The Painting Rots And Now We Burn
Ernest: The Leader
Weston: The Newcomer
A normal house in a normal town on a normal night.
We begin in a blackout. In the darkness, jagged, dark, music begins to play. As it rises and falls, we can make out two quotations over the music, the voices skewed and twisted, but very audible.
HOLMES (V/O): I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.
MANSON (V/O): I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you. The real strong have no need to prove it to the phonies.
The music swells one more time, and as it peaks it turns into a deep drone, and a dark red light comes up on an altar made from a black bookshelf placed upstage center, adorned with cult iconography, its crown jewel a fairly large animal skull placed dead center, wreathed with skinny branches.
A dirty beat can now be heard within the drone. It's erratic, confusing, almost unpleasant. Some of the darkness in the music fades away, and it becomes a dark, electronic, beat that somebody could almost dance to.
And indeed someone does dance to it. ERNEST enters from his stage left “bedroom,” his cult outfit hidden, for the moment, with a bright pink bathrobe and matching slippers. Holding a feather duster, ERNEST dances his way through dusting the altar, and even planting a kiss on the “nose” of the animal skull before giving a fairly graceful pirouette and exiting off upstage to the “kitchen”.
The dance mix becomes even more modern, and ERNEST returns, still dancing a bit, with candles in his arms which he distributes throughout the set, (either on the floor, or whatever set dressings there happen to be). A lighter is produced, and all the candles are “lit”. The stage lighting comes up at this point, dim, but enough light to see what's going on while still retaining some atmosphere. ERNEST dances/exits left to the bedroom again.
ERNEST returns, holding a piece of paper and an envelope. He looks at the paper before folding it and placing it inside the envelope, which he seals. At some point during this action, ERNEST gives himself a paper cut. He let's out an involuntary noise of pain, drops the envelope, looks down at his injury, and the music suddenly becomes very sludgy, as if being played through molasses. ERNEST is about to faint.
ERNEST: Uh oh. Keep it together, Ernie-Burns, keep it together. It's not bad, just...let's take care of this...
ERNEST half runs, half stumbles, into the kitchen. The music picks back up to normal, and ERNEST returns, sporting a bandage which is either pastel, or has a cartoon character on it. (Note: The audience probably won't pick this out, but Ernest will know.) He picks up the envelope and looks at it..
ERNEST: I just don't get how paper can be sharp. It doesn't seem fair, somehow.
ERNEST puts the envelope somewhere on the altar, then has a moment where he engages in some improvised, healthy self-talk, most of which seems to be directed at the animal skull, like some people talk to their pets, or plants. The folks at Queer Eye would be proud. When appropriate, it ends with:
ERNEST: Alright, lost the vibe, gotta get the vibe back.
ERNEST manages to pick up the beat of the music again.
ERNEST: There we go. That's what I'm talking about.
ERNEST vibes his way back to the bedroom.
The music reaches a crescendo, and ERNEST returns, he holds a small makeup mirror, an eyeliner pencil, and is now dressed in his “cult leader” outfit. Simple, black, menacing. Placing himself in front of the altar, he uses the mirror and pencil to draw an “X” on his forehead, a la Charles Manson. The music fades as he admires his work, and finally goes quiet. The mirror and the eyeliner go into one pocket.
ERNEST: And just like that, everything is perfect.
ERNEST looks expectantly toward the door.
ERNEST pulls out a pocket-watch and gives it a check. He looks back at the door.
ERNEST: Any minute now.
ERNEST: Must just be traffic.....at midnight...on a Wednesday...
Silence. ERNEST snaps a bit.
ERNEST: Goddamn it. If I've told 'em once, I've told 'em a hundred times: punctuality. Punctuality, you fucks!
Anger becomes concern.
ERNEST: Maybe it was a car wreck? I know a few of them carpool...Fuck, I hope not...No, that doesn't fit, don't be stupid...
Concern becomes sadness.
ERNEST: I mean, come on guys, nobody shows up at all? I feel like the kid alone at his own birthday here.
ERNEST: This, this is what failure feels like right here. This is a low point.
A knock at the door. ERNEST bounces back to excitement so fast, he's in danger of giving himself whiplash.
ERNEST: Hah, It was traffic! I knew it!
Reasserting some of the cool that slipped from him, ERNEST goes to the “front door” stage right, and looks through the “peephole”.
WESTON (From off): What?
ERNEST: What's the password?
WESTON (From off): Can't hear you too well, my dude, we've got a door between us.
ERNEST (Nearly shouting): I'll open it when you give me the password!
WESTON (Loudly): This is 3701 South 12th, right? The devil worship place? I have a book-thing from Brendan--
ERNEST pushes open the door and hustles WESTON inside. WESTON is dressed in large jean shorts, sandals with socks, and a dirty shirt. He carries a small, beat up, backpack, over one shoulder. The bag is bulging, and very stained.
ERNEST: Well for fuck's sake why don't we just tell the whole neighborhood about the goddamn cult that's been hiding and plotting in their midst, why don't we?
ERNEST and WESTON look at each other.
ERNEST: Are you a cop?
WESTON: Nope. Definitely not.
ERNEST: Can you prove that?
WESTON: Uh, I brought a thing, you know, an offering. A sacrifice.
ERNEST gestures to the altar.
ERNEST: Well then, by all means.
WESTON moves to the altar a little awkwardly, like somebody receiving communion and worried about screwing it up, and awkwardly drops the bag in front of it. The bag squelches a bit. WESTON stands for a moment, unsure, then puts his hands together and bows, as if to a sensei.
ERNEST: Okay, well, you're new, obviously, so we've got some work to do, but not bad, not bad really, for a first time. What's in the bag, Mr. Definitely-not-a-cop?
WESTON: A dog.
ERNEST: A dog, huh? Big or small?
WESTON: Medium-big-ish, I guess? It was about this big.
WESTON holds his hands out, showcasing the size of a dog that definitely wouldn't fit into a backpack.
ERNEST: Uh huh, right. You expect me to believe that before you even knew if you'd be allowed to join our order, you callously killed a dog, heartlessly mutilated the remains enough to fit it into a small backpack, and after that you had either the balls or the stupidity to bring it to a strangers address?
WESTON: I mean, that's a lot. I just brought a dog.
ERNEST (Dripping with sarcasm): I'm sure you did. This isn't the first time someone's tried to fake an offering, I'll have you know, so let's just see what we really have here.
ERNEST unzips the backpack and looks inside.
ERNEST: That's...wow, that's a whole...my goodness...
ERNEST zips the backpack closed, and stands. He is woozy again. That backpack really shook him. He does his best to hold it together in front of his new guest.
WESTON: The booklet said to bring a sacrifice the first time, as, hold on I know it... It's “passage across the river Styx that separates the wolves from the sheep.”
ERNEST: Yeah, yeah, passage and all that, but...quite honestly, most people bring, like, a squirrel they found on the road, or they kill their Mom's parakeet or something. And it's usually clean too...that's just a bit...it's like Jello...
WESTON: You okay? You got really pale.
ERNEST: Show me a cult leader who isn't pale. And someone from India scamming hippies doesn't count.
WESTON: You look like you're gonna faint.
ERNEST: Oh, so you're not a cop, but you're a doctor?
WESTON: Did I do it wrong?
ERNEST: No, no, you sure didn't do it wrong, it's just...
ERNEST turns away from WESTON and viciously twists his own nipple to bring himself back to reality.
ERNEST: You know what, why don't we start over? You said someone gave you a book?
WESTON: I found a booklet-thingy. This.
WESTON reaches into one giant back pocket of the jean shorts and retrieves a small black notebook.
WESTON: Inside, on the back, it says: “Property of Brendan H. If found, please return to 3701 South 12th.” That's this place, right?
ERNEST: Goodman it, Brendan...
WESTON: I was just gonna give it to a lost and found or something, but then I started reading it, and I gotta say, now I'm not much of a reader if you'd believe it, but that book makes a hell of a lot of sense, if you ask me. I think. I didn't understand all of it. So I gets to thinking, maybe I should head on down to South 12th myself and see if they've got an opening for a new guy or something like that.
ERNEST: Based on attendance tonight, we might have more openings than I thought.
ERNEST: Nothing. Don't let me burden you with my own concerns. What's your name?
WESTON: Weston. Weston Gendarmery.
ERNEST: Gendarmery, huh? What is that, French?
WESTON: Belgian, I think.
ERNEST: Belgian. Well, well, well, this little club of ours is certainly growing, isn't it?
WESTON: Is it?
ERNEST: Rhetorical question, Weston, don't feel the need to answer all of them. My name is Ernest. Ernest Goldman.
WESTON shakes ERNEST's hand, a bit unsure of what's happening.
WESTON: Pleased to meet you.
ERNEST: Mr. Gendarm--, Mr. Gender-arms--, Weston, do you know what the name 'Ernest' means?
WESTON: Uh, no. No clue.
ERNEST: The word 'earnest' is a word that means, honest, passionate, sincere. And when it comes to my cause, I think you'll see that I am all three of those things. You see, we have a problem. There's an invasive species around us, Weston. There are weeds in our garden.