"End Times"
[EXCERPT]
by Robert Kerr
Copyright 2011
www.robertkerr.net
RKerr@robertkerr.net
All rights (including but not limited to performance rights) reserved by the author. Contact Robert Kerr at RKerr@robertkerr.net for more information.

SCENE ONE

(An ANGELIC FIGURE in a grimy hazmat suit regards the audience. It gestures. Music begins. It gestures again. Lights up on PENELOPE sitting, writing in a notebook. Occasionally she pauses and looks up, at first expectantly, then impatiently, then worriedly, as the HAZMAT ANGEL sings.)
HAZMAT ANGEL
(sings)

DOWN WHERE THE STREAM
TAKES A TURN INTO THE REEDS
I WILL FALL DOWN ON MY KNEES,
DROWN MY PRIDE

(QUENTIN enters. From a distance he observes PENELOPE, who is unaware of him. For a moment he appears indecisive, then turns to leave.)
HAZMAT ANGEL

UP IN THE TREES,
THE SUN, IT SHINES DOWN THROUGH THE LEAVES
SPARKING OFF OLD MEMORIES.
THRICE DENIED

(The HAZMAT ANGEL extends an arm into QUENTIN's path, blocking him. QUENTIN stops, not seeing the HAZMAT ANGEL, but still sensing some presence in his way. He turns and starts to approach PENELOPE.)

ONE DAY THE HEAVENS WILL FALL
ONE DAY A GREAT WIND
WILL BLOW DOWN EVERY WALL

(The HAZMAT ANGEL gestures one last time. Lights out on the ANGEL, and as the music ends we hear a mechanical droning in the background. PENELOPE, now aware of QUENTIN's presence, closes the notebook and puts it away.)
PENELOPE

You came.

QUENTIN

You sound surprised.

PENELOPE

When I asked you, you seemed... I don't know. You find it okay?

QUENTIN

Followed the river, just like you said.

PENELOPE

I was starting to think...

QUENTIN

What?

PENELOPE

You changed your mind.

QUENTIN

No. No. I... went the wrong way first.

PENELOPE

You almost missed it.

QUENTIN

Missed what?

PENELOPE

You'll see.

QUENTIN

...
...

PENELOPE

Do you want to sit?

QUENTIN

Yeah.
...
...
So this is your spot?

PENELOPE

Yeah.

QUENTIN

You come here a lot?

PENELOPE

Most days. If it's not raining. Or too cold.

QUENTIN

It's nice.

PENELOPE

...

QUENTIN

...

(QUENTIN sniffs.)
PENELOPE

What's wrong?

QUENTIN

Do you smell something?

PENELOPE

No. Do you?

QUENTIN

Rotten eggs. Oil, fire. Lucifer.

PENELOPE

Lucifer?

QUENTIN

I mean, you know, like sulfur. Burning. Maybe it's coming from over there. That refinery.

(PENELOPE sniffs.)

You really don't smell it?

PENELOPE

No.

QUENTIN

Huh. You live here your whole life?

PENELOPE

Fourteen years.

QUENTIN

Maybe that's why. There was this kid at my old school, Timmy Dougherty. Had B.O., real bad. You'd be like "Dude, use some deodorant," but he'd just look at you, like you were speaking Chinese. I guess he'd lived with his own smell so long he couldn't smell it anymore.

I'm not saying you have B.O. You smell nice. You smell... pretty.

PENELOPE

Um, thanks.

QUENTIN

...
Did you see that? The refinery lights just flickered.

PENELOPE

Someone just got the chair at Slocum. That's what everybody says around here when that happens. Whenever someone's executed at Slocum Prison, it draws the current, and the lights flicker all up and down the Crescent.

QUENTIN

They still use the chair at Slocum?

PENELOPE

Dunno. It's what people say.
So, you're from Jefferson?

QUENTIN

Uh-huh.

PENELOPE

Do you miss it?

QUENTIN

Yeah, a little. My friends.

PENELOPE

Why'd you move?

QUENTIN

My dad got called up. He's overseas, in the war. And my mom's gone, like passed away, so I had to move in with my uncle.

PENELOPE

I'm sorry. About your mom.

QUENTIN

...
So, when does this thing happen?

PENELOPE

Soon. It's worth the wait.

QUENTIN

...
What does your dad do?

PENELOPE

He's out of town. He's in, um, Dubai.

QUENTIN

Wow. What's he doing there?

PENELOPE

Business. He works for... I mean, he owns the refinery.

QUENTIN

Seriously? I thought like a corporation owned it.

PENELOPE

He owns the corporation.

QUENTIN

...
My uncle used to work there. But then he got hurt. A pipe or something exploded. He was like disabled. I mean, he can walk, but he has a limp. And he's always in pain.

PENELOPE

That's awful. I'm sorry. How's he doing now?

QUENTIN

He just sits at home, mostly. Watches TV. Goes to the library, writes e-mails to people about the refinery. Says it's held together with masking tape and chewing gum. He says someday it'll go up in a big ball of fire.

PENELOPE

God. I'm really sorry. I mean, he doesn't own it, my dad. He owns stock or whatever in the corporation. I can tell my dad to talk to someone. Make sure your uncle's taken care of.

QUENTIN

You don't have to do that. You don't have to lie.

PENELOPE

About what?

QUENTIN

Your dad. I know where you live. I followed you. Yesterday, after school. I was just curious. I know it's like... It sounds... I mean, I liked you. I do like you. I just wanted to know.

PENELOPE

You could have just asked.

QUENTIN

Would you have told me?

PENELOPE

...

QUENTIN

I don't care if you're not, like, rich. Me, I'm the total opposite of rich. So whatever the deal is with your dad, I don't care. Forget I said anything.

Do you want me to go?

PENELOPE

No.
I don't know him. My dad. I've never even met him.

QUENTIN

Who is he? Or is he, like, gone?

PENELOPE

You mean dead? My mom says he is, but I don't believe her.

QUENTIN

What does she say about him?

PENELOPE

Almost nothing. He's like a date, like B.C. or A.D. Like "Before I met that sonofabitch," or "Since that sonofabitch went away." She says she'll tell me more when I'm ready.

QUENTIN

When'll that be?

PENELOPE

Dunno.

QUENTIN

Wow, that's... That's sad. I mean, it is sad, isn't it?

PENELOPE

It's like somebody rubbed an eraser over half my life.

QUENTIN

...
Thanks. For telling me, about your dad.

PENELOPE

You would've found out sooner or later anyway. Everyone knows. At school. In town.

QUENTIN

Still. Thanks. You ever try to track him down?

PENELOPE

I don't know where to start. My mom won't tell me who he is. Nobody else seems to know.

QUENTIN

But your mom does, right? What if she had to tell you?

PENELOPE

I can't make her. I've tried, but I can't.

QUENTIN

But what if she had no choice? At my old school, that kid, Timmy Dougherty, for the longest time he didn't know who his dad was. He kept asking and asking. His mom wouldn't tell him, and if anybody else knew they wouldn't say either. Guess why. It turned out his father was his uncle.

PENELOPE

His mother's brother?

QUENTIN

Uh-huh.

PENELOPE

Ew.

QUENTIN

I know, right? So nobody ever said anything, until this one day when they couldn't keep it a secret anymore. His mom had to tell him when they found outó

PENELOPE

Hold on. It's starting. Tell me in a minute, but now you have to look. Do you see? The sun setting behind us, the refinery in front. See the steam, the smoke, flowering from the stacks, streaking the sky? And the sky's changing, darkening blue. The clouds are fading. The sky's starting to look solid, like a sheet. Smooth, unbroken steel. See the refinery lights through the steam? What do they look like?

QUENTIN

Stars?

PENELOPE

Yeah, stars. Not distant stars.

QUENTIN

Like really close ones. Stars in a cloud.

PENELOPE

It's like a nebula, right? Soon the sun'll be gone. We'll lose the sky, the ground, the line of trees, the horizon. We could be floating in space, watching a nebula, giving birth, to stars.

QUENTIN and PENELOPE

...
...

(QUENTIN sniffs.)
PENELOPE

What?

QUENTIN

The smell. It's gone. I don't smell it anymore.

PENELOPE and QUENTIN

...
...

(PENELOPE shifts a little bitóbut just a little bitócloser to QUENTIN.)

...
...

QUENTIN

Wow. That was...

PENELOPE

Wasn't it?

QUENTIN

Yeah. I see what you mean.

PENELOPE and QUENTIN

...

PENELOPE

So. You were telling me how that kid found out who his father was.

SCENE TWO

(JESS. Just his face. The clattering of a computer keyboard.)
UNCLE JESS

Dear sir
Dear sir or madam

To whom it may concern. I write regarding conditions of...

unsafety?
[no]
impending disaster?
[sounds crazy]

...unsafe conditions requiring your immediate attention. Until recently, I was a safety inspector at the DWD Refinery just outside Wheeler Bend. Said employment terminated due to an...

[incident?]
[yes]

...incident at the plant. A catalytic unit exploded. Four men were caught in the blast; I was the only survivor. My successor at the plant reported it as an accident.

However,
further investigation has...

[what]
revealed
[yes]

...revealed that this was no accident, but a deliberate attempt on my life.

Let me explain.

A week before the
[quote]
accident,
[unquote]
I detect dangerously high levels of sulfur in the crude. I file a report.

A week later, I am performing an inspection. Out of nowhere, an explosion.

Curious, isn't it? A safety inspector the victim of an accident,
so called,
left lame, unemployed
[em dash]

(From offstage, a VOICE)
OFFSTAGE VOICE

Sir?

UNCLE JESS

indeed
[comma]
unemployable

OFFSTAGE VOICE

Sir?

UNCLE JESS

[em dash]
mere days after filing a report.

OFFSTAGE VOICE

Sir.

UNCLE JESS

Yes?

OFFSTAGE VOICE

Your time's up.

UNCLE JESS

Just a minute.

OFFSTAGE VOICE

It's the library. You have to share.

UNCLE JESS

I'm almost done.
Bitch.

Coincidence?
I believe not.
I believe I was drawing close to a truth which certain... forces did not want known.

OFFSTAGE VOICE

Sir, if you don't stop right now, I'm pulling the plug.

UNCLE JESS

More to come.

Awaiting your reply,
A Concerned Citizen

SCENE THREE

(PENELOPE returning home, trying to be inconspicuous.)
VERA (off)

Penelope?

(PENELOPE winces, then composes herself.)
PENELOPE

Hi, mom.

(VERA enters.)
VERA

It's almost eleven.

PENELOPE

Really?

VERA

I was worried sick. Where were you?

PENELOPE

Turboburger.

VERA

Until eleven?

PENELOPE

I was studying.

VERA

I told you, I don't want you out after nine.

PENELOPE

I lost track of time. I'm sorry. I should have called. I'm fine, okay?

VERA

I made dinner. For both of us.

PENELOPE

I didn't know.

VERA

You would have if you'd checked in like you're supposed to. If I knew you weren't going to be home, I wouldn't have bothered. I would've eaten at the restaurant after my shift.

PENELOPE

I'm sorry, okay?

(PENELOPE starts to go.)
VERA

Were you by yourself?

PENELOPE

I was with Sally.

VERA

I thought you were through with her.

PENELOPE

I was. Now I'm not.

VERA

So you were studying. With Sally. At Turboburger.

PENELOPE

They've got big tables. And Sally knows the manager. I think he's got a crush on her, so he lets us stay as long as we want.

VERA

Penelope, don't lie me to me.

PENELOPE

I'm not lying.

VERA

Where were you, really?

PENELOPE

...

VERA

You didn't go down by the refinery again.

PENELOPE

...

VERA

I told you not to go down there anymore. Do you know how many chemicals are in the air down there?

PENELOPE

There are chemicals everywhere. The air, the ground, the water, all up and down the Crescent. I can't get away from them anyway. I might as well get some enjoyment out of living here.

VERA

What enjoyment?

PENELOPE

Never mind.

VERA

No, I want to know.

PENELOPE

You wouldn't understand.

VERA

How am I supposed to if you don't tell me?

PENELOPE

...

VERA

I don't want you going down there anymore. And I want you back here by nine. It's too late for you to be wandering around alone.

PENELOPE

I wasn't alone.

VERA

Who were you with? And don't tell me you were with Sally. When you didn't come home, her house was the first place I called.

Were you with a boy?

PENELOPE

...

VERA

Jesus.

PENELOPE

Nothing happened. We just talked.

VERA

Until eleven.

PENELOPE

Yes.

VERA

Who is he? What's his name?

PENELOPE

Quentin.

VERA

I don't know any Quentin.

PENELOPE

He's new.

VERA

Who are his parents?

PENELOPE

They aren't here. He's living with his uncle.

VERA

Who's his uncle, then?

PENELOPE

The guy with the limp, the one who's always on the computer in the library.

VERA

Okay, that's it. You're not seeing him again.

PENELOPE

Why?

VERA

His uncle's a creep.

PENELOPE

Quentin's not like that.

VERA

I'm not letting you go off by yourself with some horny teenager.

PENELOPE

He's gay.

VERA

Nice try. Do you know what can happen if you're not careful?

PENELOPE

I might experience some happiness for once in my life?

VERA

For about two minutes. And then what?

PENELOPE

I might get knocked up, and then end up in some dead-end job and spend the rest of my life making everyone else as miserable as me?

VERA

...

PENELOPE

Mom, wait, Ió

VERA

You stay away from him, or there'll be hell to pay.

PENELOPE

That's not fair! Every time I find something that makes me happy, you take it away.

VERA

I'm trying to keep you out of trouble.

PENELOPE

Why can't you be nice to me for once in my life?

VERA

I work twelve hours a day so you'll have a roof over your head, food on the table, clothes on your backó

PENELOPE

That's not what I mean.

VERA

Then what do you mean? If that's not niceó

PENELOPE

Auntie Rae was nice.

VERA

Your Auntie Rae was a liar.

PENELOPE

She was nice. I bet my father's nice.

VERA

Don't get me started on your father.

PENELOPE

If he wasn't nice, what was he like? Who was he?

VERA

That's enough, Penelope.

PENELOPE

Why don't you just tell me? Huh? Because if I knew who he was, I'd go find him, and he'd take me away, and you wouldn't have anyone to make miserable?

VERA

I'm too tired for this.

PENELOPE

Momó

VERA

I worked ten hours, then came home and made dinner, which you weren't even around to eat. Then I spent the rest of the night with my stomach in knots wondering where you were. I'm exhausted. I'm not having this conversation now. Just go, okay? Go to your room. Go, write in your diary.

PENELOPE

It's not a diary, it's a journal.

VERA

Whatever it is. Just leave me alone.

(VERA exits.)
(Lights shift: PENELOPE, just her face. Separately, a HAZMAT ANGEL.)
HAZMAT ANGEL

Penelope remembers. In her journal, she writes the memory. It the last memory she has of her aunt. In the memory she is five years old.

PENELOPE

Auntie Rae? Auntie Rae? Auntie Rae?

(Separately, AUNT RAE appears, in silhouette.)
HAZMAT ANGEL

Dr. Ring, please report to
Dr. Ring, please report to

(AUNT RAE stirs.)
PENELOPE

Auntie Rae?

(AUNT RAE coughs.)
AUNT RAE

Where's your mother?

PENELOPE

Getting a snack.

(whispering)

She said she couldn't take the smell.

AUNT RAE

Oh. Well.

PENELOPE

I mean, um, I think she was joking.

AUNT RAE

I can't say I blame her.

HAZMAT ANGEL

Dr. Post, please report to
Dr. Post, please report to

AUNT RAE

Jiminy. There goes another one.

PENELOPE

Another what?

AUNT RAE

Patient. I've cracked the code. You see, those aren't real doctors, those names over the speakers. There is no Dr. Post. It's their code for post-mortem.

PENELOPE

Post-what?

AUNT RAE

It means somebody's been taken home.

PENELOPE

Like taken to their house, or the angels took them home?

AUNT RAE

...
The angels.

PENELOPE

That's sad.

AUNT RAE

Some days I think they don't have any real doctors here, just codes.

PENELOPE

Mom says there's no such thing as angels.

AUNT RAE

Really.

PENELOPE

And she says even if there were, they wouldn't come within a hundred miles of Wheeler Bend, it stinks so bad. She says the refinery's poisoned the whole town, and no pure angel wants any part of that.

AUNT RAE

She's wrong. There are angels, and when they come here, they come protected. They put on their big yellow jumpsuits and they come and they watch over us. They guide our way without us knowing. They sing to God and tell Him what they see in our hearts.

HAZMAT ANGEL

Dr. Peach, please report to
Dr. Peach, please report to

AUNT RAE

Dr. Peach. Haven't heard that one before. What do you think it means?

PENELOPE

Maybe someone wants cobbler.

AUNT RAE

Don't we all.

PENELOPE

Auntie Rae?

AUNT RAE

Yes, hon?

PENELOPE

Why... Why...

AUNT RAE

Go ahead. Ask me. Ask me anything.

PENELOPE

Why aren't you my mother?

AUNT RAE

Oh, Penelope.

PENELOPE

Howcome you're not my mother, and Mom's not the one who'só

AUNT RAE

Hush. You mustn't. I'll be with you always, as long as you remember me.

HAZMAT ANGEL

Penelope tries to remember, but she can remember almost nothing: the splay of her aunt's hair, the rosebuds on her gown. Rae's face, when she pictures it, is only a patch of haze, a nebula.

AUNT RAE

And remember this too. No matter how dark it gets, there's light in this world. There's always light. Sometimes all you'll see is shadow. But the light is there. It always is, somewhere.

HAZMAT ANGEL

Penelope resolves to remember the light. She looks around the room, taking inventory: the light seeping through the venetian blinds, the light under the door, the light from the muted television.

PENELOPE

Auntie Rae? Auntie Rae?

HAZMAT ANGEL

Dr. Post, please report to
Dr. Post, please report to

PENELOPE

Auntie Rae, Auntie Rae, Auntie Rae, Auntie Rae!

AUNT RAE

What? What?

PENELOPE

Oh. I'm sorry I woke you up. You were asleep.

AUNT RAE

It's all right.

PENELOPE

I just had an idea. If the angels come for you I think I know how you can stop them.

AUNT RAE

There's no stopping the angels. Once they come for you, that's it.

PENELOPE

No, I think I figured it out. You wanna know?

AUNT RAE

You'd better whisper. The angels are everywhere. You wouldn't want them to hear.

(PENELOPE whispers; we cannot hear what she says.)
HAZMAT ANGEL

Penelope tries to remember what she told Aunt Rae.

AUNT RAE

I hadn't thought of that.

HAZMAT ANGEL

She tries to remember, but she cannot.

PENELOPE

Would it work?

HAZMAT ANGEL

She hopes it will come to her later.

AUNT RAE

It's worth a try.

[END OF EXCERPT]

Copyright 2011 by Robert Kerr