ROWAN: Any gender. Deadpan. Psychology major. College student. Wants to go back to bed.
OSBERT/OLIVIA: Any gender (change name accordingly). 16th century English actor. Vain. Very actor-ish.
TIM/TESSIE: Any gender (change name accordingly). 1860s Wild West cowpoke. Bit stupid, but well meaning.
AARON/ASHLEY: Any gender (change name accordingly). 1980s teenager. Aloof. Teenager-ish.
At rise: ROWAN, a college student, sleeps downstage left. Somewhere, a clock reading 2:59.
A few moments pass. 3 o’clock hits. ROWAN shifts.
Then, THREE GHOSTS (sheets and all) emerge from stage right. They are doing ghostly things and making ghostly noises. You know, spooky. ONE, ASHLEY, is less enthusiastic than the others.
The GHOSTS continue this spooky spectacle, forming a semicircle around the sleeping ROWAN. They don't stir. The GHOSTS continue for a while, until…
One drops its arms, tearing off the sheet to reveal a person dressed in 16th century England garb.
OSBERT: ‘Tis but a folly. ‘Tis no use; they slumber still. And this cloth doth shroud my good side.
A second GHOST rips off its sheet, revealing TESSIE, a cowpoke.
TESSIE: Aw, the point ain’t to look good, Ozzie! It’s to scare the bejeezus outta ‘em!
The third, least enthusiastic GHOST removes its sheet, bunches it up, and throws it offstage.
ASHLEY: Well. This is a kinda stupid way to do it. I told you we should’ve written weird messages on their mirror or something.
OSBERT: Indeed. Or flogged them as they slept!
ASHLEY (concerned): Oooor maybe not doing that!
TESSIE: I guess y’all are right. Don’t know what I was thinkin’, honestly.
She tosses her sheet down. It hits the clock, dragging it down. ROWAN jolts awake.
They examine each ghost carefully. TESSIE is frozen, OSBERT is posing, and ASHLEY looks indifferent.
ROWAN: Am I… dreaming? Is this real? (pauses) Are you my sleep paralysis demons?
OSBERT: No, fool. See you horns? I think not.
TESSIE: Oz, you ain’t too good at this ghost thing.
OSBERT: Dost thou expect me to remain mum when another so accuses me of witchcraft and devilry? Cattleherd, thou art foolish.
ROWAN: So you’re ghosts?
ASHLEY: You don’t seem too shocked.
ROWAN: I’m a psychology major. Not much fazes me. So, uhhhh. What brings you to my dorm? And why’d you knock over my clock?
TESSIE: The clock was my fault, and I apologize. You seem like a real upright person, and knockin’ your clock over wasn’t how my momma raised me. I’m sorry.
TESSIE tips her hat. ROWAN looks amused.
OSBERT: And we toil still on this mortal plane, for reasons we know not fully, but only surmise on— that the inopportune nature, untimely as it was, of our deaths, keeps us here to someday resolve that which we could not.
ROWAN: I beg your pardon?
ASHLEY: He’s saying he thinks the reason we’re still ghosts here instead of over in the next life is because we’ve all got some “unfinished business.” We never reached our true potential when we were living, so now we’re doomed to haunt the earth until it’s finally achieved.
ROWAN: And you really believe that?
ASHLEY: Well, I think it’s all bull. But Osbert believes it, mostly cause it gives him hope that even though he’s dead, he can still have a successful acting career.
OSBERT: Mine own visage was nearly that of Hamlet’s, I tell you!!
TESSIE: Yeah, sure it was.
OSBERT: Upon my coxcomb, ‘twas indeed!
TESSIE and OSBERT continue to debate, speaking over one another. ROWAN watches for a bit, before speaking over the two.
ROWAN: As much as I’ve, uh… enjoyed talking to you all, it’s pretty early. Could you clear out? You know, leave? I’ve got an early psychology class in the morning, and—
OSBERT: Again, you mention this…psy-chology. What strange words you speak, fool.
TESSIE: I’m with Osbert on that. Sounds suspicious, this… psycho-ology stuff.
ASHLEY: Shut up guys, they’re just saying they’re a head shrinker.
OSBERT begins worriedly grasping his head.
ROWAN: Well. Studying to be one. And I prefer the title “psychologist.”
TESSIE (interrupting): A head shrinker? I’m awfully fond of the size of my head, so, uh… I think I’ll pass. But (tipping her hat) thank you kindly.
OSBERT: Thou dost wish to make smaller my head? A fool thou may be, but a witch fool at that! ‘Tis enough shock to halt my heart yet again!
ROWAN: No, it’s not… it’s not like that. Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. We don’t literally shrink peoples’ heads, so you can let go of your head now… was it Osbert?
OSBERT nods once, and then slowly lets go of his head.
TESSIE: Sounds awful boring.
ROWAN: It can be, at times. But it’s worth it, knowing that someday, I’ll get to help people through their problems. Regardless, if I want to succeed at that, I need a good night’s sleep. So please. Could you all go?
OSBERT: Hangeth on but a moment, fool. You spoke of helping goodly personages through their strife?
ASHLEY: I see where you’re going with this, Osbert, and I don’t think they’ll agree.
ROWAN: Agree to what?
TESSIE (catching on): Aw, Ozzie, that’s pretty smart!!
ROWAN: What’s smart?
ASHLEY: Since you’re a shrink, maybe you could help us pass on to the next life. Lead us in our journey of finding our unfinished business and help us have profound moments so we can finally be at peace.
ROWAN: Oh. Uh. I’m not so sure I could do that. They don’t really train us regarding… ghostly therapy.
OSBERT: Prithee, fool. ‘Twould mean the worth of five hens to me should you agree.
TESSIE: We’d all be greatly in your debt.
ROWAN looks at ASHLEY, who shrugs.
ROWAN: If I try to help you, even if it doesn’t work, do you promise to let me sleep and leave me alone?
The GHOSTS ad lib agreement.
ROWAN: All right, all right. Who’s first?
OSBERT jumps up, waving his hand.
ROWAN: Come on, then.
They pat the bed beside them. OSBERT sits down.
ROWAN: So, do you want to start with how you died, or—
OSBERT immediately stands, assuming a dramatic pose, and moves dynamically through the following lines, à la campfire story.
OSBERT: Twas a night much like this one, when I met my demise. Dark, as is the way of the night. I was but a mere child, or felt as weak as one. And there it came; but smoke, what shadow, dashing o’er the cobbles! In through my eyes and ears, a pestilential cloud, and so this world became dark, and I departed, cut off from the mortal coil into the immortal one.
ROWAN: Could we, uh... try that again? Maybe without the flowery language?
OSBERT: The plague, fool!
ROWAN: Ah. I see.
OSBERT: And all before I made mine own debut performance!
ROWAN: Oh! Were you starring in something?
OSBERT: Alas, no. My career as a player had yet to begin. Such potential, wasted!
ROWAN: Would you… like to give us a demonstration?
OSBERT: ‘Twould be a pleasure.
OSBERT moves to center giddily and stands. He clears his throat.
OSBERT: To be or not to be, that is the question—whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them? And, methinks, then it continues into something suchlike ‘death, death, die, sleep…’ ‘Tis been a while. I remember… not all.
ROWAN: Oh, bravo! I thought it was quite impressive. Didn’t you all?
TESSIE: That… that was a mighty fine performance, Oz!
ASHLEY: It was… alright. I guess.
OSBERT is glowing with praise.
OSBERT: Speak you all the truth? Never have I been so praised. Ah! I feel as though I walk within the shoes of Hermes himself. My heart be lifted with your kindly words. And— oh! What might this feeling be? An unspoken force doth pull me away.
Fun lighting begins. OSBERT begins to move further stage right, as if pulled.
TESSIE: Aw, stop messin’ with us.
OSBERT: ‘Tis no trick, cattleherd! Verily, I believe myself to be ascending to heaven!
OSBERT continues to be “pulled” offstage. The OTHERS watch on in stunned silence. After a few moments, OSBERT is gone.
ROWAN: Well… that worked. Surprisingly.
TESSIE: I can’t help but feel a tad sad. I know he was already dead ‘n all, but I wasn’t expectin’ him to just… vanish like that.
ASHLEY: ‘Death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.’
TESSIE: That’s some profound spoutin’ you’re doing there.
ROWAN: What’s that from?
ASHLEY: Julius Caesar. It’s Shakespeare. I figured it’s how Osbert would have wanted to go out.
TESSIE: I reckon you’re right about that.
They all look at the spot where OSBERT disappeared.
ROWAN: Well. Which one wants to go next?
They pat the space next to them. ASHLEY motions for TESSIE to go forward. TESSIE sits.
ROWAN: So. Do you know your unfinished business?
TESSIE: I think I do. See, I’ve got a prejudice.
TESSIE: I’m awful ashamed of it, too. See, it’s only because I’ve got a bad past with ‘em. It’s just… rocks. Well, just one of ‘em, really.
TESSIE: Yup. See, I got killed by a rock. My momma did too.
ASHLEY: Care to elaborate?
TESSIE: Alright, though ‘fraid I can’t promise no waterworks.
ROWAN: This is a safe space, Tessie. Feel free to say whatever you want, however you want.
TESSIE: Thank you kindly.
TESSIE: See, I was raised by my Ma and Pa in the good ol’ West. When I was still a youngin, Ma died. She tripped over a rock in the yard. At least, that’s what Pa told me. He also said that “she had it comin’” and that “the poison he put in her breakfast that morning finally kicked in,” but I didn’t think too much of it.
ROWAN: Whoa there. Have you ever thought that maybe… your dad killed her?
TESSIE: Mmm… Nah, I’m pretty sure it was the rock. ‘Course, Pa kicked me outta the house real soon after. I got a job herdin’ cattle, and it paid the bills for a bit, but then I fell into trouble. Ran my mouth out at the saloon, and found myself pacin’ ten with Killer Kenny, one of the most villainous outlaws that side of the Rio Grande. We started the shootout, but then I felt my legs fly out from under me. I do not believe you’ll be able to guess what caused it.
ASHLEY: Won’t you enlighten us?
TESSIE: It was that same rock! ‘Course, I was shot three times straight through the chest at that point, so everything got a little fuzzy, but I’d know those non-clastic planes anywhere.
ROWAN: Mm. Did you ever think that maybe you died because of those three chest shots, and not the rock?
TESSIE: Oh, nah. I was too consumed by my contempt of the rock to consider any other options. So now you see.
TESSIE sits back down.
TESSIE: It ain’t very righteous of me to have hate in my soul, so I was hoping you’d work your psycho-ology to make it disappear.
ROWAN: So, you think the reason you’re still here instead of in heaven or whatever is because you hate rocks?
TESSIE: That is veritably correct.
ROWAN falters, obviously unsure of how to handle this.
ROWAN: Alright. Okay. So. Have you ever thought about the fact that maybe it wasn’t the rock’s fault?
TESSIE: How do you mean?
ROWAN: Maybe the rock was just doing what it was supposed to. It’s not like rocks move, right?
ROWAN: Maybe the rock feels really bad, you know? And if it’s remorseful, then do you have a right to hate it? Could you find it in yourself to forgive it?
TESSIE: Well, now… I’ve never thought about it like that.
TESSIE: I do believe I could find forgiveness.
At that moment, the lights begin again. TESSIE moves slowly to stage right.
TESSIE: Oz wasn’t lyin’, it does feel like heaven’s callin’ me home! I’m comin’, Ma and Pa!
ASHLEY: I’m betting she’s not seeing her dad up there.
ROWAN shushes ASHLEY but smiles. TESSIE vanishes offstage.
ROWAN: So. I guess it’s just you left.
ASHLEY: But I don’t… I think I’ll stay.
ROWAN: No offense, but I want to go back to bed.
ASHLEY: I’ll be quiet!
ROWAN: Come here.
They pat the bed beside them. ASHLEY groans but obliges, settling down.
ROWAN: So what’s your unfinished business?
ASHLEY: I don’t know.
ROWAN stares at her.
ASHLEY: I’m being serious!
ROWAN: Well, why don’t we start with how you died?
ASHLEY looks away.
ROWAN: Was it cancer?
ASHLEY looks up.
ASHLEY: Why would it be cancer?
ROWAN: I didn’t see any obvious injuries and… well. You’re what, sixteen?
ROWAN: Fourteen? Jesus Christ.
ROWAN: So what was it? Poison? Internal bleeding? Head trauma? Pneumonia? Influenza? Arsenic? Bad burrito? Early-onset arthritis?
ASHLEY (yelling): I killed myself, okay??
ROWAN falls silent.
ASHLEY: So yeah. That’s why I don’t have any unfinished business or whatever. ‘Cause my life wasn’t taken from me. I didn’t have big dreams, or plans, or a destiny, or whatever. It wasn’t a big tragedy, like some accident or disease took me dramatically from the world of the living. It was just me in my bathroom and some Tylenol. Too much Tylenol. And so I have no idea what the hell my unfinished business is, because this? This was what I chose. There was nothing for me in my old life, and so I left it. By choice. And ended up here.
ASHLEY: If I’d known death would be like this, maybe I would’ve… stayed.
ROWAN: Oh, Ashley. God. I’m sorry.
ASHLEY: I mean. I’m already dead. So you don’t really have anything to be sorry about.
ROWAN: No, but still. I was… gosh.
They start and stop speaking, trying to get something out. It is evident that it’s hard for them to say.
ROWAN: I used to have… thoughts. Thoughts that I think you had too. And it got so bad that one day I found myself on my bathroom floor and I just… I didn’t want to be living. I wanted it all to be gone. I felt worthless. Of course, I didn’t actually… kill myself. I— my parents— I saw a therapist. I got some medication. I felt a lot better. It’s actually part of the reason I uh… decided to study psychology. I want to help people like me. Like you.
ROWAN: If I could hug you right now, I would.
ASHLEY: Thanks. But still. Now you see. I’m just as hopeless as I was alive. First I was stuck there, and now… now I’m stuck here.
ROWAN: Well, you will be if you keep up that attitude.
ROWAN: Have you ever thought that maybe your unfinished business is just… learning how to love yourself?
ASHLEY: It can’t be that dumb.
ROWAN: Osbert finally got a sense of achievement. Tessie was able to accept the truth. Maybe all you have to do is learn that you’re not worthless.
ASHLEY: That’s cheesy.
ROWAN: It’s still worth a shot. Come on. Tell me five things you like about yourself. Take as much time as you need.
ASHLEY: This is stupid.
ROWAN: Ab bup bup! I don’t want to hear it. Come on. I believe in you.
ASHLEY: I like… I like the way my nose looks.
ROWAN: Good. Four more.
ASHLEY: I like the fact that I could make my friends laugh.
ROWAN: Three more.
ASHLEY: I like how I always helped my teacher wipe off the chalkboard after class even if it made me late.
ASHLEY: I like how I’m kind and sarcastic and a little bit insufferable but still fun. I like that I’m able to be loved.
ASHLEY: I like how you didn’t think I was beyond help. How there’s something in me that you saw that wasn’t broken.
ROWAN: You were never broken, Ashley. You were always enough.
ASHLEY leaves the stage, dreamlike. Again, lighting. ROWAN pauses for a moment after she’s gone.
ROWAN: Well. I guess it was that easy.
They yawn, and settle back into bed. They sleep for a few seconds, until…
The alarm clock sounds from the floor. ROWAN groans.