Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

Practice: Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

 

One of my new favorite things I’ve ever read is Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” a partially successful movie a while back that certainly deserves a reboot, but only if done very, very well.

Nobody wields words like Mr. Bradbury! Here are some delicious excerpts from this masterful work of fantasy and fear:

**

WILL STOPPED. Will looked at the Friday night town. It seemed when the first stroke of nine banged from the big courthouse clock all the lights were on and business humming in the shops. But by the time the last stroke of nine shook everyone’s fillings in his teeth, the barbers had yanked off the sheets, powdered the customers, trotted them forth; the druggist’s fount had stopped fizzing like a nest of snakes, the insect neons everywhere had ceased buzzing, and the vast guttering acreage of the dime store with its ten billion metal, glass and paper oddments waiting to be fished over, suddenly blacked out. Shades slithered, doors boomed, keys rattled their bones in locks, people fled with hordes of torn newspaper mice nibbling their heels. Bang! they were gone!

 

“Curious?” This second man was tall as a lamp post. His pale face, lunar pockmarks denting it, cast light on those who stood below. His vest was the color of fresh blood. His eyebrows, his hair, his suit were licorice black, and the sun-yellow gem which stared from the tie pin thrust in his cravat was the same unblinking shade and bright crystal as his eyes. But in this instant, swiftly, and with utter clearness, it was the suit which fascinated Will. For it seemed woven of boar-bramble, clock-spring hair, bristle, and a sort of ever-trembling, ever-glistening dark hemp. The suit caught light and stirred like a bed of black tweed-thorns, interminably itching, covering the man’s long body with motion so it seemed he should excruciate, cry out, and tear the clothes free. Yet here he stood, moon-calm, inhabiting his itch-weed suit and watching Jim’s mouth with his yellow eyes. He never looked once at Will. “The name is Dark.”

**

Someone, something, on the carousel wailed faintly. Thank God it’s dark, thought Will. Thank God, I can’t see. There goes someone. Here comes something. There, whatever it is, goes again. There … there … A bleak shadow on the shuddering machine tried to stagger up, but it was late, late, later still, very late, latest of all, oh, very late. The shadow crumbled. The carousel, like the earth spinning, whipped away air, sunlight, sense and sensibility, leaving only dark, cold, and age.

In a final vomit, the switch box blew itself completely apart. All the carnival lights blinked out. The carousel slowed itself through the cold night wind. Will let Jim go. How many times, thought Will, did it go around? Sixty, eighty … ninety …? How many times? said Jim’s face, all nightmare, watching the dead carousel shiver and halt in the dead grass, a stopped world now which nothing, not their hearts, hands or heads, could send back anywhere. They walked slowly to the merry-go-round, their shoes whispering. The shadowy figure lay on the near side, on the plank floor, its face turned away. One hand hung off the platform. It did not belong to a boy. It seemed a huge wax hand shriveled by fire. The man’s hair was long, spidery, white. It blew like milkweed in the breathing dark. They bent to see the face. The eyes were mummified shut. The nose was collapsed upon gristle. The mouth was a ruined white flower, the petals twisted into a thin wax sheath over the clenched teeth through which faint bubblings sighed. The man was small inside his clothes, small as a child, but tall, strung out, and old, so old, very old, not ninety, not one hundred, no, not one hundred ten, but one hundred twenty or one hundred thirty impossible years old. Will touched. The man was cold as an albino frog. He smelled of moon swamps and old Egyptian bandages. He was something found in museums, wrapped in nicotine linens, sealed in glass. But he was alive, puling like a babe, and shriveling unto death, fast, very fast, before their eyes. Will was sick over the side of the carousel. Then, falling against each other, Jim and Will sledge-hammered the insane leaves, the unbelievable grass, the insubstantial earth with their numbed shoes, fleeing off down the midway….

**

The temperature dropped forty degrees. Because now the storm-bleached balloon whisper-purled, plummet-sank softly down, its elephant shadow cooling gemmed lawns and sundials as they flaunted their swift gaze high through that shadow. And what they saw was something akimbo and arustle in the down-hung wicker carriage. Was that head and shoulders? Yes, with the moon like a silver cloak thrown up behind. Mr. Dark! thought Will. The Crusher! thought Jim. The Wart! thought Will. The Skeleton! The Lava Sipper! The Hanging Man! Monsieur Guillotine! No. The Dust Witch. The Witch who might draw skulls and bones in the dust, then sneeze it away. Jim looked to Will and Will to Jim; both read their lips: the Witch! But why a wax crone flung out in a night balloon to search? thought Will, why none of the others, with their lizard-venom, wolf-fire, snake-spit eyes? Why send a crumbled statue with blind-newt lashes sewn tight with black-widow thread? And then, looking up, they knew. For the Witch, though peculiar wax, was peculiarly alive. Blind, yes, but she thrust down rust-splotched fingers which petted, stroked the sluices of air, which cut and splayed the wind, peeled layers of space, blinded stars, which hovered and danced, then fixed and pointed as did her nose. And the boys knew even more. They knew that she was blind, but special blind. She could dip down her hands to feel the bumps of the world, touch house roofs, probe attic bins, reap dust, examine draughts that blew through halls and souls that blew through people, draughts vented from bellows to thump-wrist, to pound-temples, to pulse-throat, and back to bellows again. Just as they felt that balloon sift down like an autumn rain, so she could feel their souls disinhabit, reinhabit their tremulous nostrils. Each soul, a vast warm fingerprint, felt different, she could roil it in her hand like clay; smelled different, Will could hear her snuffing his life away; tasted different, she savored them with her raw-gummed mouth, her puff-adder tongue; sounded different, she stuffed their souls in one ear, tissued them out the other! Her hands played down the air, one for Will, one for Jim. The balloon shadow washed them with panic, rinsed them with terror.

The Witch exhaled. The balloon, freed of this small sour ballast, up-rose. The shadow passed. “Oh God!” said Jim. “Now they know where we live!”

**

His hand turned the doorknob of the old house. Oh God, he thought, what if they are inside, waiting for me? He opened a door on darkness. Dust came and went in that dark, and a harpstring gesticulation of spiders. Nothing else. Will jumped two at a time up the crumbling stairs, around and out on the roof where he stashed his weapons behind the chimney and stood tall. The balloon, green as slime, printed with titan pictures of winged scorpions, ancient phoenixes, smokes, fires, clouded weathers, swung its wicker basket wheezing, down. Witch, he thought, here! The dank shadow struck him like a batwing. Will toppled. He flung up his hands. The shadow was almost black flesh, striking. He fell. He clutched the chimney. The shadow draped him, hushing down. It was cold as a sea cave in that cloud-dark. But suddenly the wind, of itself, veered. The Witch hissed in frustration. The balloon swam a washing circle up around. The wind! thought the boy wildly, it’s on my side! No, don’t go! he thought. Come back. For he feared she had smelled his plan. She had. She itched for his scheme. She snuffed, she gasped at it. He saw the way her nails filed and scraped the air as if running over grooved wax to seek patterns. She turned her palms out and down as if he were a small stove burning softly somewhere in a nether world and she came to warm her hands at him. As the basket swung in an upglided pendulum he saw her squinched blind-sewn eyes, the ears with moss in them, the pale wrinkled apricot mouth mummifying the air it drew in, trying to taste what was wrong with his act, his thought. He was too good, too rare, too fine, too available to be true! surely she knew that! And knowing it, she held her breath. Which made the balloon suspend itself, half between inhale and exhale. Now, tremulously, experimentally, daring to test, the Witch inhaled. The balloon, so weighted, sank. Exhaled— so freed of vapor— the craft ascended! Now, now, the waiting, the holding of dank sour breath in the wry tissues of her childlike body. Will waggled his fingers, thumb to nose. She sucked air. The weight of this one breath skimmed the balloon down. Closer! he thought. But, careful, she circled her craft, scenting the sharp adrenalin wafted from his pores. He wheeled, following as the balloon spun, and him reeling. You! he thought, you want me sick! Spin me, will you? Make me dizzy? There was one last thing to try. He stood very still with his back to the balloon. Witch, he thought, you can’t resist. He felt the sound of the green slime cloud, the kept bag of sour air, the squeal and stir of mouse-wicker on wicker as the shadow cooled his legs, his spine, his neck. Close! The Witch took air, weight, night burden, star-and-cold-wind ballast. Closer! Elephant shadow stroked his ears. He nudged his weapons. The shadow engulfed him. A spider flicked his hair— her hand? Choking a scream, he spun. The witch, leaned out, was mere foot away. He bent. He snatched. The Witch tried to scream out breath when she smelled, felt, knew what he held tight. But, in reaction, horrified, she seized a breath, sucked weight, burdened the balloon. It dragged the roof. Will pulled the bowstring back, freighted with single destruction. The bow broke in two pieces. He stared at the unshot arrow in his hands. The Witch let out her breath in one great sigh of relief and triumph. The balloon swung up. It struck him with its dry rattle-chuckling heavy-laden basket. The Witch shouted again with insane happiness. 

**

“Maybe once it was just one man walking across Europe, jingling his ankle bells, a lute on his shoulder making a hunchbacked shadow, before Columbus. Maybe a man walked around in a monkey skin a million years ago, stuffing himself with other people’s unhappiness, chewed their pain all day like spearmint gum, for the sweet savor, and trotted faster, revivified by personal disaster. Maybe his son after him refined his father’s deadfalls, mantraps, bone-crunchers, head-achers, flesh-twitchers, soul-skinners. These laid the scum on lonely ponds from which came vinegar gnats to snuff up noses, mosquitoes to ride summer-night flesh and sting forth those bumps that carnival phrenologists dearly love to fondle and prophesy upon. So from one man here, one man there, walking as swift as his oily glances, it became scuttles of dogmen begging gifts of trouble, pandering misery, seeking under carpets for centipede treads, watchful of night sweats, harkening by all bedroom doors to hear men twist basting themselves with remorse and warm-water dreams. “The stuff of nightmare is their plain bread. They butter it with pain. They set their clocks by death-watch 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 long 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.”

**

“Boys …?” Mr. Dark came carrying his panoply of friends, his jewel-case assortment of calligraphical reptiles which lay sunning themselves at midnight on his flesh. With him strode the stitch-inked Tyrannosaurus rex, which lent to his haunches a machined and ancient wellspring mineral-oil glide. As the thunder lizard strode, all glass-bead pomp, so strode Mr. Dark, armored with vile lightning scribbles of carnivores and sheep blasted by that thunder and arun before storms of juggernaut flesh. It was the pterodactyl kite and scythe which raised his arms almost to fly the marbled vaults. And with the inked and stencilled flashburnt shapes of pistoned or bladed doom came his usual crowd of hangers-on, spectators gripped to each limb, seated on shoulder blades, peering from his jungled chest, hung upside down in microscopic millions in his armpit vaults screaming bat-screams for encounters, ready for the hunt and if need be the kill. Like a black tidal wave upon a bleak shore, a dark tumult infilled with phosphorescent beauties and badly spoiled dreams, Mr. Dark sounded and hissed his feet, his legs, his body, his sharp face forward. “Boys …?” Immensely patient, that soft voice, ever the warmest friend to chilly creatures burrowed away, nested amongst dry books; so he scuttered, crept, scurried, stalked, tip-toed, wafted, stood immensely still among

**

“Smart hide-and-seekers, both,” said Mr. Dark. “But someone’s smarter. Did you hear the carousel calliope tonight? Did you know, someone dear to you was down to the carousel? Will? Willy? William. William Halloway. Where’s your mother tonight?” Silence. “She was out riding the night wind, Willy-William. Around. We put her on. Around. We left her on. Around. You hear, Willy? Around, a year, another year, another, around, around!” Dad! thought Will. Where are you! In the far room, Charles Halloway, seated, his heart pounding, heard and thought, He won’t find them, I won’t move unless he does, he can’t find them, they won’t listen! they won’t believe! he’ll go away! “Your mother, Will,” called Mr. Dark, softly. “Around and around, can you guess which direction, Willy?” Mr. Dark circled his thin ghost hand in the dark air between the stacks. “Around, around, and when we let your mother off, boy, and showed her herself in the Mirror Maze, you should have heard the one single sound she made. She was like a cat with a hair ball in her so big and sticky there was no way to gag it out, no way to scream around the hair coming out her nostrils and ears and eyes, boy, and her old old old. The last we saw of her, boy Willy, she was running off away from what she saw in the mirrors. She’ll bang Jim’s house door but when his ma sees a thing two hundred years old slobbering at the keyhole, begging the mercy of gunshot death, boy, Jim’s ma will gag the same way, like a hairballed cat sick but can’t be sick, and beat her away, send her beggaring the streets, where no one’ll believe, Will, such a kettle of bones and spit, no one’ll believe this was a rose beauty, your kind relation! So Will, it’s up to us to run find, run save her, for we know who she is— right, Will, right, Will, right, right, right?!” The dark man’s voice hissed away to silence. Very faintly now, somewhere in the library, someone was sobbing. Ah … The Illustrated Man gassed the air pleasantly from his dark lungs. Yesssssssssss …

**

The Illustrated Man, stripped to the waist, all nightmare viper, sabertooth, libidinous ape, clotted vulture, all salmon-sulphur sky rose up with annunciations: “The last free event this evening! Come one! Come all!”

**

In a chorus of release, the strange people in the shadows sighed. Perhaps the calliope gave a last ringmaster’s bark. Perhaps thunder turned, sleeping, in the clouds. Suddenly all wheeled about. The freaks stampeded. North, south, east, west, free of tent, master, dark law, free above all of each other, they ran like albino pigs, tuskless boars, and stricken sloths before storms. It must have been, it seemed, each yanked a rope, loosed a tent-peg, running. For now the sky was shaken with a fatal respiration, the breathing down, the insunk rattle and pule of collapsing darkness as the tents gave way. With hiss of viper, swirl of cobra, the ropes insanely raveled, slithered, snapped, cut grass with frictioned whips. The networks of the vast Main Freak Tent convulsed, parted bones, small from medium, and medium from brontosaur magnificent. All swayed with impending fall. The menagerie tent shut up like a dark Spanish fan. Other small tents, caped figures in the meadow, fell down at the wind’s command. Then at last, the Freak Tent, the great melancholy mothering reptile bird, after a moment of indecision, sucked in a Niagara of blizzard air, broke loose three hundred hempen snakes, crack-rattled its black side-poles so they fell like teeth from a cyclopean jaw, slammed the air with acres of moldered wing as if trying to kite away but, earth-tethered, must succumb to plain and most simple gravity, must be crushed by its own locked bulk. Now this greatest tent staled out hot raw breaths of earth, confetti that was ancient when the canals of Venice were not yet staked, and wafts of pink cotton candy like tired feather boas. In rushing downfalls, the tent shed skin; grieved, soughed as flesh fell away until at last the tall museum timbers at the spine of the discarded monster dropped with three cannon roars. The calliope simmered, moronic with wind. The train stood, an abandoned toy, in a field. The freak oil paintings clapped hands high on the last standing pennant poles, then plummeted to earth.

**

 

 

 

© Dee Bradley Baker 2017
%d bloggers like this: