Meditations On Losing A Head
Eight knights, besieged by a storm, wander a vast wasteland.
They are a headless body, running aimlessly until the heart stops.
In the wilderness, unnatural visitations plague them.
In the distance, foreign powers are massing strength.
In the other distance, other foreign powers are also massing strength.
It is not clear which side is which.
The following is the first draft of the opening three scenes from a short play, 100 Nights – note the emphasis on “first” and “draft”. These scenes are titled ‘Storm’, ‘Aftermath’, and ‘Colony’.
The world cracks and crackles with a storm. Eight bodies move through rain and lightning and thunder, uncertainly and indirectly through the space. The strobe of lightning threatens the eyes while an almighty clamour threatens the ears. Darkness and deafness are the first threats to these newly storm-wrecked people.
K1 Go! Keep going! We have to keep going!
K7 I can’t. I can’t do it.
K1 Please, keep going.
K5 We should stop. We should rest.
K2 We can’t rest here.
K3 They’re right. We have to keep pushing forwards and find some cover.
K7 No, I can’t –
K1 There’s no cover here. We have to.
K8 I wish we were dead.
K2 No. Don’t say that. We can make it through all of this.
K7 Not without him. We’ve lost him forever.
K1 We’ll find him.
K4 Will we?
K1,2,3 We will.
Someone collapses – the sixth knight, heavy with breath.
K6 I can hardly breathe.
K1 (to someone?) She’s not looking so good.
No one answers.
K1 Come on, keep going. Hey! Help me. Help her up. We need to keep going. There’s got to be some shelter here somewhere. We can’t have wandered that far out.
K7 You are prolonging the inevitable. Let her go.
K1 Shut up.
K7 She’s going to die.
K3 Shut the fuck up.
K8 Maybe she’s the lucky one. Maybe she’ll go peacefully.
K1 No one is going anywhere.
K2 Quit complaining and start helping us. Yeah, that’s it, just take her arm there – let’s keep going. Look out for like a cave or something – there’s got to be something around other than godforsaken trees. They could come down all around us any time. If we stop we’re going to die, right away.
K8 It’s not so bad.
K4 I think I’d prefer to live.
K6 I want to live.
K1 I know. Shh. I know. Come on. We’ll be safe and sound before you know it. Come on.
K3 Come on, everyone.
They keep pushing onwards, offstage, refugees from nature.
The knights return. It is morning – birds are chirping and nature is thriving through the flood. The knights are battered, for the first time the toll of their struggle physically manifesting itself. They wear numbers between one and one hundred. It is clear that many more are missing than present. Not a single one among them is more authoritative than any other, in uniform or in carriage. Each one, lethargic and emotional, is sprawled distinctly, mostly separate – except for a single huddle, those tending to the sixth knight.
K6 You don’t… need to keep watching me. I’ll be okay. I feel bad… for this… time-wasting…
K3 Hey, come on now –
K8 It’s not like we have anywhere else to be right now, is it?
K2 Again, could you just –
K8 What? Are you in charge now?
K7 Am I the only one that misses him? He’d know what to do. He’d have saved her by now. Hell, he’d have never let it get this bad in the first place. He’d –
K1 I’m sorry – are we talking about the same man? He’s the reason we’re here, in the first place. He is literally the only reason we are here, in the first place. So please don’t give me that shit.
K7 No, we got separated, he –
K8 He left us behind. She’s right. Abandon his memory the way he abandoned us.
K5 That’s bullshit. It’s not his fault –
K7 No! They were the ones –
K7 Well, they told him to get rid of us.
K1 But they didn’t put a gun to his head to take his power away in the first place. He gave it to them willingly. He subjugated himself – and all of us – to them, willingly. Blindly. With absolutely no regard for any of us. And now we’re lost and alone because of him.
K8 And I don’t think we’re all going to make it.
K3 You shut the fuck up, already. I won’t tell you again.
The eighth knight indicates acquiescence. It is an uncertain victory.
K1 We need to stop bickering and come up with a plan, and soon.
K4 So you’re in charge, then.
K1 No, but – I mean, hell, this is a democracy, we follow the will of the group – but we need some steering right now so we don’t sink ourselves before we even set sail.
K4 And what about those of us who want to sink? Or at the very least, don’t want to set sail?
K3 What are you saying? You’re being ridiculous.
K4 No, actually, I’m not.
K5 I kind of get it, you know.
K5 This is bullshit. It’s all been bullshit since the division. No one has done anything good for us and now, here in this darkest hour, no one is coming to save us. And we have nothing left to live for because, rightly or wrongly, he was our world. Without him, what’s the point?
K7 But what if he needs us? What if he got caught in the storm too?
K8 If he did, then he’s long dead by now. A frail old man, like that, surviving such a brutal onslaught of ice and fire and horror? No way.
K1 Hey – that’s enough now. We can carry on this conversation later.
K7 I think –
There is something in the first knight’s voice that ends the conversation. In the ensuing silence, a rasp is the only thing to be heard. It takes a while before everyone else notes the source – the sixth knight’s failing respiratory system.
K1 We’re here. We’re right here.
K6 I know you’ll do what you need to do. I don’t think you owe anyone anything, especially not him, but… if you find him, if he needs you. Please help him the way you are helping me. I can’t bear to think of anyone else… of anyone feeling…
K1 It’s okay. Don’t speak. Hush now, come on.
K6 No, no, you need to promise me, you need to…
The eighth knight comes forward and, with an uncharacteristic and surprising gracefulness, swoops beneath the sixth knight, taking her head in his lap, now stroking her hair and face, a devastating tenderness.
K8 Hey, hey, shhh. We’ll do it. You’re right. We’ll do it. If we find him, we’ll take care of him again, don’t you worry. We’d do anything for you. Just relax. Just close your eyes and relax.
K6 I’m scared.
K8 We’re all scared. And we’d all be a hell of a lot more scared if we were you.
K6 I don’t want to die now.
K2 You’re not going to die.
K8 You are going to die. You are dying.
Everyone else flinches or shivers, the reality unwelcome.
K6 I can’t… I don’t…
K8 Shhhh. It’s okay – I’m here. I’m not going to let go of you. Just focus on your breathing, focus on the sound of my voice. Do you feel that? Do you feel my thumb on your cheek? I’m giving you all the warmth I can. I know that you’re terrified. I’m terrified. It’s okay to be afraid, I promise you. But it’s going to be beautiful. There are so many more beautiful things beyond what you can see now. You just need to relax. Just let these things come towards you, everything shining. Do you see them? Really, really see them. Take it all in, the sights and sounds and smells. There’s a paradise waiting for you. It’s beautiful and it’s all for you. Don’t be afraid. Just go, okay. Just go on. We’ll take care of everything and everyone that’s left here. You just go on now.
The sixth knight is dead – perhaps she has been for some time. Eventually the eighth knight stands, honours the beautiful body before him, and silently leaves. The others stand around, bereft and confused.
K1 We have to bury her.
K4 We’ll help you.
K7 We’ll all help you.
K2 Come on. We’ve got her.
Together, the remaining six knights gather and carry the sixth knight, a hero, an unsung martyr in an unclear battle. One of them is singing, a dirge or a celebration. With their fallen comrade, they go.
Most of the knights are inspecting their new surroundings. The fourth and fifth knights are not around – they have embarked on a recon mission of their own volition, though it isn’t quite clear what they hope to achieve. The others are assembling small structures – tents, maybe. Perhaps some of them are drinking a bit, too. The eighth knight seemingly keeps his distance.
K3 All I’m saying is, if you don’t want to see animals getting slaughtered, stay out of the woods. Is that so controversial? Why does it have to be this big political issue? Am I crazy?
There is some light consensus. The eighth knight rolls his eyes.
K2 Oh my god – did I ever tell you guys the hunting story? When I went on a late-night hunt with him?
K7 What, just the two of you?
K7 Bullshit. That never would’ve happened.
K2 God’s honour, it did.
K7 Shut up, liar.
K1 She’s not lying. Swear to God. I was supposed to go with them and was, um, indisposed. I think she poisoned me.
K2 Oh, haha. I’m not that desperate.
K3 Wait, shut up – what’s the story then?
K2 It’s a total fucking farce! I can’t believe I’ve never told you this before. So he’d said he wanted to go for a hunt – I figured he meant first thing in the morning, you know, the woods illuminated by some groggy sunrise, animals lethargic, the air crisp enough to keep us alert. Oh, no, that would’ve made too much sense for him. He comes to my room shortly after midnight and summons me. I’m delirious – I think I’ve overslept, I have no idea what the time is, I’m just running along with him to get the other poor sucker who’d been roped in. When we got to her room, good lord the smell!
K1 Please, don’t. I feel sick again just thinking about it.
K2 Honestly, I thought I was going to keel over and die. You looked like shit – I’m sorry, I love you, but god you looked dreadful, an ensign of death himself – and he stares at you like he’s going to rip you in half. And then he just starts pissing himself silly laughing. “You look worse than you smell. How is that humanly possible?” He laughed all the way into the woods, eventually managing just a ragged inhale rather than his usual mind-piercing guffaw. I’m not sure if he laughed so hard he couldn’t carry on, or if he was consciously stifling it so as not to scare our quarry. But god, he couldn’t bring himself to stop laughing. Even when it slowly dawned on me that, actually, this was not dawn, not even close, he was still laughing. Hell, maybe he was even laughing at that too – the image of me waiting expectantly for a sunrise that was hours away. (Laughter.)
K7 Well? Is that the whole story?
K2 What? Oh, god, no! Sorry. We were traipsing around for a while, eventually his laughter had quietened – there would be occasional snickers, but nothing crazy. At one point I asked him what time it was and why we weren’t hunting at sunrise. He just, like, grunted at me. (Grunts.) I think about that grunt sometimes, what it meant. I like to think the whole thing was just him fucking with me, you know – and that maybe you were in on it –
K1 Urgh, believe me, I was not –
K2 Not that you were deliberately ill or whatever, but that you knew the plan in advance and had been somewhat scarpered by the illness –
K1 No, I was in the same boat at you. I thought the hunt would’ve happened at dawn.
K2 Well, anyway – if he wasn’t fucking with us, I don’t know what he was doing. But we trawled those woods for a long time, me behind him, barely able to see what was right in front of our faces. I hadn’t considered questioning him or telling him we should come back at sunrise – how could I even say such a thing to him? But I was going to ask him what exactly we were hunting when, with no warning at all, in a single gesture, the most majestic I’ve ever seen him, he raised his arms and took his shot. I heard something yelp and fall, but it wasn’t right. There was this… feeling, I don’t know. The noise it had made wasn’t quite right, you know?
K7 You’re not saying…
K2 Listen. We started advancing towards the sound of his quarry and he turned to me, teeth bared and told me: “stand here, shut up, and wait for me”. I couldn’t see much, just his back enveloped more and more in the night. Then I heard talking. I heard him say “if you didn’t want to get shot, you shouldn’t have been out here”. And then I heard another yelp, the most disturbing thing – and then a cracking sound, something being broken in two. I heard him hawk back and spit, and then saw him coming towards me. He didn’t say anything, but I followed him back anyway. Without a word he went to his chambers and I went to mine. I didn’t sleep at all.
K7 This is bullshit. I don’t believe you.
K2 You don’t need to – I don’t care. Later that day I went back out to the woods. I had to wait until he was engaged in family matters – I didn’t want him to notice my absence, to know where I had gone, what I was doing. But I had to know. I had to know what we had killed.
K1 Why did you never tell me about this?
K2 Well, uh, I –
K8 Don’t answer that. We all know why. If any of us had been in your shoes, we’d have been just as silent.
A moment passes between them all. The seventh knight is the most distressed, his hero being so openly desecrated.
K2 When I got to the woods, it took me a while to find the same place I’d stopped the night before. I’d dug my foot into the ground pretty good, made this little inconspicuous hole and mound with my foot, a sort of breadcrumb trail that no one else would ever find, especially not him. I found it after a couple of hours – the sun was starting to set – and I looked around to find the kill spot. I had marked a nearby tree, cut a straight line in it. Nothing too suspicious, but it pointed in the direction he’d gone away from me. So I followed it that way and came upon the spot – it was pretty obvious, the blood had stained everything. But the body was gone. Whatever he’d shot – it wasn’t there. I thought maybe he hadn’t killed it, that despite all the blood and what I had heard, it had gotten away after, somehow. But really, what I really think, is that someone came back out to retrieve the body for him. To hide the evidence so no one else would see it, so no suspicions would ever arise. When I came back, in the early hours of nightfall, I noticed too late his face in a doorway I was walking past. He saw me coming back from this shameful mission, more lost than when I had gone. He smiled at me, all teeth, and nodded. “Get to bed – you’ve had a long day.” And I did, and I lay awake for hours waiting for someone to come, to get me, to relieve me of my duty. Eventually I slept, and woke up about two days later. It happens, apparently. When I saw him next he was his jovial self. Like nothing had ever happened. And nothing ever did happen. Sometimes it feels like I dreamed the whole thing. But sometimes even after that I would go back to the woods, and find my markers in the dirt and in the tree, and the spot where the blood was always fading away. And I would know it was real. I was thinking about that in the storm, when I thought we were all going to die. I was thinking about that hunt, and wondering what he had shot at, what we had killed – or spared, I guess, as the case may be. I wondered if he might appear in the storm and shoot each one of us.
K7 I call bullshit.
K2 (A wry smile.) Well, what can I say – I am an entertainer by trade.
K7 Then tell an entertaining story.
K1 She doesn’t exist just to make you laugh, you know.
K7 I mean, it’s the only reason she was ever brought on board in the first place –
K3 Hey –
K2 No, it’s true. (Laughter.) Doesn’t mean you have to say it though… Okay. I’ll tell you a funny story, how’s that? You know I have plenty of them. No stories about hunting, storms, or headless chickens, right?
There’s a sense of discomfort. No one says anything. The third knight is an encouraging presence for the second knight.
K3 Tell us whatever you want.
K2 Okay. Did I tell you about the time […] No? Okay.
The second knight begins to tell a funny story, and then gradually it seems that his voice is fading out. Lights dim. Only the third knight seems to respond to what’s going on. If there’s any incidental music, it also fades.
GODDESS Hear me.
GODDESS Hear me, oh mortal. Open your ears and your eyes to the future.
The Goddess emerges.
K3 Who are you? Wait… are you –
GODDESS Ask nothing of me. I will bring you only what I have already decided to bring you. I will tell you only the things you are meant to know but I will tell you all of these things. You will seek no answers. I am at once a vision and the truth. I am the Goddess of silence, of love and truth and duty. I am the Goddess of superlative nothings.
There is a terrible sickness incipient, a deathly plague making gains throughout the land, headed soon and squarely for you. For all of you, unholy and unnecessary survivors of the storm. Your fallen comrades will rise, your lost leader will stir, and the fields will soak up the falling bodies. Even now, as you sit here comfortably, your comrades are being devoured. There will be none left. These are the things that will be, the punishment handed down.
Blindness is the ultimate threat. This blindness, this pervasive and undiscriminating unseeing, a harbinger of hell, will displace you from the worlds you know. It is no accident, a deliberate force, set upon you all by the most sincere malevolence. The demons that want you to suffer and the lunatic who spawned them. All the beasts of the devil, neither man nor anything else. And the forces of good, the fellow blind and the fellow displaced poor, though they will seek to help you, will be your downfall. There is no escape.
These are all the things I have come to tell you.
K3 You still haven’t said who you are. I think I know you but I’m not sure. Please tell me your name!
GODDESS You have seen me many times at the side of your leader. You do know me. I am your Goddess.
K3 How are you here? How is it possible? You’ve been banished. You’ve been sent to the other side of the land.
GODDESS I am the here, there, and everywhere, now and then and always.
K3 Please, stay awhile longer.
GODDESS You’ll see me twice again. First in the dark, and then in the light.
The Goddess leaves.
K3 Please stay. What did you mean, about my comrades? Are we in danger? Please, help us!
GODDESS First, in the dark.
The Goddess is gone, into the dark. The lights (and any incidental music) return to normal. The second knight tells the punch-line to his joke and the others laugh uncontrollably. The third knight, continuing his pleas to the Goddess, begins to have some form of seizure.
K3 Please, help us! Please help us! Please! Please!
K1 Are you okay?
K7 Who is he talking to?
K8 What’s happening?
K2 Give him some space, move back. Hey – can you hear me? Hey!
The fit ceases.
K3 Go – go, now! Send someone to find the others, they’re in danger. We’re all in danger – the sickness, the blindness –
K8 Hey. (He brings the third knight back to clarity.) What the hell are you talking about? Do you know where we are?
In the distance, shouts. The fourth knight, screaming in pain.
K8 You two, go have a look. Be careful.
The second and seventh knights run off.
K3 Yes, but – I saw something. It was – I think it was her, the daughter – you know, his daughter – but she called herself a Goddess – and she said we were in danger, that there’s this plague that’s going to kill all of us. I think the others are in trouble – they were supposed to be back by now. We need to go find them.
K1 You need to lie down and keep calm. Keep your head still.
The second and seventh knights return, dragging the fourth knight, wounded.
K8 What the hell – where’s your partner?
K4 He’s dead, he’s dead.
The eighth knight spots the wound.
K8 What… what happened to you?
K4 There was an animal – my god, I don’t know what it was – it was large like a boar, but it ran like a horse or – no, more like a deer, and it had these horns… but its face, its face was almost human… oh, god, and it had these black voids where its eyes should’ve been. Not, like, eyeholes, you know what I mean? It wasn’t the absence of eyes, it was the absence of… matter? Like staring into two black holes. There was blood trailing down as though it had been blinded but it saw us just fine. I don’t know… It came out of nowhere – I saw it just in time, I yelled out, but he… he just didn’t see it coming, he had no way of escaping. It gored him, I tried to tackle him off – and it got me, that’s what happened to me, but for some reason it didn’t want to kill me or – consume me. It left me there, long enough to watch, and then it dragged him… it dragged him away in its teeth.
The seventh knight retches in a corner, horrified. The second and the first knights are trying to bandage up the fourth. They don’t have the supplies.
K8 Did you say… it ate him?
K4 It ate his eyes. It only ate his eyes.
The fourth knight cries.
K3 The blindness…
K8 Shh. Not now. We’ll talk about this tomorrow. We need to get back under cover before night falls. You guys take him into the cave and bandage him up in there. You – hey, man, are you okay?
The seventh knight straightens up and wobbles over, uncertain.
K7 I’ll be fine. It’s just – that blood – the smell of it…
K8 It’s okay. We’ll be okay. You need to help me take him into the cave. We need to watch his head, yeah? You take his feet. We’ll go slow and we’ll be gentle. Is that okay? Can you keep your head a little bit elevated for us?
K3 I can walk myself.
K8 No, stay lying down. We’ve got to make sure you’re not concussed.
K1 Uh, hey, do you think –
The first and eighth knights share a severe look.
K8 Not now. We’ll discuss this tomorrow, okay? Just focus on getting him back inside to safety, yeah?
They begin their exodus.
K3 She told me there would be sickness and blindness. The devil’s animals. She said it would happen and it did. This is our punishment. We’re going to die.
K8 Quiet. You’re scaring the others. We’ll talk about it in the morning.
K3 We’re going to die. We’re going to die.
With considerable restraint, the eighth knight leads them to shelter as night falls.