Chemicals Under Pressure

A brief stageplay.

Zach J. Payne
May 15, 2018 · 10 min read
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Photo by andrew jay on Unsplash

Originally written for TA 114 at Victor Valley College,
Playwriting with Prof. Ed Heaberlin.


[AT RISE: A small room off of a high school chemistry lab, used to store chemicals. Old shelves tower over a central work station with a couple of stools and a fume hood in the back. The room is heavy with neglect, the only people that usually ever see it are hurried chemistry teachers and students desperate enough for extra credit to help clean and organize.]

LOUDSPEAKER (o.s.): (Automated:) Active shooter on campus. Observe lockdown procedure.

[A long beat.]

HANNAH (o.s.): Shut up and get in here, now!

LOUDSPEAKER (o.s.): Active shooter on campus. Observe lockdown procedure.

KYLA (o.s.): What the hell? —

[HANNAH, the consummate goodie-two shoes braniac, practically drags KYLA, a fairy-aired girl who’s probably high, into the room. They are both wearing Halloween costumes. Once they are both in the room, HANNAH shuts the door and throws the deadbolt.]

HANNAH: Put up a fight, why don’t you? Jesus Christ.

KYLA: I don’t know what’s going on.

HANNAH: Well, that makes two of us.

[An awkwardly long beat. HANNAH sits at one of the stools, while KYLA stands near the door, anxious.]

KYLA: It’s some kind of prank, right?

HANNAH: You’d know better than me.

KYLA: What’s that supposed to mean?

HANNAH: I’m not exactly up to date on what all of the hip and happenin’ people are doing these days. You and your boyfriend, on the other hand —

KYLA: Don’t, please.

HANNAH: — seem to be on the up and up with everything that’s going on.

KYLA: You run the school newspaper. Are you telling me that you don’t know everything that happens on this campus?

HANNAH: I get my leads from teachers and clubs and administrators, not from the quarterback and his locker room cronies or whatever. They don’t exactly fill me in on their plans.

KYLA: Well they didn’t have anything to do with this!

HANNAH: At least, as far as you know.

KYLA: What’s that supposed to mean?

HANNAH: (Sighs.) Fuck, I don’t know. I just — don’t know.

KYLA: And neither do I, okay? So just calm down.

HANNAH: Calm down? How the hell am I supposed to calm down?

KYLA: If we weren’t stuck in here, I could probably get something to help you. Why are we stuck in here, anyway?

HANNAH: Did you not just hear the lockdown announcement?

KYLA: No, I mean, why in here? What is this place?

HANNAH: It’s the safest place I could think of, and we were right here, anyway. Practically nobody ever comes out here. Except for the chemistry teachers. And you have to know the code to get in here, so we’re safe.

KYLA: Unless the shooter knows the code.

HANNAH: We don’t know that there’s a shooter, yet.

KYLA: Did you not just hear that big announcement?

HANNAH: That means they think there’s a shooter. Not that there actually is one.

KYLA: Well, that’s reassuring.



[Lights up. An hour and change later. HANNAH hasn’t moved, but KYLA has taken to pacing while scrolling through her phone. A bell rings.]

KYLA: Oh! Do you think the lockdown’s over.

HANNAH: No. (She checks her phone.) That was the fourth period bell. Besides, they’ll have an announcement saying that the lockdown is over. Don’t you pay attention during the drills?

[A beat. KYLA says nothing.]

Oh, let me guess: you and your friends ditch whenever there’s going to be a drill.

KYLA: They’re a stupid waste of time, okay? There are better things we could be doing during that time, like —

HANNAH: I don’t want to know, okay? And yeah, maybe they’re stupid, and maybe they’re a waste of time, but if you’d been here for just one of them, you might not have just tried walking out into god-only-knows-what’s going on out there. I just saved your life.

KYLA: Melodramatic, much?

HANNAH: Just a little. It makes for good news writing.

KYLA: You like school, and you’re actually good at it. Most people are different. Most people don’t like being stuck in here all day.

HANNAH: You think I like it? You think that anybody likes being here? Because, as far as I know, nobody does. Not even the teachers. And not me, either. I’m here because I have to be —

KYLA: You don’t have to be. You can just leave, you know. That’s what I do.

HANNAH: — and because, honestly, there’s nowhere else I’d rather go. I’d get bored being stuck at home all day. Or stuck with friends, in your case, I guess. There has to be more to life than pot and beer and sex and memes and acting stupid for the sake of acting stupid.

KYLA: What you call stupid, we call fun. It’s fun to not have to worry about things, to not feel like you’re stupid all of the time. You don’t have to put on a mask and pretend to be something you’re not. You can be yourself.

HANNAH: Don’t you want to be better?

KYLA: Not if it means changing who I am. Yeah, I like pot and beer, and even having sex once in a while. It’s not a bad thing —

HANNAH: I never said it was a bad thing.

KYLA: Not exactly, no. But it still doesn’t stop you from being a judgmental bitch just because somebody doesn’t believe the same things that you believe, or want the same things that you want. People are different.

HANNAH: Not really. Our DNA is, like, 99 percent identical, from person to person.

KYLA: But it’s still different enough that everybody’s is unique. I mean, except for twins. But that’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it. People want different things out of life, and that doesn’t make them bad or weird or wrong. Just different.

HANNAH: Except the booze is going to ruin your liver, the pot is going to ruin your brain, the STDs will turn your vag into Chernobyl, and you’ll probably be knocked up before you graduate. I’ll be leaving this school with enough bad memories; I don’t need any other baggage.

KYLA: Well, that’s your own fault. You should’ve made better memories while you were here.

HANNAH: Yeah, because I can choose how people decide to treat me. I try to make good decisions, and try not to get in trouble or do stupid things, and people treat me like I’m some kind of bitch.

KYLA: You kind of are one. You treat people like they’re stupid, just because they do things that you don’t like to do.

HANNAH: I treat them like they’re stupid because they do stupid things. Like drinking beer. And smoking pot. And having sex. All things are illegal. All things that have unimaginable consequences if they go wrong.

KYLA: IF! Yeah, bad things can happen, but that’s true even if you’re doing perfectly legal and safe things. You can get hit by a car when you’re crossing the street. You still act like a freshman: you’re so tense and eager to please, and you act like high school is the most important thing in the world —

HANNAH: It is! Getting good grades, getting a college scholarship, it’s the only way out of here.

KYLA: Why do you want to leave? What’s so bad about this place?

HANNAH: What — ?

[A barrage of gunshots. Not too near, but not far enough away. Both girls are shocked, but KYLA is worse. She jumps away from the door.]

KYLA: Holy shit! That was really close.

HANNAH: (In as loud a whisper as possible:) SHUT UP! And get down here.

[HANNAH is now crouching underneath the table.]

KYLA: What are you doing?

HANNAH: Just get down here, okay?

KYLA: Do you think anyone’s going to come in here? Nobody ever comes in here.

[Another barrage of shots. Louder.]

HANNAH: I’m not exactly an expert in the minds of crazy people who shoot up schools, but I don’t want to take the risk. And if we’re down here, maybe they won’t see us.

KYLA: But there are all these chemicals here. Maybe if we can find something to disable the shooter if they come in here.

HANNAH: Are you fucking kidding me? This is a high school chemistry lab, there’s nothing here strong enough to cause a burn, let alone stop a crazy person.

KYLA: I don’t know, maybe if we just mix enough stuff together. . .

HANNAH: You’re joking, right? Please tell me you’re joking. (She is starting to lose her mind, just a little bit.) You’re more likely to gas us to death than you are to make something that’ll stop a shooter. Get. Down. Here.

KYLA: I don’t want to get down there. It looks dirty. I bet there’s 30 years of gum under that table.

HANNAH: Are you high right now? You’ve got to be kidding me right now. Please tell me this is all some kind of sick and elaborate joke.

KYLA: Okay, God, whatever.

[KYLA joins HANNAH under the desk. She pulls a foil-wrapped brownie out of her backpack, and breaks it in half.]

HANNAH: Oh, please tell me that’s not —

KYLA: Here. You need this. It’ll make you less tense.

HANNAH: Oh, God. You are high.

KYLA: Not really. I mean, I just wanted to take some of the edge off. And you should, too.

[She eats her half of the brownie, and sets the other half, in the foil, in front of HANNAH, who looks as though a ticking bomb has been set in front of her.]

HANNAH: (A deep breath.) Situations like this. Are exactly why humans have an edge. Because we are hard wired. To fly or fight. And drugs just dull that entire sensation. We need an edge. For times like this.

KYLA: Everything’s life and death with you. You are so tense. I bet your muscles are all knots. Do you even sleep? Or do you just drink coffee and stress-dream all night?

HANNAH: What the hell?

KYLA: I can’t believe I ever thought you were cute.

[She laughs and claps her hand over her mouth.]

Oh my god, why did I say that?

HANNAH: (Forgetting to be quiet.) What the hell?!

KYLA: (Defiant.)Well, it’s true.

HANNAH: That’s just the pot talking. Or maybe the adrenaline. Or the panic.

KYLA: Pot can’t say anything. Or fear, or adrenaline, or whatever. Only people can say things. Things that they try to hide away sometimes. But it’s true. Even back in middle school, before you became uptight and crazy, when you were just the sad girl with the pretty hair.

[KYLA touches HANNAH’s hair. HANNAH freezes like she’s been shocked.]

HANNAH: I am not some sad, crazy girl that you get to fetishize.

[She pulls away from KYLA.]

So just don’t, okay?

KYLA: What? Do you have some problem with gay people? Or bi people?

HANNAH: No. I don’t. Which you would know, if you weren’t drunk or stoned or whatever, and had ever been to a single GSA meeting. Which you might notice, I lead. So, no. I don’t have a problem with gay people. Or bi people. Or any other kind of people.

KYLA: Except me.

HANNAH: I don’t even know you. Except that you have stupid friends, an even stupider boyfriend who you were found with, naked, in the E-building bathrooms. I know that your first response to a lockdown situation was to get high, drink booze, and try to feel up the person that you’re trapped in the room with.

KYLA: I didn’t try to feel you up. I just said that you have really pretty hair. That’s all.

HANNAH: Just eat the rest of your brownie.



[Lights up. It’s even later. There have been no more sounds, no more noise, no more anything. HANNAH has left the safety of the table, and is now sitting in KYLA’s old position, right in front of the door. Suddenly, the door begins to open.]

HANNAH: Aaaaaah!

[She braces herself against the door.]

Get over here and help me!

[KYLA leaps up, and bangs her head on the table.]

KYLA: Owwwww!

HANNAH: Jesus Christ. Never ask a stoner for help.

[She struggles for a few more seconds, but the door opens. GLASSMAN enters, a middle-aged male chemistry teacher, wearing what could best be described as a Sexy Wonder Woman costume.]

GLASSMAN: What the — ?

HANNAH: Oh, thank God.

GLASSMAN: (More jovial than scolding.) Hannah, please tell me that you’re not using my workroom to seduce a girl who —

[He takes a second look at KYLA.]

— who I’m pretty sure doesn’t play on your team.

HANNAH: No, the lockdown. We’ve been… Is the lockdown over? We didn’t hear anything on the loudspeaker.

GLASSMAN: The lockdown’s been over for a while. They weren’t able to announce it over the system, so they sent people door to door.

HANNAH: (Thunderclouds forming over her head.) And nobody thought to come out here.

GLASSMAN: Exactly.

KYLA: So did they get the shooter?

GLASSMAN: (Picking up on her altered state of consciousness.) No. There was no shooter.


HANNAH: We heard the shots.

KYLA: We heard people screaming.

[HANNAH gives KYLA a look.]

GLASSMAN: Firecrackers. And recordings.

HANNAH: But why the announcements? Why the whole lockdown?

GLASSMAN: From what they’ve told us, it was a prank by the Coding team. They hacked Lynn Marbury’s computer and ran the whole thing from there. That’s why they weren’t able to announce the end of the lockdown. The whole system’s screwed up.

KYLA: They hacked the principal’s computer? Holy shit, that’s cool.

HANNAH: We thought it might be something like that.

KYLA: You thought it was the football team.

GLASSMAN: If it wasn’t so high tech, I would’ve thought it was football team, too.


KYLA: That’s just mean.

GLASSMAN: No, what’s mean is when I beat out the rest of the faculty for best costume, for the 10th year in a row. I just need to get my lasso —

[He reaches up onto one of the shelves, and pulls down a rope.]

And let’s go. I bet you’re starving.

KYLA: I already ate.

GLASSMAN: (Looking at the uneaten brownie half.) I can see that.

HANNAH: I’m starving.

GLASSMAN: Burritos and candy. My treat. Let’s go.


Zach Payne is, to borrow the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, “a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive Payne.” He acts, sings poorly, and writes poetry, plays, and young adult fiction.

He’s an assistant at Ninja Writers, where he helps new writers find their voice and their tribe. He was the query intern for Pam Victorio at D4EO, and his novel Somehow You’re Sitting Here was selected for Nevada SCBWI’s 2015–16 Mentor Program. He lives in Reno.

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