[SCENE I. An abandoned house. It is some time in the summer at night–the stars are out and it’s still and cool, but not so cool that either MELISSA or SARAH are wearing a jacket. Or, for that matter, anything that seems appropriate for exploring an abandoned building.
An introduction might be in order here. This expedition was SARAH’s idea. She has a small messenger bag with some tools in it, though, with the exception of the flashlight, she hasn’t used any of it yet. She is thin and pale and has wild brown hair and an irrepressible look of enthusiasm.
MELISSA is taller, less scrawny, with long dark curly hair. One could be forgiven for thinking she looks like a Greek statue, in part due to the fact that she is the daughter of Greek immigrants, and in part because she is beautiful in a classical sense. Though this was not her idea, she acts like she is in charge. She is enjoying herself too, but while SARAH’s enthusiasm is sincere, she takes everything in with a wry smirk.
As we enter, SARAH is speaking.]
SARAH: I’m beginning to wish I wanted to come here in the day.
MELISSA: I don’t know, that seems like it would kill the whole ambiance. I know how much you love ambiance.
SARAH: It’s probably still at least moderately spooky by day. And then I could take pictures that won’t turn out terrible.
MELISSA: You’re always trying to spoil the moment by capturing it forever, Sarah. If God had meant for us to remember the past he would have given us reliable memories.
SARAH: Quiet, you.
MELISSA: Besides, we live in the age of the camera phone. Good pictures are a thing of the past. Now it’s all blurry shapes and bad lighting, and if you take a picture of your finger on accident it’s a ghost.
SARAH: You just don’t appreciate art, Melissa.
MELISSA: Hey, I’m just being practical. You don’t need talent anymore.
(There is silence for a moment. MELISSA wanders off to inspect some broken glass. Then, a spooky noise.)
SARAH: (Startled, uneasy.) Did you hear that?
MELISSA: I appreciate the effort, but you don’t need to try to make this place any scarier.
SARAH: That wasn’t me.
(MELISSA walks back to her friend, and smiles knowingly.)
MELISSA: If you insist.
(The noise happens again. This time MELISSA looks unsettled.)
MELISSA: Christ, you weren’t joking. Do you think someone’s here?
SARAH: (Panicked.) I didn’t tell anyone!
(MELISSA advances on a closet. She gives SARAH a worried glance, then reaches out and opens it. A GLOWING SPECTRE flies forth from the closet, moaning eerily, and through the wall.)
MELISSA: Of all the abandoned buildings in Portland, you had to pick one that was actually haunted.
SARAH: I can’t help it if ghosts know ambiance when they see it, Melissa!
MELISSA: I knew your love of ambiance would get us in trouble one day. If we get eaten or possessed I blame you, Sarah.
MELISSA and SARAH: (in unison) Want to go after it?
MELISSA: Well, I mean, if YOU want to . . . .
SARAH (simultaneously): Do you think we should?
(Beat. They run off into the next room. Meanwhile, they begin to hear eerie music.)
MELISSA: What did you say this building used to be?
SARAH: Well, it was a church for a while, then a boarding house, then it was a theater, and–
(The song is identifiably Tom Waits, “Tango Till They’re Sore.”)
MELISSA: So we’ve found a vaudeville ghost, is what you’re saying.
(They continue down the hall, now following the music. SARAH is humming along under her breath; MELISSA gives her a look but doesn’t comment. They enter a room where a troupe of GHOSTS are playing instruments and singing. After a moment, the music stops. SARAH applauds enthusiastically; MELISSA joins in after a moment.)
SARAH: Look at them! They look so happy! I bet they haven’t had an audience in years.
MELISSA: Hard to get shows if you’re a ghost, I think. The organizers notice things like that.
SARAH: Don’t be mean. They’re nice ghosts! They like Tom Waits!
MELISSA: I’m not even going to touch that one.
(The ghosts have stopped playing and are now simply staring at their guests.)
SARAH: This is just like your fear of spiders.
MELISSA: This is not the time, Sarah.
(The largest ghost, the SINGER, a shapeless green spectre wearing a bowler hat, approaches.)
SARAH: Confront your fears, Melissa! Love the ghosts!
MELISSA: You have entirely the wrong attitude for–
(The SINGER touches MELISSA. She goes pale, hair stands on end, etc. SARAH begins laughing, but her laughter dies in mid-breath when the SINGER also touches her. The two exchange a glance and run from the haunted house.)
[SCENE II. The Jaded Old Crone. SOPHIE is eating dinner with ERIC. She is scribbling on a napkin; ERIC is focusing on his meal, and seems to be paying her little mind.
The Jaded Old Crone is a dimly lit 24-hour establishment that offers hot coffee and standard greasy spoon fare, as well as alcohol until about 2 am. It is the hangout for a certain subset of the locals–those who need plentiful coffee, and those who are up when the rest of the city is dead. It’s a strange crowd, but the regulars love it.]
SOPHIE: None of these stories are any good, Eric. Why can’t they be any good?
ERIC: Because nothing ever happens in Portland, Washington, Sophie. People don’t even know it exists. I told my family I got a job in Portland and they said ‘Oh, that’s a great city!’ ‘Not the one in Oregon,’ I said. ‘You’re moving all the way to Maine?’ they said. ‘Not that one, either,’ I said. ‘The one in Washington.’ ‘I didn’t know there was one in Washington,’ they said.
SOPHIE: You’re just not looking hard enough. There’s always something. We just have to look harder.
ERIC: I didn’t even know there was one in Washington. I applied for the job on Craigslist because I thought maybe the person putting up the ad was drunk.
SOPHIE: I mean, remember that time I saved the paper from a crazed haiku artist?
ERIC: No, because I wasn’t there. Remember?
SOPHIE: That was a good story, Eric. That sort of thing happens all the time.
(She goes back to her scribbling. Eric sighs heavily and goes back to focusing on his meal.)
[SCENE III. Gavin’s house. It is small and kept reasonably clean, decorated with interesting film and movie posters. There is a record player against the wall, which is currently playing music. GAVIN is reclining on the couch, listening with his eyes closed. This continues uninterrupted for a while, when SARAH and MELISSA burst in.
GAVIN is tall, thin, fair-haired and amiable. He keeps his hair neatly trimmed, but this is likely due to his job waiting tables at a high-end restaurant.]
MELISSA: Gavin, you need to talk sense into her.
SARAH (overlapping): We’ve just seen a ghost! A troupe of ghosts!
GAVIN (weary, smiling): Some people knock before entering a friend’s house. Supposing I was with a lady?
MELISSA: Unlikely. Now, tell her not to go back to see the vaudeville ghost troupe.
GAVIN: Vaudeville ghost troupe? What are you smoking, woman?
SARAH: No, it’s true. We were at this abandoned–
SARAH: –okay, haunted theater, fine, and we saw a ghost. And then we followed it–
MELISSA: Because we’re stupid.
SARAH: –because we’re fucking adventurous, damn it, and then there was a troupe of ghosts, playing Tom Waits. Tango Till They’re Sore.
GAVIN: And while you were exploring this haunted theater, did you find any strange mushrooms growing that you then decided to eat?
MELISSA: I wish.
GAVIN (an idea is forming): And this ghost troupe. Was it any good?
SARAH: It was the most haunting Tom Waits cover I’ve ever seen.
GAVIN: Then you must take me to see these ghosts.
(There is an unmistakeable glint in GAVIN’s eye now. There is profit to be made in this.)
MELISSA: What? No! You’re crazy. You’re both crazy. Sarah, you felt that–that–
SARAH: Melissa, he’s a ghost. He can’t help that he’s animated by unholy energies that send a terrifying chill through the bodies of the living.
MELISSA: This is a joke, right? You’re joking.
SARAH: I’m not speaking to you, Melissa, until you stop trying to ruin our fun. Gavin, can we go right now?
GAVIN: Hm. If we are going ghost-hunting, there are some supplies I need. Meet me here tomorrow night, then you can take me to your ghosts.
SARAH: This is so exciting. I’ve always wanted to see a ghost.
GAVIN: Who said dreams don’t come true?
(GAVIN and SARAH glare at MELISSA, who sighs theatrically.)
MELISSA: Fine. I know where I’m not wanted. Don’t come crying to me when you become a double suicide or something. (She leaves. Scene.)
[SCENE IV. The Jaded Old Crone again. SOPHIE and ERIC are still eating, but they are in the background. NICHOLAS, a gaunt, dark-haired individual, is already sitting at a table set for one, drinking a coffee. He looks up when MELISSA enters, then back at his coffee. He seems surprised, then annoyed, then pleased when MELISSA sits down opposite him.]
NICK: Oh, are you talking to me, now?
MELISSA: For the moment. I think you owe me a drink.
NICK: (Resigned.) You sure have a long memory.
MELISSA: If you don’t know who owes you a drink at all times, how can you collect? Think before you speak, Nicholas.
NICK: Sorry, Mel.
MELISSA: (Absently annoyed, like scolding a particularly irritating puppy.) Melissa. And don’t apologize. I hate apologies.
NICK: (Wry.) Sorry, Melissa. You seem annoyed. More annoyed than usual, anyway.
MELISSA: (Smiling.) I’m only annoyed when you’re around. Usually. But no, this time it’s not you. I was out with Sarah tonight and we saw a ghost.
(SOPHIE, over at her table, stops writing and looks over at MELISSA. The look she gives is not friendly, but she is interested.)
NICK: Are you sure? It could just be, like, your fingers in the picture, or–
MELISSA: I’m sure. A troupe of them, at the old abandoned theater. (As she speaks, SOPHIE begins writing frantically.) They were playing Tom Waits.
NICK: And why is that annoying?
MELISSA: So she and Gavin are going back there tomorrow. And she just kept making fun of me for being frightened of a ghost. “Oh, they’re nice ghosts,” she said. “They can’t help being dead.”
NICK: So you’re mostly pissed that Sarah made fun of you.
NICK: You make fun of her all the time.
MELISSA: Only out of love. She was being mean-spirited. Also, shut up. I’m trying to vent here.
NICK: Just trying to help.
MELISSA: Christ, Nick. Remind me never to come to you with my problems. (Sighs.) This whole night has just been insufferably weird. How about you buy me that drink and we forget about it?
NICK: Yeah, all right. (Scene.)
[SCENE V. The offices of the Portland Examiner. Lots of filing cabinets, etc. SOPHIE is digging through the archives, while ERIC drinks coffee at a very uninteresting table.]
SOPHIE: The old theater was condemned years ago, but our file on it is almost empty!
ERIC: Maybe because it’s really boring? It’s not like Melissa wasn’t taking shrooms or something when she saw, what was it? A bunch of ghosts singing Tom Waits?
SOPHIE: It doesn’t even say why it’s condemned. Or why the theater shut down. Or why–
ERIC: Look, for all you know, Melissa wasn’t even confusing a hallucinatory vision with reality. Maybe she’s just saying something to get you riled up.
SOPHIE: No. I know Melissa, and I know Sarah. They’re up to something, and we have to stop them. (She hands him a piece of paper.) Start making phone calls. The City of Portland will have records on this. We need to find out where they are.
ERIC (rising): And what about–
SOPHIE: I’m going straight to the source. I’ll have my cell phone. Call if you find anything. (She departs, leaving ERIC standing and holding the paper. Scene.)
[SCENE VI. The street. NICHOLAS is leading MELISSA down the street; he is sober, she is leaning on him heavily for support and drunkenly singing “Tango Till They’re Sore.” Naturally, he looks weary and put-upon; she seems to be enjoying herself.]
MELISSA: …aaaaand send me off to bed forevermore!
NICK: And we’re here.
MELISSA: What? Oh! Oh. I hadn’t noticed.
NICK: Yeah. Do you need anything?
MELISSA: No, no, I’m good. Unless YOU need something.
NICK: No. Really. Get some sleep. Drink some water.
(He pushes her towards the door, which she hits with a thud and a giggle. After a few tries she manages the lock, and leans heavily on the doorjamb.)
MELISSA: You sure you don’t want to come in?
NICK: Uh, yeah. Good night, Mel.
MELISSA: It’s Melissa. Christ. (She slams the door, then makes her way into her bedroom unsteadily.)
[Scene VII. The haunted house. SOPHIE is exploring, notepad in hand. She is looking intently at a wardrobe when her phone rings. The sudden noise startles her. A lot.]
SOPHIE: (Answering phone.) Sophie Swanson, Portland Examiner.
ERIC: (Obviously, over the phone.) Sophie? It’s me, Eric. Uh, Eric Connell.
SOPHIE: Eric! Did you find anything?
ERIC: Well, the building was condemned as a fire hazard, but it turns out there’s, er, a couple deaths associated with the building. It was a church for a while, I guess? Like, a temporary one, before the, uh, proper church got built. The first death on file was the pastor. He was alone, no sign of foul play.
SOPHIE: All right, so it’s haunted by the priest?
ERIC: Well, eventually it got bought out by some theater group. The opening night of their first performance, there was this catastrophic failure and the whole production got killed. It’s not really clear how. The company tried to do a few more productions but only ever finished one. And the audience had one member, and that was an old lady who’d got the wrong address for her bridge club’s potluck and stayed because she felt bad for them.
SOPHIE: Did she die, too?
ERIC: Actually, that was the only production where there were no deaths or dismemberments. I guess the place was cursed. She reportedly really enjoyed the performance and didn’t understand why nobody came.
SOPHIE: I see.
ERIC: Did you find anything?
SOPHIE: I’m, uh, still investigating. I should go. So I can investigate more. Meet you at the Jaded Old Crone later?
ERIC: Yeah, all right. Good luck.
(She hangs up, then opens the wardrobe. Nothing happens. This continues for a while; she explores various rooms and finds no trace of any ghosts, though she does locate a bowler hat on the floor in the room where the ghosts were playing earlier. Eventually she writes a few things down and leaves.)
[SCENE VIII. MELISSA’s house. It is the following morning, as evidenced by the sun shining through the window. She is still in her clothes from the night before, and looks a mess. Nevertheless, despite groaning her complaints, she gets up, and knocks on the door to SARAH’s room (helpfully indicated by her name on the door). There is no answer.
MELISSA makes her way downstairs and prepares herself a cup of coffee and some toast. As she sits down to wait for her breakfast, she discovers a note.]
MELISSA: (Reading aloud.) Dearest Melissa, I’ve gone to prepare for my haunted house excursion tonight, and I have to take care of some other errands after that so I probably won’t be back before then. I will say hello to the ghosts for you! I’m sorry you’re a big scaredy cat who won’t come and have fun with us. Love, Sarah. (She puts the note down and sighs.)
[SCENE IX. GAVIN’s house, that evening. SARAH arrives and knocks on the door. She is greeted by GAVIN, armed with camera, flashlight, and some highly dubious-looking device that is probably a ghost detector. SARAH has the same bag she wore the previous evening.]
GAVIN: Right on time. You ready?
SARAH: I was born ready.
[They depart. As they walk away, SOPHIE emerges from a hiding spot in the bushes and follows, moving from shadow to shadow, trying to remain unseen. Neither SARAH nor GAVIN seem to notice, or, if they do, care.
Eventually they reach the haunted house. SOPHIE waits outside for them; after some time, SARAH and GAVIN emerge. Sarah is humming the tune, and Gavin looks pleased with himself.]
GAVIN: I’m not going to lie, I thought you and Melissa had gone crazy. Well, crazier. But this, this is pure gold!
SARAH: You’re not going to take advantage of those poor ghosts, are you?
GAVIN: I’m not taking advantage, Sarah. I’m giving them an audience! They crave an audience, you said so yourself! So, say, next Saturday, we’ll sell tickets and get people to come and see the ghosts! The ghosts get their audience, we get money. We can make it big, Sarah. Just you and me.
SARAH: And Melissa. She is terrified of harmless ghosts but she did help me discover them. Also she will probably kill me if I don’t give her some.
GAVIN: Fine, fine. This is a goldmine.
SARAH: But I’m only doing it for the ghosts, you understand.
GAVIN: Of course.
[They leave the haunted house. Once they are at a good distance, SOPHIE produces her cell phone and calls ERIC.]
SOPHIE: Eric? This is Sophie. I’ve found what Melissa and Sarah are up to. Meet me at the Jaded Old Crone in an hour. (Scene.)
[SCENE X. MELISSA and SARAH’s house. MELISSA is reading on the couch. The house is of a decent size and fairly messy; she doesn’t look up when the door opens. When SARAH sits down in an armchair, MELISSA finishes the page and puts her book down.]
MELISSA: How was the ghost?
SARAH: It was even better this time! It’s like they put on an even better show because there was two of us. You should have come! I know you secretly loved it.
SARAH: But anyway you can come next week! We’re selling tickets to the ghost show. Only we’re probably not calling it that. It was Gavin’s idea, and I said I’d only let him if he gave you some of the profits, and–
MELISSA: Deep breaths, Sarah.
SARAH: Sorry. Next Saturday, we’re going to get people to come and watch them perform. The ghosts want an audience and, uh, we want money, so everyone wins! (Beat.) I’m a little unsure about the making money part, but I figure, they are ghosts, they probably don’t need money.
MELISSA: I guess I’ll help. If I were the sort of person who apologized, I might apologize for . . . not being as adventurous as I’d like.
SARAH: Even you make mistakes sometimes. Anyway, I need to get dinner. I’m starving. See you! (She grabs a jacket and runs out the door.)
[SCENE XI. The Jaded Old Crone. ERIC and SOPHIE are eating. SOPHIE is chatting excitedly; ERIC actually looks vaguely interested.]
ERIC: So you’re saying there’s no ghost?
SOPHIE: None at all! They made it up so they could sell tickets next Saturday. I think tonight they set up some hidden equipment, so they can fake it. I heard the music from outside.
ERIC: That’s clever. I mean, they picked a building that is already supposed to be cursed to have the fake show in. That takes some research.
SOPHIE: I’ve got a way to stop them, though. The city owes me a few favors. I’m calling one in tomorrow.
ERIC: What? What favor? Why bother?
SOPHIE: You’ll see.
[SCENE XII. Town square. GAVIN, MELISSA, and SARAH are putting up flyers for the ghost show–the sort of flyers that have little phone numbers on the bottom for people to rip off. Time passes, and the phone numbers disappear. GAVIN can be seen answering phone calls. As the week progresses he appears more and more excited. Eventually we cut to the trio at the Jaded Old Crone.]
GAVIN: Well, tonight’s the night. Are you excited?
SARAH: Yes! The turnout is going to be huge! This will be awesome!
MELISSA: I’m still impressed people are willing to buy tickets to see a troupe of ghosts performing Tom Waits. I mean, it doesn’t sound particularly plausible.
GAVIN: That’s the magic of spin.
SARAH: And ghosts. (Beat.) And Tom Waits.
MELISSA: And living in Portland. Okay, fair enough. Shall we go? We’d best get there before the crowd.
GAVIN: Good thinking.
[They leave money on the table and depart the Jaded Old Crone in GAVIN’s car. They drive out to the haunted house, where they find some new construction (or rather, destruction) equipment, currently working on destroying the house. They watch in confusion, horror, or simply dumbfoundment as the buidling is slowly destroyed.
Eventually a good-sized crowd of people show up, and the demolition crews really get into it. The building has completely collapsed by the time the last few people are showing up. There is a general disappointed murmur as the crowd trickles away.]
GAVIN: What just happened?
SARAH: Those poor ghosts…
GAVIN: Come on, let’s go.
[They return to the Jaded Old Crone, and each order a drink. GAVIN picks up a copy of the Portland Examiner. On the front page is a news story with the headline: “Condemned Building To Be Destroyed Saturday”]
GAVIN: Not sure why this is front page news. (He begins reading.) Apparently someone in the mayor’s office was recently reminded that the building was condemned. (He clears his throat.) “The Examiner can confirm that an illegal gathering was being planned for this Saturday. According to a spokesman for the mayor’s office, ‘The safety of the people of Portland is our number one concern, and as such, this demolition became a matter of urgency.’” (He puts the paper down.)
MELISSA: Who wrote that? Wait, no, let me guess–
SARAH and MELISSA: Sophie Swanson.
(They finish their drinks. GAVIN and MELISSA seem to be in good spirits after the initial setback, but SARAH is quiet. After another round or two, GAVIN and MELISSA depart, leaving a morose SARAH with her not-quite finished beer, singing, mournfully:)
SARAH: And send me off to bed forever more.