PHILIP: A starry-eyed young man who begins learning the lessons
of manhood in a place of weird adventure.
ANABELLE: A gentle-natured young woman whose place in a world of weird adventure is unclear.
OWNER: The Owner of a strange, crumbling magical castle. Male or female.
MELVIN: The wishmaster of Crumbling castle. Arrogant and condescending.
MRS. SCRUB: A scrubberwoman. More to her than meets the eye.
DUSTER/PRISONER: The Duster is eager yet insecure; the Prisoner is altogether too cheerful.
GUARD 1: Sensible and sharp, yet melancholy. Includes sound effects.
GUARD 2: Methodical and slightly cratchety. Includes sound effects.
GUARDS, offstage, make sounds of the ominous highland wind.
Enter PHILIP. PHILIP looks around, walks cautiously toward center
stage, and faces audience.
PHILIP: My name is Philip. I haven’t got another name. I grew up in the upper village, in a place where families don’t mingle enough to need names to tell each other apart. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. No, my family wasn’t snooty… certainly not upper class, or anything, to live in the upper village. It’s purely a matter of geography. Upper ring of lands, where the thinnest flax grows… thin air, closer to the stars. It was sort of like being teased…the rain would pelter down and hit us before it hit anyone else, and then just snake off through the porous soil, never to meet with us again. The crops never grew so well in the upper village. But the moon always shone on us first of all… we weren’t rich, but the sky remembered us.
ANABELLE (offstage): Philip! Philip!
PHILIP: What? Yes, Anabelle?
ANABELLE: Philip, Mother and Father left to go to Auction, in the lower village! They left just an hour ago. Philip, we’re in charge of the house until they return.
PHILIP: Is that so? Why would they leave without telling me? Why were they in such a hurry, Anabelle? (To audience): Anabelle wasn’t my sister, but she acted just like it. She was the daughter of our farmhand and his wife, and Anabelle did her share of the reaping by being my friend, and reaping my imagination…such industrious children, we were. We wouldn’t miss an afternoon, we played so hard. All for our family, you have to realize. It was all for our family.
ANABELLE: Philip, they had to leave in a hurry because the Auction was moved up a week! If they don’t get there fast enough, we won’t get a prime rate for our flax! They wouldn’t let that happen, would they? They had to go right away.
PHILIP (Still to auidence): When Anabelle’s mother died, and her father grew old, Anabelle gradually seemed to forget she was their daughter, and not the daughter of my own mother and father. She started eating at the main table, exchanging gifts on the gift-giving days, that sort of thing…and no one seemed to object, or even to notice, really. (To ANABELLE): No, no, I understand. When will they be back?
ANABELLE: Not for a few days. Six days, or seven. But there’s more… they had more instructions.
PHILIP (To audience): Anabelle’s father still works on the upper rim of the lands, where he has about an acre to himself, and grows fine silver flax, which we make into a kind of cloth you can’t find anywhere else in the world. He’s very old now…I don’t know if he even remembers Anabelle is his daughter. Every Father’s Day, though, she sends him a card, with a small gift, to remind him…so I guess for a little while, anyway, he must remember….
ANABELLE: Philip? There’s more. Mother and Father said that this is the only ripe time of your youth to go… over and in. Into the castle.
PHILIP: The castle?
ANABELLE: Yes, Philip. Yes, they know you’ve never been in since you were a baby on Mother’s back… they know it scares you. But the castle is full of glory only once in a decade, and it won’t last long enough for them to get back from Auction. You have to go in now, yourself.
PHILIP: But… the castle! It’s not for me! I’m not old enough to step in there without guidance… I haven’t seen enough, done enough… couldn’t we have taken a loss on the flax, if it’s really time?
ANABELLE: I think it had to be this way, Philip. The Auction was moved for us, I just know it. And I know you can do this. I would go with you, but I….
PHILIP: I know, Anabelle. It’s all right. I’ll go in, then. If my heart doesn’t fail me, I’ll go on inside.
ANABELLE (relieved): Thank you, Philip. Mother and Father will be so glad they could count on you. They were afraid this would hit you the wrong way. (They hug, briefly.)
Exit ANABELLE. Enter GUARDS, who stand at one end of the stage and continue to make sounds like the wind.
PHILIP: The ruined castle. It was a place not too far from my home, that seemed like the edge of the world, even though I’d been past and around it many a time. I’d never been to the castle in my living memory…because the way I was raised, there had to be something forbidden to me. A child like I couldn’t go wherever I pleased…especially not there. It wasn’t deserted, you see. There was nothing there of real value, but it wasn’t deserted—people lived there, for no reason anyone could tell. A place like that wasn’t suitable for a child’s eyes. But now… well, now I guess I’m grown-up.
GUARD 1: Rumble, tumble, rumble, tumble, toss a block and watch it crumble, watch it crumble…
GUARD 2: One hundred eighteen thousand, eight hundred seventy-four. That old arch in the courtyard won’t last much longer.
PHILIP: I guess I’d better go let myself in.
PHILIP approaches GUARDS and knocks on an imaginary wall.
GUARD 2: What? Who’s that?
PHILIP: My name is Philip, sir. I come—
GUARD 1: Are you invading us? What is the meaning of this?
PHILIP: No, I’m not invading. I only want to come in.
GUARD 2: You did knock on the wall just then, didn’t you?
PHILIP: Yes sir, I did.
GUARD 2: Well young Philip, do you know how many blocks you knocked down?
PHILIP: Knocked down? I didn’t realize I’d knocked down any!
GUARD 2: Oh, yes. This old castle is very fragile. Now, I can’t get a good clear look at this distance, but at a glance, I’d say you knocked sixteen blocks off the low watch tower and three off the turrets above us. So there’s one hundred eighteen thousand, eight hundred fifty-five left, then.
GUARD 1: Hm? Yes, that sounds about right.
PHILIP: I’m sorry… I didn’t have any idea it was so fragile.
GUARD 1: It’s all right, lad… it used to be that we guards would be in hysterics every time a block fell. It used to be a good castle. But things just get more and more fragile, until eventually they reach the point where they just collapse altogether. Except for this castle, here. It just keeps getting more and more fragile.
GUARD 2: More fragile than any natural thing ought to be, I’ll tell you.
GUARD 1: Definitely.
PHILIP: Well—is it safe?
GUARDS are silent.
PHILIP: Well? I asked you a question; is the castle safe?
GUARD 1: No, lad, this castle’s not safe. But neither is the whole wide world. If you go in there, you’re not safe from learning things. Left or right, whichever way you turn, you run the risk of learning something…and many of those things can be dangerous for a youth like you.
GUARD 2: Oh, quite dangerous.
PHILIP: Learning? But I enjoy learning. Is there anything else to worry about?
GUARDS look at each other.
GUARD 2: No, tot, there’s nothing else to worry about. Nothing bad can happen to you unless you have the misfortune to learn about it at one point or another. But just keep your eyes open and your wit ready.
GUARD 1: Ah, don’t listen to him. Wit isn’t any use. Keep your soul ready. At least if there is any such thing as a soul, you’ll have it drawn. Nothing to lose if there’s not.
PHILIP: Well, all right… thank you. I’ll wish you farewell again on the way out.
GUARD 1: Certainly, if you dare. Good luck, lad.
PHILIP passes off-stage past the GUARDS.
GUARD 2: That’s one more gone from the tool shed. One hundred eighteen thousand eight hundred fifty-four.
GUARD 1: Yes, that’s about right.
GUARDS fall silent and still. Enter DUSTER, SCRUB. DUSTER immediately begins dusting imaginary things, while SCRUB begins scrubbing the floor, and keeps at it all throughout the scene.
SCRUB (sung, or spoken, in rhythm): Shining tiles in the aisles, shining boards in the wards, now’s the time of year we’ve got a bit, we’ve got a bit to see! Shining walls in the halls, shining floors in corridors, now’s the time of year, the time of year of our festivity!
MELVIN: Did someone down here call for my services?
SCRUB: What’s that?
MELVIN (impatient): I said, did someone down here call for my services? I’m the Wishmaster, Melvin.
DUSTER: Oh, oh, sorry! I didn’t even notice you come in here. Yes, that was me, I called for your services.
MELVIN: Well? Would you like to talk in private, or shall we do this here?
DUSTER: Oh, no need to go anywhere else. I don’t care if Mrs. Scrub hears!
SCRUB: I hear about everything no matter whether I’m there or not.
DUSTER: Exactly, exactly. So…Melvin. I’ve wanted to meet you in person for so long! But you’re always locked away in that tower of yours.
MELVIN: Yes, the Wishmaster tower. You see, Mr. Duster, I have a large number of other duties besides being on call for the serving staff. You should count yourself lucky your request came through.
DUSTER: Oh, I do, I do!
MELVIN: Well, now you’ve met me in person. Is that all you wanted?
DUSTER: Err—no, Melvin, sir. I actually wanted something else…
MELVIN: Oh? Something more?
DUSTER: Yes… yes. You see, what I want is… what I … what I’d like to have…
DUSTER: Well, you’ll probably consider it awfully plebeian, and base… but it really would mean a lot to me. What I’d like to have is…what I’d like is…all the food I want…all the drink I want… all the music, all the amenities, and all the warm blankets at night that I want! That’s what I’m looking for.
SCRUB: Oh, you’ve asked for it.
MELVIN: That’s all that you wish for? Not to want for aliments, warmth, song? Is that your desire?
DUSTER: Oh, yes. That’s my desire.
MELVIN: Very well. Take a look at this jumbo cream cheese and mint croissant I’m holding in my hand. (Reaches into his cloak and pretends to take out a large cream cheese and mint croissant.)
DUSTER: Oh, yes? Yes, it looks great!
MELVIN: Now I’d like you to open your mouth.
DUSTER: Sure, I’ll open my mouth! (Does so)
MELVIN: Wider, please.
DUSTER opens his mouth wider. MELVIN steps up and thrusts the imaginary croissant into DUSTER’s throat. DUSTER gags.
MELVIN: I would like you, Mr. Duster, to swallow this entire jumbo croissant in a single bite. Can you do it?
DUSTER shakes his head, gagging.
MELVIN: Try!! (Thrusts croissant deeper.)
DUSTER falls back, choking, and slowly recovers.
MELVIN: Well. You didn’t want it that badly after all, did you? Or do you still want the croissant?
DUSTER: No, sir… No. Thank you.
MELVIN: I believe that you now have all the food you want… is that right, Mr. Duster?
DUSTER: Oh, yes… I’ve got all the food I want No more, please.
MELVIN: Well, that worked nicely! Of course, you asked to be satisfied in several areas… we could be here a while, handling each of them separately. But of course, I’m a busy man, and I’m sure you are too…so perhaps you’d be prefer I took a shortcut, and did this the easy way.
DUSTER: Yes! Yes, if there is an easy way, by all means, do this the easy way! Make it easier, if you can!
MELVIN: Are you certain about this?
DUSTER: I certainly am.
MELVIN: Very well.
MELVIN raises his finger and points it at DUSTER; DUSTER collapses, dead.
MELVIN: There you are. You no longer want for anything. (To SCRUB): Call me if my services are needed again, Mrs. Scrub.
SCRUB: Will do.
GUARD 1 strolls across stage. As he passes SCRUB, he says:
GUARD 1: Good morning, Mrs. Scrub! How is the day treating you?
SCRUB: Perfectly fine, thank you, footman.
GUARD 1:Excellent then, that. I just thought you might want to know that there’s a chap about the place… a young fellow called Philip. Not quite sure what he’s after… but just in case you happened to run into him…
SCRUB: Understood. Thank you, footman.
GUARD 1: My pleasure, Mrs. Scrub. (Continues off-stage.)
SCRUB finishes with her cleaning, stands up, and looks around at the place.
SCRUB: Not a bad piece of scrubbery if I do judge it so myself. No, sir! (Exits.)
ANABELLE: Philip? Philip, where are you? You went in too soon! There’s something you need to know! Philip! Philip?
ANABELLE wanders around until she sees GUARD 2, and heads over that way.
ANABELLE: Excuse me… sir.
GUARD 2: Err? yes, miss? What is it?
ANABELLE: Do you know where my brother Philip is? I need to find him!
GUARD 2: Philip? Hmm… brother Philip… about this tall, strong scalp, iron will?
ANABELLE: Yes, yes—you’ve seen him?
GUARD 2: Absolutely! And with a temper like his, I imagine he’ll have been locked up by now. The Owner doesn’t tolerate disobedients around here, after all.
ANABELLE: You think he’s locked up? Oh, no! Where would he be locked?
GUARD 2: Probably in the cells for property destruction, over that way. (Points.) The blooming fellow came by and knocked nineteen blocks clear off the walls! Who knows what he may do next?
ANABELLE: That doesn’t sound like Philip… knocking down blocks.
GUARD 2: Well, it is that time of the decade, you know.
ANABELLE: Yes… I know. Well, thank you for your help.
GUARD 2: ‘Twas my pleasure, Miss. (Exit GUARD 2).
ANABELLE wanders about, to and fro, hearing strange noises and finding strange corridors hither and thither… all very nicely polished. At length, enter PRISONER.
PRISONER: Ooh, hello!
PRISONER: I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Prisoner number 00001. Piper’s my name on the outside, but it’s been a while since I’ve been called that. What’s your name?
ANABELLE: Anabelle. Pleased to meet you, I suppose.
PRISONER: Likewise. So, if I may ask… how’d you get in?
ANABELLE: I went in the front door.
PRISONER: Yes, I figured as much. That doesn’t help me any of course… I can’t get out the front door, or the guards would stop me.
ANABELLE: They would? Do you think they’d stop me, too?
PRISONER: Have you been declared a prisoner yet?
ANABELLE: No, I haven’t…
PRISONER: Then you should be fine! They only keep prisoners inside.
ANABELLE: Are you searching for a way out?
PRISONER: Yep, I sure am! Kind of, anyway.
ANABELLE: Kind of?
PRISONER: I’m searching for a way out so that I can block it off. I’ve already found six ways I could’ve escaped. But they’re all blocked up now, or have guards on them.
ANABELLE: You—you’re blocking off your own ways of escape?
PRISONER: That’s right! It’s kind of fun… the best fun I’ve had in years. Escaping would have been so easy around here to begin with… no challenge at all. Now it’s actually something worth putting my attention to. I was working on finding a sonic frequency that would make the roof collapse, just now. Not much luck, though.
ANABELLE: I don’t understand why you would want to stay here… is it really just because you enjoy the challenge so much?
PRISONER: Well, yes, that and…well, to be honest, Anabelle, I feel like I’m good for the place. I mean, if it weren’t for me, this castle would be open to the air, prisoners escaping everywhere! They need me here, Anabelle, they need me for their security…and it’s good to be needed.
ANABELLE: But…are there a lot of prisoners here?
PRISONER: No, no, only me. So far. But there could be more at any moment.
ANABELLE: May I ask what you were imprisoned for?
PRISONER: I was imprisoned for being too cheerful.
ANABELLE: Too cheerful? Really?
PRISONER: No kidding. Them’s the breaks, I guess. The truth of the matter was the Owner just didn’t take well to me.
ANABELLE: Who is the Owner, please?
PRISONER: Well, the Owner’s the one who owns this castle. Obviously. I mean, I’m sorry I can’t help out more, but… (shrugs.)
ANABELLE: I see. Well, thank you.
PRISONER: See you ‘round!
EXIT ANABELLE. PRISONER taps the floor carefully, trying to find defects…suddenly, enter OWNER.
OWNER: What are you doing??
PRISONER: Just testing the floor for holes, Owner.
OWNER: You’re trying to escape, aren’t you, 00001?
PRISONER: Yes, that’s right, Owner.
OWNER: Ah. Well, let me know if you make any progress, Prisoner 00001.
PRISONER: Sure thing! I guess I’ll see you later, Owner.
OWNER: Yes, stay lively.
Exit PRISONER. Enter PHILIP.
PHILIP: Hello? Where am I? What is this dreary, accursed place?
OWNER (sardonic): This dreary, accursed place is my home, sir! My home of countless decades! And may I ask what you are doing in it?
PHILIP: Well, I was…I was just looking for glory…if you understand my meaning. My family has been dreaming of this for as long as I can remember. I didn’t think you would miss any glory; I mean, after all, the more you take, the more remains.
OWNER: The more you take, the more remains. Is that what you think, fool? Where do you come from?
PHILIP: The upper village. My family lives nearby, on the outside.
OWNER: I see. Do you think you have any right to invade the privacy of my own home? Without even an invitation? Honestly, do you?
PHILIP: My only defense is that I thought such concepts were void here. I’m sorry.
OWNER: Do you know what I think would be funny, Philip?
PHILIP: I confess I don’t.
OWNER: I can think of two things which would be funny, in fact. Two different punishments for trespassing in my home. And I think I’ll let you decide between them.
PHILIP (takes a deep breath): All right. Whatever the punishments are, I deserve them. So, go on and tell me.
OWNER: All right, here’s your choice. Option one: I give the castle to you. I transfer all possession of this building and everything in it to your name. Or… Option two: I give you anything that you desire.
PHILIP: Um… excuse me?
OWNER: You heard me. Which is it? Do I make you the new owner, or do I give you anything you desire?
PHILIP: This is not a very harsh punishment. And yet, I suppose… if I were to ask for anything I desired… that could include owning the castle.
OWNER: I suppose it might… in theory.
PHILIP: In any case, if owning this castle makes a person become like you… I suppose I’d better take the other punishment.
OWNER: A wise choice. But not so wise as you think. MELVIN!!
MELVIN: You called, Owner?
OWNER: This young man Philip is an intruder here, Melvin. I’ve taken such a liking to him that I’ve decided to give him everything he desires. Very good?
MELVIN: Ah, yes, very good, Owner. Stand back, please.
OWNER stands back, and MELVIN faces PHILIP.
MELVIN: Now then. What is your greatest desire, Philip?
PHILIP: At this point? Merely to return to my family alive.
MELVIN: To return…to your family…alive. Hmmm. Are you sure that’s really your Greatest desire?
PHILIP: It’s the only one worth asking for at this point.
MELVIN: Well… well, let’s talk about it, shall we? I mean, returning to your family… that seems reasonable enough. But alive? Don’t you think that sounds just a touch…well…sentimental?
PHILIP: Sentimental? I just want to go back to my normal life.
MELVIN: Philip, Philip, Philip, why life? Everyone wants life—eternal life, long life, a fulfilled life—did you ever even bother to think about why you wish to live? As opposed to… oh, I don’t know. Dying, say?
PHILIP: I do want to live… I want to live because… I do.
MELVIN: Now, you know as well as me that isn’t an answer. Is there really any reason you want to live? Doesn’t it seem a little predictable? A little hackneyed? A little…shall we say, animalistic? Do you see what I’m getting at?
PHILIP: I…I think so.
MELVIN: Pick any person on the street and they’ll tell you they would rather live than die. They can’t tell you why—no! Your average schmoe doesn’t have that kind of depth. They only know they want to live. Why? Because society teaches them to!
PHILIP: Society? What about… I mean, isn’t it natural to want life?
MELVIN: Natural? Natural selection? Pah. We passed that by long ago. Human beings are so removed from that old circus they can’t even figure out how to reproduce themselves without guidance. Society teaches its members to seek life whenever possible… it teaches them to desire the things that keep their futures open and bright. But does any one of them understand what life really is? Does any one of them have any more involved a reason for choosing not to be dead in twenty days than they would to be wearing green instead of red in twenty days?
PHILIP: I don’t know. Maybe you’re right… maybe I’m just being a silly living person…following my instincts for survival and everything. I mean, we’re put on earth to rise above our instincts, aren’t we?
MELVIN: Precisely. Now, would you like to talk some more about your greatest desire, Philip?
PHILIP: Anabelle! What are you doing here?
ANABELLE: Philip, I had to come after you. I had to follow, even if it means I’ll be trapped here with you. Mother’s calendar—it’s wrong! She judged this was the only time to come in and go out, but the wind has blown away leaf after leaf of her calendar… I only found it out when I went to look through her room for a clean pillowcase! You don’t have any time left, Philip! The castle will close in less than an hour!
PHILIP: Are you serious? Less than an hour? How could Mother do that to me? First she and Father leave without warning, and then they don’t even double-check their calculations?
MELVIN: Aha! Now don’t you see, Philip? Don’t you see how ridiculous you look? Your sister tells you you’re in danger for your life as you know it—you react with terror and anger, as automatically as blinking your eyes. Did you even bother to think why? Did you understand your own action, Philip? Do you have any comprehension of your own motives?
PHILIP: I do now. My desire is to live long enough to figure out what the appeal of life and freedom really is. I’d never thought about it before… but now I’m fascinated. Thank you, Melvin. Thank you for a decent reason to cling to life.
MELVIN: But that’s absurd, Philip! That’s ridiculous! You can’t get anything out of a circular desire like that.
ANABELLE: Leave him alone! Leave my brother alone!
MELVIN: Your brother is already lost. Fine! Go! Get out of here! I’m done with you.
OWNER: But you didn’t—
MELVIN: Owner, how many times have I told you I don’t like to be interrupted in my work?
OWNER: Um… I’m sorry?
MELVIN: You drag me out of the Wishmaster tower for every random squirt who wants something or needs something or just wants to meet me face to face… and now you give me him? Him? A lad who thanks me for granting his desires? Well, I’m through. From now on, I, Melvin, am the Owner of this castle!!
OWNER: But you—no, Melvin! Trust me, you don’t want that!
MELVIN: I think I can handle it. What, is the post of Owner cursed, like so many things are around here? I can handle it. I have my magic.
OWNER: No, the post isn’t cursed. But it isn’t what you think it is! You’re making a mistake!
MELVIN: From your point of view, perhaps. But my future is open now.
MELVIN raises a finger and points it at OWNER, who dies on the spot. The GUARDS make the sounds of an alarm going off throughout the castle.
PHILIP: Thanks for warning me, Anabelle. Let’s try and get out of here, quick!
ANABELLE: I’m with you, Philip!
ANABELLE and PHILIP run off-stage. Enter SCRUB.
SCRUB: Melvin! Hah! Are you the new Owner?
MELVIN: Yes, that I am. Can you halt this infernal alarm?
SCRUB: Well, no, Melvin. I’m afraid the alarm is there for a reason. Do you know exactly what I do here, Melvin?
MELVIN: You…scrub the floors. Correct?
SCRUB: Correct. I scrub the floors. I always have. And you don’t find anything odd about that?
MELVIN: No… why should I? That Duster fool dusted the furniture… how is that different?
SCRUB: What’s different about it, Melvin, is that before he was Mr. Duster, he used to be Mr. Sander. And before that, he was Mr. Windowwasher. And before that, Mr. Polisher. But I have always been Mrs. Scrub.
MELVIN: Why in the world should that matter?
SCRUB: Melvin, you must have noticed that this castle has an effect on people. It changes them. It makes them into things they were not before…that is its nature. But me…I remain unchanged. And just what do you think that means?
MELVIN: It means that you are inflexible?
SCRUB: Just the opposite. It means I am the most flexible. I sway with the castle, and retain my place. I am immune because of my basic nature. Melvin, I scrub because I like to scrub, but I do nothing that I do not please. I am in control.
MELVIN: You’re what? Don’t be ridiculous! I’m the Owner! I control you!
SCRUB: Not even for a moment. The old Owner was smart enough to let me have my way and keep it quiet… too bad you’re so used to having yours.
MELVIN raises a finger, but SCRUB raises her hand, and MELVIN sinks to his knees. He begins to cry. MELVIN and SCRUB freeze, as PHILIP enters. The alarms stop.
PHILIP: After that day, I knew what my purpose was… to find out whether I and my family had a purpose. I had new fuel for life, new thoughts for Anabelle to harvest. Adult thoughts… thoughts of what life is. It’s all the more important now… because, you see, Anabelle and I were too slow. We failed to escape from the castle.
At first, we worried over what our parents would think when they returned from Auction to find us gone. But gradually, we realized we didn’t have to worry. This castle is timeless… no one in here ever misses anything on the outside. Oh, I don’t mean it literally. Time passes at the same rate everywhere, after all. But our parents are the sort who understand this kind of thing. They’ll come back, no doubt, but they’ll wait for us. They’re wise enough to do nothing, nothing except for stay alive, until we come out. We are the key to our family now.
I have to wonder about Anabelle’s father, though. Will he continue to harvest the silver flax, as he always has, or will he pause his actions on our behalf? I’m sure if it matters… but for some reason, the thought of him continuing to age while we explore this tenebrous old place nags at me. I find myself dreaming of the silver flax, and wondering whether he remembers. Anabelle feels much the same way. (Paces about.)
Rumble, tumble, rumble tumble, toss a block and watch it crumble… toss a block and watch it crumble… and they say some things just keep getting more and more fragile, and never die. I guess we’ll see.