Darkness Sleeps 1:480:00/1:48
The Only Thing We Have to Fear - A One-Act Play by Beret Finken
Cast of Characters:
RHONA - Young woman of Scottish descent born in the year 2084. She is obstinate and a joker.
FREI - Young man of Nordic/American descent born in the year 2085. He is pessimistic and serious.
MILO - Man of American descent in his early 30s in charge of training new recruits for the night watch. He is cocky and exudes an air of ignorance.
WOMAN - Elderly woman with Alzheimer's who witnessed the beginning of the apocalypse. She helped found the village.
NATALYA - Woman who "turns" in the firsthand account.
(Set inside of a run-down shack. It is the dead of winter - lights are cold. It is the middle of the night. FREI is backed up against the wall, a shotgun pointed at RHONA. He is crying. RHONA takes a step toward FREI.)
FREI: (In tears.) I'm sorry.
(Lights out as the shotgun fires.)
(Lights up. Earlier that night. A table and two chairs sit in the middle of the room. A man's voice can be heard from offstage, speaking something inaudible. MILO enters the shack, carrying two shotguns, followed by FREI, and RHONA, who is carrying a lantern. FREI appears nervous.)
MILO: And this is where you'll be spending the night. This old shack has been around since before the village even got here. Makes you wonder what kind of nightmares it's seen...
(RHONA and FREI glance at one another, concerned.)
MILO: Oh, you'll be fine. And if you're not, you have these. (Hands each of them a shotgun.) Don't you feel safer already?
RHONA: (In a thick Scottish accent.) No' particularly.
MILO: Everybody in the Guard has to do this at some point, and most of them make it back safe.
MILO: (Shrugs.) No system's perfect.
FREI: That's reassuring...
MILO: Don't worry. You'll be fine. (Pause.) You guys have any questions?
RHONA: Uhh, do we get to sleep?
MILO: (Judgmentally.) Is that a rhetorical question? Of course not! It's the night watch. Which means you have to keep watch.
RHONA: I ken. I was only jokin'.
MILO: If you knew what could really happen out here, I have a feeling you wouldn't be joking anymore.
RHONA: Ye were just doin' the same thing!
MILO: Me? Joke? Ha! You're crazy. But, really. Don't go crazy when you're all alone out here tonight. That might not go over so well. (Chuckles to himself.)
(FREI lets out a nervous whimper. RHONA is exasperated.)
RHONA: What are ye even tryin' to do here? Scare us half to death afore we've even gotten started? Some mentor ye are...
MILO: Oh, come on. You know I'm way cooler than anybody else you could've been stuck with.
RHONA: Is that so? Ye're certainly more conceited than anybody we coulda been stuck with.
MILO: (Winces.) Ouch. That's harsh. You know, I'd say you're pretty / conceited yourself--
FREI: Guys, stop! This isn't helping anything.
MILO: Alright, alright, I'm done. But you'd better watch out for her. (Gestures to RHONA.) She's relentless.
RHONA: Ahh, gettae! We ken what we're doin'.
MILO: Fine, I'm out. But before I go, remember: no matter what happens, protect the village. At any cost. (Pause. Less seriously.) Have a nice night!
RHONA: (Rolls eyes.) He's hopeless.
(FREI looks lost.)
RHONA: Ye must no' be a Milo regular, I'm guessin'. How'd ye get stuck with him tonight, anyway? (Pause.) I dinna ken yer name, laddie. I'm Rhona.
(RHONA offers her hand. FREI hesitantly shakes it.)
FREI: I'm Frei.
RHONA: Frei. What is that? Icelandic er somethin'?
FREI: Nordic. So, basically.
RHONA: If ye couldna already tell, I'm Scottish.
FREI: Yeah, that was pretty obvious.
RHONA: So, how'd yer folks find their way all the way over to Russia? Er was it yer grandparents?
FREI: Well, one set of grandparents was originally from the States. When the war ended with the outbreak, the headed to Europe. My other grandparents came from Sweden. Stockholm, actually. They were safe for a while, but then had to evacuate when it finally broke out there, too. Both sets of grandparents eventually ended up in the village, and that's where my parents were born. I guess you could say my family has been pretty lucky. How about yours?
RHONA: I dinna ken, really. It was just ma mum an' me, up until a couple o' years ago, that is. I ne'er knew ma dad. Mum said he was Irish, I guess. She ne'er really liked to talk about her life afore she got here... All I ken is that her parents were from Scotland an' they had her somewhere in Germany. She met ma dad in Poland an' they traveled to Russia together, but... he didna make it to the village. She ne'er told me why.
FREI: (Hesitant.) Can I ask what happened to her?
RHONA: Well, she joined the Guard when she got here, o' course. She was so used to havin' to protect herself, it seemed like the only natural option for her. She was part o' the Guard for... well... for as long as I'd been alive, so, eighteen years? Aye, eighteen. But, one day, she ne'er came back. I was told that she just disappeared an' that no one knew what happened to her, but I'll ne'er ken if that's true er no'. (Pause.) I've always felt like... there's somethin' no' quite right about this village.
FREI: What do you think it is?
RHONA: Och, I dinna ken. But whatever it is, it's because o' fear. The world has always lived in fear. Fear o' dyin', fear o' losin', fear o' fightin', and even fear o' livin'. The human race is ruled by fear; driven by it. The decisions we make, we make so that we can avoid havin' to be afraid. But, sometimes, fear can drive us mad. (Pause.) Do ye ever feel like we dinna ken the whole story? Like maybe we're missin' somethin'?
FREI: What would we be missing? We've been told everything that everyone else knows.
RHONA: Are ye sure about that?
(The two are silent for a moment, thinking. FREI resolves to try to convince RHONA that the information they have is correct.)
FREI: World War III ended in 2027. We know that for sure. And it wasn't because anyone won. It was because fear literally became a disease and spread across the whole planet, eventually killing anyone it infected. So far, so good?
RHONA: I suppose.
FREI: We know the disease as Strakh. It spreads through human or animal contact, and we refer to those who contract the disease as...
(FREI cannot bring himself to say the name.)
RHONA: Aye? What are they called? Dinna tell me ye're afraid o' a name.
FREI: I'm not, I just--
RHONA: (Deliberately.) Strakhtvar'.
RHONA: Well, go on, then. I said it for ye.
(FREI looks sheepish. RHONA rolls her eyes.)
FREI: The whole reason we have the Guard is so that we can protect the village from them getting in.
RHONA: (Pause.) As thoughtful as it was o' ye to try to convince me with information I already ken, I remain unconvinced.
FREI: (Sigh.) What more do you need?
RHONA: (Thinking.) Have ye ever wondered what it's like when someone turns?
FREI: When someone "turns"?
RHONA: Ye ken, when they become Strakhtvar'?
(FREI winces again.)
RHONA: Ahh, ye jessie, we hear that name every day. It canna possibly frighten ye that much.
FREI: Yeah, I know... I just don't like to think about it...
RHONA: Ye dinna really have a choice. This is the world we live in, whether ye like it er no'. (Pause.) What I was tryin' to get at is that I think I ken. I found a firsthand.
FREI: (Surprised.) You found a firsthand account? Where? I thought there were none left.
RHONA: That's what I thought, too. Until I saw her, that is. It was on that freezin' day a couple o' weeks ago durin' a trainin' session. We were out in the courtyard by Founders' Hall. Ye ken that one? (FREI nods.) Right. Well, ye ken how there's a bench outside the East Wing?
FREI: Yeah, I've seen that before.
RHONA: Aye, so... Jings! It seemed like it coulda almost been a dream.
(WOMAN enters and sits on a chair in the shack, facing downstage right and looking up at the ceiling.)
RHONA: Sittin' outside on that bench, wearin' nothin' but a goonie, was this wee, old woman I'd ne'er seen afore, just starin' up at the sky. What happened after that, I'll ne'er forget.
(Lights go dark in the shack so that only RHONA and WOMAN are in a spotlight. RHONA approaches WOMAN.)
RHONA: Pardon me? Ma'am? Do ye live here?
(WOMAN begins to mumble something inaudible.)
(WOMAN turns to look at RHONA.)
WOMAN: It took them all. They were screaming... I ran. I can still hear them.
RHONA: (Startled.) What..? What took them? Who was screamin'?
(WOMAN begins to sing.)
WOMAN: Deep down within the hearts of men...
(RHONA turns toward the audience.)
WOMAN and RHONA: The darkness sleeps while silence speaks.
(WOMAN exits and RHONA is left alone in the light.)
RHONA: Awakened from its slumber, in fear, arise,
And in the shadows, meet our eyes.
In dead of night, surround us.
In terror, pierce the sky - our last goodbye.
(Lights return to normal. FREI is listening tensely.)
RHONA: (Still sung.) May mercy cry when hope dies.
(RHONA's story concludes. The two are silent for a moment.)
RHONA: (Glances at FREI maliciously.) Scared yet?
FREI: (Getting angry.) Rhona, if you're not going to take this seriously, you can just leave already!
RHONA: An' what would ye do if I left and somethin' happened?
FREI: I'd be just fine. I have this. (Holds up his shotgun.)
RHONA: Would ye even be able to pull the trigger?
(FREI is silent.)
RHONA: I didna think so. I'd say it's in yer best interest to keep me around, even if ye are sick o' me.
(All of a sudden, the two hear a noise coming from outside.)
FREI: (Afraid.) What was that?
RHONA: I dinna ken. It's probably just some animal.
FREI: But how do you know?
RHONA: I just said "I dinna ken".
FREI: (Looking around.) Why aren't there any windows in here?
(RHONA notices a small crack in the wall by the ceiling.)
RHONA: (Pointing at the crack.) There's a crack up there. Climb up on that table an' see if ye can see anythin'. Ye're taller than me.
FREI: Me? Oh, I'm not going up there.
RHONA: (Exasperated.) Ye're such a jessie.
(RHONA pushes the table to the wall and climbs up. It is clearly not very stable. As she struggles to see out the crack, the table tips over and RHONA falls to the floor, breaking several floorboards as she lands.)
FREI: (Rushing over to RHONA.) Rhona! Are you okay?
RHONA: (Disoriented.) Useless table... Why is it even in here? (Notices the floor.) Och, perfect. I'm sure we'll get an earful for that later. How old did Milo say this shack was, anyway?
(RHONA struggles to get up. As she moves, she notices something under the floorboards.)
RHONA: Frei, look at this! (Pointing to under the floorboards.) Do ye see that? Is that... paper?
(FREI looks under the floor where RHONA is pointing. He pulls out a small paper notebook bound with twine.)
RHONA: What is it?
FREI: It looks like a notebook.
RHONA: Does it say anythin'?
(FREI flips through the pages.)
FREI: Yeah, the whole first half looks full, but then it seems like it just stops.
RHONA: Well, can ye read it?
FREI: Yeah, it's in Russian. It seems like there was a family that lived / here--
RHONA: Wait... Ye know Russian?
FREI: (Pause.) We live in Russia. Of course I know Russian. You don't?
RHONA: (Looks at the ground.) No...
FREI: (Stares at RHONA for a moment.) Anyway. (Continues flipping through the pages.) Whoa... Rhona, these entries are dated all the way back to 2028.
RHONA: What do they say?
FREI: Here, I'll read the last entry. It says, "I don't have much time left. Everyone else is gone, and I lost Natalya today. She couldn't do it anymore. I watched as she lost control right in front of me. I couldn't save her. I had to--"
(FREI stops reading. Enter NATALYA. Lights go dark in the shack so that only FREI and NATALYA are in the spotlight. FREI, notebook still in hand, stands and faces her. She begins to convulse and then collapses on the ground. After a moment, she slowly rises, lifts her head to look at FREI, and laughs ominously.)
FREI: Natalya, you don't have to do this! Please, come back!
(NATALYA laughs and begins to move toward FREI. FREI drops the notebook, picks up his shotgun, and points it at NATALYA. Laughing, NATALYA sinks into the darkness and exits.)
RHONA: Frei! What are ye doin'?!
(Lights return to normal. FREI snaps out of his hallucination. FREI is standing with his shotgun pointed at RHONA.)
FREI: (Drops the gun, horrified.) I saw her... (Suddenly frantic, he grabs RHONA by the shoulders.) Rhona! What were the words to that song?
RHONA: (Startled.) Why? What's the matter?
FREI: Just tell me!
RHONA: Uhh... Deep down within the hearts of men, the darkness sleeps while silence speaks. Awakened from its slumber, in fear, arise--
FREI: Awakened from its slumber... Awakened. (Pause.) Rhona, this shack is in the middle of nowhere. It's been here since long before the village was even founded. There's no way Strakh could've spread this far so quickly. It's not a disease. It's inside everyone. (Pause. Horrified.) No one is safe.
(Realization hits RHONA - she is actually afraid. All of a sudden, the lights pulsate, going from dark to light. RHONA begins to convulse. Lights go black as RHONA lets out a blood-curdling scream. The lantern goes out. After a few moments, the lights come back on. RHONA is huddled on the floor. She slowly turns to face FREI.)
FREI: (Trembling.) Rho... Rhona?
(RHONA slowly rises, tilts her head, and smiles at FREI.)
FREI: Rhona, whatever you're doing... This isn't funny.
(RHONA begins walking toward FREI. FREI backs up until he is against the wall.)
FREI: Cut it out, Rhona, I mean it! (Pause.) Rhona..?
(RHONA stops. She laughs ominously. When she speaks, her voice is distorted.)
RHONA: Looks like ye were right. No one is safe. Least of all, you.
(FREI quickly grabs his shotgun and points it at RHONA.)
FREI: Rhona, I don't want to have to do this! Please, snap out of it!
RHONA: Oh, there's no comin' back from this. Besides, ye and I both ken ye won't do it.
FREI: Y-Yes, I will!
(FREI cocks the shotgun.)
RHONA: Oh, ye're serious! But can ye last long enough to use it? It's only a matter of time now.
FREI: Rhona, it doesn't have to be this way. Please! You're stronger than this!
RHONA: (Laughs.) Rhona's gone! An' now, it's yer turn.
(All of a sudden, RHONA convulses again and falls to her knees. When she speaks, her voice is normal.)
RHONA: (Crying.) Frei... Kill me.
(RHONA convulses again.)
FREI: (Hurriedly.) Rhona! Come back! You can get through this!
RHONA: (Struggling.) Please...
(RHONA convulses one last time, is still, and then rises. She has turned.)
(RHONA takes a step toward FREI.)
FREI: (In tears.) I'm sorry.
(Lights out as the shotgun fires.)
(Lights up. FREI is sitting against the wall, expressionless. He is in shock. RHONA's body is lying on the floor. There is blood everywhere - on the walls, in a pool on the floor, on FREI. It is morning. MILO enters.)
MILO: Well, well, well. Now, this is a surprise. Could've sworn it would've been you. How'd that happen?
(FREI looks up and glares at MILO, still in shock.)
FREI: You knew. You knew, and you did nothing. How could you?
MILO: How could I? Oh, this has nothing to do with me. I got dragged into this, just like you. The ones you should really be angry with are the ones who started this whole mess: the "saviors" who founded the village forty years ago. They were the ones who decided that this was the only thing that could work. And, you know what? As twisted as it is, this really is the only thing that has worked so far. Making a few sacrifices to save an entire population is better than letting us all die. We weed out the weak from the strong, which only strengthens the village in the end. It's how we've survived for so long, and it's how we'll continue to survive.
FREI: How can you even say that? Don't you think there's something completely wrong with all this? You say you were dragged in, just like me. How could you have gone through this-- this living hell and still just accepted it for what it is? How could you not have been horrified?
MILO: I was. Just like you. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it needed to stay this way. The way everyone before me realized it, and the way you will come to realize it, too.
FREI: (Angrily.) But why?
MILO: Like I said, this is the only thing that / works.
FREI: How do we know that nothing else works? What else have we even tried?
MILO: Do you realize how many people in the world have died because of this? Because they couldn't find a way to survive? We know nothing else works because everyone else is dead and we're not. This was the apocalypse. We are what's left. We can't afford to waste our lives trying to find some other option that might work.
FREI: But we are wasting lives! We're wasting the lives that are left by killing them for no reason!
MILO: No reason? Haven't you heard anything I've been saying? The people we "kill" are what keep this illusion alive. The people in that village live in blissful ignorance because they believe we are risking our lives to protect them. Those who don't come back are the brave heroes who have fought the good fight and prevented disaster from infiltrating time and time again. Their lives have certainly not been wasted. If the village knew the truth that there was no disease - that it was really just the fear within themselves that has caused all this... That would be the end.
FREI: (Pause.) And you think it's okay to just lie to everyone about something so important?
MILO: It is if it keeps them alive.
(They are both silent for a moment.)
MILO: Now, I'm going to bring you back, but you'd better not try anything stupid. If you do, I'll make sure you end up just like her. (Looks at RHONA.)
(MILO turns to leave, but FREI has made up his mind. He rises, points his gun at MILO, and cocks it.)
MILO: (Turning to face FREI.) Whoa, now, / take it easy.
FREI: No. I can't let it be like this. Not anymore. Someone has to do something.
MILO: (Pause. Looks at the gun, then at FREI.) You wouldn't.
FREI: (Pause.) Watch me.
Copyright © 2020 Beret Finken. All rights reserved.