“Have you ever heard of the 39 steps?”
Mr. Richard Hannay, a stoic and calm narrator, recalls for us the days of old—the year 1914, to be exact—and the trying times everyone, himself especially, lived through both at home and abroad.
As he weaves us back through his memory, he takes us to where it all began—when a nervous, short man in a bowler hat met him outside his home, and during their exchange asked Hannay if he may seek shelter in his home—since he was on the run from German spies, otherwise known as The Black Stone.
This moment, unbeknownst to the narrator, marks the threshold between the life he was familiar with and a new life full of danger and paranoia. Before departing for bed, the perfect stranger informs Hannay of his worries, “Believe me, Mr. Hannay, unless I am alive on the 5th, your country will be at war."
RadioTheatre reenacts the urgings of a dying man
When morning comes and Hannay checks in on his guest, he finds him sprawled out on the bed—taking his last breaths. Gasping for air he says, “The steps, find the steps. At low tide, the 39 steps.” And with that the man passes—leaving our narrator with one of two choices: to either pursue said quest or stay behind and be framed for murder.
What follows this moment is a journey for a man who will never know peace again, as he is recognized by strangers on a train; is anxious of those he passes on the street; and must hide from members of The Black Stone. A journey that left this listener thinking that perhaps all it takes is one moment—specifically, here, one murder—to change the course of history.
Frank Zilinyi, R.Patrick Alberty, Alejandro Cardozo, Caitlin Boyle, Sarah Gwynne Walker, Annemarie Hagenaars
Dan Bianchi (director/story adapter/sound), Wes Shippee (sound design/tech director)
RadioTheatre poster image courtesy of RadioTheatre NYC; all other images public domain
About the Author: Margaret Smith ( Photo by Mike Rundle )
Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based, multi-genre writer and editor. They are a graduate of Columbia College Chicago, a lover of all-things theater, and a crossword puzzle enthusiast. More of their work can be found on the Better Magazine website.