Setting: Bookstore, Alex, Cindy, Tina are browsing through the fiction section together. They are stage left, moving toward stage right.
Cindy: You should read that; oh, wow, is it ever good!
Alex: Whatever. I heard it stunk.
Cindy: That's what I heard, but give it a chance... people just don't like it because it's such a radical departure from her typical style.
Tina: That's pretty impressive; to be able to change your writing style from one book to the next.
Cindy: I think it shows her command over her craft.
Alex: Or her lack of any style in general.
(Cougher coughs from offstage right.)
Tina: Someone's a bit jealous, I guess.
Alex: Right, I'm jealous of a hack, a chameleon.
Cindy: A published chameleon.
Alex: Hacks get published, otherwise they wouldn't be called hacks.
Cindy: What would they be called?
Cindy: Well, I'd give anything to be considered a hack. At least, I'd be published, and I'd be doing what I love.
Alex: Yeah, I mean I guess I would too. Just about anything.
(We hear another cough, offstage right, louder this time. Friends continue browsing and chatting.)
Tina: I'm a typist.
Cindy: We're all typists.
Alex: I like to think I'm a writer, just like you.
Cindy: I like to think you are too.
Tina: Not me.
Alex: You're so kind.
Tina: No... I mean me. I'm not a writer.
(Cougher enters, also browsing the fiction section, but moving toward stage left and the three friends. He coughs loudly, begins coughing more often and in a more prolonged fashion as we move through the scene)
Tina: (noticing Cougher for first time) I don't want to get published. Never have. I like just typing.
Cindy: That's cool, but why would you never want to be a published author?
Tina: Why would I?
Cindy: You could earn a living with only your ideas!
Alex: Money's good.
Cindy: (also starting to pay some attention to the Cougher) Yeah, better than working with little kids.
Tina: I love the little kids; it's so much fun.
Alex: No money.
Tina: So, I'm happy with them.
Cindy: Sure, but I've read some (Cougher coughs, he's getting closer to them now, and his coughs are long and nasty, and he doesn't cover his mouth in any way, Cindy loses her place a bit) Ummm... I.. uh... Oh yeah, I've read some of your stuff; it's great!
(cough cough cough cough, very loudly, with the last cough, the Cougher has moved into the friends' personal bubble. He is too close; they start to get uncomfortable)
Tina: Ummm.... thanks... I like writing....
(Cougher starts a long nasty cough, and he not only doesn't cover his mouth, he seems to be deliberately coughing in the direction of the three friends. The three friends want to keep browsing in the direction they have been heading; Cougher aims to disrupt that plan.)
Alex: Hey... ummm... (glancing at Cougher and giving a confused look to his friends, then trying to pull the conversation back) I like what you write too, Tina, and I think (Cougher has turned directly toward the friends, he is now clustered with them, and he coughs all over them, they turn away and try to not say anything, but this is just too much) What the.... Hey!! Do you mind?!
Cougher: (coughs in Alex's face as he says) No.
Alex: Listen, man, can you at least cover your mouth?
(From here on out, Cougher should cough whenever it feels right to punctuate lines, unless otherwise indicated)
Alex: It's disgusting... diseases spread that way.
Cougher: Which way?
Cindy: From people coughing without covering their mouths.
Cindy: We don't want whatever disease you've got.
Cougher: I don't have a disease.
Tina: You've got something.
Alex: Look, just don't do it anymore, alright? (He does)
Cougher: I don't have a disease.
Alex: We don't care... just... forget it (to his friends) Let's go.
Tina: I wanted to check out the kids' books section.
Alex: Sure. (The three head stage right to another shelf of books, begin browsing)
(Cougher begins working his way back toward stage right, coughing all the way. He should cough over their lines as he works his way toward the friends)
Tina: Ohhh... I just read this one to the kids this week. It's so good! Check out the pictures!
Cindy: Wow! What detail! For a kids' book?
Tina: I know, I know. I have to find some other stuff that he's illustrated.
Alex: Ahhh, cool! This was one of my favorite books when I was a kid.
Cindy: Hey! Me too!
Alex: I read it until it fell apart in my hands. My mom bought me another copy the next day.
Cindy: Did you ever read her other stuff?
Alex: Yeah. I think I've read everything she's ever written.
Cindy: Me too, about twenty times over!
(Cougher is now in their circle again; he coughs loudly at them)
Cougher: It's a condition.
Tiny: Whatever! You're really rude, you know that?
Cindy: And disgusting!
Cougher: But it's a condition!
Alex: Who cares? We don't want to know!
Cougher: I have love stuck in my throat!
Cindy: (long pause, they are curious about this) Ummm... did you say... "love"?
Cougher: Yes. In my throat.
Tina: (pause) "Stuck"?
Cougher: (loud cough stops Alex cold) I have to cough, or I'll die.
Alex: Whatever. Let's go. (Alex starts to leave, but Cindy and Tina are somewhat intrigued by the turn of the conversation and don't move.) C'mon!
Cindy: Really? You'll die?
Tina: (skeptically) How exactly does that work? You're not choking on love, are you?
Cougher: No, I have what doctors call Hyperliterative Pheremonic Occlusion, or H-PO, for short.
Tina: (laughing) Really? H-PO?
Alex: Let's just leave, alright?!
Cindy: Hmmm... "hyperliterative".... as in literature?
Cougher: Yes, apparantly a person can be so well-versed in literature, that the natural release of love pheremones in the body can be blocked.
Alex: You know; you're just talking crap now. I mean, you're still talking crap, like you have since you opened your mouth!
Cindy: What does literature have to do with blocking love in your body?
Cougher: The theory goes like this: Too many books, means too much reading, means your pheremone production is stimulated by so many tales of love, adventure, heroism, defeat and degradation that it begins to build up faster than your body can naturally release it.
Tina: Wow, that's beautiful, in a way.
Alex: That's complete nonsense.
Cougher: No. It's not.
Cindy: Why don't you just stop reading for a while?
Cougher: I do, and I have. But literature doesn't work that way. It paints pictures in your mind that never really leave, and the more the meomories of all the stories get triggered, the more the pheremones build up.
Tina: Love pheremones?
Cougher: Mostly, yes.
Alex: Still doen't mean you have to cough all over people!
Cougher: Well... no... I could cover my mouth, but that would block the pheremones.
Alex: And why the hell would this love be coming out of your windpipe?
Cougher: Good literature always takes your breath away, the love pheremones rush into take the place of the breath. It's builds up over time.
Alex: (blowing this off completely) Who cares?! You still dish out all these other nasty diseases when you hack all over people.
Cougher: I don't have a disease!
Alex: You don't know that!
Cougher: It was a risk I was willing to take!
Cindy: Some risk. Risking doesn't really accuately describe choosing to possible infect other people. That's our risk.
Tina: (much softer than the other two, she doesn't neccesarily believe Cougher's story, but she senses something in him) What did you mean by that... "a risk I was willing to take"? What risk?
Cougher: I wanted to give you the gift.
Tina: What gift?
Cougher: The gift I've given all five of my ex-wives.
Cindy: O.K. Ummm... that's really creepy, alright?
Alex: You're sick!
Cougher: None of my wives could handle my coughing. They all left me. They have turned out to be published authors. Actually, each of them has been quite successful.
Cindy: Big deal. So you dig writers.
Cougher: You don't understand: none of them even wrote - anything - when we first got married. One of them could barely even spell. One of them was a claims adjuster for an insurance company, not a creative bone in her body. Within one week of marrying me, all of them started writing. The usual pattern was a few months of that, finding their voice, then writing contests, short stories getting published, to first novels, then second, then careers really taking off, then they all left, sick of my constant coughing.
Alex: (laughing, incredulous) And you think... you actually think, that... coughing on your wives spurred them on to becoming published authors?
Alex: (still laughing) You're a piece of work, man.
Tina: That's the gift?
Cougher: Yes. I release the love pheremones which are entagled with my memories of the world's great literature, and the creativity pours forth from anyone who receives it.
Alex: That's not even scientifically possible; you're a joke!
Cougher: I have to cough, or the pressure from thhe pheremones would displace more and more air, slowly suffocating me.
Tina: Suffocated by your own love... wow! How beautifully tragic.
Cougher: I overheard you talking, about how you wanted to be published writers, and that you'd do just about anything to become one; so I thought...
Alex: (interrupting) I'll keep on being a perfrt who gets his jollies off telling people he can make them authors just by coughing on them! Do we look stupid to you?! Let's get out of here! (turns to go, pulling on Cindy's arm, she is staring at Cougher)
Tina: (softly) You know you havn't coughed for a few minutes now.
Cougher: I'm saving it up. I wanted to see if you really wanted the gift.
Tina: You wanted it to be more potent, right?
Tina: Not for me, please. I don't want to ever be a published writer, but I think my friend here (indicates Cindy) is very interested. Cindy?
Cindy: (looks at Tina, looks at Alex with some shame on her face, then at Cougher, holds her hhead high and says softly) Do it.
Alex: What?!! Are you insane?!! (Cougher has unleashed a huge cough into Cindy's face by now) That's frickin' disgusting!! How many arrests do you think this jerk has on his record?! Man!
Cindy: (smiling beatifically at Cougher) Thank you.
Alex: "Thank you??!!" What the hell?!
Cougher: It will probably take more than that. I coughed on my wives quite a lot before they really started to write well.
Cougher: Not now though. Can you meet me here next week? Same time?
Tina: We'll be here.
Alex: (to Cindy) This is so wrong, and you know it! Now you're coming back?!
Cougher: (starts walking away) Bring him with you when you come back. His tune will change. (cough cough)
Cindy: I will.