The Psychedelic Tragedy of the Donner Party
The Five of Coins
(Gale-force winds blow, swallowing sound and blasting snow across rock. Everything is an endless field of white.)
(From the whiteness emerge a few dark shapes. They yell at each other.)
Stanton: I CAN’T SEE!
Stanton: I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING!
Eddy: I CAN’T HEAR YOU!
Luisa: We should find shelter.
Eddy: WE NEED TO FIND SHELTER!
Luisa: THE TREES!
(The gaggle of shapes ducks behind a thick grove of trees and bushes.)
Eddy: Stanton, where is the path?
Stanton: I can’t . . . I don’t . . .
Eddy: Charles, we’re relying on you! Look, man! Look!
Stanton: I CAN’T SEE!
Margret: Oh dear.
Stanton: I think I’ve gone blind!
Luisa: Snowblindness. It comes of staring into the snow.
Stanton: Am I blind? Tell me I’m not blind.
Luisa: It will pass.
Stanton: Thank the Lord above.
Eddy: Luisa, where are we?
(Luisa stares into the white for a moment. She shakes her head.)
Eddy: You don’t know?
Luisa: Can you see the path?
(Eddy looks around the trees. He cannot see the path.)
Eddy: Well I’ve never come this way.
Sarah: Perhaps we should camp here.
Eddy: No, we press on. The storm will blow over.
Sarah: Did it send you a letter detailing its plans?
Eddy: It should be obvious to anyone with eyes!
Sarah: Which at the moment excludes our guide.
Stanton: Luisa knows the way.
Stanton: I can walk.
Luisa: The storm will not soon pass. It is not wise.
Eddy: Is it wiser to freeze to death in this shrub?
Margret: Mr. Eddy, please. We cannot continue. I cannot continue!
Eddy: Fine. Fine! Let’s all freeze.
(They shiver for a moment. Then Luisa reaches out and holds Stanton to her. The others see this, and one by one, join the pile. Eddy stays on the sidelines until Margret reaches out and brings him in. They huddle together, shivering as one while the wind picks up.)
(The gusting wind blows Landrum through the entrance of the Graves-Reed cabin, where a cozy fire flickers gently.)
Virginia: Landrum! What are you doing here?
Landrum: Oh, whew, I just, uh, I just – had some found some jerky at the bottom of my bag, I thought you might be hungry or…
Landrum: Oh, well, uh, here you go.
Virginia: Thank you. (She eats.) Share with me?
Landrum: I really should make my way back, Mother gets a / little sharp when it rains
Virginia: In this? You can’t walk home in this.
(The wind blows like it means something serious.)
Landrum: Well. . .
Virginia: Sit. Eat with me.
Landrum: For a minute. Maybe.
(They sit and eat.)
Virginia: You’re so nice.
Landrum: It’s just . . . It’s not really . . . I said I’d look out for you.
Virginia: People say things all the time.
Landrum: I don’t.
Virginia: How’d you get so nice?
Landrum: I’m not . . . I don’t think I’m . . .
Virginia: You are.
Virginia: You’re going to find the prettiest wife in all California.
Virginia: When we get there. The girls will swoon!
Landrum: Oh. Right. Yes. (Pause.) Swooning is good, right?
Virginia: Yes, silly.
Landrum: Oh. Yes. They’ll swoon.
(Virginia sighs and lays back.)
Landrum: . . . What are you going to do when we get to California?
Virginia: Well, first I’m going to become a Catholic.
Landrum: . . . .Really?
Virginia: Because! I’ve been praying, like you taught me, and I like it. It’s fun.
Virginia: You don’t believe me?
Landrum: No, I believe you.
Virginia: I’ll swear to you, right now. I’ll swear on my life.
Landrum: You don’t need to do that.
Virginia: I want to. Okay – If God sees us out of this place alive, I swear I will become a Catholic and be one until the day I die.
Landrum: Wow. Okay.
Virginia: So first, I’ll become a Catholic. And then I’ll probably get married.
Landrum: . . . Right away?
Virginia: I don’t know. Maybe.
Landrum: That’s . . . who are you going to marry?
Virginia: Someone strong. And handsome.
Landrum: But . . . right now?
Virginia: Well, not now, dummy, but soon.
Landrum: Do you know what happens when you get married?
Virginia: I know what happens.
(From beneath a massive pile of snow, Margret Reed awakens with a gasp.)
Margret: . . . Is it Christmas!?
(The pile stirs, slowly.)
Margret: Sarah! Sarah, is it Christmas yet?
(One by one, the snowshoers pop their heads out of the pile.)
Margret: I’ve been saving something special for the children. For Christmas. Is it Christmas?
(The snowshoers look at each other. No one knows if it’s Christmas.)
Sarah: I don’t know.
Margret: Oh please, I have to know – someone must know!
Stanton: . . . Christmas is tomorrow, Mrs. Reed.
Margret: Oh thank you, Mr. Stanton. We’ll finally have a proper meal.
Sarah: Margret . . . we ran out of food three days ago.
Margret: No no, I’ve been saving some for Christmas.
Sarah: What? Where?
Margret: It’s right here. I’ve got rice, beans, some dried apples, a bit of tripe, oh, and bacon . . .
(Margret digs in her pack. She finds no food.)
Margret: Or . . . it was . . .
Sarah: Do you know where you are?
Margret: . . . No.
Eddy: You and the rest of us alike .
Sarah: We’re in the mountains. We’re on our way to Sutter’s Fort.
Margret: No no. This is all wrong. I’m not supposed to be here. I’m so sorry, Sarah. I lied to you. I didn’t mean to lie.
Sarah: What are you talking about?
Margret: I must be with my family on Christmas. I’m going back.
Eddy: That’s preposterous.
Sarah: You’ll never make it. The cabins are days – weeks – away, and how will you find the path?
Margret: I’ll follow my children’s voices.
Sarah: Margret. I fear you have taken leave of your senses.
Margret: Godspeed Sarah, all of you. I hope to see you again one day.
(Margret turns and walks into the snow.)
Guide: Christmas came, and the last morsels of preserved food left at the cabins – a handful of beans, two dried apples, a half-cup of rice, a bit of tripe, and three strips of bacon – were boiled into a stew for the children to enjoy. Those who partook later described it as an extraordinary feast, an unforgettable oasis amidst the endless freezing desert of that winter.
(In the Graves-Reed cabin, Tamzene Donner huddles over a pot, stirring and humming a little Christmas tune. Virginia and Landrum sit next to it, barely able to contain their anticipation.)
Virginia: You’re drooling.
(He sucks some drool back into his mouth.)
Tamzene: It’s almost ready.
Landrum: Mrs. Donner, how can I ever thank you?
Tamzene: Oh, don’t thank me, thank Virginia’s mother.
Virginia: If you ever get the chance.
Tamzene: Come now. You’ll see her again.
Landrum: Didn’t you tell me those prayers were working?
Tamzene: That’s the spirit. Trust in the Lord’s grace. He works in mysterious ways.
Keseberg: I must disagree, Mrs. Donner.
(They all start. Virginia squeaks a little. In the entrance stands Lewis Keseberg, a tall, severe, expressionless man with hollow eyes. He speaks with a German accent.)
Tamzene: Mr. Keseberg. What a pleasant surprise to see you up and ambulatory. How fares your foot?
Keseberg: Poorly. I think I am going to cut it off.
Keseberg: It will make a fine stew.
(Silence. Keseberg enters the cabin, limping. With difficulty, he begins to sit.)
Tamzene: . . . Yes, please join us. What brings you around, Mr. Keseberg?
Keseberg: Merely the hope of some good Christmas company.
Tamzene: Well, who could deny such a hope? Merry Christmas to you.
Keseberg: And a Merry Christmas to you, Mrs. Donner, Virginia, um. . .
Landrum: Landrum. Murphy.
Keseberg: Merry Christmas, Landrum Murphy.
(They sit in silence for a moment. The pot bubbles. Landrum coughs.)
Virginia: Back in Illinois, we sang songs on Christmas.
Tamzene: That’s lovely, Virginia. Would you like to sing one for us now?
Virginia: I don’t . . . I don’t remember the words. Papa always knew them best.
Landrum: Well see, he’s not so bad, is he?
Tamzene: What about you, Landrum?
Landrum: Oh, um, I don’t know any songs.
Virginia: Did you never sing on Christmas?
Landrum: We sang at mass. My father never liked us singing at home. He used to say it upset his ears.
Virginia: What was wrong with his ears?
Landrum: Nothing, Ginny. Nothing was wrong with his ears.
Tamzene: What of you, Mr. Keseberg? Do you know any Christmas songs?
Tamzene: Would you share it with us?
(He begins to sing “Silent Night” in German. His voice is surprisingly clear.)
Keseberg: Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!
(As the others realize what he’s singing, some join in, either with the English words in bits and pieces, or else humming. Together, they sound pretty decent.)
(The wind picks up in the mountains. The snowshoers huddle together, trudging over the deepening snow. Sarah and Eddy hold Margret between them.)
Margret: Can’t you hear that? James is leading the children in Christmas carols. Oh, he so loves to sing. Sarah! Let me go to them! Please, I must be with my family!
Eddy: How long is she going to keep this up?
Sarah: Your guess is as good as mine.
Margret: Oh, and now James is lighting the fire. The glazed duck is nearly finished. And the gifts! Virginia doesn’t know that James got her a pony of her very own. It’s waiting out in –
(Stanton collapses in the snow. The others rush to him.)
Luisa: Stanton. Stanton.
Eddy: Let me through. Get up, man! Come on, get up.
Stanton: . . . I can’t . . . I can’t stand . . .
Eddy: We can’t stop here.
Stanton: I just . . . I can’t . . . I’m worried . . . I
(They try to lift him. He balances between Eddy and Luisa. They take a few steps with him, grunting with exertion.)
Stanton: . . . Why is there so much water? My house is going to flood.
(Margret books it in the other direction. Sarah notices and goes after her.)
Sarah: Margret! Margret!
Margret: No no. No no.
Sarah: Margret, you cannot leave!
Margret: Must. I Must. God forgive me.
Stanton: Get my tools out of the basement. Quickly! The whole house is coming down.
Margret: God forgive me.
Sarah: Margret! MARGRET!!
Eddy: EVERYONE SIT DOWN.
(Eddy digs in his pack.)
Eddy: Eat. Now.
Sarah: Where – what is this?
Eddy: The last of the bear I shot.
Sarah: . . . You’ve had this all along?
Eddy: What business is it of yours?
Sarah: When were you going to tell us?
(He passes out the jerky.)
Eddy: Now. Mrs. Reed, please. You’ll need your strength.
Margret: Yes . . . You’re right. You’re right.
(Margret walks back, sits, and eats. Relief washes over them all.)
Margret: I . . . I don’t know how to thank you, Mr. Eddy. I was somewhere else.
Stanton: You weren’t the only one.
(The snowshoers look at each other.)
Margret: Well isn’t this a Merry Christmas after all.
Virginia: Did you sing that song back in Germany?
Keseberg: Not often.
Virginia: Why not? It’s so pretty.
Keseberg: Christmas was not a time for celebration.
Landrum: Why wouldn’t you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior?
Keseberg: Reflection is often more prudent than celebration, young Master Murphy. Have you ever truly considered the story of Jesus Christ?
Landrum: Of course.
Keseberg: I doubt it. Think with me: it begins with God making a son. A son in his own image, perfect and divine. He could have given Jesus the wings of an angel, but instead He gave His Son the flesh of a man. Why?
Landrum: Well . . . so that he could give us the Holy Communion of His body and His blood and save our souls.
Keseberg: Incorrect, Master Murphy. He gave His son the flesh of a man because His son was created for one purpose and for one purpose alone: to suffer.
Virginia: That’s not true.
Tamzene: Mr. Keseberg, please. This is hardly suitable conversation for Christmas morning.
Keseberg: It is true, Miss Reed. And if a discussion of our Lord is unsuitable for Christmas, Mrs. Donner, then when might it be suitable? Think back to the God of the Hebrews. What did He require above all else? Sacrifice. The sacrifice of a lamb, the sacrifice of the Garden, the sacrifice of all the wicked things on Earth. You say that God loves you and works for you in mysterious ways. But I say there is nothing mysterious in God’s ways. Why else would he have bound us here, in these mountains, at this lake, with our bodies, our minds, our very souls seeping into the ice? Because here, we have no choice but to give Him exactly what he requires: a sacrifice.
(Tamzene stands, walks to the door.)
Tamzene: . . . Well Mr. Keseberg, thank you for joining us for this Christmas morning. I hope the rest of your day is as pleasant.
(Keseberg stands, with difficulty.)
Keseberg: I do not suppose the stew is ready?
Tamzene: No. It is not.
Keseberg: As I expected. Merry Christmas.
(Keseberg limps out the door.)
Tamzene: Well. Eat up!
Guide: Of all the members of the Donner-Reed party, perhaps the most notorious was German immigrant Lewis Keseberg. On the trail, he was reviled for cursing and beating his wife. After the ordeal, he became a sort of side-show fascination: decades later, articles about his exploits were still appearing in local papers. Take this one from The San Francisco Bulletin, dated February 6, 1862, titled “A SEQUEL TO THE THRILLING DONNER STORY!”
(Reality tears straight down the middle, cords fraying as Keseberg is sucked downward through the snow, suffocating and disorienting him until finally depositing him inside a variety-show version of his cabin. As the Guide recounts the story, the scenes advance like slides in a ViewMaster.)
Keysburg alone was found alive by the final relief party… Mrs. Donner was nowhere to be found, and horrible suspicions were entertained as to her fate, from the circumstances in which Keysburg was discovered. Mr. Fallon, who conducted the relief party, found him reclining upon the floor of his cabin, smoking his pipe. Near his head a fire was blazing, upon which sat a camp kettle filled with human flesh. His feet were resting upon skulls and dislocated limbs, denuded of their flesh. A bucket partly filled with blood was standing near, and pieces of human flesh, fresh and bloody, were strewn around. He was ragged, filthy and ferocious in his aspect. He was charged with the murder of Tamzene Donner, for her flesh and money. He denied it, but when under the tree with a rope about his neck, as he supposed about to be summarily hung, he discovered a portion of the money.
(The cabin becomes a sparsely-stocked, poorly maintained bar. The Guide sits on a stool.)
Guide: Though heavily sensationalized, at least part of this article is true: Tamzene and Keseberg were undoubtedly the final two survivors left at the cabins. Unfortunately, history’s fog has forever obscured their final exchange. All we know is that Tamzene never left Donner Lake while Lewis Keseberg did. And in case you doubted that history has a sense of irony, you should know that Keseberg made his way to Sacramento, where he opened – you guessed it – a restaurant.
(Keseberg picks himself up.)
Keseberg: Last call! Pony up, cowboys.
(No one purchases a drink from Keseberg. The single drunk in the bar picks his face up off of a table and stumbles out the door. Keseberg half-glances at The Guide.)
Keseberg: You drinking?
The Guide: What?
Keseberg: What. Do. You. Want?
The Guide: Oh uh. . . Whiskey? I guess?
(Keseberg fills up the glass.)
The Guide: Thanks.
(The Guide slides Keseberg a ten-dollar note. Keseberg takes it, gives it a sidelong glance, and stashes it beneath the bar.)
(The Guide drinks in silence for a moment. Keseberg looks at him and stops. He turns away, uncorks a bottle, and takes a deep swig. The man joins him.)
The Guide: It’s a nice place you have.
Keseberg: . . . A pile of excrement is more pleasant than this place.
The Guide: The whiskey’s good enough.
Keseberg: Some small comfort.
The Guide: Do your past associations give you much trouble?
Keseberg: The past is dead.
The Guide: It must dampen your business, no?
Keseberg: I do not know what you mean.
The Guide: I read the article in the Bulletin.
Keseberg: You and everyone else, it would seem. Let us dispense with the pretense: is there a purpose to your visit, or have you merely come to gawk, James?
The Guide: . . . What?
Keseberg: Fifteen years is a long time, but it will be fifteen lifetimes before I forget your face, James Reed.
(A heavy-metal hole opens beneath The Guide/James Reed, and he falls into it, tumbling through clear blue sky before slamming into the hard, dusty desert ground.)
(James Reed is back on the trail, arguing with a faceless man. The argument quickly grows heated and the man swings at Reed. Reed ducks, pulls a knife, and stabs the man in the side. He dies, rots, decomposes.)
(All of the emigrants appear. A silent trial is held. Keseberg raises his wagon tongue, offering up a gallows for a hanging. He is voted down. Reed is expelled from the group, his wife and daughter weeping as he rides off alone.)
(In fast-forward, he emaciates, becoming weaker and hungrier by the second. He crawls across the ground until a structure emerges in the distance. A fort. A faceless man gives him bread and he regains his strength.)
(A cannonball soars through the air and explodes into bits beside Reed. He is thrown off his feet. The faceless man helps him up and thrusts a rifle into his hands.)
(James Reed charges into the fray, cannons blasting, hooves pounding the dirt. He fights valiantly, shooting faceless Mexicans with aplomb. As the cannons and the rifle shots die down, his comrades raise him up in celebration.)
(From a long way away, his wife and child stare at him, ghostlike. He notices them, and begins to make his way to them, slowly. But his comrades hold him back, dressing him in a fine suit, coming his hair, his beard, wiping the dirt off his face. All the while, his wife and child recede into nothingness.)
(Then all but one of his compatriots melt like warming snowmen. The one reveals himself as Keseberg, who sets Reed on a bar stool.)
Keseberg: Another whiskey?
(Keseberg pours him a tall glass. Reed drinks it down in silence.)
(Reed attempts to give Keseberg another ten-dollar note. Keseberg waves it away.)
Reed: Take it.
(Keseberg takes it.)
Reed: Do you ever think about it?
Keseberg: Money? All the time.
Reed: I mean, do you ever think about that winter?
Keseberg: . . . Never.
Keseberg: Truly. Buried things do not trouble me.
Reed: Funny. I’d argue that buried things trouble us most of all.
Keseberg: Well, James, you were not exactly there, so I would appreciate you keeping the details of those troubles to yourself.
Reed: I was there.
Keseberg: Why are you here, James?
Reed: . . . Margret died a few months ago.
Keseberg: I am sorry.
Reed: She went in bed, surrounded by family.
Keseberg: Good for her.
Reed: There’s just something . . . so strange about it. Everything we endured, everyone we lost, and she dies in bed.
Keseberg: I believe it is called “a happy ending.”
Reed: I suppose. I just wonder. . .
Keseberg: What do you wonder, James?
Reed: Do you truly never think about it? The lake?
Keseberg: No, James, I think about it all the fucking time.
Reed: What do you think about?
Keseberg: I think about cutting out their livers, and their kidneys, and their loins, and spitting them over the fire. That perfect sizzling. I think about the taste, like the finest young veal. I think about them inside of me, their little thoughts bubbling to the surface. I think about their flesh entwined with mine – guts in guts in guts. (Keseberg finishes the bottle.) Is that what you wanted to hear, James?
Reed: . . . No, Lewis.
Keseberg: Then what do you want? Spit it out.
Reed: . . . I want to give you a loan.
Reed: I would like to give you a loan. Terms negotiable. You could fix this place up.
Keseberg: Why would you do that?
Reed: I’m a damn good investor, Lewis. There’s a lot of potential here.
Keseberg: And people claim that I am mad.
Reed: No, really. What would you say?
Keseberg: I would say no thank you. I want nothing to do with this place. I would sooner return to Germany. Maybe there, I could live a quiet life.
Reed: So why haven’t you?
Keseberg: You wouldn’t understand.
Reed: Try me.
Keseberg: It’s all money, James. Money and I have never been on good terms.
Reed: (Pause.) What if I bought it?
Keseberg: I do not follow.
Reed: What if I bought this place outright? I’d give you a fair price. Hell, I’d give you a better than fair price.
Keseberg: A joke.
Reed: Have you known me to be a frivolous man?
(Keseberg opens a new bottle, drinks.)
Reed: What would you say, Lewis?
Keseberg: I would say that you should take your guilty conscience elsewhere.
Reed: Come on. An offer like this doesn’t come around often.
Keseberg: No thank you, James.
Reed: Lewis. Take some time. Think about it.
Keseberg: I would sooner burn this place down.
(Reed collects his things.)
Reed: Well. This was pleasant.
Reed: . . . I’ll send the papers over, Lewis.
Keseberg: I will burn it down, James.
Reed: Suit yourself.
(The channel changes.)
(In the woods, something roars.)
(Three hip twenty-somethings run through the snow. Behind them, far in the distance, a shape. They duck for shelter in the remains of a dilapidated old shack.)
Backwards Cap Dude: What the hell is that thing?
Shaved Sides Of Her Head Chick: I don’t know! I don’t know!!
Lanky Nerd: What if . . . what if it’s Carly?
SSOHHC: WHAT?! NO!
BCD: That’s totally whack, dude!
LN: Think about it . . . that old Indian scroll we found. It said that anyone who consumes the flesh of another person upsets the balance of nature and becomes a monster . . . becomes . . . the Wendigo.
BCD: But . . . how could Carly have eaten people?
SSOHHC: The burgers . . .
BCD: But that would mean . . .
LN: We ate them too.
SSOHHC: ARE WE BECOMING WENDIGOS?!
(At that moment, something monstrous comes crashing through the trees and into the wall of the cabin. The three twenty-somethings scream.)
BCD: RUNNNN!!!! RUNNN!!!!!
(The sun shines dimly in the clear winter sky. A not-quite-full moon sits just atop the trees. The snowshoers huddle around Charles Stanton, who kneels in the snow, bracing himself with one hand against a stump.)
Stanton: I just . . . I just need a moment.
Eddy: These moments seem to stretch ever longer.
Stanton: Go on ahead.
Sarah: Without our guide?
Stanton: I’ll catch up. I just need a minute to collect myself. You needn’t worry.
Margret: I am worried, Mr. Stanton.
Stanton: No no, please, I’ll join you presently. I promise. There’s no sense in losing good time over me.
Eddy: He’s right. We can’t afford to wait any longer. Weather like this, we might even come by something edible.
Sarah: So we leave our own man to die alone in the snow?
Eddy: There’s no time for this. I take Mr. Stanton at his word.
Sarah: All well and good, but unfortunately I am not a fool.
Eddy: Then stay behind! Stay all day if you’d like! I have mountains to cross.
Luisa: I will stay with him.
(The others look at her.)
Eddy: . . . Good, then it’s decided. We’ll see you shortly, Mr. Stanton.
Stanton: Of course.
(Eddy walks away. Sarah and Margret follow, grudgingly. Margret looks back, but keeps going.)
(Stanton and Luisa look at each other for a long time.)
(Then Stanton goes to give her his pack, struggles.)
Stanton: I want . . . I want you to have this. There’s some money in it. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.
Luisa: You will need it.
Stanton: I think you’ll find more use for it than I will.
Luisa: It’s for you. For California.
Stanton: Take it. Please. Just take it. For me.
Luisa: No. Come on. Let’s go.
Stanton: I never even got to milk a cow. Isn’t that funny? I was going to have a farm. I was going to have a whole herd. Would I have been a good farmer? I think I would have been a good farmer. Maybe chickens, too. For eggs. Every morning, I’d get up. Collect the eggs. A real farmer. I could have sent something back to my brother. He could use it, he’s got children, you know. I could’ve sent him eggs. No, that’s ridiculous, they’d never make it that far, but I could’ve sent him – I could’ve sent him some money at least or or or some steaks or
Stanton: . . . Wait.
Stanton: Will you . . . do something for me? When I’m gone?
Luisa: . . . Anything.
Stanton: Bring them back here.
Luisa: I do not . . .
Stanton: There’s no virtue in waste. Bring them back here and make use of me.
Luisa: . . . I cannot.
Stanton: They’re going to starve. You’re going to starve. You have to live.
Luisa: Not that way. Not you.
Luisa: I will not.
Luisa: Charles, stop. It is enough. You have done enough.
(Stanton gasps for breath. Luisa holds him to her. Stanton weeps.)
(Eventually, Stanton pulls himself together. He looks at Luisa.)
Stanton: Go on. Don’t let Eddy lead ’em in circles.
(Luisa nods. She picks up Stanton’s pack and walks away. She glances back only once.)
(Stanton looks around. His mouth does something halfway between a smile and a grimace. He leans back against a stump.)
(With great difficulty, he pulls out his pipe and packs it with a little bit of tobacco. He strikes a match, but it dies. He tries again. Again, it dies. The third time is the charm, and the match flares to life.)
(Shivering, he shakily lights the pip, and begins to smoke. Around him, silence reigns, but he doesn’t hear it: he’s back at Thanksgiving, dinner party raging.)
(After a few drags, he struggles to bring the pipe to his mouth, his hands weakening by the second. Eventually he can’t help but give in. He rests his head against the stump, alone in a crowd. Himself.)
(His head lolls. The pipe falls. No one notices.)
(A train whistle echoes through the mountains.)
(Twilight settles in, and the sky darkens. Somewhere, Virginia Reed wanders through the woods, alone and lost. She follows the sounds of something – she’s not sure what – deeper and deeper.)
(She looks up at the branches, scanning. Only the moon, not-quite-full, greets her, its soft white light catching the snow on the branches.)
(In the silence, the train whistle sounds again, closer this time. Virginia hears it, and looks around. Nothing presents itself.)
Virginia: Is anyone there?
(The train whistle sounds again, louder. Virginia frantically scans the horizon.)
(A crow lands on a branch. It looks down at her.)
(She notices it. They lock eyes.)
(Then, the roar of a highway crashes through the stillness. Cars go honking, blazing past. The crow flies away. Virginia covers her ears and huddles down in the snow.)
(And as quickly as it started, it stops. Hesitantly, Virginia uncovers one ear, then the other. She looks up. She’s alone again. She looks around.)
(Yards away, she sees something. A figure. She walks toward it.)
(The figure comes into focus. Tamzene Donner stands over an ironing board, her eyes closed, mechanically ironing a button-down shirt with an electric iron.)
Virginia: Oh. Mrs. Donner. (Pause.) Mrs. Donner? What are you doing out here?
Virginia: Aren’t you cold?
(Tamzene opens her eyes. Her pupils are all white.)
Tamzene: Hello Virginia.
Virginia: Um. Are you okay?
Tamzene: You shouldn’t be here.
Virginia: Oh. I’m sorry.
Tamzene: How did you get here?
Virginia: I don’t know. I think I’m lost.
Tamzene: Did you see them?
Virginia: Um . . . who?
Tamzene: This is the place they come to.
Virginia: Who comes to?
Tamzene: They’re just passing through.
Virginia: I don’t think I saw them.
(Tamzene looks up. The shadows in the folds of her dress fill up with stars.)
Tamzene: It’s time for you to go.
(Hands burst out of the snow, grabbing at Virginia from all directions.)
(They grasp her dress, her hair and arms. She struggles at first, but is soon overcome as the hands find purchase on her body. Arms extend out of snowdrifts, becoming humanoid shapes: white and earthen, corpulent, faceless but for gaping mouths.)
(Virginia can do nothing as the snow golems march her over to Tamzene. Tamzene silences the golems with a wave of her hand. She examines Virginia as one would a horse or pig. She nods.)
(Tamzene steps aside and reveals a figure in the distance, walking forward. It’s Keseberg. His limp is gone, his expression purposeful.)
(The golems thrust her into his arms, and he leads her in a waltz. The golems make way for them as they kick up snow in their path.)
(At the end, he dips her, and goes in for the kiss. He drops her into the waiting arms of the snow, which lifts her up. The golems carry her above them to an altar, where they lay her down.)
(Their hands and heads explore the contours of her body. Virginia allows it, her eyes closed. A half-moan escapes her lips.)
(Keseberg reaches the table and conjures a massive knife. Virginia sees it, becomes terrified. Keseberg places one hand on Virginia’s cheek, gently caressing her. She stops struggling. She smiles.)
(She offers him her hand. He kisses it. He turns it over.)
(Lovingly, he cuts into her palm. A rivulet of blood runs down her arm. He presses it to his lips, drinking deeply. Virginia arches her back.)
(The golems grab her from all sides. Keseberg rips open her dress. Virginia struggles as he lifts the knife high above her.)
(The knife comes down into her chest. Virginia screams and blood explodes out of her mouth. Everything is static.)
Landrum: Ginny? Ginny. Ginny. Wake up.
(Virginia’s eyes open. She sees Landrum. She sits up and throws her arms around him.)
(She clings to him. Landrum holds her. Eventually, he lets himself relax into it. His hands move across her body.)
Virginia: You’re warm.
Landrum: Come on. Let’s get you inside.
(Landrum helps Virginia stand. This begins a coughing fit, and he doubles over. Virginia grabs him, helping him to stand.)
Virginia: That sounds bad.
Landrum: It’s nothing. I’ve just (cough) I’ve been out here (cough) with the wood (cough). Let’s get you by a fire, okay? C’mon.
(Landrum picks up the bundle of sticks he’d collected, almost keeling over in the process. Virginia steadies him. She puts her arms around him, keeping him upright. He breathes deeply.)
Virginia: I’m very lucky you found me.
(Landrum smiles. They head for the cabins.)
Adam Scott Mazer is an Alabama-born, Brooklyn-based theater artist, illustrator, and bon vivant. In 2011, he co-founded AntiMatter Collective, which has produced three of his original plays: Death Valley, Motherboard, and The Tower. He also illustrated the “graphic poetry” collection The Bones of Us, published by YesYes Books in 2014, and wrote and illustrated a comic book adaptation of The Tower, available on Amazon/ComiXology. He’s currently working on a new play set in 45,000 BC. In his free time, he enjoys long walks on the beach, pizza, and nightmares.