Fire and Shadow

Episode #109
Aired 2021-02-22
Length: 20:23
Size: 37.6 MB
Download MP3
Read Overview

Quiet Please: Fire and Shadow
Paul Knierim
20 minutes


JONAH - Elkville Psychiatric Hospital patient recording the story of his past 12 hours.

PERCIVAL - Psychiatric hospital patient who thinks he's deep and talks about Plato a lot. Later triples as a bartender and a fire person in a dream.

SALLY - Happy-go-lucky and a little simple. Nothing gets her down, a smile can solve any problem. A patient at Elkville Psychiatric Hospital.

SOREN - Gloomy and anxious all the time, because his life is miserable. A patient at Elkville Psychiatric Hospital.

FIRE PERSON - Profound, somewhat condescending speaker of truth.

CHARLIE - Just another psychiatric in-patient. Tends to ramble sometimes. Friend to Jonah and Percival, although a bit exhasperated with the latter sometimes.

NURSE QUINN - A professional who's just trying to keep everyone calm and on the road to recovery during a trying evening.

ANNOUNCER - For opening and credits.


CHAPPELL: Quiet, please. ... Quiet, please.


ANNOUNCER: presents "Quiet, Please!" which is written by and features Paul Knierim. "Quiet, Please!" for tonight is called "Fire and Shadow."


[SFX: music grows in background, crests just before so anyway]

JONAH: My friends. By the time you hear this, I will be alive!

My whole life so far, I've been dead. We all have. This world, this universe is dead. It's a mere shadow of reality, an empty gray husk.

It wasn't until very recently that I came to this realization. Yesterday evening, to be precise. Just 12 hours ago.

It's amazing how totally your perspective can change in just half a day. They call it a paradigm shift -- when a new fact comes along that forces you to reevaluate everything else in light of it. For your whole life you believe the sun orbits the Earth, then the next moment you're recalculating the orbits of the entire cosmos to fit your new realization that the Earth orbits the sun. You spend your life believing the universe follows clear deterministic principles, then quantum mechanics is developed and everything changes. In philosophy these shifts can be even more dramatic. A Christian suddenly becomes an atheist, and a lifetime's worth of accumulated beliefs that depended on the central faith collapses like a deck of cards. All of our beliefs, all of our truths are built around a few foundational beliefs we never question and are rarely even conscious of, and we build our entire epistemology outward around that. And then something comes out of nowhere, blindsides us, and forces us to discard a foundational belief and rebuild our epistemology from something new that prompts us to radically different conclusions.

[SFX: music stops]

JONAH: So anyway, yesterday evening. February 28th. That was the night of the big storm, you may remember. The electricity went out, and it was chilly, so a few of us were huddled around the fireplace in the common room.

[SFX: fireplace crackle, maybe some muffled wind and rain... perhaps leaving those stereo while the voices are mono would be a good effect]

SALLY: [in awe] What a storm. It must be the biggest storm ever.

CHARLIE: You're exaggerating, Sally. Remember the one about fifteen years ago that flooded downtown? My school was evacuated, took them years to fix the gym after it flooded. Power was out for two days where we lived, all our food went bad.

SALLY: [slightly perplexed by Charlie's response but still cheerful] Well... anyway, feels so nice to be in here instead of out there.

PERCIVAL: There's something... *elemental* about it. Primal. The raw power of nature over technology. It strips us back to our roots.

CHARLIE: Always trying to make things profound, eh Percival? But it's pretty cool, yeah.

SOREN: Cool? [scoffs] It's horrible! It could flood, and we're trapped in here in the dark cut off from everything!

NURSE QUINN: It'll be okay, Soren. It won't flood, and we'd evacuate if it did. Try to think of it as an adventure, we can huddle around a fire like cavemen.

SOREN: [dismissively, negatively] More like prisoners chained up in a cave.

PERCIVAL: [thoughtfully] Prisoners in a cave with a fire. That's a thought. This building is our cave, we're the prisoners chained to the wall... and the fire...

JONAH: What about the fire, Percy?

PERCIVAL: It ought to be behind us, Jonah. But it's not. We can see it. Maybe that's significant.

JONAH: Plato's allegory of the cave?

PERCIVAL: I think we may be living it.

SOREN: What's that?

PERCIVAL: It's a thought experiment from thousands of years ago, Soren. Imagine a row of prisoners in a cave, tied up for life so they can't turn their heads. There's a fire behind them and a featureless cave wall in front of them. All they know of the world is the shadows on the wall. All they know of any activities in the cave behind them is whatever shadows are cast. They come to believe that they themselves are shadows, because whatever movements they can make are reflected in the shadows.

SOREN: We're the prisoners living that scenario right now? Suffering like they are?

PERCIVAL: Well, they don't think they're suffering. They think it's normal and right.

JONAH: But like Percy said earlier, they're facing the wall but we're facing the fire.

PERCIVAL: Yes. Our shadows are behind us.

SALLY: We should turn around!

JONAH: [narrating] And so we turned to face the wall.

Consider shadows. We process them like they're things, but there's nothing there, just reduced light. The real meaning of a shadow only becomes clear when we can turn and see the light source and the interceding object. And yet they feel so real...

PERCIVAL: [in reverence] Look at them dance.

SOREN: It's sinister.

PERCIVAL: Not everything surreal is sinister, Soren. It's beautiful.

SALLY: Look, I'm making a camel!

JONAH: I can see each of our shadows...

SALLY: Here's an elephant!

JONAH: The shadows of the chairs...

SOREN: Sometimes I wonder if there's anything between your ears, Sally.

NURSE QUINN: [from a distance] That wasn't nice, Soren.

JONAH: The shadows of the lamp and the three cups...

SOREN: Sorry. Her incessant cheerfulness wears me down.

SALLY: Well your dreariness doesn't bother me at all!

JONAH: But what's THAT?!

[SFX: second of startled silence]


JONAH: There!

SALLY: It's not me!

SOREN: The way they're dancing, it could be anything. Something small magnified out of proportion. Does it matter?

JONAH: It might matter.

CHARLIE: Don't let Percy get to you, Jonah.

JONAH: Remind me Percy, how did Plato's allegory end?

PERCIVAL: The escaping prisoner turns around and sees the fire, then leaves the cave to see the real world. He comes back and tries to free the other prisoners, but they're afraid of his wild stories and his lack of respect for the shadow world, so they refuse to follow. They call him crazy and dangerous.

[SFX: tense music bridges us to the brief narration]

[SFX: room effects fade out]

JONAH: [narrating] And as Percival spoke, I'd swear the shadow I was watching extended a finger as if beckoning me toward it.

[SFX: brief sting]

[SFX: room effects fade back in]

NURSE QUINN: [concerned] Are you alright, Jonah? You seem a little rattled...

JONAH: I'm... I'm fine. Was just getting too absobred in the shadows.

NURSE QUINN: Turn back to the fire so you can warm your hands. You'll feel better. The storm will be over soon.

JONAH: Okay. Okay.

[SFX: shifting noises]

[SFX: background music for narration to set mood]

JONAH: [narrating] So I was watching the fire again, and it seemed like the fire too could be a world of its own.

Have you ever really stared into a fire? I mean *really* stared? For minutes until the crackle and the dance of the flame envelops your mind? Such tremendous energy and activity. I could understand why some of the ancients believed fire to be alive.

PERCIVAL: Fire is better than shadow anyway.


PERCIVAL: Do you know how steel is strengthened? Fire. Do you know how gold is tested and purified? Fire. The best and strongest things in life go through fire.

SALLY: That's Percival's way of saying fire is pretty.

PERCIVAL: Nobody would dispute the beauty of it. Except maybe Soren.

SOREN: [annoyed] Hmph.

JONAH: It's nice. I just wish I could shake the feeling that somebody's looking over my shoulder.

[SFX: fire/storm effects end, eerie thoughtful music behind narration]

JONAH: [narrating] I went back to my room. I needed to be alone with my thoughts for a while, to let them percolate. As I laid out on my bed to think, I felt an overwhelming sensation that I was very near to working out a hidden truth which would forever transform me. But sometimes the most momentous truths can't be reached through all the concerted effort in the world, but only by opening the mind, so I tried to relax.

[SFX: crowded bar sounds]

PERCIVAL: [as a bartender through this dream sequence] What'll ya have?

JONAH: Scotch Mist.

PERCIVAL: Coming right up.

[SFX: serving drink, drinking it]

JONAH: Thanks, that helped.

Sure is busy tonight. You got a trivia night or somethin?

PERCIVAL: You nuts? You're the only one here.

[SFX: stool noise as Jonah turns around]

JONAH: But what about all those...

[SFX: crowd noise silences as he turns]

PERCIVAL: Just shadows.

JONAH: [bewildered] I'll have another Scotch Mist.

[SFX: serving drink, drinking it]

PERCIVAL: *You* don't have to be a shadow, Jonah.

JONAH: What's that?

PERCIVAL: You can be real. The rest of them are happy being shadows, but there's something different about you. You're meant to be more.

JONAH: This is getting to be a pretty peculiar conversation. Maybe I'm drunk already.

PERCIVAL: I'm not what I appear to be, Jonah.

JONAH: You're not a bartender.

PERCIVAL: I'm not a bartender. I'm not Percival either. This is just my shadow, dancing on the wall of your cave.

[SFX: sting]

JONAH: What are you really, then?

PERCIVAL: Turn around.

JONAH: [narrating] So I turned around, and there behind me was a creature such as I had never imagined. It was shaped like a person, but made entirely out of fire -- fire somehow hanging there, static, never burning out. Fire with eyes and ears and a nose and a mouth.

[SFX: mild fire crackle]

PERCIVAL: This is what I really am. It's what you really are, too. If you break your chains, you'll see.

JONAH: This isn't possible.

PERCIVAL: It's incongruous with the reality you've accepted. That's because the reality you've accepted is mere shadow you cling to because it's comfortable and predictable. Look deeper.

[SFX: fire grows louder behind following narration, crests then drops]

JONAH: [narrating] And as I looked, the room seemed to catch fire -- a heatless, uniform fire. I covered my eyes as it became painfully bright. When I uncovered them, the bar was gone. I was floating in an indescribable space. A higher dimension, perhaps? The fire there seemed like a sort of mist permeating everything. And I could sense many people around me, their firey eyes on me.

[SFX: heavenly music, with some lingering fire crackle]

JONAH: [in awe] Where are we?

PERCIVAL: The real world.

FIRE PERSON: You can see us now, Jonah. That means you're ready to join us.

JONAH: The real world? This doesn't feel real. It feels like a dream.

PERCIVAL: Your dreams are closer to reality than the flat shadows of your waking life.

FIRE PERSON: Of course this isn't strictly real, it's only a representation of the real within your dream. We're trying to give you a preview.

[SFX: fire noise grows]

JONAH: This place is like heaven and hell rolled into one.

PERCIVAL: Sometimes mystics catch a glimpse of reality, but turn back afraid and weave it into religious stories in the shadow world.

FIRE PERSON: Are you afraid, Jonah?

JONAH: No. I feel like I ought to be, but I'm not.

PERCIVAL: Then join us.

FIRE PERSON: [firmly] You must transcend.

JONAH: But how do I do that?

FIRE PERSON: Imagine yourself in two dimensions, and think how you'd transcend to the third dimension.

[SFX: pause as Jonah thinks]

JONAH: I can't see how.

PERCIVAL: Remember Plato's allegory.

FIRE PERSON: Remember the shadows. Two dimensional shadows with three dimensional causes.

PERCIVAL: The further you look from the fire, the further you look from the truth.

FIRE PERSON: The shadows are the furthest point from the fire.

PERCIVAL: You'll know the way. Think about it.

[SFX: alarm clock rings]

JONAH: [narrating] I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it was just a dream. And it was a dream, of course, but why "just"? Is there not more truth in vivid dreams than in the dullness of our waking lives?

In our dreams the submerged truth rises to the top. To be true to ourselves, we must be true to our dreams.

[SFX: rising from bed, yawning, stumbling to bathroom, turning on tap and splashing face with water.. all behind the fololwing lines]

JONAH: Every morning, I wake up feeling like a shadow of myself. Feeling like there's something vital slipping from my mind, something I can't quite remember but I can still remember how clear and vivid and shockingly meaningful it seemed a few minutes ago.

FIRE PERSON: Hold fast to dreams.

For if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams.

For when dreams go, life is a barren field frozen with snow.

JONAH: What was that?

FIRE PERSON: Langston Hughes.

[SFX: shower starting]

FIRE PERSON: [sadly] It's dark here. So very dark.

[SFX: distant echo on Percival]

PERCIVAL: We will not come here again. You must transcend to us.

JONAH: As I showered, I felt the world of shadows sliding off my skin and down the drain.

I imagined a creature in flatland on my shower's wall. It couldn't percieve me, but it could percieve my shadow falling over it. Even when the light source is beyond perception, the changes in light levels are perceptible. The existence of the higher world can be deduced from the patterns of light and shadow, the positions of objects might even be extrapolated.

Fire is the origin point, the creator of light and shadow, the source of everything. If we seek truth, the fire is where we must go.

[SFX: shower stops]

JONAH: My course is clear. I've considered this from all angles. There is only one reasonable course of action. In a moment, I will walk out into the common room where the morning fire will be roaring. I will calmly leap into the fire world and become truly alive for the first time. I don't expect I'll come back, so I'm leaving this message behind to let you know what happened to me. Please make sure it's passed on to my friends and family so they don't worry.

Yours sincerely, Jonah Sheridan, Room 127, Elkville Psychiatric Hospital.


ANNOUNCER: The title of tonight's "Quiet, Please!" story was "Fire and Shadow." It was written by Paul Knierim and the man who spoke to you was Paul Knierim.

CHAPPELL: And John Alan Gaunce played Percival. Virginia Hargrove played Sally and the fire person. Paul Moss played Soren, Lindsay Townsend was the nurse, and Gary Wallen was Charlie. Now, for a word about next week, the ghost of Wyllis Cooper.

COOPER: Time travelers from the future are old hat. But what would you do if you met a time traveler from the past? Join us next time for a little story I call "The Future of History".

CHAPPELL: And so, until next week at this same time, I am quietly yours, Ernest Chappell.