Flash in the pan

 

(This was designed as a short two-character western play, although I was never sure how I would stage having horses. I wanted to create a character conflict between two good characters and their dreams.  Most likely it would make for an hour TV drama similar to those that used to appear regularly in the 1950s. This could also serve as the subplot for another more active drive film script)

 

SCENE 1:

 

            (two prospectors, Territ and Bo, climb the mountain with horses and finally stop in a small notch in the rising hills)

 

TERRIT:

Damn it, Bo. This is the claim you staked out for us?

 

 

BO:

            (halting. He is a large bear-like man with broken front teeth and some Native American features. He rushes dust from his hair and eye brows)

 

            Iím sorry, Territ. Itís the best I could get.

 

TERRIT:

            Thatís what you said the last time.

 

            (Territ, who is a much smaller man, slips off his horse, surveys the rocky land of the rising hills above the notch.

 

            So whereís the water, Bo?

            How many times do I have to tell you we need water to prospect?

 

BO:

            (dismounting more clumsily)

 

            I couldnít find any places with water other people hadnít already claimed. I was lucky to get this place. You should have seen all the folks crowed the claims office.

 

TERRIT:

            Blood suckers from the east. Whisper gold anywhere in this country and you can a stampede of fools looking to cash in.

 

            (Pulls a half smoked cigar from his pocket, dusts it off, sticks it in the corner of his mouth, then strikes a match and lights it, sucking in the smoke in greedy gulps.)

 

            But itís more than lack of water that makes this place bad. I donít get a feeling for gold here. The stone is so thick, we could spend a year picking at it and never find anything.

 

BO:

            We got some dynamite.

            (taps a wooden box on the back of one of the horses.)

 

TERRIT:

            Not enough for this job.

            It serves me right letting you hunt up land.

 

BO:

            I got a hunch about this place, Territ. It felt right the first time I saw it.

 

TERRIT:

Youíve had hunches before

 

BO:

            Not like this one.

 

TERRIT:

            You and your hunches havenít got us much so far. Iím still living in a run down hotel in San Francisco. And youíve still got callused hands.

            You ought to go back to the ranches, Bo. At least youíd get a pay check to show for all your hard work.

 

BO:

            Iím never going back

 

TERRIT:

            Too proud, eh?

            Ashamed to go crawling back after all you said?

 

BO:

            I mean what I said.

            Theyíre all bastards, giving with one hand, taking it back with the other, working people to death for beans while the ranchers get rich.

            Iím never gonna work that hard again unless itís for myself.

 

TERRIT:

            Well, thereís plenty of work here for both of us.

            So we might just as well get started.

            But Iím telling you, Bo. This is the last time.

            If we donít find gold this time, Iím going back to San Francisco and my old way of life.

 

BO:     

            You canít do that, Territ. Theyíll hang you next time.

 

TERRIT:

            If they catch me.

 

BO:

            Theyíll catch you. They always do.

 

TERRIT:

            Stop with your dire predictions Theyíre more aggravating than your predictions of gold

            Just help me untie our gear. Itís going to be a cold night and hot tomorrow.

 

BO:

            (Untying the gear)

           

            Things are gonna be differ this time. Youíll see

 

TERRIT:

            It better be.

 

SCENE 2

            (Two days later with gear set up and Bo and Territ hard at work, a wrinkled faced rider in dusty clothing appears on the ridge above them and slowly rides down the slanted path to their camp)

 

STRANGER:

            Did you two get lucky yet?

 

TERRIT:

            (Leaning on a pick ax handle)

            Hell no.

 

STRANGER:

            Not many are from what Iíve heard at the claims office.

            It ainít like 49 when all you had to do was stick a shove in the ground to strike it rich.

 

BO:

            Iím sure weíll get what we came for it we keep at it.

 

STRANGER:

            Not if all you brought with you was a pick ax.

            If thereís gold in these rocks, youíre going to have to blast it out.

 

TERRIT:

            Weíll get by

 

STRANGER:

            I see youíve got your mind set

 

TERRIT:

            Yes, we do.

 

STRANGER:

            Well, watch your back just the same

            Thereís a bad lot in these parts thatíll watch you close and wait til you strike, then theyíll pounce on you.

 

TERRIT:

            We know how to handle ourselves against bandits

 

STRANGER:

            Maybe you do, and maybe you donít. But thereís plenty of bandits who donít come aí calling with a gun.

            Some even hide behind a badge.

 

BO:

            Weíll watch out.

 

TERRIT:

            (riding off)

            See ya.

 

TERRIT:

            (staring after the rider)

            Heís the first one Iím gonna watch out for.

 

SCENE 3

 

            (same place, hours later. Both men are sweating and busy and moving slowly. Bo halts, holds up a chunk of rock)

 

BO:     

            Hey, Territ. I think I found something.

 

TERRIT:

            (Halting with a sigh) Like what?

 

BO:

            Come see for yourself.

 

TERRIT:

            (climbs out of his hold to stand over the one in which Bo labors)

           

            All right. Iím here. So whatís the big surprise? Did you find gold or is an earthquake gonna hit?

 

BO:

            Look whatís in this piece of rock I found

            (Hands Territ a chuck of rock)

 

TERRIT:

            Pretty light for the rock weíve been chopping through.

 

BO:

            Look at the streak in it.

            Itís got glittery veins like gold

 

TERRIT:

            You idiot. Thatís not gold.

 

BO:

            It looks like gold

 

TERRIT:

            Thatís why itís called foolís gold because fools like you get fooled by it.

            True gold wouldnít crumble like this.

 

            (Territ crushes some of the stone between his fingers.

 

            And any stone that had true gold in it would be a darn side heavier than this stone is.

 

BO:

            Does that mean we wonít find real gold around here?

 

TERRIT:

            No.

            (drops the rockís remains as if dust)

            Some people claim foolís gold is a sign that thereís a big vein of real gold somewhere near by.

 

BO:

            See! What did I tell you?

 

TERRIT:

            I said some people believe that.

            I think itís a lot of talk, by fools believing in dreams.

            Iíve seen a lot of empty holes where people broke their backs digging up this stuff and never getting any nearer to true gold.

 

BO:

            But if we keep digging, maybe weíll be the ones who find it, eh, Territ?

 

TERRIT:

            Most unlikely.

            I donít know why people bother, why we bother, why we keep busting our backs on this place and places just like it.

 

BO:

            Because we want to find gold

 

TERRIT:

            I know where to find gold without breaking my back.

 

BO:

            Donít talk like that again, Territ. You said you would give this a try before you went back to that.

 

TERRIT:

            I have tried. Tried and tried and tried again.

 

BO:

            Well, try some more please. At least for a while.

 

TERRIT:

            You mean to tell me you want to go on with this farce?

 

BO:

            I mean to find gold

 

TERRIT:

            You ARE  a hopeful sucker.

 

BO:

            No, I ainít. I just donít want to go back to working this hard for no rancher.

 

TERRIT:

            So you want to hit it rich so that you can own the ranch instead, sit on your butt and boss other people around?

 

BO:

            Thatís not so. I never said no such thing. I donít want to be anybodyís boss but my own.

 

TERRIT:

            But you did say you wanted to own your own land some day.

 

BO:

            A bit of earth where I can have some green grass to raise a cow and plant some corn.

 

TERRIT:

Youíre digging for gold so you can raise some corn?

You are a queer fish, Bo. Most men did for gold so they can get rich and quit work.

 

BO:

            I ainít most men, I guess.

 

TERRIT:

            You arenít like me, thatís for sure.

            Iím not digging like this now to go pounding in fence post later.

 

BO:

            Iíll do most of the digging if you want.

            Just donít leave me alone. I hate being alone

 

TERRIT:

            So what happens if you get your dream?

            I already told youí Iím not into farming.

            We hit gold, Iím headed back to Frisco to live a proper life.

 

BO:

            If I get land, then I can get me a wife and raise a family.

 

TERRIT:

            A family?

            Youíd be better off digging up foolís gold.

 

BO:

            You gonna stay?

 

TERRIT:

            For a price.

 

BO:

            I donít get you, Territ

 

TERRIT:

            I want a bigger split if we hit gold.

 

BO:

            But we always said we would split things fifty/fifty.

 

TERRIT:

            That was then. This is now. Now I want 75.

 

BO:

            That ainít fair

 

TERRIT:

            No, itís not.

            But if you donít care to get rich, what difference does it make anyway?

 

BO:

            Okay. I guess youíre right.

            As long as you stay.

 

TERRIT:

            Iíll stay until I decide to leave. Then all bets are off.

            You know, Bo, youíre a bigger fool than those who believe in these stones.

            (Territ kicks the remains of the foolís gold.)

 

SCENE 4

 

            (A few days later near sun down. Bo looks up at the hill, sees a dust cloud along the trail the stranger had ridden down)

 

BO:

            We got company, Territ.

 

TERRIT:

            (Looking up)

            By the look of it, I would say more than one. More like a half dozen guests. Youíd better get your rifle while I get mine.

           

            (Both men put down their pick axes and grab up their rifles and so are standing at the foot of the trail when six riders appear winding down. The lead rider is wearing a badge. He is a lean man with a scar on his face and a bold look in his eye)

 

SHERIFF:

            Howdy, folks, Any luck.

TERRIT:

            Lots of luck. All of it bad. What brings you and your men out this way, sheriff?

 

SHERIFF:

            I like to keep and eye on my territory, especially with so many folks digging for gold.

            Gold makes some men crazy, and makes others do things that they wouldnít do back in civilized society.

 

TERRIT:

            So youíre out here to protect us from such characters?

 

SHERIFF:

            Thatís my job, though (pausing to look at his other men) we using get a little something for looking out extra hard.

 

TERRIT:

            By something, I suppose you mean a percentage of the claim?

 

SHERIFF:

            Thatís usually how it works.

 

TERRIT:

            How big a percentage are we talking about?

 

SHERIFF:

            Well, some people are inclined to be very grateful for my looking after them.

 

TERRIT:

            How grateful?

 

SHERRIF:

            Ten percent is a common number.

 

TERRIT:

            That is generous. Itís also a lot to dig out of a manís pocket after heís worked so hard to dig it out of the earth.

 

SHERIFF:

            Itís a lot only if thereís something to dig out. Most cases there ainít. In that case you get my services for nothing.

 

BO:

            Whatís he talking about, Territ?

 

TERRIT:

            Heís talking highway robbery, Bo. He wants a piece of our claim, and Iíll bet heíll want us to register his name at the claims office in good faith.

 

SHERIFF:

            Robbery is putting it strong. Letís call it insurance against natural or unnatural disaster.

 

TERRIT:

            I prefer the term robbery, it fits the crime.

 

SHERIFF

            Crimeís a mean word, too. Nobodyís got a gun to your head. If you want to take your chances, thatís your business.

 

TERRIT:

            Then I guess weíll take our chances. Good day, Sheriff.

 

SHERIFF:

            (riding off)

            Good day to you, and good luck. I have a feeling youíll need it.

 

BO:

            Territ, I donít like the looks of him.

 

TERRIT:

            With good reason, Bo.

            A thief who admits heís a thief isnít evil. But a man using a badge to steal is something else. Weíd better keep a closer look out, I have a feeling the sheriff will be back.

 

SCENE 5

 

(same location. Days later. Both men look dustier and wearier than before, run down as if devolving back into the soil with each shovel of dirt they dig.

            The claim has taken on the look of a skull with their efforts. They have sculpted out eye sockets and nose socket and space below full of rocks resembling broken teeth.

            A trickle of water runs down at the corner of this skullís mouth directed at the project by culvert dug from a weak spring somewhere higher up the hill. The water has cleared away much of the dirt uncovering the huge amount of stone through which they still have to dig).

 

TERRIT:

            (Throws done his pick)

            Thatís it. I quit. Iím not made of iron.

 

BO:

            Iím tired, too, Territ.

            But Iím sure weíre close to finding gold.

 

TERRIT:

            If thereís gold here to be found,  itíll take us years to find it.

 

BO:

            Maybe not.

 

TERRIT:

            Face it, Bo. Weíre licked. Weíre down to solid stone.

            Do you intend to chip away at it with a pick?

 

BO:

            We still have the dynamite.

 

TERRIT:

            One box. Hardly enough to dent this ledge.

            Frankly, I donít think all the dynamite in town will break through this stuff even if we had money enough to afford the exorbitant prices theyíre changing down there.

            Even then, we wouldnít be sure we would find gold.

 

BO:

            Just try a little longer, Territ.

 

TERRIT:

            Damn it, Bo. Weíre running out of grub.

 

BO:

            We could hunt.

 

TERRIT:

            We canít hunt or we can dig. We canít do both.

            Weíre licked.

            Itís time for me to head back to the coast and dig for gold in rich peopleís pockets.

 

BO:

            (Puts down the wheel barrow heíd been pushing)

            So youíre doing it again.

 

TERRIT:

            Doing what?

 

BO:     

            Give up the minute things get hard.

 

TERRIT:

            Itís been hard since we got here. Now itís getting hopeless.

 

BO:

            Itís hopeless because you want it that way.

 

TERRIT:

            Are you blind or just plain stupid?

            Canít you see all the rock we have to blast through?

 

BO:     

            Itís rock this time.

            Last time you gave up because our ditches got flooded.

            The time before than you found a bone and said we have been digging in an Indian burial ground.

 

TERRIT:

            Those were all good reasons.

 

BO:

            Any reasonís a good reason to you.

 

TERRIT:

            For Christís sake, Bo. You act as if I didnít want to find any gold.

 

BO:

            Maybe you donít.

            Maybe you want to go back to your old ways because you like doing things that way.

 

TERRIT:

            Itís a lot easier than all of this, and it certainly gets me a lot more gold.

 

BO:

            Only you never keep any of it.

            You spend it as fast as you get and in the end you donít have anything to show you ever had it.

 

TERRIT:

            Youíre starting to piss me off, Bo.

 

BO:

            I donít mean to, Territ.

            Iím just saying that you ought to have something you can hold onto, no matter how you get your gold.

 

TERRIT:

            You live your way and Iíll live mine.

            Now letís pack up and get out of here.

 

BO:

            Iím not leaving.

 

TERRIT:

            Donít be an ass.

            You canít handle this claim by yourself.

 

BO:

            I can try.

 

TERRIT:

            Now youíre making me laugh.

            You hate being alone.

            Once Iím out of sight, youíll panic and come howling after me.

 

BO:

            Not this time.

 

TERRIT:

            Weíll see.

            (walks off, packs up his stuff, then mounts)

            Youíll die of starvation or worse in these godforsaken hills.

 

BO:

            I donít think so. I got a hunch.

 

TERRIT:

            You canít eat hunched and hunches wonít keep the wolves off you after night fall.

 

BO:

            Iíll make you a deal.

           

TERRIT:

            What kind of deal?

 

BO:

            If you stay for a few blasts of the dynamite and we strike gold, Iíll give you all of my share except what I need to buy my farm.

 

TERRIT:

            And if we donít find any gold?

BO:

            Then you can leave.

 

TERRIT:

            (after a moment staring at the claim)

            All right, weíll blast. Although I had figured on selling some of the dynamite and the tools to get food.

 

SCENE 6:

 

(It is dark and a wolf howls in the distance. Bo wakes up with a cry)

 

TERRIT:

            (waking up more slowly)

            What is it?

 

BO:

            I heard something in the dark.

 

TERRIT:

            There are a lot of things crawling around out there. Go back to sleep.

 

BO:

            It sounded like voices.

 

TERRIT:

            Maybe they were voices. As remote a place as this is, people are still wandering around

 

BO:

            Iím scared, Territ.

 

TERRIT:

            And you want to work this claim alone

 

BO:

            Not of the dark so much though that scares me, too.

 

TERRIT:

            Of what?

 

BO:

            Of not finding gold. Of having to go back to the ranches anyway.

 

TERRIT:

            Eating crow is nothing to be scared of or ashamed of.

            We all do things we regret. We all take steps backwards sometimes.

 

BO:

            But I donít want to.

 

TERRIT:

            We all do things we donít want to do, too.

            Go to sleep, Bo. Weíre blasting in the morning and the last thing I need is you falling asleep while lighting dynamite.

 

SCENE 7

 

(In the morning, the two men haul the box of dynamite up the hell, Bo digging it open with a long knife)

 

TERRIT:

            Careful there.

 

BO:

            It wonít go off without fire

 

TERRIT:

            Maybe.

            But Iím not comfortable with it.

            I hope we donít bury ourselves in a rock slide.

 

BO:     

            Iíve handled dynamite before, back on the ranch taking out stumps.

 

TERRIT:

            A stumpís one thing, a mountain is another.

 

(the two men move from one spot to another, picking at the stone face of the mountain for space to place each charge, both are soaked with sweat and caked with dust when they are finished.)

           

            Okay, weíre set. Iím keeping a few sticks to trade for food.

 

            (Territ careful folds three sticks into a kerchief, and eases them into a saddle bag which he places carefully near his other gear.)

 

            What next?

 

BO:

            We set it off

 

TERRIT:

            And find more of this worthless stone when weíre done.

 

BO:

            Youíve got to have faith, Territ.

 

TERRIT:

            Iím as out of faith as weíre out of food. Just set them off so I can get out of here.

 

(Bo lights the fuse. This travels along the ground lighting other fuses in a chain reaction that spreads to each of the charge, looking a little like lava trails spreading out. The two men are hunched behind a large boulder, which proves very little protections from the sand and dust that falls after each explosion, gravel raining down on them, making both men look even more tattered when they finally rose to look over the result of the explosions)

 

            Just as I thought. More of this worthless stone. The stuff must go all the way to China.

 

BO:

            I guess it was a bad claim after all.

 

TERRIT:

            As I said all along.

            Come on. Letís pack up. We can get to the post before it closes and sell the tools.

 

BO:

            No.

            Iím staying.

 

TERRIT:

            Hard headed fool.

            Youíre as thick headed as this stone.

 

BO:

            Go if youíre going. Iíve got some digging to do.

 

TERRIT:

            But youíre digging your own grave.      

 

BO:

            Maybe.

 

TERRIT:

            Fine. Stave and starve. Iíll sell my share of the tools.

 

(Territ collects his stuff, adds it to the stuff already packed, being very careful with the saddle bags containing the dynamite. Then he mounts and looks down at Bo.)

 

            You can still change your mind.

 

BO:

            I wonít.

 

TERRIT:

            Fool!

 

(Territ rides off. Bo climbs down into one of the pits made by the blasts, gravel sliding with him until he reached the bottom. He works slowly and steadily, moving the stone as if he intended to move the whole mountain.  Hours pass. Darkness falls. And still he continues to dig, working until dawn rises, and still working even after the sun rises again. Then, from above, a few loose stones slide down. He looks up.)

 

BO:

            Territ? Is that you?

 

(A face appears at the top and then another, filling in the circle finally with the face of the grinning Sheriff)

 

SHERIFF:

            Did you get lucky?

 

BO:

            No.

 

SHERIFF:

            That is a shame.

            I might have spared you life if you had come up with anything.

 

BO:

            What do you mean?

 

SHERIFF:

            You wouldnít heed my warning.

            I canít have people who wonít do what I tell them. It sends a bad message to other people and soon nobody will be listening to me.

            Whereís your partner?

 

BO:

            He left.

 

SHERIFF:

            Thatís too bad.

            I was hoping to get both of you together.

            But weíll catch up with him.

 

TERRIT:

            (standing on a ledge higher up in the mountain)

            You wonít have to look me up, sheriff. Iím right here.

 

BO:

            Territ, you came back!

 

TERRIT:

            I saw their trail headed this way and knew it meant trouble

 

SHERIFF:

            More trouble than you know.   

            You should have kept going, mister.

 

TERRIT:

            I wouldnít do anything foolish, Sheriff

            (Territ puff on his cigar stub, then pulls out a stick of dynamite)

            I would hate to have to clean up your pieces from off our claim.

 

SHERIFF:

            You wouldnít set that off?

            Not with your friend down here?

 

TERRIT:

            You want to test me?

            You were going to kill him anyway. What difference does it make which way he goes Ė yours or mine?

 

SHERIFF:

            All right. Weíre leaving. But weíll be back.

 

TERRIT:

            Donít bother. Iíve hired some people to help guard this place. Theyíll be riding out here in a day or two.

 

SHERIFF:

            Hired people? I donít understand?

 

TERRIT:

            (pulls a stone out of his pocket and tosses it down at the sheriffís feet)

            That got stuck in my gear after one of the explosions. Notice the dull yellow. Thatís gold. I had it assessed at the post. Itís a rich fine. Rich enough for one of the owners to offer us a lot for this claim. Iíve brought back the contract for my partner to sign.

            Meanwhile I hired people to make certain no one messes with claim until the deal goes through. After that, Iím sure the mine owner will have his own people here.

            Now get before I decide I donít like holding dynamite any more.

 

(the sheriff and his crew depart. Bo climbs up to the top of the hole where he meets Territ)

 

BO:

            Is it true? Did we discover gold here?

 

TERRIT:

            (looks over the landscape with distaste)

            Itís here somewhere.

            But god knows weíll get enough to live high on by selling the place. If you want. More than enough to buy your farm.

 

BO:

            The farmís all I want.

            Itís up to you, Territ. Youíre the one that needs the money.

 

TERRIT:

            I know, I said that.

            But I got to thinking about what you said the other night.

            I figure maybe if you got room, Iíll try farming. But Iím warning you, if I donít like it, Iím heading back to Frisco.

 

BO:

            Anything you say, Territ.

 

 

END

 

 


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