This fall I discovered, once again, how effectively the things that haunt you can be made into art. The revelations of the predatory status of multiple priests in such areas as Western New York, Philadelphia and Indiana definitely triggered something deep within me – and with the help of the horror genre and my writing background, I was able to parlay these emotions into a creative project.
Thankfully, this exploration quickly found a home. My short play, The Creeping, debuted this October at the UWWFest at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Thus, I was not only able to explore the ever tangled tendrils of my past, but I got to watch a small cast of actors grow, immeasurably, throughout the process. That the director of the event, Davette Franklin, is a young black woman was also an incredibly encouraging development. As I care, less and less, about the straight white male take on what haunts us, it was a beautiful feeling to be a part of an event curated by a young, strong female who chose pieces that spoke, in some way, to her experience in the world.
In gratitude, I present The Creeping here for anyone who may be interested in reading it.
(Marlene is sitting at the kitchen table, cutting articles out of a stack of newspapers. Christian enters, sleep bleared and hesitant. He stops and watches Marlene. She notices him and points to a plastic thermos on the table.)
Marlene: Orange juice mixed with a generic sports drink will not make one’s stomach erupt. Contrary to popular belief, that little kid from the cereal commercial is still alive and well and selling insurance in Minnesota.
Christian: I know. I slept with him when I was touring with those Tennessee Williams one acts. Remember?
Marlene: Hey, that’s right!
Christian: And that wasn’t meant for you.
(Christian grabs the thermos from the counter, walks to the sink and empties it.)
Marlene: I hope not. (She contemplates as she cuts and then she laughs out loud.) You always were such a little star fucker. Even as a teen you used to moon over all those daddy types on the soap operas. You’d rush in all sweaty and out of breath just to catch the last 15 minutes of Guiding Light or General Hospital or whatever the hell you were watching at the time.
Christian: Thanks…mom…for the memories. You do know I wasn’t sprinting home from school just to partake in Michael Swan’s abs. I was trying to avoid being slaughtered by Mick Finney and his gang.
(Christian eyes something outside the window. The Creeper slinks into view. The two look at each other and Christian gasps. The Creeper disappears.)
Marlene: Well, why are you looking around so nervously? (She starts to catch his nervous energy.) They’re not still out there…are they?
Marlene: Stop making me so anxious then. Hell, I don’t know why I’m worrying. Finney died in a motorcycle accident years ago…or was it testicular cancer that got him?
Christian: How could you confuse the two?
Marlene: They both have the same outcome.
(Christian moves closer to Marlene, pacing and keeping an eye out for movement outside the window. The Creeper emerges and disappears throughout their conversation, circling closer and closer to them.)
Christian: How many of those are you cutting up?
Marlene: 25…or 50! Hell, there may even be 100 here. We have been vindicated. Lou and 25 other priests were named in this newspaper. I’m just letting certain people know.
Christian: Facebook’s not good enough for you?
Marlene: There’s just something about the fucking stamp fairy that does my heart good, you know? Hey. Instead of just pacing back and forth, you could clean up some of that wax and glass in the spare bedroom. It’s just like you’re in high school again. What the hell were you doing in there, anyhow?
(She goes to put her breakfast plate away in the sink. She and Christian face each other, awkwardly.)
Christian: Why, Marlene?
Christian: Why did you have to pursue this? Why couldn’t you just let it stay in the past?
Marlene: The truth deserved to be told, Christian.
Christian: Sure. Names should be named. The villagers need to know about the monsters in their midst.
Marlene: C’mon! The church put those perverts back out into world without letting anyone know. They were living next to schools and dog parks and…
Christian: But sometimes the monsters aren’t just flesh and blood, mother. You know that.
Marlene: Oh, please. Unless you call on them, other monsters aren’t real. You haven’t called on them have you, Chris?
Christian: You know that I walked in on them – Dad and Father Lou. Before Lou started with… well, you know.
Marlene: Of course I knew. Then there was everyone who doubted you, me…for years.
Christian: I don’t care about them. I cared about you.
Marlene: Oh, I know you did, honey.
Christian: I cared that you wouldn’t listen to me, wouldn’t let this drop. So, I –
Christian: Oh, mom. You always say you understand.
Marlene: I do.
Christian: But you couldn’t possibly. The things you brought up again with this quest….the twisted memories. I couldn’t sleep at night. They warped my mind. I wanted to send them back to the dark place, that land of vaporous, slightly out of reach nightmares. I needed to.
Marlene: Chris? What the hell are you telling me?
Christian: All those years of avoiding sidewalk cracks, ignoring neighborhood taunts about your eccentricities…I didn’t want to hurt you…then. But after these past months of your insistent questioning… this invasive preoccupation of yours… You had to know exactly what went on in the rectory, detail by brain curdling detail.
Marlene: It was the only way to get the courts to believe us.
Marlene: Please! Besides, it had happened so long ago. It shouldn’t have affected you like this. Always flittering off on some artistic journey…it was important for you to man up and stick around, make sure all the new charges would stick.
Christian: Don’t you see? No matter what good you were trying to do, all I wanted to do was get away from you. Then, after awhile, all I wanted was for it to take you away from me…take away the past, everything you dredged up. I wanted to be free of you, finally free.
(The Creeper circles ever closer and closer to Christian. They become more and more aware of each other.)
Christian: So, I called to it again…bled myself…offered up that wine you got from Italy last year…the cheese from that Amish farm in Pennsylvania. I gave it gifts, chanted in chalk circles, for hours, while you canvassed the suburbs and led rallies on street corners.
Marlene: But that’s just a myth. It’s just a myth, a legend. And…what do you mean? Called to it again!?
Christian: Haven’t you wondered why there have been so many sudden disappearances over the years? What about the other members of Finney’s gang? They weren’t scholars. They didn’t scamper off to high paying jobs and distinguished tenures at heady, far off universities.
Marlene: I just thought they caroused themselves to death. Hell, I thought maybe even the sicko that had pestered you had gotten to them, as well. Made ‘em sink ship and drown…and good riddance!
Christian: You can’t blame every tragedy on organized religion. Some things you have to blame on me. You see that don’t you?
(Marlene begins to sense the presence of The Creeper and begins to buy into Christian’s story.)
Marlene: Looking at you, now I do. Yes.
Christian: They hurt me, mom. Even after I thought I escaped. So, I had to make them disappear. It helped.
Marlene: Now, I’ve hurt you, right?
Marlene: Damn you. (She contemplates the situation for a moment.) Fine!
(Marlene begins to gather up the newspapers and paper scraps and begins to throw them away.)
Christian: So, what are you doing?
Marlene: Throwing these out, forgetting this madness. Get your things together. Pack just what you need. We’ll go to the lake house, escape for a few days. We’ll call your aunt. She’s always messing around with those tarot cards, metaphysical yoga techniques…all that crap. We’ll figure out a way. She’ll help us.
Christian: It’s too late. I’ve been feeling it get closer and closer for days.
Marlene: So, we run…far, far away.
Christian: That won’t work. Look. Look at me. It’s like I’m fading away. It’s invading me…filling my pores. It’d find me anywhere we went.
Marlene: No. I’ll protect us. I’ll really protect you this time. I’ll…I’ll go clean up that room. If I destroy the evidence, wipe away its connection to us, it’ll disappear. It’ll find someone else to haunt.
Christian: No. (Christian grabs Marlene and stops her.) I thought it’d be drawn to you…to your overwhelming energy…all that grasping, desperate need. But I didn’t realize how much despair lived on in me. Marlene, I discovered the truth about myself…and I’m lost.
Marlene: No, you’re not.
Christian: I am. You’re not. But I am. My soul is a yawning pit of quivering tar and it wants to wallow in all that misery, that dank fear. It’s here for me. Not for you. It tricked me. Can’t you feel it…there at the door!
(The Creeper draws closer and closer to the two of them.)
Marlene: Yes. Yes, I can.
Christian: But, mother…
(Christian and The Creeper lock eyes. They move towards each other.)
Christian: I think it’s going to be okay. Maybe…just maybe…in time, it’ll suck everything away…coat my synapses with its sticky webs of neediness…and maybe, just maybe…when I’m tucked somewhere in its yawning grasp, I will finally…finally be able to forget. Wouldn’t that be good?
Marlene: What? What, Chris?
Chris: To let all of this go – to be finally able to forget.
(The Creeper reaches his hands out to Christian, beckoning. Christian nods and moves toward him as Marlene, helplessly, watches. The lights go black.)
The Creeping by Brian Kirst premiered at The UWWFest at The Goodman Theatre, in Chicago, on October 27th, 2018. Director: Davette Franklin. Marlene: Kathryn Berghoff. Christian: Shane Malecha. The Creeper: Jade Lun.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan.