(LIGHTS RISE. The set consists of an assortment of set-boxes of various shapes and sizes, draped in fabric and pillows. The set-boxes will remain on stage throughout the entire play, many of the costumes and props for the story hidden inside of them. They will be moved around as needed, to create different settings by the actors. Imra, a young girl in pajamas, sits on a box, covered with a bedsheet–her bed–playing with a tablet. Behind her, Jenna enters. Jenna is her older sister and wears a hijab. She watches Imra affectionately for a moment, before speaking.)
JENNA: Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?
IMRA: Aren’t you supposed to be studying?
JENNA: I couldn’t study.
IMRA: I couldn’t sleep.
(Jenna walks over and sits down beside Imra. Imra scoots as far away from her as possible, without taking her eyes off of the tablet. Jenna is struck, but tries her best to swallow it.)
JENNA: So… (beat) How’s school, Imra?
JENNA: And your friends?
JENNA: And the llama in the bathroom?
(Jenna snatches the tablet out of Imra’s hands.)
JENNA: Stop ignoring me, kiddo.
IMRA: I’m not.
JENNA: Oh, yes you are. And you’ve been playing this game all day! I’m only home for a week, Dinny.
IMRA: My name is Imra. Don’t call me that. Nobody calls me “Dinny” any more.
JENNA: I’ll always call you that.
IMRA: Give it back!
JENNA: What is this, anyway? (she looks) Zombie Deathstrike?
IMRA: It happens to be the cutting edge of modern gaming.
JENNA: How does it work?
IMRA: You hit the zombies with flamethrowers.
JENNA: Very sophisticated. (beat) Since when are you all about video games, anyway? Where are all your dress-up clothes? And your puppets? And that bird toy mom got you at the Renaissance faire?
IMRA: I got rid of them.
JENNA: What? Why?
IMRA: Why do you care? You live halfway around the world.
JENNA: Midwest University is only an hour away, Dinny.
IMRA: Might as well be a thousand miles away. For all you care.
JENNA: Someone’s cranky…
IMRA: Am not.
JENNA: Okay, kiddo. Time for bed.
IMRA: But I’m not even tired. Why do I have to go to sleep? You don’t have to go to sleep.
JENNA: And when you’re in college, mom and dad will stop caring about how late you stay up too.
IMRA: But that won’t be for a hundred years!
JENNA: Two hundred, at least.
IMRA: No fair.
JENNA: Life can’t always be fair. If it were, I wouldn’t have to stay up all night studying for an Early Western Civ final over break.(dramatically)
Oh the tragedy of it!
(Jenna touches the back of her hand to her forehead and flops over. Imra laughs, in spite of herself. And then tries to cover it up with a scowl.)
IMRA: You always say things like that. (pause) Jenna? (beat) Jenna?
(Imra pokes at Jenna’s side. Jenna lets out some squelching noises.)
JENNA: Shhh! I’ve fainted from the injustice of it all.
(Imra gives her a shove. Jenna rolls off of the bed and lands on the floor. Imra triumphantly reclaims her tablet.)
IMRA: Ha ha! Victory!
(The tablet lets out a little whine.)
JENNA: Ha ha! Dead battery!
IMRA: Aw, man…
JENNA: (laughing) Let me make it up to you.
JENNA: A bedtime story?
IMRA: Jenna! I’m not a baby!
JENNA: Is that what you think? Stories are just for babies?
JENNA: Not so! I happen to know that stories are meant for everyone.
IMRA: I happen to know that you’re a know-it-all.
JENNA: Of course I am. That’s why I’m going to college. (beat) C’mon, Dinny. You used to love my stories.
IMRA: Yeah. When I was a baby. (beat) I don’t need them any more.
(beat) And I don’t need you. Why don’t you go off and do…whatever fancy things you do now that you’re in college?
(Pause. Jenna finally understands. Her sister misses her.)
JENNA: You used to beg me for bedtime stories.
IMRA: I did not.
JENNA: Oh, yes you did. And do you remember what I would do? Do you remember?
(Jenna sweeps the bedsheet off of the box, dramatically flinging it around her shoulders like a toga.)
I’m Shahrazad! The greatest storyteller of all time.
And do you remember what you would say?
JENNA: Come on. Say it, say it, say it…
(Imra shakes her head.)
JENNA: Come on… (beat) Pretty please? Just for old time’s sake?
IMRA: (sighing) “Can I be Dinazad? Her little sister?”
JENNA: Oh, Dinny! You remember!
IMRA: ‘Course. (beat) I…might…miss it. Just a little.
JENNA: Oh, really?
IMRA: Not that much!
JENNA: I knew it!
IMRA: But, Jenna–
JENNA: Hush, I’m in character.
IMRA: College has made you weird.
JENNA: I was always weird. College just brought it out of me. (beat) Do you want a bedtime story or not?
(A pause. Imra looks torn.)
IMRA: Make it a long one.
JENNA: So you can stay up later?
I know all your tricks, kiddo.(beat) C’mon.
(The sisters settle down on the floor. Imra cradles the tablet against her chest.)
JENNA: What kind of story do you want? Besides a long one. A love story or an adventure?
JENNA: Yes, which one?
IMRA: Both of them. (ticking off on her fingers) And a story about cleverness. And the gods, there have to be evil gods. And the invention of something…or other. And monsters…
JENNA: It sounds like you want every story.
IMRA: And a hero. There has to be a hero.
JENNA: I suppose there does. (beat) And I know the perfect hero for this one.
IMRA: Who is he?
JENNA: She. Let’s just call her “a girl.”
IMRA: A girl?
JENNA: Maybe you.
IMRA: I’m going to like this story.
JENNA: It starts at the beginning of time, when the world was new.
IMRA: Oh! This will be a long story!
JENNA: Yes, but a frightening one. Are you brave enough to hear it?
IMRA: I am!
JENNA: You are my true sister. (beat) Very well. Let us journey back in time, to the world when it was only just beginning. It wasn’t at all the way we see it today. And, in its infancy, it almost didn’t turn out right, either. Because it happened that, on one saffron morning in our young world, three trickster gods happened to meet. (beat) From the west came Coyote.
(Coyote enters. He is wiry and quick, looking more like a man than an animal. He stalks around the stage for a moment, sniffing around, before striking a pose and freezing.)
JENNA: From the north, came Loki.
(Loki enters. He is a sinister, stooped figure, who laughs wickedly. He takes a turn around the stage, before striking a pose and freezing.
JENNA: And from the south, came Anansi.
(Anansi enters. She is a queen among gods and she frightens Imra, who slides behind her sister. Anansi takes center.)
ANANSI: What brings you here, my brothers?
COYOTE: Nothing really.
COYOTE: Nothing to do!
ANANSI: Well, that can’t be.
LOKI: Indeed. We’ve been seeking mischief all morning, but there’s none to be found.
COYOTE: Nothing, nothing. Nothing at all!
ANANSI: Could you not frighten some villagers?
LOKI: Bah! Far too easy to do. A little thunder, a little lightning, and they scatter like pigeons. (like a pigeon) Coo! Coo!
COYOTE: Yeah, yeah. And he’s already done that a thousand times before. They’re starting to get used to it! They are, they are.
LOKI: Are they?
ANANSI: Hmm. True. (beat) Why not trick some travelers? Send them traveling around in circles?
LOKI: It’s weeks before the next market. No one’s on the road. And anyway, they have these newfangled…(disgusted) …maps now.
COYOTE: I hate them. Hate them, hate them.
ANANSI: Stampede some cattle?
LOKI: Been there.
ANANSI: Hit the kingdom with a monsoon?
LOKI: Done that.
COYOTE: We’re booooooored. So bored. So, so, so bored.
LOKI: There’s simply no new mischief to be found.
ANANSI: That cannot be.
COYOTE: But it is!
ANANSI: Boredom is for boring people!
LOKI: Can you think of something?
COYOTE: Something new?
ANANSI: Perhaps… (beat) Perhaps we should play a game!
LOKI: Oh, I do like games!
COYOTE: What sort of game?
ANANSI: A contest!
LOKI: If it’s a contest, I’m sure to win. I’m quite powerful you know.
COYOTE: No! I’m going to win! Me, me! I’m more powerful than you!
ANANSI: This isn’t a contest of power, it’s a contest of cleverness.
LOKI: Let’s have it.
ANANSI: Let’s cause new mischief for the mortals. By stealing the thing they love the most and seeing how they react.