Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
This piece was originally written for Mudlark Theater’s 2020 Short Play Festival, commissioned around the theme of “sleepaway camp.” The play was meant to be performed with a host of other original written works for two weekends at the end of March, featuring a large cast of youth actors. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the show was canceled entirely, and my heart goes out to the kids and their directors who worked for weeks to bring these characters to life. I’m sharing it here as a sort of memorial, with permission from Mudlark.
(c) 2020 Bilal Dardai
Setting: The central grounds of Robin’s Egg Rock Sleepaway Camp. Lights to full, and we see two campers — IZZY and HARPER — surrounded by a wondrous and terrifying group of forest creatures and spirits. IZZY holds a pen and notepad, HARPER a sketchbook and pencil. MORNING MIST, an imposing forest god, holds aloft a large branch. HARPER and IZZY speak to the audience and to each other.
HARPER: So then the, I guess the leader, what was their name?
IZZY: Morning Mist.
HARPER: Morning Mist! Morning Mist says:
MORNING: Then it is decided! Starting here, starting tonight, let there be WAR!
Several of the group roar in assent, and then freeze as IZZY interrupts.
IZZY: Whoa! That’s where you want to start it?
HARPER: That’s the important part, right?
IZZY: Oh my friend. Nonononono. One must build delicately to a moment like that. Allow me.
A blackout. As IZZY speaks, lights slowly return on the central grounds of the camp. IZZY is writing in the notebook while sitting on a rock; HARPER is standing nearby. All of the forest creatures and spirits are gone, and it is close to sunset.
IZZY: So, at the start of camp, everybody goes on the First Night Hike to the top of Robin’s Egg Rock. So that’s where everybody was. (Beat. IZZY notices HARPER.) Almost everybody.
HARPER: What are you doing here?
IZZY: What are you doing here?
HARPER: I asked you first.
IZZY: I told Counselor Steve that I wasn’t supposed to go on the hike because I was recovering from surgery on my fourth metatarsal.
HARPER: Your what?
IZZY: It’s a foot-bone. I told him he was supposed to have a note from my mother but maybe she forgot it. Sometimes she forgets important things like that. And she’d feel really rotten about forgetting to tell him if I ended up re-injuring my metatarsal.
HARPER: Wait. Is that true?
IZZY: Nah. My foot’s fine. I was working on a new story and I wanted to finish writing it.
HARPER: Oh! I’m sorry. I’m in your way. I’ll go.
IZZY: What? Don’t be silly, there’s room for both of us. Your turn. Why’d you hang back?
HARPER: Um. Counselor Steve’s my dad. And I come every year and they do the same show every First Night Hike so this time I told him I wanted to skip it.
IZZY: Gotcha. (Beat.) You’re not gonna tell him, are you? That I lied to him?
HARPER: No! Other kids fool him all the time. He’s not super-bright. Can’t believe he left you alone, though.
IZZY: The, uh, the counselor with the tattoos all over her arms?
IZZY: Anne, that’s her. She’s still here. She’s listening to the Yankees game, said I could stay out here as long as I don’t get killed. I’m Izzy.
IZZY: What do you got there?
HARPER: This? Just some drawings and stuff.
IZZY: Neat. Can I see?
HARPER: (with hesitation) You can if you promise not to laugh at it.
IZZY: I won’t.
HARPER: Like, if you do, I get to, I don’t know, punch you in the shoulder.
HARPER: Really hard.
IZZY: I promise, Harper. Lemme see.
HARPER: (hands the sketchpad over) It’s just, like, some characters.
IZZY: (flipping through, genuinely impressed) You made these up?
IZZY: People laughed at these?
IZZY: Kids are so dumb. Look at this one! Baron Wolfblood the Seventh, the high vampire wizard of the lost kingdom of Lunataria, right?
HARPER: (looking over the drawing) No. Wait. Maybe? I didn’t have a name for him.
IZZY: He’s totally a Baron Wolfblood the Seventh. And he is cursed to stay in his castle until… (flips to another page in the book) …she, the Lady Lorelei of Shining Vale, comes to forgive his family for his past crimes.
IZZY: Through honorable combat!
JASPER FISHFRIEND, a gnome with a makeshift fishing pole and shoulder bag, wanders in. There’s a fish on the end of the hook.
JASPER: Well, well, well, would you listen to that. Everywhere you go there’s always some youngfolk going on about “honorable combat.” (to the fish) You and I know better, don’t we. (has a seat on the ground)
HARPER: Hello? Um.
JASPER: (to the fish) Everything about combat sounds honorable until the fighting starts. That’s what we know.
HARPER: I’m sorry, are you in the right place?
JASPER: Absolutely, youngster. A river gnome is always in the right place. He just tends to get there early.
IZZY: Early? Early for what?
HARPER: (to the audience) We just had to ask, didn’t we.
The rest of the creatures and spirits seen at the top of the play begin to arrive: the elven siblings MORNING MIST and MIDNIGHT MIST, the brown bear GRRGARR HONEYSTUNG, and the tree spirit AMBASSADOR OF THE TWISTING BRANCH. Others from their retinue may also be present. The sunlight is nearly gone.
HARPER: (to IZZY) This isn’t something you’re doing, is it?
IZZY: No, but I wish.
JASPER: Hm. Not sure you’re supposed to be here for this. Very bad. Be as I say.
IZZY: I think he means roll with it.
JASPER: Morning Mist, caretaker of dawns. My greetings to you, old friend. How nice that your sibling joins us for our gathering.
MORNING: If you say so. Midnight Mist comes of their own interest, not of mine.
JASPER: (amused) Ohhhh, such bitterness!
MORNING: What they did is not easily forgiven! It was one of my finest sunrises, and–
JASPER: –we told you! Several times! An eclipse is not something one can control!
MORNING: (after a moment, dismissively) Are these your spawn?
HARPER: His what now?
JASPER: No no. These are my apprentices.
MORNING: I see. This is abnormal, Fishfriend.
JASPER: I know.
IZZY: But how else shall we learn, your, um, your?
MORNING: Perhaps. Still: Keep them quiet, gnome. (walks away)
GRRGARR: Get started! Sooner we talk sooner we eat!
AMBASSADOR: Must you always be so loud?!
GRRGARR: Sooner we eat sooner we sleep! Then you get your quiet!
HARPER: That’s a bear. You see a bear, right?
IZZY: I see a bear and I see a tree. I think the bear and the tree are arguing.
HARPER: Wait, do we speak bear now? How do we speak bear?
IZZY: I don’t think we speak bear. I think the bear is speaking English.
JASPER: Both wrong. Everyone here speaks Woodish.
HARPER: We know Woodish?
JASPER: Everyone alive knows Woodish. From the moment you’re born, always and forever. Quiet now.
MORNING: (raising high a large branch) We are at twilight and the envoys are met. Jasper Fishfriend, who speaks for the river. Grrgarr Honeystung, who speaks for the birds and beasts. The Ambassador of the Twisting Branch, who speaks for the trees.
AMBASSADOR: Is King Cricket here?
A loud and astonishing cricket chirp echoes through the camp.
MORNING: King Cricket is present, yes.
MIDNIGHT: (coughs politely) And.
MORNING: (gritting teeth) As is my sibling, Midnight Mist, the guardian of evening, who knows what they did.
GRRGARR: Enough of first talking! Get to second talking!
MORNING: Friends, as we do every year, we gather in this abandoned camp while the humans perform their bizarre rituals.
Everybody except IZZY and HARPER burst into mocking laughter.
MORNING: But this year I am here to ask something different. I am here, along with Grrgarr and the Ambassador, to ask why we do this? Why do we allow the humans into our forest during the summer, with their loud frolic and ugly music?
AMBASSADOR: Yes! Reasonable point! Why must we lower ourselves to their crude shelters for our gathering, instead of meeting high upon our mighty Rock of Ancients as our ancestors have done?
GRRGARR: When they make circles of rocks and tables of wood, why did not we tear apart?
IZZY: I don’t like where this is going.
HARPER: Yeah, me neither.
GRRGARR: Beasts and birds should go where they please! Eat what they wish!
AMBASSADOR: The trees tire of having their bark carved into. Their branches fed into the fires.
MORNING: Not even to mention what the winds tell us about how their kind harm the lands and skies beyond our own.
A loud and astonishing cricket chirp.
MORNING: Exactly right, King Cricket. My friends, we have tolerated enough.
HARPER: Oh, this is bad.
IZZY: Real bad.
MORNING: So I ask the envoys gathered tonight: Let us pursue war against these humans and drive them from our forest, never to return! Let all four seasons belong to us again!
The assembled rumble in agreement, including the astonishing cricket chirp. MIDNIGHT MIST looks concerned, JASPER unmoved.
MORNING: (to JASPER) You have been quiet. What say you, river gnome?
JASPER: The river has no complaint, Morning Mist. The river follows its own flow.
JASPER: The river is not here to serve your outrage. The river provides life to all and wishes death on no one.
MORNING: Pfah. No matter. The birds, beasts, trees, and insects stand behind me, even if the river will not.
GRRGARR: Oh! Supposed to stand behind! Come on, Branches.
AMBASSADOR: That’s not what–
GRRGARR: (grabs the AMBASSADOR in a bear hug and drags them over) Hold on! Grrgarr and Branches coming to stand behind!
AMBASSADOR: Stop calling me that! I am the Ambassador of–
GRRGARR: Morning Mist should have said before that Grrgarr and Branches supposed to stand behind!
AMBASSADOR: It’s a figure of speech!
GRRGARR and AMBASSADOR situate themselves behind MORNING. A slight comic shuffling in back before MORNING can continue.
MORNING: (raises the large branch) Then it is decided! Starting here, starting tonight, let there be WAR!
Everybody except IZZY and HARPER freeze. They speak to the audience.
HARPER: So you can see why this was a problem.
IZZY: Right. I mean, it’s cool, but it’s also a problem.
HARPER: And like just on a personal level, I think the camp is kinda all my dad has since my mom got married again? He wouldn’t take it well if it got taken over by, like, forest elves?
IZZY: Yeah. Also, pretty sure all the campers and counselors were gonna die.
HARPER: That’s also bad. So we had to do something, right?
IZZY: We had to do something fast. That’s probably why Harper here —
The scene unfreezes.
HARPER: (to the assembly) Wait! You can’t!
The assembly is taken aback.
JASPER: (to HARPER) What are you doing?
HARPER: (to JASPER) I don’t know. (to the assembly) You can’t go to war with the humans!
MORNING: Gnome, your apprentice speaks out of turn. Silence it or I’ll have Grrgarr do it for me.
JASPER: A gnome’s apprentice speaks for the river as much as any gnome. Our objection must be heard.
MIDNIGHT: No, sibling. Jasper Fishfriend speaks truly.
MORNING: Hmph. Very well. Why mustn’t we go to war, apprentice?
HARPER: Because. Because.
IZZY: Because this human camp is the seal on the vampire’s prison.
IZZY: That’s right. When this camp was first set up it was to trap Baron Wolfblood the Seventh. (grabs HARPER’s sketchpad and shows the drawing) He has thirsted for blood for eons! If he ever escapes he’ll be unstoppable! That’s what the, uh, circles of rocks were for.
Gasps and murmurs.
HARPER: And…and he’s not all!
IZZY: That’s right! (flips through the sketchbook) You’d also unleash The… Frigidarion! A frost creature the size of the tallest tree in the forest!
HARPER: Extremely possible! It might even be bigger now!
IZZY: (flipping through pages and showing them) Mukklejark the Marauder! The Mistress of Swarms! Infernus Rex! You can go to war with the humans, sure, and you’re probably going to win.
HARPER: But are you ready to face all of them afterwards?
Murmurs of concern.
MORNING: Enough! I have heard none of these legends you speak of. These stink of human deception!
MIDNIGHT: They aren’t. I’ve heard these stories before as well. (to the assembly) My sibling is the Morning Mist, and knows the stories touched by the sunlight. I am the Midnight Mist, and I hear the whispers spoken in shadows. The gnome’s apprentices speak truly: If we destroy the human camp, we will face enemies much more dire than we can imagine.
Murmurs of concern.
AMBASSADOR: The Twisting Branch wishes to reconsider our position.
GRRGARR: Birds and beasts also change their mind.
MORNING: Listen, all of you.
A loud and astonishing cricket chirp. MORNING sighs in defeat.
MORNING: I think you all make a grave error. But I abide by the will of the gathering. Until next year, then.
MORNING stomps the branch on the ground and storms off. AMBASSADOR and GRRGARR exit together. A more muted, but still astonishing cricket chirp. MIDNIGHT walks over to IZZY, HARPER, and JASPER.
GRRGARR: We eat now?
AMBASSADOR: Yes, comrade Grrgarr. I believe that you may eat now.
JASPER: Where did you youngsters hear such terrible tales? Not even the gnomes know of these.
IZZY: That is.
MIDNIGHT: The gnomes do not know these tales because until this moment they had never existed.
JASPER: Oh. Ohhhh. Oh-ho!
MIDNIGHT: It was well done, the both of you.
IZZY: Why did you help us?
MIDNIGHT: My sibling only wants war because it will make them feel important and bring them glory. I think we all know better about what war will bring.
HARPER: Will Morning Mist try again next year? To have a war, I mean?
MIDNIGHT: They might. But I don’t think the others will listen. It was a vivid story you spun, children. It will linger with the beings of this forest for a very long time. Your camp is safe. And I hope your fellows one day learn what you have done for them.
HARPER: Thank you, your, your.
MIDNIGHT: Thank you, young storytellers. (exits)
JASPER: Clever indeed, youngsters. You’re sure you’re not part gnome yourselves?
IZZY: Nah. Maybe got some dragon on my grandma’s side, though.
JASPER: Well, I’ve never had apprentices before. If you wanted to be mine, I’d be happy to keep you on. Here the whole summer, yes?
HARPER: Should be.
JASPER: Come down to the river anytime. You’ll find me. (exits, speaking to the fish) I agree. Quite an evening.
IZZY and HARPER turn back to the audience.
IZZY: So that’s how that happened.
IZZY: (to HARPER) Hey. So maybe. Maybe you and I should make a book about it? I’ll write it, you draw it?
HARPER: Maybe. That sounds fun. Nobody will believe it.
IZZY: Shut up. They might.
They shake hands. Lights out.
End of Play