skull-and-hand

The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clocks by deathwatch beetles, and thrive the centuries. They were the men with the leather-ribbon whips who sweated up the Pyramids seasoning it with other people’s salt and other people’s cracked hearts. They coursed Europe on the White Horses of the Plague. They whispered to Caesar that he was mortal, then sold daggers at half-price in the grand March sale. Some must have been lazing clowns, foot props for emperors, princes, and epileptic popes. Then out on the road, Gypsies in time, their populations grew as the world grew, spread, and there was more delicious variety of pain to thrive on. The train put wheels under them and here they run down the log road out of the Gothic and baroque; look at their wagons and coaches, the carving like medieval shrines, all of it stuff once drawn by horses, mules, or, maybe, men.

Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes

faceless

These lists (nouns to trigger ideas for stories) were the provocations, finally, that caused my better stuff to surface. I was feeling my way toward something honest, hidden under the trapdoor on the top of my skull.

The lists ran something like this:

THE LAKE. THE NIGHT. THE CRICKETS. THE RAVINE. THE ATTIC. THE BASEMENT. THE TRAPDOOR. THE BABY. THE CROWD. THE NIGHT TRAIN. THE FOG HORN. THE SCYTHE. THE CARNIVAL. THE CAROUSEL. THE DWARF. THE MIRROR MAZE. THE SKELETON…

I was beginning to see a pattern in the list, in these words that I had simply flung forth on paper, trusting my subconscious to give bread, as it were, to the birds. Glancing over the list, I discovered my old love and fright having to do with circuses and carnivals. I remembered, and then forgot, and then remembered again, how terrified I had been when my mother took me for my first ride on a merry-go-round. With the calliope screaming and the world spinning and the terrible horses leaping, I added my shrieks to the din. I did not go near the carousel again for years. When I really did, decades later, it rode me into the midst of Something Wicked This Way Comes

I began to run through those lists, pick a noun, and then sit down to write a long prose-poem-essay on it.

Somewhere along about the middle of the page, or perhaps on the second page, the prose poem would turn into a story. Which is to say that a character suddenly appeared and said, “That’s me”; or, “That’s an idea I like!” And the character would then finish the tale for me. It began to be obvious that I was learning from my lists of nouns, and that I was further learning that my characters would do my work for me, if I let them alone, if I gave them their heads, which is to say, their fantasies, their frights.

Ray Bradbury
Zen and the art of writing

the smell of pumpkins…

October 19, 2015

onthestairs

Nobody moved.

Everybody sat in the dark cellar, suspended in the suddenly frozen task of this October game; the wind blew outside, banging the house, the smell of pumpkins and apples filled the room with smell of the objects in their fingers while one boy cried, “I’ll go upstairs and look!” and he ran upstairs hopefully and out around the house, four times around the house, calling, “Marion, Marion, Marion!” over and over and at last coming slowly down the stairs into the waiting breathing cellar and saying to the darkness, “I can’t find her.”

Then… some idiot turned on the lights.

Ray Bradbury,
The October Game (from Long After Midnight)

Writing Persistently

August 19, 2015

We got to watch out…

August 17, 2015

fog

“Dad, will they ever come back?”

“No. And yes.” Dad tucked away his harmonica. “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 the latest, sunset tomorrow they’ll show. They’re on the road.”

“Oh, no,” said Will.

“Oh, yes, said Dad. “We got to watch out the rest of our lives. The fight’s just begun.”

They moved around the carousel slowly.

“What will they look like? How will we know them?”

“Why,” said Dad, quietly, “maybe they’re already here.”

Both boys looked around swiftly.

But there was only the meadow, the machine, and themselves.

Will looked at Jim, at his father, and then down at his own body and hands. He glanced up at Dad.

Dad nodded, once, gravely, and then nodded at the carousel, and stepped up on it, and touched a brass pole.

Will stepped up beside him. Jim stepped up beside Will.

Jim stroked a horse’s mane. Will patted a horse’s shoulders.

The great machine softly tilted in the tides of night.

Just three times around, ahead, thought Will. Hey.

Just four times around, ahead, thought Jim. Boy.

Just ten times around, back, thought Charles Halloway. Lord.

Each read the thoughts in the other’s eyes.

How easy, thought Will.

Just this once, thought Jim.

But then, thought Charles Halloway, once you start, you’d always come back. One more ride and one more ride. And, after awhile, you’d offer rides to friends, and more friends until finally…

The thought hit them all in the same quiet moment.

…finally you wind up owner of the carousel, keeper of the freaks…

proprietor for some small part of eternity of the traveling dark carnival shows….

Maybe, said their eyes, they’re already here.”

Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes

writing

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

Ray Bradbury
Zen in the Art of Writing

graveyard

It was a small town by a small river and a small lake in a small northern part of a Midwest state. There wasn’t so much wilderness around you couldn’t see the town. But on the other hand there wasn’t so much town you couldn’t see and feel and touch and smell the wilderness. The town was full of trees. And dry grass and dead flowers now that autumn was here. And full of fences to walk on and sidewalks to skate on and a large ravine to tumble in and yell across. And the town was full of…

Boys.

And it was the afternoon of Halloween.

And all the houses shut against a cool wind.

And the town was full of cold sunlight.

But suddenly, the day was gone.

Night came out from under each tree and spread.

Ray Bradbury
The halloween tree

Darks


I don’t know how many times I’ve read “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. The first time I was thirteen going on fourteen years old, just a nothing sort of kid with a head-full of dreams and ambitions that were tenuous as a spider’s silken thread, and whose desire to conquer words, and, through them, worlds was paramount.

Then I open this book, and POW!

It’s a masterpiece, I thought, then. A teen reading about young teens up against it. Who couldn’t identify with that? Set on an October night in a small Midwestern town that could serve as Everywhereville, we watch the arrival of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show. We watch darkness infect the light. Darkness seeps from the pages of the book – look at the characters names: Jim Nightshade, a night blooming flower, and Will Halloway who could just as easily be named Will Halloween. And then Mr Dark himself, denizen of Victorian melodrama, moustache-twirling and “illustrated” with monochrome horrors.

Most of the book is set at night. It is, more than anything, a book about the onset of night. Boys who want to rush to grow-up, and men and women who wish to be young again, to run from the darkness of the grave. The darkness touches their souls, our souls too, as the whirring calliope tunes and the Night People spread darkness and in the process uncover peoples deepest desires, deepest fears.

Listen to Bradbury speak of Will’s father and the night:

“Midnight then and the town clocks chiming on toward one and two and then three in the deep morning and the peals of the great clocks shaking dust off old toys in high attics and shedding silver off old mirrors in yet higher attics and stirring up dreams about clocks in all the beds where children slept.”

You can almost taste the candyfloss off the pages, hear the crispy Autumn leaves rattling over the sidewalk, and smell the smoke of bonfires in the cool night air.

“For some, autumn comes early, stays late, through life…with no winter, spring or revivifying summer. For these beings, fall is the only normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No, the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks through their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks. Such are the autumn people. Beware of them…”

scream

Beware the autumn people.

For some, autumn comes early, stays late, through life, where October follows September and November touches October and then instead of December and Christ’s birth there is no Bethlehem Star, no rejoicing, but September comes again and old October and so on down the years, with no winter, spring or revivifying summer.

For these beings, fall is the only normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond.

Where do they come from? The dust.

Where do they go? The grave.

Does blood stir their veins? No, the night wind.

What ticks in their head? The worm.

What speaks through their mouth? The toad.

What sees from their eye? The snake.

What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars.

They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth. In gusts they beetle-scurry, creep, thread, filter, motion, make all moons sullen, and surely cloud all clear-run waters. The spider-web hears them, trembles—breaks.

Such are the autumn people.

Ray Bradbury
Something Wicked This Way Comes

witch2

A Witch is born out of the true hungers of her time. I am a child of the poisonous wind that copulated with the river on an oil-slick, garbage infested midnight. I turn about on my own parentage. I inoculate against those very biles that brought me to light. I am a serum born of venoms. I am the antibody of all time.

Ray Bradbury
Long After Midnight,