men laugh coarsely.
“That was all we possessed.” The woman picks up the doll putting it in her pocket, takes the girl and boy by the hand and turns back the way they came. She speaks quietly and urgently to the children: “Don’t look back, and walk quickly. They’ll leave us alone if we don’t stop.”
The sound of a waterfall is heard as the woman and children walk in front of curtain. Two of the forest-dweller men trail them at a distance. The woman turns to pick up the girl to quicken their pace, and glimpses one of the men. She pretends not to notice as the curtain rises revealing jagged looking rocks and cascading water. The choir appears on an US riser, intoning rising cacophonous sounds as the men move in for the kill. The woman lifts the girl to a higher rock, telling the boy: “Take your sister over these rocks staying as far from the water as you can. You can make it, but you must not stop, no matter what. There is a Citadel corn field down below that you can hide in and wait for me. Now go!”
As the children disappear over the ridge, the woman takes the opposite, more treacherous path by the water, slipping toward the edge of the falls, but finding crevices for her hands and feet as she goes. She finds the opening she once knew under the falls which the men do not see, and comes out onto the opposite side, stepping out onto a rock where the men will see her. She mimes difficulty ascending as the men leer at her and begin climbing to reach her. One of the men grabs hold of a rock protruding from the Falls, assuming that was the woman’s path, and loses his footing, falling to his death on the rocks below. The other man looks for an alternate route, and slips onto a jagged rock, lying there in obvious pain as the woman expertly climbs her way over the outcrop of rock and disappears over the other side. The choir has been rising and falling throughout, emphasizing the man’s demise, and the woman’s triumph. Close curtain.
The children huddle at the edge of the cornfield below the stage, anticipating the woman’s arrival. Unfamiliar sounds, an owl hoot, or coyote howl, are heard in the distance, causing fearful reactions as they wait. The woman, scratched and hurt, limps toward the cornfield in front of the curtain, checking around her as she goes. As she comes offstage toward the cornfield, she spots the children and reunites.
“Are you alright?”
The children nod yes, but the woman sees a gash on the boy’s arm. “We’ll have to get that cleaned out so you don’t get infected. We can’t stay here because Bolinger’s guards will soon pass by, if they haven’t already. Did you see anyone since you’ve been here?”
“No one has gone by since we got here. I was afraid you wouldn’t find us.”
“I was afraid too, but we’re OK now. We can rest for the night in Fairwoods – it’s near the brook where we can wash up, and if my old mistress is in her cottage, we might have something hot to eat.”
The woman and children are seated DS, the wooded area behind them, their faces are clean, and they are eating stew from an old chipped porcelain bowl.
“You’ll clean the bowl in the brook when you’re finished. I’m going to try to catch some fish and we’ll leave it at my old mistresses door for feeding us such good rabbit stew.” As the woman walks toward the brook the Chorus enters with low, ominous chants. A lightning storm stirs up and thunder crashes as the Chorus chants the louder, urgent cacophonous tones as a bruised and limping man brandishing a machete lunges toward the woman from SR. The boy sees the man and picks up a large rock, coming DSR, throwing it and connecting with the man’s head, just as the man has slashed the woman’s shoulder and arm with the machete. She cries out, badly hurt. The man has fallen, unconscious. The girl cowers US with the doll in her hands as the boy does what he can to help the woman USC and helps her sit. He takes the shirt off the man and tries to staunch the woman’s wounds, but the woman is fading.
“Go and tell my old mistress – that I am done for, and you will work – for her – if she can take you. Help – your – sister.” The woman dies. The girl cries and hugs the woman, and keeps crying as her brother puts his arm around her, pulling her away, and leads her off SL. Curtain closes.
The boy enters SR, a rough shack is USL, in a wooded area. The boy has a large fish that hangs partially over in the chipped porcelain bowl. He goes to the shack and knocks, but gets no reply. After a few knocks with no response, he leaves the fish in the bowl in front of the door, and turns to leave with his sister. A window curtain is slowly pulled aside in the shack and we see an older woman peering out at the backs of the children, and she closes the window curtain again. The Chorus has been chanting slow, quiet, tones, and stops as the light fades on the shack and comes up diffusely focusing on the girl who has dropped her doll and stoops to pick it up. The boy has stopped to wait for her.
The girl sings, with a quiet echo of the woman’s voice in the air:
What have we done? What have I become? Is this reality now?
I can’t believe this awful dream, I’ve got to wake somehow.
The children exit SL.
© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Life On Earth’s Blog, 2010 – infinity.