The Crumbling Castle, part 13

A Capricious Drama by Thorin N. Tatge


PHILIP: A man whose sensible ways have reached full fruition.

MELVIN: The Wishmaster of the Crumbling Castle.

PRISONER: An escape artist with spirit. Must be athletically creative.

ANABELLE: Philip’s concerned sister. Must be athletically creative.

PHYSICIST: A scientist who isn’t mad, but might as well be.

PHILIP slumps on the floor downstage and left while MELVIN stands over him. Upstage, the PHYSICIST levels a gun at PHILIP with one hand while he tinkers with a machine absentmindedly with the other. He continues to do this throughout the play until noted. PRISONER and ANABELLE begin offstage together to the right.

PHILIP: Hi. You may remember me from past plays, such as The Crumbling Castle, part 1 or The Crumbling Castle, part—I don’t know—7. I’m Philip, from the Upper Village, a place that (gets dreamy) for all practical purposes, borders the sky. Every year, unlike those who dwell in the Lower Village, we make a living by bringing new goods into the world. Do they come from the fertility of the land, or from the wildness at the edges of our existence? To us, it doesn’t really matter, because—

MELVIN: What are you driveling about?! Who are you talking to?

PHYSICIST: Ah, the Scrubs told me he does this every now and then. Starts talking as if someone is watching.

PHILIP: Hey, it keeps me mentally healthy and well-balanced, all right?

MELVIN: Feels more to me like a pitiful stall for time.

PHILIP: My parents keep a trade log, my sister keeps a journal, and I keep an audio diary. Is that so wrong?

MELVIN: In the middle of a climactic confrontation, I’d call it highly inappropriate!

PRISONER enters, frantic, on the opposite side of stage from the others.

PRISONER: Anabelle! Anabelle, watch out! Melvin’s sent the Builder after you! She’s on your trail!

ANABELLE runs on, looking around randomly, not seeing anyone else.

ANABELLE: The Builder? What can she do to me?

PRISONER: Are you kidding? The Builder sees hope, and the Builder takes it! The Builder sees a doorway, and builds a door and lock! The Builder sees a racetrack and builds hurdles; an archway and builds a portcullis; a society operating under the principles of liberal autonomy and builds a system of manditory conformity! Don’t let her catch you!

ANABELLE: All right, thanks for the warning, Piper!

ANABELLE and PRISONER proceed to run about, scamper, explore, sit and be surprised, act out their words, and engage in crazy chaos while the spotlight is on the other side of the stage.

PHILIP: Well, pardon me for speaking!

MELVIN: That I can’t do, my precious meddler. If you will strain your brain to extend back before your babbled diversion manifested its cloying self, you will recall that you made a wish, and unless you’ve been busily knocking escape holes in the castle with your head, you’ll know that’s the most deadly thing you can do in my presence.

PHILIP: Is it? Such a simple thing as a wish? It’s no more than any child would do.

MELVIN: What? Nonsense! No child is mature enough to know just what it wants!! No mere child should be allowed to make wishes!

PHILIP: Nevertheless, I’m afraid it’s quite traditional.

MELVIN: Wishing is not an art for any piddly, foo-fah dreamer, longing for expression! Wishing is an advanced state of mind—a being away from being. A translation of the self into a fully formed other world, obtainable only by trained professionals!

PHILIP: Fully formed? Why, what’s wrong with a fuzzy wish? Wishes have always been fuzzy around the edges. Wishing wells ripple and wishing stars twinkle.

PHYSICIST: Try saying that five times fast.

MELVIN: Physicist, I’m confused—are we the ones stalling for time, or is he?

PHYSICIST: Well, in a couple hours I’ll have this evil raygun thingy operational again…so I guess we could go either way.

MELVIN: Ah, excellent. I do so love win-win situations.

PHILIP: So do I! If you’ve got two wins, couldn’t you spare one of them for me?

MELVIN: Never!! You, Philip, are doomed. I could wait for the Physicist here to finish his work and follow that by finishing you…but instead, let us talk about your wish, if it can be called that—such an immature, thoughtless utterance of a noise, it was. If I recall correctly, you wished to be the Owner of the Crumbling Castle?

PHILIP: That is exactly my desire.

ANABELLE: Piper, where are you? Stop trying to get away—it’s them we can’t let get away! They’ve got Philip, I’m sure of it!

PRISONER: Coming, coming already!

MELVIN: Well, Philip, before giving you such a boon, I think it perfectly reasonable to ask whether you know what you’re getting into. Just what do you think being the Owner of this castle entails?

PHILIP: Well…making sure everyone does their job properly…keeping the castle in livable condition…knowing who’s where and what’s on the horizon. Keeping the chaos storms in check, greeting newcomers at the peak of glory every decade… that kind of thing.

MELVIN: You astonish me. Does it all seem that easy?

PHILIP: It’s all I’ve seen of the matter.

PHYSICIST (mocking): It’s all he’s seen of the matter.

PRISONER: Augh! This is ridiculous, Anabelle!

ANABELLE: She’s building walls everywhere! I can’t get past in time!

PRISONER: I know, it’s like a crazy labyrinth!

MELVIN: My benighted boy, take a look at me, and think over what you know of me! Does it seem like my life is easy? Being the Owner of this Castle is what made me what I am today!

PHILIP: You’ve only been the owner since I got here… five weeks ago. You were insane and all that before then.

MELVIN: How would you know? Does it seem like the change I claim was too rapid to be believable? Its rapidity will astound you, Philip. If I make you the Owner, your sister will fear you and fall to hiding from you. Your friends will plot against you. Your own personality will fall dormant to the castle’s will. You will be at the Castle’s mercy. Is that what you wish for?

PHILIP: No, Melvin. I wish to own this castle, but not to have it subsume me. I will treat it like any difficult possession—as an obstacle. But not a part of me.

MELVIN: Perhaps you wish for the impossible, Philip. Did you ever think of that?

PHILIP: I can see myself in your post clearly, Melvin. I know it is not impossible.

MELVIN: You can envision nothing? What if the castle were to heave itself up from its foundations, rocking this way and that? What if the third floor were to spin itself ruthlessly topwise and come to rest upon its bottom-side? What if smoke and flame were to emanate from every wall and scorch every dinner? What if the smell of strawberries, sickly and wrenching, came to pervade each corridor? What would you do then, farmer’s boy? You have seen nothing!

PHILIP (calmly): I would assess the risks, Melvin. I would call all my tenants to leave the third floor, unless they wish to be flipped on their heads. I would point to handlebars for grasping, nail the dinner table to the floor, and give each person padded clothing for safety! To half the guests at dinner I would serve smoked vegetables and to half I would serve real strawberries, so that no one would be deceived, and forget the true taste of these fine foods!

PHYSICIST: He’s good.

PRISONER: Wait, I’ve got it! The best way to escape from a maze is… up and over!

ANABELLE: But we can’t get on top of the walls!

PRISONER: No problem… Hey Builder!

ANABELLE: What are you doing?

MELVIN: Do you really think such tricks would work? Do you think, Philip, that the Crumbling Castle can be kept down?

PHILIP: Maybe not, but it seems worth the risk.

MELVIN: Well, Philip, what if the risk became too strong? What if the castle truly did defeat you… perhaps the only way to beat it would be to join it! Is that what you would willingly resort to?

PHILIP: I don’t know what you mean. I could never “join” a possession.

MELVIN: A possession! Speak carefully, Philip, for you tread on thin ice!

PHYSICIST: He does? I thought he was doing pretty well.

MELVIN: Silence, you!

PHILIP: An important possession, to be sure, Melvin. A possession that would shape my days and determine much of what I would do, and even think. But as long as I am Owner, it will remain that… a thing controlled by human beings. A material investment. A crop of many decades, just as corn is a crop of many months.

MELVIN: Ridiculous! Corn will not creep up and ensnare you!

PHILIP: But kudzu will, and yet there are those who grow and love it!

MELVIN: Philip…And do you embrace the trap of it? Do you wish for the castle to ensnare you in its wonder?

PHILIP: No, Melvin. I’ve made myself clear.

MELVIN: Then what will you do if it proves too much for you? Just run away??

PHILIP (thoughtful): Yes, Melvin. If the castle is too powerful a thing to hold, I will relinquish it. If necessary, I will run away.

MELVIN: And leave the aspirations of dozens for over a century, all for nought!

PHILIP: Judgments must be made.

ANABELLE: Piper, you’ll get sealed in! Don’t get too close to her!

PRISONER: It’s our only way up! Builder, look at me! I’m trying to drive my head into the corner, where this wall meets the floor!

ANABELLE: Don’t hurt yourself!

PRISONER: No need to worry! Look, she wouldn’t let me go there! She built a ramp to keep my head out of the corner!

ANABELLE: A ramp!?

PRISONER: Yep! Now we just climb up the ramp and dash over the walls!

Both leap onto upper stage and continue running about.

ANABELLE: You’re the best escape artist ever, Piper!

MELVIN: Well, I don’t have to listen to this! I’ll just let you harbor your misconceptions until the Physicist is done with the evil desire ray! How’s that evil desire ray coming along, Physicist?

PHYSICIST: Umh… give it a couple more hours.

MELVIN: Curses! Hurry up!

PHILIP: I hate to be troublesome, Melvin, but I did make a wish. And it’s your job to grant wishes when they’re made.

MELVIN: Yes, yes… this is unbelievable. Your wish, primitive and unsophisticated as it is, seems to be reasonably healthy and consistent. I can’t get a handle on it.

PHILIP: It’s just the way I am, Melvin. Forward-looking.

MELVIN: Poxes on your forward-sight! Look…okay, I’ve got it. Pretend I’m holding a gigantic mint croissant…

PHILIP: The wish, Melvin!

ANABELLE: There’s his room! There’s Melvin’s room!

PRISONER: I’m on it! Hurry!

They run toward PHILIP and MELVIN.

MELVIN: All right, all right! You’ll see what comes of a wish too grandiose! You can just suffer under this burden, and let it be lifted from me at last! Philip, you fool of an interloper, I hereby grant you the Mantle of Owner of the Crumbling Castle! May it crush your spirit!!

PHILIP buckles and falls under the weight. He slumps to the ground in agony.

PHYSICIST: God damn!

ANABELLE: Philip! What’s going on?

PHILIP: Too much to think about… not fit for a… a prisoner.

MELVIN: Physicist, hurry!

PHILIP: No, Melvin, it’s over. I hereby revoke my own imprisonment. No more latent headaches!

MELVIN: Curses!! You must be squelched, Philip! You mustn’t speak another word!

MELVIN runs toward PHILIP to seize him, and PHYSICIST raises his gun. But PRISONER knocks the gun away from PHYSICIST, and ANABELLE restrains MELVIN, who struggles against her in vain.


PHILIP (rising to his knees): And I revoke the imprisonment of Ciuin, Prisoner 000009! And of Mrs. Scrub, and Mr. Scrub, and the unborn Scrub child, Prisoners Five through Seven. And I revoke the imprisonment of the Watcher, number 000003, and of the Guard, number 000004, and of the Recorder, number 000008! All are free!

PRISONER: Not me, Philip! I like being a prisoner! I don’t want to be free!

PHILIP: You wouldn’t have said that fifteen years ago, Piper. I know you, and I can guess with near certainly that you valued your freedom then.

PRISONER: No more, Philip! I like sealing off my own escape routes! I like butting into ramps with my head, caulking the cracks, locking the latches, making the castle more and more a home! Don’t take that away from me!

PHILIP: I can’t let you remain like this, Piper. I’m sorry. I free you, Prisoner 000001. You are the Prisoner no more.

PRISONER: No… oh Philip, why did you do it? Why?

ANABELLE: I think he did the right thing.

MELVIN: He is doomed! He will never stand against these forces as the Owner! He may have freed you all, but he himself will fall, the arrogant child!

PHILIP: Not at all. Melvin, I declare you to be Prisoner One. You will take Piper’s place, and the instutution of imprisonment will finally be used as it was intended.

MELVIN (cringing): Oh, the humility! The pain! The walls, the drear, drear walls!

ANABELLE lets MELVIN go, and MELVIN falls to the floor.

PHILIP: The Physicist is Prisoner Two, and the Builder is Prisoner Three. The Hypocrite is relieved of his ironical duties for the nonce, and may join with our forces once more. The threat to the Crumbling Castle is ended, and so, now that my job is done… I will not be so foolish as to let myself be crushed. I hereby grant ownership of the Crumbling Castle to Mrs. Scrub… who should have been its owner long ago.

ANABELLE: Long live Mrs. Scrub, wherever she is!

PHYSICIST: Does this mean we’ll never get to go through the Closet? Does it mean we’re trapped here, in this world, forever?

PHILIP: Time will tell, Physicist. But I think it would not be such a cruel fate to live and die as nature intended.

ANABELLE: Philip, brother, you’ve done it! You’ve saved us! You’ve opened all the doors.

PRISONER: Too many doors, if you ask me. I feel strange.

PHILIP: This is what I came here for. This is my glory. This is what I shall return with… the kind of glory I couldn’t put a name on.

ANABELLE: Can you put a name on it now?

PHILIP: I think… I wouldn’t want to, Anabelle. It’s better to live through it.

The End… for now.