Short Play: The Hand of God

ABOUT THIS PLAY: Originally written in 2011 for secondary school students as their entry for the Sears District Drama Festival. Includes mature subject matter and graphic descriptions. Themes: trauma, drunk driving, justice, ethics. 

PRODUCTION NOTES: Each part is flexible, and can be played by a man or a woman. If authentic ‘vomit’ is desired, a small bag of fruit cocktail mixed with yogurt can be hidden in the chair, for ASH to put in her mouth at the opportune moment. The stage should be covered in astroturf or similar material, for atmosphere as well as clean up.

AT RISE: Sound of a tornado warning siren, a terrible wind, and objects striking other objects. The sound dies away. Lights reveal desolation: Debris litters the stage from a broken house. The upper half of the roof lies in pieces at DSL. More debris is piled around it, as if it was blown there by the wind and caught. Broken trees and grey skies are painted onto a backdrop, or projected onto a scrim. What is left of a fence leans precariously across the stage, US. An upended armchair, torn and dirty, sits CSR.
Movement under the pile of debris, DSL. A dirty hand appears, pushing at the sticks, newspapers, and bits of siding piled up. The body of a man (DREW) appears, filthy and lying prone on his back. He is trapped under the broken roof, from the waist down.

DREW: (coughing, spitting dust from his mouth, has trouble speaking at first) Oh, my god… Help! Somebody! I’m here! Help! I’m stuck, I can’t move!

As DREW continues to call and attempts to push at the roof, ASH wanders in, USR. She is disheveled, bleeding profusely from a scalp wound, and appears to be in a daze.

DREW: Oh, thank god… Hey! Over here!
ASH: My head hurts.
DREW: Come here! You’ve got to help me!
ASH: Okay… (She stumbles and shuffles, swaying on her feet, eventually dropping to her knees next to DREW.) Um…can you move your legs?
DREW: I don’t know… I can’t feel anything right now. It’s hard to breathe.
ASH: Don’t panic.
DREW: I’m not panicking, I just want to get out of here!
ASH: Just…lie still, okay? I’ll try to — (She pushes at the roof, which doesn’t budge.) I’m sorry, it’s too heavy.
DREW: Put your back against it, and try again. I’ll push from the bottom here.
(Together, they grunt and scream with the effort.)

ASH: Stop, stop, stop! Oh, I can’t!
DREW: It’s all right… You’ll have to go and get some help.
ASH: I can’t just leave you here.
DREW: Just go. There might be another tornado. It’s not safe for either of us.
ASH: I’m so dizzy.
DREW: Go, hurry! Wait — go around the side of the house, there’s a wrench hanging next to the gas lines. Do you know how to turn it off?
ASH: Yeah, I think so… (She hurries off USL, leaning on the debris as she moves around the upper corner of the house, and then calls from offstage.) Is it to the left or the right?
DREW: Right! Turn it to the right! (He laughs to himself.) Remember, Mom? Lefty loosey, righty tighty.
ASH: (Re-enters from USL, holding her head and clutching a dirty blanket.) I found this… Should I put it under your head, or something? Does your neck hurt?
DREW: No, I’m okay. Yeah, make it into a pillow, or something.
ASH: I’ll go get someone. I’ll be as quick as I can.
DREW: Be careful! (To himself.) At least I’m alive. Maybe I can dig underneath, wiggle a bit. (He scrabbles at the ground, but it’s too hard to get his nails into.) That’s obviously not an option. I didn’t even ask that girl’s name.
ASH: (from offstage) Here! He’s over here! (She enters, supported by FRANK. He is carrying a red first-aid kit.)
FRANK: Wow. Okay, you got me here, so now, you need to sit. Here. (He rights the armchair and gently lowers ASH into it.) Hey, man, can you talk? Are you conscious?
DREW: Yes, I don’t think I have a head injury.
FRANK: (withdrawing antiseptic and gauze from the first aid kit, and applying it to ASH) How’s your breathing? (To ASH.) This might hurt a little.
DREW: It’s hard to breathe, but I don’t think the full weight of the roof is on me. It doesn’t hurt.

FRANK: Good, that’s good. (Wrapping ASH’s head.) Hold on, sweetheart. The paramedics are coming. What’s your name?
ASH: Ash. Ash Webster.
FRANK: Well, Ash Webster, I think you may have a concussion. You’re going to have to stay awake until the EMTs get here. Can you do that?
ASH: I don’t know.
FRANK: Ash. Look at me. You can stay awake for fifteen minutes, right? That’s what the lady on my phone told me. Do you want to talk to her, while I deal with Drew over there?
ASH: Yes, please. (She takes the mobile from FRANK.) Oh, I got blood on your phone.
FRANK: That’s okay. Phones can be cleaned, or replaced. People can only be cleaned.
ASH: Hello? Yes, my name is Webster. Can you find my parents?
FRANK: (picks up kit and moves DSL to DREW) So, let’s take a look at you.
DREW: Do we know each other?
FRANK: In a manner of speaking.
DREW: You know my name, but I didn’t tell you.
FRANK: My surname is Davies. My parents were Adele and Henry Davies. My sister was Antonia Davies.
DREW: Oh…god. Listen, I’m sorry.
FRANK: Interesting situation to find ourselves in, isn’t it?
DREW: It wasn’t my fault.
FRANK: Yes, that was what your lawyer was able to prove in court.
DREW: I didn’t know the medication would react with alcohol like that.
FRANK: I remember you saying that.
DREW: I was trying not to hit a dog!

FRANK: I remember you saying that, too. You know, they were trapped kind of like this. Except upside down.
DREW: I can’t listen to this –
FRANK: In the mangled wreckage of their van. Come on, now, you must remember hearing them call for help?
DREW: Are you going to help me, or not?
(CSR, ASH wavers and falls. FRANK goes to help her. As he sits her back up, she vomits.)
ASH: I’m sorry.
FRANK: It’s okay, don’t worry about it. Here, let me talk to the lady again, all right? (He takes the phone.) Yeah, Ash just threw up. I’ll check, hang on. There’s a flashlight in my kit. (He uses it to check ASH’s pupils.) They reacted, but the left one just barely. Less than ten minutes? Tell them to watch out for wires, there are hydro poles down everywhere.
DREW: Tell them I’m trapped!
FRANK: I have a coat, I can wrap her in that.
DREW: (louder, coughing) There’s a man trapped here!
FRANK: Yes, the other injured person is conscious, lucid, but he’s having trouble breathing. There’s a roof lying on his midsection…I’ll do what I can. (He gives the phone back to ASH.) Hold on, sweetie. Just keep talking.
DREW: Why didn’t you say anything about me?
FRANK: (returns to DREW’s side, crouching) Do you know how critical the swelling of the brain can be to an injured person? Oh, wait. You slept through that part of the trial.
DREW: I’m just a human being.
FRANK: You’re a murderer.
DREW: Please, it was just an accident… (He begins to wheeze.) It wasn’t my fault.
FRANK: Seems like accidents follow you, Drew. (He pats the roof.) You’re acquitted by a human court, and then a house falls on you. Maybe it’s fate?

DREW: What?
FRANK: (rises and moves DSR, examining several large pieces of wood) The hand of God, having writ, moves on. Or is it the finger?
DREW: Please, god…
FRANK: See, for some people, this might be considered justice.
DREW: It’s so heavy…
FRANK: A drunk driver gets away with murder, and is slammed by a tornado. Is life a collection of random events, or is there a reason for everything?
DREW: Please, just help me…
FRANK: (approaches the roof with a long plank suitable for providing leverage) We all make our choices, Drew. You chose to drink and drive.
DREW: (scrabbling desperately at the roof) I’m sorry! I’m sorry! What else do you want me to say?
FRANK: (slides the plank under the roof, DSL) It would be nice if that could bring them back. My family died from the effects of blunt force trauma. My mother, Adele, used to love reading romance novels and a nice cup of tea. She made jams that, in winter, tasted like summer sunshine. She started slowly hemorrhaging when glass from their shattered windshield nicked an artery. My sister, Antonia, drew comic books and manga characters. Do you know what manga is?
DREW: No, I —
FRANK: I didn’t, until she explained it to me. Stylized cartoon images, a trend that started in Japan. She was thirteen. She wanted to be an artist when she grew up. Antonia was wearing her seatbelt, but when your car veered and punched in the side of their van, the force of the impact broke her ribs and they punctured her lungs.
DREW: It wasn’t my fault, all right?
FRANK: Did you hear my father, Henry, screaming for rescue, in spite of his cracked skull? He didn’t aspirate when he threw up, because he was still strapped in, hanging upside down in a ditch, but his brain tissue was already swelling from the force of impact.
DREW: I don’t have to listen to this. Are you going to help me, or not? Ash, go get somebody!

FRANK: Your window was already rolled down when they found you — did you smell the gas leaking out of their tank?
DREW: My arm was broken, I was in too much pain to move.
FRANK: My dad was still conscious when their van caught fire. Did you try to get to him? To save his wife and his child? Did he beg for your help?
DREW: I told you, I couldn’t move! Be realistic. When you’ve been in a car accident, you’re not supposed to get out of the car until help arrives!
FRANK: Were your legs broken? What happened to your other arm? You sat there and you watched while my family burned.
DREW: I’m sorry! I’m sorry!
FRANK: My father used to say, actions speak louder than words. Ash is bleeding from the head, she’s critically injured, but she came and found me to help you.
DREW: Please!
FRANK: I used to believe in the justice system, until I discovered that in court, it’s not about telling the truth. It’s about what you can prove.
DREW: I can’t breathe, please…
FRANK: So, what’s your poison, Drew? Blunt force trauma? Bleeding out? Punctured lungs? Concussion? What do you think the chances are that any of those things will kill you? For example — what if my knowledge of physics is flawed? I can try to shift this piece of your house — I’m assuming it’s yours — but I might mess up. What if the slight balance is thrown off, and it crushes your midsection? My choice of action might directly cause your painful, extended demise.
DREW: You’re sick.
FRANK: I’m realistic. You wanted realism, right?
DREW: You have to try to help me. You can’t just stand there and watch me suffer. I didn’t mean for your family to get killed, it was an accident. I’m sorry, I really am.
FRANK: (leans back) On the other hand, if I choose not to act, you might simply pass away in the next few minutes before the paramedics arrive. Shock. Constricting blood vessels. I wonder, Drew, if they could tell the difference between the hand of a man and the hand of God in an autopsy? (He holds his hand over DREW’s nose and mouth.)

DREW: You want to take my life. I understand that. (He grabs FRANK’s hand with a surprisingly strong grip.) But would your parents and your sister want you to have my death on your conscience? Do you want to live with that? Do you think you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror, knowing you are responsible for the death of another person? When has vengeance ever been justifiable? I have a wife, I have a son! A five-month-old-baby!
FRANK: Those are terrific last words. (He pulls his hand back and prepares to put his weight on the plank.) No, I don’t want to be responsible for your death. But I won’t stand in the way of nature, either.
DREW: Stop. Stop! Wait! (His breathing suddenly becomes rapid and irregular.)
FRANK: My conscience won’t let me. (He leans on the wood.)
DREW: STOP! For the love of god! (He screams.)
ASH: Stop it! Stop, you’re hurting him! (She drops the phone and rushes to DREW’s side, holding his head.)
(FRANK lets go.)
ASH: He’s not breathing! Do something!
FRANK: Shit. (He kneels beside DREW and performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.) I don’t know if I’m doing this right.
ASH: You are! Just keep going!
FRANK: Get the phone!
ASH: Hello? Hello! (She holds the phone out.) The battery must be dead!
FRANK: Go out to the road, flag down anyone passing by!
ASH: Keep going! (She stumbles off SR.)
(FRANK continues until DREW coughs and moves independently, pushing him away.)
DREW: (speaks with difficulty) I thought… you wanted… me dead.
FRANK: (breathing heavily) I want you punished. Dead would work. But not that fast.
DREW: (laughs and coughs) So… I’m at the mercy… of a masochist.

FRANK: (getting up and walking away) I think the word you’re looking for is sadist. And anyway, I’m not enjoying your pain. The simple fact is, I’m not under any obligation to help you. I should just walk away, and let God do whatever he wants. Or nature, or fate, or whatever powers that be.
DREW: So why do you stay?
FRANK: Because fate needs a witness.
DREW: And if I stop breathing again, will you do what you did to bring me back? (FRANK doesn’t respond.) Hey, I might be paralyzed. There’s the justice for you. I emerge from a fatal car wreck, with barely a scratch, but a tornado sweeps away my ability to walk. Random event or divine justice, whatever you want to call it. I’ll never run a race with my son, or slow-dance with my wife again. The life I knew is over. There’s the punishment, but I need to live first.
FRANK: (moves quickly back to stand over DREW) It’s all about you, isn’t it? Aren’t you even worried about your family? Where is your wife? Where is the baby?
DREW: Oh, god… Just pull me out, please!
FRANK: You’re dying, Drew. I think you deserve it. And now it’s just the two of us. Nobody would ever see it, if I stood back and watched your heart stop. You took everything from me. All you care about is yourself.
DREW: Bullshit. That’s you, you’re talking about yourself. I’m the one who’s trapped under a roof, and it’s all about your loss. At least you’re alive.
FRANK: I wish I felt alive. But I’m a shell. I think, sometimes, the only way my life will go on is knowing that yours is over. You should have died with them, or gone to jail.
DREW: Life’s a bitch. It’s not fair. (He coughs.) You can’t help me, and you’re not a murderer. So go to hell. Run along and find someone else to not help. Ash! ASH!
FRANK: This is my hell. (He moves slowly back to DREW.) If our places were reversed, would you help me? You sure didn’t try to help my family.
DREW: So I’m a selfish person, is that it? I was drunk!
FRANK: If I could have gotten that confession on tape, you would be in jail right now.
DREW: I don’t want to die, okay?
FRANK: Nobody wants to die.

DREW: Please, just help me. Forget you know me, forget about what I did. Just be one human being to another. They’ll call you a hero. Think about what they’ll say, when they find out what I did, and that you saved me anyway. Be better than me.
FRANK: What if I don’t want to be better than you? (He leans in, placing his hands on either side of Drew’s head.) Do you know how hard it is to restrain myself from choking the life out of you? I wouldn’t even need to use my hands. This piece of wood…here, on your windpipe.
DREW: (closes his eyes) I don’t want to die.
ASH: (from offstage) Over here! He’s over here!
(FRANK drops the wood and watches the two paramedics as they enter.)
ASH: Frank! Is he –
FRANK: He’s still alive.
PARAMEDIC 1: Sir, can you feel your legs? Move your toes?
PARAMEDIC 2: Backboard is ready, and equipment is on the way.
PARAMEDIC 1: Blood pressure is low, no external injuries. (to FRANK) Sir, can you help us with the roof?
PARAMEDIC 2: Pupils equal and reactive, but sounds like there’s fluid in the lungs.
PARAMEDICS and FRANK carefully and slowly extract DREW from under the roof. He is given oxygen and placed onto the stretcher.
DREW: Thank you, thank you so much for saving me. Now you need to find my wife, and my baby, they were in the house, too.
Tableau of FRANK and PARAMEDICS looking horrified at each other, while DREW holds the oxygen mask to his face. Lights down. End.

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Blog Chat coming Jan 7 with fellow author Tara Fox Hall!

This is very exciting, I’ve never done one of these before… A live blog chat with a fellow writer! Woot! Please, mark it on your calendar or stick it in your phone to stop by and check out our chat on JANUARY 7!