November Writing Challenge #6

One that I kind of like, at last. A redo of a failed story. This is Act One. I’m taking the weekend off.


November Writing Challenge #6–ACT I

Setting:  a church sanctuary, elaborate, Victorian/Gothic. Altar with hangings, candlesticks. A cross above, not quite in the center. A font stage left, with the cross on the lid tipped to the side. There is a door in the wall next to the altar, on the right side. Dimly lit, as a church would be without electric lights.


Father William, The New Priest—a fresh-faced young man, determined to do things right, but     not deterred by the memory of Father Tomlinson his predecessor. In clericals.

Martha, The Altar Guild Lady—a middle-aged woman, very efficient and brisk.

Sacred to the memory of Father Tomlinson

Father Grayson, The Old Priest—under the altar, which is moveable.

He is spectral and wearing a black cassock.

As the curtain opens, Father William and Martha are standing in front of the altar, continuing a conversation.

William: I think I should just get a step ladder and get up there and move it.

Martha: Oh, but then you’d have to step on the altar.

William:  I’d take the fair linen off, first, of course, and put down newspapers.

Martha:  That’s not what I meant, Father. Standing on the altar.  .  .

William:  I understand. But it’s off-center. And surely when it was hung in the first place, someone had to stand on the altar.

Martha:  Father Tomlinson often commented on that cross. He believed that it was hung that way for a purpose.

William: Perhaps it was. But I believe that purpose has been fulfilled, and I shall move it to the center. And while I’m up there, if you like, I’ll give the paneling a good rubdown with whatever polish you recommend. Would you mind taking the fair linen and other things off? I’m afraid I’m not good at that sort of thing.

Martha (somewhat mollified): Certainly I can remove the things properly. And I’ll fetch some polish. I have just the thing in the sacristy closet.  Exits

William:  I thought you might. He is visibly relieved.

Martha returns wearing a pair of white gloves. She hands a pair to him.

Martha:  You may help me with the candlesticks.

He puts the gloves on, and each of them lifts a candlestick from the altar. They carry them through the door. When they have gone, the altar shifts slightly so that the cross appears to be in the center. They return, without gloves. Martha has a tube to roll up the fair linen, and she begins to do that while William stands back and watches. He looks at the cross, clearly puzzled.

William:  Martha, could you come over here for a minute? She leaves the rolling and stands beside him.

Is it my imagination, or is the cross in the center now?

Martha:  I believe it is. But wait. . . she goes back to the altar and looks at the floor. The altar has moved. Look!  William joins her and examines the floor.

William: Did we. . . bump it? When we removed the candlesticks?

Martha: I doubt it. Try moving it.  He tries, and fails. “Bumping it” is out of the question.

William: You’re right. Was there an earthquake? But—nothing else is out of place. We would have felt something. . .

Martha: The altar has a solid marble top. I doubt that an earthquake would move it at all.

William:  Well, I guess I don’t have to move the cross.

Martha:  But now the altar is off center.

William:  And since I can’t move that, it will have to stay that way. I suppose we can put the things back.  Martha unrolls the linen again, and smooths it, while William ponders, and examines the altar and the floor. They exit. While they are gone, the altar moves back to its original place. They enter, in white gloves, carrying candlesticks, which they put on the altar. William steps back.

William:  Martha. Look.  She joins him. They look at one another in puzzlement.  All right. I think we’d better leave this. No ladder, no moving, no polishing. I must think about this. Thank you for your help. It looks as if everything is all set for the service tonight.

Martha:  Except the flowers. They’ll be delivered at six. You’ll be here. (not a question)

William: Yes. All Souls’ Day. I must remember the list of names.

Martha:  It will be sad to hear Father Tomlinson’s name on that list this year.

William:  We’ll all be on that list one day, Martha. One thing we can be sure about.

Martha:  (darkly) Assuming there is still a church and a congregation.

William:  Yes, of course, assuming that, which I do.  Thank you for your good work. Everything looks very nice.

Martha: So I’ll go now.

William: And I’ll see you this evening.

Martha:  Of course. Good afternoon, Father.

William:  Good afternoon. . .

She exits, and he stands in front of the altar with his arms folded.  

William:  All right. Whoever you are, whatever you are, I know about you. The Bishop told me there was something amiss here, and there is. That cross, that crooked font, the organ that won’t stay in tune, the bell that won’t ring no matter how many times it’s rehung, the fact that no one has been baptized here for fifty years. . .  I know about you. And I want this to stop. And I will get to the bottom of it. And if I must, I will do an exorcism, old-fashioned though that may be. As he speaks, the cross falls off the wall.  So. You see the writing on the wall?  “Mene, mene, tekel, parsin.”  Your days are numbered.  Exits.

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