“I-79” – play by Chris Martin

Characters:

Mason– 39 year old man/owner of the plow

Smith- 22 year old man/a hitchhiker

Carpenter– 63 year old man/a hitchiker

Prologue:

(Scene: A stretch of road somewhere along the I-79 highway between West Virginia and Pennsylvania. It is 11pm on a cool Monday night. The highway is clogged with cars, doors ajar and left abandoned by their owners. A green truck idles, parked with the keys still in the ignition and its engine running, its lit headlights point North (stage left).)

(30 seconds pass in silence with the only noise being the humming of an engine, distant shouting and crashing can be heard briefly but then is gone. A few more seconds and the headlights fade, the engine rattles and whines, and halts. It has run out of gas.)

(Fade to black)

Act 1:

(Scene: The same scene but now midday. Mason loosely hugs a full canister of gas, leaning against the trunk of one of the lost cars while Smith attempts to siphon gas out of it. Carpenter stands watch a couple cars behind them.)

Mason: (Shifts weight from one leg to another, looks around anxiously and begins to bite his thumb nail but catches himself and puts his hand in his pocket) There has got to be more than that.

Smith: (Sticks head up from behind car, coughing) You’re right. It’s probably hiding in the glove compartment.

Mason: Careful! A mouth like that will lose you your free ride! (pauses, loses edge) So that’s it?

Smith: (stands up, holding a canister with only a little gas in it) That’s it. Someone else must have gotten to it already.

Mason: No. I won’t believe it. They haven’t been moved out of the way, there’s no room for anyone to have passed. Check the last one, I’ll wager there’s half a tank in that truck over there.

Smith: How do you come to this conclusion?

Mason: Cause the rear shocks have too much weight on them to be empty, and as I mentioned before, there is no clearance for other cars to pass through, and cause I said so.

Smith: No truck, but a motorcycle would get through this mess in a second. (Coughs into arm for a few seconds) You’re really going to make me check the truck?

Mason: I’m not making you do anything. This is your part of the bargain. If it wasn’t for me you would still be hiking North around Sutton. It’s the last truck out here for all I can see. So if you want your break, I’d suggest checking out the last goddamn truck. Now check!

(Smith kneels at the gas cap of truck and attempts to siphon some for a few seconds. Mason looks away from Smith, his face contorted in some sort of desperate silent prayer)

Smith: (standing again) Nothing.  Chris my throat hurts. Could I crack open one of the water bottles? I can taste fumes in the back of my throat.

Mason: And now you’re making demands! Wonderful! I see this kid walking down the shoulder, alone like a dope. I feel like I’m doing a good thing picking him up. Now all I get to hear is him groaning about his psychic thoughts on gasoline tanks and his throat! Right, Carpenter?

(Carpenter ignores Mason, checking the sun before continuing his scan of the highway. Mason pulls a small water bottle out of his backpack and tosses it to Smith.)

Smith: Thanks. (drinks) It’s not coming out. Do you have any mouthwash in the truck?

Mason: You know I don’t have any. You’ve been foraging the cab since you got in it.

Smith: Then let’s go down the next exit. There’s gotta be a convenience store somewhere close by that has a bottle left.

Mason: Sure! And I suppose you have supplies to barter with whatever group of savages has taken roost in the store. Hmmm? Or do you think they are going to be as generous as I have been? I don’t know how long you’ve been on the 79 but it’s getting ugly out there.

Smith: …I know.

Mason: Then if you know then you should be agreeing with me that our best, no, only bet is to continue our way North harvesting whatever gas we can. (Turns from Smith and has a look of concern and dread on his face.)

Smith: (sets down the gas canister) Mr. Mason, we haven’t found more than a quart of gasoline in the last three jams we’ve come across. You’re going to have to accept that the road North has already been tapped and we drank up everything behind us.

Mason: (Spins around back towards Smith. His voice breaks momentarily) Don’t you dare say that! I don’t have to accept shit! Especially when the shit is coming out of some college brat barely out of diapers! Do you want to walk? Is that it? The road is open for you, boy. Go right on ahead.

Smith: I was just saying-

Mason: Oh! So you have a suggestion then? Well out with it! What brilliant thoughts do you have for Carpenter and I? Come on Smith, put your parents money to good use for once and give us a better damn alternative.

Smith: Well…maybe-

Mason: What? Maybe what, Smith? Out with it-

Smith: Bikes, alright! Bikes!

Mason: Motorcycles! Can you believe this kid? I haven’t seen a motorcycle since the gas stations were still running. You think we can scrounge up three in 40 miles?

Smith: Not motorcycles. Bicycles. We would only have to rely on food and water and…and traffic jams wouldn’t be a problem anymore….I-I saw some bikes hitched to the back of a van a half-mile back….it’s only April, so bad weather wouldn’t be hitting us till we get to…wherever.

Mason: (laughs) Brilliant, Smith! Just brilliant! So you took in account that we would be eating a hell of a lot more due to pedaling all day, huh? You moron! Did you even think of how vulnerable we would be? You can walk back to your bikes, (snatches canister from next to Smith) Carpenter and I can move on without you. Ha! Bikes! Could you imagine it? Get something straight, boy. That truck is us. Without that truck we aren’t getting anywhere. Without that truck we have nothing left. Without that truck we are nothing.

Smith: Speak for yourself.

Mason: Come again?

Smith: Oh cut it out, Mason. The only person here who is dependant on that machine is you and you know it! Once that thing is lost like every other truck on the planet we won’t have to take your shit anymore. We’re scavenging for gas to fuel your power and I don’t feel like feeding it anymore!

Mason: (Trembling, he points South) Leave! Get as far as possible from me or so help me god I will leave you in a such a state that you will be begging the wolves to come carry you off! You’ve worn down my last ounce of temper and now you’re better off getting pulled apart by the mobs. Leave before-

Carpenter: People are coming.

(Mason and Smith drop to the ground immediately while Carpenter slowly hunkers down.)

Mason: (whispering) Jesus. Oh, Jesus. Where?

Carpenter: They are North. Heading southbound. This way.

Mason: (peeks over trunk of car) (whispering) I can see them. Jesus how did they get so close!

Smith: (peeks over as well) (whispering) Yeah I see them too. I think there’s a kid with them.

Mason: (whispering)I know what you are thinking. Don’t you even dare start thinking like that. The kid’s a lure. They’re waiting for us to give ourselves away!

Smith: (whispering) At least two are women too. They have canisters. Maybe they are just picking through the dead cars too. Come on they might know something about North.

Mason: (whispering) They are dressed up like women! They will slit your throat the first chance they get! They saw the truck when we stopped and have been preparing this ambush to take it from us. I can see right through the pigs!

Smith: (whispering) Can you even hear yourself. What makes them any different than us.

Mason: (whispering) I am not them and that’s all I need to know to fear them with every ounce of my being. Now don’t you fucking move!

Smith: (whispering) Hey you want me out? Let me go then. I’ll make it without you just fine. I’d rather take my chances with them at this point anyway.

Mason: (whispering but having a hard time staying quiet) I swear to God I will end you myself if you give us away.

Smith: Oh to hell with you! (begins to stand)

(Mason lunges at Smith, knocking him over. In the process, Mason knocks over the canister he had been holding on to previously. The canister spills.)

Mason: (shoves Smith aside, and crawls over to the canister, in plain view of the other side of the road) (shouts) No! No no no no no no! Please no! (straightens up where he is kneeling, now aware that he is in view of the strangers. Flinches and begins to scramble back for cover)

Carpenter: (stands) They saw you. They are running into the brush of the shoulder. They are leaving.

Mason: (stands. Kicks at the now empty canister. Stares at the pool of gasoline, on the verge of breaking down.)

(A long pause as Mason begins to mumble and whimper to himself, he looks over to Smith and begins to raise his hand to attack him)

Carpenter: That can had enough for 10 miles. Your transmission was on the verge of collapsing from underneath you. You may strike the boy as you want, but it won’t get you any farther North.

(His fist lowers. He stares at it, still quivering in front of him. After a few more seconds Mason looks up North along the road and he begins to run)

Mason: (shouting) Wait! Don’t run! I’m sorry! Help me! For the love of God help me!

(Mason exits stage left)

(Smith gets up. Looks North where Mason has run to, and walks South back towards the truck. Carpenter sits against a car and stares at the pool of gasoline and then Northward.)

 

(Smith exits stage right)

(Fade to black)

Epilogue:

(Scene: A stretch of highway slightly South of the one in Act 1. Cars that were positioned stage right previously are now stage left. Stage right now features a large pick up truck with a heavily dented and scratched plow attached to its front bumper.)

 

Smith: (Stands in front of the truck, staring at it. He holds on to the nearly empty gas canister that was spilt in Act 1. He contemplates the canister for a moment and sets it down. Smith then sits on the asphalt, his knees held up against his chest.)

 

Carpenter: (Enter stage left. He watches Smith for a moment and walks closer to him.) You are not going to progress on your haunches, son.

Smith: (Grunts acknowledgement)

Carpenter: Our driver has gone on beyond the horizon. I do not expect him to come back for his beloved. He has lost his will to govern. He has left us behind to do what we wish.

Smith: So what does this mean?

Carpenter: I-79 potentially has another elephant in its graveyard.

Smith: (Gets up) Maybe we could still drive it. I mean we could find some gas off the next exit. Hell with all the practice on the road I could get gas from anything pretty quick now. (Pauses.) Did you really mean what you said before? About the transmission?

Carpenter: (Shrugs) Does it really matter?

Smith: (Bows head and runs fingers through hair) Aw hell! What are we doing here? What’s the point? Why not South? West? South by South West? Why not i-70? 95? (Jokingly) How about ol’ 66? See the country like it was meant to be seen.

(Sighs) Why do it at all? What is there to travel for? There is no news, no rumors, no sign that whatever is up there is worth going to. We are travelling along the spine of a collapsing world on a lousy hunch. Hell, man! I wish we even had a hunch! We have nothing! Even if there is something up there the whole world is going to hell, and you think whatever is North is going to save us? Why don’t we just stop? … Yeah. Let’s do that. Let’s stop.

Carpenter: Son.

Smith: I mean it! Let the fire find us. Let whatever fire growing in the towns and suburbs come find us and eat us up! (Slumps against blade of plow.) I’m scared, Carpenter.  I’m really scared.

Carpenter: Such is par.

Smith: Why are we doing this, Carpenter? Why are we going North?

Carpenter: What else is there to do?

Smith: (Sighs) Is that what you would have us do?

Carpenter: I have no say in the matter, son. It is what we have been doing since one of us rose from the sea foam. We have made mistakes in the past and we will make many more, but that is impossible to avoid. We move because the cold embrace of entropy is worse than any agony you could possibly fathom. The world is getting more restless and rude by the day, and avoiding this rudeness will soon be much more difficult, but there were millions of days before the truck and there will be millions more after the truck. You may stop here if you truly wish to, but such an act would go against the very marrow of your core and you know this. You know this.

Smith: Will there be something North?

Carpenter: There will be many things.

Smith: (Stands up from against the plow) There are bikes by that blue van half a mile South.

Carpenter: (Nods) Lead, son.

(Both exit stage right.)

 

(Fade to black)

 

The end.

 (Note: the image is from end-2012.com)

 

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