Ghostland

     A train at night and a Mexican cantina are represented by a unit set in Ghostland, a play for four actors.  In the darkness we hear “Cielito Lindo” played rather eerily by a mariachi band until the music is overcome by the rhythmic clattering of a train, then the scream of the train whistle as lights come up on Ambrose Bierce, 71, sitting in a SR train seat opposite Dr. Hern.  (The actor who plays Hern also plays Mark Twain and William Randolph Hearst; another actor plays H. L. Mencken and Jack London; and a fourth actor plays Pancho Villa.)  Hern asks Bierce if he is familiar with non-Euclidean geometry or of a space in which it would be possible to turn a rubber ball inside out “without a solution of its continuity.”  Bierce responds humorously to Hern’s description of wormholes and insists that the train is heading south.  Hern opens the window and leans out to show Bierce the position of the stars and moon as evidence for the northerly direction of the train.  Bierce puts his foot on Hern’s butt and pushes him, screaming, out the window.  Mencken appears with a large black satchel which, he says, contains the cremated remains of the critic, Pollard. Bierce pulls a long bone out of the bag, then a ball of string, and then a skull.  Mencken recognizes Bierce and tells him he admires his writing.  Bierce describes two short scenarios in which people inexplicably disappear into Ghostland, the faery realm of Celtic mythology that is parallel to our own.  Mencken says it sounds like malarkey to him and Bierce invites him to take a look out the window.  Mencken opens the window, leans out, and, like Hern, is kicked screaming from the train.  Bierce picks up the satchel as we hear a loud train whistle and the train jolts, throwing Bierce backward with the satchel as the lights go out.  We hear brakes screeching, gunshots, horses and women shrieking, and then the mariachi band playing.

     When the lights come up we see Bierce face down under a table in the cantina, his arms around the satchel.  Villa sits at the table, drinking, telling Bierce that the train was liberated by the glorious forces of the revolution.  Gunfire rips through the cantina and Villa takes out his gun and goes off.  Jack London dives under the table with Bierce.  They recognize each other and Bierce tells London that his writing stinks and that nothing written in America is worth a bucket of slop.  He says Stephen Crane is a “shameless hack,” Theodore Dreiser “boring and incompetent,” and Henry James “an incomprehensible old woman.”  London says that Bierce told a woman, Gertrude, that he had a suitcase full of documents that would put Hearst in jail for a hundred years.  London says he has been sent by Hearst to retrieve the suitcase and doesn’t believe Bierce when he says the satchel is full of bones.  We hear wind blowing and the beating of a heart that increases in volume as the stage darkens and pulses with red light, then the piercing scream of a train whistle as the lights go to black and the heartbeat resolves into the clattering of the train.

     Lights come up on Bierce in the train sitting opposite Mark Twain.  Bierce, saying it is 1913 and Twain died in 1910, rips off Twain’s mustache and wig to reveal Hearst.  When Hearst tries to grab the bag, Bierce pulls the emergency cord and tries to climb out the window, saying they have arrived at Owl Creek Bridge.  Hearst yanks the bag away and Bierce falls screaming.  We hear a loud splash and Hearst pulls a ball of string, a rubber ball, and a skull from the bag.  As he sticks his head out the window to yell at Bierce, the train lurches forward, and Hearst falls screaming out the window.  We hear a loud splash, the sound of the train moving, the mariachi band, and as the lights fade the sound of the train moving farther away, a distant train whistle, and then the hooting of an owl in the darkness.

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