DEATH AND TOM

by Kelce Casey

CHARACTERS:

TOM

DEATH

MAN 1

JIMMY

SCENE ONE:

(The stage is barren, a dim light on stage right. In this light sits Tom, his head over his knees. He does not move, but he breaths heavily. This scene continues for a period of time.)

(A voice suddenly speaks out over the microphone, reverberating throughout the stage. As the following speech commences, Death and his boat slowly make their way onstage from stage left, with Death stopping just out of reach of the light on stage right, and the boat sitting center stage. )

DEATH

You

(The light on stage right brightens a level, and TOM suddenly springs up, looking for the source of the noise)

TOM

Who's there?

DEATH

You. You are there.

TOM

Ok, don't try to pull any funny business on me, who's there?

DEATH

You are there. From the current answerer's perspective, it is obvious that you are the one who is there.

TOM

(swallows, looking wildly everywhere.)

Alright then, if you're going to be like that... who's talking?

DEATH

And my answer remains the same: You. For you have a mouth, and are certainly using it to its

full potential.

TOM

(TOM puts his hands on his hips, looks up, licks his lips in annoyance, and looks down.)

WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?

(The light on center-right stage suddenly switches on very dimly to reveal DEATH, and TOM starts and looks over at the light. After he has observed DEATH, the light slowly grows brighter until DEATH is more revealed. DEATH now no longer speaks with the microphone.)

DEATH

Are you now answered? Or are you one who needs a verbal confirmation of existence? You seem to often enjoy proclaiming your own existence with auditory precision, so perhaps you expect the same from others?

TOM

[walking a bit closer]

You're him, aren't you?

DEATH

[humored]

You hear my voice, and see my face, and already you classify me as a man? I'm most flattered, the last one here accused me of being inhuman, which, while being more accurate, is none the less hurtful, or so I've heard.

TOM

So, I'm dead, am I? Is that what's going on here, hmm?

(DEATH peers at TOM, then slowly removes a scroll from his cloak. He unfurls the scroll and reads it aloud.)

DEATH

Name, Thomas Kedger Hesland. Age, 36. Time of Death, 5:30 AM Thursday January 20th 2011. Cause of Death, burned alive inside own home residence by a fire started by a faulty toaster.

TOM

[now grows more agitated and anxious]

Yes, yes, so that's what happened, that's what...

DEATH

[peers at TOM over a scroll]

A businessman, it says here you were the CEO of a company selling appliances, of which included the very line that your own toaster came from.

TOM

[not looking at DEATH, embarrassed]

It was just something that happens, you know? That tends to happen.

DEATH

Yes. Things do tend to just happen in life.

[DEATH rolls up the scroll and puts it back under his cloak.]

DEATH

And now there is only the last business. You, Thomas K Hesland, are to come with me aboard this ship, and ride to the other side.

TOM

[still turned away from DEATH, irate]

What if I don't, hmm?

[turns his head, his eye twitching]

What if I don't come with you, hmm?

DEATH

If that is what you want, I cannot argue with you, it is your afterlife. I suppose if you wish to wander this empty stretch of rock for all eternity, who am I to stop you?

TOM

Alright, fine then, I'll just go do that.

[TOM turns away for a moment. DEATH turns his own back while shaking his head, but stays. Tom slowly turns his head after a few beats, now slightly scared]

All eternity?

DEATH

[not looking]

All eternity.

TOM

Never ending?

DEATH

No end in sight.

TOM

With absolutely nothing but this?

DEATH

Never adding, never subtracting, never changing. Always the same, forever.

[Tom stares at Death, as if processing this. He then slowly begins to walk to the boat. Death does not turn around, but likewise walks forward. The light goes out stage right and comes on center stage once Death and Tom are seated. Death is seated on the seat stage left, and Tom stage right. They stare at each

other for some time.]

DEATH

Do you know Hearts?

TOM

Seriously? Hearts? …but I'm much better with something like, say, poker or...

DEATH

We will play Hearts.

[Death snaps his fingers, and a tech person brings a table on stage, setting it between Death and Tom. This same person sets a deck of cards on the center of the table, then leaves.]

TOM

But Hearts can't be played with...

DEATH

Two? But there are not two here.

[Death deals the cards, yet gives some of the cards to the tech person as another player]

[Tom cannot find anymore protest in his voice, and instead opens and closes his mouth like a fish. Death ignores this and looks at his cards. Tom slowly picks up his own, finds he has the 2 of clubs, and puts it down.]

TOM

Do you do this with all of the people you bring in?

DEATH

Of course. They require something to do.

TOM

Even if they don't know this game?

DEATH

Then I teach it to them, which passes the time much more smoothly. There's nothing more

fascinating than teaching a human being an activity.

TOM

[laughs]

Shame it's a waste.

DEATH

How is teaching any person a waste?

TOM

[shrugs, looks at the cards]

Well, it's not like they're going to be exactly using that skill in the future.

DEATH

But they do. Within the five minutes after they have learned this game, they play it with great ease for the rest of the trip, for every five second increment thereafter.

[Tom is about to speak, but decides not to, instead looking at his cards. Suddenly, he drops his cards on the table]

TOM

[squeaks, looking out over audience]

Oh dear god!

DEATH

Hmm?

[he slowly leans over to look at Tom's cards]

TOM

[panicked]

I just remembered- the meeting!

[stands]

I was supposed to be there tomorrow! It was about the acquisition, oh my god.

DEATH

[still looking at cards]

How interesting.

TOM

[sharply looks over at Death, slams his arm on the table and brushes the cards back into a pile, face down]

Now what's going to happen? That acquisition is the most important thing this company will ever attempt! We can finally take over some industry in other countries, but no, I'm not there, I'm dead!

Everything is going to fall to pieces, because I'm not there! I'M NOT THERE!

DEATH

[calmly]

Somehow, I doubt that assessment.

DEATH

Oh what do you know? You've been stuck ferrying criminals in this rickety old boat across this...

[peers over edge]

...polluted water. You have no concept of business!

DEATH

I doubt this second assessment as well.

TOM

Really, huh? Prove me wrong then! Go on, do it.

[Death nods, and clicks his fingers. A light comes on downstage stage left to reveal two businessmen laughing heartily.]

TOM

Is that... Jimmy?

MAN 1

[finally stops laughing, puts a hand on "Jimmy"'s shoulder]

Well Jim, after seeing the way you guys work around here, I think this is going to be a very good decision.

JIMMY

I'm glad you think so sir!

TOM

JIMMY? Dammit! The only reason I made him my second was because nobody else could say yes! He's creepy, his voice reeks of this lack of...

[Tom looks at his hands, disgusted, trying to find a word]

He can't do this!

[Man 1 and Jimmy turn and walk upstage]

JIMMY

So, everything's settled?

TOM

NO! NO! That's NOT what you're supposed to say! It puts pressure on them, that's NOT...

MAN 1

Naturally, all is settled.

[they walk out of the light, out to stage left]

So sorry to hear about your old boss, Thomas.

JIMMY

Yeah, it's tragic, he was a good guy really...

[Jimmy and Man 1 leave the stage, the light slowly dims out from downstage left. Tom slowly turns to Death, who has been sitting calmly the whole time, shuffling through his cards and occasionally looking at the scene. As Death now speaks, Tom slowly, without changing the shocked look on his face, sits back down in his seat.]

DEATH

[not looking up at his cards]

From what I could tell, the company was running quite well. Your friend Jimmy makes a good captain of that ship, and he complimented your honor at the same time. Likewise, birds did not fall from the sky, the earth did not explode in a fireball, and there was not a riot in the street nor a second Holocaust, just in case you wondered about these things as well. I could happily show you how these things are not so, but I'd much rather get back to the game.

[Tom silently plays the game. He hasn't so far noticed that on occasion the tech person puts out a third card on the table, until this moment.]

TOM

[suddenly jumps away from the side with the cards, toward the audience]

WHAT THE HELL?

DEATH

[looks at the cards, sighs]

Yes, it's the Queen of Spades, and you have to take it.

TOM

NO! NO! Who the HELL else is playing with us?

DEATH

Well! Just because they're a better player than you doesn't mean you have to yell at them.

[TOM glares at DEATH, DEATH sighs]

The third player is the Lost Souls.

TOM

Are.

DEATH

Hmm?

TOM

You mean are. Are the Lost Souls. Of all things, I didn't think Death would have bad grammar...

DEATH

No. Is. The Lost Souls is a collective conscious of all those who have chosen to, instead of waiting for the other side, jump or fall off the boat into the waters, to join the Lost Souls. And, as you can see, they...is a very good player of Hearts.

TOM

Why would anyone choose to do that?

DEATH

Be a good player of Hearts? Well, some see it as a fascinating game...

TOM

No, no, I mean jump off the boat. Lose yourself.

DEATH

Who am I to question the innerworkings within the mind of a human, a race I cannot claim part of? I am only a creation from the minds of mankind, and cannot question my creator anymore than the most religious of human chooses to question his God.

TOM

Well that's smart of you.

[he looks down at his cards, and shuffles them, thinking]

You know, I wish Livy was here.

DEATH

Livy?

TOM

My wife. Next month would have been our 8th anniversary. She liked the thought of boating on a river, always a romantic like that. Always asked why we couldn't take a day and just paddle up the stream. I would tell her, well, Honey, we live in Los Angeles, and the only river here is concrete and filled with acidic water which would eat the bottom of the boat the moment we pushed off.

[continues laughing for a bit, then slowly tones down, looking down at his cards]

And here I am, taking the little boat trip she always wanted. Ah well, she'll be here someday.

DEATH

Indeed she will.

TOM

She'll really enjoy this, my wife. She'll just... love this.

[TOM breathes in and lowers his head to his knees. DEATH watches over his cards.]

DEATH

Are you crying?

TOM

No, no. Just that...

[looks up, he's obviously trying not to cry]

I miss her. I miss my Livy. And now I'll be separated from her. We've parted, so she'll find someone else, the baby will need a father... she was pregnant, see... after years of trying I was going to be a dad.

DEATH

You still are. Biologically, the baby is connected to you.

TOM

Oh don't give me biology. I'll never get to hold my kid's hand, see my kid's little smiling face, know the joy of this knowledge in that I have created this child, and raised this child, and sent this child out into the world. And I'll have to wait so long just to see Livy again, her voice, her smile, her face...

DEATH

It seems that you two had a very good marriage.

TOM

Better than most, but we were starting to grow a bit apart, it happens, especially with this new urgency coming to the company, but I'm sure she understood, I'm sure...

DEATH

You might never be sure.

TOM

Well, when she gets there, when she and I are finally together... I'll explain everything to her. And we'll reside in Heaven, forever.

DEATH

Are you so sure of that?

TOM

Of... of course I'm sure of that! [suddenly gets angry] Who are you to question my beliefs? A rotten heathen? A past relic of a barbaric time? Do not DARE question the mercy and love of God, or the joy of Heaven!

DEATH

You are not sure of yourself.

TOM

[yelling now, throwing the cards back on the table]

OF COURSE I'M SURE OF MYSELF!

[DEATH looks down at the cards. TOM quickly looks down and slams his body over the upturned cards, now leaning towards DEATH, snarling]

Do not DARE question my certainty, you can't get inside my head. You are the Devil himself! And you will not drag me to your hellish fires.

DEATH

If you were sure of yourself, you would be not so defensive. I never even suggested a lack of heaven in my question. If you were a true Christian, you would be happy in that fact and smile in the face of my own questioning. You have not smiled, you have instead reacted with the emotional crusade that replaces the lacking of logic. If you could turn that emotion inward, please do, and ask yourself of your certainty again.

[TOM stares at DEATH awhile, his face changing from rage to shock. He slowly slides off the table and lies, beaten, in his chair. DEATH looks over at the still upturned cards.]

DEATH

You know, part of the fun of this game is not knowing your opponent's hand.

TOM

What happens?

DEATH

Hmm?

TOM

[slowly raises himself up, looks at DEATH, and shuffles his cards back into an unturned pile]

What happens at the end? When we get to the other shore? What happens?

DEATH

[now looking back at his cards]

I don't know.

TOM

YOU DON'T KNOW?

The table suddenly shakes, and two cards spill out from the tech person.

DEATH

[slightly annoyed]

Tom, please, your outbursts are scaring the Lost Souls.

TOM

How the hell do you not know? YOU'RE DEATH! YOU'VE SEEN IT! YOU'VE BEEN HERE WHAT, A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS? [turns to Lost Souls] SHUT UP!

DEATH

Tom, I must ask you to stop shouting now.

TOM

I WON'T STOP SHOUTING, HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW?

DEATH

[his voice suddenly booms over the microphone again]

If you stop shouting, I will give you my answer.

Tom suddenly stops shouting in shock. Death nods, and speaks in a normal voice again.

DEATH

On the other shore, I can only see darkness. I have never once stepped outside this boat. I have no reason nor inclination to. I sit here in this boat, I usher people to the other side, I find what is missing and I complete my decks. Unlike the human race, I have not been dealt with the card of curiosity. I never ask, only answer. That is my purpose, to provide an answer, not a question. Therefor, all I can see is the slight shore, and darkness. It is up to the human, with his curiosity, and his journey ahead, to go into the darkness and find what lies beyond, if anything.

TOM

But what lies ahead must be...God! It must be joy! It must be... something...

DEATH

I can neither confirm nor deny this. Perhaps there is heaven, and a God, and a hell for those who step out of the boat loaded with these vices you speak of. Or perhaps it is all hell, or perhaps it is all heaven. Or perhaps, it is nothing. Perhaps your conscious is merely obliterated, and you become nothing.

TOM

No, it is not so. I will go to Heaven, and there I will wait for Livy!

DEATH

But how can you be sure? How can you be sure, if there is a Heaven, that you made the cut? Disregarding the fact that there is more than Christianity out in the world, but there are many branching and arguing forms of Christianity itself. Even within the same religion, a different idea and opinion of

Heaven is waiting around the corner. How can you be sure you made it? How can you be sure... your Livy will?

TOM

Don't you dare question my wife's goodness.

DEATH

I do not question. I am only trying to help you remain realistic, to keep you from disappointment. It is my job, to ensure a less rocky travel to whatever lies ahead.

TOM

Well, you're doing a damn good job of it, attacking my religion, attacking my WIFE...

DEATH

I attack nothing. And I apologies if it seems that way. I only wish to help you, Thomas.

TOM

You've helped ENOUGH.

[leans over his chair, crying over the side of the boat]

[DEATH slowly looks over at TOM, leaning over the side of the boat. For a moment, he leans over to look at his cards, but finally makes a decision. He allows the cards to drop from his hands and slowly stands up.]

DEATH

There is one last condolence I can offer you, Tom.

[TOM slowly turns around to face DEATH, his mouth slightly open, his face in tears.]

DEATH

I can give you a single certainty. In your world, as you say, there are two certainties, and they are Death and Taxes. The second is false, of course, for I have known many a baby or child to have come across this way without ever knowing the word of Taxes, and yet Death, with certainty, has come to them. Likewise, there is one certainty in this world of in between, and that is this river.

[DEATH clasps TOM on the shoulder, who is shocked by the coldness. DEATH leads him over to just in front of the chairs, looking over the side]

This river is the one true sure thing that you can have. You know, for a fact, that if you were to leap over the side of this boat, you would join the collective conscious of the Lost Souls. Now, if it is certainty and safety you do want, if you want to know your exact fate, I will give you no resistance if you were to right now leap over this boat.

[TOM looks at DEATH with a shocked face.]

TOM

So I would join this collective, and be a part of one?

DEATH

Your memory and emotion would cease, and you would be absorbed into the Lost Souls instead. You would feel no more pain of knowing the separation you have from your wife, and your unborn child. You would not know the worry of wondering if your company will go under without you at the reins. You would feel nothing. It would be the ultimate joy, the certain Heaven.

TOM

The certain Heaven. The certainty. I wouldn't have to... be scared or pained anymore.

DEATH

Exactly. We do not have much time.

[gestures out stage left, both Death and Tom look stage left]

The shore lays beyond us, I can even see it in this darkness. So take your choice. You may take the certainty of this river, or the uncertainty of the shore.

[TOM stares at the river, shaking and wondering. DEATH pats him on the back and turns away. TOM looks over the boat as the lost souls approach, imploring him to join them. He looks down at his ring.]

TOM

No more pain….I'm sorry Livy…

[he reaches down toward the beckoning hands of the lost souls]

I love you.

[The lost souls grab his arms and slowly begin to drag him down. TOM closes his eyes, allowing them to pull him downwards. Then, his eyes fly open and he yanks his arm free.]

TOM

NO!

[The lost souls disperse as TOM looks around, shocked at his surroundings. His face breaks into a smile, then a laugh]

TOM

I….I'm alive! I'm…

[He turns around and sees DEATH, who gives him an odd look]

Oh….

[TOM sits back down in his seat, dejected]

DEATH

There is still time to finish the game, Tom.

TOM

That's good to know.

[The lights slowly dim as TOM and DEATH are paused, slowly coming up stage left. Death walks over to the right edge of the light. Tom walks briskly past him and stands in the center of the light, looking off stage left.]

DEATH

This is the final shore.

TOM

I can't see past five feet.

DEATH

The light will follow you through your journey. In time, it will reveal to you your true final destination.

TOM

Thank you.

DEATH

For what?

[Tom thinks about this, wondering exactly what he is thanking DEATH for.]

TOM

For... a good game of Hearts.

DEATH

[smirking, showing an emotion for the first time]

It's not me you should be thanking.

[slowly walks backwards]

Goodbye, Tom. I do hope your journey's end is all you want it to be.

TOM

But you can't promise it.

DEATH

[he is now out of the light, his voice is the amplified microphone]

Who can promise anything?

[Tom smiles and shrugs. He then turns and walks off stage left.]