The Narrator stands stage right facing the audience, with the spotlight on him. In back stage left there is a house with a family of two adults and one child moving in (the lighting is dark). The child is covered in clothing from head to toe. The mother and father are keeping close watch on him so that he doesn't leave the house or front yard. They are shown interacting but no sound is heard.
Narrator: Johnny Nicholls is 13 years old. He has always liked warmth. Ever since being
placed in an incubator as a child, he had been addicted to embracing heat. His parents would joke that their young boy was cold-blooded and needed to be kept warm all the time. This was until four-year-old Johnny got too close to the fireplace one night and was swept up in the flames. His body was burned beyond recognition. He miraculously survived but is now covered with hideous scars. He now fears that which fascinated him as a child; intense heat. His parents were afraid of the taunts and torment that Johnny would receive from his peers that wouldn't understand why Johnny is different and therefore taught him at home. They keep him wrapped in clothing to guard him from wandering eyes and questioning stares. They think it is what is best for their child.
The light dims on the Narrator and brightens on the Nicholls family.
Johnny: Mom, can I go ride my bike around the new neighborhood? Maybe there are
some other kids my age that I can play with!
Mrs. Nicholls visibly reacts to Johnny's statement by standing up straight and looking around her.
Mrs. Nicholls: Now Johnny, we've talked about this. I don't think it's a good idea right
now. We are just moving in. Let's let the town get to know us a bit before we start wandering about.
Mr. Nicholls: Your mother is right, son. Why don't you go inside and get out of this
sunlight, its getting a bit warm for you. I just brought in a box of your things so
you can begin unpacking.
Johnny walks into the house with his head hung low. His parents look at each other, sigh, and then return to moving boxes into the house. The lights dim slowly.
On the Nicholls's street, an elderly woman and young man are talking. A middle-aged woman approaches them and joins in the conversation.
Woman: Hi Martha, Hi Pete. What's new?
Pete: Oh Kim, you wouldn't believe it. A family has moved into that wretched old
Johnson place. I thought it was unlivable there! After that last family just up and left five years ago and no one knew why. Apparently this family is just as bad.
Kim: Really? I thought there was a random kitchen fire and so the old folks living there
decided to move and boarded the house all up? I'm glad it finally sold.
Martha: They did. Apparently these new people decided to fix it up and move in because
they got it for cheap. Peggy told me she watched them move in through her
kitchen window. Two parents and what Peggy thought was a young boy. Hard to tell, the parents keep him all covered up with clothing. There's something strange about them.
Kim: Well, I guess we'll just see what happens when they become more settled in.
The narrator remains on stage right towards the front of the stage, either addressing the audience of watching the people on stage interact. The scene is now the Nicholls family sitting down to eat dinner in their newly situated home. Spotlight on the narrator, the family sits in the dark eating but not speaking.
Narrator: The Nicholls family never got settled in with their neighbors. Sure they ran
their errands and nodded and smiled to all that were brave enough to look them in the eye. They never felt the need to get involved with the town gossip or to tell people more about themselves. Nor did anyone ask. The Nicholls knew what it was like to be the new people. This was their fourth home in five years.
The lights dim on the narrator and focus on the Nicholls family at dinner.
Johnny: Do you think this year I could go to school just like everyone else?
Mr. Nicholls: No, Johnny.
Johnny: I thought maybe I'm old enough now to go out by myself to school.
Mrs. Nicholls: Honey, children at this age are incredibly cruel.
Johnny: So what? I can take care of myself. I'm a man! I'm almost as tall as Dad now!
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholls look at each other across the table with looks of worry.
Mr. Nicholls: I just don't think it's a good idea, son. I'm sorry. I know you want to
be with children your age, but I promise that this is for your own good.
Children are mean when it comes to things they don't understand.
Johnny: Mom, am I ugly?
Mrs. Nicholls: No, Johnny! You are my beautiful baby boy!
Johnny: Then why are kids going to be cruel to me?
Mrs. Nicholls: Oh dear. I wish there was another way but I just don't want you hurt any more than you already are. Remember when that boy saw your skin last summer?
He yelled and teased you about it for so long. We don't want you to have to go
through that every day.
Johnny: Not all boys can be that mean though, Mom. I bet this town will be different than all the rest.
Mr. Nicholls: Let's give it some time and we'll see.
Four women sit around a table playing bridge. They are of various ages and talk animatedly about town events and people.
Hostess: Kim, have you seen that little boy living in the old Johnson house yet?
Kim: You mean the Nicholls boy?
Hostess: Is that their name? Yes, I've heard some about them.
Kim: Well, that family has been living there for four months now and I have only seen
that boy a few times. Every time I see him he is dressed in clothing from head to
toe. I think those parents are hiding something. It just doesn't seem right to me.
Didn't you just talk to the mother the other day, Julie?
Julie: Yeah, I rang up her groceries at the store on Wednesday. I asked how she liked the town. She said "just fine" and went back to looking through her purse. Not very talkative. Definitely hiding something.
Hostess: Ya know, I was talking to Paul about them the other night. I guess the father, Ted, works down at the local school. Temporary position with the potential of
being longterm. Paul says he doesn't talk to people much, just does his job and
goes home. I guess all the guys have been wondering what's up with them too.
Kim: Gosh, I hope they aren't mistreating that poor boy. Can you imagine being
Wrapped up in all those clothes during the day? What's the matter Kate?
Kate:Oh nothing, I'm just worried for that little boy.
Narrator: There was more to Kate's silence than just worry. When she was a young girl,
her father had sexually and physically abused her. Her mother knew about theincidents but chose to ignore it. Kate had to cover the bruises and cuts from
her friends at school. Her parents never got close with anyone around them
and no one had ever asked any questions about it. She has always felt that if
someone had noticed the signs of abuse that her life would have been different.
Later that day, Kate and her husband Bobby are sitting at their kitchen table eating dinner.
Kate: Bobby, I really think that those Nicholls are doing something terrible to their son.
Bobby: What makes you think that?
Kate: Well, the girls and I were talking about their earlier today at bridge. Seems that
they keep him pretty secluded and are always covering up his body with lots of
clothes. They don't even let him go to school! The parents don't talk to people
much and it just reminds me of my childhood and I worry for that little boy.
Bobby stiffens at the mention of Kate's childhood.
Narrator: Bobby knows all about the horrific things that happened to his wife and suffers
through the nights of listening to Kate cry out and shake. He wishes that her
parents were still alive so that he could punish them for the things they did to the woman he loves.
Bobby: Honey, don't worry. Sick people like that won't get away from it for long.
Even later that night, Bobby sits at the bar with his friends Mike and Jim. All three have had a lot to drink, but Bobby especially. He slurs his words and gets angry at the smallest things. He is not a good drunk.
Mike: So, what do you think of that Ted Nicholls from down at the school?
Bobby (shouting) : That guy is a fucking creep! Kate told me today that she heard from
her girlfriends at bridge that he abuses his son! I think we should show him that
shit doesn't happen in our town!
Jim (hiccupping): How are we gonna do that?
Mike pulls his truck up in front of the Nicholls's house. Lights are still on in some of the front rooms. The three men stumble out. Bobby picks up a branch of a Birch tree nearby. He tries to light it with his lighter.
Mike: Bobby! What the hell are you doing?
Bobby: I just want to scare the motherfucker a little bit. It's not going to be lit enough to start a fire, it's all for show.
Jim: Let's get this over with. I have a bad feeling.
Bobby: Oh calm down, you big baby. We are just going to give these people a little
warning that this is a town of good people and child abusers aren't wanted.
Mike: Fine, fine. I'm going to start the truck. I don't think this is a good idea either.
But whatever. I need to go pass out and if I don't do it at home Lilly is going to
kick me out.
Bobby (throwing the stick): There we go! Take that you sick perverts!
The men hop into the truck and skid around the corner and disappear.
Narrator: That night, Johnny decided to stay up late and read the new book that his dad had gotten him. It was a collection of stories about kids that look different from others. His dad thought that it would help him to understand what he is going to face when he enters public school next year. When the stick came crashing through the window, it automatically caught aflame with Johnny's curtains right next to Johnny's bed. The room was engulfed in flames within seconds. There wasn't enough time.
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholls stood staring at the remains of what had been their house the night before. They still didn't know what had started the fire. All they knew was that it had taken their son. The firefighters knew that the fire started in his room, and they knew how terrified he was of fire. He didn't have enough time to get out.
People drive by and look at the smoking ashes of what had been a family. They didn't know the Nicholls so they feel bad but not terrible. It's a new topic to talk about tomorrow around the table. Little do they know, they had destroyed a life by gossip.
People, places and things are wood. Gossip is gasoline.
The potential for devastation is monstrous.
All it needs is a spark.