Below we present the complete text of ‘Playing to Win and Lose’; episode 3 of An Ephemeral Deal.
AN EPHEMERAL DEAL
EPISODE #3 – PLAYING TO WIN AND LOSE
by Philip Craig Robotham
Cover Illustration by Miyukiko
Edited by Margaret Wilkins
Copyright 2013 Philip Craig Robotham
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Edition.
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Serial #3: An Ephemeral Deal
Things are slow at the office of Tony Wells, Private Eye, when crime reporter, Claire Templeton, turns up with a business proposition. Someone is trying to kidnap her and she needs Tony’s help and protection. When the kidnappers turn out to be Rock Golems in the employ of a faery queen, Tony finds himself once more plunged into the intrigues of the fae courts. When the squabbles of the faery realm escalate the fallout in the mortal realm can be dire and, with Claire’s life on the line, Tony must sort through all the double dealings and attempt a dangerous deal of his own. Can he succeed in saving Claire from this new immortal threat? Tune in to “An Ephemeral Deal” and listen as the mystery unfolds.
Episodes in the Host Your Own “Old Time Radio Drama” series are designed to provide a fun dinner party experience for 6–8 participants. Read along, taking on the role of one or more of the characters in the story, and listen as the exciting drama unfolds. This is the theater of the mind, where the special effects are only limited by your imagination, and your participation will build a memory that you’ll treasure for years to come.
AN EPHEMERAL DEAL
TONY WELLS: Private Detective
CLAIRE TEMPLETON: Crime Writer
FRED: The Magical Sword
FAE THUG#1: A Rock Golem
QUEEN OF WINTER: Fairy Queen of Winter within the realm of light and twin sister to the King of Summer
KING OF SUMMER: Fairy King of Summer within the realm of light and twin brother to the Queen of Winter.
EBERON: Fairy Prince — Son of Oberon (King of the Realm of Light)
FINBARRA: Fairy Prince — Son of Finyarra (King of the Realm of Darkness)
THE MOON KING: Luna, clan chief of the fae family to which the Queen of Winter and the King of Summer belong.
SFX: SFX operator (1 required)
SCENE 12: INT. — DUNGEON OF THE SUMMER KING — SOMETIME LATER (KING, TONY, FRED)
- MUSIC:  OPENING THEME – LET IT FINISH
- NARRATOR: Private Detective Tony Wells has been captured by the forces of the Summer King while trying to steal the ransom necessary to free his friend Claire Templeton from the dread Queen of Winter… and his day doesn’t seem to be improving any.
- SOUND:  (WALLA) FLAMES AND BUBBLING POTS — ESTABLISH AND UNDER.
- TONY: (NARRATING) There are days in a man’s life when he might wish he had made different choices; perhaps to have taken the road less traveled or become a bee-keeper instead of whatever it was he did choose. For me, this was not one of those days. There are other days when a man might conceivably wish he hadn’t gotten up in the morning, that he had just stayed in bed and let the world take care of itself for a little bit. This wasn’t one of those days either. Instead, as I stared up at an insane fairy king while locked in heavy irons against the mildewed walls of a dark torture chamber, I realized that there are days when a man could cheerfully wish he had never been born… and this was definitely one of those.
- KING: Now tell me, why are you here?
- SOUND:  HISS OF HOT METAL BEING PRESSED AGAINST FLESH —UNDER.
- TONY: (SCREAMS) Aaargh!
- KING: (SYMPATHETIC) Hmmm. Yes, I know it hurts. But it’s not as if you leave me much choice. The more you remain silent, the more I am forced to repeat the question: why are you here and what has this to do with my sister?
- TONY: Go to hell!
- KING: My, my — but you are fixated on that word, aren’t you? And, if I may say so, rather inappropriately. After all, of the two of us here present, who is the more likely to be entering that destination any time in the near future? Hmmm?
- TONY: Go… to…
- KING: Yes, yes. This is getting surprisingly dull. Normally it’s so much fun to entertain an uninvited guest this way. But today I’m finding it quite a chore. You see we were enjoying such a lovely feast upstairs and you’ve gone and quite spoiled it for me.
- SOUND:  HISS OF HOT METAL BEING PRESSED AGAINST FLESH — UNDER.
- TONY: (SCREAMS) Aaargh!
- KING: I mean, really, if you were in my shoes, wouldn’t you rather be upstairs having fun?
- FRED: Perhaps the question you should be asking is, “Who is he?”
- KING: What? Who said that?
- FRED: Just me, bub. Your guards tossed me into the corner thinking I was just something your unwanted guest picked up when they brought him in.
- KING: Intriguing… But a talking sword? This is an object of power.
- FRED: You betcha! And if I belong to him?
- KING: Then he has some status. (TO TONY — GETTING NERVOUS) Who are you?
- TONY: (SPITS) Fred, are you telling me that my status is of benefit here.
- FRED: Well, generally speaking, as one of the three Protectors of the Covenant between the realms of the Fae and Humanity, you would be due the hospitality of any fae realm you entered, announced or otherwise, along with the highest of courtesies.
- KING: One of the..? No, you can’t be!
- FRED: You’d better take a closer look at me, Your Majesty. There are only two other swords like me in all of creation. I’m sure you are aware of my forging and the limited number of individuals who may call me their own.
- KING: But, but… you let me torture you. Why? When you could, so easily, have been afforded the hospitality of my realm?
- TONY: (COUGHS) I’ve been wondering about that a little myself. But, firstly, I’m kind of new at this and haven’t learned all the rules. Secondly, (COUGHS AGAIN) I’m not on official covenant business. And thirdly, I should let myself be forced into answering questions I don’t want to? No way!
- FRED: And, most importantly, by allowing yourself to be captured and inconvenienced in so insulting a manner, the King now owes you a debt.
- TONY: (NASTILY) Is that so? (BEAT) I was wondering why you kept silent for so long.
- FRED: I didn’t want to give the game away and I only stayed quiet long enough for you to be properly hurt. I wouldn’t want anyone crying foul when you come to collect on what’s owed you.
- TONY: (DRYLY) Of course not! I’m adding this (COUGHS) to the list of topics you and I are going to discuss more fully later.
- SOUND:  CLANKING OF CHAINS — LET IT FINISH.
- TONY: (TO THE KING) Would you mind getting rid of these chains for a start, and we’ll get down to business from there.
- KING: Yes, Lord Protector. Right away.
- SOUND:  KEYS JANGLING, CHAINS FALLING AWAY — LET IT FINISH.
- KING: There you are. Feeling better.
- TONY: (GROANS) No, and I could really use a drink.
- FRED: (URGENTLY) No, don’t eat or drink anything here except natural spring water… and wait until the King has formally granted you his hospitality.
- TONY: Your Majesty?
- KING: Yes, yes. I extend you the hospitality of my realm etc. You will remain under my full protection for the entire period you remain a guest here, and so on, and so forth.
- TONY: (TO FRED) Good enough?
- FRED: Good enough. But from here on in, you need to mind your Ps and Qs.
- TONY: Ahuh. Then about that water?
- KING: (OBSEQUIOUS) Here you are.
- SOUND:  SWISHES AND GLUGS OF SOME WATER BEING HASTILY DRUNK — LET IT FINISH.
- TONY: Ah, that hit the spot. (TO FRED) Now that that’s over with, is there any purpose to be met in keeping our reason for being here a secret?
- FRED: Not a lot. The King can’t retaliate, and his debt to you for the affront he has provided is large.
- TONY: Good. I’d hate to have gone through all that for nothing.
- KING: (SUSPICIOUS) I’m not sure I understand quite what you are…
- TONY: Your sister holds a friend of ours against her will. Your sister charged us with recovering something that was taken from her — the Sylvan Orb!
- KING: She sent you to steal it? I don’t believe it.
- TONY: It can hardly be called stealing if she has a claim of ownership upon it now, can it?
- KING: (DISTRACTED) What? (BEAT) I take it she led you to believe that I am the thief — in the first instance?
- TONY: Ahuh.
- KING: What were her exact words?
- TONY: She said “My twin brother, the King of Summer, has taken the Sylvan Orb. I wish it returned to me.”
- KING: And from this, you inferred that I had stolen the orb.
- TONY: Ahuh.
- KING: What fools these mortals be! It is true that I took the orb, but not before my sister had given it over into my care. We are its joint custodians. I, in the summer, and she, in the winter. My sister has been playing you for a fool and now she has involved me in her schemes as well.
- TONY: Now, I think I’m beginning to feel a little lost… Of course, it could just be the blood loss.
- KING: It’s not the orb you want, mortal.
- TONY: Now, hang on…
- KING: (WITH EMPHASIS) It’s not the orb that you want. What you want is to free your friend from my sister’s obligation.
- TONY: I guess…
- KING: And to do that, you must either make a trade or a bargain she finds acceptable…
- TONY: Yes…
- KING: Or make the Queen of Winter’s contract with your friend null and void.
- TONY: But how…
- FRED: Careful, boss. I’m starting to get a real bad feeling about this.
- KING: (TO HIMSELF) She’s actually done it. After all these centuries upon centuries, she’s actually figured out a way to do it. No matter the outcome.
- TONY: You need to start making sense sometime soon or this is going to get ugly.
- KING: Hmmm? Ah, yes. She has attempted to usurp my power, mortal. This affront to my dignity cannot go unremarked. Unfortunately, I am unable to raise my hand directly against her.
- FRED: Here it comes…
- KING: But you, mortal. You can do what I cannot.
- TONY: And that is…
- KING: You can kill her! Nothing else will do.
- TONY: And how am I supposed to achieve that? Aren’t you people supposed to be nigh immortal?
- KING: Nigh immortal implies a little bit not. If she were to die, then your friend would be freed of my sister’s obligation and debt, as would you. I am already in your debt so any aid I give you would simply balance the scales… and you will most certainly need my aid.
- TONY: I am having a really bad day! (BEAT) Alright, alright! Tell me what I have to do.
- KING: Simple, I will return your amulet and give you the Scepter of Power.
- TONY: And what, pray tell, is the Scepter of Power when it’s at home in its bed.
- KING: I’m sorry, what did you..?
- TONY: It’s a little expression I picked up from a friend of mine. What does the scepter do?
- KING: It can kill us, well more specifically, my sister and me.
- FRED: Melt me down and turn me into a salad fork!
- TONY: What’s that?
- FRED: He’s just identified his bane to you.
- TONY: His what now?
- FRED: His bane! Every creature in the faery realm has a bane. Cold Iron acts as a slow poison, for example. But as well as that more general bane there is a unique bane, keyed to the life force of each individual fairy. The fae protect the knowledge of their specific weaknesses — the objects and substances which can harm them — from everyone at all costs. Even from each other.
- KING: Especially from each other!
- FRED: Just so. If this “Scepter of Power” is the Winter Queen’s bane, you’re being offered a weapon that could literally unmake her.
- TONY: I see. But couldn’t I use this knowledge against you as well, Your Majesty?
- KING: You could. But it seems only fair compensation for what occurred earlier. If I had killed you, and I am afraid that was very definitely what I had in mind, I would have broken the covenant. My life would have been forfeit and a war between the realms would have followed. In payment of this debt, I entrust you with the secret of my own undoing.
- TONY: I see. Then you’d best tell me how it works.
- KING: We keep it in a lead box in the deepest vault of this, my castle. One touch is lethal to us. Take it, and never enter this realm again.
- TONY: As for the first, no problem. But the second, despite my having seen enough of your domain to last me a lifetime, that may be beyond my power to grant. I remain a Protector of the Covenant after all.
- KING: (LAUGHS) Hmpf. For as long as the covenant remains I guess that is true. But something tells me, things may change sooner than you think.
- TONY: Ahuh? Come on, Fred, let’s get this lead box and get out of here.
- MUSIC:  (BRIDGE) OMINOUS SCENE ENDER — LET IT FINISH.
SCENE 13: INT. — THE PALACE OF THE WINTER QUEEN (FRED, TONY, QUEEN, CLAIRE, KING, EBERON, FINBARRA, MOON KING)
- SOUND:  (WALLA) ICY WIND BLOWING — ESTABLISH AND UNDER.
- SOUND:  RINGING CHIME — LET IT FINISH.
- TONY: Ugh! I’m learning to really hate magical transportation.
- FRED: (MOCKING) Aw, is it giving you a rumbly tummy?
- TONY: How smart will you feel if I vomit on you?
- FRED: Message received.
- QUEEN: Ah, you’re back. I take it you have succeeded in your mission.
- FRED: There’s no need to play games, Your Majesty. You are well aware we did not.
- QUEEN: (MOCKING) Spoiling my fun? Ah well, I may not get the orb, but you will make a nice addition to my collection in payment for this failure.
- TONY: You know, there are always games within games with you people. You want me to believe that your aim was to place another trophy beside Claire on your mantel — if the orb couldn’t be recovered — and I’m sure you’d be willing to settle for that as a consolation prize. But you weren’t really after the orb at all. You knew I had very little chance of recovering it. Your intention was that I should be captured and killed by your brother, or failing that, your attempt on the orb should be revealed, and that the King of Summer respond with an attempt on your own life.
- QUEEN: Don’t be absurd. Why would I wish such a thing?
- TONY: You said it yourself, Your Majesty. “Eternity is tedious.” These diversions you create for yourself are all so pitifully fleeting. You want an end to it. Or failing that, a diversion on a scale sufficient to reinvigorate you. That’s what this is about, isn’t it?
- QUEEN: Very clever. But have you really figured it out?
- TONY: I think so. The attempt on the orb has forced your brother to respond with an assassination attempt. I saw the light go on for him when he figured out what you were up to. The two of you are joined in some way. You can’t raise a hand against each other directly but you can use a cat’s paw for your dirty work. You’ve discussed this before. The interminable unending boredom of your existence and the impossibility of finding a way out. Your brother sent me here with a weapon to kill you.
- QUEEN: I see. And do you think you will succeed?
- TONY: I think I won’t have to. (BEAT) If I try, the attempt will violate the covenant and spark a war that will last for at least a thousand years, perhaps even forever, providing endless diversion for the eternally bored. You won’t let me succeed in killing you with the prospect of a major war ahead, any more than you ever really intended that I should obtain the orb.
But I am not a murderer or an assassin. If you really want to put an end to your existence, as I believe you do, then I don’t need to kill you.
- QUEEN: No?
- TONY: No! I only need open this box…
- SOUND:  CREAK OF THE LEAD BOX OPENING — UNDER.
- TONY: …and place it within your reach, like this.
- QUEEN: (GASPS IN AWE) Oh.
- TONY: Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I haven’t done as you wished. Tell me that this service isn’t sufficient payment for the life of my friend, Claire. The scepter was in your brother’s care because he lacked the courage to use it. Now it sits before you.
- QUEEN: Very good, human. I had hoped you were as foolhardy and stupid as your reputation allowed, but clearly, there is more to you than meets the eye. As it is you have played me to a draw — something which has not happened in a host of centuries. This may not have been my first choice for an outcome, but it is nonetheless a welcome one.
- TONY: Then free Claire.
- QUEEN: Alright. So be it.
- SOUND: [21, 24] MAGICAL CHIME. SOUNDS LIKE THE CRACKING OF ICE FALLING AWAY — LET IT FINISH.
- CLAIRE: (GASPING) Tony, you did it! I can feel the enchantment falling away. I’m free.
- TONY: Not quite. There are still some loose ends to tie up, aren’t there, Your Majesty? (TO THE QUEEN) I suggest you summon your brother for a visit while I call the other Covenant Protectors to act as witnesses. Fred?
- FRED: I’m already on it.
- SOUND: [21 x 3] MAGICAL CHIME FOLLOWED BY TWO MAGICAL CHIMES — LET IT FINISH.
- TONY: (NARRATING) Suddenly the throne room held three new figures: Eberon, Prince of Faery and son of Oberon the King of the realm of light; Finbarra, likewise a Prince of Faery and son of Finyarra the King of the realm of darkness; and, standing beside his sister, the Summer King.
- EBERON: I take it you have a good reason for interrupting two Princes of Faery and summoning them here, mortal?
- FINBARRA: Yes, I grow tired of being at your beck and call.
- TONY: My apologies. You are here as witnesses to the passing of the King of Summer and the Queen of Winter — and to ensure that no one uses the events of this day as an excuse for war.
- QUEEN: You impress me more and more, human. I am almost sorry that our acquaintance has necessarily been so brief.
- KING: So you worked it out? How did you know that my sister’s death would result in my passing as well?
- TONY: It seemed logical. You share everything including susceptibility to the scepter.
- KING: Well, sister? Do you have the courage necessary?
- QUEEN: I believe so. Are you content, dear brother?
- KING: I am.
- QUEEN: So be it!
- SOUND:  CRACKLING OF ELECTRICITY — LET IT FINISH UNDER.
- QUEEN AND KING: (DYING CRIES) Aaargh!
- 551. TONY: (NARRATING) It’s said that the fae always get the better of any deal they participate in. I guess it all depends on your perspective. The Queen of Winter got what she wanted. Claire was freed and there wasn’t going to be a war. For a little while, I thought I might have made it out of this mess slightly to the good. I should have known better.
- SOUND:  CHIMES — LOTS AND LOTS OF CHIMES — LET THEM FINISH.
- CLAIRE: (NARRATING) While the Queen whose debt had held me bound for almost all my living memory lay at our feet, the air began to shimmer around us and several dozen fae lords and ladies began arriving, popping into existence around us like so many ghosts.
- TONY: Fred? What’s going on?
- FRED: The fae are nigh immortal, Tony. You can’t just kill them.
- TONY: I don’t understand. I thought nigh immortal meant a little bit not!
- FRED: Yeah, that’s right… but only a little bit.
- SOUND:  (WALLA) A HIGH MUSICAL CHANT BEGINS, RISING AND FALLING ROUND ABOUT — ESTABLISH AND UNDER.
- TONY: Who are they? What are they doing?
- FRED: They’re restoring the balance. The loss of the King of Summer and the Queen of Winter has the potential to throw out the balance of the world, both fae and mortal.
- TONY: But…
- FRED: Don’t panic, boss. That’s why these others are here. They are the kin and kith of the dead King and Queen. They have come to restore the balance.
- MOON KING: The sword speaks true, mortal. I am Luna the Moon King, and I confirm its words. Our kin lie dead but they will not remain so.
- CLAIRE: Tony, look!
- TONY: (NARRATING) Two shapes began to form above the bodies, rising like steam and coalescing into the forms of a young man and woman, the same, but different to the pair who had died. As I watched, the bodies on the ground faded from view, leaving only the newcomers to mark their passing.
- SOUND:  (WALLA) CHANTING ENDS.
- MOON KING: Welcome, King of Summer, Queen of Winter. Your realms await you.
- KING AND QUEEN: Thank you, my lord.
- QUEEN: (BEAT) Don’t look so surprised, Tony Wells. The realms of the fae are far more complex than you suppose.
- TONY: But you know who I am. You remember me. What was it all for?
- QUEEN: Do not make the mistake of believing I am the same person as she who ruled the Winter before my coming. I have access to her memories, but I am another. I am here afresh and new. Unlike her, I have not been jaded by the passing of years. She is gone.
- MOON KING: And she is mourned along with her brother. (TO TONY) Technically, we cannot hold you responsible for this loss, mortal. But do not believe we hold you innocent of her blood, and that of her brother’s, either. If by word or deed we are ever presented with a means of being revenged upon you for the grief of this day, be assured we will make use of it. You know we speak only the truth, mortal. Consider yourself warned.
- TONY: (NARRATING) And with that, they were gone.
- I took Claire back to the city. She was surprisingly quiet for someone who never seemed at a loss for words. I decided I wasn’t going to break the silence and devoted myself to the contemplation of how little twenty-five dollars a day (plus expenses) seemed to be in light of recent events.
Fred, after giving me several cheerful warnings about watching my back in future, went quietly into the corner of my office. He says I’m beginning to show a knack for dealing with the fae. I think he was trying to be encouraging, but all I could think of was the other thing he said — that no one ever gets the better of the fae in a deal.
- MUSIC:  CLOSING THEME AND CREDITS — LET IT FINISH.
CASTING SHEETS — MAJOR CHARACTERS
TONY WELLS: I used to work as a detective in the City Police Department. Now I’m a private detective in a city full of liars, cheats, killers, and con-men. You’d think that would have made me a cynic. And I guess it has a little. But underneath the hard-boiled exterior, I actually give a damn. I do this job because I want to keep people safe from the animals and predators who roam the dark side of the city. I believe in heroes, or at least I want to believe in them.
CLAIRE TEMPLETON: I’m the crime reporter for the Star City Tribune. I know everyone in this town from the mayor down to the guys who pick up your garbage at four in the morning. I’m good at my job too, which is why I get myself into so many scrapes and tight corners. I’m fearless, determined, and always get my story — even when there’s no one with the courage to print it!
MAGIC SWORD (FRED): I’m a magical sword and I inherit my personality from the world around me. I’m a wise-talking smart alec who’s always laughing at the expense of my owner. Possibly because I can’t be destroyed — magical remember — I see myself as superior to ordinary mortals. Nothing bothers me particularly and I love giving advice. I will probably be advising my new master on the proper etiquette for being swallowed by a dragon while he is being munched upon.
QUEEN OF WINTER: I am hard, cruel, and beautiful. But, aside from the turning of the seasons, there is little that changes in my world. What I wouldn’t give for an end to the eternal cycles and repetitions. Or even a nice thousand years of war!
I have learned to entertain myself at the expense of those foolish inhabitants of the mortal realms…and the mortals interest me so. They can lie and they can be so unpredictable. Maybe there is an opportunity to be seized here as well.
KING OF SUMMER: I am self-indulgent, decadent, corrupt even. What? I am fae. I cannot lie, even to myself. I live to indulge my senses and be entertained. My sister tells me I am wasting eternity. But what can I do? Should I rail against my lot as she does? No, I am a coward, true, but a comfortable coward and, while I am as sick of the monotony as she is, I would still rather dance, sing, and feast my way through the centuries.
CASTING SHEETS — MINOR CHARACTERS
NARRATOR: Hello, I am your narrator. I introduce the cold stormy nights on which our stories take place, the dark alleys, and darker personalities who inhabit the lonely city. It is my job to set the scene and establish the serious tone of suspense and intrigue that will carry the story forward. It is also my job to remind listeners of what came before in a calm, trustworthy voice, and ensure that everyone is oriented to where we are and where we are going.
EBERON: I am Eberon, Protector of the Covenant, and son of Oberon, high king, and lord of all the light realms of the fae. Perhaps you have heard of me. Even in the mortal realm, my father’s name is still known — if only because of that English bard. My fate is bound to the protection of the covenant between the dark, light, and mortal realms. For thousands of years, the covenant has kept the animosity between our various peoples in check. A new and inexperienced mortal protector has now taken up the mantle as well. What this means for us all is hard to say.
FINBARRA: I am Finbarra, Protector of the Covenant, and son of Finyarra, high king, and lord of all the dark realms of the fae. I care not whether you have heard of me any more than I care what a mortal’s opinion is on any matter at all. Like Eberon, my fate is bound to the protection of the covenant between the dark, light, and mortal realms. Unlike Eberon, I chafe under the restrictions that this places upon me. For thousands of years the covenant has kept the animosity between our various peoples in check, and now a new and inexperienced mortal protector has taken up the mantel. The moment is rife with opportunity but for now, I will wait and watch.
THE MOON KING: I am Luna, clan chieftain to the Queen of Winter and the King of Summer. I am old, even as it is reckoned among the immortals. It is I who must maintain the balance… and it is I who must act to avenge my clan should anyone threaten it!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Philip Craig Robotham grew up in a house full of books and has held numerous jobs as a teacher, computer programmer, graphic and web designer, e-learning consultant and, most recently, writer. He currently lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and two sons. When he was younger and fitter he enjoyed martial arts, but in recent years his hobbies have tended towards more sedate fare (board games, movies, books, and role-playing games).
He is extremely grateful for the encouragement he receives from his biggest fans — his wife and two boys — all of whom read and enjoy his scripts and in general make his life worth living.
You can contact the author regarding performance rights (or simply to say hello) through his website: https://www.weirdworldstudios.com.
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