I’ve written several short plays, but I’ve never posted one on this blog, partly because they are so much better seen on stage than read on the page. However, I’d like people who are interested in my work to see this side of me, so I’m going to share a short play now. Titled You’ll Be Sorry, it was featured by River Friends of the Library Readers Theater in Guerneville, Calif., in their 2017 season. A proud moment for me.

You’ll Be Sorry

Laura McHale Holland

This is a photo of Bodie, California, which I imagine resembles the outskirts of the fictional Fallonwood in this play. Image is from Pixabay, posted by ArtTower.

Characters:

Penny: Middle aged woman, married to Ralph.

Ralph: Middle aged man, married to Penny.

Young woman: A young woman Ralph and Penny meet at a coffee house.

Handy Harry: The town’s former handyman. His voice is heard, but he doesn’t appear.

Setting: Outside a coffee shop in Fallonwood, a California town that has seen better days.

(AT RISE: Ralph and Penny come out of a café with drinks in hand and approach one of the sidewalk tables. Penny is also looking at her cell phone, and a little bit of her café mocha sloshes over the edge as she sits down. Ralph has a newspaper, which he opens while they’re talking.)

RALPH

Look at you, spilling your mocha already. We’ve been here, what, all of five minutes?

PENNY

He filled it too full. What do you expect?

RALPH

You can’t blame it on the barista. You’re always spilling your drinks at home, too, ‘cause you never take your eyes off that phone, even now when you don’t have service. 

PENNY

I saw one bar just now. I thought I could get online. … And that barista? My drink was already sloshing over the edge when he put it on the counter. What a mess. Did you see how he was coughing? He shouldn’t even be at work today. Looks like he has the flu or something. And his glasses sure needed cleaning.

RALPH

Yeah, poor guy. He should be home in bed, not stuck inside Jailhouse Coffee.

PENNY

Did you know this café is built right where the town’s jail used to be? That’s why it’s called Jailhouse Coffee.

RALPH

I thought the name was odd. It probably has something to do with why you dragged me to this godforsaken place. Why you persist in following these crazy urban legends is beyond me.

PENNY

It’s not an urban legend. The next town is 50 miles away.

RALPH

I never heard of Fallonwood, California, before you brought it up. It’s not on any maps either. 

PENNY

Map or no map, there’s a lot going on here.

RALPH

Oh yeah, two blocks worth of fake antiques, western wear, and I don’t know what that place is across the street.

PENNY

Which place?

RALPH

The one with those rusty tools in the window.

PENNY

Hmmm, let’s see … ah, there’s a sign … kind of faded. It says … Oh, wow! It says Handy Harry’s. He’s the one! He’s the reason we’re here.

RALPH

Place looks abandoned to me.

YOUNG WOMAN

(Comes out of the café, drink in hand, and bumps the back of Penny’s chair on the way to a table nearby. Penny had been lifting her drink to take a sip, so more of it spilled on the table.) 

Oh, dear, clumsy me. I’m so sorry. I hope I haven’t upset you.

PENNY

Oh, no, that’s OK.

(Penny wipes the table with her napkin.)

YOUNG WOMAN

I must go inside to fetch more napkins.

PENNY

No, no need, hon. See? I’ve got it all cleaned up.

YOUNG WOMAN

That’s most gracious of you. Thank you kindly for your understanding.

(She sits down.)

RALPH

(To Penny)

You know, you could have been more observant, noticed how close she was coming and waited to take a sip till after she’d passed.

PENNY

You can’t be serious. I was nuts to have thought you’d be amiable for a change. It’s against your nature. You’re my very own Oscar the Grouch.

RALPH

I wasn’t all that grouchy till you started dragging me all over the place just because one of your so-called Facebook friends created an urban legends app or game or whatever it is.

PENNY

It’s a really cool app that combines adventures with discounts. We got a dollar off on our coffee today because of this, you know. And I’ve gotten points everywhere. By coming here, I’ll jump into the lead and get even more points. I’m so excited.

RALPH

I think you were born in the wrong generation. You’re acting like a millennial.

PENNY

Hasn’t it been fun, though?

RALPH

Oh sure, getting knocked unconscious in that crumbling West Virginia mine shaft where a pack of talking wolves is supposed to be living, yeah, that was a load of fun. And, oh, that blizzard in Wyoming where Butch Cassidy worked for a time as a butcher was great fun, too. 

Photo of wolves by raincarnation40

PENNY

But you said you heard his cleaver cracking into bone when we got near.

RALPH

I was frostbitten. I’d have said anything to get back to our hotel.

PENNY

Okay, well, there’s no danger of getting frostbitten here. 

RALPH

Are you sure about that? I never know what to expect.

PENNY

I told you what to expect today. It went in one ear and out the other, like always. Do you want me to refresh your memory, or are you going to keep your face stuck in that paper all day? Who even reads newspapers now anyway? Everyone gets news online. Everyone except you, that is.

RALPH

So I’m a dinosaur. And I admit I was watching a Giants game when you told me about this Fallonwood place. Cut me a break. I’m a sports fan. But I’ll listen now.

(He puts down the paper.)

Go ahead; tell me. Why are we here?

PENNY

First off, there was a huge tragedy in Fallonwood a hundred years ago on this very day. It’s a big anniversary.

(She pauses, takes a sip of her mocha.)

RALPH

Anniversary of what?

PENNY

I don’t want to just blurt it out. That wouldn’t be right.

(She continues to sip on her mocha, fidgets and looks into the distance.)

RALPH

Will you please just get on with it?

PENNY

Give me a minute. I’m collecting myself.

RALPH

What for?

PENNY

I have to tell you the story, not just recite the facts. I have to get in the right frame of mind.

RALPH

Just jump in. You’ll do fine.

PENNY

Well, a century ago, Fallonwood was a thriving town. It was started by the second cousin twice removed of Thomas Fallon, a militia captain in the mid 1800s, before California became a state. Back then, folks thought the name gave them a little extra oomph.

RALPH

Thomas Fallon. The name doesn’t ring a bell.

PENNY

Yeah, he’s not particularly noteworthy. I think he became mayor of what’s now San Jose though. Anyway, at the time, logging was big, and some folks were still panning for gold. People would find nuggets every so often in the river that roared down what’s now a dried up riverbed. 

RALPH

The one we passed on the way into town?

PENNY

The very one. The U.S. had just entered World War I, and a lot of the town’s menfolk were already in the armed services. One of the guys left behind was Handy Harry. He wanted to serve, but since he wore thick, Coke-bottle glasses, had asthma and one bum leg, he was rejected. He was bitter about that, especially since his brother, Joe, was working right under General Pershing in France—to great fanfare among the locals. That rankled Handy Harry as he limped around fixing fences and whatnot. People were always comparing him to Joe, saying he didn’t deserve the Fallon name. He’d wheeze and cough and mutter, “You’ll be sorry. You’ll all be sorry.” Then he’d limp off.

RALPH

Poor guy. I’d be rankled, too.

PENNY

Wait till you hear what happened next. … Joe’s seven-year-old daughter, Joanna, went missing. Everyone looked high and low for her, all through the night, but come morning, she was still gone. Handy Harry said maybe she’d fallen into the river. People started mumbling that maybe Harry had something to do with her disappearance since he was bitter about his brother and all. Some even confronted him. He wheezed and coughed and said, “Think what you want. You’ll be sorry,” and he limped off. Word of that got around, and by the next evening, Joanna was still nowhere to be seen. People were all in a frenzy, calling for Handy Harry’s arrest. 

RALPH

Sounds like he was just a little eccentric to me.

PENNY

Mob mentality, I guess, because pretty soon everybody was in front of his store and shouting, “String ‘im up! String ‘im up!” Then the sheriff comes along and takes Handy Harry to the jail. He told Harry it was to keep him safe. The crowd followed, still chanting, “String ‘im up! String ‘im up!” And all the way there, Harry  —

RALPH

Wheezed and coughed and said, “You’ll be sorry. You’ll be sorry!”

PENNY

And this incensed the mob, which milled about by the jail till dawn. Then some folks went home and others resumed searching for Joanna. The sheriff, thinking things had calmed down, joined a search party. And while he was gone … someone set the jail on fire. It went up real quick. Flames lickin’ high into the sky. Locked inside, Handy Harry screamed and wheezed and coughed and sputtered, “You’ll be sorry! You’ll be sorry!” Not one person tried to bust down the door and get him out. They watched the conflagration and cheered. The sheriff heard the commotion, but by the time he returned, the roof was crashing down. The last of Harry’s screams were heard, and then all went quiet. 

Photo by Alexas_Fotos

RALPH

What a horrible way to go. It was like the Wild West, but it was in the early twentieth century. I thought folks were more civilized by then.

PENNY

And listen to this. Except for the sheriff, who, till his dying day, tried to find out who set that fire, all of Fallonwood went to bed that night like they hadn’t just stood by while a man they’d known all their lives burned to death. But then the next day … (She pauses to take a long sip of her drink.)

RALPH

Don’t leave me hanging here. What happened?

PENNY

Little Joanna walked out of the woods. 

RALPH

No! 

PENNY

Yes. She was hungry, and disheveled, but very much alive. She said she’d gotten lost while chasing a fawn into the forest. She wandered and stumbled till, finally, her uncle Harry found her, took her by the hand, and walked her to the edge of town, where he hugged her and then disappeared. Everybody thought the poor girl was delirious and talking nonsense. Some of them felt bad about what they’d done to Handy Harry after that, but a lot of them said it didn’t matter. The old grouch got what he’d deserved. 

RALPH

That’s very unsettling.

PENNY

Yeah, and get this. The town’s fortunes turned after that. The river ran dry, chickens stopped laying eggs, grazing sheep and cattle died by the score, people started getting strange ailments like rashes that looked like burns and lung diseases and such. Poor Joanna died when she was in her twenties. She’d grown bitter and isolated because nobody believed Harry had really found her. We can go see where she’s buried, too.

RALPH

Uh, no thanks.

PENNY

Anyway, one year after Handy Harry’s death, right at the time the jail went up in flames, 3 p.m. to be exact, the temperature in town rose higher and higher and higher. And everybody who was outside died from it. The same thing happened every year on the anniversary, and most folks moved away. Only a few families remained. Then about 10 years ago, a local reporter wrote an article about Handy Harry and the strange way the town heats up on the anniversary ever year, so now there’s a little boom here. They expect more than a hundred people will attend a slide show and a talk by some of the old timers at the school today. It’s air conditioned, too, so nobody will get heatstroke.

YOUNG WOMAN

My gracious! What fine storytelling. Impressive elocution. We should put you in the program. 

PENNY

Are you one of the organizers?

YOUNG WOMAN

Yes, indeed, I am. 

PENNY

Does it really happen like the story goes? The temperature rises and rises, and I heard sometimes you can even hear Handy Harry?

YOUNG WOMAN

Yes, but as long as you’re inside you’ll be safe.

(She glances at her watch.)

Oh, mercy me. I was so enthralled by you that I lost track of time. I’ve got to skedaddle. I see folks gathering at the school now. I must open the door for them. I’m the only one with a key. You had better make haste, as well.

(She rushes off.)

PENNY

Oh gosh. Yes, it’s almost 3. Let’s get moving.

RALPH

I’m not interested in hearing the story again and buying trinkets and stuff. You go on without me. I’ll just read the paper.

PENNY

But it’s already getting hot. Can’t you feel it?

RALPH

That’s ridiculous. It’s all in your mind. You believe it, so it feels hotter to you. It’s really not.

PENNY

Can’t you just play along, even if it’s not real?

RALPH

Look, there’s scores of people by the school. See?

(He points)

They’ll play along, I’m sure. I just want to relax.

PENNY

I’m afraid to leave you here out in the open.

RALPH

Okay, look, if something weird does happen, I’ll step inside the café. It’s only five feet away.

PENNY

That might work …

RALPH

Of course it will. Nothing’s going to happen.

PENNY

All right, then. I’ll see you later.

(She rushes off.)

RALPH

(Picks up the paper and starts to read, but it grows hotter and hotter. He squirms, untucks his shirt, uses the paper as a fan.)

Oh man, it feels like I’m in an oven. What’s going on? The heat, oh, it’s unbearable. What on earth has Penny gotten me into now?

HANDY HARRY

(Harry’s not visible. The voice is disembodied. Wheezes and coughs accompany the words)

You’ll be sorry. You’ll be sorry.  

RALPH

What? This must be some kind of trick. … They must have a PA system. That would account for the voice … but how did they make it so hot?

HANDY HARRY

(Wheezing and coughing)

You’ll be sorry. You’ll be sorry.

RALPH

(Gets increasingly agitated.)

Jeeze, I, I don’t know what to make of this. I, I’m getting … I’m, I’m burning up … can’t … I, I’d better get inside.

(He folds paper, gasping, gets up and staggers to the door. It’s locked. He starts pounding.)

Le, let me in! Why did you lock the d, door? I, I know you’re there. You, you were open jus, just a couple minutes ago. Le, let me in!

HANDY HARRY

(Wheezing and coughing)

You’ll be sorry! You’ll be sorry! 

RALPH

(Spins around and falls.)

Uh, oh, uh, Pe, Penny, Pe, Penny, wh, wh, why didn’t I ju, just go wi, with you? Wh, why didn’t I li, listen t, to you?

(He coughs, clutches his throat passes out.)

PENNY

(A little time passes, then Penny returns from the school. She’s humming happily to herself until she sees Ralph on the ground, and rushes to him.)

Ralph! Ralph!

(She checks his pulse.)

You’re still alive, thank God.

(She slaps his face.)

RALPH

(Wakes up coughing and sputtering.)

PENNY

Oh, Ralph, dear. I thought you were dead! Oh, my God. 

RALPH

I got delirious from the heat. I even heard his voice.

PENNY

You said you’d go inside if things got weird.

RALPH

Groans. I tried, but the door was locked. 

YOUNG WOMAN

(Approaches from the school)

My, you have fortitude, young man. It’s no easy feat to survive Harry’s wrath.

PENNY

What do you mean by young man? You’re half his age. … Who are you?

YOUNG WOMAN

Joanna Fallon.

PENNY

The Joanna Fallon? 

YOUNG WOMAN

In the flesh, so to speak. 

PENNY

But you’re …

RALPH

Dead.

YOUNG WOMAN

Handy Harry took pity on you—maybe because you’re a grouch like him. Or maybe he’s just losing his taste for revenge. Who knows?

PENNY

(Grabs Ralph’s hand.)

I think it’s time to go.

(She pulls him up and they begin walking away.) 

RALPH

This is the last time. I’m not doing this anymore.

(They walk on.)

PENNY

Oh, Ralph, you’re okay, after all, and there’s this ancient ruin down in Mexico where some—

RALPH

No. Absolutely not.

(They continue walking.)

PENNY

(As they exit)

We’ll just see about that.

YOUNG WOMAN

(Sits at a table)

Tourists. You can’t kill ‘em in this day and age, but Harry and me, we still manage to have our fun. 

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