The Time Trials of Jonathon Hood

A brief overview:

My play is set in a world where some Aspies are born with the ability to move time, to bend it to their will. The past and future are no barriers for them. This ability, also referred to as the ‘gift,’ is considered a punishable offense, and the ruling Monarch of Cirridan decreed that anyone found guilty of time manipulations were to be sentenced to death. A very painful one. In order to determine a person’s guilt the Crown assigned Sigils, steam powered robots, to patrol the streets and keep the peace. Everyone is assigned a device which must always be worn and is synchronised to their timeline and the Sigils’. These devices can be cross referenced to determine if manipulations have taken place. This takes place through an arduous process known as The Time Trials. The devices worn by citizens are maintained by Time-Keepers– vetted individuals who install the devices and report any abnormalities to the Sigils.

Act 1- scene 1 

characters – WATCHPIECE and JAN OPAL – Time-Keeper’s Workshop

[WATCHPIECE is sitting in a wicker chair, intently cleaning his boots. The chair is buckling under his weight. It was not designed to hold a man of 6’9″ stature. His back is to the window through which a ray of sunlight is stretched across it. His face is shrouded by a curtain of blonde hair. JAN OPAL is standing by the window with the sun on her face. Her face is red from crying.]

JAN OPAL: [Looking out the window] “He had to do it.”

WATCHPIECE: [Remains silent and continues to clean his shoes].

JAN OPAL: [She is running her index finger and thumb rhythmically over a piece of string she keeps in her left pocket.] “And you knew it had to be done. [Accusingly] You knew he would do it.”

WATCHPIECE: [His cleaning becomes violent, with long, punctuated strokes.                         He flicks his hair out of his face, smearing grease on his forehead. He remains silent].

[JAN OPAL suddenly turns around, storms to the wicker chair and grabs WATCHPIECE roughly by the shoulders, forcing him to face her. He does not lose his grip on the rag or the shoe. His face is impassive.]

JAN OPAL: [Shaking WATCHPIECE while beginning to sob] “Damn you…you let them take him, Watch. You knew, and you let them take him anyway!”

[JAN OPAL stops shaking WATCHPIECE but continues to sob, burying her face in her hands. An enormous device, like a bracelet that covers half her right forearm catches the light. There are many dials on the face, intricately placed, some ticking, others remaining still. WATCHPIECE has an identical device on his arm. He looks over his shoulder at the sunlit window then slowly brings his arms up to embrace her. His face remains impassive. She pushes his arms away and places her hands over her ears, rocking her body side to side. WATCHPIECE drops his arms and looks away from her towards the audience. His face begins to contort.

[Scene fades to black]


Act 1, Scene 2

characters – KATHLEEN O’DONNELL, VAA, KESTREL, JONATHON HOOD

[Two weeks earlier]

[VAA is setting the table for four. Her crooked back is troubling her. She talks to herself while she prepares for the guests.]

VAA: [Shuffling along the table, placing the cutlery] “Oh, they are unkind to me, yessir, they are, they are. Make me work all night and all day with nary a drop to ease my weary bones.”

[A bell rings in the distance. VAA continues to set the table as if she had not heard a thing.]

VAA: “Sirs-and-missus-please- and-thank you! Welcome to Castle Crass, home of the whoresons and dog-”

[The bell rings once more, a voice echoing down the halls along with it.]

KESTREL: [Shouting from afar] “Vaa! The door! What do I pay you for, woman?”

VAA: [To herself] “Whoresons, the lot of them…”

[Voices begin to echo down the hallway and a door slams. VAA shuffles off stage left, mumbling under her breath.]

[KESTREL, KATHLEEN O’DONNELL and JONATHON HOOD enter stage right with KESTREL leading. KESTREL is a handsome man with a short, immaculately trimmed beard. HOOD has keen grey eyes and a wiry frame. His left hand is flapping against his leg, almost imperceptibly, while his right is wrapped around O’DONNELL’s shoulder. He is wearing an expensive suit. O’DONNELL is a short, curved woman with far too much makeup on. KESTREL is talking energetically.]

KESTREL: “It’s the finest in all Cirridan, I tell you.”

O’DONNELL: “Ha! And that is a fact, Sir?”

[KESTREL chucklespulling out a chair at the head of the table as HOOD pulls a chair out for O’DONNELL. The two men remain standing until she is seated.]

KESTREL: “Yes, Lady O’Donnell. As matter of fact I happened to purchase it just last week. I was there to exchange my old piece.”

HOOD: [Turning to O’DONNELL] ““Old” is rather understating it. It was a horrid piece the last time I saw it. Barely fit for wear. It’s no wonder the Sigils hadn’t fined you on the spot.”

KESTREL: [He gestures to HOOD.] “No older than your bloody beard!”

[HOOD smiles at KESTREL’s words and rubs his chin surreptitiously. VAA enters stage left holding a silver carafe.]

VAA: [Leaning towards KESTREL] “Wine, Sah?”

KESTREL: [He gestures to his cup in answer.] “Now that I’ve mentioned it, where’d that beard go? I must say, I never thought I would see the day when Jonathon Hood shaved his whiskers. I would have sworn on half my estate that he was born wearing them.”

[VAA fills his cup and shuffles down to O’DONNELL.]

HOOD: [In a bored voice] “Believe me, Sir, I would have taken them to the grave had I stayed in Horth. As it happens…”

O’DONNELL: [Smiling at HOOD] “I like a clean shaved man.”

[HOOD’s smile doesn’t touch his eyes. He waves his left hand slightly next to his leg. He whispers something under his breath as VAA pours him some wine. O’DONNELL is beaming at HOOD. She has mistaken the meaning of his gesture and grabs hold of his shaking hand. KESTREL is staring hard at O’DONNELL. VAA remains behind HOOD.]

HOOD: “So who was it, Sir?” [He is fighting the urge to violently extract his hand from O’DONNELL’s.]

KESTREL: [Drawing his gaze back to HOOD] “I beg your pardon?”

HOOD: “[Politely and softer than before] “Who was it that replaced the piece for you?”

[Pause]

KESTREL: “Oh, right. Erm…I had forgotten you were new to these parts, Hood. I dare say you will learn the names of everyone soon enough though, what with that curious way of yours, eh? Now, funny you should ask me that question, because the fellow never actually gave me his name. Not his real name, at least I can tell you.”

HOOD: [He perks up at this, giving KESTREL his full attention. He pulls his hands together and arches his fingers, oblivious to O’DONNELL. She runs her now freed hand through her hair, making a show of it, as if she meant for him to drop her hand.] “But surely he provided some form of identification? Forgive me, Lord Kestrel, but I was under the impression that all Time-Keepers were fully registered under the Council, in order to prevent any unlawful time mani-”

KESTREL: [Waves a hand impatiently.] “Yes, yes, but I am telling you he either made it up on the spot just to irritate me, or his parents had a very odd sense of humour. I asked to see his papers but he told me to take my piece and leave. [Crossly] Vaa! What are you still doing there, woman?”

[VAA jumps. She had been standing behind HOOD, her pouring arm still raised in shock after his whispering, staring at the back of his head. She mutters under her breath and exits stage left, a quizzical look on her face.]

KESTREL: “I apologise for my servant. I will confess I have been having a bit of trouble with her lately. Sets the table for the wrong number, as if expecting someone else to just appear. She gets lost in her own thoughts, thinks she’s in her childhood or something.” [He scratches his beard as he watches VAA leave. HOOD keeps his eyes fixed on KESTREL’s nose.]

O’DONNELL: [Quickly, feeling left out of the conversation.] “That is quite all right, Lord Kestrel.”

HOOD: [Clearing his throat.] “Yes. You were saying, Lord Kestrel?”

KESTREL: “Oh pah! Please, please, just call me Kestrel in here, Hood. And you as well, Lady O’Donnell. I get enough of that ‘Lord’ crap in town. You know, it makes me sick how those peasants think they can win me over with a few sweet words – ‘scuse me m’lord, spare a bar m’lord?– and all that rubbish. As if I would deign to speak to that rabble, let alone give them something of value…”

HOOD: “Certainly, Kestrel.” [Bows his head to hide his scowl, resisting giving KESTREL a reminder that those peasants he scorned would be severely beaten if they were to neglect his proper title. He flapped his hand under the table instead.]

KESTREL: [In an amused voice, clearly enjoying his own story.] “As I was saying, the fellow’s parents must have been touched in the head to call him what they did. I suppose it is no wonder how he came to be in his current profession. With a name like that it probably gave him a leg up, I dare say.”

HOOD: [Edges his body closer to the table, visibly excited. His voice, however, remains neutral, bored even.] “And his unusual name, what was it?”

KESTREL: [Sipping his wine] “It was Watchpiece.”

[Lights down]


Act 1, Scene 3

characters – JAN OPAL and WATCHPIECE. Set at WATCHPIECE’s house.

[Present day]

[JAN OPAL pulls off her cloak and hangs it on the wall. WATCHPIECE is standing in the doorway watching her. There is snow piled up outside.]

JAN OPAL: “They’re charging him.”

WATCHPIECE: [Nods his head, closing the door. He walks slowly to a small wooden table in the centre of the room and pulls out a chair. JAN OPAL takes the seat, kicking snow off her boots while WATCHPIECE walks to the other side of the table and remains standing.]

JAN OPAL: [Prompting him] “Then you know what we have to do.”

WATCHPIECE: [His voice is metallic, as if not used often. His words come out clipped, as though each one caused him discomfort.] “No, you cannot do anything. They will know. You must stay out of this.”

JAN OPAL: “They will never find out. Not unless…but you’ve got the Time-Keeper’s job, so they won’t. And I still cannot figure out how they knew about Jon.”

WATCHPIECE: “They did not know.”

JAN OPAL: [Confused] “What?  But then how did they-”

WATCHPIECE: “They suspected. He…was not careful. I did nothing to alert them. He was not careful. There is nothing you can do.”

[The two remain silent for a minute. WATCHPIECE places a hand on the table, gently running his hand over the surface.]

JAN OPAL: “I know you would never expose us, but don’t you see the danger here? He will be forced to talk. They have…ways… he’ll talk, and when he does he will lead them to us. He will talk, Watch.”

WATCHPIECE: “He will not speak. I can…I will fix this, for you.”

JAN OPAL: [She pushes away from the table and stands violently.] “And how can you fix this? You don’t even have the ability.”

[Pause]

“I’m sorry. Father thought it would be you. He never said it, but I knew he was surprised when I started to show the signs. It was supposed to be you…”

[WATCHPIECE ceases rubbing the table and goes to speak, but JAN OPAL raises her voice and speaks over him.]

“And even if it was you, even if you could do it, too…they would lock you up as well! No one can know, Watch!”

WATCHPIECE: [Lifting his hands in the air, palms facing her. His voice is calm.] “He will not speak, Jan. I have a plan. I will get him to take me with him, and we will fix this together.”

JAN OPAL: [Impatiently.] “How can he take you with him? What are you talking about?”

[WATCHPIECE walks around the table and takes JAN OPAL’s hands in his. She is holding her string. She struggles, but WATCHPIECE continues to talk, ignoring her.]

WATCHPIECE: “How much do you know about the gift, Jan? What the peasants ignorantly refer to as ‘Bootstrapping’.”

JAN OPAL: [Her eyes widen in shock, and she struggles harder.] “Let go of me at once! Do not speak of such things so openly! What is wrong with you? You cannot know who could be listening…”

WATCHPIECE: [Ignoring her outburst and her struggling.] “How much do you know about Bootstrapping? Did Father -”

JAN OPAL: [Her protests die in her throat, and she stops struggling. She looks him in the eyes, or rather, just below them. He does not comment.  Her voice still carries a note of impatience.] “I know everything. Of course I know everything about it. You know I do. Father made sure we both…but Watch…I don’t understand. Is there more to the ability than what I know? Did Father tell you something else?”

WATCHPIECE: “There is more to it, Jan, much more to it. More than even Jonathon Hood himself realises. And before you pull another face, Father told me nothing. I swear it!
I learned of this later, learned everything I could about it so that I could help you if it ever came to that. Why do you think I got a job here, in this cesspit? I can fix this if I can convince him to take me with him.”

JAN OPAL: “And how do you know so much? [Taking on the tone of a lecturer with a well-rehearsed speech] All documentation of Bootstrapping was destroyed in 1590, during The Long Night, when the Council had discovered our existence, discovered what we were capable of. Only those with the ability would have access to that information; because our parents have to teach it to us, Watch. They have to show us how to hide it, how to use it without being suspected. The gift we are granted at birth must be hidden for fear of persecution. People do not just openly discuss it!”

[Pause]

“I have never been able to get there, The Long Night. I tried, when Father first told me. It seemed like the obvious thing to do. But no matter what times I try there is always some kind of barrier, some lock I can’t penetrate at that exact moment. I’ve tried everything.”

[Pause]

“How do you know so much, Watch?” [She stresses the last question, suddenly suspicious.]

WATCHPIECE: “I know what I know. It is of no real consequence. All you have to do is get me an audience with Jonathon, and I can make this right.”

JAN OPAL: “But how will that fix what has happened to him? We cannot change what has already happened. Even you know that, Watch. That was Father’s first lesson.”

[They remain silent for a minute. WATCHPIECE is still holding her hands in his. She finally looks him in the eyes. WATCHPIECE knows how hard that must be for her and so speaks quickly.]

WATCHPIECE: “He has yet to undergo the Time Trials. If I can just convince him to take me with him before the end of the Trials I can fix this.”

“I know I can fix this, Jan. It has been done before.” [He slowly lets go of her hands. She shifts her body so that she is facing the table.]

JAN OPAL: [Matter-of-factly] “The Time Trials last for thirteen days. You know that you have until the tenth day to figure this out. Otherwise, they will come for us both when he talks. And he will talk. They always talk in the end.”

WATCHPIECE: “I know.”

[WATCHPIECE embraces JAN OPAL, who offers no resistance. He holds her but his hands never touch her back. She lets him hold her. The lights begin to dim.]

JAN OPAL: “I will try to get you an audience, but it won’t be easy. The Sigils are still looking for Syd Sago of Rosterleigh. They cannot suspect it is me they are after, cannot know that women are capable of doing it to. The alias can only buy me so much time… [her voice hitches] Watch, I don’t want to see you die. Not like Father.”

WATCHPIECE: [He wraps his enormous arms around her tiny frame, wanting desperately to envelop her anxiety, to relieve it somehow.] “I won’t, dear sister. I’ll never let the Sigils take me like that. And I will never let them find you. I promise.”

[Scene fades to black]

Act 2, Scene 1

characters – JAN OPAL, JONATHON HOOD, SIGILS – The Keep

[Present day]

[JAN OPAL is standing stiffly in front of the guard house trying not to panic. She is rubbing her string discreetly inside her purse as she searches for the correct document. There is a bead of sweat building up beneath her lower lip and she desperately wishes to wipe it.]

SIGIL 648: “Notification papers.” [It repeats, its voice a disturbing mixture of organic and mechanical. Every two minutes a puff of steam escapes a little hatch on each side of its shoulders.]

JAN OPAL: [Not looking up from her now frantic search] “It’s here, just please one moment, I know it’s in here somewhere…”

SIGIL 648: “Notification papers. Authorised personnel only. No notification, no entry.”

[JAN OPAL did not notice the increasing irritation the Sigil was displaying. She suddenly whips out a cream coloured document, causing several tissues and a spring to fly out at the same time.]

JAN OPAL: “Here! Here it is! Ha-ha and I was starting to – ”

[She stops talking suddenly, shuddering visibly at the unexpected touch of a cool metal claw that SIGIL 648 had reached out silently to take the document from her hand. It grasped the paper delicately and drew it closer for examination, ignoring her completely. JAN OPAL decided now was a good time to wipe the sweat from her lip.]

SIGIL 648: [Reading from the paper] “I hereby do authorise, Madam Jan Opal, Keeper of Letters, by order of His Majesty, King Aunvil, our supreme ruler of Cirridan, entry to The Keep for the duration of the Time Trials on this day, 11th of Augustine, 1289 TC. Entry level 3, maximum security clearance. Authorised individual. Signed, Lord Kestrel, Royal Ambassador.

JAN OPAL: [Unsure of how to respond] “Erm, yes, that is what the letter says.” [She looks behind her nervously, hoping for another human to speak with but there is no-one else present at the guardhouse. The sound of steam billowing is all around her.]

SIGIL 648: “All is in order, Madam. Access is granted. Please time in and you may proceed into The Keep. Ensure to time out before departing or you may incur a penalty. Undocumented time spent is not permitted to any individual. Even a Royal employee.”

[JAN OPAL narrows her eyes, not entirely sure if the guard had intended to sound sarcastic or even if she had heard it correctly. Instead of answering, she walks confidently to a large, brass object next to the guards desk. The object strongly resemble a boiler turned on its side. JAN OPAL slides open a small panel on either side of the device on her wrist. As she reaches the “boiler” she stands in from of the structure. She stares at a glass covered panel behind which thousands of tiny gears and dials are spinning. There are several coloured wires running at different intersections between the dials. She grabs a handle to the left of the glass panel and pulls open a chute, revealing a medium sized hole. Quite unaffected, she places her right arm inside the hole and the machine begins to chug, emitting a powerful humming noise. After precisely a minute a high pitched bell sounds and she removes her arm. The machine appears to go dormant, all noise ceasing. If we, the audience, were to look at the dials on JAN OPAL’s watch we would see that they directly correspond with the machines. 

[JAN OPAL, with increasing courage, walks towards the doors of The Keep. As she approaches another bell sounds and the enormous steel doors open inwards.]

[Fade to black – interval music. A haunting choir can be heard as the set is rearranged. The sound of footsteps approaching can be heard. Two people are arguing in the darkness.]

WARDEN: “Madam, I understand you are an authorised visitor, but I really must insist -”

JAN OPAL: “Insist all you want, Sir. I will see him alone. It is customary to take a statement prior to the Testing, surely you understand. He will speak more freely if I were to go in alone.

WARDEN: [With a hint of desperation] “Yes, Madam. I am aware of the Trial protocols, as much as you must surely be of ours. The boys and I think it would be better if you – ”

JAN OPAL: [Haughtily] “Must you really continue on? I do have other business to address today and every minute spent arguing is costing our taxpayers their daily bread.”

WARDEN: [Apologetically] “We was only thinking of your safety, Madam. Please, I meant no offence. My sincerest apologies for holding you up. Here, I’ll just unlock the door for you, one moment.

[The sound of a keys jingling and a lock clicking.]

WARDEN: “Just bang on this here door when you’re finished with ‘im. And holler if he gives you any trouble. I’ll be waiting just outside, see that chair? Don’t you worry. Ah, there’s no use looking at me like that! I ain’t one for listening in, so no fear miss. Ah there it is, all right, in you go then.”

[A door creaks open.]

[Lights up.]

[JONATHON HOOD, lying on a bed of straw, is almost unrecognisable. His beard has grown out and there is an ugly bruise on his left cheek. His left eye is also partially swollen, making him appear to be squinting. His fine clothes have been replaced with the regulation uniform of The Keep, a blood red tunic that offers little in the way of comfort or protection. He sits up gingerly, nursing his side as JAN OPAL enters stage right].

JAN OPAL: “Jon…I am sorry it took me so long to come.”

 

 

 


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