Eureka| Edward Lee | Play

Lights up on a laboratory. Everything state of the art, cold, clean, clinical. A workstation with desktop computer on top of it is roughly centre stage, while downstage, near stage left there is the suggestion of a door (the frame, nothing else)

SCATTERSCREW stands at door, keeping watch.

BRIARTAPE sits at a workstation, laboriously two-finger-typing on the computer keyboard, looking from the screen to the keyboard to a sheet of parchment beside keyboard.

Both of them are dressed in dark suits, the material made darker with dirt; they seem dishevelled, the suits possibly a little bit too big for them; the suits are not ripped or torn, just unwashed. Both of them, their hair is slicked greasily back. The two of them could be any age from 40 to 100, though Briartape gives the impression of being the older than Scatterscrew.

Scatterscrew picks his nose (left nostril), looks at his finger then puts finger in mouth. He makes a disgusted face and spits the snot out. He picks his nose again (right nostril), looks at his finger, this time for a longer moment than before, then puts it in his mouth. He nods appreciatively as he chews.

Briartape tuts loudly to himself and taps the delete button on keyboard repeatedly and with anger, one letter deleted with each tap, seemingly unaware that he can keep his finger pressed down. He begins to type again, with the slow two-fingered pace.

SCATTERSCREW: This is boring.

Briartape doesn’t answer, just continues his painfully slow typing. Scatterscrew looks over at him.

SCATTERSCREW: Briartape, I said this is-

BRIARTAPE: (Still typing) I heard you.

SCATTERSCREW: You heard me? Why didn’t you answer me then? If you heard me?

Briartape stops typing, sighs and looks at Scatterscrew

BRIARTAPE: I chose to ignore you. I heard you, and I chose to ignore you.

SCATTERSCREW: You were ignoring me?

BRIARTAPE: Yes, I was ignoring you.

SCATTERSCREW: That’s hardly nice, is it? Ignoring me. Hardly nice at all. No, not at all.

BRIARTAPE. Nice?  You’re saying it isn’t nice? That’s what you’re saying? It isn’t ‘nice’. We’re demons. Demons. Spawns of hell. Born of pain and brimstone. Of spit and shit. Nice isn’t exactly in the job description. Nice isn’t… No one has ever described a demon as nice. Not once. Not ever. Across all of time, no one has ever called a demon nice. The word ‘nice’ might as well not exist when it comes to demons and their descriptions. For that matter, no one has ever expected a demon to be nice. No one who has encountered a demon has ever walked away from said encounter, if they have walked away, no one has ever thought “Oh, that demon was nice”. I imagine, if someone were to come face to face with a nice demon, they would undoubtedly be more perturbed by the fact that the demon was nice than they would that there was an actual demon standing in front of them. They might wonder if the demon in question was a demon at all, and not just some human with halitosis and an aversion to bathing.

Beat.

SCATTERSCREW: Still. You can be nice without being nice.

BRIARTAPE: No.

SCATTERSCREW: No?

BRIARTAPE: Demons can’t be nice. They can’t.

SCATTERSCREW: They can.

BRIARTAPE: They can’t.

SCATTERSCREW: Says who?

BRIARTAPE: Me. I say. I say demons can’t be nice. And common sense says it. And millennia of proof to the contrary. Demons are not and cannot be nice. You might as well ask an (he shivers) angel to go without smiling like a loon for more than five minutes. Ask one of them – pick any one of them, even the cherubs, who frankly, looking like that, have absolutely nothing to smile about – ask any of them to just not smile. For five minutes. Five minutes without smiling. Five seconds! Those shiny bastards think they’re god’s gif-

Briartape bites down on that last word, annoyed with himself.

SCATTERSCREW: Well…

BRIARTAPE: Yes, yes, I heard what I said. I heard it just as I said it. It doesn’t matter. My initial point still stands though. What I was originally saying before you caused me to digress. Demons are not nice. Never have been. Never will be.

SCATTERSCREW: How did I cause you-

BRIARTAPE: Listen, can you, just for a minute, be quiet? Can you be silent? For one minute. That isn’t too much to ask, is it? It isn’t too dire of a request. A mere minute. A swift sixty seconds. What is sixty seconds to a creature that has been alive for millennia? It’s nothing, that’s what it is. Nothing. It’s not even the blink of an eye. It’s a moment of stillness becoming another moment of stillness. So, sixty seconds out of the thousands of years that you have been in existence? How about it? If I fail in this undertaking the Supreme One – all hail his glorious name (they both bless themselves but they do it in reverse) – he’ll detach my head from my body again. And this time he mightn’t reattach it. He might mount it on a spear at the gates and…  I don’t want that. I quite like my head.

SCATTERSCREW: (Under his breath) Someone has to.

BRIARTAPE: What was that?

SCATTERSCREW: Nothing.

BRIARTAPE: It didn’t sound like nothing.

SCATTERSCREW: What did it sound like?

BRIARTAPE: More than nothing.

SCATTERSCREW: Which could be anything.

BRIARTAPE: Yes. That’s my point.

SCATTERSCREW: But it was nothing.

Briartape studies Scatterscrew for a long moment, then shakes his head.

BRIARTAPE: You tire me sometimes, Scatterscrew.

SCATTERSCREW: So you keep telling me.

BRIARTAPE: And supposedly demons cannot tire.

SCATTERSCREW: You keep telling me that too.

Briartape studies Scatterscrew again before sighing.

BRIARTAPE: Can I… (indicates keyboard)

Scatterscrew holds up his hands.

Briartape starts typing again.

Scatterscrew reaches up to pick his nose again, going for the left nostril first, before remembering, then switching to the right nostril. He picks vigorously, removes his finger, examines it.

SCATTERSCREW: I don’t get it.

Scatterscrew sticks finger in mouth, chews contently. Briartape continues typing, ignoring him.

SCATTERSCREW: Briartape, I said-

BRIARTAPE: Yes, yes. I heard. I heard you. I’m right here. I can hear you perfectly well. But, like last time, I was ignoring you, so I might complete this task assigned to me by-

SCATTERSCREW: Us.

BRIARTAPE: What?

SCATTERSCREW: Us. The task was assigned to us. Not you. Us.

Beat.

BRIARTAPE: And yet I seem to be the only one engaged with the task at hand.

SCATTERSCREW: No, you’re not.

BRIARTAPE: No?

SCATTERSCREW: I’m keeping watch.

BRIARTAPE: You’re keeping watch?

SCATTERSCREW: Yes.

BRIARTAPE: Keeping watch at two in the morning in an empty building?

SCATTERSCREW: There’s a security guard.

BRIARTAPE: A sleeping security guard. Whose snoring can almost be heard here, four floors above his slumbering frame.

SCATTERSCREW: He might wake.

BRIARTAPE: He might wake?

SCATTERSCREW: Yes, they do that all the time. They sleep. And then they wake. (Beat) Unless they’re dead. Then they don’t wake. Though, I don’t think we could say they’d been asleep in the first place, if they were dead. Unless they died in their sleep. They do that a lot too. Die in their sleep. Frankly how they get anything done, between sleeping and dying, it’s beyond me.

Beat.

BRIARTAPE: Fine. Good job, Scatterscrew. If I had a hat I would tip it to you. I can easily say, and without any falseness to my words, that I would truly be lost without you. Adrift. Utterly incapable in performing the duty entrusted to us, the bulk of said duty being what I am doing.

SCATTERSCREW: Thank you.

BRIARTAPE: You’re very welcome.

Briartape starts typing.

SCATTERSCREW: I still don’t get it.

Briartape sighs.

BRIARTAPE: Undoubtably I’m going to regret it, though I know if I don’t ask, I won’t get this completed at all. So, Scatterscrew, enlighten me. What is it you ‘don’t get’? Of course, I imagine the list of things you ‘don’t get’ is longer than all the roads of hell, paved and unpaved, combined, so please, try and be brief. And specific.

SCATTERSCREW: You’re being not nice again.

BRIARTAPE: Let me, without prejudice, redirect you to my previous comment about being a demon.

SCATTERSCREW: Yeah? Well, let me… redirect you to… what I said earlier, about being nice nice.

BRIARTAPE: Touché, Scatterscrew. Touché.

SCATTERSCREW: Forget it. Forget I said anything. You do you part of the job and I’ll do mine. You over there. And me over here. At the door. Keeping watch for the security guard who could wake up at any moment. Which, in my honest opinion, is the most important part of the task, because if a human sees us, well, then we would be in real trouble, wouldn’t it. What would we do then, of the security woke and came up here and saw us? I’m keeping us safe while you… you do you part of the job. The least important part of the job. And yes, I know if the security guard did see us we’d probably just kill him, but then there’ll be all the paperwork and… No one likes paperwork. It takes half the fun out of being a demon. So, I’ll stand here keeping us safe from paperwork while you… you do… that.

Scatterscrew turns back to keeping watch, his back to Briartape. Briartape looks at Scatterscrew for a moment, then sighs, loudly. Scatterscrew ignores him. Briartape sighs again, but Scatterscrew continues to ignore him.

BRIARTAPE: Scatterscrew.

Scatterscrew continues to ignore him. Briartape shakes his head.

BRIARTAPE: Scatter-

SCATTERSCREW: Annoying, isn’t it?

BRIARTAPE: What?

SCATTERSCREW: Being ignored.

Briartape opens his mouth to speak, then closes it, shakes his head, smiles despite himself.

BRIARTAPE: Tell me then, what don’t you get?

Beat.

SCATTERSCREW: This.

BRIARTAPE: This? Define ‘this’.

SCATTERSCREW: This. As in, all this.

BRIARTAPE: I swear, it’s like playing charades with a sulphuric wind. By ‘all this’, you mean…

SCATTERSCREW: I mean, aren’t they going in the direction we want? The direction we’ve been edging them towards? Granted, they haven’t needed that much encouragement, and sometimes we don’t need to do anything. At all. If I were… (he points upwards) if I were him I’d been frankly embarrassed.

BRIARTAPE: Freewill.

SCATTERSCREW: Freewill?

BRIARTAPE: He gave them freewill.

SCATTERSCREW: I know that. But he could have given them some, I don’t know, some sense of accountability with it, couldn’t he?

BRIARTAPE: It’s his… failsafe. His get-out-of-jail card. It means he can’t be held responsible for what they do. He can say, look at these wonderful beings I have created, perfect in every way, and look at what they do to themselves because I have made them so perfectly. The flaw isn’t in giving them freewill, the flaw is in what they choose to do with that freewill. Though, to be fair, if it wasn’t for their freewill, we wouldn’t get a quarter of the souls we do.

SCATTERSCREW: Still, it seems like a huge designer flaw.

BRIARTAPE: Indeed.

SCATTERSCREW: I mean-

BRIARTAPE: Scatterscrew?

SCATTERSCREW: What?

BRIARTAPE: Your point. Before your security guard and most of the people on this side of the planet wake-up.

SCATTERSCREW: A minute ago you were giving out to me for talking, and now you’re giving out to me for not talking.

BRIARTAPE: Perhaps I just enjoy berating you. But, be that as it may, either tell me now or remain silent until I’ve completed the task at hand.

Beat.

SCATTERSCREW: Berating means giving out, doesn’t it.

BRIARTAPE: Yes, in a roundabout way. Berating means giving out.

SCATTERSCREW: Ok. Just checking. Because-

BRIARTAPE: Scatterscrew.

SCATTERSCREW: Yes, right. Sorry. So, the humans, they’re going where we want them to go. With their fossil fuels and carbon… stuff.

BRIARTAPE: Their ‘carbon stuff’?

SCATTERSCREW: Yes. Their carbon stuff.

BRIARTAPE: Do you have any idea what carbon is?

SCATTERSCREW: At first I thought it was to do with the demon who guards the gates of hell, but then I figured it wasn’t, because, he’s not the brightest flame in the pit, and they wouldn’t entrust something like the end of the world to him. Unless the end of the world needs a demon who’s an expert in picking warts. But, do I really need to know? What carbon is? Is it something I need to know? I know it exists, is that not enough.

BRIARTAPE: No, you don’t need to know what it is. Not particularly, I suppose. Not to keep watch at the door, no. Your knowledge or lack of knowledge concerning carbon will not impact upon you keeping watch for you sleeping security guard.

SCATTERSCREW: Ok. So, fossil fuels, carbon stuff, and all the other things I’m sure I don’t know about, with all that, they’re going where we’ve been pushing them, aren’t they? Right where we want them. Hell on earth and all that. I’m fairly sure that’s in the job description.

BRIARTAPE: Literally and metaphorically, yes, but where they’re going is worse.

SCATTERSCREW: Worse than hell on earth?

BRIARTAPE: Yes.

SCATTERSCREW: What’s worse than hell on earth?

BRIARTAPE: Not-

SCATTERSCREW: Is it earth on hell?

BRIARTAPE: Earth on…? That doesn’t make any sense.

SCATTERSCREW: It does.

BRIARTAPE: It doesn’t.

SCATTERSCREW: It does. It makes sense.

BRIARTAPE: It makes sense? Earth on hell? It makes sense to you?

SCATTERSCREW: Yes. It makes sense.

BRIARTAPE: Explain it then. Explain the sense of it.

SCATTERSCREW: Well, it’s.. it’s exactly what it sounds like. Earth on hell, instead of hell on earth. It’s… It’s self-explanatory. I mean, it’s hardly complicated, is it?

BRIARTAPE: Wouldn’t that mean that hell becomes earth?

SCATTERSCREW: Yea- What?

BRIARTAPE: Earth on hell would make hell earth.

Beat.

SCATTERSCREW: No.

BRIARTAPE: No?

SCATTERSCREW: No. (beat) Maybe.

BRIARTAPE: Maybe?

SCATTERSCREW: Fine, what’s worse than hell on earth? If it isn’t earth on hell. What’s worse?

BRIARTAPE: Nothing.

SCATTERSCREW: Nothing?

BRIARTAPE: Nothing.

SCATTERSCREW: Now that doesn’t make any sense. Earth on hell makes more sense than that.

BRIARTAPE: Nothing as in nothing at all. The earth is heating up. The seas are rising. Vast swathes of land are burning.  The weather is turning ever more violate. Their food sources are dwindling. Their population levels are borderline unsustainable. Before we know it, centuries at the most, maybe, there won’t be any of them left. Not one single one of them. Gone. Extinct. Not even the memory of them will remain. Hence my use of the term ‘nothing’. There will be the earth – there’s at least a few billion years left in its lifespan – but there will be no humans left to inhabit it. And, if there are no humans left, then there’ll be no…

Scatterscrew looks at him confused.

BRIARTAPE: Dwell upon it. Ponder it. Take your time.

Scatterscrew still looks confused.

Briartape sighs.

BRIARTAPE: What’s the one thing that humans have. No other creation has it. Not the animals. Not us. Not even the (shivers) angels, though those feathery fuckwits act as though they do.

Beat.

SCATTERSCREW: Self-destructive tendencies.

BRIARTAPE: Besides that. Something that is uniquely theirs.

SCATTERSCREW: I still think it’s self-de-

BRIARTAPE: It’s not. Not in this case.

SCATTERSCREW: I don’t…

Eventually it dawns.

SCATTERSCREW: Souls!

BRIARTAPE: There we go.

SCATTERSCREW: There’ll be no souls.

BRIARTAPE: You ‘get it’ now?

SCATTERSCREW: Yes. No humans. No souls.

BRIARTAPE: No humans. No souls.

SCATTERSCREW: No… us.

BRIARTAPE: No, we’ll still be around, but we’ll be… unnecessary. And he (he points to the ground) does not like unnecessary things. Unnecessary things are usually wiped away.

SCATTERSCREW: I don’t want to be wiped away. I like being… unwiped.

Beat.

BRIARTAPE: You like being unwiped?

SCATTERSCREW: Yes.

BRIARTAPE: Do you ever listen to yourself, Scatterscrew? Do you ever listen to yourself when you speak? The words you use to say the things you say.

SCATTERSCREW: Of course I do. I listen to myself. I’m speaking, amn’t I? I’m going to hear myself if I’m speaking. I’m going to hear the words I used because I’m using them.

Beat.

BRIARTAPE: Each to their own.

SCATTERSCREW: You’ve just insulted me, haven’t you?

BRIARTAPE: No, I haven’t.

SCATTERSCREW: It sounds like you have.

BRIARTAPE: No, not this time.

Beat.

SCATTERSCREW: I don’t believe you.

BRIARTAPE: Why would I lie?

SCATTERSCREW: Because you’re a demon.

BRIARTAPE: Fair point. But I wasn’t lying then. I didn’t insult you. I can, if you wish. If you are eager to be insulted.

SCATTERSCREW: No, I’m good, thanks.

BRIARTAPE: So be it.

SCATTERSCREW: I still think you insulted me.

BRIARTAPE: In all the years we have worked together, Scatterscrew, have I ever denied insulting you? Have I not always insulted you openly, and when asked if I have insulted you, have always admitted to such?

Beat.

SCATTERSCREW: I think so.

BRIARTAPE: There you have it.

SCATTERSCREW: Have what exactly?

Beat.

BRIARTAPE: I didn’t insult you. But I’m feeling a great urge to do so now unless you let me finish this.

SCATTERSCREW: Don’t let me stop you.

Briartape looks at Scatterscrew for a moment before he starts typing again.

SCATTERSCREW: So, you’re… doing what exactly.

Briartape sighs, shakes his head before turning his attention to Scatterscrew.

BRIARTAPE: You were at the briefing.

SCATTERSCREW: Yes. I was at the briefing.

BRIARTAPE: So, any questions you have should have been answered then. During the briefing. That’s what briefing means. Becoming informed.

SCATTERSCREW: Yes, but I might have fallen asleep.

Beat.

BRIARTAPE: You might have fallen asleep?

SCATTERSCREW: Yes. Might have. Definitely.

Beat.

BRIARTAPE: I’m not wasting my time explaining it, you wouldn’t understand.

Beat.

SCATTERSCREW: You don’t know, do you?

BRIARTAPE: Of course I do.

SCATTERSCREW: Were you asleep too?

BRIARTAPE: Was I asleep too?

SCATTERSCREW: You were, weren’t you?

BRIARTAPE: I was not. I was not asleep. Don’t… I’m performing the duty, am I not? I could hardly being doing this is I had been asleep during the briefing. Here I am, executing… the duty we have been charged with.

Briartape hits a few keys, his fingers fast, all the while looking pointedly at Scatterscrew. Then he stares at screen, frowns, and hits the delete button a few times.

SCATTERSCREW: Nope, you don’t know. I know that look of frustrated confusion.

Beat.

BRIARTAPE: Alright. No, not exactly. I don’t. No. But, in my defence, look at it. It’s…  It’s all… algebra.

SCATTERSCREW: Isn’t that one of ours?

BRIARTAPE: Exactly! That’s my point. It’s algebra. Born from the pits of hell. A needlessly complicated procedure. It’s not… It’s not natural. (Beat) I have to type this in here and… that’s all I understand, to be honest. Though it pains me to admit it.

SCATTERSCREW: Then what?

BRIARTAPE: Then what?

SCATTERSCREW: How is all this algebra going to save them?

BRIARTAPE: Seriously, you were at the briefing.

SCATTERSCREW: And, seriously, I may have definitely been asleep. And seeing as you don’t know what to do, maybe you were asleep too.

BRIARTAPE: I wasn’t- I know what to do. I’m just not entirely cognizant on what it is I’m doing. I type in these numbers and letters and… This scientist, this is her lab and… she’s close to a breakthrough. Discovering some new way to create cleaner energy. Some… I want to say perpetual energy, but… Whatever it is, these humans need it if they’re going to survive. But she’s has some numbers in the wrong place. Or letters. Or she didn’t carry the one. Or the really really small two. I don’t know. It’s nonsensical. All I know is I’m typing in the right… calculations and she’ll-

SCATTERSCREW: She’ll have an eureka moment!

BRIARTAPE: Yes. An eureka moment.

SCATTERSCREW: We’ve done a few of those. In the past.

BRIARTAPE: We have.

SCATTERSCREW: Not all of them have worked the way we wanted them to.

BRIARTAPE: We don’t talk about those ones.

SCATTERSCREW: Didn’t some of them, some of those eureka moments, the ones that did work, didn’t they… Aren’t they why they needing this cleaner energy?

BRIARTAPE: Yes. Unfortunately.

SCATTERSCREW: Is that ironic?

BRIARTAPE: Possibly.

SCATTERSCREW: We’re responsible for irony too, aren’t we.

BRIARTAPE: Yes and no. Irony is one of his (he points upwards) and we’re responsible for the fact that no one is ever entirely sure of its definition.

SCATTERSCREW: Like effect and affect?

BRIARTAPE: Yes, it’s the little things that seem to be more successful than the bigger things. The minor annoyance compared to the major one. Or at least, the accumulation of little things.

SCATTERSCREW: So, she has this eureka moment and…

BRIARTAPE: Well, with luck, they won’t climate-change themselves into oblivion.

SCATTERSCREW: It’s a good idea.

BRIARTAPE: It is.

SCATTERSCREW: Clever.

BRIARTAPE: Yes.

SCATTERSCREW: Are you sure we thought of it?

BRIARTAPE: Of course… (beat as he considers) I presume we did.

SCATTERSCREW: Well done us, then.

BRIARTAPE: Yes. (beat) Can I continue?

SCATTERSCREW: Don’t let me stop you.

Briartape returns to typing. A few seconds pass.

SCATTERSCREW: What if it doesn’t work?

BRIARTAPE: It will work.

SCATTERSCREW: But you don’t even know how it’ll work.

BRIARTAPE: I know what the end result will be, which is almost the same thing.

SCATTERSCREW: But-

BRIARTAPE: Scatterscrew! Please!

Scatterscrew holds up his hands, nods his head.

Briartape starts typing again.

SCATTERSCREW: But what if it doesn’t?

Briartape stops typing, genuinely considers the question.

BRIARTAPE: Then we’re all doomed, I suppose. And not in a good way.

Scatterscrew nods his head, then resumes keeping watch.

Briartape continues typing.

Lights down.

THE END

 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Bio:

Edward Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen, The Blue Nib and Poetry Wales.  His play ‘Wall’ received a staged reading as part of Druid Theatre’s Druid Debuts 2020. His debut poetry collection “Playing Poohsticks On Ha’Penny Bridge” was published in 2010. He is currently working towards a second collection.

He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Orson Carroll, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy.

His blog/website can be found at https://edwardmlee.wordpress.com

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