written by Eli Barraza
directed & produced by Mischa Stanton
[[SFX: Peri walks down a dirt road in a forest. She shivers.]]
PERI: Shoulda brought a scarf.
[[SFX: Peri stops.]]
PERI: What’s a church doing out here...
[[SFX: She approaches the church and ascends the wooden steps. She knocks.]]
PERI: Hello? Is the priest home? Anybody here?
[[SFX: Silence but for the muted forest tones.]]
PERI: It’s not rude to go into a church right? They’re there for people to just, go in? Like the movies? Okay, this is the first building you’ve come across here. Maybe go a bit further ways down and if there’s nothing more for a while, then come back and maybe peek in.
[[SFX: Peri turns to descend the steps. A loud snap from the woods stops her. She gasps and holds still. There’s movement in the trees. She spins round and attempts to open the door. It sticks.]]
PERI: C’mon, c’mon.
[[SFX: She bursts through door.]]
[[SFX: Ace opens the passenger door of the car, startling Peri awake.]]
ACE: Peri, I can’t get back behind the wheel unless I sleep.
PERI: But there’s no hotels around here.
ACE: Yeah, you’re right. Which is why you’re driving.
[[SFX: Ace dangles a jangling key chain.]]
PERI: I can’t drive.
ACE: You have a learner’s permit.
PERI: Which means I can only drive with a licensed driver 25 years or older. Last I checked you’re not 25.
ACE: And last I checked, it was dangerous for someone to drive with barely any sleep.
ACE: Do you really want to stay in a parking lot while I nap, with Barry the Trucker staring at you from his snot-encrusted cab?
PERI: I thought that was cheese.
ACE: How does that make it any better? Look, I’m about to keel over and I don’t think we should stay much longer at this gas station. You’re the one who’s been sleeping the whole time, will you please, for the love of--
[[SFX: Peri’s voice shakes as she snatches the keys from her brother’s hand.]]
PERI: I said fine, are you happy now?
ACE: Peri, I didn’t…
PERI: I’ll drive the stupid car to the stupid tourist trap and we’ll see stupid things and go to stupid restaurants and I can embarrass myself because I only know stupid English!
ACE: I’m sorry–
PERI: But I want one of those stupid palm tree keychains if I’m gonna do this.
[[SFX: Peri gets up and moves around the car to the driver's side. Ace sits and closes his door.]]
ACE: Thanks, sis.
[[SFX: Peri starts the car, buckles her seat belt, and pulls out of the parking lot. Ace settles in to sleep.]]
[[SFX: Peri shuts the church door behind her and lets out a sigh.]]
PERI: Huh. Pretty plain church. Not like the one Heidi went to.
[[SFX: Peri walks down the aisle and takes a seat on a pew.]]
PERI: Hello? I didn’t mean to bother you, if you’re here. There was a sound and I got scared and this was the only place to hide. If you don’t mind, which I hope you don’t and if you do then… I’ll go I guess.
PERI: I guess there’s no one here... Well, I suppose some people would say there’s always someone here. Not me though. Not that I think nobody is here one hundred percent, just that... I dunno, I’m not sure? I don’t mean any disrespect, of course. I just…
[[SFX: Peri moves forward on the pew]]
PERI: I have a hazy memory of a church as a child. Neither of my parents were the churchgoing types. I don’t know why and it’s never come up. I’ll have to ask when I see them. If I see them, I mean. Maybe we’re Jewish or Buddhist and I didn’t know. More likely than not, we’re nothing. Nothing but heathens. Ha.
I didn’t know that word when I was kid. Heathen. But that’s what I felt like the one time I went to a church. I went for my friend Heidi’s first communion. The place was really beautiful.
[[SFX: A church choir sings.]]
PERI: The stained glass windows casting rainbows on the white dresses, their veils a cascade of color. It was all so… grand? Like seeing a picturesque mountain from far away, knowing you’d never climb it but enjoying the view.
[[SFX: A mountain wind blows the choir's song away.]]
PERI: Except for the statue. The Jesus they had on the, what was it called? A, um. Crucifix? He looked twisted. I remember his agonizing eyes boring down on me, begging me to do something. Why wasn’t I doing anything? "I’m not like them!" I felt like screaming. "I don’t follow you! I don’t know what to do!" Apparently he was supposed to be left there, left to suffer for them.
The incense made me cough. It was hot and stuffy. My dress was itchy. It took forever to get to the part where Heidi got her little piece of bread. We got her a necklace as a gift. A rosary. I stumbled over the word and Heidi’s grandmother was appalled that this was the first time I’d been to church.
[[SFX: A church crowd mills.]]
PERI: The old woman offered to take me sometime. She whispered the offer in my ear while my parents were busy with Heidi’s parents. Like a secret conspiracy to save my soul or something. She had on some foul perfume so I said no thank you. Trust your nose, you know?
I wonder what happened to her. Heidi, I mean. Not her grandmother. That old crustacean is probably in the ground by now.
[[SFX: Peri sighs and shifts in her seat
PERI: This place isn’t like that. It’s warm but not stifling. The pews are hard and a little creaky but well worn by people, the same people in and out every Sunday. I don’t think it’s Sunday considering this place is empty. The door wasn’t locked though. I didn’t question it but it’s weird. Who just leaves buildings unlocked? And yet… and yet I feel safe here and peaceful.
Maybe it’s the years of conditioning from the media. You rarely see some character walk into a temple or a mosque to sit and talk to their God. You’re not my God and yet here I am. I’m not sure if I believe in you. Can you hear me? How does it feel to have an uncertain existence? I guess you wouldn’t care if you’re not real. But it must be hurtful if you do exist. To have people say that you don’t. To have people hate you. To have people love you for the wrong reasons.
You’re easy to talk to, like Mo. My candle. I think it’s because I never know what people want out of a conversation but with you, I don’t even know if my conversation partner exists at all so I can’t really say the wrong thing, can I? I don’t run the risk of misunderstanding or being misunderstood. I can just talk. I don’t know if I feel comfortable just calling you God though. Makes it sound like I fully 100% believe in you, that I’ve thrown in my lot with the types that built this place. Mr. God, can I call you that? Feels like the appropriate amount of distance.
[[SFX: Fervent prayers.]]
PERI: People must ask you all sorts of questions. You’re very quiet so I suppose the question reveals more about the one who asks than any answer you could give. Is Mr. God too masculine? Though I suppose this church refers to you as the He with a capital H. Wait, lemme check.
[[SFX: Peri picks up a Bible and flips it open to find a page. She finds it, then puts the book down beside her.]]
PERI: Yep, the hymns here refer to you as "He" so given the current context, Mr. God is appropriate. See? I didn't even need you to get the answer I was looking for. Maybe that’s the point of asking you things. It sets a concrete idea that our brains can then process to answer ourselves. Good gracious, I’m probably spouting all sorts of heresy right now. Good thing it’s just you and me in here, right?
I think I like you, Mr. God. I like the version of you I believe you’d be if I believed in you beyond a reasonable doubt. Hmm, too bad I can’t take you with me. I think you’re only here, inside these walls, amidst the pews, at the altar. In the sad eyes of that Jesus over there. I feel like you’d be really helpful with this whole thing. Road trips are supposed to be better with a partner, and I’m not exactly on a road trip but I feel like it’d have that vibe if you came with me. But if you left, you wouldn’t be here for the real church goers and since you’re definitely real to them, you should stay here.
I’m sorry, I brought uncertainty into your home, and homes are safe because they feel certain... and I realize that I’ve violated that. So, I apologize and thank you for being so understanding.
[[SFX: Peri hesitates.]]
PERI: I used to have a partner. Sort of. I mean, I used to live with my brother. Even talking to you, he’s hard to talk about. He… disappeared. He left one morning for work and didn’t come back. Our parents had already moved out by that point, someplace sunnier and drier. Made a big difference for my dad’s breathing.
[[SFX: A man coughs.]]
PERI: So it was just Ace and me, and then it was just me. His full name’s Horace but he hated it so he went by Ace. I always thought he should be a pilot with a name like that. He took more to the sea than the air though.
[[SFX: Splashing waves.]]
PERI: I think it’s nice to talk to you about him. It’s hard and, um, it makes me think of things I’d rather forget about it but I think it’s nice.
[[SFX: Peri hesitates again. She sighs, and steels herself for what comes next.]]
PERI: I never went looking for him. I was so scared and worried but I was afraid that if I left whatever swallowed him up would get me too. He could be at the bottom of the ocean being eaten by fishes and I didn’t look for him. Our parents said not to worry. He was an adventurous type. How did they know that? He’d never been out of town except for a trip in middle school and then that stupid roadtrip. Maybe he was the type but never told me. But that still doesn’t explain why he never came back. He’s my big brother and he was supposed to come back. And I’m his little sister, and... I'm his little sister and I never went looking for him.
[[SFX: Peri cries softly.]]
PERI: This is the part where you’re supposed to say something if you’re one hundred percent real. But since I don’t think you are, you’re quiet. I think I’m supposed to look for him, aren’t I? I don’t think that’s why this is happening but I think it’s one of the things I can do while it’s happening. If that makes sense. But what if I look for him and I can’t find him? What if I look for him and I do?
[[SFX: Peri scuffs her feet on the floor]]
PERI: Do you mind if I take something with me? I passed a stack of extra hymnals in the back when I came in. I saw the music, I was hoping I could, I dunno, have one? A memento from my friend, Mr. God. Oh, uh, friend might be too strong, I understand we only just met. Properly met, I mean. As you know, I’ve heard about you for years. But I still feel like we’re friends now. I told you things I haven’t told anyone else so you’ve got some of my secrets and I hold the secret of your uncertain existence. So I think that qualifies as friendship. In a way.
[[SFX: Peri stands up.]]
PERI: Anyways, I should thank you. For helping me. Even though you didn’t mean to.
[[SOUND: Peri makes her way to the back of the church, stopping to grab a hymnal.]]
PERI: I think I’m supposed to make a sign? Or is that only for Catholics? Is this a Catholic church? I don’t know but I can tell the light’s getting darker so I should probably leave. I’ll grab a book on my way out. Hopefully you don’t mind. Or the people that believe that you’re one hundred percent real don’t mind.
[[SFX: Peri moves to the door.]]
PERI: Okay, deep breath. Open the door, run down the steps, run home, unlock the door, get in, close the door and lock it. Ready.
[[SFX: Peri takes a deep breath, then opens the door. She rushes down the steps and back along the dirt path.]]
GERMAN: Eh! Eh, du! Ich dachte, ich sah, dass jemand dort hineingeht! Hey, stop!
[[SFX: Peri pauses to look back at The German before speeding back to the lighthouse. She quickly unlocks the three locks, throws the door open and slams it behind her. She takes a moment to calm her breathing.]]
PERI: Gotta… keep... better… lookout.
[[SFX: She takes a few more moments to breathe. In. Out. In. Out.]]
PERI: Did you notice the light changing Mo? I’ve never seen it happen so fast. We must be north. Or south. Wherever they have short days and long nights, in whatever season we’re in. Gonna have to be careful about that next time. I’m just happy that guy didn’t catch up. Or girl. Or person. Or thing. Or…
Mo, I’m so tired of being scared. But I’m going to have to do things that scare me even more and… I think I’m going to become someone I can’t recognize but I’ll be looking for someone I may not recognize either. How are two people supposed to find each other when they’re no different than strangers on the street? I know he’s my brother but… I’m going to stop. I’m going to rest and I am going to figure out the next step tomorrow. If the me right now can’t do this, maybe the me tomorrow can. Good night, Mo.
The Far Meridian.
Created and written by Eli Barraza, directed and produced by Mischa Stanton.
Performed by Eli Barraza as Peri, Noah Gildermaster as Ace, and Julian Mundy as The German. Music by The Album Leaf.
For more information and links to support the show, go to TheFarMeridian.com, or find us on social media @TheFarMeridian.
We'll be back in two weeks. Until then, may you always find your way.