53 Drink the Kool Aid

Elizabeth Marr

Keywords: Fake, Sinister, Desperation, Persuasion, Trickery

I would like to dedicate this chapter to my mother, who taught me to never lose faith in myself.


INT. RITZ CARLTON – NEW YEARS EVE, 11:15PM

An elevator dings and the doors open. A woman in her forties steps inside to join a man in his fifties. Two young girls, EMMA (5) and MOLLY (6), clutch their MOTHER’s hands. One is sucking her thumb.

The two adults stand in each of the back corners. Mother pretends to be fascinated by the walls of the elevator as one does when they are in close proximity to a stranger. The man quietly observes the family.

He is dressed in a janitor’s outfit and is holding a cart with two ice buckets of champagne and several bottles marked “New Year’s Punch.”

The lights in the elevator flicker and the car jolts to a stop.

EMMA

Mommy, what happened?

Mother smiles down at her oldest daughter and squeezes her hand reassuringly.

MOTHER

I don’t know, sweetie. I’m sure we’ll get going in a second.

The littlest girl begins to cry.

MOLLY

It’s just like the Hollywood Tower of Terror!

Her eyes widen.

MOLLY

Are there ghosts?

The janitor smiles warmly at Molly and chuckles.

JANITOR

There’s nothing to worry about. I’ve been working on these elevators for years. They just get tired and like to catch their breath sometimes.

The girl wipes her tears on the hem of her mother’s dress.

JANITOR

How old are you?

MOLLY

I…I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.

MOTHER

It’s okay, sweetie. Tell the nice man how old you are.

Molly holds up five chubby fingers.

EMMA

She’s only five. I’LL be seven in two weeks!

JANITOR

Wow! Well it’s very nice to meet you lovely ladies.

The janitor bows to the girls who giggle in amusement.

JANITOR

Your girls are very well-behaved.

MOTHER

(Smiling)

Thank you.

The sisters watch as their mother’s perfectly manicured nails disappear into her Louis Vuitton purse to pull out two pink Nintendo DS’s.

MOTHER

You can have ten minutes of electronic time while we wait.

The girls squeal and gleefully grab their toys.

MOLLY

I’m going to play MarioKart!

The girls sprawl out on the white tile floor. Emma carefully sits cross-legged next to her mother’s leg. Molly plops down and lays on her tummy, chubby legs swinging in excitement.

JANITOR

Isn’t it past your bedtime, little one?

MOLLY

Mommy’s letting us stay awake to watch the fireworks!

Emma sneaks up behind her younger sister.

EMMA

Boom!

Emma laughs as Molly begins to wail.

MOLLY

You scared me!

Mother picks up the five-year-old and holds her close to soothe her.

MOTHER

Okay. You’re okay.

Molly quiets down and stares at the janitor from over her mother’s shoulder. Mother puts her little one down and sighs. Molly stares at the janitor for a second before she rummages in her mother’s purse and pulls out a Ziploc bag of Cheerios.

MOTHER

I’m sorry. It’s a little late for them.

JANITOR

That’s alright, ma’am.

Molly crunches loudly on her Cheerios and wipes the snot that is dripping from her nose. She plops down onto the floor. Emma timidly sits next to her and gives her a hug. Mother glances at her watch.

MOTHER

It’s been about ten minutes. Do you think we should try pushing the call button?

JANITOR

Oh, that’s a good idea.

The mom looks at the janitor suspiciously as he pushes the call for help button. It rings for a few seconds, but nobody answers. Mother sighs.

MOTHER

How long have you been working at the Ritz?

JANITOR

I usually work at the Four Seasons, but they needed extra hands on deck tonight for a New Years event.

MOTHER

Oh. It must be nice to work in such beautiful hotels.

JANITOR

Sure.

Mother looks at the janitor’s dingy uniform with mild distaste.

MOTHER

Maybe we should sit down. It could be a while until the elevator starts again.

The janitor nods and sits toward the front of the elevator, politely giving the girls room to play. Mother sits down next to her daughters. Molly climbs into her lap and begins to babble as she plays her game. Suddenly, Molly chokes on a Cheerio. Her face is filled with shock as she stares at her mother.

MOTHER

Oh Molly!

Mother holds her daughter up and pats her back. The older girl is screaming bloody murder.

MOTHER

I don’t know what to do! Help her! Please!

The janitor swiftly picks up the girl and performs the Heimlich maneuver. Mother stays close and watches in terror as Molly gasps for air.

MOTHER

Come on, sweetheart! Breathe!

Molly coughs and out pops the Cheerio, smacking her mother square in the forehead. Mother reaches out to grab Molly, but the janitor holds up a hand.

JANITOR

Let’s give her some space to catch her breath.

Molly looks stunned. Two tears fall down her cheeks, but she makes no sound other than a few coughs and wheezes.

MOTHER

Are you okay, sweetheart?

Molly stares up at her mother and nods her head.

MOTHER

Does your throat hurt?

Molly shakes her head. Mother looks up at the janitor as if she’s just remembered he’s there.

MOTHER

You…you saved her life. Thank you so much!

The janitor puffs up his chest and beams at Mother.

JANITOR

Oh, it was nothing. I’m just glad she’s alright.

Mother looks into her purse then back up at the janitor.

MOTHER

I…how can I ever thank you?

The janitor chuckles.

JANITOR

No thanks necessary ma’am. I was just doing what any decent person would do.

He sets Molly back down onto the floor. She runs into her mother’s open arms.

MOTHER

Please, there must be something I can do.

The janitor’s smile widens.

JANITOR

I suppose…there is one thing.

MOTHER

What is it?

JANITOR

The party going on tonight is actually in my honor. Are you religious?

MOTHER

We go to church sometimes.

JANITOR

Well I’ve been holding a sort of religious club here for some time now.

Mother smiles politely and nods.

MOTHER

Mmm hmm.

JANITOR

Anyway, I received funding from one of my dear friends, Senator Harvey. We’re celebrating being able to start a program to help single moms.

Mother wipes away a stray tear with her ring finger and looks at it as if she’s surprised by her emotions.

MOTHER

Oh! How nice!

Mother looks away in embarrassment.

JANITOR

I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.

Mother smiles and takes in a long breath.

MOTHER

No, I just think that’s a wonderful cause. I don’t mean to overshare, but when my husband passed…well…it’s just been hard.

Mother leans in and lowers her voice so the girls won’t hear her.

MOTHER

I love my daughters. Truly, I do. But, it’s a lot, having to work and take care of them. I’m not sure if I’m doing a good job.

Mother looks at her girls sadly.

JANITOR

I’m sure you’re doing the best you can.

Emma begins to tickle Molly. Molly laughs and then coughs and tries to protect herself with her short chubby arms.

MOLLY

Stop it!

Emma giggles mischievously and hides behind her mother. Molly gets up to chase her, and the girls run in a circle around the two seated adults.

MOTHER

Girls! Sit down.

Mother sternly claps her hands. Emma goes to her mother and sits beside her obediently. Molly hides behind the drink cart. The janitor watches her with a smile as she picks a bottle of champagne up out of the ice bucket.

MOTHER

What was it you were saying?

JANITOR

The celebration tonight was supposed to include a re-enactment of one of my favorite plays, but our leading lady got sick last minute. Would you want to help me and fill in for her? You’d just have to read some lines.

MOTHER

Of course! I would love to! I used to act in college. I probably could have done it professionally, but then I had these two angels.

The janitor raises his eyebrows and smiles.

JANITOR

Then you’ll be the perfect addition to our team. Who knows, maybe you could help me work out the kinks for my single-moms plan.

MOTHER

Oh, I would love that!

Molly wobbles over with the heavy champagne bottle and tugs at her mother’s dress.

MOLLY

Mommy, can I drink this?

Mother and the janitor smile at each other and laugh.

MOTHER

No, sweetheart, that drink is only for adults.

MOLLY

But, why can’t I have it?

Molly’s lip begins to quiver as her eyes well with tears. Her fingers tighten around the champagne bottle. Her mother tries to grab it from her fingers, but Molly grips it tightly.

JANITOR

I have some juice here that she can have.

MOTHER

Are you sure? We don’t want to impose.

JANITOR

This whole cart was going to my party. Seeing as I’m the guest of honor, it’s my duty to quench the thirst of all the princesses that attend.

The janitor winks at Molly then looks back at Mother.

JANITOR

In fact, would you like some champagne? After everything that just happened, I could use something to calm my nerves.

Mother laughs.

MOTHER

Sure, there’s no harm in enjoying our New Year’s even if we are stuck in this box.

The janitor smiles at her with a sickly sweetness. He pulls three clear plastic cups from the cart. He fills Molly’s cup with juice.

MOTHER

(to Emma)

Do you want some juice?

The janitor pauses and looks at the mother.

EMMA

No, thank you.

Emma opens her Nintendo DS and begins to play.

JANITOR

Such good manners.

He twists off the wrapping around the champagne and swiftly pops off the cork. The two adults smile at one another. The janitor pours the champagne into both of the cups and hands one to Mother.

JANITOR

Cheers.

MOTHER

Cheers.

MOLLY

Cheers!

The adults laugh at Molly’s attempt to mimic their behavior. The three take a sip of their drinks. Molly dribbles a little onto her chin and the mom wipes it off with a napkin from her purse.

MOLLY

Mommy, mommy, here try!

The girl pushes her cup up toward her mother’s face. The mom laughs and grabs it before it spills.

MOTHER

No thank you. I bet it’s super sweet, just like you!

The mom lightly tickles her daughter’s tummy.

JANITOR

(Laughing)

I’ll admit, it’s mostly just red Kool Aid.

The girl finishes her juice and lays her head down on her mom’s leg to rest.

MOTHER

Uh, oh. I think it’s bedtime.

JANITOR

Hopefully, we’ll get moving soon.

The janitor smiles down at the sleeping child.

MOTHER

Oh, I’m starting to feel a bit tired myself.

The mother puts her hand to her forehead and yawns.

MOTHER

Excuse me.

JANITOR

It must be about midnight by now.

Molly begins to shake. Panicked, Mother looks down at her daughter who coughs up a bit of the juice. The red droplets splatter on the white elevator floor. Then, the mother looks at her oldest daughter who is entranced by her Nintendo DS game. Her mouth opens to speak.

MOTHER

Wha…ah.

No words come out. She drops the phone and stares in shock at the janitor who smiles back at her.

JANITOR

Shhh. Don’t worry. It won’t be long now.

Mother holds her lifeless daughter close.

MOTHER

What do you mean?

The janitor just smiles.

MOTHER

What did you do?

JANITOR

What did I do? You’re the mother who gave cyanide punch to her five-year-old. The cameras caught everything.

The janitor points to the elevator security camera. The mother looks at him, stunned.

JANITOR

Don’t worry. I can take care of it. Nobody will ever have to see that film. All you have to do is come with me and join my little group. I can protect you.

MOTHER

I never want to see you again you bastard! You killed my daughter!

JANITOR

Fine. I’ll tell my friends to send the tape to the police. Is that what you want?

MOTHER

Why are you doing this? What do you get out of it?

JANITOR

I need your help with an experiment. I have a way you can see your daughter again, but you have to do exactly what I say.

Mother glares at the janitor and inches closer to Emma, who is oblivious to the hushed conversation next to her.

JANITOR

The punch didn’t kill her. It just sent her to another place.

The janitor leans in as if he’s about to share a big secret.

JANITOR

My team of religious scientists have found a way into Heaven! You leave behind all your Earthly troubles with your body. And if you don’t like it there, my team can bring you and Molly right back.

Mother pauses for a moment then shakes her head in disbelief and tries to reach for her purse. The janitor pulls out a knife from his pocket.

JANITOR

Stand still.

Mother freezes in fear.

JANITOR

Look, you and your other daughter drink this, and you’ll all be together again. One happy family! And as a bonus, you’ll go down in history for being in one of the greatest scientific experiments of all time! What do you say?

MOTHER

Do I have a choice?

The janitor smiles wickedly.

JANITOR

No.

The janitor pours two cups of the New Years Punch and hands them to Mother.

JANITOR

Now, don’t tell her she’s going to die. That’ll scare her and she’ll never drink it. You wouldn’t want to leave her behind would you?

MOTHER

What if I refused?

JANITOR

Then I would kill you.

MOTHER

So you admit there is no experiment.

The janitor’s face turns red with rage.

JANITOR

Of course there’s an experiment. You just wouldn’t get to be a part of it anymore.

Mother’s hands shake as she looks down into the deadly punch. She looks at Molly, who looks as though she could be peacefully sleeping. Then, she looks at Emma. Her breathing quickens and the janitor puts his hands on her shoulders. She recoils at his touch and Emma looks up. Mother smiles bravely.

MOTHER

Emma, honey? Do you want to try this juice? It’s really yummy.

EMMA

No, thanks!

Emma looks up at her mom and smiles. She waves to the janitor who hides his knife and waves back with his free hand.

JANITOR

I made it myself.

MOTHER

Emma, let’s not be rude. Try the nice man’s juice. Here, we’ll do it together!

Emma looks confusedly at her mom and takes the cup. Mother and Emma bring their cups up to take a sip. Mother squeezes Emma’s hand and finishes her cup. Emma’s cup slips through her fingers and falls to the floor. The deep purple liquid oozes across the cracks in the tile.

EMMA

Oops!

Mother looks down in horror, then up at the janitor. Her vision blurs. The janitor and the mother continue to stare at each other as she collapses into the corner of the elevator, holding her youngest daughter. Her breathing becomes shallow as she weakly lifts one arm to warn Emma of the dangerous man she is now trapped with. Emma waves back. The arm drops and she slumps down, mouth still open in horror.

EMMA

Mommy?

JANITOR

Don’t worry. I just gave her a drink to help her rest.

EMMA

Like sleeping pills?

JANITOR

Exactly.

EMMA

Oh, yeah. She takes those all the time. They really knock her out, huh.

The janitor chuckles.

JANITOR

It appears so.

The janitor pulls out a walkie talkie from his uniform. He presses a small red button on the side. The elevator begins to whir as it resumes motion. The panel on the wall dings as it displays the number fourteen. The doors slide open.

JANITOR

Did you know that hotels don’t have a thirteenth floor? They go straight from twelve to fourteen because thirteen is supposed to be unlucky.

EMMA

Then, isn’t this the thirteenth floor?

JANITOR

You’re a very smart little girl! Come now let’s let your mommy and sister sleep.

The janitor reaches out for the little girl’s hand. She grabs it and lets him guide her out of the elevator and down the hallway.

EMMA

What’s your name?

JANITOR

I’m Mr. Jones.

The pair walk down the carpeted hallway. The girl looks back at the closing elevator doors as the janitor pulls her around the corner and out of sight.

BLACK

NARRATOR

In 1978, more than 900 members of an American cult called the Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide-murder under the direction of their leader Jim Jones.

EXT. RAINFOREST – MIDDAY

Large tropical jungle leaves fade into view. Rain softly drums down as they blow in the breeze.

NARRATOR

They were forced to feed poisonous punch to their children and then drink it themselves as armed guards watched. They were given no choice. The world remembers this tragedy through the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid.”

BLACK

NARRATOR

Jim Jones died at the scene. A small handful of the Temple members survived and fled into the jungle, never to be seen again.

FADE TO BLACK

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Rhetoric in Everyday Life by Elizabeth Marr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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