Read an Excerpt
TRANSLATED FROM THE JAPANESE
BY DONALD KEENE
The Man Who Turned Into a Stick (death)
MAN FROM HELL A supervisor.
WOMAN FROM HELL Recently appointed to the Earth Duty Squad.
THE MAN WHO TURNED INTO A STICK
VOICE FROM HELL
A hot, sticky Sunday afternoon in June. A main thoroughfare with the Terminal Department Store in the background. Crowds of people passing back and forth. (It is best not to attempt to represent this realistically.) A young man and a young woman sit on the sidewalk curb at stage center front about three yards apart. They are hippies. They stare vacantly ahead, completely indiferent to their surroundings, with withdrawn expressions. (If desired, they can be shown sniffing glue.)
All of a sudden a stick comes hurtling down from the sky. A very ordinary stick, about four feet long. (It can be manipulated, perhaps in the manner of Grand Guignol, by the actor playing the part of the man before he turned into a stick.)
The stick rolls over and over, first striking against the edge of the sidewalk, then bouncing back with a clatter, and finally coming to rest horizontally in the gutter near the curbstone, less than a yard from the two hippies. Reflex action makes them look at where the stick has fallen, then upward, frowning, to see where it came from. But considering the danger to which they have been exposed, their reactions are somewhat lacking in urgency.
MAN FROM HELL enters from stage left and WOMAN FROM HELLfrom stage right. Both are spotlighted.
HIPPIE BOY (Still looking up.) Goddamned dangerous.
MAN FROM HELL In the twilight a white crescent moon, A fruit knife peeling the skin of fate.
WOMAN FROM HELL Today, once again, a man Has changed his shape and become a stick.
HIPPIE BOY (Turns his gaze back to the stick and picks it up.) Just a couple of feet closer and it would have finished me.
HIPPIE GIRL (Looks at the stick and touches it.) Which do you suppose is the accident-when something hits you or when it misses?
HIPPIE BOY How should I know? (Bangs the stick on the pavement, making a rhythm.)
MAN FROM HELL The moon, the color of dirty chromium plate, Looks down and the streets are swirling.
WOMAN FROM HELL Today, once again, a man Turned into a stick and vanished.
HIPPIE GIRL Hey, what's that rhythm you're tapping?
HIPPIE BOY Try and guess.
HIPPIE GIRL (Glancing up.) Look! I'm sure that kid was the culprit!
HIPPIE BOY (Intrigued, looks up.)
HIPPIE GIRL Isn't he cute? I'll bet he's still in grade school. He must've been playing on the roof.
HIPPIE BOY (Looks into the distance, as before.) Damned brats. I hate them all.
HIPPIE GIRL Ohh-it's dangerous, the way he's leaning over the edge .... I'm sure he's ashamed now he threw it . . . . He seems to be trying to say something, but I can't hear him.
HIPPIE BOY He's probably disappointed nobody got hurt, so now he's cursing us instead.
STICK (To himself.) No, that's not so. He's calling me. The child saw me fall.
HIPPIE GIRL (Abruptly changing the subject.) I know what it is, that rhythm. This is the song, isn't it? (She hums some tune or other.)
HIPPIE BOY Hmmm.
HIPPIE GIRL Was I wrong?
HIPPIE BOY It's always been my principle to respect other people's tastes.
HIPPIE GIRL (Unfazed by this, she wiggles her body to the rhythm and goes on humming.)
(In the meantime, THE MAN WHO TURNED INTO A STICK is coordinating the movements
of his body with those of the stick in HIPPIE Boy's hand, all the while keeping his eyes
fastened on a point somewhere in the sky.)
MAN FROM HELL (Walks slowly toward stage center.)
The moon is forgotten
In a sky the color of cement,
And the stick lies forgotten
Down in the gutter.
WOMAN FROM HELL (Also walks in the same deliberate fashion toward stage center.)
The stick lies forgotten in the gutter,
The streets from above form a whirlpool.
A boy is searching for his vanished father.
(MAN and WOMAN FROM HELL meet at stage center, several feet behind HIPPIE BOY and
GIRL, just as they finish this recitation.)
MAN FROM HELL (In extremely matter-of-fact tones.) You know, it wouldn't surprise me if this time we happened to have arrived exactly where we intended.
WOMAN FROM HELL (Opens a large notebook.) The time is precisely twenty-two minutes and ten seconds before-
MAN FROM HELL (Looks at his wristwatch.) On the button ....
WOMAN FROM HELL (Suddenly notices the stick in HIPPIE Boy's hand.) I wonder, could that be the stick?
MAN FROM HELL (Rather perplexed.) If it is, we've got a most peculiar obstacle in our path .... (Walks up to HIPPIE BOY and addresses him from behind, over his shoulder.) Say, pal, where did you get that stick?
HIPPIE BOY (Throws him a sharp glance but does not answer.)
WOMAN FROM HELL Lying in the gutter, wasn't it?
HIPPIE GIRL It fell from the roof. We had a hairbreadth escape.
WOMAN FROM HELL (Delighted to have her theory confirmed.) I knew it! (To MAN FROM HELL.) Sir, it was this stick, as I suspected.
MAN FROM HELL (To HIPPIE BOY.) Sorry to bother you, but would you mind handing me that stick?
WOMAN FROM HELL I'm sure you don't need it especially.
HIPPIE BOY I don't know about that ....
MAN FROM HELL We're making a survey. A little investigation.
HIPPIE GIRL You from the police?
WOMAN FROM HELL No, not exactly ....
MAN FROM HELL (Interrupting.) But you're not too far off ....
HIPPIE BOY Liars! You're the ones who threw the stick at us. And now you're trying to suppress the evidence. You think I'm going to play your game? Fat chance!
(Beating out a rhythm with the stick, he starts to hum the melody HIPPIE GIRL was
MAN FROM HELL (In mollifying tones.) If you really suspect us, I'd be glad to go with you to the police station.
HIPPIE BOY Don't try to wheedle your way around me.