Thomm Quackenbush, author

Suspension: the Play

INT. WAREHOUSE NIGHT

The curtain opens to a nearly bare stage. There is generic techno music playing and various lights flashing. There should be the sounds of a crowd, though the crowd itself is almost unnecessary aside from a few individuals. If possible, there are day-glo figures painted on the background. There is a chair, preferably hanging from chains, big enough for two or three to sit comfortable to the right. Here reclines Louis looking quite the bored bastard. He is absently watching a young female couple (dressed as ravers or Goths; any sort that would be comfortable at a rave) "dance" sexually a few feet away. Ariel, carrying a red drink, walks between the girls and they allow her through without really acknowledging her. However, one of the girls stumbles (perhaps because of her overlarge shoes or drunkenness) and knocks Ariel into Louis, who was about to approach the dancers.

ARIEL
(Shocked)

Oh! I am so sorry!

LOUIS
(turning toward her)

Not a problem, my... (to himself) Oh... you. (Normal voice, recovering) No, it's quite all right. If that is the worst thing that happens here tonight, I think I will consider myself quite fortunate. What are you doing here tonight?

ARIEL
(sadly)

What is anyone doing here tonight?

LOUIS
They are living and dying, respectively. But you have neglected to answer my question.

ARIEL
(slightly self-consciously)

What I'm doing here? I'm mingling. Partying.

LOUIS
Do excuse me, but I doubt you're the partying type. Not this kind of party.

ARIEL
No, I suppose I'm not really. (after a pause) You don't seem to enjoy it here yourself. You really radiate pain from across the room.

Ariel leads Louis back to the sofa swing. He sits on an empty cushion and she sits on the armrest next to him. She never takes her eyes off him, while he tries not to look at her too much. He seems either detached or guilty. The dancers drift off stage after giving Ariel a dirty look.

ARIEL
Please, sit. Talk to me. I'd like to help you.

LOUIS
(looking around in disgust and sadness while ignoring Ariel's statement)

No, mon chere, this is one of the few places I'd imagine I do belong. Not that I enjoy this sort of thing much. It reminds me in more ways than I care to admit of my home. But it passes the time.

ARIEL
Oh... Where is it you live...? Um... What did you say your name was?

LOUIS
I didn't, actually.

ARIEL
Hmm? The music is loud, I couldn't hear you.

LOUIS
I said my name is... (after a pause that is just barely noticeable) Louis. I live downtown. Not far from this.

ARIEL
That's a very nice name. (experimentally) Louis. It suits you.

Ariel lifts her glass to her lips and takes a small drink while repeating his name gently.

LOUIS
Thank you, my dear. (startled) You are drinking?

ARIEL
(smiling) Oh, it's not what it looks like, it's a ...

Louis tips the plastic cup to himself and takes a sip without her giving permission.

LOUIS
Virgin Mary. Of course. You didn't seem the type for anything stronger.

Louis hands the drink back to Ariel. She smiles and swirls the liquid around in the glass.

ARIEL
(dreamily)

They are my favorite drink. I like the color... and the name... (coming back to her senses and speaking firmly) I sense you are troubled. I like to help those in need. It's my calling, I guess you could say.

LOUIS
(with a slight sarcastic edge)

Like a social worker?

ARIEL
(oblivious to the sarcasm)

Something like that, yes. (jokingly) I just have slightly less paperwork to fill out. Is there anything I can do for you?

LOUIS
(directly and sadly)

I wish there was, truly. But I just get the feeling that no one can help me anymore... Just got to accept you are damned eventually.

ARIEL
(encouragingly)

Oh, Louis, I beg you, don't think that way. Things cannot be so bad, can they?

LOUIS
No, they can be quite a bit worse than that.

ARIEL
You are here, alive and well. You are handsome and obviously healthy. Judging by your clothes, I'd wager you didn't have to worry much financially. Things may seem bad now, but they always get better. If not in this world, in the next. You cannot be damned. (looking up at ceiling) God has a very forgiving heart.

LOUIS
(fiercely)

Which God? Old Testament, where He was a mean old bastard, getting his rocks off by smiting? Or New Testament, once Our Heavenly Father got some fucking Prozac?

Ariel seems slightly taken aback by Louis's attack.

LOUIS
(apologetically)

Sorry, I didn't mean any offense. I guess you could call me a recovering Catholic... or Jew... or... I don't even know. I'm just a bit touchy when religion is brought up.

ARIEL
I understand, it can be hard for a lot of humans. But you shouldn't count God out. He is there always, watching you... loving you. God can help you. Please, follow me, I have something to show you.

She takes his hand and he puts up little resistance as she leads him.

LOUIS
(quietly)

I'm sure you know the extent of his "help."

FADE TO BLACK

EXT. WAREHOUSE - NIGHT A gray scrim covers the sofa swing and the back wall. The feeling of the exterior is gloomy, like in moments before a summer storm. Louis takes out a black cigarette.

ARIEL
Louis, I do know all about God's help because I was sent here to save you.

Ariel is covered in light, both from the footlights and above. Perhaps a lights in the shape of wings can be shone on her if one is in that sort of a mood. Louis lights his cigarette.

ARIEL
(reassuringly)

Don't be frightened, my child. It's not a hallucination. I am an Angel. God sent me to help you.

LOUIS
(unmoved)

Can the special effects, Ariel. You certainly do not need them here.

Abruptly, the lights return to normal lighting on her at these words.

ARIEL
(shocked)

Louis, didn't you hear me? I am an Angel! God's Divine Servant! God's First Child! The Protector of...

LOUIS
(taking a drag)

I know what you are.

ARIEL
(still shocked)

How can you be so calm? And how do you know MY name?

By way of explanation he turns her face to look directly in his eyes. A look of understanding, then disgust, dawns on her features.

LOUIS
I'm kind of disappointed I matter so little in Heaven that Angels can't feel me anymore. That my own sister does not recognize me when she sees me. I am Lucifer, my winsome darling.

ARIEL
What?! The Adversary? Why aren't you in Hell?

He takes her hands in his in a soothing gesture, though just as likely so she cannot run.

LOUIS
You were in that club with me. Isn't watching those beautifully divine beams of pure, sacred potential kill themselves slowly through drugs and lust just as good a punishment as fire and brimstone? I might as well be in Hell for all it's worth. I'm pretty sure this is how all those televangelists picture Hell.

ARIEL
Why pretend you care for their dying souls, Satan? You caused their gluttony of drugs and their proclivity toward lust. Louis releases her hands and begins pacing.

LOUIS
Do not call me Satan. That is not my name, it has never been. It was a title, Sanskrit for 'prosecuting attorney.' I am Lucifer, the Angel of Light. You know all of this. (turning back to her) And you know that I caused none of this. Lust and Gluttony existed long before I was cast out. They are as much a part of His (points skyward) plan as you are.

Ariel looks skyward for a moment, hoping that there will be some sign. There is not.

LOUIS
I could no more cause people to lust than I could cause an Angel to. True, they have free will, while you must do as He bids. But their free will is their only sin, and it is not a sin I can take credit for. Nor would I want to.

ARIEL
You dare to talk of these poor mortals sins? What of your sins? You started a war in Heaven!

LOUIS
My great sin, my dear, was to question. I questioned God, our beloved Father, about this free will. A gift and fault He passed on me as well, so He could have someone to talk with intelligently. He made me able to question Him! The moment I do, I am deemed after the throne and arrogant. When I tell other Angels what I think of this human race, which curses God's name or doesn't even believe he exists, I am condemned. Along with about half of the Seraphim and Cherubim.

Ariel opens her mouth to begin refuting him and he stops her words with very chaste kisses. They are angels after all. Louis collapses in Ariel's arms and begins to sob.

LOUIS
(sobbing)

Do you know what Hell is?

ARIEL
(after a pause, admitting)

No.

LOUIS
There is no fire, no brimstone, no demons with tridents. Man, in his infinity folly, to rob his brothers of their free will, has invented that. No, Hell is much worse. Hell is existing without God. That is it. None of His love enters. All that is deemed evil results from such a lack.

ARIEL
No, it must be much worse than you tell it.

A man approaches them from the wings. He has a sallow appearance, unshaven, but is not badly dressed. We'll call him Marlowe.

MARLOWE
Hey, faggot, you or your bitch want any weed? Coke? Acid? Nah, flamer, you look like an ecstasy man. How much you got on you?

Marlowe gets too close to Louis, like he is going to attack him.

LOUIS
(annoyed)

I have no use for your wares. Peddle them elsewhere and do so now.

MARLOWE
(eying Ariel sexually)

I think your bitch wants something I got, doncha? Yeah, you look like a slut...

Louis grabs Marlowe and pushes him harder than a man could.

LOUIS
Jesus may love you, but I am not so fond. Go and I do not ever want to see you again. Understood?

Marlowe does not respond, but is already gone by the time the speech is over. Ariel is shocked by this display and doesn't seem to know how to react.

LOUIS
My dear, that is what I mean by lack causing evil. That homicide case-in-waiting lacks love. Not the love of God as I do. Even that guttersnipe is granted what I am denied eternally. But just being denied the love of his community has driven him to ingesting and selling drugs on the street to try to recapture what he has never had. He is not evil, just lost. But even he shall go to our Father's kingdom when he shuffles off this mortal coil with the help of on overdose or a competitor's bullet. When this time comes, I will be here. I will always be here.

ARIEL
(regaining composure)

No, Hell is not just waiting on earth. Hell is eternal torment. You are lying!

LOUIS
Darling, living outside the Divine Presence is infinitely more painful than any physical torment man has ever dreamed. (giving a self-depreciating laugh) I would rather be flayed alive than live without the love of Our Father for one more moment. But even on Judgment Day, I shall remain alone. Truly and profoundly alone. Besides, my precious Ariel, Angels cannot lie. Even though Father cast my out, I am still His Angel... but my wings are broken.

Louis sits on the ground, a gesture of defeat or self-pity.

ARIEL
(quickly)

You lied to Eve.

LOUIS
(defensively)

I told her that the apple would teach her and make her closer to God. It did. God thought so much of the humans, favoring them best of all his creations, I thought he would want them closer to him. How was I to know that he was trying to test their free will? Even so, they showed their will as he desired and he cast them out of Paradise for it. Sound familiar?

Ariel covers her ears.

ARIEL
I cannot listen to you any long, Lucifer. I cannot allow myself to be damned. And there is still a pure soul here that I and charged to rescue before it is too late.

She turns to leave, but he jumps up and grabs her to prevent her from leaving him. She evades his grasp and he end up on his knees.

LOUIS
(pleading)

Please, stay with me just a little longer. Everyone else has fallen away on my account. Tell me about Heaven. And Father. Does he know how much I miss Him? Please tell Him when you go back. I still love Him and all of my Heavenly Brothers.

About fifteen feet away from him, Ariel turns back.

ARIEL
(forcefully)

I will tell Him that I saw you are you are in agony without His Presence. That is all I will tell Him. Now I must go, there is a soul that must be saved and you are not the one.

She continues to walk away from him and back into the club.

LOUIS
(begging)

Is there nothing you can do for me? When you thought I was just Louis, not your brother, you said you could help! You said God would forgive me! I am his Son! I just want to go home! Please, if you ever loved me, help me. Ariel stops, closes her eyes for a moment, and a small beam of light hits her head.

ARIEL
(soothing)

Lucifer, I do love you. Father... well, he has his plans which I dare not to guess after. He needs you more than He is willing to let on right now. You were always his favorite, because you did speak. Wait. Sooner or later, when your part is done being played, he will welcome you back.

Ariel leans in, smoothes his hair back and kisses Louis on the forehead. A look of complete bliss washes over Louis. Light surrounds him, until Ariel ends the kiss.

LOUIS
Promise?

ARIEL
More than that. I pray.

FADE TO BLACK


Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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