June 20, 2018

My Corner of The Canyon Something Wicked This Way Comes — Again


I had always meant to meet Ray Bradbury. The renowned writer of wonder and science fiction lived close by, here in the Los Angeles area, and surely, I imagined, sooner or later at some dinner party populated by fascinating people we would connect. If not the dinner party, another venue, for I assumed he frequented theater, literary gatherings, symposiums, art galleries, political rallies, fundraisers and, now and then, maybe even went out for a taco.

I was bound to come across him sometime. But what I failed to note was that while Bradbury might be out and about I was not an attendee of exciting, artistic, cultural or culinary events, except for the occasional taco.

Hence, my days flew away without encountering the good man. And now, as of June 5, 2012, to be exact, Mr. Bradbury has traveled off to that October Country. In time, hopefully, I shall meet him there.

We are reading “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” The book has been assigned to Miranda’s eighth-grade class. Of course, I’ve read it many times, even directed a version of it once at Topanga Elementary School.

Picking the book up I reread the prologue and felt a tingling sensation down my spine. The writing is that good. Although my daughter began reading the book herself upon hearing me tout the story and language by proclaiming, “Oh, I love that book; it’s one of my favorites,” or, “Bradbury sure knows how to create a mood.” Miranda realized she could easily entice me into reading aloud to her.

“I’m not sure I really understand this part,” she’d confess. “Why do the boys talk to a strange man selling lightning rods?”

That was all it took and the next thing I knew I had the book in my hand and was speaking the words; loving the words that so well captured autumn in a small-town America where adventure flew on the night wind and was ever alive and waiting if you but looked for it, if you but spoke to a lightning-rod salesman.

“But he was a stranger,” Miranda insists. Something in me dies a little to know she will not have those wild, brave and bold adventures. She hangs out at The Commons in Calabasas on Friday nights. And yes it’s safe, but, oh, so banal.

There was an abandoned farmhouse in a large weed-covered lot near my parent’s house in the Valley. There are apartments built there now but back then in the ‘60s it was still an open field filled with straggly trees and large brambled bushes and a sign posted stating, “Stay Out.”

It wasn’t long before the wildness of the place attracted my 10-year-old friends and me. On a Saturday afternoon, in search of adventure, we wondered around the area finding trails through the foliage and rusting farm equipment, hiding from one another, pretending to get lost, jumping out and scaring an innocent victim, galloping like horses, whooping and hollering, bending low to clear an arch-like overhang, sweating a bit, suffering scratches, skinning a knee, tripping and laughing.

And then we came upon it. Hidden in the middle of the old dusty trees and ivy, was a rather dilapitated house. We stood looking at it and our voices fell to a whisper.

“Do you think anyone lives there? Maybe we’re trespassing. Maybe they’ve got a gun. It looks empty. Someone should knock on the door. Why don’t you?”

“Why don’t you?”

“What should we say? Maybe a witch lives there. Ask if they know the time. No. Say we’re looking for a lost dog or cat. I lost my turtle. We can’t say we’re looking for a lost turtle. No one would believe it. That’s just stupid. Yeah! Yeah!”

We approached the house softly. The windows were dirty and some were cracked. We peered in. There was not much to see. It had been lived in once. There were still chairs and some old wooden dusty furniture. It didn’t look particularly inviting. In fact, it had rather a sad haunted feeling about it, as if its life as a house was over and it knew it.

But we had found it, it seemed deserted and in that Saturday afternoon it was ours. We knocked. No answer. We tried the door. It opened. We gasped together and stepped inside.

Still speaking in whispers we looked around, noting everything we saw as if it had great meaning, as if we were detectives. “Look, magazines.”

“Over here’s an ashtray and there are some cigarette butts in it and one is hardly smoked.”

“There’s a plaid shirt on the floor.” “Why would anyone go and leave this perfectly good pen behind?”

We sat on some of the chairs. We invented stories of what happened to the people who lived there, tales of divorce, drunkenness and last-minute, midnight escapes from the law. We conjectured that the place was now being used as a hideout by a gang of burglars; after , one of the magazines looked almost new.

Maybe the gang wanted the place to appear to be just an old empty house. Maybe there were jewels hidden inside somewhere or buried outside. We debated calling the police and imagined receiving a reward. We would go to Disneyland. There was a thud outside. We were up and out of that house as fast as dry lightning in a summer sky.

We ran. We ran back to the safety of my parents’ house and drank Hawaiian Punch, gulping it down greedily. It took us a good 45 minutes to bolster our courage and return to the house. All was quiet. Nothing seemed changed, yet something was different. We hesitated then finally moved to the door. It was locked. We stood shocked. Had someone been watching us? Did the door lock automatically behind us? Was it a ghost?

For the second time that day we ran like hell. About a month later the whole place was bulldozed. It was as if it had never existed. But sometimes we’d talk about the house and it grew in mystery and memory.

Bradbury would have liked it.

Science fiction isn’t what it used to be. Martians, tattoos, even the future seems old hat. However, there is something still unsettling about a dark circus and merry-go-round that goes backwards. The father in “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” is supposed to be old, graying, past his prime, too old to be the parent of an almost 14-year-old.

He is, I realize, exactly my age. If you ride the carousal backwards you become younger with each revolution. Though he is tempted to hop aboard and ride back just one year or three, Bradbury gives him the grace to resist (I fear I would falter). That makes him a true hero. And a hero is what is needed to fight the scariest part of science fiction, the part that remains powerful, unchanging, the part that is real. Evil. At the end of the story the horrible Mr. Dark and his cast of calamitous carnival characters are beaten.

“Dad, will they ever come back?” asks the boy.

His father answers. “No not them. But yes, other people like them. Not in a carnival. God knows what shape they’ll come in next. But sunrise, noon, or at least sunset tomorrow they’ll show. They’re on the road.”

So this wonderful man leaves us here to fight them. Me, an aging mother, and Miranda and Lulu and Riley and James and you and all the others that read his words. And who knows where THEY might appear, it could even be at an urban shopping center called, The Commons.

In Memorium: Ray Douglas Bradbury — August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012.