CHARACTERS (appearing here)
Early forties, tall, self-possessed. Hiking in the woods in search of her missing sister.
A young park ranger, late twenties. Pretty. Slim. Strong.
The play is formatted like prose; however, it is intended for performance. If actors simply perform the dialogue in quotes, the audience need never know about the world-building stage directions presented elsewhere in the text. And, as has been the case in readings and developmental workshops, it is possible that some of this world-building text can enhance productions when performed by an unnamed voice or presence. Most important is that the natural world and our longing for it are portrayed in the theater.
As I remember, there were trees everywhere, thick, so they made the day dark with shadows. No such thing as an unobstructed view. You don’t like it. I don’t care. Find yourself another forest. Birch trees. Rich black dirt underneath.
Randomly set in these woods was a very small, one-room cabin. What else would you call it? A handmade shelter? The walls were stolen plywood. The window was borrowed from a bigger building. It was all put together with duct tape and weird hinges. If you walked up to the window, here’s what you would see inside: a little propane camp stove, a sleeping bag on a cot, and a big mason jar, lid on.
The woods were a national park. It was a squatter’s cabin. It was illegal. The cabin was nowhere near a path or a stream. It wasn’t even near a game trail. The cabin was sort of trapped by the trees surrounding it. It was as if the trees had captured the cabin in a more reasonable spot and dragged it out to the woods where they could hide it and keep it forever.
Dawn there lasted twenty-four minutes, starting from the eigengrau, which is what you call the gray your mind sees in complete darkness, to the moment you would notice someone walking through the woods.
And one day a woman stepped out of the trees. She was forty-ish years old. The woman was tall; when she hiked she took those long slow steps. She wasn’t going anywhere so she didn’t have to make any noise. Ann Espinoza. She was “camping clean.” You wouldn’t want to stand next to her in an elevator, but if you were in the woods with her for as many days as she’d been in the woods, you would consider her clean compared to you, no matter who you are.
The cabin wasn’t any bigger than an elevator. There wasn’t a real elevator anywhere near the spot. Was it possible the cabin was located in the geographically most distant spot from any elevator in North America? Was it possible the cabin might suddenly drop through the ground and carry a person into the center of the earth? That was Ann’s fear as she approached the cabin. Ann was careful not to fall because she was carrying a heavy backpack. Heavy enough to suggest she wanted to be out in the woods for a long time. Heavy enough to suggest this was her first time in the deep woods.
The woman looked at the cabin. She knocked on one of the walls. She called out, “Carol. Carol. Open up.”
The woman waited for an answer, but she knew. There was no one in the cabin.
The woman walked a full circle around the shack. She shined her flashlight in the window. She took off her backpack. Then she took the back end of the flashlight and busted in a windowpane. She reached in and unlocked the window, opened it, and started climbing into the cabin. She got stuck for a while about halfway. She didn’t struggle. She just stalled for a moment with her legs hanging out the window before she tipped the rest of the way in.
The woman unstrapped the homemade lock on the door from the inside and went out to get her backpack, came back into the cabin, and looked around. She looked in the sleeping bag and in the metal stove case. She found a book inside the sleeping bag. She found a hammer and a can of nails by the stove.
The woman went outside. She closed the window she had opened, opened up the book, and nailed it over the broken windowpane. The woman tore some pages from the helplessly pinned book and went back into the cabin and used the paper to start a fire in the camp stove. The propane was long gone, but there were some little branches around.
The woman went outside and said to the trees, “Attention all wolves and snakes, bears and mountain lions: I can feel you out there following me. I’m not hunting you. I’m hunting one of my own kind. I’m looking for my sister. I want you to know this is now my cabin and I will not tolerate any bother.”
She smiled. She was enjoying herself.
“I have a hammer. And it looks like she left me a jar of moonshine in there and a book of matches. So I’m gonna keep a cup of moonshine by the door and if any of you try to come in I’m gonna throw the moonshine on your face and light your face on fire. And then beat you to death with the hammer while you burn. I’m not here to live in harmony with you or whatever. I don’t know how to live in harmony with you. But I do know how to make trouble. Consider yourself warned. This is my cabin now.”
Then the woman went back into the cabin and latched the door. She climbed into the sleeping bag and slept through the day.