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Moonbirds: A Play in the Desert.

by Christopher Woods
  

Synopsis

Moonbirds is a comic/drama for two characters. They are census-takers who work for an international relief agency. Their job is to count needy people in a Third World country. The play takes place in the desert of that country. The central problem is that there are no people left to count, only abandoned villages. There is also the uncomfortable knowledge that, of the census teams sent before, not one has returned alive. Finally, they find that they must deal with, of all things, large ghoulish birds.

Nevertheless, the work must go on. As one of the characters says, “Aren’t we census-takers? Isn’t it our duty to count?”

So they continue their mission. Moonbirds is about both duty and doom. It is like a meeting between Indiana Jones and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Scene 13

(Late. Night. A vague moonlight. Centerstage, an extinguished campfire. Around it, IGNOTO and RIEN, asleep.)

(Sound of fierce bird shrieks very close by.)

(IGNOTO’S sleep is troubled. HE tosses and turns, begins moaning. Finally, HE begins screaming. This continues until RIEN wakes. Momentarily dazed, RIEN then realizes that the screams are coming from IGNOTO. HE crawls over to IGNOTO and tries to rouse HIM.)

RIEN

Ignoto! Ignoto!

(RIEN shakes IGNOTO, who continues to scream. IGNOTO tries to push RIEN away. The more RIEN tries to help, the more agitated IGNOTO becomes. Desperate, frightened screams. Finally, RIEN slaps IGNOTO hard across the face. IGNOTO awakens.)

WAKE UP! IT’S ME, IGNOTO! YOU’RE DREAMING! IT’S ME, IGNOTO!

Ghoulish moonbird and full moon.IGNOTO

(Coming to.) Is it you, Rien?

RIEN

It’s me.

IGNOTO

(HE sits up, rubs HIS eyes.) I couldn’t be sure. I saw so many things.

(HE feels HIS face, still stinging from RIEN’S slap)

I was on fire, I tell you. On fire.

RIEN

You were having a nightmare. Come, Ignoto. Sit by the fire.

(RIEN moves next to the campfire. IGNOTO follows suit.)

IGNOTO

It’s good to be awake.

RIEN

Is it?

IGNOTO

I had a terrible dream. I dreamed I was being smothered by hundreds of blankets. Each of them was on fire.

RIEN

Sand fever. Everyone gets it sooner or later. I was hoping we would get it later. (beat) But I guess it is later.

(IGNOTO, shivering, leans over the campfire.)

IGNOTO

It’s so cold. Has the fire gone out?

RIEN

(Pokes at the ashes without success.) There must be a spark alive somewhere.

(HE stirs the ashes some more.) One spark, that’s all we need. One spark is enough.

IGNOTO

(Brittle hope.) One spark. One spark. Is that too much to ask?

RIEN

(Scatters the ashes in resignation.) That’s it. It’s dead. (beat) And that was the end of our matches.

IGNOTO

All gone? No more fire?

(RIEN shakes his head.)

That does it for me! No fire. No way to keep warm. I can’t take it any longer. I’m leaving! I’m going home!

(IGNOTO stands, begins to walk away.)

I’ve had enough of this! I’m going crazy!

(As IGNOTO tries to leave, RIEN goes after HIM. HE grabs IGNOTO to prevent HIM from leaving. THEY fight. IGNOTO tries to push RIEN away. THEY wrestle to the ground. IGNOTO breaks free, starts to run.)

RIEN

Stop!

IGNOTO

I’ve made up my mind. I was crazy to come here.

(RIEN runs ahead of IGNOTO and confronts HIM.)

RIEN

Crazy to think you can leave. Where do you think you’re going?

IGNOTO

Home. Isn’t that what I said? Away from this godforsaken place! I can’t take it!

(RIEN slaps IGNOTO several times in quick succession.)

RIEN

Listen to me! You can’t go home. You don’t know where it is. (beat) Tell me, which way is home?

Can you tell me that?

(IGNOTO, in tears, looks around wildly. HE has no idea.)

See? You leave here, and you’ll die somewhere out there. Alone.

IGNOTO

(Nearly hysterical.) What does it matter? We’re going to die anyway!

(IGNOTO breaks into a run again, this time in the opposite direction.)

RIEN

IGNOTO!

(RIEN runs after IGNOTO again, tackling HIM. THEY struggle, end up on the ground, breathing hard and spitting sand.)

IGNOTO

(Angrily.) What do you want from me? Just let me go.

RIEN

If you leave, I’ll be alone. You die alone, and I die alone too.

IGNOTO

So?

RIEN

Aren’t we a team, Ignoto? Have you forgotten that? Aren’t we census-takers? Aren’t we?

IGNOTO

(Quietly.) I guess.

RIEN

What?

Ghoulish moonbird and full moon.IGNOTO

(Louder.) I guess.

RIEN

Good. Remember that. We have a job to do. This is our mission. No matter what. (beat) We gave our word.

IGNOTO

(HE sits up, quite ashamed.) Yes, we did, didn’t we? (beat) I’m sorry. (slight pause) My dream upset me terribly. I dreamed about blankets on fire. And I also dreamed that we were walking on a road. Between villages, I think. Then, we started seeing things.

RIEN

(Warily.) Things?

IGNOTO

Grotesque things. On the road. So many of them, we tripped over them. We had to watch where we stepped. Walk around them as best we could.

RIEN

But, what kinds of things?

IGNOTO

That’s just it. We didn’t know. And we kept seeing them. Stumbling over them. Finally, we realized what they were. Bones. Human bones. A village’s worth, at least.

(Sudden sounds of bird shrieks.)

RIEN

Bones. Are you sure?

IGNOTO

Oh, yes. Human bones. Oh, we knew it all along, but we didn’t want to admit it. To ourselves, you know. We didn’t want to recognize them for what they were.

RIEN

(With resignation.) I see.

(A slight pause.)

IGNOTO

This isn’t news to you, is it?

(RIEN doesn’t answer.)

You know all about the bone business, don’t you?

(RIEN doesn’t answer.)

ANSWER ME!

RIEN

Yes. But I thought all that was still a few days away. (beat) Ignoto, your dream was in color, wasn’t it? Not black and white?

IGNOTO

Color, yes. Why do you ask?

RIEN

Just making sure.

IGNOTO

What does the dream mean?

RIEN

It could mean several things.

IGNOTO

We both know better than that.

RIEN

In my father’s last dispatch, he talked about seeing bones. They found them alongside the road, after they left Huzuni.

IGNOTO

What else did he say?

RIEN

Very little. He remained objective, right up until the end. Naturally, I’ve read that last dispatch many times. Between the lines, you understand.

IGNOTO

And what did you make of it?

RIEN

Not a lot. It’s just like you dreamed it. A village’s worth of bones. On the road, outside Huzuni. (beat) You were dreaming about them, Ignoto. The people who used to live here.

IGNOTO

What happened to them?

RIEN

The birds, Ignoto. The moonbirds. You know that.

IGNOTO

I did, yes. And tried to forget it. (beat) So many people.

RIEN

Yes, but there’s always more birds.

IGNOTO

There’s no getting around them, is there? The moonbirds?

RIEN

(Quietly.) No. Not a chance.

IGNOTO

I guess I knew that too.

(IGNOTO stands, stretches, looks at the sky.)

IGNOTO

I know that moon.

RIEN

Do you?

IGNOTO

From my dream. We walked most of the night. We were exhausted, but we couldn’t stop. We didn’t want to sleep beside someone else’s bones. So we kept on walking like that, in the strange moonlight.

(THEY both stare at the moon.)

Do you know a moon like that, Rien?

(RIEN doesn’t answer.)

Well, I do. Not a pretty sight. A ghost moon. That’s what we call it where I come from. The ghost of a one-eyed God, staring.

RIEN

Not smirking?

IGNOTO

Maybe. (slight pause) What about you? Do you know a moon like that?

RIEN

I do. Very well. My father tells me that a hazy moon like that is really a sore.

IGNOTO

What?

Ghoulish moonbird and full moon.RIEN

A bedsore. On the body of God. It’s pressing through from the other side of heaven.

IGNOTO

But your father is dead. How can he say these things to you?

RIEN

He’s dead, sure. But he still talks to me, in my dreams. And do you know what else he says?

(IGNOTO shakes his head.)

That he is very hungry. And very cold. He comes to me in my sleep, begging for a blanket.

IGNOTO

I see. (beat) Why don’t you tell him to go to the village of Huzuni? There are more blankets there than he’ll ever need.

RIEN

(Spiteful.) Don’t you think he knows that? Don’t you think he would go there if he could?

(Slight pause) He’s blind, Ignoto. The moonbirds took care of him.

IGNOTO

He died doing this same census, didn’t he?

RIEN

Yes. It goes on and on.

IGNOTO

Strange, how it’s never finished. Never.

RIEN

Because someone never stops smirking. And the census here has never been completed. Not even once. It’s the birds. They eat a village. They eat the census-takers. They’re always hungry.

(A pause.)

The best thing to do is not to think about it. By the time they come for us, Ignoto, we’ll be asleep.

(RIEN lies down to go to sleep.)

IGNOTO

You really believe that?

RIEN

I’m sure of it. The dead are always asleep. The only time they wake at all is when they go looking for a blanket. (beat) If it’s any consolation, we’ll die of hunger. And after that? It hardly matters. (beat) Now, let’s get some rest.

(THEY both try to get some sleep. Then, IGNOTO sits up again.)

IGNOTO

It’s funny. Even if you know something can’t be avoided, you still have a way of hoping. It’s odd, how hope has a mind of its own.

RIEN

(Sits up again.) It’s better this way. Believe me, we’ll be heroes. Martyrs. Maybe even saints.

IGNOTO

I know, but...

RIEN

Why, someday, Ignoto, a school or a library might be named after you.

IGNOTO

Why not a restaurant?

RIEN

It could happen. (beat) Or a fountain. Yes, that’s it! Imagine coins being thrown into a fountain with your name, in gold plate, on the rim. Each coin a wish in your homor. What could be better than that?

IGNOTO

Well, when you put it that way...

RIEN

We’ll be the envy of many. And patron saints for all the census-takers still to come.

IGNOTO

I’ve wondered about that. Will they send another team to look for us?

RIEN

(Laughs.) Don’t question the pattern of these things. They sent us, didn’t they? After my father’s team disappeared, looking for the team before them? Hasn’t headquarters always been good about sending teams?

IGNOTO

Yes, but...

RIEN

But what?

IGNOTO

What if we’re the last team ever?

RIEN

Nonsense. This is much larger than you and me. Or even the birds. The census must continue. Civilization goes on. Oh, maybe we don’t know who we are, or where we’re going, but at least we’ll know how many of us there are.

(THEY both settle down. It is quiet for a few moments.)

IGNOTO

Rien?

RIEN

Yes?

IGNOTO

There’s something I want you to know. No matter what happens.

Ghoulish moonbird and full moon.RIEN

What is it?

IGNOTO

I count you as a friend.

RIEN

(Sits up.) No more than I count you.

(RIEN looks at IGNOTO, then turns over to go to sleep. IGNOTO counts silently on HIS fingers. Finally HE is too cold to count.)

IGNOTO

(Shivering.) It’s so cold. So cold.

RIEN

I know.

IGNOTO

If I had been thinking, I would have taken a blanket from Huzuni. Maybe two blankets.

RIEN

No. You couldn’t do that.

IGNOTO

Why not? We’d be warm now.

RIEN

You wouldn’t want those poor people to be without their blankets. No, someday, when they come back, they’ll need those blankets.

IGNOTO

You’re right. It’s better this way.

RIEN

That’s right. (beat) Good man. (beat) Goodnight.

(THEY both try to sleep.)

(Sound of large birds shrieking nearby.)

(RIEN sits up and, shivering, crawls to the cold fire. HE remembers it is out. HE looks around.)

LIGHTS BEGIN FADING

(RIEN sees IGNOTO and crawls toward HIM. HE lies down beside IGNOTO. THEY are back to back.)

FINAL BLACKOUT

  

Christopher Woods writes fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and plays. He is the author of The Dream Patch, a lyrical novel about a Texas family during the 1940s. His collection of prose poems and brief fictions, Under a Riverbed Sky, was published by Panther Creek Press. His collection of stage monologues for actors and actresses, Heart Speak, was published recently by Stone River Press. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Columbia, The Southern Review, New England Review, and Glimmer Train. His plays have been produced throughtout the U.S.
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