Fatal Purr (Part 4)

Part 1  Part 2  Part 3

ACT II

An ear-splitting wail starts up behind the curtain. It pulls back, again with no orchestral assistance, to show the stage exactly as it was before the curtain closed, with one exception. An anonymous ENGINEER crouches center-stage, cranking an air-raid siren. More ENGINEERS shuffle in and drag him off, marking the beginning of the scene. A voice stutters out from the stall behind SERAGLIO.

ENGINEER #108: What was that?

SERAGLIO looks around anxiously.

SERAGLIO: What was what?

ENGINEER #108: I thought I heard a voice.

From the leftmost stall comes an excited voice.

ENGINEER #1: I heard it too.

ENGINEER #108: You did?

SERAGLIO: I hear many voices.

A voice scrabbles up from the stall second-to-the-left.

ENGINEER #24: Okay, so we’re all hearing voices. The thing to do now is to figure out which ones are ours, and which ones are theirs.

ENGINEER #1: This one’s definitely mine.

ENGINEER #108: So’s this one.

ENGINEER #24: Good, we’ve got two of them figured out.

ENGINEER #1: Wait…that didn’t sound like my voice.

ENGINEER #108: No, sorry, it was mine. Number one-oh-eight.

ENGINEER #1: Okay, phew. I’m number one.

ENGINEER #24: I’m number twenty-four.

SERAGLIO: I am Seraglio.

ENGINEER #1: Does that name sound unfamiliar to any of you?

ENGINEER #108: Maybe he’s new.

ENGINEER #24: No, no…he’s an intruder!

ENGINEER #1: He must be here to bust up our non-confrontational protest. Don’t let him cross the picket line!

SERAGLIO: Please, although I do not understand your words, I beg your help. I seek sanctuary. Evil haunts this place.

ENGINEER #57 cracks open the door of the center stall and grabs SERAGLIO’s sleeve.

ENGINEER #57: What kind of evil?

SERAGLIO: A catty evil.

ENGINEER #57: Get in here.

ENGINEER #57 yanks SERAGLIO into the stall and shuts the door.

ENGINEER #57: Now, tell me exactly who you are and what you saw. But keep it down, these pipes are tapped.

SERAGLIO begins to relate his story in a frantic whisper.

ENGINEER #108: Number fifty-seven?

ENGINEER #57: What is it?

ENGINEER #108: Do you have somebody in there with you?

ENGINEER #57: Yes.

ENGINEER #108: Who?

ENGINEER #57: That’s none of your business.

ENGINEER #24: Come on, I think we’d all like to know.

ENGINEER #1: We’re a union now. There are no secrets among brothers.

ENGINEER #57: Okay, it’s the new Public Relations guy, if you have to know.

The ENGINEERS, except ENGINEER #57, all throw open their doors.

ENGINEER #1: Ooh! What’s he like?

ENGINEER #57: Actually, he’s mysteriously attractive.

ENGINEER #108: I want to see!

ENGINEER #57: I’m trying to listen to what he has to say.

ENGINEER #24: Don’t be a bastard. Why don’t you share him around for a little bit, then he can tell you his little story.

ENGINEER #57: Well…alright. But only for a minute.

ENGINEER #57 shoves SERAGLIO out of his stall. SERAGLIO then wanders over to ENGINEER #1.

ENGINEER #1: Wow, you were right. That’s a sweet chunk of eye-candy you got there.

ENGINEER #108: I want to see!

ENGINEER #1: Hold on, this is the sort of view you need to savor.

ENGINEER #108: I want to see!

ENGINEER #1: You can have him next! Just give me one more minute.

ENGINEER #1 licks his lips slowly.

ENGINEER #108: This isn’t fair! Some of us haven’t seen anything yet.

ENGINEER #1: Alright!

ENGINEER #1 tosses SERAGLIO out of his stall and directs him toward ENGINEER #108.

ENGINEER #108: He’s stunning.

ENGINEER #1: What did I tell you?

ENGINEER #108: He’s dumbfounding.

ENGINEER #24: With you, that’s not difficult. It’s my turn now. Come over here, Mr. Perfect.

SERAGLIO walks over to ENGINEER #24 as ENGINEER #108 gazes longingly after him.

ENGINEER #108: He’s breathtaking.

ENGINEER #24: He’s not bad.

ENGINEER #1: “Not bad?” Is that all you can say?

ENGINEER #24: Not bad at all. Can I…touch it?

SERAGLIO: I can not fight my own magnetism.

ENGINEER #24 reaches up and strokes SERAGLIO’s nose.

ENGINEER #57: Alright, you’ve all seen him. Now I need him back here.

ENGINEER #1: So you can do what, exactly?

ENGINEER #57: He has some very substantial information.

ENGINEER #1: Yeah, we’ve all seen his “information.” And we’d like to see it some more.

ENGINEER #108: My turn wasn’t long enough.

ENGINEER #24: Shh! You’re spoiling the moment.

ENGINEER #1: I remember a certain somebody was talking when it was my turn, too.

ENGINEER #57: No, really, this is urgent. I need him here now.

ENGINEER #24: We all need him.

ENGINEER #108: Can we keep him?

SERAGLIO: Men, men. I am here standing in my fully official capacity. Do not get wrong ideas.

ENGINEER #1: Why don’t we meet out there? Then he can give us all some “information.”

The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO exit their stalls and gather around.

ENGINEER #57: Now, please, continue with your story.

SERAGLIO: Oh yes, where was I?

ENGINEER #57: The part about the leprechauns.

SERAGLIO nods and begins to whisper in ENGINEER #57’s ear. The other ENGINEERS lean in.

ENGINEER #108: I can’t hear.

ENGINEER #24: Shh!

ENGINEER #108 shuffles over to the other side of the circle.

ENGINEER #108: I still can’t hear. What’s going on?

ENGINEER #1: He says they left him alone with the cake.

ENGINEER #108: What cake?

ENGINEER #1: The cake they tried to give him.

ENGINEER #108: Who?

ENGINEER #1: Clank and Scuffle.

ENGINEER #108: Hold on, did he literally mean “information?”

ENGINEER #1: I’m afraid so.

ENGINEER #108: Can you ask him to start the story over? I missed the first part. And all the parts while we were talking.

ENGINEER #57: I knew it!

ENGINEER #108: What did you know? I’m confused.

ENGINEER #57: He opened them.

ENGINEER #24: The crates?

ENGINEER #108: Why would he do that?

ENGINEER #1: So he’s unleashed the Kit-N-Ex…

ENGINEER #108: Why would you do that?

ENGINEER #57: Give him a break. He knows next to nothing about the factory.

ENGINEER #24: We’re all going to die…

ENGINEER #57: That’s the price of ignorance.

SERAGLIO: This man, he is right. I knew nothing, and I intended even less.

ENGINEER #24: So what are we supposed to do?

ENGINEER #57: I think we’ll be safe in here. Unless they know how to work doorknobs.

ENGINEER #1: Do they know how to work doorknobs?

ENGINEER #57: Probably.

ENGINEER #24: Does anybody have a toothpick?

ENGINEER #1: We don’t have time for oral hygiene. Besides, you haven’t been eating anything.

ENGINEER #24: I know, but I can jam the lock with it. That way, nobody can get in, even if they have the key.

SERAGLIO: I have no toothpick, but I have a device that is worth one thousand toothpicks.

ENGINEER #108: An icepick?

SERAGLIO: Better.

SERAGLIO pulls a swiss army knife from his pocket.

SERAGLIO: This is my Swiss Blade of Surprise. The toothpick is plastic, so he can be used again and again until the teeth are barren and pure.

ENGINEER #24: That’ll do. Hand it over.

SERAGLIO hands the knife to ENGINEER #24, who walks offstage and fiddles with a presumed door there.

SERAGLIO: He also contains a file, for rounding of the fingernails, and a tiny scissors, for trimming of the ear canal.

ENGINEER #24: Done. Now, the door can’t possibly be opened.

ENGINEER #1: Nobody can get in?

ENGINEER #24: Not a soul.

ENGINEER #1: Can we get out?

ENGINEER #24: Live in the present, will you?

ENGINEER #1: Sure, but I’d like to continue living into the future as well.

ENGINEER #57: Stop bickering, you two. We’re safe for now, and we’ll have plenty of time to figure out what to do next.

ENGINEER #1: The rest of our lives.

ENGINEER #108: As long as those things aren’t around, I’m happy.

SERAGLIO: No me molesta, we are okay.

The toilets’ tanks flip open and bear glowing statuettes, as before, which channel a timely announcement.

MR. COMMISSION: Announcement: for your convenience, please stand at least five feet away from any and all heating vents. It has been brought to my attention that the rogue toys are travelling through the ventilation system. Should you encounter one, do not struggle or attempt to escape: it will view this as an invitation to play, and a quick death may no longer be possible. Minimally Invasive Toys: we put the “excel” in “acceleration.”

The statuettes dim and descend back into their tanks.

ENGINEER #108: Are there any vents in this room?

ENGINEER #1: I see one there…and there…and over there…

SERAGLIO: We are not so okay now, yes?

ENGINEER #24: We’re screwed.

SERAGLIO: Yes, good.

ENGINEER #24: Good?

SERAGLIO: I wanted to be sure I understood. My English, he is sometimes not…

ENGINEER #108: Look!

ENGINEER #1: Where?

ENGINEER #108: Do you hear that?

SERAGLIO: If you mean the noise like a thing moving in the heating duct, then yes.

ENGINEER #24: Is that what that sound is? I couldn’t place it.

The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO listen as echoing scrabbles and clangs surround them.

ENGINEER #1: Maybe if we hide very quietly, they’ll just pass us by.

ENGINEER #57: Good idea. Let’s go.

The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO tiptoe into the stalls and close and latch the doors. After a few seconds, a troubled voice rises from the center stall.

ENGINEER #24: Can somebody switch stalls with me?

A reply comes from the leftmost stall.

ENGINEER #108: Okay. What for?

ENGINEER #24: It’s just that there’s a vent right above my head, and it’s beginning to rattle.

ENGINEER #108: Oh. Scratch that, then. Sorry.

A reassuring voice rolls out of the rightmost stall.

ENGINEER #57: Remain calm and still. It could just be the heat kicking in.

ENGINEER #24: More heat? I’m sweating through my socks here. I can feel my shoes filling up. I can…shit…

From the stall second-to-right, a voice responds.

ENGINEER #1: Try to remember to flush after, okay?

Silence pours from the center stall.

ENGINEER #1: Did you hear me?

Under the stall’s door, ENGINEER #24’s feet suddenly disappear upward. A few moments later, they’re replaced by a clammering grate and the sound of liquid being drizzled into a hollow bowl. From the adjacent stall to the left, a voice stammers.

SERAGLIO: Now I would like to request a change of stalls.

With the sound of a toilet flushing, a fountain of blood gushes up from the center stall.

ENGINEER #108: I’d like to request a change of bathrooms.

ENGINEER #57: Everybody stay calm. We went through all those team-building exercises; we can handle this together.

ENGINEER #1: I can see something moving under the stall. Guys? I think there’s something lurking down there, on the men’s room floor.

ENGINEER #57: Put your feet up on the seat.

ENGINEER #1: I see a…is that a hand? I’m scared, guys.

ENGINEER #57: Take a deep breath. Everybody breathe with me.

ENGINEER #1: I’m scared…I’m scared…

ENGINEER #57: On the count of three, we’ll all open our doors. Okay?

ENGINEER #108: I think I’m going to be sick.

ENGINEER #57: One…

ENGINEER #1: Can’t we just do it on go?

ENGINEER #57: Okay, go!

The remaining ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO kick open their doors and leap out, while the center door remains closed.

ENGINEER #1: Now what?

SERAGLIO: I am thinking that this would be a good time not to have the door jammed.

The center stall swings open, revealing a TOY crouched with a human foot protruding from her mouth.

ENGINEER #108: Is it…purring?

ENGINEER #57: That’s just the motor, I think.

The TOY drops the foot and slinks toward the ENGINEERS.

SERAGLIO: How do you kill him?

ENGINEER #57: As far as I know, they’re indestructable. The warranty on these things makes Shangri La look like Shotgun Alley.

The TOY suddenly darts forward and snuffles at ENGINEER #57’s crotch.

ENGINEER #108: What’s…it…doing?

ENGINEER #1: It must smell the tuna! You have another can in there, right?

ENGINEER #57 nods mutely.

SERAGLIO: They said before that they liked metal and meat, so this tuna tin would be a great treat for them. Es un poco como domingo!

ENGINEER #1: Hey, you’re Spanish!

SERAGLIO: Indeed, and the Angel of Destruction has just visited an idea upon me. Quickly, toss me that tuna!

ENGINEER #57 extract the tin from his jumpsuit and throws it to SERAGLIO. The TOY whips her head around. SERAGLIO waves the tin around, and the TOY follows it with her head, advancing slowly. Suddenly, SERAGLIO throws the tin into the nearest toilet. The TOY pounces and lands in the bowl, whereupon SERAGLIO slams the lid down upon her head. She struggles, howling.

SERAGLIO: He is stronger than I anticipated!

ENGINEER #1: Quick, flush it!

SERAGLIO: I have been taught to flush nothing but paper, to prevent clogging.

ENGINEER #1: Flush it, trust me!

SERAGLIO presses on the handle and the TOY’s howls turn to a screech as she is engulfed in steam. Her body goes limp. ENGINEER #57 comes out of his daze.

ENGINEER #57: What happened?

ENGINEER #1: I think we blew out its sensors, at least temporarily.

SERAGLIO: So we are, once again, okay.

ENGINEER #108: I wouldn’t count on that. Here they come.

TOYS begin to slip in from the removed grate.

ENGINEER #1: We’ve taken care of one, we can do a few more, am I right?

ENGINEER #57: No more tuna. But I do know an escape route.

ENGINEER #57 closes his eyes and paces out a distance from the edge of the rightmost stall, then stops and stomps on the floor.

ENGINEER #57: It’s here. Help me lift it.

The ENGINEERS gather round and lift up a heavy wooden trapdoor.

ENGINEER #57: Okay, now go.

ENGINEER #1: You go first. You’re the only one who knows the way.

ENGINEER #57: Okay.

ENGINEER #57 climbs down into the trapdoor.

SERAGLIO: Now I go. I, too, know many things.

SERAGLIO climbs into the trapdoor, followed by ENGINEER #1. ENGINEER #108 looks back at the blood-soaked stall filling with TOYS.

ENGINEER #108: Number twenty-four is dead. I won’t forget.

As ENGINEER #108 climbs into the trapdoor, the entire stage begins to rise. He slams the trap shut and the orchestra produces a flourishing echo. ENGINEER #108 starts to descend a rusted iron ladder while the stage ascends at the same pace, trapping him spatially. Finally, it stops, and he reaches the bottom of the ladder, where the other ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO await him. The walls are lined completely with bones and skulls, a les Catacombes.

ENGINEER #57: Welcome, my friends, to Roach-Haven Hall.

SERAGLIO: No me recuerdo la palabra por burro, what is this place?

ENGINEER #57: We used to come down here to smoke, when everybody in the old team was still around.

ENGINEER #1: And you’re certain they can’t follow us down here?

ENGINEER #57: You felt how heavy that trapdoor was. You need a firm grip to lift something like that, and they don’t even have opposable thumbs.

ENGINEER #108: What’s with all the bones and stuff?

ENGINEER #57: Yeah, I’m not really sure what’s going on there. It was like that before the factory was built, though.

ENGINEER #108: How do you know?

ENGINEER #57: I helped build it. That’s what the original team was. We all started out as construction workers, just following the blueprints, you know, until the foreman realized that it had been a while since we’d built an actual doorframe. By then, it was too late. The roof snapped shut over our heads like a steel trap. Some of us died from sheer claustrophobia; the rest became delirious with thirst and hunger. That’s when part of the wall crumbled, and Clank and Scuffle came in with The Contract…

ENGINEER #108: I remember when I had to sign The Contract. There were flyers up all over the clubs about some job that virtually paid in scrips. I was pretty much living off of my buzz at that point, eating crack and drinking smack. So I guess I don’t really remember it. But I do know that I was broke and desperate.

ENGINEER #1: You’d have to be. When I signed it, it was to pay for my little sister’s operation. Actually, it was to pay off the loans that paid for my sister’s operation. Some very big and nasty loans from some very big and nasty people. I needed a job fast, no matter what it was. A college buddy of mine had just started work here, and this was a guy who stopped donating blood for a living because he couldn’t handle the hours, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. When I came in for an interview, I understood why. They basically strapped a pen to my fist and wiggled the paper around under it.

ENGINEER #57: What was it like for you?

SERAGLIO: Who was what like for where?

ENGINEER #1: You signed The Contract, didn’t you?

SERAGLIO: Oh, yes. I did sign a thing, and with such a skill of signature that the ink fell like finger-blossoms on silk. This contract, what did he say?

ENGINEER #1: Didn’t you bother to read it?

SERAGLIO: The words, they were so dull and infirm of purpose.

ENGINEER #57 begins to laugh.

SERAGLIO: What is your humor?

ENGINEER #57: You signed your soul away and you didn’t even know it.

SERAGLIO: My…soul?

ENGINEER #1: “Minimally Invasive Toys reserves the right to terminate any employee at any time, without providing notice or cause.” I still remember every word of it.

ENGINEER #108: Number twenty-four had to sign it too.

The ENGINEERS observe a moment of silence.

ENGINEER #108: I think we should head back up.

ENGINEER #1: What?

ENGINEER #108: I don’t want any other workers to die at the paws of those things.

ENGINEER #57: You were terrified of them before. Where’d all this courage come from?

ENGINEER #108: I’m still scared. But so was he. A lot of people will be, if somebody doesn’t stop this soon. I figure my fear isn’t worth as much as all those fears put together, even though I am me so mine’s worth at least triple.

ENGINEER #57: That’s a pretty wise thing to say.

ENGINEER #108: I know. I’ve been working on it.

ENGINEER #1: It’s true, too. It isn’t fair that we should be safe while everybody up there’s still in danger. That’s not what I call equal opportunity.

SERAGLIO: You may do what you like, but I absolutely will not!

ENGINEER #1: Um…

SERAGLIO: I refuse to put my exquisite ass back in the fire of danger. These are the devil’s playthings.

ENGINEER #1: But you’re the one who let them out in the first place!

SERAGLIO: They tricked me with their siren calls and their attractive packaging!

ENGINEER #57: Let him stay. It’s his right as a worker.

ENGINEER #1: Damned rights, always standing in the way of progress…

ENGINEER #57: Besides, we don’t want him making another stupid mistake and getting us into more trouble.

SERAGLIO’s jaw drops like a sack of potatoes.

ENGINEER #108: That’s right. We can handle it on our own. Probably easier that way.

SERAGLIO: Stupid? The adjective who means to exhibit a lack of power of intellect, you apply him to me?

ENGINEER #1: I guess you’re right. If he’s that much of a coward, we’d have to drag him everywhere. I’d rather not bother.

SERAGLIO: Seraglio is no chickenheart! I will go with you, and I will show you what my years of arduous training have accomplished! Cha cha cha!

ENGINEER #57: Wait, we can’t just rush in without a plan. First, we need to decide where we’re going.

SERAGLIO: Who is the mollycoddle now?

ENGINEER #1: I vote we go to Mr. Commission. He designed the Kit-N-Ex, so he ought to know how to stop them.

ENGINEER #108: Why would he tell us? From the sound of it, he’s enjoying this as much as they are.

ENGINEER #57: Don’t forget, we have his lost toy.

SERAGLIO: Who?

ENGINEER #57: You. Everybody knows how Mr. Commission feels about his Public Relations.

ENGINEER #108: Okay, but how do we find Mr. Commission?

ENGINEER #57: Even I don’t know where his office is. He had this place built like a labyrinth.

SERAGLIO: The little bastards, they would know!

ENGINEER #1: You mean Clank and Scuffle?

SERAGLIO: Yes, those bastards. They told me that they can carry messages to him personally, so they must know where to find him.

ENGINEER #108: Okay, but how do we find Clank and Scuffle?

ENGINEER #57: Now you’re micromanaging. They’re probably walking around laughing villainously. If we wander around for long enough, we’re bound to run into them.

ENGINEER #1: Then what are we waiting for?

ENGINEER #57: I’m not sure…a sign, I guess.

ENGINEER #108: You mean a sign that we’re doing the right thing going back up there and risking our lives with little or no hope of success?

ENGINEER #57: Yeah. Some reassurance would be nice.

The stage begins to sink again under waves of heroic flourishes from the orchestra. As the surface reaches its halfway-point, CLANK and SCUFFLE become visible, examining the trapdoor from above. The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO linger below, with only their heads and shoulders in sight.

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