The Coming Magic
by Alan Haehnel
(We open to the stage with nine beds in a single large room. Beside each bed is a chair. In each bed is a sleeping teenage girl. After several seconds, the girls stir at the same time. Their actions are not identical, but they act as if they have all had their sleep interrupted by a similar impulse. They quiet again. After a few more seconds, they stir again, in unison. This disruption lasts longer and is more pronounced than the first one. They quiet. After a few seconds, they whisper in unison.)
All Girls: Shockstrand. Log on, plug in.
(They spasm as if hit by mild electricity.)
All Girls: Shocked you, Level 4.
(They quiet again for a few seconds, then all speak a one-word plea.)
All Girls: Please, no.
(Quiet, then a unified, pleased sigh.)
All Girls: Kissed you, Level 6. Shockstrand--log on, plug in, attach the sensors where you dare.
(Quiet again, then a sudden scream from them all. After the scream, they cry quietly. The lights go down on the girls so they are barely visible. A small area stage right illuminates Dr. Phipps, Nurse England and Paul Kroeger, standing in front of a computer monitor.)
Paul: Fascinating. How long ago did they take the drug?
Dr. Phipps: Nurse England?
Nurse England: They each had two 100 milligram tablets at 6:00 last night.
Dr. Phipps: And it’s…
Nurse England: 1:27 a.m. now.
Paul: And the symptoms, this synchronicity…
Dr. Phipps: We noticed it around 8:00 p.m.
Nurse England: The residents alerted us, actually. They were pretty freaked out.
Dr. Phipps: For lack of a better term.
Nurse England: So was I. I’ve never seen this before.
Dr. Phipps: We called you immediately. I hope that was the right thing to do, given the hour.
Paul: Oh, absolutely. Any anomalies involving Primidarin, night or day, we need to know.
Nurse England: This is an anomaly, all right.
Paul: Were they agitated before the symptoms occurred?
Dr. Phipps: I mean, these adolescents are all here for their technology addictive disorders. Yesterday afternoon was the beginning of their first fasting session, so we didn’t expect them to be calm.
Paul: Fair enough. So why don’t you walk me through the circumstances that brought about this...situation.
Dr. Phipps: Our methodology attempts to transfer the overdependence the patients have on technology to an interdependence on one another as human beings.
Nurse England: Mr. Kroeger…
Paul: Paul, please.
Nurse England: Paul, okay. I’m pretty familiar with this spiel since I did pretty much help come up with it. If you don’t mind, I’m just going to attend to some other work.
Paul: Absolutely. I’m sure you have a great deal to do. And Miss England, now that I’ve been called in, I hope you will regard me as a partner in the residents’ treatment. Please apprise me of any and all developments. I say this to you especially because--no offense, Doctor Phipps--we all know that nurses are the backbone of any medical establishment.
Nurse England: You’ve got that right.
Dr. Phipps: Thank-you, Nurse England.
Nurse England: You’re welcome, Donald. See you around, Paul.
Paul: Very energetic, your Nurse England.
Dr. Phipps: Yes. As I was saying, we use a gradual process, first allowing the patients to engage for 24 hours with a highly addictive social media app, one they are all familiar with.
Paul: Which one?
Dr. Phipps: Shockstrand.
Dr. Phipps: You know of it?
Paul: No connoisseur of addiction would dare not know of Shockstrand. (Quoting the game slogan) “Life, Live, Wired.” Part game, part social media platform with the edge of mild sado-masochism. Very well designed.
Phipps: So yes, we allow them to use Shockstrand for the first 24 hours, with full on-line access. For the next phase, they stay on Shockstrand, but we narrow the number of participants to only their eight companions physically in the room with them.
Dr. Phipps: Thank you.
Paul: And then you cut them off from the app entirely, as well as from all technology use, and encourage face-to-face interaction.
Dr. Phipps: Precisely.
Paul: And your success rate?
Dr. Phipps: We're encouraged by the results, though this strategy is only one facet of a multi-disciplinary approach.
Paul: And Primidaral comes in…?
Dr. Phipps: As you might imagine with techno-addictives, each transition meets with resistance, but the point at which we take away their devices is particularly fraught.
Dr. Phipps: I've never run across anything as effective as Primidaral at reducing anxiety.
Paul: You never will. Primidaral is the definitive treatment for anxiety. It will prove to be as great a boon to humankind as penicillin.
Dr. Phipps: Well, I'm not sure about that…
Paul: I am.
Dr. Phipps: Anyway, we thought, this time, we would try…
Paul: I’m sorry. “We”?
Dr. Phipps: Oh, Nurse England and I. This is a fledgling program that she and I have worked together on. I’m afraid we’re the chief cooks and bottle washers here--a two-person operation at this point.
Paul: I admire your dedication. A small team often means better care.
Dr. Phipps: Exactly. So, we thought we would do well to administer Primidaral at the point of transition from limited use of Shockstrand to complete techno fasting. Obviously, given the result, I'll never do it again.
Paul: Of course. It is rather a wondrous outcome, though.
Dr. Phipps: I only hope it's temporary.
Paul: Do you know the story of Primidaral?
Dr. Phipps: The story? I mean, I know it has a strong reputation.
Paul: You don’t know its history?
Dr. Phipps: No.
Paul: You should. It begins over 60 years ago. Every doctor who prescribes Primidaral should know its story.
Dr. Phipps: The reason I called...
Paul: It’s a charming story. And I use that word intentionally. Charm, magic--those are appropriate words to use when we’re talking about the Drug.
Dr. Phipps (regarding the monitor): Look, the patients, residents, seem to be active again.
Paul: Doctor, I sense that you’re impatient to know what I am going to do about your problem.
Dr. Phipps: It’s just that...
Paul: Telling you the story of our drug is doing something, a very important something. 60 years ago, a man named Walker Posner found an island in the Pacific inhabited by several tribes. You see, it’s already charming, isn’t it? A remote island, mysterious tribes. Please give me your attention, Doctor.
Dr. Phipps: I’m sorry. I was noticing...
Paul: Yes, the residents are active. But I presume they are in a locked space and are not a danger to one another.
Dr. Phipps: Of course.
Paul: Then you have time to listen to the story. Walker Posner stayed on this island for two years. He was a brilliant man--a botanist, historian and sociologist--absolutely brilliant in all three fields. He stayed on the island precisely because it was an island, cut off from the rest of the world.
(The scene shifts to the girls. They all awake with a shout and a particularly hard spasm.)
Cara: Oh, not again! I need some sleep! Who was it?
Kelly: I know, I know. I can't help it, you guys.
Sarah: You have to help it.
Sasha: You're killing us.
Kelly: I don't want to kill you. I just…if I could just get my phone back. Something. My computer, my tablet…
(The convention is that when the group of girls speaks in unison, one individual’s emotional state has become extreme enough to “swamp” the group. The line designation indicates which individual the group is speaking for. At times, the group presents a conversation between more than one character at high emotional, though the emotions may vary.)
All as Kelly: Something! I feel so lonely!
All as Amanda: Kelly, come on. Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
(All take deep breaths in unison.)
Amanda: You keep swamping us.
Kelly: I'm not trying to swamp you. I'm not trying to kill you.
All as Kelly: I just can't do this!
Cara: Sh. You remember the exercises the nurse showed us. Press your fingers together. Focus on pressing your fingers together.
Kelly: I don't want to press my fingers together. I want to go home.
All as Kelly: I want to go home.
(They all begin to cry with Kelly.)
All as Amanda: Hey, it's all right.
All as Kelly: It's not all right.
(Amanda goes to Kelly.)
All as Amanda: Hold my hand, okay? Squeeze it. Squeeze it.
Amanda: That's it.
Morgan: When is somebody going to tell us what’s happening?
Sarah: I read about this treatment. It's not supposed to go like this.
Kelly: What do you mean? You mean this isn't going to help?
All as Kelly: Why are we even here if it's not going to help?
All as Sasha: Seriously, Kelly, stop!
All as Anna: It doesn’t help if you keep panicking!
All as Kelly: What are we doing here? What are we doing here?
(Suddenly, everyone jumps, as if shocked. All yell.)
All as Morgan: What was that!? That hurt!
All as Faith: Who did that?
Cara: That was, like, from Shockstrand, only five times bigger.
Anna: Who did it?
Sasha: Erin did.
Erin: How do you know?
Sasha: Because I saw you.
Erin: What do you mean, you saw me?
Sarah: Was it you?
All as Sarah: Was it you?
All as Erin: Oh, relax.
Erin: Yes, okay, it was me.
Anna: How did you do that? We're not even wired up.
Erin: Beats me. Probably has something to do with me being a Level 6 Shocker.
Faith: Level 6?
Morgan: Listen, that's really impressive, both that you're a Level 6 and that you can do that to us, but—don't, all right?
Cara: Are you a Level 6 kisser, too?
Erin: Might be.
Cara: So how about sharing that instead?
Erin: How about you bite me.
Anna: What is your problem, Erin?
Erin: My problem is that you're always talking, always chattering away like a bunch of birds. Then somebody gets uptight and swamps us and the next thing I know, I'm joining in like a moron. I'm sick of it.
Sasha: Just because you're bored doesn't give you an excuse to inflict pain on us.
Erin: I didn't say I did it because I was bored.
Sasha: You didn't have to.
Erin: Get out of my head.
Sasha: I don't have a choice, remember?
Erin: Right, you saw it. What does my boredom look like? A great big turd?
Faith: When is this going wear off? The doctor should have told us about this part of the treatment.
Erin: This isn't part of the treatment.
Morgan: How do you know?
Erin: I've gone through this before. This, what's happening to us, is definitely not something they planned on.
Faith: You've already done rehab?
Erin: Three times. This is my second time here.
Anna: It didn't work?
Erin: I pretended it did so they'd let me go, but no.
(Kelly starts to hyperventilate.)
Kelly: It didn't…
Morgan: Kelly, don't lose it.
Amanda: Take it slow.
(All start to breathe rapidly along with Kelly.)
All as Kelly: It didn't...after all this, you mean it might not...it might not…. I can't do this! I can't do this!
All as Sarah: Kelly, I'm so sick of this! Stop panicking!
All as Kelly: I can't do this!
All as Morgan: Everyone, take deep breaths! Take deep breaths.
All as Kelly: I can't…
All as Anna: Listen to her!
All as Morgan: Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
(They all breathe in unison several times, then begin to act separately again.)
Amanda: Listen, guys, can I make a suggestion?
Erin: Oh, and here comes Amanda, our resident in-house therapist.
Anna: Why don't you shut up?
Erin: Why don't you…?
Amanda: I’m not trying to be the resident therapist, but we need to get some control over this situation, right? Right?
Erin: Go ahead, talk. As if I could stop you.
Amanda: All I'm suggesting is that—see, my mother is all into guided meditations. It's weird, but it can help people get focused. I'm just thinking, if we had some sort of visual we could home in on and refer back to, it might be helpful. If we all had it. Like it or not, we have to depend on each other.
Cara: Yeah, but not too much or we end up being each other.
Amanda: It's a balance, right? I could take us through a meditation that could help us find that balance. What do you think?
Morgan: It's not like we have anything else to do.
Sarah: I can think of something—sleep!
Amanda: That's just it. We can't get decent rest because we keep getting carried away.
Anna: Some of us, anyway.
Kelly: I can't help it.
Morgan: Blame isn't going to do any good. Let's just try this. Okay? Everybody? Let's try it.
Erin: Whatever. How does it work?
Amanda: All right. We'll bring our chairs into a crescent shape, close together.
(They move their chairs during the following dialogue.)
Cara: Crescent? Shouldn't it be a circle?
Amanda: The theory is that the open part of the crescent leaves a space for unifying energy to access the group.
Erin (sarcastic): Unifying energy. Ooo!
Amanda: I told you it was hokey, but I've seen it work.
Sarah: All right. We're all crescented. Now what?
Amanda: We hold hands.
Erin: I could've guessed that move.
All as Sasha: Hey, at least she's trying to help us instead of shock us!
All as Erin: Which one of you said that?
All as Sasha: I've had enough of you!
All as Erin: Come do something about it, then!
All as Morgan: Stop! Take it down. Take it down.
(Scene shifts back to Paul and Dr. Phipps.)
Paul: After months earning the tribe’s trust, Walker Posner was finally allowed to sample the plant. He found it miraculous. Its taste was pleasant and warded off hunger; its fragrance kept insects at bay; and, most important, it brought him a strong sense of calmness and clarity, with no side effects. It was even beneficial to the teeth. He deemed it, quote, “the very root of equanimity.” And it saved the lives of the Dominus tribe. Under conditions of near-constant warfare, in circumstances that would normally be extraordinarily anxiety-provoking, the Dominus remained calm and clear-headed. I see I am losing you again, Dr. Phipps.
Dr. Phipps: You know, this is all very interesting. I...
Paul: No, no, Doctor, you mean the opposite, don’t you? You don’t find my story interesting at all. It is interesting, inherently, and it should be especially captivating for you because you are part of the story, and yet, you’re not interested.
Dr. Phipps: I just…
Paul: How many patients are at this facility, Doctor?
Dr. Phipps: Just the nine you see here. We’re new and small. We hope to expand.
Paul: Charming. And how many people work here?
Dr. Phipps: Just Nurse England and myself. I thought I…
Paul: You trust her, I presume?
Dr. Phipps: Absolutely. Her manner can be occasionally unpolished, but she’s very dependable, devoted to the practice.
Paul: And finally, Doctor, how many people besides you and Nurse England are aware of the issue that has come up with Primidaral and your patients?
Dr. Phipps: No one. I haven’t told anyone else.
Paul: Once more, I use the word deliberately, even gleefully: Charming. Doctor, right now, at 1:30 in the morning, all is contained. All is well. You have the time to listen, with undivided attention, to at least the last, most crucial part of the story of Primidaral.
Dr. Phipps: I will. But I can’t help but be distracted by what is happening with the residents.
Paul: They seem to be interacting quite vigorously.
Dr. Phipps: You’ve been watching?
Paul: I’ve been monitoring. But go ahead and turn up the volume, Doctor. We will observe for a few moments if you will commit to giving me your full attention after that.
Dr. Phipps: Thank you.
Paul: Of course. I can be flexible.
(The scene shifts back to the girls.)
Morgan: We can't afford to lose control. We just end up fighting each other which means we fight ourselves. Let's face it—this is weird, really weird, but it looks like nobody is coming to figure this out for us.
Cara: The doctors should be.
Morgan: Well, they're not.
Erin: Because they don’t know how.
Morgan: So let's cut the sarcasm and the fighting and the panicking, and let's see if we can make some progress.
Amanda: All right. We hold hands and close our eyes.
Erin: And sing camp songs.
Sasha: I told you...
Erin: Relax. I'm doing it.
Amanda: Okay. Now, I want you all to picture us together in a circular boat, like they have at water parks.
Sarah: I've never been to a water park.
Faith: You haven’t?
Amanda: That's all right. It's just a round, inflatable raft. All nine of us can fit in it. It's comfortable, but it's very tippy. We can't make any sudden moves. We're on a river, a wide, clear, beautiful river. Right now, it's calm. The sun is out; the sky is a perfect blue; it's hot, but not too hot.
Erin: Who's got the sunscreen?
Amanda: We're sitting back against the sides of the boat. It's in perfect equilibrium. We're going slowly down this river, watching the water go by, watching the trees on the shore go by—it's perfect. We can feel the water rippling underneath us, rocking us gently. In the distance, we see some rapids approaching. Nothing big. We'll be fine. We just have to go with them. We have to remember that our reactions affect one another, so even if we're a little scared of what's coming, we know we're all together; we know we can rely on one another. We have to rely on one another. Above everything else, in order to stay safe, we have to stay balanced. We're in the rapids now. They bump us around a little bit. We collide with a small rock in the river, but we just bounce off.
All as Amanda: The raft is strong; it will hold us up.
Amanda: We feel a spray of water, but that's all it is—just water. It's refreshing.
All as Amanda: Nothing to worry about. We let the rapids roll beneath us.
Amanda: We adjust, as one, nobody leaning too far one way or the other, nobody panicking. The boat sways and rocks, but because we're paying attention to each other, we're fine.
All as Amanda: We're fine.
(Scene shifts back to Paul and Dr. Phipps in the observation room.)
Paul: Simply beautiful, after just a single dose. Their interdependence and communication are increasing.
Dr. Phipps: I had hoped the symptoms would have abated by now.
Paul: The changes to the brain could well be permanent.
Dr. Phipps: Permanent? The ramifications of…
Paul: Doctor, Doctor, remember our deal. No need to get ahead of ourselves. For the moment, your residents are fine. Fascinating and fine.
Dr. Phipps: But…
Paul: And I will finish our story, and then I will inform you of our next steps. How does that sound?
Dr. Phipps: All right.
Paul: Your full attention, please. In short, the island was volcanic. After a violent eruption, it and its inhabitants were swallowed by the ocean, never to be seen again. A tragic loss. The only vestiges of the place were Walker Posner’s journals, maps...and a handful of seeds. When he returned to his home in Florida, Walker Posner spent the rest of his life, 40 years, attempting to grow the miracle plant he had tasted on the island. He tried every variation in temperature, humidity, soil acidity and sunlight exposure he could possibly create, all to no avail. 40 years. On the morning of his 73rd birthday, an overcast April 8th, Walter Posner wrote, quote, “With the care of the most attentive mother for its child, I kissed the final seed and buried it, next to my last iota of hope, in the ground.” That week, Walker Posner learned he had terminal cancer. Three months later, two days before his death, Walker Posner chewed the leaves of the plant of that long-since-drowned island. He wrote in his journal, quote, “I have tasted heaven.”
Dr. Phipps: And that plant…?
Paul: Yes. Is the source of Primidaral. Tormore Pharmaceuticals acquired the plant in 2009 and the patent in 2013. It sailed, of course, through all the trials; after all, the active ingredient had been used safely by humans for over a century. Since its introduction to the market last year, Primidaral has set record sales, surpassing every other Tormore product combined.
Dr. Phipps: That is quite a story.
Paul: The tale of a gift to humanity preserved, snatched from volcanic fires and the obscurity of the ocean waves.
Dr. Phipps: You’re quite poetic.
Paul: I love this drug, I am not ashamed to say, and I want you to love it, too. Look at your circumstances, Doctor. The charm continues. This place is a virtual island itself, secluded and protected.
Dr. Phipps: What do you mean?
Paul: Had this event with your residents happened elsewhere, in a different type of facility, with a larger staff, under greater scrutiny, we at Tormore Pharmaceuticals would have been forced to pull Primidaral off the shelves, probably never to return. The greatest, most lucrative drug in the past century, suddenly defunct. But that needn’t happen now.
Dr. Phipps: I’m not sure how long I can keep this under wraps.
Paul: For a few days at least, yes? You can tell the residents’ families that the current treatment precludes any visits.
Dr. Phipps: I suppose.
Paul: You and Nurse England can continue to monitor, staying in close contact with me.
Dr. Phipps: Do you think…
Paul: In the meantime, I will formulate a plan.
Dr. Phipps: Will you talk to the labs at Tormore?
Paul: No. What would I tell them? To put on the bottle that, in the case of patients being treated for technology addiction disorder, Primidoral should not be administered after 24-hour use of the app Shockstrand limited to a nine-person community? No. This is a one-in-a-billion glitch, my friend. Tormore hires people such as myself to solve these problems, to ensure that the story of Primidoral continues unhindered.
Dr. Phipps: No one will know?
Paul: That is precisely the goal. However, what Tormore will know, Doctor, is of this facility and the fine work it is doing. It will be informed of your dedication and of Nurse England’s extreme competence.
Dr. Phipps: I appreciate that, but...
Paul: Because Tormore is an extremely generous company, with millions of dollars’ worth of grants available to institutions--and individuals, Doctor--whose goals we wish to foster. I, as one of Tormore’s top representatives, have definite clout in that area.
Dr. Phipps: You do?
Paul: Oh, yes.
Dr. Phipps: I do feel that our facility fulfills an important need in the community. If we could expand...
Paul: You don’t have to convince me, Dr. Phipps. I’m entirely sold on what you do here. Entirely.
Dr. Phipps: Thank you.
Paul: So what I am going to do now...is leave. I am going to go back to my home where I can begin formulating a plan and drafting my communications with Tormore. You have my cell number. Do not hesitate to use it if anything alarming occurs. Anything.
Dr. Phipps: Absolutely. Thank you, Paul.
Paul: I’ll be in touch soon.
(He exits. The scene shifts back to the girls.)
Amanda: We are past the rapids now. We can just relax again, feel the sun on our faces, feel it soaking into our skin, evaporating the water from our bodies. We feel as if everything is one thing—us, the boat, the sun…
(The lights suddenly come on full.)
All as Cara: Hey!
Morgan: What's the matter?
Cara: Didn't you see that? The lights!
Faith: Who turned them on?
Amanda: How did that happen? There's no light switch in here.
Erin: Aren't they on a timer?
Anna: Yeah, but it's still night.
Sasha: I think we did it. I think...I think we turned on the lights with our minds. Or, you know, our one mind.
Sarah: Come on.
Faith: That can’t be true.
Sasha: We were focused on the sensation of the sun. And I don't know about you guys, but I felt pretty...okay, don't make fun of me, but I felt like we were all, like, one for a few seconds.
Morgan: I got that, too.
Erin: I'll give you that, but our unified state of being did not somehow connect to the electrical system in this room and turn on the lights. That's nuts.
Amanda: Why don't we try it again?
Sarah: Try what?
Amanda: Why don't we all focus and see if we can shut them off again?
Erin: And for our next trick—levitation!
Amanda: What do we have to lose?
Kelly: I don't like this. This makes me really nervous.
Faith: Kelly, it's nothing, just an experiment.
Kelly: It feels like a séance or something. I hate those.
Morgan: We're all here, right? That's the point of the boat image—when you feel fear, you just look around the boat and know, as long as you stay calm, we'll be fine. We'll stay upright.
Amanda: You won’t swamp us.
Anna: The rapids are like fear.
Morgan: Exactly. Or any emotion. We can ride them out together.
Kelly: I don’t know.
Amanda: Do you have a favorite song, from childhood?
Kelly: A what?
Amanda: A tune, you know, that maybe your parents used to sing to you at night?
Amanda: It’s just another thing to focus on, like the boat image.
Faith: Yeah, music’s really good at helping with focus.
Erin: So is a kick in the head.
Kelly: I can’t remember the name of it. The one about the diamond ring.
Sarah: “Put a Ring On It”?
Kelly: No, no--the baby one.
Cara: “Put a Baby Ring On It”?
Faith: This is so crazy--we can read each other’s minds, but we can’t come up with…
Kelly: “Hush, Little Baby”! That’s the one.
Amanda: Good! That’s a great tune. (She hums a few bars.) If we sing it together, it can be calming and unifying.
Erin: Now we’re singing?
Morgan: Let's try this. Close our eyes and hold hands again.
Erin: Golly gee, this will be so much fun, you guys.
Sasha: Your jokes aren't helping, you know.
Erin: Maybe I've got better things to do than stay balanced in a nine-person pretend raft down the Whoop-Di-Do singing river attraction, how about that?
Morgan: Just try, okay? Please?
Erin: Whatever. Give me your hand.
Morgan: Amanda, do you want to guide us again?
Amanda: Okay, let's just try to give ourselves over more directly to the task. No boat, no river. Just the tune and the lights. Close your eyes. Begin. (They all start to hum the tune from “Hush, Little Baby.” After a few moments, Amanda continues to speak.) Let's imagine reaching our minds, together, up to the lights over our heads. They're on now. Let's not think of anything else than the lights. When I count to three, we're going to shut them off. One, two, three.
(They stop humming and open their eyes.)
Sarah: Nothing happened.
Sasha: Erin wasn't trying.
Erin: How do you know?
Sasha: I just know. When I close my eyes, I see everyone's aura. When we're together, or trying to be, we all sort of glow at the same rate. Erin, you were holding back. I saw it.
Erin: This is such bull.
Morgan: What isn't? It's bull that we're in here. It's bull that they took our phones and everything from us. And it's total bull that that pill they gave us somehow made us think like one brain whenever somebody gets too upset.
Kelly: Usually me. Sorry.
Morgan: Not just you. Any one of us. It's all bull, Erin. How much crazier is the idea that we might be able to control the lights?
Erin: Fine. You guys aren't going to leave me alone anyway. Give me your hand. I won't hold back.
Amanda: All right. Close your eyes. Everyone focus on the lights.
Kelly: Could we do the song again? That actually helps a lot. Me anyway.
Faith: I second that.