Bring out your dead: My radio play

(or Requiem for the Hornblooms)
A Radio Play in Three Acts
Jincy Willett
Fred & Ethel (couple in their sixties or seventies)
Buck & Penny,
Randy & Alice (young academics)

Act One

(sounds of cutlery on china, people eating)

Ethel: Pork balls?
Buck: Oh, I couldn’t.
Ethel: Potato puffs?
Randy, Alice: Really, no.
Ethel: Who wants more pork balls? Speak up, kids. Lets don’t be shy.
Buck, Penny: Oh, no, honestly, I’m full, etc.
Fred: Ethel goes hog wild for company.
Ethel: Oh, Fred.
Alice: What do you call this casserole, Mrs. Mertz?
Randy: (urgent whisper) Murgatroyd!
Ethel: (laughing) Everybody makes that mistake! Don’t they, honey? But Alice, you mustn’t be so formal.
Fred: Ain’t neighborly.
Ethel: Fred and me are experts on making new friends in a hurry, and you don’t do that by standing on ceremony. You don’t do that by sticking to Mrs. This and Mr. That.
Fred: Politeness kills.
Alice: Oh, of course you’re right. Ethel.
Ethel: Vegetable rummage!
Alice: I beg your pardon?
Ethel: The name of my casserole. I call it Vegetable Rummage. Men love it.
Randy: So. You two move around a lot, I take it.
Fred: Yes, Randy. We’ve lived just about everywhere in the contiguous forty-eight.
Ethel: Except the Northwest.
Fred: Made our homes in twenty-seven states.
Ethel: And Kingston, Ontario!
Randy: What do you do, Fred?
Fred: Strictly U-Haul. Professional movers are crooks. Plus they smash hell out of your knickknacks.
Randy: Sorry. I meant, what do you do for a living?
Fred: I’m retired, Randy.
(long pause)
Penny: Well! Do you think you’ll maybe stay here a while? Put down roots, as they say?
Ethel: Its a lovely area. So nice and quiet, just the way we like it. And weve never lived among university people before. I expect we’ll get a lot of culture off you kids.
Fred: No. What about those two in Biloxi? Ernie and Corinne Something. Horn. Horner.
Ethel: Oh, he just taught high school. He wasn’t a real professor.
Fred: Hornington? What the hell was it? Hornberry?
Ethel: It’ll come to me. They were sweet though. Redheads.
Fred: Fine neighbors.
Ethel: Lots of fun.
Fred: Hell, yes. We had fun with those two. Hornbloom? Shoot, that’s gonna drive me nuts.
Ethel: Well, while you’re doing that, you can help me clear the table. Penny, Alice, you just stay right where you are. Fred’ll help me in the kitchen. You kids just pass the bottle around and digest your meal.
(sounds of clearing up)
Buck: Sure was a fine meal, Ethel.
Others: (concurring sounds)
Ethel: We’ll be back in two shakes.
(sound of receding footsteps)
Fred: (from a distance) Hornbottle.
Ethel: (from a distance) Hornbostel!
Fred: (from a distance) Hornbostel!
(sound of closing door)
Buck: (lowered voice) We’re in hell. Get it? We’re all dead, only we don’t know it yet, and we’ve gone to hell.
Penny: Buck, they’ll hear you.
Buck: Penny, humor me. Just take me through it one more time. I spend four hours grading papers, and two more in the company of no less than three deans, if you know what I mean, on top of which a little freshman girl rains all over my office, and I come home with a migraine and a simple wish for oblivion, and here I am in hell. And I honestly don’t see what I did to deserve it.
Penny: I told you. Alice and I were having coffee, at Alice’s, and spying on the U-Haul out the pantry window, and then the bell rang, and she got us both at once.
Alice: There she was, big as life, so to speak, with two pans of Rice Krispie bars.
Penny: Sort of a Welcome Wagon, only in reverse, she said.
Alice: Me and Fred always make the first move, she said.
Penny: And then she insisted we all come for dinner.
Randy: So what? Why didn’t you get out of it?
Penny: How? She wouldn’t take no for an answer. Literally. (pause) Well, it’s not like we didn’t try. Both of us. What are you supposed to say when somebody won’t take no for an answer?
Buck: No.
Penny: Anyway, they’re harmless enough.
Randy: Pork balls. My god.
Buck: Sounds like a disease.
Randy: Not to mention old Fred, the World’s Most Boring Human.
Alice: I don’t think they’re boring exactly. I don’t know, there’s something wrong. Something a little bit off. Don’t you?
(sound of door opening)
Ethel: (from a distance) You kids make room now for my special dessert!
Others: Really, wish I could, no kidding, etc.
Ethel: (from a distance) Nonsense! I won’t take no for an answer.
Fred: (from a greater distance) Tell em about after dinner, sweetheart.
Ethel: (from a distance) Weve got a little something planned for after dessert. Something different. Something fun.
Buck: Fabulous!
(sound of door closing)
Ten thousand slides of their vacation paradise in—
Randy: No, no! Ten thousand slides of ten thousand homes. This is our backyard in Topeka.
Buck: And twenty thousand fun couples. This is Donny and Marie Cornplant from Sioux Falls. They were a fun couple, weren’t they, Fred? And cultured as all get-out!
Penny: And this here’s Maxine Hornbostel. You can’t see her face, but thats definitely her right tit
Alice: Look, don’t you all think its a little weird? Really? I mean, why invite company over for dinner before you’ve even fixed a place to sleep? Isn’t that weird?
Penny: Weird and boring.
(sound of door opening)
Alice: Shhhhh!
(sound of approaching footsteps)
Ethel: Here we are, gang! Feast your eyes!
Fred: Its Ethel’s Special Company Dessert!
Ethel: I call it Wacky Cake.
Others: Oh, wow, it’s really something, hey, wowee, etc.
Randy: Hey.
(music up and over)

Act Two
(sound of people going downstairs)
Ethel: Would one of you kids hit the light switch on your way down? It’s on the right?
(sound of a click)
There! A little light on the subject!
Fred: End of the grand tour, children!
Penny: You’ve got a lovely house. Thanks for showing it to us.
Alice: Yes, it’s so spacious and uncluttered. (under her breath) And unfurnished. Did you notice, they didn’t even realize they had a bathroom on the first floor until Buck pointed it out?
Randy: (whisper) And those huge crates stacked in the upstairs hall. What’ve they got in there?
Alice: (whisper) Whatever it is, it’s got that musty old Goodwill smell.
Ethel: Did you say something, Alice?
Alice: I was just commenting on your basement. It doesn’t have that musty old basement smell.
Ethel: (from a distance away) Come in here, everybody.
(footsteps, click of a light switch)
Here it is, our pride and joy. The Game Room.
Others: Ahhh! Nice! Really roomy! Paneling! Etc.
Buck: When you get some furniture in here, it’ll be quite comfortable.
Fred: Aww, we dont need furniture.
Ethel: Sit down, everybody! The floor’s clean!
Alice: (whisper) No, its not.
Ethel: Time for our little surprise.
Randy: Gee, we thought the tour was the surprise, Ethel.
Buck: (whisper) Gee, that was pretty lame.
Ethel: Fred, drag the steamer trunk over here.
(sound of trunk being dragged)
Buck: Ill give you a hand. Wow, what have you got in here, cement blocks?
(dragging sound stops)
Fred: Ethel and I have a little confession to make.
Buck: Anything to do with that dead body in here?
Ethel: What?
Buck: The Torso in the Trunk.
Ethel: I don’t know what he’s talking about.
Fred: He’s making a joke, sweetheart.
Penny: He’s just had a little too much of your splendid Chablis, Ethel.
Buck: Pass the bottle, Alice.
Ethel: Good idea. Pass the bottle all around. (pause) You see, Fred and I just love to play games.
Fred: We can’t get enough.
Ethel: Were Game-a-holics.
Buck: What are we supposed to do? Guess what’s in the trunk?
Ethel: No, no. What’s in the trunk is the actual games themselves.
Fred: And props.
Ethel: You see, in all our travels, weve learned that the very best way to meet new people–
Fred: Break the ice–
Ethel: Is right here in this very trunk!
Randy: Well, the thing is, we’re really not too big on structured–
Fred: Your board games, your card games, your games of chance–
Ethel: Bingo, Lotto, Mah-jong–
Fred: Bridge, poker, euchre, whist–
Ethel: Hearts, canasta, Bolivia, keno–
Fred: Charades, Twenty Questions–
Ethel: Ive Got a Secret, Name That Tune–
Fred: Mumblety-peg, dominoes, Chinese checkers–
Ethel: Craps, monte, fantan, crackaloo–
Fred: Pinochle, quadrille, bezique–
Ethel: You name it, we play it.
Alice: Yes, but–
Ethel: Open up the trunk, Fred.
(sound of trunk opening)
Gather round, and take a gander at that.
Buck: Good grief.
Randy: That is impressive, Mrs.–Ethel.
Alice: Look at all these games.
(sound of boxes being shuffled)
Some of these must be antiques.
Ethel: Just like Fred and me!
Fred: Like she says, were game-a-holics, from way back.
Buck: Must be a support group for that.
Penny: (whisper) Buck!
Alice: Look, the original Parcheesi. An old Monopoly. Clue. Mr. Ree. Tiddlywinks! Authors. Here’s a set of rubber quoits. They’re so old they’re rusty.
Penny: Authors? Isn’t that for kids?
Randy: Rubber doesn’t rust, Alice.
Fred: Sure. Kid stuff. We play it with little kids.
Buck: (too loud) How about Old Maid? Now there’s a heart-stopping–
Penny: I’m sorry, Ethel, Fred, but Buck here seems to have reached the limits of his–
Randy: Yeah. We’re all pretty beat.
(sounds of people getting to their feet)
Alice: It’s a wonderful collection, and some other time–
Ethel: No, no, no! You mustn’t go!
Fred: Now, sweetheart, you heard the kids. They’re tired.
Ethel: But, the game! We’ve got to play. We always have such a good time. It’s so much fun.
Fred: Honey, honey, don’t push it. She gets so disappointed. She gets her heart set on things. Some other time, right, kids?
Ethel: But it’s so much fun.
Fred: Come on. I’ll see you all to the door.
Buck: Help me up, Penny, my leg died.
Penny: Wait. Look. We can play a quick game of something.
Buck: (sighs, bitterly)
Ethel: You don’t really want to.
Penny: Sure we do.
Alice: Sure we do.
Randy: But it’s got to go fast. I’ve got a lecture at 9 AM.
Ethel: (clapping her hands) Wonderful!
Fred: Okay. What’ll it be?
Randy: You choose. You’re the experts.
Ethel: No, you choose. It’s more fun that way.
Buck: (sarcastic) Penny, darlin’, why don’t you choose?
Penny: (whispers) I’m sorry, Buck.
Alice: I know! Trivial Pursuit!
Randy: (whispers) Are you nuts? That takes hours!
Alice: (whispers) Trust me. They haven’t actually got Trivial Pursuit. I looked.
Randy: (whispers) Oh. Oh, I see! (out loud) Yeah, Trivial Pursuit! It’s the only game we ever play.
Buck: (whispers) Are you insane?
Randy: (whispers) Alice looked. They don’t have it.
Buck: (out loud) We just love Trivial Pursuit!
Penny: (whispers) Are you crazy?
Buck: Trivial Pursuit! Hell of a game, Trivial Pursuit. I could play Trivial Pursuit all night, and have, on numerous occasions! Every chance I get! Too bad you haven’t got it.
Ethel: Darn! We don’t, do we, Fred?
Fred: ‘Fraid not, honey.
Buck: Awww. What a shame.
Ethel: But wait!
(sound of rummaging)
Weve got some sample cards in here somewhere. Got ’em in the mail. Some promotional deal. Game of the Month Club. Here they are!
Alice: But that’s just a handful. And where’s the board?
Ethel: Oh, we don’t need a board.
Buck: Wrong, wrong, wrong. You have to have a board. It’s no good without a board.
Ethel: We can improvise.
Randy: How?
Buck: Wrong, wrong, wrong–
Fred: Ethel’s fast on her feet. She’ll figure something out.
Ethel: We’ll play teams. There’s six cards, so each team gets two.
Buck: Wrong! Six cards? For one thing, you must already know the answers, so what’s the point of–
Ethel: We never looked at these. Did we, Fred? See, I just opened the package.
Buck: (sighs) Are we out of Ripple?
Ethel: Then we go around clockwise. The couple on your left picks a category, you read the question, and if they answer incorrectly, they pay a penalty.
Randy: You mean, money?
Penny: What if they get the answer right?
Ethel: Well, then, if they answer right, the first couple pays a penalty.
Fred: That’ll work.
Randy: Nickel-dime?
Ethel: No, not money. A penalty.
Alice: Why not have rewards? Why not reward the winning couple?
Fred: Nope. Gotta be a penalty.
Ethel: Rewards aren’t as much fun.
Randy: But whats a penalty?
Buck: Oh. Oh, no. She’s talking about stunts. Some kind of humiliating stunt.
Penny: Like reciting the Gettysburg Address?
Buck: Like reciting the Gettysburg Address with your head up your butt.
Randy: You know, I think money is really a better–
Ethel: Too impersonal. Penalties are lots more fun.
Fred: Folks let their hair down.
Buck: And make screaming idiots out of themselves.
Fred: (pause) It never fails. Does it, sweetheart?
Ethel: Right, Fred.
Fred: You young people. You’re so uptight.
Ethel: You never want to loosen up.
Fred: At first.
Ethel: At first. But believe it or not, after awhile you’d forget yourselves. Come right on down to our level.
Alice: Ethel, its not a matter of different levels
Fred: Sure it is. You think were a couple of old fools.
Penny: No, no, thats not–
Ethel: But you’ll change your minds. I guarantee. Wait and see.
Penny: Well–
Ethel: Give us a chance.
Alice: You know, I’m afraid we’ve been rude. Of course we don’t think you’re fools.
Ethel: So humor us.
Fred: You might learn something.
Randy: (pause) Deal the cards, Fred.
(sound of cards being dealt)
Penny: After all, it’s only two rounds.
Ethel: Twelve. Twelve rounds.
Penny: Twelve rounds?
Ethel: Two cards, six categories per card.
Alice: I still don’t know what a penalty is.
Randy: How will we know who wins?
Fred: It’ll be obvious.
Buck: Let’s just get this over with.
Ethel: Do you and Penny want to be first?
Buck: Yeah.
Ethel: Pick a category.
Buck: Science and Nature.
Fred: Say, that’s your field, isnt it? Biology?
Buck: Just give me the question.
Penny: Lighten up, Buck.
Ethel: Which planet in our solar system is farthest from–
Buck: Pluto.
Ethel: Right! So, we have to pay a penalty. Okay, Buck, do your worst.
Buck: Recite The Iliad.
Ethel: (sharp intake of breath) Oh, my! (laughs) My word.
Fred: He’s a sharpie, my dear.
Randy: Buck, you’re being kind of a jerk.
Penny: Cut it out, Buck, I mean it.
Ethel: Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another.
How far do you want me to go, Buck?
Penny, Alice, Randy:
(silence; collective gasp) Wow! Bravo! Bravo, Ethel! All right!
Fred: Well done, my pet.
Alice: Ethel, that was amazing! Well, I don’t mean amazing…
Buck: (deeply suspicious) Yes, amazing. It was, indeed, amazing.
Randy: Our turn.
Buck: What category.
Randy: Food.
Buck: Home and Garden. Whats the main the main vegetable in vichyssoise? Wait, isn’t that rummage?
Alice: Potatoes. Okay, Buck. Get ready for your penalty.
Buck: Why me? Why not Penny?
Randy: We want you to grasp your right foot firmly with both hands, and insert it in your mouth.
Buck: Ha, ha.
Alice: Or sing Layla.
Buck: I don’t think so, Alice.
Randy: Hey, foul! You can’t refuse a penalty.
Penny: It’s no use, Randy. You’d better give the penalty to me.
Buck: We are not amused.
Penny: And when we are not amused, we are a great big baby.
Alice: Well, in that case, your penalty is, you have to take him home with you tonight.
Penny: God, No! Not that!
Buck: Keep it up, Penny.
Penny: What do you mean, keep it up?
Buck: Just do that. Keep it up.
Ethel: Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we ought to just quit.
Alice: No.
Penny: No. We want to play, don’t we, guys?
Randy: Pick your category, Fred and Ethel.
Fred: How about Entertainment. Eh, sweetheart?
Ethel: Entertainment Tonight!
Randy: Where–uh-oh, this isnt fair–Where did Betty meet the leader of the pack?
Alice: They’ll never get that. Pick another one–
Ethel: Why–at the candy store. He stopped and asked my name…
Fred: You get the picture?
Ethel: Yes, we see.
Fred: That, ladies and germs, is when she fell for the Leader of the Pack.
Penny, Alice, Randy:
Incredible! I dont believe it! How do they do it? Etc.
Ethel: I suppose it comes of making so many young friends.
Fred: We thrive on young people.
Ethel: I think it’s time for the candles. Don’t you, Fred?
Fred: Here’s an easy penalty stunt, kids. Alice, there’s candles and candle-holders right here in the trunk. You light them, and Randy, you go over there and turn out the lights.
(sounds of rummaging)
Alice: Here they are.
(sounds of receding footsteps)
Randy: (from a distance) Ready?
(sound of match being struck)
Alice: Okay.
(click of a light switch)
All: Ooooo.
(sound of approaching footsteps)
Randy: Pass the bottle, Penny.
Penny: This is nice.
Randy: I’d like to propose a toast.
Penny: Yes, a toast. To Fred and Ethel!
Randy: To Fred and Ethel!
Alice: To Fred and Ethel!
(Buck-sized pause)
Ethel: I think we meet with their approval now.
Fred: I guess so.
Ethel: Isn’t that nice.
Buck: Just who are you people?
Ethel: Beg pardon, dear?
Buck: Skip it.
Fred: What category do you want, son? Its your turn.
Buck: Up to you, Fred, old boy. Fred Murgatroyd, of Anytown, USA.
Ethel: Go on. Pick one. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.
Buck: You really are a game-player, arent you, Ethel?
Penny: We’ll take Geography. (pause) But first I just want to say something. I just want to apologize to everyone in this room, and especially to you, Ethel, and to you, Fred–
Buck: Don’t you apologize for me, damn it–
Penny: For the disagreeable and uncalled-for behavior of my husband–
Buck: Shut up!
Penny: Who always has to have his own way, no matter what–
Buck: You little ass-kisser!
Penny: You son of a bitch!
Ethel: Whats the capital of Guam?
Buck: Guamville, you old bat!
Penny: (begins to sob; sobs throughout argument)
Buck: Guam City! Who cares? Guamopolis!
Ethel: Wrong.
Alice: (whispers) Randy, do something.
Randy: You’re way out of line, buddy.
Ethel: It’s Agana.
Alice: Bedtime, everybody. Game’s over.
Fred: Au contraire.
Buck: Look at yourselves! Sitting in the dark on a grubby linoleum floor playing dumb parlor games with a couple of–middle-class Martians!
Fred: I don’t suppose you’d be willing to put this lampshade on your head, would you, son?
Buck: Who the hell are you people?
Ethel: (singsong) Well, somebody’s got to pay the piper.
Alice: I’m sorry, Ethel, we have to quit.
Ethel: (singsong) I guess it’s up to Penny.
Penny: (still sobbing) I want to go home.
Fred: Scoot over here next to me, honey.
(sounds of scooting)
Penny: (sniffling) I’m so embarrassed.
Fred: There. Just tilt your head up in the light, toward me.
Ethel: Penalty time!
Fred: Penalty time!
Penny: (sniff)
(sound of a vicious slap)
Penny: Oh!
(five second silence)
Buck: You just slapped my wife in the face.
Alice: My god.
Penny: You hit me.
Fred: Ha! That’s twenty you owe me, my pet.
Ethel: Nuts.
Fred: You should know better than to bet against Murgatroyd the Magnificent.
Buck: You just slapped my wife in the face!
Fred: He did it again! As I say, its a funny thing. You hit an uneducated man–a plumber, a trucker, a local yokel–and he hits you right back. Bam!
Randy: I don’t believe this.
Fred: You hit a fellow with a PhD, and he’ll give you a news bulletin.
Buck: You just slapped my wife in the face!
Alice: Move. Now. Let’s get out of here. Right now.
Ethel: Fred!
Fred: Hold it right there, kids. That’s right. Don’t move a muscle.
Randy: He’s got a gun!
Alice: Oh, my god!
Penny: You’re pointing a gun at us!
Fred: See? They did it again!
Ethel: Don’t rub it in.
Randy: See here. Is this some kind of an act?
Ethel: Lord, you people are trite.
Alice: What are you going to do with us?
Ethel: Why, we’re going to have fun with you, Sweetness. Or as much fun as can be had, with a lot of whining, gutless snobs.
Fred: You kids are a big disappointment to her.
Buck: They’re going to have fun with us. Like they did with the Hornblooms.
Ethel: Hornbostels. No, you aren’t a patch on the Hornbostels. They were troupers.
Fred: They were scrappers. That Ernie all but rose from the dead to bust two of my ribs.
Ethel: Ha! If you could have seen your face!
Fred: Had him in a fireman’s carry, remember, and I was concentrating on getting him up those damn circular stairs–
Alice: Why were you carrying him upstairs?
Fred: Do you really want to know, child?
Penny: No! No! I don’t want to know!
Alice: The crates. Oh my god. They put them in the crates.
Penny: I’m not listening!
Alice: How many people have you–killed?
Randy: Hush, Alice. Nobody’s been killed. Nobody said anything about killing anybody.
Ethel: Fifty-two.
Penny: No! It’s not happening!
Fred: This one’s going to lose it, like that Harrington woman in Ishpeming. She’ll be catatonic in a minute.
Ethel: She’ll snap out of it.
Fred: How much?
Ethel: Fifty bucks.
Fred: You’re on.
Buck: They’re putting us on. Penny. Honey, come here, calm down, it’s all right. There weren’t any fifty-two bodies in those crates. For one thing, they wouldn’t fit.
Fred: We don’t keep the bodies in the crates, Professor. Why the hell would we want to do that? We use the crates to transport them out of town, so we can dispose of them in the countryside.
Buck: You would have been caught by now. Hundreds of people must have seen you. Fifty people couldn’t just disappear without someone raising an alarm.
Randy: Right! The FBI would have a file on you. Your pictures would be in every post office in the country. You’d be featured in tons of websites.
Fred: I suppose we are.
Ethel: But it doesn’t do any good.
Fred: Show them, Ethel.
Ethel: Should I? It’s a little early.
Fred: Go on. Now, pay close attention, children. Do the eyes, Ethel.
Buck: Contacts. Big deal. Her eyes are blue.
Fred: Do the teeth, Ethel.
Buck: So what? It’s a disgusting effect, Ill grant you, but hardly–
Fred: Do the nose, Ethel.
All: (exclamations of horror, screams, retching sounds)
Buck: Holy God, what is that?
Ethel: Little Olsen girl bit it off in Rapid City.
All: (more horrified sounds)
Fred: Now, I ask you, children. How many people could look at that long enough to give anyone a decent description?
Buck: Put it back on, for God’s sake.
Ethel: Aren’t I pretty, Buck?
Buck: How can you stand to look at her?
Fred: I wouldn’t expect you to understand this, but ours is a marriage of true minds.
Ethel: Now, you show them, Fred. Show them your wonderful disguise.
Fred: All righty.
Penny: (totally hysterical) No! No! Don’t! I can’t stand it! Don’t let him, Buck!
Fred: Don’t let me what?
Penny: Don’t do it! Please, please, please, for God’s sake, don’t take off your mask!
Fred: (pause) You trying to be funny?
Ethel: You watch your step, Miss. It’s all right, Fred. She’s just ignorant.
Fred: Well, all right. What I am wearing–is this wig, see? Which I remove, like so, and simply comb my hair over–like so–and then I simply don these glasses–like so–and–voila!
(small pause)
Alice: You don’t look any different.
Fred: The hell I don’t! I’m unrecognizable.
Randy: No, you’re not. Your hair’s a little different, is all.
Fred: I’m completely incognito!
Randy: As a human being, maybe.
Ethel: Don’t let them get to you, darling.
Fred: I never heard of such ignorance.
Buck: Are you people crazy?
Fred: Nope. Just evil.
(sound of Alice blowing out two candles)
Alice: Get the other candle, Buck!
Buck: (blows out third candle)
Ethel: (giggling) The little dickens!
Alice: Roll, everybody!
Buck: Disperse!
(sounds of scuffling, running around)
Penny: Buck! Buck! Where are you?
Buck: Shut up, Penny. You’ll give away your position!
Penny: It’s dark! I can’t see! I can’t stand the dark!
(sound of gunfire)
Penny: (one long scream, ending in silence)
Buck: Penny! Penny!
Ethel: Maybe she doesn’t want to give away her position, dear.
Fred: Maybe she can’t.
Ethel: Tee hee.
Randy: (whispers) Find the stairs.
Alice: (whispers) I can’t even find the doorway. Is that you?
Buck: Penny! Answer me!
Ethel: (groans softly)
Buck: Penny!
Ethel: (groans again)
Buck: (whispers) Are you hurt bad? Say something.
(sound of match being struck)
Ethel: Hi, Buck!
Buck: (screams)
Ethel: Come back here, you little scamp!
Buck: (whispers) Randy, find Penny! She must be down. She must be hurt bad.
(sound of match being struck)
Fred: Would you like a hand?
Buck: Bastard!
(sound of running, bumping into things)
Alice: Ow!
(sound of Alice falling down)
I think–I think I just found Penny.
Buck: Penny!
Alice: It feels bad, Buck. Oh. (sobs quietly) Its all sticky.
Ethel: Now pull yourself together, girl.
Fred: Don’t give up. Our money’s on you. You’ve got spunk.
Alice: What’s the use?
Randy: Yeah. You’re going to kill us all anyway.
Ethel: Probably.
Fred: But not necessarily.
Ethel: Wouldnt be a game, otherwise.
Buck: (husky with tears) Has anyone ever gotten away from you two–freaks?
Fred: As a matter of fact, no.
Ethel: Tee hee.
Fred: But there’s always a first time.
Randy: (whispers) I’ve found the doorway. The stairs ought to be over here to my left. Im going up.
Alice: (whispers) Be careful.
Randy: (whispers) If I make it to a phone, Ill call the police.
(sound of light footsteps on stairs–12 or 13 steps)
Ethel: Did you fix the stairway, Fred?
Fred: Uh-huh.
Randy: Oh, no!
(sound of body falling downstairs, followed by silence)
Alice: Randy!
Buck: Randy!
Alice: Randy, say something!
Ethel: Maybe he doesn’t want to give away his position.
Fred: You kill me.
Alice: You murderers! You’ve killed him! Oh, god, he’s dead!
Buck: Shhhh. Alice, we don’t know that. They may both be alive. Just hurt.
Alice: You think so? Maybe?
Buck: Yes. And nothing–irrevocable–has happened
Alice: yes
Buck: And we can all just forget this whole business
Alice: (sobbing) Oh, yes
Buck: No hard feelings. No police
Fred: I think they’re trying to tell us something, sweetheart.
Buck: You murdering coward! I’ll see you in hell!
(sounds of running, scuffling, thudding, going on for some time)
Ethel: (breathless) Time out!
(Note: Everybody’s out of breath for a while.)
I gotta get my breath.
Fred: Me, too. (laughing) We’re getting a little old for this.
Buck: What do you mean, time out? You can’t just say time out.
Fred: You can when you’re holding a gun.
(sound of stealthy footsteps)
Ethel: You don’t have to keep tiptoeing around, Buck. We never shoot during time out.
Buck: You people are insane.
Fred: You keep saying that.
Ethel: They always say that.
Fred: They cling, like limpets, to the pitiful delusion that virtue corners the market on rationality.
Ethel: Its a sickness of the age, Fred.
Alice: Monsters! Hideous, horrible, monsters!
Ethel: That’s better.
Fred: Though a touch theatrical.
Alice: Devils!
Ethel: Well…metaphorically, I suppose.
Alice: You’re not human.
Ethel: Look, there’s no call to get insulting.
Fred: Accept it, little one. We’re just very, very bad people.
Ethel: Rotten.
Fred: Vicious.
Ethel: Eeee-vil.
Alice: Why?
Buck: Yes. Why?
Fred: That’ a silly question. It’s like asking someone why he likes lamb.
Buck: It’s nothing at all like lamb.
Alice: Don’t argue with them, Buck. Don’t dignify this.
Buck: We’re going to die, Alice, and I want to know why. I want to make some sense out of the thing that’s going to kill me.
Fred: No, you want to lull us into inattention with a lot of small talk, and then rush us when we least expect it. But no matter.
Ethel: I guess the truth is, Fred and I were just made for each other. We knew it the moment we met.
Fred: Remember our first date, honey?
Buck: What did you do on your first date? Torture a cat? That must have been romantic.
Ethel: No, we ran down an old woman on the Merit Parkway.
Buck: You killed somebody on your first date?
Fred: Who knows? We never looked back, did we, honey?
Ethel: No. She doesn’t count.
Buck: And you’ve been….systematically butchering people ever since.
Ethel: Oh, no. No, no. We didn’t get into it seriously until Fred retired.
Alice: Kill us.
Buck: Yes. Do it.
Fred: Say, what’s the rush?
Ethel: Don’t give up now, kids. You’ve turned into real good sports.
Fred: They sure have.
Ethel: Look, Fred, couldn’t we cut the cards, this one time? Like we’ve been talking about?
Fred: Well…all right. Let’s give it a whirl.
Ethel: We don’t want to get stale.
Fred: And they have been good eggs.
Ethel: Okay, now, here’s what were going to do. First time ever, a real chance for you kids. We each team cut the deck, and if you get the high card, why, we actually–
Buck: No more games.
Alice: Kill us.
Fred: Aw, come on.
Alice: I don’t want to live without Randy.
Buck: Penny’s dead. What’s the point of going on?
Alice: We’d rather die than share this planet with the two of you.
Fred: Well. Gee.
Ethel: (pause) Oh dear.
Fred: It’s gone sour.
Ethel: Do you think we went too far?
Fred: Apparently we did.
Ethel: What do we do now? You think?
Fred: I don’t think we have a choice. (clears throat) What do you say, people?
(3 second pause)
Penny: Oh, Buck. Buck, honey. I’m so sorry
Buck: Penny!
Penny: (crying) Oh, Buck.
Buck: Penny, you’re alive! Penny, keep still, lie quiet.
(sounds of shuffling, thud)
Goddamn trunk! Penny, baby–
Penny: Buck, don’t come near me. You’re gonna kill me.
Buck: I love you!
Penny: You won’t for long. (sobs)
Ethel: Oh, this is just terrible. I feel so guilty.
Buck: Guilty! You miserable witch! Penny!
Randy: (sigh) Don’t take it all on yourself, Ethel.
Alice: Randy?
Buck: Randy’s all right?
Alice: Oh, Randy!
Buck: Penny! Penny, where are you? Christ, if I could just see–
Randy: Hold it, everybody. Just stand still where you are and listen.
Ethel: Who’s going to do it?
Penny: (sniff) I’ll do it.
Ethel: No, I’ll do it. I talked you into it.
Randy: No, I’ll do it. I talked Penny into it.
Buck: Will you two shut up! You’ll give away your–
Randy: (laughing) Look, buddy, it doesn’t matter.
Alice: Yes, it does! As long as we’re all together, it matters, right up until the last breath.
Randy: Alice. Listen to me. (sigh) It’s a joke.
Alice: No, no–
Penny: Alice, Randy’s telling the truth. It was all a terrible joke.
Ethel: Terrible is right.
Penny: (sobbing) And they’re never, never, never going to forgive us.
Buck: A joke?
Alice: A joke?
Buck: (pause) When you say joke–now, let me get this straight–when you say a joke, do you mean–a joke?
Penny: (sniff) Yes.
Buck: A joke, as in–We’re in no actual danger? As in, We’re not going to die?
Alice: How is it even possible?
Randy: It was a setup.
Buck: A setup.
Ethel: Yes, and it’s all my fault. You see, Fred and I though it would be–well–fun, you know, to play a little prank–
Buck: A little prank!
Ethel: Well, okay, an elaborate prank–
Buck: Prank!
Randy: See, they called me over this afternoon, and introduced themselves, and we got to talking, and…well, we just worked this whole thing out, and then I called Penny–
Alice: What are you talking about? What thing are you talking about? Are you trying to tell me that you’re in league with these–these killers?
Randy: They’re not killers, Alice.
Alice: They killed 52 people! They ran over an old person!
Ethel: Honey, we never even ran over a squirrel.
Randy: Look, you know the expression, It seemed like a good idea at the time? Well…it seemed…like a good idea at the time. Boy, are we in trouble.
Buck: You bastard. You sadistic…irresponsible…swine.
Penny: Buck, don’t. Don’t say ugly things you can’t take back.
Buck: And you! My sweet wife! How could you do this to me? To Alice, your best friend!
Penny: I…I just thought…we just thought it would be…you know…fun.
Ethel: You see, Fred and I really are game players. That much was true.
Buck: You just shut your mouth.
Penny: Don’t talk to her like that.
Ethel: It’s all right. I don’t blame you. See, kids, Fred and I, we used to be in show business. We did improvs for a living. Way back before TV.
Alice: But your face. That awful hole in your face.
Ethel: Show business, honey. I keep trying to explain, see, Fred and I were in vaudeville, during the very last days of the Orpheum Circuit. After that, we did clubs. And I was a magician. The only female magician they ever featured, and a pretty darn good one, too, I might add, though I suppose now is not exactly the time to brag. Anyhoo, the nose was a piece of cake.
Buck: All done with mirrors. Right?
Ethel: No, it’s all done with greasepaint and spirit gum and rubber.
Alice: But…all those nasty things you said to us. How could you act like that–for a joke?
Ethel: Show business again. You take on a part. You get into it. You go too far.
Buck: Oh, I see. Get it, Alice? Fred and Ethel don’t caravan around the country killing people. Nooooo. They just put on skits. They just frighten innocent people into cardiac arrests. They just corrupt the gullible and break up friendships and ruin marriages. And then they pack their stinking crates into their stinking U-Haul and drive away. And everywhere they’ve been, even weeds can’t grow, and people wake up in the middle of the night in a freezing sweat and can’t even look each other in the eye at the breakfast table. You know, Ethel, you were right, and I was wrong. You are evil. You’re wicked old people, and if it takes the rest of my life, and if I have to break a law to do it, I’m going to see to it that you never again have so much as a single minute of fun. (pause) Come on, Alice. Let’s get out of here.
Penny: Buck. You’re not going without me?
Buck: No, you stay here. Stay here and have some more laughs with your new friends.
Penny: Buck. You said–you couldnt live without me.
Buck: How ill-timed of you to point that out. How very unwise.
Penny: Tell me you love me. Please. I know you love me.
Buck: What if I do? I’ll never forgive you, you know.
Penny: But you do still love me, Buck? Tell me you love me.
Ethel: Yes, Buck. Say it. Just say you love her.
Buck: Oh, for Christ’s sake.
Penny: Say it.
Buck: (pause) I love you, Penny.
Ethel: Oh. That was good.
Buck: Now, get your ass home.
Alice: You too, Randy. We have a lot to talk about. Good night, Murgatroyds. You need not see us out.
(shuffling sounds)
Oh, Randy, is that you? Why are you still lying on the floor? Get up.
Randy: I can’t. My necks busted.
Alice: (through clenched teeth) You’re not funny, Randy. Get up now.
Randy: I told you, I can’t. My head and neck are lying in what is often referred to in cheap fiction as an impossible angle.
Buck: Nothing’s impossible around here, buddy. You just get old Fred here to work some of his magic on your neck. Or come see me. Ill straighten it out for you. Come on, Alice, you can stay with us.
Ethel: Oh, Fred wasn’t a magician, Buck. I was the magician.
Buck: Yeah? What was Fred? The rabbit?
Penny: No, Buck. Fred was a ventriloquist.
Ethel: And a first rate impressionist, to boot. He did the most uncanny imitations.
Alice: Ventriloquist?
Randy: (pause) Murgatroyd the Magnificent.
Penny: Murgatroyd the Mellifluent.
Randy: Murgratroyd the Miraculous Mimic.
Buck: Mimic?
(3-second silence)
Alice: (whispers) Oh. No.
Penny: Tell me that you love me, Buck.
Randy: Wanna hear my Boris Karloff?
Buck: Oh my God.
Ethel: Hit the light switch, Fred.
(sound of click)
Fred and Ethel: (pause) Gotcha!!
Ethel: Tee hee.
(music up and over)

Act Three

(sound of interior car motor throughout)
Fred: Ahhh. It’s good to hit the road again, isnt it, pet? The open road. Always makes me feel young.
Ethel: Speak for yourself. I’m all done in.
Fred: Quite a night, eh?
Ethel: Well, it would have been all right if you hadn’t let those two get out of the basement and run around like that. Face it, Fred, we’re too old to go chasing up and down stairs.
(sound of slap on thigh)
Fred: Come on, woman! You loved it.
Ethel: That’s not the point. We’ve got to slow down.
Fred: Fiddlesticks.
Ethel: Or–or–you’ve got to start helping me with the clean-up. I was down on my knees scrubbing and mopping two hours after you went to bed.
Fred: Besides, I only did it for you.
Ethel: You’re full of prunes.
Fred: I did. I know how much you like to watch ’em scramble around. Your eyes get all big and wild–
Ethel: Oh, poo.
Fred: You’re a wild woman, Ethel.
Ethel: You’re an old fool.
Fred: I figure we head up through New Haven, New London.
Ethel: We can’t go to Boston. Been there, done that.
Fred: I thought, maybe Providence.
Ethel: Okay with me. I’ve always liked the name. Providence.
Fred: We’ll get us some clams.
Randy: I love you, Ethel.
Ethel: (laughing) Cut it out, Fred.
Buck: I love you, Ethel.
Ethel: You do, do you?
Fred: I really love you, Ethel.
Ethel: I wuv oo, too.
(music up and out)

The End

13 Comments Bring out your dead: My radio play

  1. Jane

    This is wonderfully insane. Seems a good time to mention that I suggested Winner of the National Book Award for my book club here in Rhode Island and, alas, is was not well received. I thought the writing was amazing, and I for one actually know people like the DeVilbisses and Conrad Low. I’m sure Jincy Willett would be the first to howl at the idea of this as a book club book; let the record show that it was, indeed, a classic scene of not getting it.

  2. Isaac

    Aw, man, excellent devilish, and great use of the medium. Maybe when Halloween comes around This American Life could mount an all-star production. I see (hear?) Amy Sedaris as Ethel.

    I am reading “Winner” right now and man, am I ever enthused about it – enough to get worked up into a froth and try to say a few words to the author, which never happens to me anymore. So: here I am! I’m 24 and broke, and I think your work is fantastic. Relatability be damned.

  3. trish

    Jincy – Help!!!
    Please suggest some writers. I am a smart girl who cannot waste my time with dumb writers (If I want to do that, I’ll watch TV). You are brilliant…but I’ve read both your books (I may need to reread them because at times even my mind cannot keep up. This is more of a challenge than a frustation however).

    I’ve read all of Sedaris’ books and Burrough’s books and Sebold’s books (and this is in the last month). Who else can you recommend in this vein?
    Thank you!!

    PS I know this comment doesn’t go with the topic above…but I need to refill the bookshelves.

  4. Jincy

    Seriously, have you tried early Perelman?

    Also, I just read something called The Cottagers, by Marshall Klimasewiski (I have no idea who this is) and there’s terrific character work here–and it’s quite intelligent, I think. Though not funny.

    I’ll think about this some more…

  5. Jincy

    Got it!

    Smart + nauseatingly funny + reasonably recent fiction = Stephen Fry–either Liar or Hippopotamus (his early novels).

    Hope this works for you.

  6. trish

    jincy –
    thank you so much for taking the time to reply.
    i will definitely check these out.
    i also need to reread ‘winner of the national book award’ to get the references i missed. you are one smart individual!!

  7. trish

    Do you know any writers in need of assistants? I’m a seasoned business professional (ie I know how to use a computer and am reasonably intelligent). I just have an interest in being a writer’s assistant…no other agenda. I’d be happy to send a resume. Thank you Trish

  8. trish

    What does it mean to ‘defy convention’ and what are examples of books/music/people/brands/ etc etc that defy convention?

  9. Jincy

    Trish, I don’t know if writers–fiction writers, anyway–use assistants. I read somewhere that James Michener employed a whole raft of them for research purposes, but that was pre-internet. You might try, if you’re interested, taking some extension courses in copyediting. Copy editors generally work for publishers, not writers, but they’re in many ways the writer’s best friend. They often save us from seriously screwing up.

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