PHILIP: A quiet youth, seeking his maturation far from home.
ANABELLE/STAINER: Anabelle is Philip’s sensible sister; the Stainer is chipper, bordering on crazy.
GUARD 1: A cantankerous but responsible guardsman.
GUARD 2: A good guardsman, despite his faults.
MELVIN: The cunning wishmaster of the Crumbling Castle.
SCRUB: The true ruler of the Crumbling Castle. Must be good at sound effects.
PHILIP: You know…a famous man once said that any healthy person seeks alternating measures of tranquility and excitement. In my experience, he was right. It’s fine to wander through the fields of waving flax, listening to the sounds of the wind and doing nothing of consequence, or to rest on a hilltop somewhere and just watch, and think… but you have to have something greater in your mind when you do it. You have to be thinking that…that this wind came from somewhere and that the sounds you’re hearing now are just the filtered residue of someplace where things are changing and people are living it large. You have to keep a little thought in your mind, to believe that there’s a chance, no matter how small, that you’ll be moved to start running and follow that wind, all the way to where it started. If you want to enjoy tranquillity, you have to stay open to the possibility of action coming from its perfection.
GUARD 2 (Offstage): Keep an eye on the south rampart! I’ve got a feeling!
SCRUB (Offstage): What’s going on? Guards!
PHILIP: In a perfect world, the most perfect states of tranquillity would always come just before intense action…and excitement and tranquillity would flow in even waves through the countries of the world, never leaving anyone bored, or overstressed, but always ready for more. I sometimes wonder if we’d even have to sleep, if things were that perfect. If we had a steady rhythm of action and peace, action and peace…maybe we’d never have the time or the need to be tired.
GUARD 1 (Offstage): Thirteen blocks gone from the high tower! And five gone from the outer wall! That leaves a hundred seventeen thousand, four hundred eighty-two!
GUARD 2: May the castle’s spirit protect us!
MELVIN and SCRUB begin making sound effects from offstage—rumbling, blocks falling, maybe a shout here or there, until further notice.
PHILIP: When you find yourself put in the perfect mindset—you understand each note of the birdsong around you, you feel the rightness of each step you take, and the fullness of each breath…that’s when it’s time for something to happen. Because that’s when you’re ready.
ANABELLE: Philip, what are you doing here? There’s a battle about to start! It’s not safe inside!
PHILIP: So things really have heated up? Who’s the battle between?
ANABELLE: I’m guessing it’s the wishmaster, Melvin. He’s been the only big trouble around here lately.
PHILIP: But…but how could he fight a whole battle against everyone else on his own?
ANABELLE: I don’t know. Maybe some of the servants are on his side.
PHILIP: Well, what do you want me to do, Anabelle?
ANABELLE: You could help out the guards! I think they’re trying to rebuild a wall that fell down.
PHILIP: All right, I’ll go see what I can do. Where are you going?
ANABELLE: Mrs. Scrub said she needs me for something. She’s trying to keep the castle in harmony, somehow… maybe she needs me to help her concentrate.
PHILIP: Good luck to you, then.
ANABELLE: Thanks! Don’t go making anything go wrong, Philip! I’ll see you!
PHILIP (walking across stage): That’s Anabelle, my sister. We came from the world outside this crumbling castle just a fortnight ago. Everyone else has been here for years, if not for their whole lives.
GUARD 2: Philip, lad! Give us a hand with the rampart walls! They’re shifting off-center faster than a whirlpool!
PHILIP: What’s making it happen?
GUARD 2: It’s something from the detestable Closet! Something from beyond where we are, lad!
GUARD 1: Happens like this every now and then. The rotten business comes from being behind our destiny by a few decades. Nothing to get too worried about, though.
PHILIP (picking up a stone and heaving it onto a wall): You’re behind your destiny? What is that supposed to mean?
GUARD 2: He means that we were supposed to go to heaven when everyone else did. Since we straggled back here instead, we get problems now and then. We don’t know why, though.
GUARD 1: Come on, build it back up! It’s dangerous if we stand here talking!
PHILIP and the GUARDS lift a few heavy stones back into place and balance them carefully until noted. Meanwhile, enter STAINER.
STAINER (panicked): Oh, Physicist, you were right! Everything is relative! And the world is turning inside-out! Which way can we run? What can we do?
PHILIP: What? Miss Stainer? What are you talking about?
STAINER: Can’t you feel it? You should be able to feel it! You’re the new one around here! Don’t you remember what it’s like to be outside the castle?
PHILIP stops piling stones and goes over to STAINER. GUARDS continue to pile stones.
PHILIP: Sure I do. Most of my memories are from outside the castle.
STAINER: Then you should recognize what’s coming! In a few minutes, we’ll be outside the castle! But it’ll still be around us! The whole rest of the world will be squashed into this little edifice, and we’ll be squished like shadows! (Runs around frantically.) Squish! SQUISH!
PHILIP: Stop! Whatever the problem is, you can’t possibly make it better by running around!
STAINER: Sure I can! Yes, of course I can! If I keep moving, at least I won’t get trapped by the air when it becomes too dense to move in! I need to gain momentum while I have the chance! That’s what the Physicist would do!
PHILIP: Who’s the Physicist?
STAINER: The castle physicist! He’s a genius! But even he might not be able to save us now!
GUARD 2 (not looking at them): I doubt he’d be able to save anyone! He’s all theory, that fellow, no practice.
STAINER: You don’t know him well enough to say things like that! You’ll be sorry when the big squash comes and I’m the only one still moving!
PHILIP: Is what she said true? Are we somehow getting driven out of the castle?
GUARD 2: No… the Physicist has a theory… it’s as crazy as everything else he ever said. He thinks that when the Closet pulls like it’s doing now, it’s swapping the inside and outside of things. So even though we’re still in a smaller space, if you will, this place we’re in is now the outside of the castle. And all the world, the fields, cities, skies and stars, are now all on the inside.
PHILIP: But—but that doesn’t really mean anything at all!
GUARD 1: Tell that to the Stainer! Oh, kafooey, we lost another thirty-one blocks from the watch tower. We’re down to a hundred seventeen thousand, three hundred ninety-five.
PHIILIP: But does any of that mean what she said about the air in here? Are we going to get squashed?
GUARD 1: We didn’t get squashed last time. But then, it’s never been as bad as it is now.
GUARD 2: If I were you, Philip, I’d find a small, strong place to wall up in, just in case. You could keep from getting crushed by the weight of the world.
PHILIP (dry): The weight of the world. Right. I’ll see you later.
GUARD 1: Or not.
GUARD 2: Right, or not.
Exit GUARDS. Enter MELVIN. SCRUB stops making sound effects offstage.
MELVIN: Why, if it isn’t the original question and answer man! Philip, don’t you think you should be helping out your sister downstairs?
MELVIN: I see you’re still in command of enough faculties to remember my name. What about it, then?
PHILIP: I thought you were causing all of this rumbling.
MELVIN: Philip, my callow friend, you must realize by now that I can only cause things to happen when someone else wants them to happen. That means that declaring war on the rest of the world by myself would be a singularly unwise idea. I’m just as disturbed by this shaking as you are, although I’ve seen it many times before.
PHILIP: But never as bad as this.
MELVIN: No, never quite so bad, I must admit. Have you been boning up on the castle’s history? I suggest you get downstairs and help your sister with her work, unless you feel like cementing your reputation as a hopeless academic in the eye of the tornado.
PHILIP: Help Anabelle? She seemed to think she didn’t need any help!
MELVIN: Oh, I think she’ll turn out to be mistaken. But perhaps I’ve overstepped my bounds. I’ll leave you to be an idiot on your own.
PHILIP: Wait—Melvin, why can’t you stop this event? After all, everyone wants it to stop. I might even wish for it to stop.
MELVIN (craftily): Ohhh? You would wish for that, my dear Philip?
PHILIP: I said I might.
MELVIN: I see. Well, tell me if you’re ready to make up your mind.
PHILIP: You’d have to promise to take my wish seriously, and not to harm me with it.
MELVIN (angrily): Philip, just what is it you think I do? How can I grant a wish without harming someone? Who would be willing to bear the price of my powers in order to let me stop this windstorm? Magic doesn’t come without a price, you know! And I harm people! That’s the way I am, that’s what I do here! Now do you wish for the end of this disaster or not?
PHILIP: I guess not.
MELVIN: Then leave me, wretched creature!
MELVIN: When will I ever find someone who accepts me? Who will ever be understanding enough to realize there is no such thing as a free wish?
SCRUB: And what are you yammering at now, Melvin? The fates?
MELVIN: Don’t tempt me to trouble, Scrub! This isn’t the time!
SCRUB: Do you seriously think you know better than me what this is the time for?
MELVIN: Yes! Yes, I do! Because you’ve grown so deft at slinking along with the castle’s tides that you no longer have any idea what it’s like for the rest of us! I’m afraid, Scrub! All of us are, except for you! You should see the Stainer woman, galloping to and fro with her hands in the air, singing songs about the open country! She thinks it will keep her own person ventilated, so to speak. The superstitious halfwit.
SCRUB: Don’t speak too harshly about Miss Stainer, Melvin. She’s the greatest source of happiness around, and you’d miss her if she were gone.
MELVIN: Do I care? She’s still an idiot, and I don’t see you doing anything to help her…or anyone else, for that matter.
SCRUB: Why, you shouldn’t need me, Melvin. You know what to do if you want the winds to stop.
MELVIN: What? I’ve told you before, I am not going to close the Closet door!
SCRUB: You’d rather have the castle fall in upon you?
MELVIN: It’s the way out of here! I’ve been working for a way to go through the Closet for decades! Am I supposed to shut the door on that part of my life entirely? You might as well shave thirty years off my life!
SCRUB: Better than losing it entirely!
MELVIN: it’s not going to happen!
MELVIN stomps off. Enter ANABELLE.
SCRUB: Your choice, Melvin, my dear. I have ways to keep myself safe, so it hardly matters to me what you do. Oh, hello, Anabelle!
ANABELLE: What do you want me to do now, Mrs. Scrub?
SCRUB: Well, I’d say you could start making dinner. I don’t think anyone has eaten yet.
ANABELLE: Dinner?? But what about the battle?
SCRUB: No better way to lose a battle than to lose your senses, dear. If we remain calm and make dinner as usual, it may all very well go away.
ANABELLE: You think so? What if it doesn’t?
SCRUB: Anabelle, my dear, in my time, I’ve learned it’s best not to ask that question. Go on, you can get the cook to help you.
ANABELLE: It’s never best not to ask questions… is it?
SCRUB: It would have been better for you if you hadn’t asked that one. Now trust me, and go!
ANABELLE: All right, I’ll trust you.
Exit Anabelle. Enter GUARD 2.
GUARD 2: Mrs. Scrub! We’re losing stability on the south rampart, and the bulwarks are beginning to fall.
SCRUB: That is troubling. Is there any sign of an actual enemy yet?
GUARD 2: Not really, but we never thought there would be. After all, it’s out of the Closet. You never get anything solid from there.
SCRUB: You’d be surprised. Keep a lookout over the high tower. But send your friend to fortify the bulwarks. I have a feeling that if the outside world really does condense inside our castle, it will be worst on the bulwarks.
GUARD 2: Yes, ma’am. Any other orders?
SCRUB: Yes—don’t eat anything that will spoil your appetite. We’ll have dinner on the table soon.
Exit SCRUB. Enter GUARD 1 and PHILIP.
GUARD 1: What did she say? Is she still denying we’re in danger?
GUARD 2: I’m…not sure. But she said you should go fortify the bulwarks.
GUARD 1: Right then. Come on, junior. I’ll need your help again.
PHILIP: If you say so.
Exit GUARD 2.
GUARD 1 (pulling PHILIP across stage): This way. Have you got any armor?
PHILIP: No…I don’t like heavy clothing. Would armor help?
GUARD 1: Don’t knock it just because it’s heavy. It could keep you from getting hit by the really heavy stuff.
PHILIP: Do you have any to spare?
GUARD 1: Not handy, no. You’ll just have to be careful, I guess. This way.
Enter STAINER. GUARD 2 and SCRUB start making sound effects as before—rumbles, crashes, shouts, and general tumult.
STAINER: The ground is falling! The ground is falling! Hey, nonny nonny, the ground is falling!
GUARD 1: Shut up! Please shut up!
STAINER: If I shut up, I’ll lose my voice! I’ve got to keep the voice stream fluid! Got to keep what I'’e got, not get stuffed inside! Did you ever open your mouth and have the words travel in instead of out? Do you know what it feels like to have words trapped inside your belly? If it happens to you, you’d better hope they’re true words, because false ones will burn a hole in you! That’s not for me! Wheeeee!
PHILIP: She’s gone insane!
GUARD 1: No, she knows what she’s talking about. I don’t agree with her point of view, but it’s a valid one. Cripes, the whole entry arch just collapsed! Now we’re down another fifty blocks!
STAINER: So much the better! I hope the whole castle crumbles to the ground! Then there’d be no more boundaries… and no more being trapped! One big wide ooooooopen world, that’s what we need!
GUARD 1: And we’d lose all the boundaries that make our lives so special. Here’s the bulwark, Philip. Pile up the sandbags against the wall, there. It’s getting worse and we don’t have much time.
PHILIP and GUARD 1 begin piling up sandbags until noted.
STAINER: You’ll never keep it out, folks! That’s not just the weight of the world you’re fighting—it’s the whole weight of heaven! You know you could have been there, if you’d been different! You could be where the rest of them have gone! You could have jumped right through that Closet into the bright shapes beyond and you wouldn’t have to worry about what you left behind! But you’re still here! You were too caught up in your work, your habits, your chains and bonds, too stubborn to tie up loose ends! It’s a skill, you simple guard, a skill everyone should have, to tie up loose ends and move on! Isn’t that right, Philip?
PHILIP: Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess so.
STAINER: If I’d been here, I would have done it! I’d be in heaven now! But I was still living on the outside then… too bad I was too late! I’ll be here for the next chance, though! And there will be another chance, believe me! Heaven doesn’t forget you! The Closet will shine again, and I plan to be there when it does! What about you, Guard? Are you going to be there? Or do you still love your work too much?
GUARD 1: You don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’d’ve been there, you’d know it wasn’t that easy.
STAINER: Oh? What do you know about what I find easy?
GUARD 1 stops piling sandbags, but PHILIP continues.
GUARD 1: You think you can tie up your whole life on this planet so easily and so quickly as that! But you don’t know what you’d being leaving behind. You don’t have the dimmest, faintest idea. Seriously, girl.
STAINER: I think you’re guilty of thinking everyone is like you.
MELVIN: And I think you’re no less guilty. Let me ask you a question.
STAINER: What are you doing here, Melvin?
MELVIN: The same as you—trying to protect myself. Here’s the question: if you went up to heaven and left this world entirely behind… what would be left of you?
STAINER: What are you talking about?
MELVIN: You, fool! You and your glowing, noisy personality that’s garnering so much attention now. In heaven, would you retain any faults? Would you be a flawed person even there?
STAINER: I guess so! Why not? I’m good enough, aren’t I? Why should I have to be perfect?
MELVIN: If you did take your faults with you, along with the rest of your personality, wouldn’t you still be living in the world of the past? Wouldn’t you be reflecting things that had happened to you before, things that shaped your personality in the world of chaos in which you were born?
STAINER: I would, sure! That’s the beautiful part of it!
MELVIN: Then , prey tell me, how would you manage to tie up all your loose ends, as you put it? What memories could you afford to snip in half? What character traits would you be safe leaving behind? How could you dismiss the past and hope to keep yourself?
STAINER: I like to think there’s more to me than my past!
MELVIN: Oh certainly! But you see, the past isn’t the only thing we had to let go of! Are you starting to get the picture?
STAINER: I won’t listen to you! You have no reason to cause trouble, not now, not when the storm’s almost on us!
GUARD 2 flies onto stage and collapses suddenly in a heap. SCRUB’s sound effects get louder to take up the slack.
MELVIN: The storm is on us, Stainer! This Guard is dead! What do you have to say now?
GUARD 1 pulls PHILIP into a crouch.
GUARD 1: Get down, Philip!
STAINER (trotting about): I have nothing to say to you, Melvin! I’m going to continue to be my bouyant, happy self, and stay moving even while the rest of you freeze up! Don’t try to slow me down!
MELVIN: Oh, I wouldn’t do that against your will! But I’m interested in this “something more” you think you’re made of. Is that your soul?
STAINER: It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that I could have gone to heaven. I could have made it through that door! I could have let go of what I needed to let go of and gone! I’d let go of all my biases, all my failings, all my shame and even all my pride! The rest of them weren’t proud! They were just good!
MELVIN: Yes… and would you like to be “just good?”
GUARD 1: Don’t do it, Melvin!
STAINER: Of course I want to be good! In heaven, I could be purefied of everything that makes me less than perfect here on earth! And I wouldn’t have been afraid to let go of anything I needed to get that, if I’d lived here when the Closet opened before!
MELVIN: I’m sure you wouldn’t! You seem like a very relenquishing person! Now let me ask you—do you wish you had a second chance?
GUARD 1: No!!
STAINER: Every day, you fool! Every day!
MELVIN: What do you wish for?
STAINER: I wish to go to heaven! I wish to be safe and free in heaven, no matter what the cost!
MELVIN: All right, then!
MELVIN throws his hands up to the sky. SCRUB, offstage, reaches a rumbling crescendo. PHILIP and GUARD 1 throw themselves to the ground. STAINER keeps moving around stage, but goes slower and slower, falling slowly to her knees, and then to her chest. She collapses into a ball, and then falls limp. The sound effects slowly cease.
GUARD 1 (getting up): Dinnertime?
PHILIP: I guess the storm is over.
MELVIN: Of course it’s over. The world turned inside-out and back again.
PHILIP: And it didn’t crush us?
MELVIN: No… I managed to make it all focus on the Stainer, there. She asked for it.
PHILIP: What? You beast! She never asked to be killed!
MELVIN: Why, what better way is there to get to heaven?
GUARD 1: You know that’s not how it works, Melvin! You don’t get to heaven by dying… you get there when it calls you! that’s the only way!
MELVIN: Oh, yes, I know that. But you see, the Stainer asked to be purified. If she’d gotten her will, she’d be a blissful, immaculate being, singing and radiating beauty without a care in the world about what she used to be. And believe me—there are plenty of beings in heaven just like that. So she got her wish… no more, and no less.
GUARD 1: I can’t believe you. You tricked her! She was the happiest servant here and you tricked her into giving up her life!
MELVIN: Maybe you think I tricked her… and truth be told, I don’t really care what you think. But the fact of the matter is… I somewhat envy that poor girl. She really did get what she wanted… I never get that much. Exit MELVIN.
GUARD 1 bends over GUARD 2.
GUARD: That Melvin… he scares me so. But you… you’re past fear. Poor fellow. You didn’t manage to man the ramparts, did you? It all goes to show this thing was real…far too real for my tastes. Goodbye, poor friend…my fellow guardsman.
GUARD 1 drags GUARD 2 off stage.
PHILIP (sitting down next to the STAINER): I don’t understand… or maybe I do. Maybe heaven is a real place past this Closet they keep talking about…maybe it’s where everyone went when this castle was a tower where all the good people lived. But if it’s true… if Melvin was telling the truth, and the part of Miss Stainer she wanted to be there is already there… then they could all just as well have vanished. Every one of those good people… they might as well have vanished.
SCRUB (offstage): Are you coming to dinner, Philip?
PHILIP: Wow. I guess I might as well. But…rest well, Miss Stainer, wherever and whoever you are. I’ll miss you.