Edward Willett

Saved

Saved is a one-act play set in a future in which North America has fallen sway to a religious dictatorship…but if you think that tells you all you need to know about this play, you’re wrong. The ending will surprise you, shock you–and make you think.

Saved

(The curtain rises on a seedy two-room basement apartment somewhere in a large American city. The front door is DOWN RIGHT; the door to the bedroom is UP LEFT. The tiny rectangular window UP CENTRE is closed, a yellowed shade pulled down over it. The furnishings are spartan and of the quality generally found only in the city dump: LEFT, there is a tatty armchair with a reading lamp beside it. RIGHT, there is a moth-eaten sofa. To the LEFT of the armchair, against the wall, is an overflowing bookshelf. The UP RIGHT corner is also a kitchen: a cupboard, a hot plate, a sink. The remains of a macaroni-and- cheese dinner are still in sight on the cupboard, which doubles as the kitchen table; there is a stool pushed up close to it.    All this is seen only dimly; the only light seeps in around the windowshade and the cracks of the front door. A siren fades in and out, dopplering past the window; red lights flash across the shade. There is distant, incomprehensible shouting; footsteps clatter by.    Abruptly, shatteringly, the door crashes open. Light floods in through it, and JOHN bursts through. He is a young man in a military uniform, marked prominently with the emblem of a white cross inside a black circle. He carries an automatic rifle that he swings from side to side, covering the room.)

JOHN: Nobody move!

(A pause as he realizes the room is empty, then he jerks his head. MAX enters behind him, weapon also ready. He feels for the light switch, finds it, turns on the room lights. Then he crosses to the other door, followed by JOHN. He looks at JOHN, grins, and kicks open the bedroom door. JOHN covers him from the doorway as he steps through. A moment later he is back, shaking his head.)

MAX: Nada.

JOHN: (Takes a deep breath; holds it; lets it out.) Suits me.

MAX: Not me! Come on, John. Guy on the Most Wanted list? We bring him back, we’ll both make corporal before Christmas.

JOHN: Yeah? Those two guys in Elijah Company caught up with a guy on the Most Wanted list and they came back to base in plastic bags. Four of them.

MAX: Elijah Company. What do they know? They got careless. We’re the Saints. Hey, brother, we’re good!

JOHN: How do you know we’re good? This is our first operation. (He begins poking around the apartment.)

MAX: Maybe it’s your first operation, but I was on that sweep of South Block two weeks ago while you were enjoying R&R.

JOHN: Oh, yeah — the sweep that didn’t find anything.

MAX: Hey, it’s the thought that counts. The way I figure it, I’m a veteran.

JOHN: The way I figure it, if we do find this guy, we’d better hope he’s already decided to turn himself in and is just waiting for the opportunity. (He pokes at the leftover dinner.)

MAX: Shoot it, quick, before it jumps you!

JOHN: Very funny. (Pokes the dinner again.) It’s not that old. He can’t have been gone more than a few hours.

MAX: Bet some Reprobate spy got wind of the operation and clued him in. He’s probably on a plane to New Zealand by now.

JOHN: For all we know he’s just gone shopping. He could be back any minute.

MAX: No way. He’s gone. I can smell it.

JOHN: Smell it?

MAX: When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, kid, you get a feel for this kind of –

JOHN: Oh, stuff a sock in it, will you?

MAX: (Picks up a sock that’s lying on the couch with the tip of his gun.) This one, for instance?

JOHN: Guy’s not much of a housekeeper, is he? (Takes stock of the room.) ‘Course, this isn’t much of a house.

MAX: What do you expect? Filthy old Reprobate …

(Another siren screams by, and JOHN spins to face the window, gun ready.)

MAX: Just an ambulance. Somebody must have found someone somewhere. Why are you so jumpy?

JOHN: You’re telling me you’re not?

MAX: Naw. I told you, when you’ve been doing this as long as I have –

JOHN: Yeah, right. OK, “vet,” what do we do now?

MAX: Well, I still say our old sinner’s flown the coop, but we’d better make sure. You wait here — I’ll check the rest of the building. Maybe he’s hiding with one of the neighbors. Besides, you know what the Padre says — turn over enough rocks, something’s bound to crawl out. Maybe we’ll get lucky, uncover a secret den of Reprobates plotting revolution.

JOHN: All 20 of whome you will singlehandedly capture?

MAX: Oh, not singlehandedly. You can help.

JOHN: Thanks a million.

MAX: (Something in JOHN’s tone finally penetrates.) Something really is bothering you, isn’t it?

JOHN: It’s nothing.

MAX: You’ve been acting strange for two weeks. That must have been some R&R.

JOHN: Look, I told you, it’s nothing.

MAX: Uh-huh.

JOHN: Shouldn’t you get started? You have a whole building to ransack.

MAX: Yeah, time’s a-wasting. (Turns to go, stops, looks back.) You sure you’re all right?

JOHN: Would you get out of here? (He sets his gun down by the bookshelf and starts rifling through papers, his back to MAX.) I’ll check out his stuff. Maybe I’ll find a lead.

MAX: Great. (Hesitates a minute longer, then turns abruptly.) Back in no time.

(MAX exits, leaving the door open.  The moment he’s gone, JOHN drops the papers and leans against the bookshelf for a moment, eyes closed. When he straightens, he looks at his hand. It trembles. He clenches it in a fist, takes a deep breath, and pulls a book at random from the shelf. Behind him, ANTHONY enters cautiously through the open door. He carries a laundry basket full of folded clothes. He freezes as he sees JOHN; then, very carefully, he sets down the basket, reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a gun. He crosses the room silently as JOHN puts down the first book he pulled from the shelf and takes another. He stares at it; it is very clearly a Bible. ANTHONY points the gun at the back of JOHN’s head and cocks the hammer. JOHN stiffens.)

ANTHONY: Move away from the rifle. (JOHN doesn’t budge, and ANTHONY jabs the gun into the back of his neck.) I said move away!

(JOHN slowly complies, backing up from the bookshelf, still clutching the Bible. When they’re next to the couch ANTHONY grabs JOHN’s shoulder and forces him to sit. Then ANTHONY backs up and levels the gun at JOHN’s head. He’s breathing hard. JOHN stares back at him. ANTHONY holds the gun outstretched so long his arm starts to tremble, and finally he lowers it.)

ANTHONY: Well, what are you staring at?

JOHN: I’m just — I’m thankful to be alive.

ANTHONY: So am I, considering the streets are crawling with Soldiers. I figured once I got home I’d be safe. I didn’t know I was a target.

JOHN: Only one of them, sir.

ANTHONY: Sir? Awfully polite for a storm-trooper … and am I supposed to feel better knowing half a dozen other “deadly criminals” are slated to share my fate? What was that to be, by the way — public confession? Conversion camp? Or has Caldwell moved on to some of the more exotic historical methods, like burning at the stake?

JOHN: That’s not –

ANTHONY: Shut up. (Begins to pace, gun held loosely, glaring at JOHN.) So now I’ve got you, what do I do with you? Lock you in the bathroom and feed you through the keyhole?

JOHN: If you’ll just give me the gun, sir, I promise, nobody will hurt you.

ANTHONY: Funny, that’s not what I hear.

JOHN: Dr. Marcel, please just –

ANTHONY: (Aims gun at JOHN again.) You talk too much, you know that? All you Divine Lighters do. Always have.

JOHN: I’m sorry.

ANTHONY: (Ignores him, begins to pace again, making threatening gestures with the gun as appropriate. The impression is of a man at the end of his rope, dangerous and unpredictable. JOHN watches him closely.) Talk, talk, talk — every day for years, on radio, on television, ’til the rest of us just lumped you in with the psychics and diet promoters and tuned you out. After all, what harm could talk do? (Shakes his head.) You’d think an English professor would have greater respect for the power of words — although Elias Caldwell isn’t exactly Shakespeare …

JOHN: (Tentatively.) Can I say something, sir?

ANTHONY: You don’t give up, do you?

JOHN: Does that mean yes?

ANTHONY: Yeah, I suppose it does — though if I had any brains, I wouldn’t sit here wasting time with talk. I’d shoot you and make a run for it. I heard that physicist — what’s his name, Peterson? — I heard he killed two Soldiers and made it out of the country.

JOHN: No, sir. He was shot at the border.

ANTHONY: Damn. (Gestures irritably with the gun.) All right, what did you want to say?

JOHN: I just thought you should know, sir, that there’s another Soldier upstairs. He’ll hear any shot –

ANTHONY: (Dashes to door, listens.) Dammit –

JOHN: And you said yourself the streets outside are full of our people. You’d never get away, Dr. Marcel. Why not give yourself up?

ANTHONY: (Turns back toward JOHN.) I will die before you get me in one of your damn conversion camps. Nobody tampers with my brain but me. (Raises the gun again.) And if I have to die –

JOHN: Nobody has to die! We can work this out, Dr. Marcel. I know we can –

ANTHONY: Oh, sure, we can work it out. You want me to turn myself in and get “converted.” I want you to renounce your faith and let me go. See any common ground? I sure as hell don’t!

JOHN: (Looking at gun.) Let you go, sir?

    (There’s a loud thump offstage. ANTHONY jerks the gun toward the ceiling, back toward JOHN.)

    ANTHONY: Your friend?

JOHN: Maybe. He’ll be back soon, sir.

ANTHONY: I’m sure he will. How long can it take to terrorize a dozen innocent people?

JOHN: He’s not –

ANTHONY: Of course he isn’t. He’s just dropping in on them for tea. Like you did. (Studies JOHN.) Why did you come for me? I’ve been lying low. No letters to the editor, no inflammatory leaflets, no throwing eggs during Caldwell’s speeches. So why now?

JOHN: Don’t you know, sir? (ANTHONY shakes his head.) You’ve been moved from the Prayer List to the Most Wanted List.

ANTHONY: Most Wanted? (Laughs disbelievingly.) Jesus, you’d think I was an axe murderer. I admit I’ve harbored homicidal thoughts toward certain students, but I’ve never …  (Suddenly dismayed.) But if I’m on the Most Wanted list — what happened to all the others that were on it before? There was the Freedom Party leader, and that rights activist from out west –

JOHN: We’ve had some recent successes, sir.

ANTHONY: You cleared the old list? All of those leaders — are they dead?

JOHN: Oh, no, sir. Well, not all of them. Most were captured peacefully. Only a few resisted …

ANTHONY: I’ll bet they did. So I got promoted from tired old university professor to master criminal in one fell swoop. And I was out doing my laundry. (Pauses.) Wait a minute. How did you find me?

JOHN: The computer had your address.

ANTHONY: How?

JOHN: I’m afraid I don’t follow –

ANTHONY: I didn’t exactly broadcast the news I was moving here. The landlord thinks my name is Michael Gabriel — a perfectly angelic Divine Lighter. So who gave my address to your damn computer?

(JOHN says nothing.)

ANTHONY:  It was Laurie, wasn’t? (Grabs JOHN’s arm.) It was, wasn’t it? My dear ex-wife turned me in, didn’t she? Didn’t she?

JOHN: I — I think that was the name in the file I read, yes, sir.

ANTHONY: Damn that woman. (Releases JOHN’s arm.) Why would she do something like that? She already has the house, the car and the kids.

JOHN: Your wife –

ANTHONY: Ex-wife.

JOHN: Your ex-wife is a fine woman, Dr. Marcel. A leader in the local Divine Light congregation.

ANTHONY: Don’t I know it. Why do you suppose I divorced her? And to think I married her for her mind. She wrote the most brilliant essay on neo-modernism … I actually gave her an A, and I don’t do that very often. How someone like that could fall for Caldwell … but I never would have thought she’d sink so low as to turn in an innocent man. Even me.

JOHN: Dr. Marcel, if you’re so innocent, why were you carrying a gun? No one on the Prayer List is allowed to own a weapon.

ANTHONY: No, we might try to resist. Can’t have that, can we? (Threatens with gun.) And if you’re not planning to hurt me, why are you carrying a gun?

JOHN: (Pause.) Self-defense.

ANTHONY: Yeah, you can do a lot of that with an automatic rifle, I hear. So what exactly have I been charged with to elevate me to my new Professorship of Crime?

JOHN: You’ve been identified by Elder Caldwell as one of the ringleaders of a conspiracy by the secular humanists to re-infiltrate the education system –

ANTHONY: (Laughs bitterly.) Oh, that’s rich! As if there still were an education system. And as if I ever had any influence over it.

JOHN: The schools are still open.

ANTHONY: Sure they are — teaching Divine Light pap.

JOHN: Many members of the Party are very highly educated, sir.

ANTHONY: Oh, I know. In fact, many of them attended my university. Especially on the day martial law was declared. They were particularly fond of books — they liked to watch them burn. They were competing to see who could carry the biggest stack to the flames. I don’t know about them, but I certainly found it educational …

JOHN: The Glory Day bookburnings were necessary, sir. The books were un-Christian –

ANTHONY: They burned classics — D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Shakespeare, for God’s sake –

JOHN: Exactly. For God’s sake.

ANTHONY: God’s sake, or the sake of Elias Caldwell? Of course, you probably think it’s the same thing …

JOHN: Elder Caldwell is a learned man with a great knowledge of Scripture –

ANTHONY: Elder Caldwell is a two-bit television evangelist who managed to stay out of trouble while all the other TV preachers’ empires were crumbling and then picked up where they left off — duping the public. He got so good at it he got elected. Now he doesn’t ever plan to leave.

JOHN: Elder Caldwell is a good, honest man who only wants what’s best for the country.

ANTHONY: Like martial law? Guns in the streets? Guns in my house?

JOHN: Martial law was necessary. Law and order were breaking down in the big cities. There were riots –

ANTHONY: Probably instigated by Caldwell.

JOHN: That’s a damned lie!

ANTHONY: Careful. Swearing’ll put you on the Prayer List.

JOHN: I called it a damned lie and that’s what it is — a lie straight from hell, and a lie that will damn you to hell yourself. To attribute the work of Satan to God is unforgivable –

ANTHONY: I said nothing about God. I was talking about Elias Caldwell.

JOHN: A man of God!

ANTHONY: Hmmm, I wonder if God would agree? (Looks up.) How about it, God? When are we going to hear your opinion?

JOHN: Blasphemy!

ANTHONY: (Ignores him.) People are shooting each other in your name again, God. I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I’d be just a little pissed off.

JOHN: The guns –

ANTHONY: Yes, yes, the guns are necessary. (Looks at his own.) Don’t I know it. But I don’t like having to own one. You Soldiers really get off on it, don’t you?

JOHN: I don’t like guns any more than you do, but –

ANTHONY: You don’t like guns? Then why’d you bring one into my apartment? As a curiousity?

JOHN: I was following orders!

ANTHONY: Oh, that’s original. Where have I heard that before?

JOHN: Look, I didn’t have a choice, all right? Every male 18 and older is being drafted into the Soldiers. I thought my marks would get me a desk job, but they’re desperate for footsoldiers. It wasn’t my idea!

ANTHONY: That almost sounded like an apology.

JOHN: (Stiffens.) I have nothing to apologize for. I’m doing the work of God.

ANTHONY: That was close. For a minute you were letting your humanity show. Dangerous, you know — humanity, humanism — very similar words.

JOHN: This is a waste of time. What are you going to do with me?

ANTHONY: Don’t you mean, “What are you going to do with me, sir?” You haven’t been nearly as polite the last few minutes. I liked it. Keep it up.

JOHN: I’m sorry. Sir.

ANTHONY: Tsk, tsk. I detect a certain lack of sincerity … to answer your question, I wish I knew. Maybe I’ll just wait until your friend comes back down and shoot you both. How does that sound?

JOHN: You won’t shoot me, or you would have already.

ANTHONY: Maybe I could be talked into it. Want to give it a try? (JOHN says nothing.) All right, so maybe I won’t shoot you. Maybe I’ll just tie you both up and wait until this sweep is over. When will that be, by the way? (Still no reply.) Taking the Fifth, hmm? Haven’t you heard, that was suspended along with the rest of the Constitution? (No reaction.) Well, at least you didn’t give me your name, rank and serial number.

JOHN: John Scovoranski. Private. Serial number –

ANTHONY: Stop it! It’ll be over by morning. I’ve just got to hang tight. Then I’ll head for the airport. I’ll use an assumed name — they can’t have a picture of me –

JOHN: There was one in your office.

ANTHONY: Damn, I forgot about that. But it’s an old one. I had a beard –

JOHN: The computer took that into account. (Reaches into his breast pocket.)

ANTHONY: Careful!

JOHN: It’s only a photo. Sir. (Takes out photo; hands it to ANTHONY.)

ANTHONY: It’s a lousy likeness.

JOHN: The guards at the airport don’t worry about an exact match, Dr. Marcel; anybody that looks anything at all like one of the Most Wanted, they’ll arrest first and verify later.

ANTHONY: There are other ways out of the country. The harbor –

JOHN: The docks are sealed off. Security’s tighter there than at the airport.

ANTHONY: Buses, trains –

JOHN: No different.

ANTHONY: Dammit, I’ll hitch-hike if I have to!

JOHN: Nobody picks up hitch-hikers any more, Dr. Marcel. And that still wouldn’t get you over the border. You might as well face it, sir — there’s no escape. But if you’ll just surrender quietly, nothing bad will happen to you. You’ll be treated very well. I’ve been to the conversion camps. I wouldn’t mind spending a few weeks at one myself.

ANTHONY: Oh, yes, your kind has come a long way. No more rubber hoses or sleep deprivation. Kinder, gentler brainwashing. A drug here, a little psychological manipulation there …

JOHN: Dr. Marcel, the people who undergo the conversion camp experience emerge at peace with themselves and with the recent changes in society. They lose their antisocial tendencies and become productive members of –

ANTHONY: And if they don’t?

JOHN: Pardon?

ANTHONY: What if they don’t “emerge at peace with themselves and the recent changes in society?” What if they keep their “antisocial tendencies?” What happens to the failures?

JOHN: There are no failures.

ANTHONY: There are always failures. I’m a teacher, remember? Or was. My failures failed to graduate. What happens to yours?

JOHN: I wouldn’t know. Sir.

ANTHONY: Maybe I can educate you. (Takes a file folder from a drawer in the bookshelf.) Some colleagues and I have undertaken a little private research since the university closed — just to keep in practice, you understand. (Opens folder, reads.) Dr. Peter Manchester, political scientist. Entered Hallelujah Conversion Camp April 23 of last year. No release recorded, but a man answering his description was found dead in a farmer’s field 75 miles away. He was presumed to be a vagrant and no investigation followed.

JOHN: Coincidence.

ANTHONY: Thomas G. Nguyen. Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Decision. Interred in Streets of Gold conversion Camp May 6. No release recorded; however, his car was found, burned out, just off a gravel road in the foothills. There was a body inside, but it couldn’t be identified — at least, so the police say.

JOHN: (Standing.) I won’t listen to this! You’re trying to tell me the decent Christian people who run the conversion camps are –

ANTHONY: Killing the ones they can’t brainwash? You bet I am.  Sit down! School’s not out yet. (JOHN complies.) You know, you’ve got this innocent routine down pat. I could have used you back when I sponsored the Drama Club.

JOHN: I’m not acting.

ANTHONY: Then you’re incredibly stupid! How can you wear that uniform, follow Caldwell’s orders, and never question any of the crap he dishes out? You know what he’s got you doing — breaking into the homes of innocent people, arresting them, carting them off to –

JOHN: Innocent? Do you know how many Soldiers have been killed this year by these “innocent people?”

ANTHONY: Yeah, well, people do funny things when paramilitary thugs drop by unannounced.

JOHN: So shoot me and escape! What are you waiting for? You’re not going to convince me to turn against my uniform and it’s obvious you’re not going to listen to me, either. Why don’t you do something instead of just talking? I mean, you think we talk too much –

ANTHONY: I’ve spent too many years teaching kids just your age. I can’t put a bullet in one now.

JOHN: (Stands up.) Well, then?

ANTHONY: (Gun aimed.) Unless you force me to! Because God help me, I will pull this trigger and hate myself the rest of my life rather than let you take me.

JOHN: Quite a dilemma, Dr. Marcel. You won’t shoot me, you obviously won’t let me go, and you’ve really got nowhere to run. Is this what you’d call a Catch-22?

ANTHONY: I don’t know. You burned that book.

JOHN: I didn’t burn any books.

ANTHONY: Are you saying you wouldn’t have?

JOHN: Only if ordered to.

ANTHONY: Oh, right, I forgot that. Orders make everything all right.

JOHN: I’m no Nazi!

ANTHONY: “A rose by any other name … ” How long do you suppose it will take Caldwell to figure out that it would be much easier to simply dispose of his enemies than go to all the trouble and expense of trying to re-educate them? Sort of a — let’s see, what would he call it — a “final solution?”

JOHN: Elder Caldwell is a man of God.

ANTHONY: So was the Ayatollah.

JOHN: A false God!

ANTHONY: Is yours any different? Someone doesn’t believe, he’s an infidel — he deserves prison, or death. Some God of love!

JOHN: I’ve said all I have to say. This conversation is useless.

ANTHONY: You can say that again.  (JOHN bows his head.) What are you doing?

JOHN: (Without looking up.) I’m praying for you.

ANTHONY: Stop it! (JOHN ignores him. ANTHONY hits him, hard.) I said stop it! I won’t have you involving me in your religious mumbo-jumbo!

JOHN: You can stop me from bowing my head, Dr. Marcel, but you can’t stop me from praying.

ANTHONY: Pray for yourself, then. You’re going to need it. (Motions with gun.) Get up. We’re not waiting for your friend. We’re leaving.

JOHN: (Stands.) Where are we going?

ANTHONY: You’re going to commandeer a vehicle and take me out of the city. Then I’m going to dump you somewhere far, far away. By the time you can walk back and report, I’ll be long gone.

JOHN: You can’t hide, Dr. Marcel. Someone will turn you in. The people support us.

ANTHONY: Not all of them. Remember what Lincoln said about fooling all of the people all of the time. Or have you burned all the books about Lincoln, too?

JOHN: Lincoln was a Christian.

ANTHONY: Yes, and I’d sure like to hear what he would have said about Caldwell. Come on, move –

(Someone rattles the door, then knocks. ANTHONY jerks the gun around toward the door. JOHN takes a half-step toward his rifle; ANTHONY swings back around to cover him.)

MAX: (Offstage.) John, why’s the door locked? Are you all right?

ANTHONY: (Rapidly, sotto voce.) Listen good. I’m taking your rifle into the bedroom. But I’ll be watching. You talk to him, get rid of him — or I’ll kill you both. And don’t think I can’t do it. I may not want to, but I don’t have much to lose, do I?

JOHN: (Stiffly.) I’ll do my best.

ANTHONY: You do that. Now answer him!

MAX: John, if you don’t answer, I’m coming in shooting –

JOHN: Just a minute!  (ANTHONY ducks into the bedroom. JOHN hesitates a moment, then goes to the door and opens it, revealing MAX. JOHN blocks the doorway so he can’t enter.) Find anything?

MAX: Sort of. An old coot on the top floor said he thought he saw Marcel — only he called him “Gabriel,” if you can believe that — heading down the street with a laundry basket two or three hours ago. I’m going to check out that laundromat on the corner. How are you doing? You were acting kind of strange before I left.

JOHN: Just — nerves. I’m fine.

MAX: Why was the door closed?

JOHN: I just — didn’t like having it open at my back. You know.

MAX: Come on, John, this guy was an English professor, for crying out loud. He’s not some wild-eyed Reprobate terrorist with an Uzzi.

JOHN: Tell that to Elijah Company.

MAX: Look, why don’t you come with me? We can requisition some burgers from that diner we passed …

JOHN: No!

MAX: O.K., fish and chips, then, whatever …

JOHN: Uh, no, I mean — I’m not finished here. There are some very interesting documents –

MAX: Really? Let me see –

JOHN: No, you go on, check out your lead. If this stuff pans out, they’re going to want Marcel even more. How would it look if we let him get away?

MAX: Ouch. Good point. But keep the door open! If you don’t like having it open at your back, then don’t turn your back on it. You never know, Marcel could show up here any time.

JOHN: Yeah, he could. Thanks.

MAX: Sure you’ll be all right?

JOHN: Will you get going? Marcel won’t be doing his laundry forever.

MAX: O.K., O.K., I’m gone! (Clatters away.)

(JOHN slumps against the doorframe and ANTHONY emerges from the bedroom.)

ANTHONY: Very good. Very smart. Definitely Drama Club material.

JOHN: He’ll be back.

ANTHONY: We’ll be gone. In fact, we’re going now.

JOHN: The Soldiers outside –

ANTHONY: When we leave, I’ll be your prisoner. Nobody will look twice.

JOHN: I won’t do it.

ANTHONY: (Raises rifle.) You will.

JOHN: I won’t. I have a duty. I won’t betray it. (Pleadingly.) Just give yourself up, Dr. Marcel. Let them take you to conversion camp. You’ll be much happier when you’re not trying to fight the Lord –

ANTHONY: “Saul, Saul, why do you kick against the pricks?”

JOHN: (Stops, surprised.) You know –

ANTHONY: Scripture? Damn right I do. But I’m not Saul, this isn’t the road to Damascus, and you most definitely are not a Blinding Light.

JOHN: But if you know the Bible, how can you continue to struggle against what it says?

ANTHONY: Funny, I don’t remember Elder Caldwell being mentioned in either testament, or even the Apocrypha. Although there was something in Revelation about an anti-Christ …

JOHN: How dare –

ANTHONY: Oh, spare me your moral outrage! And close that door! (JOHN complies sullenly.)  Sit down. (JOHN sits.) You won’t cooperate? Fine. We’ll use the tried-and-true approach. You’re my hostage. Max will serve as a go-between to take my demands to your superiors. I get free passage out of the country, or I kill you. Simple, eh?

JOHN: But you won’t kill me.

ANTHONY: They don’t know that. Nor do you.

JOHN: You said –

ANTHONY: I’m a Reprobate. Sometimes I lie.

JOHN: They won’t go for it.

ANTHONY: Probably not. But it’s the only chance I’ve got. Unless you change your mind.

JOHN: Why should I?

ANTHONY: Because underneath all that party line you’ve been spouting, you’re an intelligent young man. You even showed a few flashes of independent thinking, a few minutes ago. I don’t think you’re quite as committed to Caldwell’s cause as you’d like me to think — or as you’d like yourself to think.

JOHN: “Get thee behind me, Satan.”

ANTHONY: Not very original. And I’m not Satan.

JOHN: You’re a liar — you said so yourself — and he’s the Father of Lies.

ANTHONY: Considering the whoppers Caldwell has told, what does that make him?

JOHN: Elder Caldwell doesn’t lie.

    ANTHONY: No? Let me show you something. (He strides to the bookshelf, snatches down a handful of glossy photographs and tosses them on the coffee table in in front of JOHN.) Recognize these?

JOHN: No.

ANTHONY: Look at the landmarks, boy!

JOHN: It looks like City Hall.

ANTHONY: It is City Hall. Two weeks ago. Look closer.

JOHN: No.

ANTHONY: Look closer! (Grabs JOHN’s head and thrusts it down, toward the pictures.) Tell me what you see.

JOHN: People.

ANTHONY: And what are these people doing?

JOHN: Nothing. (ANTHONY jerks his head.) Lying there.

ANTHONY: What else?

JOHN: Bleeding.

ANTHONY: Yeah, people do that when they’ve been almost cut in half by a machine gun. Twenty-nine people dead. Seventy-seven wounded. A hundred and four carted off to high-security conversion camps. They were holding a peaceful demonstration when the Soldiers moved in. Special soldiers, wearing black uniforms and masks. Appropriate, for executioners. (Takes a newspaper off the bookshelf.) Now look at this.

JOHN: It’s just a newspaper.

ANTHONY: The date! The date!

JOHN: Two weeks ago.

ANTHONY: Two weeks ago. The day after the massacre at City Hall. Notice the lead story? Elder Caldwell’s laying- on-of-hands service at the new hospital. Thirty-six pages later, between the recipes and the classifieds, there’s a tiny little note about a brief disturbance at City Hall. “A handful of malcontents, quickly brought under control,” Caldwell says. “No harm done.” (Thrusts finger at photos.) No harm done?

JOHN: The demonstrators must have posed a threat.

ANTHONY: To a hundred armed soldiers and three armored personnel carriers? All they had were picket signs!

JOHN: The Soldiers wouldn’t have fired without good reason.

ANTHONY: Good reason? Yeah, they probably do think Caldwell’s orders are good enough reason to shoot innocent people. These were obviously specially picked troops. “The Hand of God” they called themselves. Of course, we “Reprobates” have another name for them — Gestapo.

JOHN: Elder Caldwell speaks with God’s authority. He wouldn’t have ordered the Soldiers to fire if it hadn’t been necessary — I know it!

ANTHONY: (Shakes his head.) You really believe …

JOHN: Yes, I believe! And so would you, if you’d just give yourself up, accept the Truth –

ANTHONY: I’m with Pilate. “What is truth?” You know what truth is for me? (Taps his head.) This. What I feel, what I see, what I hear, what I reason out for myself. You can’t just take truth out of some book –

JOHN: The Bible is not “some book,” it’s the Word of God!

ANTHONY: Can you prove that?

JOHN: I know it. You may have read the words in it, but you haven’t really read it, not with your heart. You can feel the truth of it –

ANTHONY: I read with my eyes and my brain, not my heart. And anyway, I don’t remember Jesus saying, “Go ye into all the world and shoot people!”, although it’s true that slaughtering other races was good theology for the Jews in the Old Testament …

JOHN: The Jews are the chosen people of God. They had to fight to survive.

ANTHONY: (Shakes photos at him.) And are these Soldiers the chosen people of God, too? Show me book, chapter and verse for this in your Bible!

(A pause. Marching feet in the street send ANTHONY scurrying to the window to look out. For a moment JOHN has an opportunity to try for his rifle — but though he looks at it, he doesn’t move. ANTHONY turns around.)

ANTHONY: Just another patrol. More kids like you. You’d think it was a high school marching band out practicing if it weren’t for the automatic rifles. (Beat.) What were you before you became a Soldier?

JOHN: Just a student.

ANTHONY: At my university?

JOHN: Yes. I even had you for a freshman class. You wouldn’t remember, there were hundreds of us.

ANTHONY: (Grimaces.) English 101.

JOHN: Yeah. “Survey of English Literature.”

ANTHONY: (Curious despite everything.) What did you think?

JOHN: What difference does it make?

ANTHONY: None. But I’d like to know. I guess you could call it morbid curiosity, considering that part of my life is dead and thoroughly buried, courtesy of the Divine Light Party. But if I knew I’d made an impression on a future fanatic like you, at least I’d know I did something right!

JOHN: I learned a lot — and enjoyed it, too, even though it all seemed useless for my major.

ANTHONY: Which was?

    JOHN: Biochemistry.

ANTHONY: You were going to be a scientist?

JOHN: That’s all I’ve wanted to be since I was 12.

ANTHONY: And now … ?

JOHN: The university is closed until all the secular humanists are rooted out. That could take years.    Now I’m a Soldier.

ANTHONY: A career man?

JOHN: Maybe.

ANTHONY: But not the career you were hoping for.

JOHN: Sometimes we’re called on to make sacrifices.

ANTHONY: (Glancing at photos.) Some more than others. So you wanted to be a scientist. What were your grades like?

JOHN: Mostly A’s.

ANTHONY: Even in my class?

JOHN: Yeah.

ANTHONY: Good for you. (Shakes head.) Look, don’t clam up on me again, but I really want to know — why’d a smart kid like you buy into this religious crap?

JOHN: I don’t suppose an atheist would understand –

ANTHONY: I’m not an atheist. I’m an agnostic. I can’t prove God doesn’t exist — but nobody has been able to prove to me he does. Especially not the Divine Light Party. They’re enough to drive even the most committed agnostic to atheism. But try me anyway. (Sits.) What made you a believer? Your family?

JOHN: No. Not really. I mean, I grew up going to church, but it was just something we did — it didn’t really mean anything to me. And when I was a teenager, I quit going at all.

ANTHONY: Didn’t your parents object?

JOHN: (Wryly.) Didn’t they! Dad came straight out and told me I was on the road to hell. I told him to lead the way. Then things got really ugly and I ended up getting kicked out of the house. I thought I was through with religion forever.

ANTHONY: Obviously there’s more.

JOHN: Yeah. I lived with a friend, got a part-time job, stayed in school, kept my grades up — avoided Dad but saw Mom and my little sister when I could. It wasn’t easy, not at 17, but I did it. I graduated top of my class, said good-bye to Mom and my sister, and good-bye and good riddance to the old home town. I was going to university. (Shrugs.) Didn’t have the money for the first semester, so I worked pumping gas, picking up any odd jobs I could. On the weekends, I was into whatever was going. Booze, drugs, sex — you name it. I was 18 and I was having a great time. I was also spending all my money, but somehow university didn’t seem important any more. Then one Saturday I answered an ad for someone to work for a day for a house painter. Only we weren’t painting a house, we were painting a church. I wandered inside for a glass of water, and … (Shakes his head.) It was a lot like our church back home. I looked around, and all these memories came flooding back. I remembered sitting beside my parents, both of them, all of us singing at the top of our lungs — Sunday School, Vacation Bible School — and all that Scripture, all that religious talk that I’d absorbed all my life, it suddenly made sense to me. It was dark in there, dark and cool, but I suddenly felt as if I’d been dropped into the desert at high noon, as if I’d been asleep and had suddenly waked up with a horrible hangover. I thought about the way I’d been living — thought about the things I’d done just the night before — thought about the way I’d hurt my family and my friends back home, thought about all the prayers that had been said for me — I knew about them, Mom had told me — and then I looked up at the plain wooden cross hanging on the wall above the pulpit — and I realized that all the things I’d done wrong had not only hurt me, and the people around me, they’d hurt God. They’d hurt God more than anything else could, because His only son had taken the punishment I deserved. (Shrugs.) That was it. I went home the next day, made up with my father, and was baptized that night. So, no, I didn’t become a Christian because of my family, or even Elder Cadwell — he was still just a name and a face on television to me then. I became a Christian because of Christ.

ANTHONY: Quite a speech, but isn’t your conclusion redundant?

JOHN: No. You’ve read the Book, you know the Story, right?

ANTHONY: Yeah. So?

JOHN: So, I never asked Him to die for me.

ANTHONY: (Frowns.) What?

JOHN: I told you you wouldn’t understand.

ANTHONY: Maybe you just didn’t explain it very well.

JOHN: What else is there to say? I never asked Him to die for me — but He died for me anyway. He’s God, creator of this incredible universe, I’m less to him than a single electron is to me — and yet he became human and suffered my punishment. He loved me before I was even born, and he still loved me when I was most unlovable and even when I didn’t love myself. In the face of that, how could I not be a Christian?

ANTHONY: You really believe that? If there were a God, or such a thing as a son of God — whatever that means — you believe he’d let someone nail him to a cross for the love of something as insignificant as a single human being?

JOHN: I do.

ANTHONY: I can’t. Humans won’t die for people who don’t deserve it, why should the God who supposedly created them in His own image? Too many contradictions. And this (holds up gun) and this (points at photos) are some of them. You tell me this wonderful story of your conversion — Paul would have been proud. You tell me how much God loves you. Then you tell me Elias Caldwell is a man of God and doing God’s will. (Holds up photos again.) Where is your God of love in this?

JOHN: It was God’s will. Elder Caldwell said so.

ANTHONY: Sure, let God take the — (Stops, stares at JOHN.) What did you say? (JOHN says nothing. ANTHONY grabs him by the collar, puts the gun against his neck.) What did you say?

JOHN: Elder Caldwell said — said it was God’s will.

ANTHONY: (Loosens hold, doesn’t release him.) “Elder Caldwell said — ” You did know about it. Caldwell told all the Soldiers, didn’t he? (Tightens grip again.) Didn’t he?

JOHN: No. (Pause.) Only the ones he picked.

ANTHONY: The ones he — My God! (Releases JOHN.) You’re one of them!    You’re one of the Hand of God!

JOHN: (Rapidly, like a confession.) They asked some of us, some of the most pious, they said, to volunteer for a secret assignment, a holy assignment specifically for Elder Caldwell. No one turned them down. We were all honored. Then they gave us those black uniforms and masks and told us we were the Hand of God, and if we succeeded in this assignment there would be others, but we must never tell anyone what we’d done because we were the Hand of God and we were answerable only to Elder Caldwell. And then Elder Caldwell came in and blessed us and prayed with us and he spoke to each one of us by name. I felt — uplifted. Ecstatic. I had been chosen by God, through Elder Caldwell, for this special, special task. And then they told us we were going to City Hall, that revolution was brewing and we had to protect the lives of innocent people threatened by a violent gang of Reprobates, and then we were surrounding the demonstration and the crowd was surging this way and that and calm as anything the sergeant said, “Open fire,” and — and … and we did. All of us. It seemed to go on forever, but then suddenly it was over and there were all these people on the ground and blood everywhere and then they loaded us back in our buses and took us away and Elder Caldwell said we had done God’s will and they told us not to talk about it to anyone … and I told Max I’d been on R&R and … and I haven’t been able to sleep since.  (ANTHONY says nothing, but the gun comes up    again, and this time it doesn’t tremble.) You are going to shoot me this time, aren’t you.

ANTHONY: (Gun still aimed.) I should. I really should. Damn it, boy, how could you do it? How could you pull the trigger?

JOHN: It’s what they trained us to do. When the sergeant says “open fire,” you open fire. And I was — high. High on the trust Elder Caldwell had put in me, high on the feeling of power, of being special, elite. It was like — like years ago, when I used to do drugs. It was a rush. The gun going off, the people falling, it was almost like an orgasm. But afterward … afterward …

ANTHONY: It was business as usual. You say you haven’t slept, but you’re still here. You’re still carrying a gun. You’re still threatening innocent people.

JOHN: I haven’t known what else to do. What can I do? I’ve always believed Elder Caldwell spoke for God. He said we were doing God’s will. But that (indicates photos) You’re right. That’s not God’s will. It can’t be. And I’ve known it ever since … ever since it happened. (Voice growing stronger.) And arresting you can’t be God’s will, either. There is no conspiracy. Elder Caldwell is just … (He has trouble saying this, but he carries on, his voice continuing to gain strength until he’s almost shouting.) He’s rounding up potential enemies. He’s consolidating power, like any other dictator. He’s using us, and he’s using God. But he won’t use me. Not any more! (He reaches up, rips the cross badge from his shoulder and flings it across the room. He stares after it a moment, then turns back to ANTHONY, speaking with quiet determination.) I’ll help you, Dr. Marcel. I’ll help you escape.

ANTHONY: Dramatic. But why should I believe a murderer?

JOHN: Because you have to. If you let me help you, you have a chance. If you try to use me as a hostage, you don’t. There are others in the Hand of God who’ve had no second thoughts about what we did, Dr. Marcel. They won’t hesitate to kill us both.

ANTHONY: (A long pause.) All right, then. But you’ll forgive me if I unload your rifle before I let you point it at me.

JOHN: I’d feel a lot better if you would.

ANTHONY: Curiouser and curiouser. (Quickly takes out the ammo clip.) March me into the street, get us a car, get us out of the city, and I’ll take my chances in the countryside. I hear there’s a kind of Underground Railroad …

JOHN: There is. We’ve had reports.

ANTHONY: (Still holding the rifle.) You could come with me, you know.

JOHN: No. I have to stay here, tell people what I know — for as long as I can. It’s the only way … the only way I can make amends.

ANTHONY: The Party won’t let you. They sure as hell won’t let you talk about the City Hall massacre. They’ll lock you up in a psycho ward or put you on the Most Wanted List yourself the first time you open your mouth.

JOHN: I have to try. I know God can forgive me. But this is the only way I can forgive myself.

ANTHONY: You still believe? After all this?

JOHN: I told you, I became a Christian because of Christ. I never asked Him to die for me, but He did. He died for all sinners. (Softer.) After “all this,” I need Him more than ever.

ANTHONY: I envy you your faith. But I can’t share it. (Hands him the rifle.) Let’s go. (Rifle fire rattles close by, and a woman screams, the sound ending abruptly. ANTHONY whirls toward the door, gun still in his hand.) Christ, what was –

JOHN: Max –

MAX: (Offstage, coming closer.) I had to shoot her, I had to, she swore at me, she reached for, for something, I thought it was a gun it was only a book but I thought it was a gun, I –

(MAX bursts in. ANTHONY’s gun snaps up.)

MAX: Hell!

(MAX’s rifle swings up. JOHN drops his empty rifle, pushes ANTHONY out of the line of fire.)

JOHN: Max, no –

(MAX fires. JOHN falls to the floor, fatally wounded. MAX’s rifle drops from his hands and he backs away in horror.)

MAX: Jesus! Sweet Jesus! Christ — (Turns and runs out.)

(ANTHONY throws away his gun and drops to his knees beside JOHN.)

ANTHONY: Why? Why’d you do that? Why? (Fists clenched, he looks toward heaven.) I never asked him to die for me!

(The room lights fade, leaving ANTHONY and JOHN silhouetted in the light shining from the hallway. A searchlight crosses the window. Running footsteps sound in the street, coming closer, and … )

CURTAIN

Copyright 1987 by Edward Willett