by Martin Murie
A Short Play
(Swans - November 20, 2006) (Late summer, four o'clock in the afternoon, a small clearing in an Old Growth forest. Hilda Hrska stands next to a huge fallen tree. She is dressed in white trousers, white blouse, her dark hair held back by a maple leaf fillet. She holds a bow in her left hand, a quiver of arrows slung across her right shoulder. Dagget enters, leading a group of nervous people; two women, five men.)
Hilda: Welcome to pristine wilderness. I am Diana, the Huntress. This is my ancient realm, a primeval place, home of deer and other wild denizens of the wilderness. Go now, and may the gods favor you.
(Dagget, dressed in rough outdoor clothing, stands off to one side during Hilda's welcome. Now he makes a follow-me gesture, leads the group into the forest. Hilda leans the bow against the log and unslings her quiver. George, fifty-some, comes puffing up the trail from the parking lot, stops at the fallen giant to catch his breath.)
George: Whew! I'm not in very good shape. Too many meetings, too much sitting on my butt.
Hilda: You must be George, the moneyman.
George: You got that right, I am the producer of Inner Essence. How did it go?
Hilda: I gave my speech and Dagget led them off.
George: I think I'll tag along, get a feel for the operation.
Hilda: Be my guest
George (Waves): See you later.
(Old Growth quickly swallows him.)
(A man -- Warren -- enters from Old Growth, running.)
Hilda: Hey, where you going? Stop. Hey you, I'm a goddess. When I tell you to stop, you stop, okay?
Warren (stops, turns, stares at Hilda): Thank god. A human being. Oh, I remember you. You're Diana, you spoke to us, just before we disappeared into that horror.
Hilda: Uh huh. You were busy checking me out. Your eyes were all over me.
Warren: I've been such a fool, paying all that money to go into the wild to find myself, but what I found was myself all alone. Inner Essence didn't warn me about that, not one word. Totally alone, supposed to discover my inner essence. Well, I found it. Its name is Wimp, that's who I am. My name is Limp W. Wimp. (He spreads his arms, drops them.)
Hilda: Didn't you hear what Dagget told you, about staying in one place, not wandering around? You were supposed to stay where he put you.
Warren: That was the whole problem, staying. I couldn't hack it. Trees looking at me, everything looking at me, shadows, deep shadows, they moved, I swear. There were things staring at me, no letup. I had to clear out.
Hilda: Maybe you thought a mountain lion was creeping up on you.
Warren: Something was creeping, for sure; the whole damned whatever closed in on me. Six hundred and fifty bucks down the drain. I ought to go back, face it down, prove myself to myself.
Hilda: You got claustrophobia, that's all.
Warrren: No. I've been in caves and basements, never bothered me. I'll be demanding a full refund.
(George, emerges from the forest.)
Hilda: George, how come you didn't meet this guy? He's bailing out.
George: I got lost. Can you believe it? Couldn't locate Dagget, couldn't locate anybody. The trail branched, more than once. I took a wrong turn, ended up at a big fallen tree with branches sticking out like a huge monster. I went back, lost the main trail; blind luck brought me back to it. Do you have any idea where Dagget put everybody?
Hilda: All I know is he told the clients each one of them would be solitary, all alone with themselves for three hours. No food, no drink. He said he'd be back just before dark to collect them.
George: Did you get a count of the clients?
Warren: I'm one of the clients. Who are you?
George: I am the Producer.
Warren: Good, glad to meet you. I'll expect a refund.
George: And you are?
Warren: Warren Talbot. I opted out, got seriously spooked, haven't been so cut off since I don't know when, maybe never.
George: I know what you mean.
Warren: I'll be surprised if you get back the full count, but that's not my problem.
George: Full count? What are you talking about? Oh, you mean the clients might not find their way out of there? Sweet Jesus, what have I gotten myself into? Should have warned Dagget, but what do I know about wilderness? I'm a moneyman, a city man, a golfer. I have a big green lawn with a stag and a doe and a fawn out front. Dagget was so confident, put on a big show of being absolutely on top of everything, but all those trails in that, that, what do you call it?
Hilda: Old Growth. Pristine wilderness, my realm.
George: A recipe for disaster, and it's my money tied up in it. Where you from, Diana?
Hilda: You can leave off the goddess stuff. I'm Hilda and I'll call you George.
George: Yes, of course.
Dagget (enterering): Hi, George, Diana. Everything set to go. We're lucky with the weather. That's the only factor I worried about.
George: Look here, my good man, you have another factor to worry about. Here's one client already scared out, demands a refund. And I looked for you, got myself thoroughly lost. Too much wilderness, Dagget. It's all closed in, it's spooky, people get disoriented. I myself experienced that. How do you know you can go back in there at seven o'clock and find the full count?
Dagget: Disoriented is exactly the recipe I set up here, George. It's intentional, it's the fundamental technique, a few hours alone in primeval wild country. Tomorrow they get another dose of it, in an even more special place and it will be four hours, not three. Trust me, this will work.
Warren: Not for me, didn't work at all. We need to talk about my refund.
Hilda: And Mr. Dagget, I'd like to opt out of this goddess outfit. I'd rather be a druid or something like that, in decent clothes.
Dagget: Okay, okay. I'll deal with all this. Let's everybody calm down, we'll work this out as we go along.
Warren: About my refund, I want you to know I was sent here against my will, had to dig into savings.
Dagget: Sent against your will?
Warren: My shrink, she insisted. I have low self-esteem, if you really have to know. That's only one of my problems. I can explain at length if you so desire.
Dagget: Whoa, slow down. Inner Essence is in no way responsible for what transpired between you and your shrink. I suggest you take it up with her.
George: Half of the fee. How's that?
Dagget: George, I'm in charge here.
George: Not since I saw for myself the hazards involved. You might not realize it, Dagget, but these clients are spread out in this wild jungle and I want to know what the full count is.
Dagget: Full count? What the hell you talkin' about?
George: A precise figure is what I'm talking about, an exact total of people you led in there today. That has to match what you bring back?
Dagget: Holy Cats! You think I can't get them all back?
George: I sure as hell hope you can.
Hilda: There were seven -- five men and two women.
Warren: That sounds about right and subtract one, me, from seven, leaves six still out there all by their lonesome.
(Three men and two women enter. One of them, Lara, speaks.)
Oh, Hi Mr. Dagget, we're headed for town. Do you happen to know when that pizza joint closes on a Saturday?
(One of the men, Tony, speaks.)
Being alone wasn't working for us, except for a guy who was asleep next to that spooky old mossy log where you left him. Well, let me tell you something, when I got to thinking about it I figured I'd been had. I mean, how can a person pay six hundred and fifty bucks for one weekend of being all alone? Hey, you ought to have warned us about that. My point is, you are marketing something nobody can see or feel and whatever the hell it is you don't own it. It's inside us, so you say. Maybe so, but you can't just yank that out and charge us for "finding" the damn thing. It's fraud, that's what it is.
Dagget: Now listen to me, all of you. I go to all this trouble to put you into direct and intimate contact with nature, with wilderness as pristine as you can find anywhere and you don't even give it a chance. Look, what you are searching for is, well, it's a process, a deep journey. You have to let nature take over, then you begin the journey.
(The other woman, Karen, speaks.)
Nature did take me over and it was weird shock-and-awe. Only ten minutes in that awesome silence with the trees looking so goddamn smug, like they friggin' owned the whole place, not friendly at all. I ran, yes, full tilt, full of panic. I shouted, I cried. Lucky I found somebody else with the same problem. Oh well, I blame myself for being so hungry for something different, something out of the ordinary in my miserable life.
(Another man, Larry, speaks.)
I'd like to add that the whole idea of paying money to look for something inside, I mean, inside a person, something you can't see, can't even get a good whiff of, like a little bottle of perfume with a label on it, now that I can see and I might even buy it for a present. Wouldn't lay out six hundred and fifty for it, but maybe a fairly hefty price. So, anyway, we're headed for pizza. Do you know when they close?
Dagget: Pizza! Holy cats!
Warren: You people found each other, good for you, but my crisis in there was more profound than any of you realize. Hilda, could you do me a favor, stay here in case that one hold-out shows up?
Hilda: The one who was sleeping? Okay. Send me a cup of coffee.
Dagget: Will do. George, you have anything to add?
George: I understand their problems, Dagget. Believe me, I do, and I want to thank everyone here for being good sports about this uh, misadventure.
(Dagget heaves a sigh and herds George and the clients off stage. Hilda stretches out on the fallen tree, closes her eyes. Pause, then Lights dim. Nightfall.)
(Jason Soloman, walks out of the forest.)
Whoa! What's this? A vision, a most lovely vision.
Hilda (wakes up, rolls clumsily to her feet): Oh god, you scared me. Are you the sleeper?
(Jason stares, puzzled, but happy, big grin.)
Hilda: You're the guy who fell asleep?
Jason: I did sleep. Beauty sleep. I'm like a new man. And you're Diana, I remember you, the Huntress.
Hilda: Call me Hilda. The other clients saw you sleeping so they left you alone. They got together and visited and got all friendly, decided to walk out, went for pizza.
Jason: I'm so happy I could crow, like the bird that woke me up, a real loud wakeup, some kind of jay, I think, and after that a little black, furry creature right next to my face. I just froze, scared. It had tiny eyes, just little black specks, and a long snout that it kept moving around, sniffing the air like it was picking up all sorts of messages. Then that bird called again, but the little black animal didn't pay any attention to that. It moved closer to me, still picking up stuff from the air. All I could smell was musty leaves. I quit being scared; seemed this animal was taking me in as just another thing to sniff at, weird but not very menacing, small, maybe four or five inches, and then, well, believe it or not, the world flooded in. Sounds crazy, I know. Flooded in, the realest thing that's happened to me in a very long time. Excuse me, I'm rambling. Hilda, is that your name?
Hilda: Yes, and I'm listening.
Jason. Well, the world. I mean not the whole kit and caboodle, but the world just the same. The world going about its business. That animal, am I crazy? No, I'm not. Something happened to me, it was like I really did belong, it was like that squirrel, did I mention the squirrel? And that bird didn't take me too seriously, like it had to check me out, but no big deal. And the black snout critter moved on, got whatever messages it needed from me and whatever else it was picking up and moved on, disappeared.
Hilda: What about Inner Essence?
Jason: What? Oh that. I suppose I have one of those. (Laughs) Hey, this is funny, Inner Essence is what I paid six hundred and fifty dollars to discover.
Hilda (smiling): Instead, the world came to you.
Jason: I didn't explain it very well.
Hilda: Oh I sort of got your drift. Something like that happened to me, only it wasn't in pristine Old Growth wilderness, it was on my daughter's playground. Watching her and the others. It's a shock, hits you hard, kind of like an initiation.
Jason: Initiation, yeah, that's it. Not an invite. No way. It's like you're already there in the world, on the good earth, and you just now found it out and every thing looks different. Hey, Hilda, thank you for that. Good words are hard to find. God, am I hungry.
Hilda: Me too, and why the hell didn't somebody bring me a cup of coffee? Oh well, I had me a good snooze, on this log. So, what about your life?
Jason: My life? Just a job, wake up, go at it again. Stressed out, especially since the divorce. Long commute, paperwork, office society, that's my life and it was cracking up. How about you?
Hilda: Hospital receptionist on weekdays. This Inner Essence job is just on weekends, but it pays okay. I wake up early to get Jean ready to go to her sitter, or school. Once in a while a gap opens up, no cars, no sirens. Then you start to hear little sounds, tiny things going on, like a lilac twig rubbing against another twig.
Jason: Oh my god yes, like today, wind messing around way up in the top leaves of trees and that tiny black animal, I could hear its footsteps, like it had stepped on a blade of grass or something. There's something to this wilderness thing, you know? That squirrel, I just remembered, a gleam of sunlight lit the top of its head and its one eye that I could see was shiny black and the squirrel's belly was white, soft fur and it was beautiful and it went away and then, and then, the quietness. It spooked me, but I went all limp, totally limp; didn't wake up till that bird came along. I wonder if a person could get away to some wild place without having to pay for it. Hey, you mentioned coffee.
Hilda: Say, you're pretty observant.
Jason: Beauty sleep, that's all. Coffee coming up, on me. You off duty now?
Hilda: I was supposed to stay here till you showed. Dagget, that rat, forgot all about me.
Jason: What say we go find a doggy diner.
(They stroll away, stop at stage right, turn, look back into the forest).
Jason: I'd sure like to steal a piece of that quietness.
Hilda: Maybe we can.
For over a decade we've brought you uninterrupted ad-free advocacy work free of charge. But while our publication is free to you, we are long on friends and short on cash. We need you, our readers, to help us financially. Please consider sending anow. Thank you.