IN OUR DRY CELLAR Radio Draft 7/01 Mark Zucker
(Before and after each scene, the MUSIC: BRIDGE consists of slow, booming beats from a bass drum that resound, followed by short flurries of quick, high violin scratches that skitter underneath.)
MUSIC: BRIDGE – SLOW BOOMING BEATS, SKITTERING VIOLINS
SOUND: FADE UP TO THE SOUND OF WIND GENTLY RUSTLING THROUGH GRASS AND THE SONGS OF BIRDS, WHICH CONTINUES THROUGHOUT THE SCENE, BUT IS NOW PUNCTUATED BY THE ERRATIC SCAMPERING OF TINY FOOTSTEPS.
FATHER: (whispered, with urgency) Okay, everyone, stop (pause); listen; (pause) now dash!
SOUND: SCAMPERING AND RUSTLING
FATHER: (breathing heavily) Stop! Okay, listen. All clear. Let’s rest a moment.
MOTHER: (exhaling) Well, Arthur, we’re actually doing it. (wistfully) I guess we’ve left our little rat hole in the forest behind for good.
SON: (excitedly) Yes, Father, just like you said, we’re going on a real live adventure! How many rats would dare to go on such an expedition out of the woods, through the meadow and beyond?
MOTHER: (slightly patronizing) Yes, Sammy, your father is certainly a rat in a million. He’s taking us far from everything we woodrats know and leading us deep into the unknown.
DAUGHTER: (eagerly) But Mother, Father knows all about it! He’s been scouting it out for ages. He’s taking us to our new home, one full of fantastic treasures!
MOTHER: (warily) We’ll see about that, Cleo. But don’t be so transfixed by the silver lining that you ignore the clouds.
FATHER: (sharply) Marie, you stop that negativity right now! Here we are, poised on the verge of a new beginning! (hopefully) Can’t you feel our lives looking up?
MOTHER: (proudly) I will always look up; and then side to side twice. I’m a rat and I’m a mother! (practically) Anyway, we’ve got to hurry if we’re going to get to our new home before dawn. Everyone, ready? Stop (pause); listen(pause) ; and dash!
DAUGHTER: (between breaths, nervously) Sammy, have you ever been this far out of the woods before?
SON: (with bravado) No, but don’t worry. Just stay close to me, Cleo. You never know what kind of creatures we’ll run into out here. Everything’s different out here in the wilderness. That’s what makes it all so exciting and new!
MOTHER: (sighing) Oh, Sammy! Always seeking adventure. But it’s true; even the birds’ songs are different out here. Oh, I will miss the sounds of the forest, especially the birds-
FATHER: (wincing, with rising emotion)The birds, the birds! How can you bear their screeches? Have you no recollection-
MOTHER: (in a stern aside) Arthur, please, the ratkins-
FATHER: (suppressing his rage) They know! We all saw one of your beloved birds swoop down and crush the life out of our youngest ratkin with its talons and fly off with her. (with quiet anguish) Oh, Marie, with every twitter and chirp, I feel their talons sinking into my own heart.
MOTHER: (tenderly, but firmly) Arthur, no matter how it may have torn our hearts apart, we still have two other little ones to think about. There are provisions to store and nests to build. We must go on. It was just an accident of nature.
FATHER: (seething) It was no accident. It was the sheer malice of nature, the vicious cruelty by which we were daily besieged. I wasn’t going to sit idly by while my family was devoured.
DAUGHTER: (with conviction) Now we’re going to be safe inside a mountain of treasures. Father said so! He is a rat of action!
MOTHER: (dismissively) Cleo, you’re blinded by anything that glitters. Safe, you say. Safe from what? Life? Who can be saved from it or safe in it? This mountain of treasures is just a home! It can’t protect us from-
FATHER: (working up to a pitch of enthusiasm) Oh, can’t it? Marie, your eyes will pop out of your head when you see that smooth tower of wood that we’ll be living in. A simple woodrat like you can’t imagine the kind of home it will be. Food and shelter at the ready. No more wild beasts. No more freezing rain. No more drafty rat-holes for us!
MOTHER: (smiling, resigned) I know, I know, Arthur, it’s all you’ve talked about since…well, for a week. You win. We’re here, aren’t we? Your enthusiasm is positively…(chuckling)…contagious. You have such faith. I daresay it’s beginning to rub off on me! Now, come on! We have work to do in our new home. Everyone, ready? Stop (pause): listen(pause); now dash!
SOUND: SCAMPERING FEET
FATHER: (full of hope) That’s it, Marie. A new beginning. No more merciless wilderness.
SON: (enthusiastically) Yes, Mother, and no more freezing rain!
DAUGHTER: (gleefully chiming in) And no more rotting old acorns for dinner!
FATHER: (with utter sincerity) Oh, Marie, this move is going to be the best thing that ever happened to us. It will banish our tears and free us from fear!
MOTHER: (reproachfully) Must you speak so arrogantly about our freedom from the travails of existence? You want to bring a curse down on our heads?
FATHER: (earnestly) Oh, my sweet mate, how can you say that after the grief we’ve seen? Believe me, the curse is behind us! Our new home shall be our haven. We earned this reward with the tears wrung from our eyes. Let me believe that our loving family will flourish and that I’ll never have to see that look in your eyes again.
MOTHER: (sympathetically) Oh just huddle with me, my poor dear! You’re the one whose sobbing convulsions rend the night. Lose your sorrow in the warm nest of this family and look forward. There is work to be done and joy to be felt. Have faith, Arthur.
DAUGHTER: (encouragingly) Yes, Father, don’t be sad, just remember what you told us about …(in a lowered voice) King Rat.
SON: (confidentially) Yes, Father, just think about King Rat, like we do, and you’ll feel better.
FATHER: ( in undertones) Cleo, Sammy, I told you not to mention it in front of-
MOTHER: (interjecting) What? King Rat?
FATHER: (hesitantly) Uh, yes, Marie, you see, I told them about the secret we adults keep-
SON: (reassuringly)) But it’s okay, he told us all about King Rat’s rules!
DAUGHTER: (seriously) He just wanted us to know what really happened to our little sister when that owl flew off with her so we wouldn’t feel so bad!
MOTHER: (probing carefully) Hmmm…so, tell me what you, ahem, know..
SON: (reciting) That when you die you go straight to the court of King Rat!
DAUGHTER: (with growing excitement) And his walls are covered with a thousand tiny jewels and gems!
SON: (majestically) And he lays out his powerful body on a bed of the softest moss!
DAUGHTER: (excitedly reciting) And he’s draped in flashing colors of purple and gold!
SON: And your whole family is there, the living and the dead!
DAUGHTER: And all your wounds are healed!
SON: And justice is done! And you are rewarded for all the good you did in life!
DAUGHTER: With treasures and warmth!
MOTHER: (carefully) What else did he tell you?
DAUGHTER: (growing serious) That King Rat has only two rules:
DAUGHTER/SON: (in one voice) Be good and endure!
MOTHER: And what, may I ask, does he mean by “be good and endure”?
DAUGHTER: (sternly) Don’t take more than your share!
SON: (with authority) And, no matter what, keep on living!
FATHER: (nervously chuckling) Very good, children, now scamper up ahead and wait for us under that tree near the end of the field. Remember what I’ve taught you: dash, stop, listen and dash again! Sammy, you’re in charge until we catch up. (heroically) Then I’ll lead us into our new home!
DAUGHTER/SON: (cheering) Hurray!
SON: (suddenly paternal and serious) Now no more acting childishly, little sister. Stay close to me. Now stop(pause); listen(pause); and dash!
SOUND: SCAMPERING AND RUSTLING FADE OUT
FATHER: (weakly feigning joviality) Ahem, I do believe they’ve memorized every word.
MOTHER: (lightly chiding) King Rat, huh? Why do you tell the children such stories? You have the children completely deluded about this life and the next one!
FATHER: (quickly defending) What can it hurt? The children need something to believe in after what happened. And children will believe anything.
MOTHER: (shaking her head) I don’t know, Arthur…it’s almost as if you yourself-
FATHER: (shrugging it off, then with growing fervor) Oh, please, Marie, it’s just a children’s story, but this home is not. We have each other and a new beginning to look forward to in our dream home. I have complete faith that-
MOTHER: (shushing him lovingly) Quiet, Arthur, shhh. All your talk obscures the truth. Just huddle with me and savor this moment, here in this field, just you and me and the grasses all warm with the sun and each other…
FATHER: (blissfully) Ah, my sweet mate
(They nuzzle and hum and snuggle)
SOUND: FADE IN DRUM BEATS
MUSIC: BRIDGE – BOOMING DRUMS, SKITTERING VIOLINS
SOUND: QUICK SCAMPERING, STOPS SUDDENLY
MOTHER: (nervously) Arthur, where is Sammy? I’m getting worried..
FATHER: (dismissively) Stop your frenetic scrambling and relax! He’s just out exploring our new home, bless his heart. He’s got the same wanderlust I had as a young rat.
MOTHER: (agitated) How is a mother to stand it? Off he goes, dallying about in this strange cave without a thought in the world for his poor mother, scuttling her claws down to nubs…
DAUGHTER: (reassuringly) How can you worry so, Mother? All the dangers have been sealed out. Father said so.
MOTHER: (disturbed) And all the life as well. It’s…unnatural. The floors are so smooth I keep sliding around like I’m on ice. There’s nothing to sink your claws into. And nothing grows anywhere. It’s positively creepy.
DAUGHTER: (increasingly eager) Yes, Mother, it is strange; strangely perfect. Aren’t these the sweetest oats you’ve ever eaten? And this huge hole is just lined and littered with every imaginable sort of sparkly treasure. I’ve started a collection-
MOTHER: (sternly, with growing anxiety)) Well, you’d better be sure to keep it well hidden. And I forbid you to search on the higher levels! I don’t share your father’s unquestioned faith in these.. humans. Haven’t you heard those sounds in the daytime, those gigantic footsteps booming over our heads? Their thunder chills me to the bone! Oh, where is that Sammy?
FATHER: (with casual bravado) Oh, don’t let those hulking, hairless humans frighten you. They’re the ones who seal every crack and cover every inch of their bodies lest the sun and wind should bruise their tender flesh! Anyway, their stores are packed to bursting. What trouble are we to them, we who subsist on the crumbs they carelessly cast on the floor?
DAUGHTER: (confidently) They’re our noble benefactors! Father said so!
MOTHER: (rebukingly) Arthur, how do you think those benefactors of yours will react if they find our little Sammy with his nose tucked into their bag of grain? (sighing, regaining control) It’s okay, Cleo. Don’t worry. I’m just nervous.
FATHER: (Struggling to reassure her) Please, Marie, he’ll be back shortly, I’m… sure of it. Get a grip on yourself!
SOUND: THE APPROACH OF SCAMPERING FEET
SON: (excitedly) Mother! Father! I have so much to tell you!
MOTHER: (with a cry of relief) Oh, Sammy, I’ve been so worried!
SON: (grandly)The wonders I’ve seen! The treasures I’ve glimpsed!
DAUGHTER: (with sparked interest) Treasures? Oh, tell me please, I must see them!
SON: (painting a glorious picture) Things that shine and glow, things that move and hum, everything sparkling and smooth, in colors I’ve never seen before! And food, food, food that couldn’t possibly come out of the earth!
FATHER: (eager to find confirmation) See, Marie? Just like I scouted it out. Our dream home! We’re the luckiest rats in the world.
MOTHER: (rejecting his facile confidence) Perhaps, but rats nonetheless. (regaining control) Now wait a minute. Sammy, didn’t I expressly warn you not to go to the higher floors till your father and I learned more about these humans?
SON: (patronizingly) Oh, Mother, I’m not a child like Cleo. (heroically) I’m nearly grown! I’m a rat of action! But don’t worry. Every stretch it was stop, listen and dash! There’s plenty to hide behind. But I’m telling you, there’s nothing to be afraid of!
MOTHER: (Fearfully) Such arrogance! I tell you, recklessness is the mother of disaster!
DAUGHTER: (trembling with excitement) Oh, I can’t wait to go up there! I’m dying to see it all!
MOTHER: (with authority) Cleo, I forbid you to go adventuring alone. A home like this is still just another kind of wilderness.
SON: (eager to be given responsibility) She can come with me! I’ll lead the way!
FATHER: (tempering their excitement to appease Marie) Listen to your mother, children. You’ll get your chance soon enough, but stay close for a while till we’ve gotten a little more settled.
SON: (obedient, but slightly impish) Yes, Father, we’ll stay close… for a while.
MOTHER: (back to practicality) Anyway, there’s work to be done! Cleo, I found some of your treasures lying about in plain sight. That will not do. And my not-quite-so-grown Sammy, I spend half my time cleaning out and organizing what you gather. Now straighten out your stores. You weren’t raised by weasels.
SON/ DAUGHTER: (obediently) Yes, Mother.
SON: (taking charge) Come on, Cleo, let’s go.
DAUGHTER: (eagerly) Tell me about what you saw!
SON: (excitedly) You wouldn’t believe it! There was- (stopping himself, he shifts into a mature gear for the benefit of his parents’ ears) I’ll tell you later, Cleo. But you heard Mother, first we’ve got to clean up our messes. Learn to control yourself, Cleo.
SOUND: SCAMPERING FEET, VOICES FADE OFF
FATHER: (full of pride and confidence) The children are growing up just fine! They don’t need us like they used to. (turning to Marie tenderly) It’s just that all the fear and anguish we left behind in the wilderness is still with you. In time-
MOTHER: (anxiously) Oh, don’t you see? It’s all utter wilderness! Every minute Sammy was gone, this knot of fear was tightening in my chest. Oh, Arthur, we can’t protect them out there.
FATHER: (gently, hopefully) No, we must have faith. This can be a life free from fear. Of course, we’ll be careful, but please allow yourself to enjoy the life we’ve got! We have every day and every moment to laugh and play and huddle together as a family. Sealed and safe in this cozy corner of this outrageous hole.
MOTHER: (sighing) I guess it’s just an old mother woodrat’s place to be ever-fearful for her children. (smiling) There is so much to be grateful for, I know. Dashing to our nook together, gathering food together, nuzzling together, burying our noses in grain together.
FATHER: (romantically)) Ah, remember when we first found each other? You and I nibbled on a stalk of grain in the moonlight and nothing would be the same again! You gave this old rat a reason to live.
MOTHER: (proudly) We created our reasons – Sammy and Cleo and..(sadly)..our littlest one…
FATHER: (passionately) No, Marie, please, we’ve starved ourselves, lost clumps of fur and clawed a ditch in the ground with our pacing!.If our little daughter were watching, she’d want us to dedicate ourselves to the living. We must endure….
MOTHER: (managing a weak smile) Yes, and be good, right?
FATHER: (playfully) We wouldn’t want to disobey King Rat now.
MOTHER: (laughing) Oh, Arthur! You and your stories.
FATHER: (quietly, sincerely)The children needed something-
MOTHER: (smiling) That’s right. Faith. I suppose we all do.
FATHER: (with rising bravado) Yes, and as long as we’re together, I have all the faith I need to endure, and love and smile and hope for the best. Together!
MOTHER: (sweetly, sadly)Yes, together, those of us who remain…..
SOUND: FOOTSTEPS BOOM RESOUNDINGLY
MOTHER: (suddenly fearful) Oh, Arthur, that sound is so frightening!
FATHER: (gently) There, there, calm yourself. They mean us no harm; just huddle with me.
MOTHER: (full of love) Oh Arthur, what word can we use for all these feelings we’ve shared, the fear and joy coursing through our bodies as one as we’ve huddled together all these days of our life? Oh, bury your nose with me in this pile of oats and huddle with me, Arthur, huddle with me…
MOTHER: (giggling) Oh, Arthur, your whiskers are tickling me!
FATHER: (laughing happily) Ah, my sweet mate, feast with me!
MUSIC: BRIDGE – BOOMING DRUMS, SKITTERING VIOLINS
MOTHER: (refreshed and happy) Ah, a nap in the middle of the night! How sweet!
FATHER: (playfully) See? There are advantages to having the nest all to ourselves.
MOTHER: (turning to practicalities) Yes, but it really is time to clean up.
SOUND OF RUSTLING AND ERRATIC, TINY FOOTSTEPS
FATHER: (mock rebuke) Cleaning again! Won’t you just lie your warm body next to mine a moment more?
MOTHER: (playfully) I’m not like you; I can’t sleep my nights away! Anyway, shouldn’t our ratkins be back from their little adventure by now?
FATHER: (brushing it off) Don’t worry, they’ll be back soon. It might be her first trip up, but he’s been all over. He’ll keep a good eye on her!
MOTHER: (betraying her wariness) I trust them, but what about the humans?
FATHER: (brimming with confidence) Please! Our lumbering hosts are either oblivious to or content with our presence. After I feast on their scraps, may their rumbling footsteps rock me to sleep!
MOTHER: (growing restless) All this feasting has lulled you into a stupor! I’ve had enough of your endless rhapsodies about the perfect safety of this place! I’m going upstairs to check on them.
FATHER: (imploring) Have some faith!
MOTHER: (rebuking his confidence) Faith! Did faith quench the owl’s thirst for our child’s blood? Who knows what strange hungers these humans have! Your faith is as empty as the hole it tries to fill! You and your stories! Save them for the children. Anyway, I’m sure our ratkins are fine, but nonetheless, I’m a mother aren’t I? I’m just going to do a little motherly spying.
FATHER: (calling after her) Marie!….Okay, well, then I’m coming with you! (in an undertone) You can take the rat out of the wilderness, but you can’t take the wilderness out of the rat. (calling out) Wait up, you crazy ratmother in heat!
MUSIC: BRIDGE – BOOMING FOOTSTEPS, SKITTERING VIOLINS
SON: (with some urgency) Come on, Cleo, we’ve got to hurry! It’s almost daybreak and I promised Mother we’d be back long ago!
SOUND: SCAMPERING FEET
DAUGHTER: (in rapture) Oh, I have such stories to tell them! The endless spaces and corners and soft places, and everything so steep and clean and smooth! Boxes that hum! Boxes filled with boxes filled with food! Colors I’ve never seen!
SON: (patronizing) Enough, Cleo. You don’t have to tell me. I’ve been adventuring around this place for ages. I’ve only showed you the least bit of all that’s here.
DAUGHTER: (excitedly) And already I’ve found so many sparkly and shiny things to add to my collection. It’ll take several trips to bring it all down.
SON: Of course! That’s why we’ve stashed it all behind these boxes by the entry. But we’ve already gathered enough food for a feast. Now we’ve got to get going. (proudly) Father will be so proud.
DAUGHTER: (eagerly) Oh, I can’t wait to tell them all about our adventure! I wish..(with melancholy) …..little sister could be here with us…
SON: (hopefully) Don’t worry, Cleo, she’s watching over us in the court of King Rat. She can probably see us right now. Close your eyes, and you can see her.
DAUGHTER: (hope tinged with doubt) Sammy, can you really see her? Can you really see King Rat and all his treasures?
SON: (grasping for assurance) Well, kind of, but Father says if you imagine it hard enough, you can. I think we have to practice.
DAUGHTER: (determined to believe) Yes, that’s it. I can see her…sort of…
SON: (snapping back to practicality) Practice later, Cleo, come on, we’ve got to go!
DAUGHTER: (waking from her reverie) Okay, but just let me get this one little gem I stashed behind the big humming box.
SON: (sharply) Okay, but hurry up and come right back here! I’ll gather the first load to carry down.
DAUGHTER: (quickly) Okay, just that one gem and I’ll be right back.
DAUGHTER: (pleased) There it is. So pretty! Mother will be so…(with surprise)….hey, what’s this? What a strange contraption! A shiny bar stuck on a piece of wood with, what do you know, a piece of some scrumptious smelling food right in the middle! How could I have missed it! Sammy said we have enough food, but how can I pass this tidbit up? Just a taste. I’ll just nibble a little-
SOUND: LOUD SNAP AND A STIFLED SQUEAK OF AGONY
SON: (frantically) Cleo! (pause) What was that? Cleo?!
SOUND: FRANTIC SCAMPERING
Mother, what are you-
MOTHER: (rushing in, anxiously) Sammy, what was that?
SON: (frightened) I don’t know. Cleo just went-
MOTHER: (interjecting frantically) What? Cleo? Where’s your sister?
SON: (flustered) She went behind the humming box there, and we were just about to come down-
MOTHER: (snapping) You left her alone?
(SOUND: FLURRY OF SCAMPERING)
How could you? Where? Behind that? Cleo… where are you?- AAAAAAAARGH!
SOUND: FLURRY OF SCAMPERING
FATHER: (desperately) Marie, oh dear Mother, what on earth- No! No!
MOTHER: (in agony) Cleo, my darling flower, speak to me, oooh..
SON: (shaking) Father, we were just going to-.
FATHER: (frantically) Sammy, help me pull this bar off her! Pull!
SOUND: WRENCHING, STRUGGLING NOISES
MOTHER: (hysterically) She’s crushed! Some evil trap has snapped the moon out of the sky! Her poor body, her poor broken body.
FATHER: (sobbing) It’s no use! There’s no way we can wrench this off! Oh, Marie, my dear, our beautiful baby. Oh please, come away. It’s no use.
MOTHER: (supplicating) Why her? What did she ever do?
FATHER: (wild with anger and anguish) It was me! I killed her with my carelessness and my arrogance!
MOTHER: (broken) No, Arthur, we are still just lost in the wilderness, and death is forever hungry. Oh my dear Cleo..
FATHER: (in a fury) It’s those humans! Those fiends! How could I ever have believed –
MOTHER: (sobbing) Our little Cleo is gone…
FATHER: (trying to get a grip) Sammy, help your mother back to the cellar.
MOTHER: (raving) No, I won’t leave my daughter-
FATHER: (fiercely) It’s no use, Marie! It’s over! There’s nothing to do but save ourselves! Sammy, come on!
SON: (choking back tears) Yes, Father, I’m sorry, I-
FATHER: (sternly) Take her now, Sammy, before we’re all murdered by these monsters! Quickly! Stop (pause); listen (pause); dash!
SOUND: SUDDEN SCAMPERING
MUSIC: BRIDGE – BOOMING FOOTSTEPS, SKITTERING VIOLINS
SOUND: FEET SCAMPER, THEN HALT
FATHER: (angrily) Sammy, where have you been? Are you trying to drive your mother and I to distraction?
SON: (firmly) I’m sorry, Father, but listen. I have news!
FATHER: (distraught) Sammy, I was so afraid that you might do something foolish! Please don’t blame yourself for what happened. It was all my fault! My carelessness, my-
SON: (decisively) No, Father, you mustn’t. None of that matters. Listen, I’ve made some new discoveries.
FATHER: (incredulously) You mean you’ve been back up there?
SOUND: BOOMING FOOTSTEPS RESOUND
FATHER: (exasperated) Have you lost your mind? Don’t you hear those footsteps?
SON: (with conviction) Yes, Father. I waited for them. I just had to see what the humans would do when (a beat) they found her.
FATHER: (incredulously) What? So you saw them?
SON: (sagely) Yes, but their looks aren’t nearly as monstrous as their ways! You see-
FATHER: (refusing to listen) Enough of that. Have pity on us! Anyway, we need you here with us. Your poor mother is beside herself with grief. We must get her to eat something!
SON: (adopting a mature tone)Yes, I’m grown now. It’s time for her to start depending on me.
FATHER: (brightening) What a good boy! Did you hear that, Marie? Won’t you eat something, my darling? Marie, my beautiful mate, it’s killing me to see you like this, , you must eat something…
SON: (gently) Here, Mother, I’ve brought you some oats. Your favorite! No? Well, then come with me to the puddle for some water, I’m so awfully thirsty..
FATHER: (trying to encourage her) Marie, he’s brought back some oats! Turn your mind from death and think of life!
MOTHER: (flashing angrily, becoming hysterical) Life! That’s what you call this? This butcher shop? This assembly line? And to produce what? Nothing but the grim spectacle of death which is forced upon our eyes! My eyes can’t bear any more! I’ve cried the life out of myself! How can I eat another bite and feed this insane monster? Now can I give this heartless beast the satisfaction of knowing I oiled its grisly machine, the better for it to crush us between its gears! (broken) I tried to believe you…
FATHER: (clinging, crumbling) I’m so sorry, I just believed, no, I still believe, we must cling to hope and to one another. There is yet honor to be earned for enduring-
MOTHER: (bleakly) Yes. Enduring. I suppose we must endure until we too are ripped off the face of this earth…
SON: (earnestly) Oh Mother, remember all Father told us about King Rat and how our whole family is sitting in his great hall with their wounds healed and their faithful eyes upon us? That’s where my sisters are now. You needn’t cry and wail for the dead! We still have each other, and we’ll all be together again someday when we’re gone from this place!
FATHER: (brightening) That’s right! That’s a good boy! See, he remembers! He has faith! Where is our faith? Come, my mate, while we live, eat with us, join us in life!
SON: (seriously) But Father, listen, I have more to tell you. The humans…didn’t even eat her! They just dumped her in a great box with all the other food they waste! I can’t understand it. That’s not good! Don’t they have rules to live by like we do? They take more than their share! How can they? Why would they?
FATHER: (consolingly) Ah, son, put it out of your mind! How could a pure young rat like you understand such creatures?
SON: (urgently) Father, I have to tell you what I found! There are a dozen more traps laid all over the house and the entrance way we came in has been blocked off!
FATHER: (somberly, bitterly) Then it’s true. I’d heard stories when I was young about humans that killed rats with diabolical traps and insidious poisons, but I thought they were just stories told to frighten children. I thought this house, in all its outrageous luxury, could afford an unused corner for a simple, faithful, injured family to steal a bit of happiness, but my eyes have been forced open to the awful truth. They aim to exterminate us all, and tell me, for what? How do we cramp their style? We would be better off taking the daily abuses of the forces of nature than the contrived tortures of this cruel breed.
SON: (helplessly) Oh, Father, what will become of us?
FATHER: (regaining control) We’ll find a way out, don’t worry! I cannot bear to live any longer with those humans hovering above us, their every booming footstep announcing their heartless mission; our annihilation! I’d rather die feeding a hawk’s simple hunger than these humans’ bottomless appetite for destruction! But please don’t worry. Just think about your sisters smiling faces looking down on you.
SON: (dreamily) I can see them! They are standing by a pool of delicious water.
FATHER: (rapturously) I can see them, too! And King Rat is blessing them! …..Oh, I’m so glad we still have each other….. and our faith……..
MOTHER: (sharply rebuking) You speak of faith like a child! King Rat! Hah! The only faith I have is that I will wring what joy I can from the time I have until I die fleeing in fear from one monster or another!
FATHER: (in a stern aside) Marie! How can you speak so in front of the boy?
MOTHER: (powerfully) Why not? He’s a boy no longer! Let him see what life will yet reduce him to! Shrinking in a corner of a cave, buried alive, nursing the dead dream of safety! I know full well that this dread in my guts is real and inescapable. But I’m not dead yet! As soon as my strength is up, we are leaving this sick hole! Ah, to breathe the air and feel the wind again!
FATHER: (encouragingly) Yes, Marie, that’s the spirit! We need to get our strength up. Please eat something! We have a journey in front of us.
SON: (full of hope, but wih increasingly labored breath) Yes, Mother, eat and come with us for a drink from the puddle. I’m unbearably thirsty. You must have faith! We have to fix in our minds the image of our lost ones smiling above us. I know I’ll be seeing them soon enough! I can see them in my mind now! They’re with King Rat! They’re beckoning to me from the river’s edge! But first, I must go the puddle, I really am excruciatingly thirsty. Oh, Mother, don’t lose faith! You gave me faith when I was too young to know what it was. Now let me give you faith!
MOTHER: (managing a smile) Oh, my darling son, just like your father! Always full of faith! Thank you for lending me some at my time of need. Maybe I will nibble on something. And what have you been eating that has left you so thirsty? I’ve never seen you pant like this before!
SON: (enthusiastically) I’ll show you! It’s some pellets I found that are indescribably delicious! I’ve brought some back for you. They just make me so crazy with thirst. Just a second, let me get them..
FATHER: (concerned, then stricken) Sammy, wait, let me see those – oh…my…god
MOTHER: (frantically) What? WHAT?
SON: (bewildered) What?… These little purple pellets?…What?
FATHER: (trying to control his sobs) My son, my son, Sammy, my beautiful boy, I fear you’ve…been….
SON: (rising panic) Oh, Father, what-
FATHER: (quietly sobbed) Poisoned…
MOTHER: (howling) NOOOOO!
SON: (gasping and crying) Water! I need water! Oh, Mother, make it stop!
FATHER: (trying to regain control) You’ll be all right, son, don’t panic! Really, Marie, he’ll be alright!
SON: (choking) My throat is…
FATHER: (stammering, panicked) Oh, Marie, he can’t breathe, Marie, Marie!
MOTHER: (moaning and sobbing) Oh, Sammy, Sammy, you, too! No, no, no!
SOUND: BOOMING FOOTSTEPS RESOUND
FATHER: (flashing angrily) Those cursed humans! Murderous wretches! Where is the justice? Why do you beseige us? For the crumbs we scavenge, you have robbed us of everything!
MOTHER: (hysterical and delirious) It’s over! It’s over! We must get outside! I cannot bear those footsteps! Come with me! We must go! We must go! Now! Arthur! Where is the sun? Where is the wind? Where is the air? Where is the light?
SOUND: SCAMPERING FOOTSTEPS MINGLE WITH BOOMING ONES
FATHER: (in a screamed whisper) Marie, wait, it’s not safe up there! How will you get out? No, stop! Can’t you hear them? Stop! Listen! No!!
SOUND: BOOMING UNDECIPHERABLE VOICES ACCOMPANY THE SOUND OF A BROOM BEING POUNDED AND SWATTED ON THE FLOOR
FATHER: (agape with horror, raving) No! Marie! Run! No! Hide! Those vicious humans have crushed her! My sweet mate! No! There is no mercy! Those beasts! They’re picking her up by the tail! Oh, Marie! She hangs so limp! What will they do with her? What?! Nothing! Waste her! No, no, no!
MUSIC : BREAK – BOOMING DRUMS, SKITTERING VIOLINS
FATHER: (dreamy, delirious)) There, there, Marie, I can see you. I can see you. You’re together with all our children. And soon enough, I’ll be with you! It’s me, Arthur, your Arthur, I need you, but I am still alive and it’s wrong to let life go! Why did you leave me to bear it alone? Oh, I’m so awfully tired, Marie… maybe I’ll just take a short rest, and soon I’ll be with you and nuzzle with you, and maybe we’ll have a little something to eat… wouldn’t that be nice, Marie?…….my beauty, my poor, dear mate……those humans should be struck down for denying us our simple existence…where is the justice…?
MUSIC: MYSTERIOUS AND DREAMY
FATHER: (bewildered) Where am I? Am I dead? (startled) Oh, dear, that’s the biggest rat I’ve ever seen, and he’s draped in…could it be?
KING RAT: (warmly, with authority) Welcome to the Court of King Rat. No, you are not dead. Indeed, there is still a reason for you to live.
CHILDREN AS ONE: (excitedly) Oh, Father, oh Father! We’re together at last!
FATHER: (in wonderment) Marie! Children! My faith has been vindicated! My heart is overflowing! But I don’t understand. I thought it was all a children’s-
KING RAT: (interjecting) Please proceed.
MOTHER: (lovingly, but seriously) Yes, Arthur. Soon we will all be together, and there will be an eternity to bury our noses in a pile of seeds; but first, you must speak for us.
FATHER: (uncomprehending) Speak for us?
KING RAT: (deliberately) Yes, we have gathered here today to listen to the charges you are bringing against this human.
SOUND : A FEW BOOMING FOOTSTEPS
HUMAN: (indignantly) This is absurd! Rats judging humans! Now I know I’m dreaming.
FATHER: (quivering with sudden emotion) There he is, the monster! Are we all to perish again at his hands?
KING RAT: (calmly) Quite the contrary. You have nothing to fear in this court. But please, state your case.
FATHER: (gathering himself) Yes, yes, of course, um,…this human has committed two murders, brutally and senselessly.
KING RAT: (addressing the human) And how do you plead?
HUMAN: (arrogantly) I don’t need to plead. I declare that I did indeed kill those two rats, and I would kill any others that dared trespass my doorway!
KING RAT: On what grounds do you excuse your behavior?
HUMAN: (dismissively) I need no excuse. The world is my dominion; I make it thus.
FATHER: (incensed) It’s true! It’s true! He kills because he can! Because he doesn’t think he’ll ever have to pay for his crimes!
HUMAN: (haughtily) We have our own judges that have made human law virtually the law of all of nature!
KING RAT: (probing) Are there no natural laws that humans must obey?
HUMAN: (grandly) Well, of course, we must all die, but until then we shall follow no dictates but our own! Where nature pinches and annoys us, we have trimmed it to specifications that suit us! And please don’t think we reserve our brutality for lowly rats and the like. Our legal system exterminates human pests as well!
KING RAT: Well, you truly are an awesome species. Tell me more about the human endeavor.
HUMAN: (with enthusiasm) Gladly! We, as you should know, are the crowning glory of natural evolution! Everything else has been, essentially, a stepping stone in the development of something we call..(grandly)… humanity.
FATHER: (furiously) And in the name of this humanity you trample the earth underfoot and crush simple families beneath your heel. Then you clutch them in your careless claws and let them twist by their tails before casting them onto the waste heap!.
HUMAN: (contemptuously) Please, don’t wax so poetic about lesser creatures! What is this globe but a stage for our human drama? What is your family compared to the human family?
FATHER: (trembling) My family means as much to me as yours does to you!
HUMAN: (scornfully) Comparing the feelings of rats with the feelings of humans! Touching but scarcely credible! What have you done to mold the earth? What have you created that will endure for a thousand years? You still live quaking in fear at the elements, hunted by your fellow animals, helpless but for your claws and teeth, eking out your rudimentary existence! You cannot imagine the human life.
FATHER: (defiantly) I needn’t! It has been forced upon me! It has flushed me from every crack and crevice! It’s the rat’s life that you are clearly unable to imagine!
HUMAN: (with cruel laughter)What a pity…for you. Meanwhile, the world belongs to the humans who dominate it, and what we do not value, will soon cease to exist. Humans are the mind of God and the universe itself manifested on earth. Some humans are waiting for the messiah, the messenger from God to come, but they needn’t. The messiah is humanity, and it has saved this world from the petty, grubbing existence in which all the creatures on earth were previously enmired. Look at our accomplishments! Look at our magnificence and bow down!
FATHER: (fuming bitterly) You waster! You defiler! You have taken more than your share! I charge you with criminal arrogance! I charge you with wielding power irresponsibly!
KING RAT: (calmly) Please, Mr. Rat, try to control yourself.
FATHER: (sputtering with anger) But that big bully, that murderer sits there smiling, self-satisfied…
HUMAN: (derisively) Yes, get a grip on yourself. Remember where you are and….remember your place!
KING RAT: (firmly) My dear human, you would be well advised to heed your own advice.
HUMAN: (annoyed) What do you mean? Anyway, you have no jurisdiction over me. Who are you, anyway?
KING RAT:(solemnly) I am the ear that listens. I am the voice that foretells. I am a warm breeze from the future, though my words may chill you to the bone…
HUMAN: (becoming unnerved) Stop speaking in riddles!
KING RAT: (forcefully) Then I shall speak plainly. There will be justice. There is a messiah coming. However, he is not human.
HUMAN: (brightening) Then it is a God who will give new power to the human voice!
KING RAT: (sharply rebuking) Please, shut up about your gods. You only use them to flatter yourself. You humans never weary of your own voices till at last they have eliminated all others from your ears. You humans fail to see the destruction in all your ‘industry’, the tyranny of your ‘heroism’ or the anguish caused by your ‘triumph’. Your flooding the earth with your teeming progeny has only impoverished the world.
HUMAN: (bewildered) Really, this is all quite unfair, you know nothing about me, my family, my-
KING RAT: (ruthlessly) Shut up. What is your family in the scheme of things? Nothing but a host population. That’s right. Nature loves balance. You have taken more than your share. Humans are out of balance. I do not stand here to judge them. I simply provide a mouth for a justice long since rendered. Nature is already preparing to use humans for its purposes, purposes to which you humans, unfortunately, have blinded yourselves.
HUMAN: (trying to regain control) Enough! Excuse me, please state plainly why we have gathered here today!
KING RAT: (slowly, powerfully) To see justice done. To prepare you for your fate and to anoint the new messiah.
HUMAN: (hopefully) Me? You mean I’m to bear this message back to the human race?
KING RAT: (shaking his head) Still you flatter yourself. No, it is too late for you humans. Your population is a scourge on this planet; the messiah shall be the one to rid the world of this predominating plague. (speaking carefully) That’s right; the messiah will come bearing nothing more than a novel disease to which you humans are entirely vulnerable.
HUMAN: (aghast) So you would set loose the germ that will kill off all the humans?
KING RAT: (smiling) Not I. Nature. Nature loves a balance. Humans are out of balance. Perhaps some will survive; perhaps they’ll rethink these ‘gods’ that you so revere. Meanwhile, I have come to let you all know that it will be a rat whose bite will first transmit this new disease to the humans. That rat, though anonymous to all except those assembled here, shall be the messiah the world has prayed for. Arthur Rat, you are the chosen one.
FATHER: (flabbergasted) But…how…I mean…am I to actually…
MOTHER: (firmly, warmly) Yes, Arthur, it is up to you. We have faith in you.
HUMAN: (outraged) This is ridiculous! I refuse to listen-
KING RAT: (condemningly) Yes, you have always refused to listen. You have only talked. And now all of creation, every living thing which teems in the tangles of the earth and the very mountains themselves can rejoice, for soon they will be free of your frightful din. Go, then, human! And unplug your ears if you dare. Perhaps you’ll hear the footsteps resounding over your head……….
MUSIC: BRIDGE – FOOTSTEPS BOOM, VIOLINS SKITTER TO A RISING PITCH
FATHER: (devastated, but then with rising conviction and passion) Oh, dear mother, what on earth? Where have you gone? Oh, my whole world, you are dead! You are dead! But no! I just saw you with my own eyes! You were alive as I….or as dead! …..Have I been dreaming?…..Have I lost my mind?…No!….. It couldn’t be real…. All those stories…..but I just made them up!… Or, did they just come to me? Yes, they came to me! I’ve had a vision! Oh, Marie, you wouldn’t believe it…. I mean, what am I saying, you already know! It’s true! It’s true! We’ll be together again with our whole family! We’ll be happy and eating and playing again when we meet in the court of King Rat himself! Oh, but first, Marie, there is something I must do! Do you remember? You said it was up to me, Marie. I have been chosen. That’s why the stories came to me! I am the messenger! I have a job to do. There is still something for me to live for. The world is depending on me! Who would’ve thought that I, Arthur Rat, would be the one to carry the seed of the future! I once held seeds inside me…Seeds of life! Marie brought them to light and we brought them to love. But not just to watch them die! No! We are part of something bigger, something that honors our love and pities our anguish! King Rat has spoken! His golden robes and crown are wrought of the very fire of eternal life and love! We shall warm ourselves in their everlasting light! We shall be together, Marie! Just let me deliver the message I’ve been entrusted with to the humans. I’ll lie in wait, and then I’ll deliver it with my very teeth! Yes, Marie, just be patient, I’ll be with you soon, we’ll be together, burying our noses in some oats and laughing again! But now, patience, my dear. I must sharpen my teeth and be ready. My time will come, our kingdom will come, and it will be soon….
SOUND: TEETH SCRAPING AND FILING FURIOUSLY
MUSIC: BRIDGE BOOMING FOOTSTEPS SOON OVERWHELMED BY SKITTERING VIOLINS