Soaking Upon the Mountaintop

The lights within the theatre grow dim as we approach the opening of the curtains.  Suddenly, once the audience has taken their seats, eagerly anticipating the beginning of the spectacle, the theatre goes dark, pitch black, becoming pure darkness.  A tiny orchestra of stringed instruments begins to resonate within the theatre from an unseen chamber.  The composition is titled “Darkness is magical.”  Eventually, however, dissonant sounds begin to interrupt the harmony of the strings. The snapping of branches, human grunting noises, and mumblings can be heard; then, suddenly, lights begin to emerge from the shadows, headlamps and flashlights, like lightning targeted directly at select audience members’ eyes. 

Thus, six actors emerge from a trail and into the scene: three tubs of water steaming and perched upon a bucolic mountainside. Some of them are breathing heavily.  Meanwhile, one can also hear the faint trickle of the water and the breeze in the trees’ branches.  The trail they’re emerging from is rocky and steep and they’re hiking downwards from the shadows and into the middle of the scene. The light is dim, growing in the wake of their arrival, as if only illuminated by the moonlight amidst the shadows of trees.  They all have flashlights though, flashlights and headlamps.

Larissa: [exasperated] “Guys, that ‘shortcut’ actually took us even longer. The trail that I wanted to take is right over there.” [She points to a less treacherous trail on stage left.] 

Sherman: [Annoyed] “It was a coin toss. We’re here now, stop focusing on the past and see the beauty all around you.” 

Michael: “Yea, whatever, we’re here now, but next time don’t tell us it’s twenty minutes away and then march us up a literal mountain for an hour through bullshit shortcuts in the bushes.  My legs feel like a cat’s been scratching at them.”

Larissa: “Thank You Michael!” [Kindly to him before looking toward the others and speaking snarkily.] “I got slapped in the face by a branch because of one of you going through that first one.”  

Cheyenne: [She’s setting down her bag while some of the others start stripping to their birthday costumes. She’s distracted and barely paying attention as a touch of carelessness wafts in through her voice.] “Oh yea, you should pay attention.  This is my day job and I sort of assume that people have their s*** together when they’re not paying me.  Anyhow, we’re here now.” [Pause] “One of them is really hot, like it’s boiling and one of my clients got burnt once, so be careful.  I’m not sure which one it is though.” [She starts stripping without a care in the world and Larissa stares at her, dumbfounded.]

Mae: [She’s the first to get in the water while the others are still arranging their belongings, hanging wet, sweat drenched clothing along a makeshift fence and retrieving water bottles of unknown fluids from their bags all with the aid of tiny flashlights and headlamps.]  “Ahhh… ahhh… god this is so perfect.”

Larissa: “Yea, it better be worth it.” [All the characters turn around and roll their eyes in unison, except Michael, though he does look.]

Walt: [He enters the water in tub #3 through the tiny ladder and yelps, extending the vowel.] “F******!” [He jumps back onto the platform, which is constructed with a bunch of loose wooden boards placed haphazardly along the floor.  They creak a little bit sometimes as the actors almost lose their balance when getting in and out of the hot spring tubs.  He’s nursing his burn in the shadows in the background as Larissa steals the spotlight.] 

[Larissa sighs loudly and begins to strip naked too, but she hesitates and keeps her underwear on.  Everyone else is completely naked. Walt enters the tub with Mae, now with certainty about which one is safe. He sits near her, as if it might almost be awkwardly too near and she reacts in an ambiguous way as if that might be how she feels.]

Mae: [She was apprehensive, that’s all, apprehensive about what she’s about to say, and then she gets closer to Walt. She whispers something.] “Who the f*** invited her?” [The others are chattering near their bags, audibly and about nothing important. One of them exits stage left to pee in the darkness. The audience can hear their whispering in the background though.]

Walt: [Also whispering] “She just moved here, and I think, ummm, Michael has a crush on her.”

Mae: “That makes sense.”  [She makes a sound of resignation with a tiny hint of disgust] “ehhh” [and then she leans backward, relaxing amidst the steam, a chalice of dark swirling fluid in hand.]

[The others all start entering the tubs, their flashlights extinguished as the audience’s eyes must adjust to the natural lighting.  We could probably amplify it, slowly to mimic the way the eye adjusts to drastic lighting changes.] 

Michael:  “I feel like one of those Asian monkeys that you see in pictures, the ones that just chill in hot springs in the snow.  We should buy a bunch of them and release them here. Imagine it!”  

Cheyenne: “We are those monkeys! I come here in the winter and it’s ***king glorious.  It takes longer and it’s kind of miserable sometimes when you have to get out of the water, but you just have to savor every moment.  It’s like the world melts with you and literally nothing else matters.”

Mae: “Mmmm, I literally don’t give a f***.  This is heaven right here, right now.” [Takes a gulp.]

Larissa: [Hesitation in her voice as she sits with only her feet in the water.] “Ehhh, I feel like it needs candles.”

Michael: [Eagerly.] “Yea! That would definitely complete the scene. You’re a genius!” [He starts looking to everybody for their agreement before shouting eagerly.] “We’ll have to bring candles next time we all come up here together!”  

[No one says anything, but they all know.]

Sherman: “Yeeeeeaaaaa”, [he says nodding skeptically] “ummmm”, [he’s struggling to find a new subject and would really prefer silence.]

Cheyenne: “I have to take this family spelunking tomorrow, the parents are both judges, and they asked me if I’ve ever read The Case of the Speluncean Explorers.”  [Pause, she’s remembering how she felt when she saw the Google result.] “I wish that I hadn’t Googled it.”  

Sherman: “Why? What’s it about?” 

Cheyenne: “It’s about”, [pause] “like, jurisprudence and cannibalism, like how to get away with eating people when you’re trapped in a cave with them.”  

Sherman: [Sudden, awkwardly immediate reaction] “Anthropophagy!  That’s savage!” 

Larissa: “Ehhh… can you like, deny clients like that, or like let them know that if they actually turn out to be really annoying and weird, you’re going to abandon them up on the mountain.”

Cheyenne: [Stunned at the woman’s comment and lack of social insight into her position within the pack upon the mountainside.] “Huh”, [nodding, pausing, assessing,] “I actually do really wish that I could do that sometimes.”  [She pauses as she more deeply assesses whether Larissa detects the undercurrent, her eyes peering through the darkness.] “It’s rare though,” [she’s staring right at Larissa, intently, before announcing, cunningly] “but there are people who might just deserve it so much that it would only improve my reputation.”  

[People occasionally move from tub to tub, displacing the water. A rush can be heard each time. There’s a splash this time though as Walt jumps into the hot one. He emerges suddenly, standing and shaking his body in reaction to the shocking heat.]

Walt: [laughing] “It’s not so bad after you’ve been in the other ones for a little while.”

Mae: “If you stay standing there too long though, we’re going to have to eat your legs and carry you down the mountain.”  

Sherman:  “Mmmmm, yea, the frog has to boil gradually.”

Mae: “Mmmm, I prefer mine medium rare, so be a deer and let me know when it gets to the point where they’re cooked just beyond use, but still tender and juicy.”  

Sherman: “I actually brought a meat thermometer to test the heat and figure out which one was dangerous.  You already did that for me though, little froggy!”

[People laugh and Larissa makes these faces like she’s in a surreal nightmare.]

Cheyenne: [She’s watching Larissa, assessing her.] “You should get in there too”, [point blank and cold], “see if you can stand the heat.” [Everyone is quiet.]

Larissa: [Scoff laugh.  It’s like being offended and not knowing what to say and performing ingenuine amusement because you don’t know what else to do.]

Michael: [Somewhat clueless, yet sensing a need to inject positive energy and a new subject into the atmosphere.] “Look guys! You can see the car on the highway way down below! It’s like a firefly!”

[People make noises as they observe the solitary car travelling the distance before it disappears behind another mountain.]

Sherman:  “Imagine if there were, like, people up here watching us, anonymous strangers, while we were down there and now it’s us watching them.”

Cheyenne: “There’s never actually anyone here at night, so, no, nobody’s watching.  Nobody gives a f***.”  

Larissa: “Where do you think they’re going?”

Cheyenne: “They’re going home to go to bed. Who gives a f***?”

Sherman: “No, it’s like a long-distance booty call and this guy is racing through the night to finally go get laid.  He’s been flirting with this person for a while and it’s finally happening, or so he thinks, and he’s speeding, and his imagination is running wild.  He doesn’t check his phone while he’s driving and she’s actually just texted him, ‘by the way, to be clear, I only think of you as a friend. I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong picture.  I’ve just been drinking, and I wasn’t careful with my words. I do really want to hang out, but I just want to set clear expectations’, but his expectations are rising like a tide, eroding reality, and he’s so ***king certain.”

Mae: “Yea, and he’s listening to “Ain’t No Mountain”, and he’s not just in it for the sex.  He’s in love; like, he’s telling his friends, ‘I think this might be forever. She’s like my dream come true.’”

Cheyenne: “Yea, and she also secretly already has a boyfriend.  She just really likes attention.”

Sherman: “Yea, he just got another text that he can’t see because his phone automatically blocks incoming messages while he’s driving and, oh yea, it’s not like there’s any cell reception way the f*** out here!” [In a caricatured voice] “Also, my boyfriend’s here, so it totally won’t be awkward.”

Larissa: “What the f*** is wrong with you guys?” [Scoff]

Mae: “We’re the Bacchae. If you have a problem with it, get out of the ***king tub, walk down that mountain, and give us something new to talk about.”  [She takes another swig from the strangely ornate chalice.]

Larissa: [She scoffs, about to respond with force, but she’s suddenly distracted.]

[A car crash is heard far far away in the distance; the rumbling thunder of the event echoes throughout the valley before the actors.  The actors can see the light as the scene unfolds before them.] 

Michael: “Oh f***!”

Walt: “S***! Somebody call someone.”  

Cheyenne: [She leaps to action, emerges and grabs her phone.] “I don’t have any ***king service.”

Larissa: [She’s freaking out, starting to cry and breathing rapidly] “Oh my god, um, the ***king car is on fire!”

[There’s a flash of light, an explosion, and the rumbling thunder echoes again throughout the theatre.]

[Cheyenne, Walt, and Sherman leap to action, they thrust on their clothing without saying anything, and they’re preparing to run into the forest, down the mountain, and to do whatever is possible. Larissa is still panicking and Michael kicks into action too, joining the descending party.  Seeing that, Larissa suddenly becomes more lucid and starts getting clothed too, as if she’s going to join the rescue party.]

Cheyenne: [She notices Larissa and addresses her impersonally.] “Just don’t.  Stay in place.  Please.” [Then she turns around, hurriedly exits stage left, and is followed by the others who rush without saying a word. Only Mae, who is abnormally calm, and Larissa remain on the stage.]

[Mae is still seated, sipping coolly from her chalice, oh so abnormally calm and relaxed, watching Larissa silently.]

Larissa: [She’s on the verge of a legitimate panic attack.]“I can’t believe this is happening.  I have to go help them!”  

Mae: “You don’t have to do anything.  Just get back in the ***king water and stop making a scene.”

Larissa: [Confused and angry, but gradually relenting and yet still with a flame of indignation simmering under her skin.] “How can you be such a cold-hearted bitch?”

Mae: [Assertive and confident, without a f*** to give.]Because I’ve got these ***king hot springs to warm my heartless body, and s*** like this, it happens every day—it’s nature.”  [She’s holding the chalice, but she doesn’t sip.  She’s peering into Larissa.]

Larissa: [Perplexed.] “What if it was you though?”  

Mae: “It’d be the same.  It’s always the same.  Some people care and descend into the chaos while others sit upon the plateaus and upon mountains watching from on high.  It’s the theatre of life and we’re all actors and spectators.  It’s maddening, but at least we’ve got VIP seating today.”  

[Larissa is disoriented.  She keeps almost saying something, but it’s like a pillow is being held against the force of her will and she eventually grows silent, enters the water, and looks into the audience, you the readers.  Thus, Mae passes the chalice to her; she’s still disoriented, and she hesitates, but then she takes a sip, and she continues to watch as the scene unfolds.  The fire grows before them, spreading from the crash site and into the surrounding forest. It begins to illuminate their faces as they watch silently. It’s coming to consume them.  Nonetheless, they sit in silence as the fire grows for what feels like almost too long and then the stage suddenly goes blackout.]