The Tale End

I think I’ve always been fascinated by the theatre. The magic of how you can contain a slice of the world on a stage. The anticipation of an adventure as you eagerly await those curtains to open. And when they do… the spell it casts when the lights have dimmed and the stage lights up.

This piece of writing started out as an entry to a scriptwriting competition which I never ended up submitting because I forgot to (whoops). So, instead, I’ve decided to at least share it here, in a slightly less script-like (read: not formatted) version. Perhaps one day, I’ll record the dialogue for it and make it into a little ‘radio play’. Until then, let me know what you think, but most of all, I hope you enjoy this venture into an undiscovered part of the woods…

Dramatis Personae (in order of appearance)

PROTAG: A riddle wrapped in an enigma. The ‘hero’ of the play… at least, that’s what I’ve heard.

GUARD: A perpetually angry kind of guy. Has a penchant for shouting and roaring.

LADY: Silky smooth and icy cold. The word ‘evil stepmother’ has been thrown around her (fortunately too quietly for her to catch)

VILLAIN: An up-and-coming young villain, freshly graduated from the Villain Academy, and ready to take over the world. If only the world cared.

The stage is set and the curtains part. We see a dark room, possibly a cellar or a dungeon; it is near impossible to tell which in this dim light. Someone is whistling. A figure, our Protagonist (PROTAG), meanders onto the stage. The PROTAG notices us watching…

PROTAG: Ah, good. An audience. I was wondering when you’d show up. I’m sure you have a lot of questions, but for now, keep quiet! There’s just something that I need to do…

[The PROTAG slips behind a column, reappears in the guise of a messenger boy and conjures up a scared expression. Enter: GUARD and LADY.]

GUARD: (roaring/screaming) There he is! This is the little trespasser what snuck into the castle!

PROTAG: Please, sir, have mercy!

LADY: (silkily/icily to GUARD) Now, now. No need to frighten the boy. (To PROTAG) I heard you saw something terribly unusual in the castle, lad. Can you describe it to me?

PROTAG: Well, the chimes were ringin’ midnight, ma’am, and this girl in a beautiful dress stumbles out of the castle, like there were hell beasts after her! And then, right before me eyes, she changes her shape, ma’am!

LADY: Changes her shape? How so?

PROTAG: Well, she loses her fancy dress and-

GUARD: (roaring) You watched her undress?! You wretched excuse of a child-!

[GUARD goes to slap PROTAG, who cowers. LADY stops his hand.]

LADY: That is enough! (She takes a breath to clam herself before turning back to PROTAG) What else, child?

PROTAG: (whimpering) It was magic, missus! Witchcraft or something! I swear! One second she’s got her pretty dress, and the next, she’s in an ugly sack!

LADY: (quietly) A witch. (Louder) A witch ruined my daughter’s chances with the prince?!

[PROTAG turns to us, a hint of a smirk on their face]

PROTAG: (sneakily, and much more calmly) Well, ‘witch’ is a bit of a strong word, mada-

LADY: Unacceptable! Guard, find Ella and bring her to me at once!

PROTAG: (back to whimpering) What about me, missus?

LADY: (sneering) Get out of my sight, urchin!

[PROTAG exits stage left as if pursued by a bear, while LADY and GUARD exit stage right]

The stage changes now, and we are in a forest. PROTAG walks out from behind a tree, shaking themselves off, and reverting back to their first form. There’s a grin on their face.

PROTAG: Hoo! Nothing like riling up evil stepmothers to start the day, eh? I suppose I should introduce myself. Or suppose I shouldn’t. (A pause) It doesn’t matter. You’ve never heard of me, and I doubt you’ll ever see me again. At least, you wouldn’t want to. But, I suppose I should make myself known. Now, what name shall I take today? I’ve taken so many! Not that you’d know any of them. You’d probably know them best by what they did; not by who they are. Let’s see… who was I? An urchin boy… a witch’s neighbour… a hungry pigeon. Or maybe, an attentive messenger, or a boasting fairy (PROTAG twirls their finger). I’ve been told I’m quite a good listener. Good for reflection (PROTAG holds a hand in front of their face, before waving it dismissively). But that’s all in the past. All you need to know is what I do.

[Off-stage, something moves in the shadows. PROTAG glances that way before continuing.]

PROTAG: I guess you could say I’m a – ah- tester of sorts. Yes. A ‘test of character’, as the people say. As with all tests, someone has to administer them, right? That’s my job. No hero is complete without my help. You’re welcome.

[Something is definitely rattling about off-stage. PROTAG frowns in that direction.]

PROTAG: (grandly) Without me, your villains never concoct their most nefarious plans! Your precious heroes would never move on in their quests! They would never truly know-

[There is a loud crash off-stage, followed by some unusually archaic cursing. Enter VILLAIN; a figure clad in a dramatic, flowing black cloak and black costuming. PROTAG quickly glances left and right before ducking behind a tree to spy.]

VILLAIN: (pacing) Belladonna and bugs-wort! I can never get that spell right! (VILLAIN shakes their staff) Cursed thing! (Kicks and trips over their robes) Fie upon thee! “Go become a villain,” they said! “It’ll be easy!” they said! “Everyone loves a villain!” they said! Four whole years wasted learning to be evil, and no one to be evil towards!

[PROTAG peeks out from behind the tree and winks at the audience before meandering out from their hiding spot with a wide-eyed look as they admire the setting in an exaggerated manner. PROTAG’s gaze settles on VILLAIN.]

PROTAG: (gasps) Wow! A rare Obsidian Night Ogre!

VILLAIN: I beg your pardon?

PROTAG: (disappointed) Oh. Just a normal human. (Turns to leave)

VILLAIN: Wait! Who are you?

PROTAG: I am but a traveller on this long and winding road… Who are you?

VILLAIN: Aha! Who am I? Fool! I am your worst nightmare!

PROTAG: (Squinting) You don’t look like the Wailing Swamp Monster of Turn… although you do look an awful lot like the monster under my bed.

VILLAIN: What? No! I am the Dreaded-

PROTAG: Dreadful, more like.

VILLAIN: Do not interrupt me!

PROTAG: Ok, ok, whatever you say.

VILLAIN: Ahem. Cower before me! For I am the Dreaded I-

PROTAG: Well, it was nice to meet you, Dreadful! I’d best be heading off though. Places to be, people to see; not that you’d know.

VILLAIN: Hey! I- but! Topsalabi heretalabi!

[PROTAG runs into an ‘invisible barrier. PROTAG knocks on it like a door.]

VILLAIN: You cannot pass!

[PROTAG glances at us, an eyebrow raised.]

PROTAG: You don’t say.

VILLAIN: You cannot pass until, uh, until you… answer my riddles!

PROTAG: (smirking) Is that so?

VILLAIN: Yes! Only when you answer all of my riddles will you be able to safely pass my Impenetrable Barrier of Extreme – er – Impassability!

PROTAG: (to us) What a name. (Turning back to VILLAIN) Very well. I will take up your challenge!

VILLAIN: Well, it’s not really a challenge. It’s more like-

PROTAG: What’s the first riddle?

VILLAIN: Uh, the first riddle is – um – the following! (VILLAIN clears their throat) “I am taken from a mine, and shut up in a wooden case, from which I am never released, and yet I am used by almost everybody. What am I?”

PROTAG: A jack-in-the-box.

[VILLAIN cackles, despite the unimpressed look on PROTAG’s face. After a few moments of hysterical cackling, VILLAIN stops.]

VILLAIN: Oh. You’re being serious. Are you sure?

PROTAG: Very. Next!

VILLAIN: Very well. Best of three. Ahem. “A slender body, a tiny eye, no matter what happens, I never cry. What am I?”

PROTAG: Heartless. Next!

[VILLAIN frowns.]

VILLAIN: “Runs over fields and woods all day. Under bed at night sits not alone. With long tongue hanging out, awaiting for a bone. What am I?”

PROTAG: High class. But that was just a lie.

VILLAIN: (spluttering) You- you are mocking me! You are lucky that I am feeling generous. I will give you three more chances – only three! – to answer my riddles! Only then will you pass, and escape certain doom!

PROTAG: (raises a hand) When do they get harder?

VILLAIN: (scoffs) Try this on for size! “You are in a room that is completely bricked in on all four sides, including the ceiling and floor. You have nothing but a mirror and a wooden table in the room with you. How do you get out?”

PROTAG: (glaring) I think the more important question is why were you in my house?

VILLAIN: What? No! Am I not speaking plainly enough for you? Are you too dense to hear my words?!

PROTAG: How could I ignore you with all your shouting?

VILLAIN: Gah! Let’s try this again. “I run, it runs. I stop, it runs. What is it?”

PROTAG: Very fast. Next!

VILLAIN: (huffs) “An explorer was captured by a tribe whose chief decided that the man should die. The chief was a very logical man and gave the explorer a choice. The explorer was to make a single statement. If it was true, he would be thrown over a high cliff. If it was false, he would be eaten by lions. What statement did the clever explorer say that forced the chief to let him go?”

PROTAG: (clears their throat)  “Don’t eat the risotto.”

VILLAIN: (gaping, dumbstruck at PROTAG) What?! That doesn’t even make sense!

PROTAG: It doesn’t have to make sense.

VILLAIN: What are you talking about? Of course it needs to make sense! It’s the light bulb moment! It’s the moment when you say, ‘Aha, that was so clever’! The right answer always makes sense!

[A beat.]

PROTAG: Ooh. You were looking for the right answer.

VILLAIN: Yes! Of course I was!

PROTAG: Well, why didn’t you say so? (To us) If you don’t want to know the answers, continue on! (Turning back to VILLAIN, PROTAG clears their throat)

“A pencil, a needle, a shoe, nothing more.

You look in the mirror and see what you saw.

You take out the saw, cut the table in half

Two halves make a whole, and through the hole you pass.

A watch, but not when the battery’s dying

The statement is ‘I will be eaten by lions'”

Is that right?

VILLAIN: I- uh- wha- how- ?

PROTAG: Listen – Dreadful, wasn’t it? It’s a simple ‘yes’ or ‘yes’ question.

VILLAIN: Well, er, yes?

[PROTAG nods once and knocks on the area where the barrier was. PROTAG’s hand goes through.]

PROTAG: Fabulous. Good day to you, young Dreadful! I wish you the best of luck for your villainy!

VILLAIN: Wait, what? How did you know?

PROTAG: (blatantly ignoring what VILLAIN just said) Oh, and food for thought: “If you’re paddling a canoe and a wheel falls off, how many pancakes fit in a dog house?” Good day! (Saunters off stage)

VILLAIN: Canoe? Pancakes? Dogs? (Groaning) Why didn’t I just become an accountant?

[VILLAIN attempts to storm off stage, only to run into an invisible barrier.]

VILLAIN: Hag-seed, hyssop and horsetail!

[PROTAG reappears, a grin on their face.]

PROTAG: Oh, I forgot to mention! You can only pass if you get the answer right. Here’s a free piece of advice- Be careful how you wield your words. You never know; it may box you in at the end of the day.

With a parting wink at us, PROTAG disappears, leaving VILLAIN howling and cursing as the stage fades away to black…

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