© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved. If you would like to perform this play in part or in whole, see terms and conditions of use.
Length: It is in three acts, lasting about one hour
Cast requirements: The play calls for twelve adult actors (nine men and three women) and five teen-age actors (three boys and two girls). The number required can be reduced by doubling parts. Two actors are enough, for example, to handle four adult male characters.
Content: The action starts when the government issues a warning based on credible sources that the terrorists will mount a major attack on America at the time of Christmas. The drama proceeds along two tracks—one showing the effects of the warning on one Christian family, the Todds, and their circle of friends, including their neighbors, the Bramwells, and the students at Danny Todd's Christian school—the other track showing what happens both on-camera and behind-the-scenes at a network news show.
Much of the play at the beginning is humorous, but the tone changes as suspense builds and becomes extremely sober and challenging after the terrorists succeed in delivering a devastating blow to our nation. The plot is interwoven with several powerful spiritual messages, including a clear presentation of gospel truth.
The Todds, members of Heritage Baptist Church in Middleton, USA
Ray, the father
Charlotte, the mother
The Bramwells, next-door neighbors of the Todds
Carl, the husband
Students at Heritage Baptist Academy
Associates of network news
Bill Runyan, anchorman of network evening news in New York
Max Bigelow, producer of the same
Steve Waterman, director of the same
Harriet Mattheson, Washington correspondent for network news
Geoffrey Walker, local newsman in New York
Dalton Humphreys, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church
George Bush, President of the United States
The living room of the Todds. The date is a future December eleventh.
(Charlotte is watching TV. Carolers can be heard in the distance as Ray and Danny come into the room.)
Ray: It's been a long time since I heard carolers. I wonder who they are.
Danny: I don't know. It sounds like they're coming in our direction. Their singing sure makes me feel like Christmas.
Ray: Yes, tonight might be a good time to get out the trimmings and decorate the tree. If we don't, people will think we have a tree growing in the living room. I've already tested the lights. How about it, Mother? Want to help us trim the tree?
(Charlotte doesn't respond. She's absorbed in what she's watching.)
Ray: I repeat, Mother, do you want to help us trim the tree?
Charlotte: Sorry, dear. Sally Billings called and told me I should watch the news.
Ray: (He speaks to Danny in a facetious tone.) Why would anyone want to watch the news? They call it the news, but it's always the same. The Israelis killed some Palestinians. The Palestinians killed some Israelis. An airplane crashed somewhere in the world. The stock market was up, or the stock market was down. Now if the market closed unchanged for several days running, that would be news. Not very interesting news, but news.
Charlotte: You're right, dear, but this sounds serious. Maybe you should listen to it. They've issued another warning of a terrorist attack.
Danny: But they've been doing that every so often for a long time, ever since 9/11.
Charlotte: Yes, but this time they say they have credible and specific information.
Ray and Danny: Really?
(Both go and sit down next to Charlotte. The stage darkens, and a spotlight comes on, showing Harriet behind a desk.)
Harriet: Thank you, gentlemen, for your comments. We've been discussing the latest terrorist threat with Congressman John Winkford, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Raymond Stormbridge, Secretary of Homeland Security. We now return to Bill Runyan in New York. (The spotlight shifts to Bill sitting behind a desk.)
Bill: Thank you, Harriet. That was Harriet Mattheson in Washington, D.C. For those of you who may just be tuning in, we will review the highlights of this developing story. At 2:30 PM EST, about one hour ago, President Bush notified the media that he would be giving an emergency briefing at 3 PM. At that time he announced to the American people that the FBI has received a warning from credible sources that terrorists belonging to the al Qaeda organization are about to stage a major attack on America. The warning does not give the place or mode of attack, but unlike previous warnings, this one is specific in several respects. It states that the attack will occur within the next two weeks. Analysts believe that the most likely time is Hanukkah or Christmas. Also, the warning states the attack will be bigger than 9/11.
The President said that he has placed the nation on red alert, the highest stage of preparedness. Yet he wants the American people to stay calm and maintain their normal activities. He assures them that he is committing every resource to stopping the attack, and he is entirely confident that the attack will be stopped.
A youth meeting at Heritage Baptist Church, the same evening.
(Shanna, Kirsten, Danny, Trent, and Spike are sitting in a row facing the audience.)
Shanna: Peter's new haircut is real cute, don't you think?
Kirsten: Yeah, with his hair short like a Ranger's and his new military jacket, he's almost good-looking.
Shanna: He stopped me in the hall today and asked if I was going to the youth activity this weekend.
Shanna: Yeah, he talked to me real nice and smiled real sweet. I think he's in love with me.
Kirsten: Don't get too excited, Shanna. If he's in love with you, why did he go over and sit next to Melissa?
Shanna: Oh, they're just friends.
Kirsten: Get real, Shanna. When Peter came into the room, there were approximately thirty empty seats, one next to the girl he loves and one next to his friend, and he goes and sits next to his friend. Now, does that make sense?
Shanna: Oh, he just wanted to ask her a question about homework. She always knows the answers.
Kirsten: Wait a minute here. Are we talking about the same person? I'm talking about Peter Dunlop.
Shanna: Yeah, Peter Dunlop.
Kirsten: The same Peter Dunlop who does all his homework while the teachers are writing on the board?
Trent: Hey, what are you girls fussing about?
Spike: Oh, they can't help it. Girls were born to fuss. Their brains are different.
Trent: You're telling me there's something in their brains that makes them want to argue?
Spike: Exactly. Just like a normal brain has an olfactory lobe for smelling and an auditory lobe for hearing, a girl's brain has a contradictory lobe for arguing.
Trent: I don't know if their brains have something extra. Seems to me their brains are missing something.
Shanna: You guys are mean. You're always running down the girls so you can feel superior.
Kirsten: Yeah, you can't stand it if a girl's smarter than you are.
Spike: I don't know. I've never been put to the test.
(The girls rise up in arms, but Danny intervenes and settles them down.)
Danny: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Haven't you guys heard about the terrorist threat? It's been on the news since this afternoon.
Spike: I've heard about it, but all these threats are getting a little old.
Shanna: My dad said something about it at supper, but he was sure that terrorists wouldn't attack us here in Middleton.
Danny: Nobody knows where they'll strike. Besides, it'll be pretty bad even if they strike somewhere else. The attack they think is coming could kill thousands and thousands and shut down a whole city. With one thing leading to another, it could cause the collapse of our economy. It could even mean the end of our way of life. Don't you see how serious this is?
(The teenagers stare at Danny while he speaks, then at each other for a minute.)
Shanna: Danny, you're so boring.
Spike: Yeah, lighten up, man. You're talking like it's the end of the world.
The set of a network news show in New York, the same evening.
(Bill goes off camera and begins chatting with Max and Steve.)
Bill: How am I doing?
Steve: You're doing great. You're setting just the right tone: focused, determined, serious but not scared. At times like this I'm glad they didn't replace you with a younger man. You speak with more authority.
Steve: When the news makes people afraid, they find you soothing, like a wise grandfather.
Bill: (He laughs.) You're saying I look like a senior citizen? I retract my thanks. But I admit that I get tired sooner than I used to. How long have we been on the air?
Steve: It's been six hours since we started special coverage. Tired or not, you'll have to make it through prime time.
Bill: Well, it's hard to stay fresh that long, but my body is pumping so much adrenaline tonight, I think I'll be all right. Fact is, I feel pretty good. If you like, I'll stay on board as long as we have interesting stories coming in. Once we start rehashing the same material, I'll go home.
Max: Here's a story with a bizarre twist. (He looks at a piece of paper.) Street preachers have appeared all over the country, warning us that God will bring judgment if we don't repent.
Steve: What do you mean by street preachers? Jehovah's Witnesses?
Max: No, they deny that they were sent out by any particular church or organization. I saw one of them as I was coming back from supper. He was standing at Broadway and Fifth Avenue with a large crowd listening to him. Even the police were listening. They seemed reluctant to interfere. You should have heard his voice—boomed like a cannon. It rattled my teeth.
Bill: What did he say?
Max: About what you'd expect from a doomsday prophet. He said America had turned away from God and had become a nation of proud sinners. And then he gave a list of sins that God especially hates—loving to tell lies, blasphemy, carousing, homosexuality. For a moment I thought he was describing my personal lifestyle. (They laugh.) He said that God for a long time has been warning us through lesser disasters that if we do not repent, He will send greater disasters. Well, maybe the man is right. He says the terrorists come from God. The terrorists say the same thing. Could so many great minds be wrong? (Again, they laugh.)
Steve: Where did this guy come from?
Max: Being a good newsman, I walked up to him and asked him that question. He said that God laid it on his heart to come out and preach.
Steve: Ah, he's been hearing voices.
Bill: Sounds like FEMA will have to take on another responsibility—that of rounding up lunatics.
Steve: You know, this reminds me of an old cartoon that originally appeared in the New Yorker, I think. It shows a man with a long, flowing beard, dressed in a robe and sandals like an Old Testament prophet and wearing a sandwich board with a message on both sides. On the front side, which you see as he is walking toward you, it says, "The end is near." On the back side, visible as he is walking away, it says, "The end." (They laugh.)
Max: Anyway, these fundamentalist soothsayers are showing up everywhere. Should we cover the story?
Steve: Are you kidding? If we give them publicity, the streets will soon be clogged with religious fanatics seeking attention. It will be impossible for the rest of us to live in peace.
Bill: I agree. The less said about God, the better.
The living room of the Todds, a few days later.
(Charlotte is home alone. The doorbell rings. She answers it, and at the door she finds Karen.)
Charlotte: Oh, Karen. So good to see you. Come on in. I was just preparing to go shopping, but I'm in no hurry. I'd rather go after it warms up a bit.
Karen: It is rather cold this morning. I wouldn't have come out except I hate sitting alone in my house. I hope you don't mind if I talk to you for a while.
Charlotte: Certainly not. Would you like to help me trim our tree? All the distractions lately have kept us from getting the job done.
Karen: Yes, that'd be fun.
(They commence working on the tree together and continue doing so throughout the conversation.)
Charlotte: What's the matter, Karen? How can I help you?
Karen: You know this cloud we're all living under now, the threat of a terrorist attack. It's making me really nervous. I can't go to sleep at night, and when I get up in the morning, I can't concentrate on anything. I just pace around the house, worrying about what will happen to us and what will happen to our children. One of them lives near Boston, the other near Atlanta.
Charlotte: I know how you feel. We have a daughter just outside Washington, D.C.
Karen: Oh, no. That's terrible. You do know how I feel. I was hoping at first that our children could stay with us for the next few weeks. But then the government restricted travel to unsafe areas.
Charlotte: Yes, I found that disappointing too. But it's probably for the best. I think it's wonderful how the government has handled the crisis. I never expected to see it move so quickly and decisively. Within 24 hours, blockades went up around all the major cities to prevent unauthorized travel, and house-to-house searches began.
Karen: Yes, and Congress has already agreed to reimburse all families with children who can find lodgings in safe areas. I think that's the fastest Congress has ever done anything. It makes you proud to be an American. But I'm still scared. How can we protect ourselves, Charlotte?
Charlotte: You know what the experts are saying. They're recommending that we stockpile food and water in case supplies are cut off.
Karen: But as soon as an expert opens his mouth, it becomes impossible to do what he says. The grocery stores are completely bare. A few days ago, experts were advising us to convert our assets to gold and foreign currencies. But immediately the price of gold went through the roof, and the value of the dollar dropped through the floor.
Charlotte: That's all true, of course. But I want you to know, Karen, that if we come to a real catastrophe, you can depend on us to help you in any way we can.
Karen: Thank you, Charlotte. That's a real comfort. I'm glad we can depend on our neighbors, and you can depend on us too. But answer a question for me. Why are you so calm? I come to you all flustered and so on edge that I jump if I hear a dog bark, and you sit there perfectly composed, talking to me the same way you did last summer when we chatted over the fence. Are you taking a tranquilizer?
Charlotte: Oh, no (laughing). I don't need any pills. You might say I have another tranquilizer—my faith in God.
Karen: I know you're religious, but how does that help?
Charlotte: Because I know that everything is under God's control, and I trust Him to do what is best.
Karen: If God is so trustworthy, how could He allow terrorists to attack our country?
Charlotte: When I say that I trust in God, I don't mean that nothing bad will ever happen to me. Rather, what I mean is that God will make all things in my life work together for my good, and that I will not die until I play out the role He has assigned me in this world, and that when I die I will go to live with Him forever.
Karen: To trust in God as you do would certainly make life easier. But I don't even know whether there is a God. How do you know that God is real?
Charlotte: I can't give you a full answer in just a few minutes. The best I can do is tell you that my faith in God rests on my personal relationship with Him and on my knowledge of His Word. I'm referring to the Bible.
Karen: What does the Bible say about God?
Charlotte: It says that every person will spend eternity either in heaven with God or in hell separated from Him.
Karen: Yes, I'm familiar with that belief. If you're good, you go to heaven, and if you're bad, you go to hell. Right?
Charlotte: Wrong. The Bible teaches that nobody is good enough to go to heaven.
Charlotte: Nothing personal, Karen. You're not good enough, I'm not good enough, nobody's good enough to be entrusted with the privileges of heaven. We've all angered God by doing bad things, and we all deserve to go to hell. The only way we can go to heaven is by trusting in Jesus Christ as our Savior. He took the punishment for our sin upon Himself when He died on a cross.
Karen: I understand that Jesus is the reason for Christmas, but I don't know much about Him. I wish I knew more.
Charlotte: Our church is having a special program on Christmas Eve. There will be music as well as readings and drama, and the pastor will bring a message on the meaning of Christmas. Do you think you and your husband would like to go? You could ride with us.
Karen: Thank you for the invitation. I'll talk to my husband and get back to you. I'd like to go, and I suspect that he would too.
The lunchroom at Heritage Baptist Academy, about the same time as the previous scene.
(Danny is eating alone. Spike walks by with his lunch and sits down next to Danny.)
Spike: Mind if I join you?
Danny: No, not at all.
Spike: I guess you've been lonely these last few days, haven't you?
Danny: Well, I thought I had some friends, but I haven't seen them much.
Spike: You know how the kids feel. They don't like to hang around with someone who predicts doom and gloom. But I've been following the news, and I'm starting to believe that maybe somebody will attack us. (Trent comes and sits next to Spike.) You know I always assume that I'm the smartest person in the crowd. But it's not smart to hide your head in the sand.
Trent: (He addresses Spike.) There's something I've always wanted to tell you, good buddy, and you've just given me the chance.
Spike: What's that?
Trent: It's not smart to be conceited either.
Spike: You think I'm conceited? I just tell the truth.
(Shanna and Kirsten enter, carrying their lunches. The boys start miming a conversation.)
Shanna: Let's go eat at Peter's table.
Kirsten: Shanna, you can't force a boy to like you.
Shanna: I'm not forcing him. I'm giving him a great opportunity.
Kirsten: Have you heard the old saying, Opportunity knocks but once? (Shanna shakes her head.) Well, you're beating down the door. Let's eat at this table. (She nods toward the table where Danny is sitting.) The boys here are more interesting. (They move toward the table.) At least they don't think that the purpose of life is sports. The trouble with Peter is that he expects everybody to bow down and worship him just because he is very good at bouncing a big ball. (They sit down, Kirsten next to Danny.)
Shanna: What did you say? Opportunity—what? (Kirsten prompts her, "Knocks.") Knocks. Opportunity knocks—what? (Kirsten says, "But once." Shanna hesitatingly attempts the whole saying.) Opportunity . . . knocks . . . but once. I don't get it. It's an old saying? Who said it, Elvis?
Kirsten: (She laughs.) Oh, Shanna, you're amazing.
Shanna: You think I'm stupid, don't you.
Kirsten: No, you're not stupid. But when it comes to thinking, you tend to step on the gas before you turn on the ignition. But that's all right. Most boys don't care if you're stupid as long as you're not fat, like me.
Shanna: Don't be silly, Kirsten. You're not fat.
Kirsten: Then what would you call me—gravitationally challenged?
Danny: (He is speaking to the other boys.) Weapons of mass destruction fall in three categories: biological, chemical, and nuclear. (The girls turn to listen.)
Trent: Biological weapons use bad diseases, like the anthrax someone was spreading through the mail shortly after 9/11.
Danny: Right. Anthrax is extremely dangerous and deadly, but it's not a good way to kill lots of people, because it's not contagious. If you get the disease and you don't take antibiotics in time, you'll probably die, but you won't give anthrax to anybody else. Our government is much more worried about smallpox. It's highly contagious, and few people today are protected by vaccination.
Then there are chemical weapons.
Shanna: Would that be like someone stealing a helicopter and shooting bug spray over a whole city? (Everyone looks dumbfounded.)
Spike: Just how many cans of Raid do you think it would take, Shanna?
Danny: No, one of the most dangerous chemical weapons is the nerve gas called sarin. You remember the Japanese cultists who released sarin in the Tokyo subway system?
Trent: Oh, sure. They belonged to some group called Sinreekeyso.
Kirsten: No, it was Shinrickshaw.
Spike: Try, Slimricketts
Shanna: I don't know, but I suspect you're all wrong.
Danny: Well, anyway, they discovered the drawback in all chemical weapons. It's hard to deliver enough of the toxic agent to kill a large number of people. That's why the weapons of choice for terrorists and rogue states are nuclear, either radioactive bombs or nuclear bombs.
Trent: By a radioactive bomb, you mean a dirty bomb.
Danny: Yes, just an ordinary bomb wrapped with some radioactive stuff. When the bomb goes off, this stuff rains over a wide area and contaminates it for a long time.
Spike: Which kind of bomb is a terrorist more likely to use?
Danny: Dirty bombs are easier to make and easier to plant in this country.
Kirsten: So you think that if terrorists really do strike again, they're likely to use dirty bombs?
Danny: Very likely—very, very likely.
Outside in front of the houses where the Bramwells and Todds live, shortly after the previous scene.
(Ray passes Carl as he is shoveling his sidewalk. They're both dressed in winter clothes.)
Ray: How do you like the snow?
Carl: Not very well. Can't remember a winter like this here in Middleton. The boy down the street agreed to shovel my walks, but he never came. I don't think much of the younger generation. They have no sense of responsibility, no work ethic, no respect for excellence or authority. The only thing they're interested in is a good time.
Ray: That's a pretty severe indictment. I wish you could meet some of the fine young people in our church.
Carl: You have some? Glad to hear it. Your church must be teaching them old-fashioned values.
Ray: We are. Really old-fashioned, straight from the Bible.
Carl: Then I'm glad we've decided to come to your Christmas Eve program.
Ray: You have? That's great news. Charlotte will be delighted too.
Carl: The threat of a terrorist attack on Christmas has made me realize how much Christmas is part of America. That's why I decided to go to a Christmas service this year. I feel it's my patriotic duty.
Ray: There's certainly nothing more patriotic than going to church and thanking God for blessing our nation.
Carl: Well, I don't know if there is a God or not. But you're entitled to your beliefs. If your beliefs work for you and make you happy, more power to you.
Ray: Carl, the only way to find God is to look for Him. Until now your thinking has been shut up in a house of unbelief. You must open the door and go out. If you open the door even a little bit, the light in the crack will surprise you. Going to church with us is a good start.
The studio of the same network news show in New York, on Christmas Eve.
(Bill is sitting behind the news desk, waiting to go on the air. Steve is behind the camera.)
Steve: Two minutes until air time. This will be our last segment, and then we can go celebrate. I don't suppose you read your script?
Bill: You know I never do more than check for hard names.
Steve: You set a bad example for younger newsmen. Someday I'm going to have the writers throw some tongue-twisters at you, like "unique New York."
Bill: "Unique New York." No problem.
Steve: How about a long string of tongue-twisters, like "A big black bug bit a big black bear and made the big black bear bleed blood"?
Bill: I can handle it. Do we still have a minute?
Bill: Good evening, this is Bill Runyan in New York. A big black bug bit a big black bear and made the big black bear bleed blood. There. (He laughs.) That's the best job of newscasting I've ever done.
(A huge explosion shakes the studio. Bill falls out of his chair. The lights go out.)
The living room of the Todds on Christmas Eve, minutes later.
(Ray and Danny are seated and relaxed when the doorbell rings. Ray goes to answer it and finds the Bramwells.)
Ray: Come in, neighbors. We're just about ready to leave for church. Charlotte will be ready in a minute. Why don't you sit down and be comfortable until she makes her appearance. Can I take your coats?
Carl: We'll keep them on, if you don't mind. I'm thoroughly chilled just after walking from our house to yours. The snow seems to be coming down harder all the time. I wonder if we'll be able to make it home from church.
Ray: Danny, it's about time for the weatherman on TV 7. Why don't you check to see what he's predicting? It looks like a bad storm might be brewing.
Danny: OK, Dad. (He walks over and turns on the TV, then sits in front of it.)
Ray: We're delighted that you two are going with us tonight. We've always wanted to get better acquainted with you. The program should be really good. The choir has been working hard to get ready.
Karen: Well, it will be a new experience for us. I don't believe we've ever attended church together, have we, Carl?
Carl: It depends what you call church. We've gone to church for weddings, and once for a funeral. Come to think of it, years ago we went to a series of Sunday evening concerts in an Episcopal church. Remember that? And of course we vote at a Baptist church.
Karen: All right, you've convinced me. We have gone to church together, but never to a real church service.
Carl: It depends what you call a church service. Now . . . .
Ray: Excuse me. Danny, what is he saying?
Danny: He says we are under a winter storm watch. He's still talking because for some reason they can't get back to network news in New York.
Ray: We don't care about network news anyway. It's getting worse all the time. Let me see whether Charlotte is ready yet. (He walks out. Danny stays at the TV.)
Karen: (She and Carl begin talking to each other.) Carl, you know perfectly well that we've never been to church.
Carl: I didn't want the Todds to think that we are totally heathen.
Karen: If you don't want to be a heathen, why don't we go to church?
Carl: I don't want people to think I'm religious.
Karen: (She exudes exasperation.) They say women are inconsistent! If you don't want to be a heathen, and you don't want to be religious, what do you want?
Carl: (For a moment he returns a blank look.) I want my wife to stop cross-examining me. You'd think I was on trial for some sort of crime. (He walks over and sits next to Danny, then speaks to him.) Have they returned to network news yet?
Danny: No, now the weatherman and the anchorman are trying to figure out why nothing is coming from New York. They're saying that the other networks are dead too.
Carl: Why don't you try the other channels? (Danny begins to flip channels.)
Danny: Here's 5. It's just a picture saying, "Technical difficulties. Please stand by." And here's 2. Looks like the local news team. (They both watch for a minute.)
Carl: They seem to think that there might be a power blackout in New York. But surely the networks would have backup generators. (Ray and Charlotte enter the room.) Ray, come over here. Something really strange is happening. The networks have gone off the air.
Ray: Maybe it has something to do with the weather.
Danny: That can't be the reason. The weather's fine in New York.
Ray: So what's the explanation?
Carl: I'm afraid this could be serious.
Ray: You may be right. Return to channel 7 and wait for further news. I'll try to find something on the radio. (He leaves.)
Karen: What is it? What do you think is the matter?
Carl: Stay calm, Karen. We don't know what's going on, but it's possible there's been a terrorist attack.
Karen: Oh, no. Oh, Charlotte, I was so afraid of this.
Charlotte: I know. We're all apprehensive, Karen. But let's be brave. If we fall apart, we won't be able to help anybody.
Danny: Dad, come back. They're going to Washington for a special report.
Ray: I'm coming.
(Everyone gathers in front of the TV. Stage lights go down, and a spotlight rests on Harriet Mattheson, sitting behind a desk in a Washington studio.)
Harriet: Good evening. This is Harriet Mattheson in Washington, D.C. Our network has been off the air for several minutes because of a sudden interruption of program transmission from network central in New York City. At about the same time, the other networks based in New York also went off the air. We do not know the reason for these developments, but we are doing our best to obtain further information. So far we have not succeeded in contacting government officials or law enforcement agencies on the scene.
(She looks off camera.) Oh, we have? Yes. All right. (She takes a piece of paper and looks at the camera again.) A report has just come in. It's from the New York City Police Department. It says that there have been several explosions in lower Manhattan. I repeat, there have been several explosions in lower Manhattan. The report does not say anything about the extent of damage. For an answer to this question we will have to wait for further information. Nor does the report say that the explosions were due to bombs, although, with the recent warning of an imminent terrorist attack, we must certainly consider that possibility.
We are trying to reach network personnel in New York by cell phone, but so far have not succeeded. (She looks off camera again.) He's on the line now? Good. (She looks back at the camera.) A call has come through from Bill Runyan, anchorman for network evening news in New York. Bill, are you there?
Bill: (Another spotlight appears and rests on Bill, showing him with a phone in his hand.) Harriet? This is Bill Runyan in New York.
Harriet: So good to hear from you, Bill. Where are you?
Bill: I'm in the subway station near our studio.
Harriet: Why are you there? What's happening in New York?
Bill: There was a huge explosion about twenty minutes ago, during a break in the evening news. It shook our building and knocked me onto the floor. I think there have been other explosions as well.
Harriet: Yes, we've received a police report of several explosions in New York.
Bill: After the rumbling stopped, we didn't wait for an explanation. We forgot about the news show and raced for the elevators. It was every man for himself. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and screaming. I didn't see anyone get seriously hurt in our building, but I've heard that people in some of the other buildings around here are getting trampled.
Harriet: How terrible! What's causing the panic?
Bill: All the recent hype about a possible terrorist attack isn't helping. Everybody's afraid that the explosions were caused by bombs, and that they weren't just ordinary bombs. As you know, the experts have been telling us that if a radioactive device explodes, we should immediately go underground if possible. That's why we all fled to the basement.
Harriet: And your basement connects with the subway station, doesn't it?
Bill: Yes, it does. We came over here because we decided this would be the safest place. The concrete overhead should serve as a shield from any radioactive sources above ground. As soon as I could, I found a pay phone and called you. Luckily I was able to get through.
Harriet: Could the explosion you felt have been caused by a nuclear bomb?
Bill: Definitely not. The blast was powerful, but not that powerful. And there was no blinding light before the shock hit us. But it could have been a dirty bomb.
Harriet: What's going on around you in the station?
Bill: There must be thousands of people crowded down here. They are reacting in different ways, as you would expect. Some are standing along the wall. Others are rushing about for no apparent reason. Some are calm and businesslike, while others are crying.
Harriet: I'm so sorry. All of you there have my sympathy, and I'm sure the sympathy of all Americans. Do you have any idea what will happen next?
Bill: The subways have stopped running for now, but I'm hoping they will soon start up again and evacuate us. If any dirty bomb has gone off, they will probably carry us underground as far as possible from the point of the explosion. (The spotlight on Bill goes off.)
Harriet: Stay with us as long as you can, Bill, and we'll let you know what we find out. That was Bill Runyan in New York, who took shelter in a subway station after the city was rocked by several tremendous explosions about 25 minutes ago. The facts concerning what happened are beginning to emerge. The New York Police have issued a bulletin stating that one explosion occurred in a high-rise apartment on lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Teams of firefighters and policemen have been dispatched to the scene. According to first eyewitness reports, the apartment building and several adjacent buildings have sustained severe damage.
We all live in the grip of a strange destiny, do we not? On 9/11, the men of the New York fire and police departments were thrust into the role of national heroes. Now they are being called upon to play the same role again. I think it's reasonable to assume that these explosions were caused by bombs. What kind of bombs? If they were what we have all feared—so-called dirty bombs—these brave firemen and policemen are rushing to expose themselves to deadly radiation. For the sake of saving others, they are jeopardizing their own lives.
We've just heard from a mobile news team connected with the local news show on our New York affiliate. Do we have a picture feed from them? We do. Then we will go to New York for a live report from—his name?—Geoffrey Walker. Geoffrey, where are you?
Geoffrey: (The second spotlight comes on again and shows Geoffrey standing in front of a mobile camera.) We're in lower Manhattan. We just arrived at the site of a huge explosion that occurred awhile ago.
Harriet: I admire your courage. You and your news team are proof that our line of work has heroes too.
Geoffrey: If we're being heroic, let's hope we won't pay a price for it.
Harriet: What do you see there?
Geoffrey: The apartment building across the street is severely damaged. The blast occurred at ground level and blew out the lower stories, causing the upper stories to come crashing down. Several other buildings nearby are also damaged. Fire officials tell us there is no doubt the explosion was caused by a bomb. The first speculation we heard was that the bomb was in the apartment building itself, but now it appears that the bomb was in a truck parked on the street next to the building—a scenario reminiscent of the tragedy in Oklahoma City. The next question is what kind of bomb it was. (The second spotlight goes off.)
Harriet It should not take long to get the answer. Soon after 9/11, law enforcement agencies throughout the country obtained Geiger counters. Geiger counters are devices that detect the presence of radioactivity.
We're now ready to talk with Dr. Samuel Sizemore, an expert on weapons of mass destruction and the author of the book, Twisted Dreams. What are the chances that this and the other bombs that went off in New York City were dirty bombs, and if they were, what damage will they do?
Samuel: (The second spotlight comes on again and shows Samuel sitting behind a desk.) The only reason for suspecting these were dirty bombs is the nationwide red alert. What we know so far tends neither to eliminate nor to establish this possibility.
As for the effects of such bombs, it depends on how well they were made. Scientists have graded dirty bombs on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being least destructive and 10 being most destructive. A crudely made bomb, of a grade no higher than 3, would likely do little damage, while a sophisticated weapon of grade 6 or higher would be catastrophic.
Harriet: Thank you, Dr. Sizemore. While you were speaking, we received another report from the New York police. (She pauses, then speaks in a troubled voice.) I regret to announce that the bombs in New York were in fact wrapped with radioactive material. They were dirty bombs. Dr. Sizemore, how long will it take to determine how potent these bombs were?
Samuel: Within a few minutes after the explosions the police should have been able to detect scattered radioactive material. A few dozen readings in various places would allow them, within another few minutes, to estimate the potency of the bombs. (The second spotlight goes off.)
Harriet: Well, we eagerly await further information. (She pauses, obviously ill at ease.) All we can do now is wait patiently. The result of first efforts to determine the grade of the bombs should be arriving here at any moment. (She pauses again, then reaches out for a piece of paper.) I believe this is what we've been waiting for. (She begins crying. Her anguish produces a sense of need for God and she speaks a real prayer.) Dear God, help us. I regret to tell you that the bombs that went off in New York were radiological devices of at least grade 7. I'm so sorry to be the one who brings this news to my beloved America. I would not, I could not, continue broadcasting tonight except that I want in my own small way to serve my country. I will not desert my post.
We have a statement from the White House. President Bush will address the nation at 10:00 PM EST.
(The spotlight returns to the Todds and Bramwells. Karen is crying softly.)
Ray: I think we'll turn off the TV until the President gives his address.
Karen: The worst has happened.
Carl: Not the worst, but bad enough.
The same living room, a few minutes before the President's address on Christmas Eve.
(Ray, Charlotte, and Danny are sitting in front of the TV.)
Ray: I think the pastor did right to cancel the program. No one is in a state of mind to sing happy songs.
Charlotte: Yes, but what a shame that we lost a chance to take the Bramwells to church.
Ray: It's hard to think about ordinary things right now. Let's see if the President can chart a path for us through the troubled times ahead.
(He turns on the TV, the stage darkens, and a spotlight shows President Bush sitting behind a desk.)
Pres. Bush: My fellow Americans, I come to you tonight with a heavy heart. In the last two weeks we have taken extraordinary measures to thwart another terrorist attack. Yet the enemy has penetrated our defenses and dealt us a severe blow. They have set off twenty radiological weapons—so-called dirty bombs—in three cities—New York, Los Angeles, and London. Until now we have not divulged to the American people that as a result of recent house-to-house searches, security forces in our country and in England discovered and disposed of seven other dirty bombs, one in New York City, four in Washington, D.C., and two in London. We can therefore be grateful to all the officers and agents whose hard work kept the terrorist attack from being worse than it was.
Still, the bombs that eluded our searches have done incalculable damage. All were grade 10 cobalt devices, the most destructive kind of dirty bomb. We believe that a foreign government must have supplied the materials and technical know-how, although the bombs may have been assembled on site.
The authorities in New York and Los Angeles are now estimating that the twenty blasts together killed from 5000 to 7000 people. Those exposed to significant radioactivity number in the hundreds of thousands. The human toll would have been greater except that nearly 25 million Americans have in the last two weeks left big cities for safe areas. The most far-reaching effect of this attack is the damage done to two of our greatest cities. Their centers have been contaminated by radiation that will not subside to tolerable levels for generations. Property losses will be enormous. Many priceless treasures will not be recoverable. Beloved places are now destined to become forsaken ruins.
Besides all that, the blow to our economy will be staggering. To soften the blow, I will issue executive orders and propose legislation that will enable us to survive the difficult period ahead and build a foundation for new economic growth. The damage done by 9/11 proved to be temporary. So it will be again. We will rebound, so long as we all work hard, invest in America, and retain our faith in the future.
America is not alone in her grief tonight. The British nation has also suffered a great tragedy. I have just talked to my friend, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and expressed my condolences and the condolences of the American people. He told me that these events have redoubled the determination of the British people to pursue the war on terrorism to a victorious conclusion.
In the history of our nation, adversity has always inspired us to show our greatness of character. Already in the present crisis, we have seen neighbor helping neighbor. We have seen deeds of heroism. We have seen multitudes of ordinary citizens respond with courage and resourcefulness. The mass evacuations underway in New York and Los Angeles are proceeding in an orderly fashion, without panic. Communities on the safe periphery of these cities are opening up their facilities and their hearts to the evacuees. Clinics capable of providing first-class care for people at risk of radiation sickness are quickly being set up wherever they are needed.
All these signs of our greatness are grounds for optimism. Yet there is no real hope for America unless we can overcome the evil forces that are seeking to destroy our civilization. Let me therefore close with a few words of timely warning for our enemies.
After 9/11 I said that the terrorists had aroused a sleeping giant. Yes, the giant has been aroused. Yes, the giant has stood to his feet. Yes, the giant has done a little sparring here and there. But the giant has not yet put his full strength into a crushing blow. And he will deliver that blow.
After 9/11, I declared a war on terrorism. But what we have done so far is mere rhetoric and posturing compared with what we will do now. Then we were stunned and angry. Now, every single American is ready to fight at whatever personal cost is required. We will stand together. We will march together. And we will win together.
The timing of the attack, with all twenty bombs detonated on Christmas Eve, shows that our enemies hate not only America, but also the Christian religion. I declare to them that Christ cannot be killed a second time, and I call upon all churches to open their doors for public services tomorrow night, the night of Christmas. Mrs. Bush and I and all Christians in America will join in celebrating the birth of Christ so that the world can see that our faith is stronger than the evil which has tried to silence our songs and spoil our joy.
And I call upon peoples of other faiths to hold services tomorrow night in solidarity with Christians, for we should all recognize that the attack has been directed not just against Christianity, but also against the principles of religious freedom and toleration at the heart of the American way of life.
The service at Heritage Baptist Church on the night of Christmas.
(The Bramwells, Todds, Heritage students, and others forming the congregation stand at the back of the stage facing the audience. They are singing a Christmas hymn. When they finish, they sit down and Pastor Humphreys rises to speak. He too faces the audience.)
P. Humph.: On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes swooped down on our forces at Pearl Harbor and inflicted heavy losses. That was a black day for America. It became known as the day of infamy. But the attack last night was more infamous and horrible than anything else our nation has ever suffered. Many thousands have been killed or seriously injured, millions have lost their livelihoods, and millions have lost their homes. Many of you have been directly affected in one way or another.
What can we say? Words fail us if we try to describe the malignancy of the evil that conceived and carried out this attack. In many ways the enemy we face is a new breed, representing a new depth of human depravity. He imagines that cowardice is bravery, that murder is justice, and that evil is good. Yet, we have faced other enemies with these same delusions. What makes this enemy different is that he gladly destroys himself to gain the perverted privilege of destroying others.
Has God sent this enemy upon us as a form of judgment? Unquestionably we are a nation that has turned its back upon God. We have banished Him from our schools, our public places, and our popular amusements. We spend our days in eager pursuit of every sin that He has forbidden. We stand by and watch as our children succumb to the influence of a culture that is working systematically to corrupt them. As a result, we have lost God's protection. For many generations He blessed our nation and kept us from feeling the full weight of the evil ever present in this world. But now we are discovering what it is like to live without God.
It is therefore only right that we have responded to the present crisis by gathering here in church. Here we can renew our faith in God and our obedience to His holy commandments. Here also, in the midst of a troubled world, racked with violence and scarred by the engines of war, we can find true peace. We can find it here, in this local church belonging to the body of Christ, because the founder of our religion is the Prince of Peace. According to the prophet Isaiah, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." When Christ was born , the angels announced, "On earth peace, good will toward men."
The peace that Christ offers belongs both to the future and the present. When, in that future day which we hope will not be long delayed, He descends from heaven and establishes His own kingdom on the earth, there will be unbroken peace spanning every continent and civilization. The nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
But we need not wait for the peace of Christ. It is too soon for peace in the world. But it is not too soon for peace in our hearts. For each of us in his heart carries a burden of sin that places him in rebellion against God and deprives him of true peace. But Christ is our peacemaker. Scripture says that He has "made peace through the blood of his cross." That means He took the punishment for our sin upon Himself so that we can be reconciled to God and enjoy personal fellowship with Him. All we need do to gain this privilege is to repent of our sins, believe in Christ, and receive Him as our Savior.
Many of us here have already received Christ, so that nothing hinders us from knowing the sweetness and joy of a daily walk with God except our own failure to seek it. But we are easily distracted by pleasures and cares. An event such as we all witnessed last night throws us into a profound anxiety. We strain to see the future, but it is veiled by many uncertainties. We can hardly number all the specific concerns that well up in our minds and agitate our thoughts. What shall we do? The answer of Scripture is clear. "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." And again, "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
I think we will now spend several minutes in silent prayer, each of us going before God and praying that He will help our nation and help us individually during this difficult time. We should also search our hearts to see if there is anything keeping us from enjoying the peace that God wants us to have. If we find any obstacle, we should clear it away by His grace. Let us all bow our heads and pray.
(The lights go down, and the spotlight comes on, picking out each of the following characters as he prays or speaks to himself during the period of silence. The audience hears what the other characters cannot hear.)
Shanna: Dear God, I'm so scared. I can tell that Peter's scared too. I thought he'd be brave, but he's not. All the kids are scared except Danny. What makes him different? I guess he's more spiritual than the rest of us. I wish I had what he has. I know my problem, Lord. I think so much about boys that I don't think about you. It's true that I'm boy crazy. I'm sorry, Lord. Really, it's not that I like boys so much. I just want to be important and have a good time. My real problem is being self-centered. Help me to love myself less and to love you more. And one more thing, God. I'm tired of being dumb. Please give me some brains. Didn't you promise wisdom to anyone who wants it?
Spike: Hi, God. It's me, Spike. Ha, ha. Well, maybe that's not so funny tonight. When's the last time I really prayed? Must have been years ago. I stopped praying about the same time I found out my IQ. Now all I want is to be a big success and make a lot of money. But this attack on America has reshaped my world. Maybe the future will have no room for my ambitions. Maybe I won't even live very long. Then what? To die without God wouldn't be smart. It would be about the dumbest thing I could do. Dear God, can you hear me? Forgive me for being full of myself. Help me to start living for you again.
Danny: It turns out I was right, God, but that doesn't make me happy. The reality is far worse than I ever imagined. When I saw what was coming, I should have felt a sense of horror, but I didn't. Instead, I became preoccupied with a sense that I was right and everybody else was wrong, and I felt superior. Forgive me, God.
Ray: Thank you, Lord, for the opportunity to bring Carl and Karen to this service. I've been watching them, and I think the service has touched them deeply. I pray that you will save these two lost souls.
Karen: Dear God, ever since talking to Charlotte, I've been thinking about what she said, and I've been listening carefully during the service tonight, and I believe it's all true. It's obvious that I'm a sinner. It's obvious that a loving God would solve the problem by providing Himself as my Savior. Why didn't anyone tell me about this earlier in my life? Yes, I'm sorry for my sins and I want to be saved now. Thank you for saving me, God. Help me to share this wonderful gospel with my children. And save my husband, Carl. You know that sometimes he is too cautious for his own good.
Carl: Well, I can't pray. I've never prayed in my whole life. Who would I pray to? To God? How do I know there's a God who will hear me? He's never talked to me. Yet what's that other name these people use for the Bible—God's Word? They must think that God has talked to somebody. And their confidence that God exists gives them a surprising strength. Are they strong because they are leaning on faith as a crutch? No, a crutch doesn't hide the weakness it supports. If these Christians have any special weakness, I don't see it. And if their faith was nothing but wishful thinking, they would shy away from defending it. But they give clear, solid reasons for their faith. Everything considered, I need to look deeper into Christianity. Maybe I've been wrong in dismissing religion as just a game people play.
Charlotte: Ever since last night, I've been worrying, Lord—worrying mainly about my own family. How self-centered I've been when millions are going through great sorrow and trouble. And all my worrying shows that I'm weak in faith. Yes, the world seems to be unraveling. But you made the world. The cattle on a thousand hills belong to you. You could in one moment destroy the world and in another moment create it anew. Why, then, should I hold onto my fears and resist the peace you offer? Yes, Lord, I accept the peace that passes understanding, the perfect peace you want me to have even in the midst of a crumbling world.
© 2007, 2012 Stanley Edgar Rickard (Ed Rickard, the author). All rights reserved. If you would like to perform this play in part or in whole, see terms and conditions of use.