Episode 12: Old Scratch

[SCENE I. The offices of the Portland Examiner. SOPHIE is at her desk, writing. MICHAEL walks in, dressed to the nines, looking utterly beaten.]

SOPHIE: Michael! How was the annual Board of Directors banquet?

MICHAEL: There’s a completely new Board as of yesterday. They want to do things differently around here.

SOPHIE: But this has been our best year ever!

MICHAEL: I know, just–they don’t want you on the grisly murder beat anymore. They’ve put you on the human interest stories that involve cute animals (such as kittens) beat instead.

SOPHIE: But–

MICHAEL: I’m sorry, Sophie. My hands are tied.

SOPHIE: You know I have to go on strike if this happens, Michael. And I know I won’t be alone.

MICHAEL: I can’t blame you, Sophie. (Turns to leave.) You’re the best reporter we’ve had at this paper. I’ll try to find out what’s happened.

 

[SCENE II. The Jaded Old Crone. SOPHIE is drinking heavily and complaining to ERIC, who is not.]

SOPHIE: I mean, I don’t even like kittens!

ERIC: I always thought they were overrated.

SOPHIE: Right? Why would I want to write about something so dumb?

ERIC: They are the most popular articles in the paper.

SOPHIE: Bullshit! The people know what they want, and they want violent, grisly murder. (As SOPHIE talks, the WAITRESS arrives.) They want to live in terror that at any moment a violent psychopath could bring their sad lives to an end in unpleasant ways–and by God, I am going to give them that fear!

WAITRESS: Can I, uh, get you anything else?

SOPHIE: Another beer, if you would. (To ERIC.) You’ll help me, right? We have to find out what the board of directors is really up to!

ERIC: Why the hell not? Going on strike sounds better than photographing kittens for the next week.

SOPHIE: Oh, thank you! You’re the best friend I ever had, Eric. I’m glad you accidentally applied for a job here because you thought it was in Portland, Oregon.

ERIC: Yeah. Hey, did you ever consider not drinking another beer? It seems like it might be an interesting thing to do.

SOPHIE: Why would I do that?

ERIC: (Sighs.) Just, you know, a thought.

(Much later, we see ERIC helping a near-paralytic SOPHIE home, and dumping her on the couch. Scene.)

 

[SCENE III. Outside the offices of the Portland Examiner. SOPHIE is picketing while nursing a hangover. Her sign reads ‘BRING SOPHIE BACK.’ ERIC arrives.]

ERIC: Morning, Sophie. Er, I forgot, was I meant to be joining your strike?

SOPHIE: Only if you support the cause.

ERIC: Oh, definitely. But I was thinking, I could, you know, infiltrate the paper. Try to bring it down from the inside.

SOPHIE: I think that just might work! Go to work normally, and report what you find!

ERIC: I took the liberty of investigating earlier. It turns out the Board of Directors is meeting again tonight at midnight at some old farmhouse outside of town.

SOPHIE: Midnight? (Sighs.) So much for going to bed early.

ERIC: Take a nap, and some pills. I’ve got to go to work. Er, “go to work.” (He makes a big show of the scare quotes here, then ducks inside. SOPHIE remains outside with her picket. Scene.)

 

[SCENE IV. A creepy farmhouse after dark. ERIC is driving, and SOPHIE is nursing a cup of coffee.]

SOPHIE: This doesn’t seem like the kind of place the Board of Directors would meet. It looks sort of . . . Satanic.

ERIC: The old board, maybe.

[SOPHIE takes a few pills and takes a swig of coffee.]

SOPHIE: All right, let’s go. But be quiet.

[They sneak up on the already-in-progress meeting. There is a decidedly occult chanting coming from the barn; they look in through the door and find the new Board of Directors gathered around a pentagram, chanting and sacrificing a goat. ERIC has the presence of mind to snap a few pictures.]

ERIC: Did you perhaps offend the Devil recently?

SOPHIE: No! I mean, probably not! I mean, okay, I’ve made a lot of people angry, but–

ERIC: Maybe here isn’t the best place. Come on.

 

[SCENE V. The Jaded Old Crone. ERIC and SOPHIE are writing a list on napkins while drinking coffee.]

ERIC: Okay, so, are you sure we can rule out Melissa as a devil-worshipper?

SOPHIE: She doesn’t have the devotion for it. Next.

ERIC: Let’s see. (Looks over the list.) We’ve got Mr. Johnson, the Science Association, Jeremy Adler, those goths . . . .

SOPHIE: Wait, the goths?

ERIC: Just a list of people you might have offended by using them to advance some scheme or other.

SOPHIE: That’s it! I had them put a curse on Melissa! They must have found out I tricked them and now they’re using the Devil to get back at me!

ERIC: You had them put a curse on her?

SOPHIE: You gave me the idea, if they had a little fucking backbone.

ERIC: Okay, so, goths have summoned the Devil to get back at you for tricking them.

SOPHIE: It’s the only logical explanation.

ERIC: Okay. So, what’s the plan?

SOPHIE: There’s only one thing we can do. We need to summon the Devil and tell him to fuck off.

ERIC: I was thinking maybe we could expose the Board as Devil-worshipers. That seems easier and less likely to get us damned to an eternity of torment.

SOPHIE: Or we could do that.

 

[SCENE VI. The offices of the Portland Examiner. The Board of Directors are having a meeting, and, armed with a projector and a manilla folder, ERIC and SOPHIE enter.]

SOPHIE: Hi, we’re here to talk about the fact that you worship Satan.

ERIC: That’s right, and we have proof.

(Amid the confusion of the DIRECTORS, ERIC sets up the projector and begins playing the slides.)

SOPHIE: I assume you’ll be resigning by this evening?

DIRECTOR: I–I suppose we’ll have to.

(They file out in a hurry.)

ERIC: Well, that was suspiciously easy.

SOPHIE: That’s because we’re suspiciously good at journalism! No, wait, it’s not suspicious. Just good. We’re good, I mean. At journalism.

ERIC: And one-liners.

SOPHIE: Shut up.

 

[SCENE VII. The offices of the Portland Examiner. SOPHIE is in her office, celebrating her victory with some champagne.]

MICHAEL: ‘New Examiner Board Actually Just Devil-Worshipers.’ Hard-hitting stuff, Sophie. And congratulations.

SOPHIE: Thanks, Michael. I just hope the old board wasn’t sacrificed or anything.

MICHAEL: We’re looking into getting them their old jobs back. And into how this all came to be. We’re staunchly anti-the Devil here at the Examiner, as you know.

SOPHIE: I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of it. Would you like some champagne?

MICHAEL: I’d love to, but I can’t tonight, Sophie. Got a lot more work to do. You’ve left quite a mess! (He chuckles and departs.)

 

[SCENE VIII. SOPHIE’s house. She is sleeping in a bedroom that looks like it belongs to a sixteen year old girl, if that sixteen year old girl were a compulsive neat freak. She wears a sleep mask. As she sleeps, a large, ominous shadow stretches across the room. Eventually she apparently feels the presence and jerks awake slowly.]

SOPHIE: No, I don’t mind working late . . . (shakes her head, removes the sleep mask and blinks.) What? Who are you?

THE DEVIL: Hello, Sophie.

SOPHIE: Um, w-who’s there?

THE DEVIL: You probably know me as the Devil.

SOPHIE: The Devil?

THE DEVIL: Satan? Lucifer? Old Nick?

SOPHIE: What do you want?

THE DEVIL: Just stopping in for a friendly chat! I heard you met my new friends at the Examiner.

SOPHIE: Ha! And I got them fired.

THE DEVIL: Yes. Yes you did. (Leans in close.) I didn’t appreciate that.

SOPHIE: Maybe you should submit a complaint to the board!

THE DEVIL: Perhaps I shall. Oh, there was another thing. (He produces a planner and consults it.) Ah, yes. Cursing someone due to a petty rivalry is strictly against the rules.

SOPHIE: But you’re the Devil.

THE DEVIL: And I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t play by the rules, now would I? (Chuckles.) So, my lawyers tell me that I should advise you to stop. A cease and desist, if you will! (Leans in close once again.) The next time your meddling and petty vendettas interfere with my plans it will go very badly for you.

SOPHIE: I’ve already beat your first lot of cultists! Bring on the rest!

THE DEVIL: As a token of my sincerity, I leave you with this.

(THE DEVIL makes a gesture. SOPHIE’s bed falls through a swirling mist. It eventually lands in the middle of some rocky desert wasteland.)

SOPHIE: Ha. Sucker. (She puts her sleep mask back on and goes back to sleep.)

(Fin.)

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