LampLight Radio Play, Episode 204
“Small Town Immortals”
Based on the Short Story by Valerie Alexander
Adapted by Andrew Wardlaw
Note: Our Narrator in the story is ANNALISE, early to mid 20s. When called “Narrator,” the lines play like outside voiceover. When called “Annalise,” she is in the scene, interacting with other characters.
SFX: Country field. Cicadas and bugs.
NARRATOR: Everyone in my town knew about my father. How eight years ago, he got in a drunken fight, got stabbed in the leg, and shot the other man dead.: They also knew how he spent the next two years getting drunker and drunker, until he drove his truck off the road into a ravine and died.
SFX: Nighttime crickets.
NARRATOR: Everyone knew. Everyone. That included the son of the man that my dad killed…
SFX: Fade in heavy breathing. Two people making out.
NARRATOR: The former star of the football team, who had been way too cool for me before all this happened. Brian.
ANNALISE: Holy Crap, Brian.
BRIAN: Did you, uh…?
ANNALISE: Oh, yeah.
NARRATOR: But we never talked about that.
BRIAN: How’s your back?
ANNALISE: Totally fine. That was great.
NARRATOR: Tonight, we were in the Tarnoff’s basement. It was empty, the house had been on the market for weeks now. We’d jimmied open the back door, and were now laying the blankets on the floor, a battery powered lantern in the corner casting shadows that twisted the walls.
BRIAN: You see the wet bar over there? Mr. Tarnoff loved it, he’d let us come over and drink. I wished you been there, you’d have loved it.
ANNALISE: That…doesn’t sound like my scene.
BRIAN: That’s what I mean, it wasn’t anyone’s scene, you’d have cracked up. He’d come down and mix us drinks and have these man-to-man talks with us about when he was young and cool.
ANNALISE: Mixed drinks in high school?
BRIAN: Right? It was always just so awkward.
ANNALISE: I didn’t do that stuff in high school.
BRIAN: I know. It still would have been fun to have you there. And speaking of mixed drinks…
SFX: He sloshes a liquor bottle.
BRIAN: Brought a treat.
ANNALISE: I can’t. Working tonight.
BRIAN: Ah, who’s gonna know?
ANNALISE: Oh! I actually gotta go, now. It’s almost eleven.
SFX: She starts getting dressed.
ANNALISE: Schraeder’s store, maybe?
BRIAN: Oo, adventurous, I like it.
ANNALISE (walking over): I gotta go.
She gives him a quick peck and leaves.
BRIAN: See ya.
SFX: She slides open the backdoor…
RURAL YARD – NIGHT
SFX: Crickets. She slides the backdoor shut, walks across the grass.
NARRATOR: No one knew about Brian and I were seeing each other. He was 26, I was 24, but for the past four months we’d been sneaking around like high schoolers out after curfew.
SFX: She opens her car door, gets inside. Shuts the door. THUNK.
NARRATOR: We had lots of choices, because every year more dairy farms went bankrupt, so every month a few more houses were on the market.
SFX: A door opens. A talk show plays over the radio.
ANNALISE: Hey, Wyatt.
WYATT: Hey, Annalise.
NARRATOR: I work the night shift in the bakery. It’s me and Wyatt, mixing and decorating while the town sleeps, so their cakes and cookies are fresh in the morning. Wyatt is 18, and has been helping me for the past month or so, since he got out of rehab after a heroine overdose, actually. But I like him. He’s working on his 90-day chip.
TALKSHOW: Welcome to the nightly phenomenon, and the phones are open. Call us with your paranormal experiences, theories…
ANNALISE: They talking aliens or ghosts?
WYATT: They actually just played a recording of Bigfoot’s speech. You missed it.
ANNALISE: Where are you on bigfoot?
WYATT: I believe in everything but ghosts. So, there’s a birthday cake for Mrs. Murphy, I’m getting the french bread started.
SFX: Annalise washes her hands.
ANNALISE: I believe in ghosts.
ANNALISE: Ghosts make sense. People die and leave things unfinished.
SFX: Tools clank around, sheet metal trays slide on the sheet metal table, etc.
WYATT: Did the half-sheets get moved?
ANNALISE: I don’t know. Check the front rack.
WYATT: You ever see your dad after he died? Like in a dream, or waking up to him by your bed or anything like that?
ANNALISE: What? No.
WYATT: Would you want to?
ANNALISE: Absolutely. What about you, and your mom?
WYATT: Yeah, I saw her once or twice, I guess.
ANNALISE: What? Where?
WYATT: Still looking for half-sheets.
ANNALISE: Hey, right next to you.
WYATT: Oh, look at that.
NARRATOR: Like I said. I liked him.
BAKERY – LATER
SFX: Washing dishes. The radio is now playing outdated heavy metal.
NARRATOR: Hours later, as we were doing the dishes, he says:
WYATT: Hey, when we finish up, you should come by my grandma’s house.
WYATT: There’s something I wanna show you, only takes five minutes. It’s one of my Grandma’s weird things.
ANNALISE: Yeah. Okay.
NARRATOR: Even rubbed-out towns have their rich people, and ours was Wyatt’s grandmother, Grace Magellan. She lived in an enormous brick house that looked right out of the civil war, but it was the pond out back that really made her famous.
Decades ago, her eight year old son drowned in it, and for as long as I can remember, it’s been rumored to be haunted. Teens would go party there, occasionally come back with ghost stories, until she built a wall around the entire property.
The stories didn’t go away, though.: Today, the only people living in the house are Grace and Wyatt. Wyatt’s mom died a few years back. Cancer.
The sun was just rising when we got to Wyatt’s house.
SFX: A door creaks open.
NARRATOR: The inside of Grace’s mansion wasn’t nearly as lavish as I expected.
WYATT: Wipe off your feet.
NARRATOR: The furniture was dated; the TV was a bulky set with a cable box on the top; framed photos covered the walls. Wyatt lead me to an office in the back of the house.
SFX: An interior door opens.
WYATT: Keep your voice down. She’s asleep.
ANNALISE: I though old people woke up early.
WYATT: She stays up all night with them.
WYATT: You ready for this?
WYATT: These people.
NARRATOR: He points to the photos on the walls. They are photos of Grace standing by herself, from the past decades, standing around the pond. In most of them, her skin was pale and blue, washed out from a camera flash.
WYATT: This is the best one.
NARRATOR: He taps another photo of Grace. Looks no different from the others.
ANNALISE: Who took these?
WYATT: I did. Well, my mom took some of them before she died. They can’t hold a camera, you know. Growing up, I thought they were real people.
ANNALISE: I don’t see anyone.
WYATT: Really? Well then…
SFX: A desk drawer opens.
NARRATOR: He starts rummaging in the desk drawer. I glance out the window, notice this old woman walking up from the pond. She’s carefully carrying a tea set, with her frazzled white hair almost glowing the morning sun.
ANNALISE: Um, your grandma’s coming in from outside.
WYATT: Shit. Here.
NARRATOR: He pulls out an old, leather bound journal-looking book and shoves it into my hands.
WYATT: Take this home, read it, and we’ll talk. Let’s get you out of here before she sees.
NARRATOR: It was all so ridiculous, hiding from an old woman, but my heart was pounding as I raced out the front door to my car and went home.
When I got home, I stretched out on my bed and opened the book.: It was Grace Magellan’s diary, and it covered about two years, from 1958 to 1960, starting a few month after her son, Eric, had died.
Grace wasn’t doing well. For starters, she hated anyone who had living children, which seemed to be basically everyone she knew. But also, she visited a fortune teller. She went to some sketchy shop in “the city,” and then She was furious that the potion she had bought was a fake. She seethed about frauds who refused to help her, who pretended “it” was impossible.: But on May 3rd, 1959, she wrote this:
“It seems the ad may have worked, and I am hopeful that I have found a real one. He proved his skills by sending a fetch to our clock all the way from his home in Oakland. I put the check in the mail this afternoon.”
After that, there’s no mention of the spell until eleven months later. She writes: “The trick from Oakland didn’t work. Instead, we have a beautiful girl we have named Lisa Michelle, and I’m confident that I will love her very much.”
The only thing I could put together was Lisa Michelle was Wyatt’s mom.
NARRATOR: Without meaning to, I had read the entire journal in a one sitting.
SFX: A phone vibrates on the counter.
NARRATOR: I was getting myself ready to get some sleep when Brian called. He didn’t like to text, it could give away our secret.
ANNALISE: Hey, I’m getting ready for bed.
BRIAN (Over Phone): I called in sick. Wanna meet me at Caleb’s house? Him and his girlfriend are in Madison all weekend for Taylor Barrow’s wedding.
ANNALISE: I haven’t slept yet.
BRIAN (Over Phone): Come on, you can sleep there. We’ll have the whole house to ourselves. We can even…use a bed.
ANNALISE: Mm, sounds romantic.
She spits into the sink.
ANNALISE: Yeah, let’s do it.
BRIAN: Hey, you aren’t asleep, are you?
BRIAN: Whatcha thinking about?
ANNALISE: The Magellan’s. You?
BRIAN: I can’t believe Taylor Barrow’s getting married. I mean, Taylor Barrow.
ANNALISE: Why not?
BRIAN: All his theater crap in high school, I guess.
BRIAN: I thought he was gay, is all. I mean, who knows, maybe he is. I don’t know if you saw, there was a memorial on Facebook–his brother shot himself last year.
ANNALISE: That’s awful.
BRIAN: Yeah. Yeah, some people shouldn’t own guns.
ANNALISE: I need to sleep.
SFX: She rolls over in the bed.
BRIAN: Do you think suicide is murder?
ANNALISE: Why are we talking about guns and murder?
BRIAN: I…I think we should be able to talk about the things that matter.
NARRATOR: I looked him in the eyes, they looked very blue against the white pillowcase. I never really got to look at his eyes in high school.
ANNALISE: He’s my father, and I still miss him, no matter what.
BRIAN: You miss living with a murderer?
ANNALISE: I knew you’d do this someday.
SFX: She gets out of bed, starts getting dressed.
BRIAN: I don’t blame you. You’re not responsible for his crimes, but look what he did to my family.
ANNALISE: Self defense isn’t a crime.
BRIAN: Look, you’re right…we shouldn’t talk about it.
ANNALISE: A little late for that.
BRIAN: For what it’s worth, I consider you and your mom as much his victims as my family.
SFX: The door shuts. The Talk Show plays on the radio, again.
NARRATOR: That night at work, with Wyatt:
ANNALISE: Here’s that book back.
WYATT: Yeah, about that…my Grandma has invited you over after work.
ANNALISE: Why? What’d you tell her?
WYATT: Nothing. I guess she just figured it out. She does that, sometimes.
ANNALISE: Um, okay. Should I be worried about going over there?
WYATT: Naw, you’ll be fine. You should give the book back, yourself.
NARRATOR: Grace Magellan was up, even though it was almost five o’clock and still dark.
GRACE: Thank you for coming over.
NARRATOR: She led me to her formal living room. She brought in some tea and some weird cookies.
FORMAL LIVING ROOM
GRACE: Wyatt’s told me about the car wreck. How’s your back?
ANNALISE: It’s mostly healed. I still have to be careful, but I think I’ll be able to go back to college in the Spring.
GRACE: And how’s Brian?
ANNALISE: Good, I guess. I don’t see him much.
GRACE: Oh, very good. Before we get to why I asked you here, I understand Wyatt gave you something of mine?
ANNALISE: Yes. I have it here.
SFX: She hands it over.
ANNALISE: I wasn’t going to keep it.
GRACE: Did you read it?
ANNALISE: I did, but I didn’t understand most of it.
GRACE: Wyatt’s never really understood it either. What did you understand?
ANNALISE: Uh, after your son died, you tried a spell to bring him back, but it didn’t work? Like I said, I didn’t really understand it–
GRACE: –Yes, he died when he was eight. He drowned in the pond out back.
ANNALISE: I’m sorry to hear that.
GRACE: The spell wasn’t to resurrect him, but that I would get pregnant, and the baby would be Eric, reborn. And shortly after doing it, I got pregnant, but the baby was Lisa. Which was also a blessing.
But a few years later, I was playing with our dog in the pond, and he got me soaking wet, and that night, I heard Eric’s voice outside, calling me. I thought I was hearing things, of course, but after several hours of this, I went outside, and I could hear him down by the pond.
I rushed to the water, and there he was…just as fine and as healthy as he could be. And I realized he wasn’t alone. There was half of the town’s dead behind him.
GRACE: So if you’ve seen me hosting a party by the lake, that’s who I’m hosting it for.
ANNALISE: So…is my dad there?
GRACE: All you have to do is drink some of the water from the pond, and we’ll see what you see. Think it over for a few days, take your time. Now, I have my hosting duties that I need to attend to, if you’ll excuse me. And thank you for coming over.
Grace stands up to leave.
ANNALISE: I’m in.
GRACE: Okay. Let’s go visit the pond.
SFX: Country night. Crickets. Their footsteps as they walk through the grass.
NARRATOR: The pond was surrounded by mowed grass, and a couple massive willows. She led me towards the water, picked a tea cup and saucer up from a tray that was resting on a table.: She dipped the cup into the water, placed it back on the saucer, and handed them to me.
SFX: The cup rattling on the saucer.
GRACE: It only takes one sip.
SFX: Annalise sips it.
NARRATOR: It tasted like pond water.
ANNALISE: Did it work?
GRACE: I was going to ask you the same thing.
ERIC: Mom, who’s this?
GRACE: Eric, this is my friend, Annalise. She’s a friend of Wyatt’s, too.
ERIC: Are you alive?
ANNALISE: I am.
ERIC: Oh. Nice to meet you.
SFX: people chatting.
NARRATOR: We were suddenly in the middle of party. I recognized many of them. Mrs. Newton, my first grade teacher. Bradley Caron, a track star who dropped dead from an undiagnosed heart defect during his senior year.: And then another woman walked up, who looked just like Wyatt. His Mom.
LISA: You Roger’s daughter? How old are you?
LISA: You should be going to real parties.
NARRATOR: Then I noticed a rugged blonde man in a flannel shirt. Brian’s dad. Then:
NARRATOR: It was shocking how familiar his voice was.
NARRATOR: I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed as hard as I could…he was solid, but wasn’t warm. Like hugging a soft mannequin. But I didn’t let go.
ROGER: I’m glad you came. Goddam, look at you, you’re a goddam adult now. Ha! Just beautiful.
ANNALISE: What…have you been doing?
ROGER: No, no, no, me first. Come on, let’s sit. I heard you hurt your back in an accident?
ANNALISE: Yeah, but it’s better now. Almost completely healed…
NARRATOR: He grilled me for the next 10 minutes, until the sky started to turn blue.
POND – DAWN
ROGER: Alright, it’s my bed time.
ANNALISE: Oh come on, I don’t get to ask you anything?
ROGER: I know, I know. Come back tonight. And…bring Brian with you.
ROGER: His father wants to see him.
ANNALISE: He couldn’t handle this in a million years.
ROGER: Just bring him.
ANNALISE: I’ll do what I can. See you tonight.
NARRATOR: I gave him another hug. He was still cold.
ANNALISE: Did you mean to drive off the road?
ROGER: I don’t know. I meant to get very drunk and I knew that I’d be driving.
NARRATOR: He was starting to fade in the sunlight, like a reflection on a window.
ANNALISE: Bye, Dad.
ROGER (fading): Bye, Annie-girl.
NARRATOR: As I walked through Grace’s house, I stopped to look at the photos on her wall.
ANNALISE: No way.
NARRATOR: Now, standing next to Grace, I could see the other people in the photo with her. Mostly, they stood with stale, awkward smiles. In Wyatt’s favorite photo, there were five people making funny faces, but like they’re dead–: you know, tongues out, head drooping onto their shoulders–while Grace stood in the middle and laughed.
FORMAL LIVING ROOM
SFX: Wine pours into a glass.
GRACE: Make sure you try the wine. It’s a special blend.
BRIAN: Yeah. Yeah, it’s good.
NARRATOR: To get Brian to come with me, I told him that Grace remembered him from his football days, and wanted to give him something.
GRACE: As I was telling Annalise, your father built a fountain on the property here, and I realized you had probably never seen it. You must miss your father.
BRIAN: Sure, but I actually don’t like to talk about him very much.
BRIAN: I dunno.
GRACE: Alright, let’s go out back.
POND – DUSK
SFX: Crickets and footsteps.
NARRATOR: It was still dusk when we went out back, and when we arrived at the pond, there was no one there. It was just the three of us.
BRIAN: So where’s the fountain?
GRACE: There’s something I want to show you, first.
LISA: And now you’ve brought the football hero.
GRACE: –Lisa! Please.
BRIAN: I didn’t see you, hi. I’m Brian.
LISA: Lisa. You don’t need to listen to her, you know.
GRACE: She’s right about, that, Brian. I’m not holding you here.
LISA: Have fun.
BRIAN (to Annalise): Who was that? And where did…woah.
NARRATOR: Next, Danny Ruiz–who died in a boating accident on graduation night–: walked out of the lake.
BRIAN: Okay. Okay, that looks like Danny.
ANNALISE: Remember all those stories about the pond being haunted? It’s kind of true. The dead can come here, and we can talk to them.
BRIAN: What? You’re messing with me…
NARRATOR: Then Brian’s Dad walked out of the water in front of us.
BRIAN’S DAD: Hey bud!
BRIAN: I don’t…I don’t understand what’s happening.
BRIAN’S DAD: I’m here. At Grace’s pond.
BRIAN: You’re real?
BRIAN’S DAD: Real enough.
BRIAN: I’m sorry, why the hell is he here?
NARRATOR: He saw my Dad come out of the lake.
BRIAN (to Roger): Hey! You! Get out of here.
BRIAN’S DAD: Woah, woah, take a breath, buddy. He’s not doing anything.
BRIAN: But, no, he shouldn’t be where you are.
BRIAN’S DAD: Just calm it down a moment.
BRIAN: I’m not falling for this.
NARRATOR: And he walked off.
BY THE HOUSE
ANNALISE: Hey. Hold up.
BRIAN: Is this your revenge for our fight or something?
ANNALISE: What? No.
BRIAN: If you’re not in on it, then you’re falling for it.
ANNALISE: Hey, stop. STOP. Take a moment, think about it. All those people who swore they saw ghosts here?
BRIAN: No. Uh-uh, no way. Now I know they’re fucking with me.
NARRATOR: I follow Brian’s gaze, and I see his dad, standing next to my dad. They have their backs to us, but his dad is obviously upset. They lean their heads together…they don’t look like friends. They look married.
BRIAN (yelling): Fuck all of you!
NARRATOR: All the ghosts turn to look at us, our Dad’s quickly separate, but Brian’s already storming off. I let him go.
SFX: She approaches.
BRIAN’S DAD: He saw us, huh?
ANNALISE: Yeah. We both did.
ROGER: He just needs some time.
BRIAN’S DAD: I know.
ANNALISE: Is this new? Like, since the pond?
ROGER: No, no, we’d been together for a few years the night he died.
BRIAN’S DAD: It was my fault. I was mad and drunk and had a knife…your dad was just defending himself.
ROGER: We both did stupid things that night.
ROGER: Are you okay with this?
ANNALISE: Yeah. I’m okay. But I need to come back tomorrow.
SFX: She walks off. Sniffling. Confused.
NARRATOR: So on the one hand, I didn’t care. But on the other, I kept found myself revisiting my entire childhood, sometimes thinking “Oh, that’s why…”, and other times going “Was my whole childhood a lie.”
SFX: She shuts the car door.
NARRATOR: But, in the end, it was my dad. I came back the next night, and almost every night that September. Brian did not come back. He broke up with me the next morning, in a tJust, “I can’t see you anymore.”
SFX: Mixing and noises. Heavy metal on the radio.
NARRATOR: Before I knew it, it was almost Halloween. Wyatt and I were busy making black cat sugar cookies, making orange frosting for pumpkin cupcakes.
WYATT: Hey, turn that off and check this out.
She turns off the radio.
ANNALISE: What’s up?
SFX: He slaps something on the table.
WYATT: 90-day chip.
ANNALISE: Nice! So…how do you celebrate that?
WYATT: By leaving this town. Car’s packed, I called the owners…Lord help me, this will be the last time I stay up till sunrise ever.
ANNALISE: So you’re leaving tonight?
WYATT: Yup. Gonna stay with an uncle in New Jersey, find a job.
ANNALISE: Well, I’ll miss you.
WYATT: When are you leaving?
SFX: Music turns back on.
WYATT: Your back’s all healed up, right?
ANNALISE: Pretty much. I don’t know. I want to talk to my dad some more.
WYATT: Pond’s going to freeze up soon, but they’ll stop coming before then. The colder the water gets, the harder it is for the them to come through.
ANNALISE: I noticed it was less crowded.
WYATT: By Thanksgiving, for sure.
ANNALISE: Well, let’s try to get you out early. Hey…Congrats.
NARRATOR: After we finished and I said a final goodbye to Wyatt, I went back to the pond.
THE POND – NIGHT
NARRATOR: It was brisk. The occasional gust of wind cut through my hoodie.
ANNALISE: Dad? Are you there?
NARRATOR: Also, none the party guests were there. It was just me.
NARRATOR: Lisa, Wyatt’s mom, walked out of the lake.
LISA: Hey there.
LISA: I hear Wyatt’s leaving tomorrow. How’s he doing?
ANNALISE: He’s doing well. And yeah, he is. He didn’t tell you?
LISA: No, he doesn’t come by here, anymore.
ANNALISE: I’m sorry.
LISA: It’s alright. He grew up by this lake. Then he stopped coming here, and it seems like he’s doing better.
ANNALISE: He does miss you.
LISA: Yeah, I think so, too. But it’s you guys’s turn, now. (she shivers): I used to like this time of year.
ANNALISE: If you want, I’ll tell Wyatt you said good bye.
NARRATOR: –But she had disappeared. I looked up to the house, Grace was coming with her tea-set, and coldness rose up inside me. For a moment, I literally thought I was standing in the water.
ANNALISE: Dad, are you coming tonight?
DAD (distant): Go.
ANNALISE: Dad, was that you?
ROGER (distant): Go. You can go.
ANNALISE: Okay, Dad. Love you.
That was “Small Town Immortals”
Based on the story by Valerie Alexander, found in Volume 6, Issue 1
- Annalise – Grace Bosley
- Brian – Aaron Veach
- Wyatt – Austin Heemstra
- Grace Magellan – MarLee Candell
- Lisa – Miriam Katz
- Annalise’s Dad, Rodger – Dean Cameron
- Brian’s Dad – Greg Ivan Smith
- The Radio Caller – Jeffery Williams
And the radio host was a special cameo by Jack Ward, audio writer, producer, director and founder of the Sonic Society, Electric Vicuna Productions, and now the Mutual Audio Network.
Adapted and Produced by Andrew Wardlaw
The line that caught me when I first read this story was: “Everyone was immortal in a small town.”
I grew up in a small town, listening to its stories, and immediately related to this. We tell these stories at BBQ’s and church functions. We pass them down, generation to generation, so much so that the people who came before are as much of the community as those who live there now. We know the stories better than we know the people.
And what haunts a small town, isn’t always truth.
You can find more stories like this in the pages of LampLight magazine. You can get a subscription on our website and we will send ebooks to you inbox or Kindle
I’m Jacob Haddon, editor of LampLight magazine
The LampLight Radio Play is produced by Andrew Wardlaw and Myself.
You can follow us on iTunes, Soundcloud, Spotify, or direct on the website. lamplightmagazine.com
See you next time.