Episode 17: Jaded Old Crones

[SCENE I. Portland High School, shortly after the closing bell. KELLY and JOHN are meeting at KELLY’s locker. JOHN already has his backpack; KELLY is still retrieving things from her locker.]

JOHN: So, any plans this weekend?

KELLY: I dunno. I was thinking maybe we could do a camping trip. Just a day or two. I’m so tired of Portland.

JOHN: Well, I’m free.

KELLY: Cool! Tomorrow morning, then?

JOHN: Sure, sounds good.

(KELLY shoulders her backpack and grabs a large sketchbook of some variety. They walk to the exit.)

JOHN: So, did you ever get that date with Melissa?

KELLY: Yeah.

JOHN: How’d it go?

KELLY: I think she is actually insane.

JOHN: Oh.

KELLY: And she’s just so exhausting to be around. I’m a quiet person by nature. With her it’s like you have to work just to keep up.

JOHN:  I know what you mean.

KELLY: But, Nick actually paid up.

JOHN: Nice! Is that what’s financing this trip?

KELLY: Yeah. Melissa even let me keep the half I promised her, since I basically helped save her from a lifetime of servitude.

JOHN: I suppose that’s worth at least twenty-five dollars.

KELLY: Yeah. (Sighs.) Anyway, I’ve gotta run. Call you later tonight?

JOHN: Yeah, sounds good.

(They part ways.)

[SCENE II. An old forest road along the woods. KELLY is driving the car that once belonged to GAVIN but was sold to her brother; JOHN is in the front seat. She is pulling off the road down a trail that may not have been intended to accept vehicles.

It is worth noting that KELLY is dressed practically for this, though it’s not much of a departure from usual–sturdy jeans, flannel, Doc Martens. JOHN still wears sneakers and skinny jeans.]

KELLY: This looks promising.

JOHN: Very . . . remote.

KELLY: Actual campsites are for suckers. We’re miles from anything here. Actual, proper wilderness.

JOHN: It is refreshing being away from humans.

KELLY: Yeah. (She opens the car door.) Come on, let’s go scout for a good site!

JOHN: All right.

(They get out of the car and walk for a fair distance. Eventually KELLY finds a suitable place–something flat enough to set up a tent and with clearing enough for a fire. They head back to the car and begin hauling the campsite over. It is set up reasonably quickly. KELLY settles in immediately; JOHN still looks like someone who lives in town and isn’t quite sure what he’s meant to be doing.)

KELLY: Are you hungry?

JOHN: Well, I could eat. But I mean, if you want to wait–

KELLY: I was just thinking we could go look for wild berries!

JOHN: (Sincerely.) Okay, that actually sounds like fun.

(They set off through the forest. KELLY moves confidently, with JOHN moving less certainly, and certainly less quickly. Occasionally KELLY stops to examine some plant or other long enough for him to catch up.

Let it not be said that KELLY did not come prepared. She has a number of small bags with her, and occasionally she picks some berries or leaves or mushrooms as she stops to inspect them.)

JOHN: So are you going to tell me what any of this is?

KELLY: (Tosses him a bag.) Berries! They’re good, it’s okay.

JOHN: And the other stuff? (He begins eating berries as they walk.)

KELLY: Dinner! Look, I do this all the time.

JOHN: Okay, sorry. Are the mushrooms, er–

KELLY: Just normal, edible, tasty mushrooms.

JOHN: Oh. (It’s not clear whether he’s relieved or disappointed; it’s entirely possible he’s not sure himself.)

(They continue for a while longer. Eventually JOHN flags behind further than usual. Fortunately, KELLY has stopped and is standing bolt upright, looking at something we can’t yet see. As JOHN gets closer, we discover that she has discovered a strange cottage–it looks more like a stereotypical witch’s cottage than anything.)

KELLY: Somehow I get the feeling we should not see who lives there.

JOHN: (Finishing the bag of berries, then hungrily opening the bag to look for more.) I’m so hungry though. And tired. And that fire smells so good.

KELLY: I don’t–John!

(JOHN begins making his way towards the cottage. As she watches, KELLY yawns and begins idly eating some of the berries she has gathered, but with enthusiasm. She stops herself with a handful halfway to her mouth.)

KELLY: This is bad. John!

(With an apparent effort of will, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a Scout’s Manual. She flips somewhere near the end, reads through it, then returns it to her bag. Then she hurries towards the cottage, apparently fighting sleep the whole way.)

[SCENE III. The witch’s cottage. JOHN is at a dinner table laden with a feast, eating enthusiastically–far more than a boy of such average size should be. The WITCH, a tall, thin old crone whose features seem fixed into a permanent scowl, is watching him eat with no sign of pleasure. KELLY appears briefly in the window, watching. She vanishes shortly thereafter.]

WITCH: Your friend is smarter than you, you know.

JOHN: (With his mouth full.) She’s a girl scout.

WITCH: Time was, a witch could lure wayward travelers and they’d be clever more often than not. Now they just give in first thing.

JOHN: (Finishing off a plate.) This is so good. Do you have anymore?

WITCH: Oh, sure, help yourself. It’s not real food, you know.

JOHN: (Mouth full again.) Thank you so much.

WITCH: I wish the smart ones didn’t stay away. But she’ll come in eventually. Hatching a plan to thwart me, I bet.

(JOHN makes agreeable noises while eating.)

WITCH: Anyway, you’ll be sleepy, I bet. It’s traditional that you say you’re sleepy and then I show you to a comfortable bed and you fall asleep like you’ve never read a goddamn fairy tale.

(JOHN finishes his meal and yawns hugely.)

JOHN: Man, all that food has made me sleepy!

WITCH: (Jerks her thumb at the next room.) There’s a bed laid out. Knock yourself out.

(JOHN goes into the next room. The WITCH pours herself a cup of tea and waits. Eventually, KELLY bursts in the door.)

KELLY: What have you done to my friend?

WITCH: (Sighs.) He’s asleep in the other room. He had a banquet of fake food and now the sleep spell is taking hold. He’ll probably be basically useless until tomorrow, when he’ll wake up and blame the mushrooms you didn’t, in fact, give him.

KELLY: I–wait, why are you being honest?

WITCH: My heart’s not in it anymore. Oh, sure, eating children and casting spells on the unwary is great for the first fifty years or so, but the children are dumber now.

KELLY: You eat children?

WITCH: Ate. It’s no fun anymore. I’ve been waiting to lure someone here who’s clever enough to burn down the cottage, resist the spell, you know, the works. Then I can move on in the world.

KELLY: Couldn’t you just move?

WITCH: It doesn’t work like that. I can’t move until the cottage burns, because I’m responsible for it, see?

KELLY: All right, so . . . .

WITCH: So, I’m going to go into the bedroom to check on your sleeping friend. Then you take advantage of the unattended wood stove and set the house on fire. Then get your friend out–he’ll walk but he won’t be coherent–and I’ll be free.

KELLY: All right, I’ll do it. But you’d better be as good as your word.

WITCH: Believe me, if I wanted to betray you I’d have come up with a plan that didn’t involve burning my house down. Now, if you’re ready?

(The WITCH leaves the room. After a moment’s hesitation, KELLY takes a log from the fire and puts it to the wall. A fire starts, and the WITCH walks into the room.)

WITCH: (Stoic.) Oh dear, my cottage. You’ve set it on fire. You horrible girl. I ought to eat you, et cetera. (Stage whisper.) That’s your cue to go get your friend.

(KELLY runs into the other room, and drags JOHN to his feet, and frog-marches him from the cottage, and back to the campsite, where he promptly crawls into the tent and goes to sleep. KELLY sighs, makes herself a fire, and cooks a small meal.)

[SCENE IV. The campsite, the next day. KELLY is cooking breakfast. JOHN wakes up, goes through his mental inventory of the night before, and gives KELLY a look.]

JOHN: Didn’t you say those mushrooms were–

KELLY: (Flatly.) Yes. I lied. Hippie vision quests for everyone. Did you have fun?

JOHN: It was like a fairy tale. There was this witch . . . .

(KELLY sighs and looks out into the forest as JOHN begins recounting his tale. She catches a glimpse of the WITCH, who offers a cynical smile and a wave before flying off on a broomstick.)

(Fin.)

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