A Light in the Darkness (Or, Watching the Fireflies)

It’s night–a warm, muggy summer night in the hills of east-central Vermont.  It’s late.  I’ve always been a night person.  Even though I arise by five thirty most mornings, I still shake hands with midnight from time to time.  Tonight is one of those nights.

 

I’m at the window, the breeze wafting in, carrying with it the sound of crickets as they play their fiddles, unseen, in the grass that needs mowing.  Out there, beyond the house, is the meadow–five acres’ worth, surrounded on all sides by woodlands.  It’s a private spot, down a dirt road.  There is no neighbor within a half-mile.  And while sometimes, the distant sound of a car engine or chainsaw can be heard, for the most part, it is quiet here–except for the crickets and the hoot owls and the creatures of the night who crawl and run and slither through the grass.

 

I’m not sure what I’m looking for.  There are stars above–the night is clear.  I can see the silhouette of the trees as they sway, this way and that.  But then, then . . . I see it.  A light, a flicker in the dark.  And there!  Another one.  And another.  And another.  It’s like a pre-4th-of-July fireworks show.  Fireflies.  There are so many of them out there.  When one goes dark, another takes its place.  They blink, in and out, light and dark, in a showy, rhythmic dance upon the air.

 

I am mesmerized.  It is almost hypnotic.  There’s another one, and another still.  Why do they do it?  What motivates these tiny insects to produce such a vibrant, magical show?  There are several reasons, actually.  But one is . . . a desire to be noticed.  To be seen.  A call across the dark to attract a potential mate.  “Here I am,” they’re saying.  “See my light.”

 

I step back from the window.  See my light.  Isn’t that, in essence, what we’re doing when we’re sharing our writing, our artwork, our creations?  After all, sharing is hard.  There may be praise and encouragement and acceptance “out there”–and surely there will be.  But there will also be rejection.  Criticism.  Scathing reviews.  Whenever you acquire a new reader, a new viewer, a new listener . . . you don’t know what the reaction will be.  It might go either way.  You may be on a good run, receiving positive feedback day after day.  But the next day, some new criticism may emerge.  A negative review may be posted.  It’s impossible to predict.

 

I return to the window, and witness a dozen or more fireflies glowing over the meadow.  Then more join in, and more, and still more.  The displays on the 4th won’t match this.  And I realize–these fireflies, these beings who are a fraction of the size of my fingernail, are not afraid.  They aren’t overthinking things.  They’re just glowing.

 

See my light.

Do you have an idea you want to write, but haven’t yet, perhaps reluctant on account that “it won’t be any good”?  Or . . . do you have a recently finished work collecting digital dust on your hard drive, hidden from the eyes of others?  “It’s not strong enough,” you might say.  “People won’t like it.  Who am I to share this with anyone?” And even here, in the WordPress community . . . do you have a blog post in mind but are hesitating, second-guessing, questioning whether to publish it?

 

Mitchell Brant would certainly be able to relate to this.  And so would Joe Marma, Marc Kuslanski, and Ryan SwintonThe Eye-Dancers and The Singularity Wheel are, at their heart, about confronting insecurities and coming to terms with what and who we are, and learning to accept it.

 

Do you feel the fire within, the ember that burns, seeking release and recognition?  Are you attuned to the song only you can sing, the word-picture only you can paint?

See my light.

Directly in front of me, not five inches beyond the window, a firefly glows.  Farther out, a dozen others join him.  I don’t know how long the dance will persist.  Maybe a few more minutes.  Maybe all night.  Maybe they’ll fly and glow and glide till dawn, keeping at it until the first reddish tinge of the sun comes into view.

 

As for me, it’s time for bed.  I need to get some sleep.  There is writing to do on the morrow, scenes to craft.  Characters to live with.  Situations to explore.

Stories to share.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Literary Lemonade Stand–Or, An Old Promo with a New Twist

When I was eleven years old, I had a great (or so I thought) idea for a promotion.  School had just let out, and I wanted to earn some spending money for summer vacation.  So–I pitched my idea to my next-door neighbor Rick.

summervacation

 

“Hey,” he said, no doubt visualizing the games and comic books and other assorted sundries his share of the profits might buy, “that sounds great.  Count me in!”

comicbooks

 

There were no two ways about it–Rick, with his sandy hair and dimples, had a face few could resist.  His cheeks were perpetually red from the pinches he’d get from adults.  With his help, I was sure we’d be a hit.

Our plan?  On the upcoming Saturday, we’d set up a stand at the base of his front lawn, strategically shaded by the towering maple tree that grew there like a leafy sentinel.  We’d been in the midst of a heat wave.  Surely passersby and motorists would stop for a cup of the lemonade we’d offer–both classic and pink!  We’d also have apple juice, a sheet cake Rick’s mother agreed to make, sliced into two-dozen pieces, and a cooler-full of Popsicles.  It was a can’t-miss proposition.  Rick and I were convinced no two kids had ever been more prepared to run a lemonade stand.  We even made signs, complete with the address and date of the event, which we placed at various strategic locations throughout the neighborhood.

lemonade

 

We’d charge a quarter a cup for the lemonade and juice, a quarter per Popsicle, and one dollar for each slice of cake.  Who would pass that deal up on a sparkling summer day, with the birds singing and the breeze blowing softly through the trees?

sparklingsummerday

 

The day before our big sale, Rick popped in for a visit and did a “cha-ching” dance–his own, on-the-spot invention.  This was greeted with catcalls from my two older brothers, but we were undeterred.

My mother sent us an ominous warning, however.

“It’s supposed to rain tomorrow,” she said.

Uh-oh.  We hadn’t even bothered to check the forecast.  So much for our sparkling day . . .

Twenty-four hours later, Rick and I were seated behind our lemonade stand–which was not so much the stand we had envisioned but rather the picnic table, complete with umbrella, that my brothers and I had managed to carry out to Rick’s front lawn and which now shielded our merchandise from the torrential downpour that would not let up for the entire day.

rain

 

When all was said and done, we made twelve dollars and change that soggy Saturday–not the fortune we had hoped for.

“Well, at least there’s leftover cake,” my sister said happily as we cleared the table.

cake

 

***************

The Eye-Dancers promotion I am offering here will, with hope, prove to be more effective than the lemonade-stand-that-wasn’t all those years ago.  It’s a similar idea to previous promotions on this website, but this time, there is a new twist.

greentwist

 

The promo will run from today’s date, April 23, through Tuesday, June 30.  During this two-month-plus period, anyone who buys a copy of The Eye-Dancers, or who refers the book to someone else (the twist, the strawberry flavoring added to the lemonade!  more on this in a moment), will have an opportunity to win a gift card.

strawberries

 

If you do purchase a copy of The Eye-Dancers during this promo period (either as a paperback or an e-book), please notify me–either with a comment on this website or via email at michaelf424@gmail.com.

But–what if you’ve already bought a copy of the book and would still like to participate in the promo?  Not an issue!  Anyone who refers The Eye-Dancers to a friend, relative, friend of a friend, etc., will also be eligible to win the gift card provided that the friend they refer The Eye-Dancers to buys a copy of the book and then emails me and includes the name of the person who referred them.  (I know–that sentence is a mouthful!)  In this scenario, both people will be entered into the gift-card contest–the one who referred The Eye-Dancers to someone else, as well as the person who buys the book on the advice of said referral.  A two-for-one to enter the gift-card drawing!

twoforone

 

I will keep track of each person who buys a copy of the book (as well as those who refer the book to others who then, in turn, buy a copy) during the promotional time period that runs from April 23 through June 30.  Then, on July 1, I will randomly select one winner, and will immediately notify them of the good news in an email.  The winner will be awarded a gift card–to anywhere!  Amazon?  Your favorite restaurant?  Your favorite department store?  The choice will be yours!

giftcard

 

The amount of the gift card will be based on the number of overall purchases of The Eye-Dancers during the promo.  For each purchase, $3.00 will be earmarked toward the gift card.  So, for example, if there are thirty purchases during the promotion, the gift card would be for $90 (30 purchases x $3.00 per purchase).  The gift card amount, in other words, will be determined by you!  The more purchases, the higher the amount on the gift card.

Please just remember that if you do purchase The Eye-Dancers during the designated period to make sure and contact me so I can enter your name into the gift-card contest.  (And if you were referred to the book, and this promo, by someone else and then buy a copy of The Eye-Dancers, please let me know who referred you as well.)

eyedancers

 

You can buy The Eye-Dancers as an e-book at the following online retail locations . . .

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-ebook/dp/B00A8TUS8M

B & N:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-eye-dancers-michael-s-fedison/1113839272?ean=2940015770261

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255348

and Kobo:  http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/books/The-Eye-Dancers/nKFZETbWWkyzV2QkaJWOjg?MixID=nKFZETbWWkyzV2QkaJWOjg&PageNumber=1

 

Or, if you prefer a hardcopy format, the paperback version of The Eye-Dancers is available for purchase  . . .

at Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-Michael-S-Fedison/dp/0692262784/ref=tmm_pap_title_0/190-9007348-1553839

and at CreateSpace, https://www.createspace.com/4920627

I hope you’ll stop by and take a sip from this literary lemonade stand!

lemonadestand

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A New Year, A New Resolve

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been the sort of person who makes New Year’s resolutions.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because, growing up, in that faraway land of the twentieth century, I witnessed so many people I knew break their resolutions by the second week of January.  The whole thing just seemed silly to me.

newyearresolutions

 

I remember, as a kid, too, questioning the wisdom of the calendar.  There was one particularly snowy and blustery New Year’s Day, in Rochester, New York, when I was ten years old.  I asked my older brother, eighteen at the time, why we began a new year in the dead of winter, when the world outside was a monochrome of whites and grays, a black-and-white landscape devoid of color, absent of growth.  Shouldn’t the new year begin in the spring, when the grass turns green and the flowers bloom?

spring

 

He just looked at me, frowned, and shrugged.  It was the kind of shrug that said, “What in the world are you talking about?  Get real.” And then he proceeded to tell me his New Year’s resolution . . .

This year, though, as I continue working on the sequel to The Eye-Dancers, as I push ahead with various and sundry projects, I have decided to make a few resolutions of my own.

1.  I resolve to stop checking my Amazon sales ranking every day.  It’s a self-defeating habit for the most part, and besides, can anyone out there explain the mathematics behind the ranking?  It fluctuates wildly from day to day, sale to sale.  I am sure there are good, solid theories and algorithms behind it, but from this author’s perspective, it’s a roller-coaster ride.  (Now, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I need to check my Amazon sales ranking . . .)

amazonsalesrank

 

2.  I resolve to never split another infinitive–to never do that, ever again.

splitinfinitve

 

3.  I resolve to avoid all cliches in my writing.  At the end of the day, it’s originality that counts.  And you do the best you can, and let the chips fall where they may.  It is what it is.

avoidclichesshirt

 

4.  I resolve to stop making any more New Year’s resolutions . . . evidently, they just don’t work for me.

Well–perhaps that’s not entirely true.  There may be a couple of resolutions that I can feel strongly about, that I can get behind and use as motivation as the new year dawns.

The first is–I am resolving, here and now, to do everything I can to finish the first draft of the sequel to The Eye-Dancers before the end of this calendar year.  The sequel (still untitled!) is approximately half-finished.  Much has been accomplished, but much still needs to get done.  This past year was inordinately chaotic for me, on several fronts, which, admittedly, slowed down the writing process.  But in 2015, no excuses.  I aim to complete the sequel this year and, of course, discover an appropriate title!

titles

 

But there is another resolution I want to make, and would like to appeal to everyone to join in.

The world we live in moves fast.  We are bombarded with news, headlines, videos, texts, emails, shopping lists, equipment to fix, doctors to visit, bills to pay, money to earn, responsibilities to meet.  Sometimes, it seems, we’re twisting and turning, in the eye of the storm, the wind and the rain battering, swirling, unceasing.

eyeofstorm

 

In the midst of all of this, it’s easy to drift, stumble, wander along an unknown woodland path at dusk and find that, by nightfall, we’re lost, unable to find our way back home.

lost

 

And so, in 2015, at some point, hopefully far more than just once, I resolve to take a deep breath, turn everything off, and just be still.

I resolve to look up at the night sky when it’s clear–perhaps in the luxurious warmth of midsummer, amidst the hoot owls and rodents and crickets playing their fiddles from somewhere hidden, unseen in the dark; perhaps in the soft, white silence of February, my breath visible like smoke upon the air–and count the stars, ponder them, admire them, and wonder at the possibilities.

starsinsky

 

I resolve to make time, somehow, some way, to allow that wonder to manifest itself in me.

Will you join me?

Read your favorite novel at a slow, leisurely pace.  Watch a Frank Capra classic with the smartphone turned off.  Sing a song off-key with no one watching, or with everyone watching.  Flip through an old comic book you used to enjoy when you were a kid.  Learn a new craft or hobby, not because you “should,” but because you want to.  Draw a picture.  Finish that book you’re working on (note to self!).  Write a poem.  Smile at a corny joke, or tell one.  Curl up on the sofa and watch reruns of your favorite sitcom.

sa150

honeymooners

 

Do something fun.

Do something you love.

somethingyoulove

 

*************

I wish you all a wonderful, blessed, and creative 2015.  Let’s make it our best year yet.

2015

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Mike

The Doll in the Basement

There was nothing unusual or out of the ordinary about that day–at least, not at first.

It was just another in a string of  lazy end-of-summer afternoons, the kind of day that lingered, unhurried, like a traveler sitting on the front porch of some country store in a small New England town, feet up, sipping lemonade and chatting with the guests.

betterporch

 

lemonade

And that was fine with me.  With the new school year set to begin the following week, the day could take as much time as it wanted as far as I was concerned.  I was about to enter the fifth grade, and the teacher, a veteran of three-plus decades, had a reputation for being a no-nonsense disciplinarian who expected his students to perform from the get-go.  I knew I had to be ready.

But that was next week.  No need to dwell on it, not while a last sliver of summer vacation stood, like a buffer, against the onset of roll call and homework.

The day was hot, clear but humid, the air like a moist blanket that needed to be wrung out, drip by drip.  I decided to head down to the basement–the coolest space in the house.

The basement was split into two distinct zones.  The front, or “Light section,” as I liked to think of it, was partially finished, with food shelves, a freezer, a pool table, and a ping pong set.

pingpong

 

Every time I went down there, I felt as if I were being greeted by an old friend.  I could relax, unwind, let my imagination wander, as I dreamed up new stories to write or new games I could play with my friends.

But the back . . . the back of the basement was unfinished, darker, with metal pipes straddling the ceiling; an old furnace, tucked away in a corner that hummed like a living thing on cold days; a mysterious window, which I had nicknamed “the window to nowhere,” that led to a narrow crawl space; a workbench built in against the far wall, cluttered with hand tools and scraps of wood and paintbrushes; and a snug, pitch-black little compartment under the stairs, where all manner of knickknacks and other assorted sundries were stashed.

clotheslinesandpipes

 

I enjoyed scaring my friends with ghost stories about these tucked-away corners of the basement, and they were genuinely in awe of “the window to nowhere.”

windowtonowhere

 

But while I acted cool and confident in front of them, the truth was . . . I was uncomfortable being in the back of the basement, alone.  I imagined furry things curled up in secret nests; slithery, poisonous things that lived under the workbench or behind the water heater, who would reach out with tentacled limbs and pull me in.  Sometimes, when I ran upstairs, I could swear I heard something stirring in the shadows behind me, and my pace would quicken, my feet rushing, rushing . . .

monster

 

But on that day, with the afternoon heat at its worst and the reality of fifth grade and the demanding teacher on the near horizon, I didn’t think of unseen monsters or dark creatures with fangs and feral, angry eyes.  I just wanted to escape to someplace cooler.

So I went down and played pool with myself, pretending to be a high-stakes player performing in front of thousands of riveted spectators.

pool

 

It was fun for a while, but after a few minutes, I wanted something else to do.  I peered in toward the back of the basement.  Sunlight filtered in through a small window, and I could see particles of dust dancing in the beams.

Why not?  I thought.  Maybe I could discover something new with which to frighten my friends.

The first thing I did when I went back there was yank the chain that lit the naked lightbulb fastened to the ceiling.  The sunlight through the window helped.  But it was not enough–I needed full-on, bright light if I were to venture into this section of the basement, alone.

lightbulb

 

I walked slowly, alert, ready to bolt in a heartbeat if anything should happen.  The sound of footsteps upstairs, muted by the floor above my head, descended upon me.  It was a comforting sound, secure.  It injected me with a fresh dose of courage.

I continued on, heading for my father’s worn, paint-speckled workbench.  Clotheslines crisscrossed in front of it–though no clothes were presently on the lines.  What did hang from one of the lines was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed doll.

doll

 

I jerked back, not expecting to see her.  Whose doll was she, anyway?  My sister, never a big collector of dolls to begin with, had recently started college.  It wasn’t hers.  One of my cousins, perhaps?  I didn’t know.  And I hesitated, considered turning around and going back to the relative safety of the front portion of the basement.  From upstairs, I heard the dull thud of more footsteps.

The doll was pretty, wearing a dress, with a bow in her hair.  But something about her disturbed me.  I had never liked dolls anyway–maybe that’s all it was.  They always seemed like living things, sentient, only pretending to be dead.

dollalive

 

But when the lights were turned off, and night fell over the house like a shroud, I imagined them walking, on whispery feet, down the hallway, rummaging through dressers and drawers, scheming their secret schemes.

I approached the clotheslines and the doll, slowly, quietly.  Finally, I stood there, face-to-face with her.  I shook my head.  Why had I been afraid?  How ridiculous!  She was made of porcelain, not flesh and blood.  Besides, what could she possibly do?  I scolded myself for being so jumpy over nothing.

I swallowed, reached for the doll.

The doll winked.

I stumbled back, nearly falling over, and was sure I could hear the murmur of some unseen piece of machinery grow louder, closer.

thingsinthedark

 

I turned away from the blonde doll with the blue eyes and the hair bow.  I raced for the stairs, forgetting to switch off the light on the way.  As I took the stairs, two at a time, my mind imagined the doll on the clothesline, smiling now, her eyes staring, empty, calculating, wanting me to return.

childdoll

 

I never did.  I did not venture alone into the back of the basement again until that doll was gone, nor did I tell anyone about what I’d seen.  I’d occasionally head down with my father if he needed to search for something on the workbench–though I always made sure to keep my distance.  I peeked in, sideways, checking to see if she was still there.

Finally, nearly a month later, the doll was gone.  Just as I never learned where she had come from, I never learned where she went.

*****************

To this day, I still ask myself:  Did that doll really wink at me?  I was nervous as I approached her, so it’s possible my mind created the illusion.  Marc Kuslanski would favor that theory.

But I have always believed that she did in fact wink.  I saw her eye close, slowly, and then open again–as clear as the sunlight that filtered in through the small window on the other end of the basement.  Perhaps, in her own way, she was the reason the blue-eyed “ghost girl” appeared in my nightmares years later, the same girl who haunts Mitchell Brant‘s dreams at the start of The Eye-Dancers.

ghostgirl

 

That version makes for the better story, anyway . . .

betterstory

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Time Machine

Tomorrow I will be traveling in a time machine.  No, not the kind you might find in an episode of The Twilight Zone or in the pages of Ray Bradbury or H.G. Wells–but a time machine, nonetheless . . .

timemachine

 

For many years now, I have taken the drive from Vermont, where I currently live, “back home” to Rochester, New York, for Labor Day weekend.  It’s always nice to visit family and old friends.  My parents still live in the same house where I grew up.  Sometimes, at night, when they’re asleep, I will walk through the old house, head down into the basement, where I spent a lot of time when I was a kid, keeping cool on hot summer afternoons.  Mostly, though, I’ll pause, listen, listen–until I hear them.  The echoes of the past.  Memories upon memories built within those walls, living things, so near it often feels I could reach out and grab a whisper of 1985, inhale it, and be a boy again.

echoes

 

After I arrive and get settled in tomorrow, some old, old friends will stop by, and we’ll re-create various elements of our childhood.  You probably don’t know these friends of mine “for real,” but you may know them in another way.  You see, the main characters of The Eye-Dancers were modeled after several of the friends I’ll be visiting with.  The characters in the book, of course, took on a life of their own–it’s not a one-for-one match.  But the friends I grew up with definitely were the primary inspirations for the protagonists in the novel.   “Joe” will be there tomorrow, “Mitchell” and “Ryan,” too–even supporting characters like “Tyler” (“Ryan’s” brother in the novel) and “Grronk.”  Our friendship goes way back, to the days before the Internet and email and cell phones.

cellphones

 

The Eye-Dancers is, in many ways, a tribute to our childhood, the adventures we shared, the conversations we would have, the things we would wonder about.  Some of our old “in” jokes made their way into the novel.  Some pet phrases and favorite expressions did, as well.  More than anything, I hope, the spirit and curiosity of childhood, the quest to know and learn and discover, made their way into the book, too.

There will be a special quality to our get-together on Friday.  There always is, every year we meet like this.  We reenact some of the old childhood games.  We talk about the past.  We act like kids, even if for only one night out of the year.  For a moment, on an end-of-summer evening, as the days grow shorter and the first subtle hints of autumn manifest themselves in ways so quiet, so soft-spoken, you will miss them if you’re not looking, we are twelve years old again, running, and playing, and laughing like we used to.  The kind of experience that inspires novels, indeed . . .

latesummer

 

It strikes me as fitting that this nostalgic weekend falls at the end of August.  Summer’s end in the Northeastern United States has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  The oppressive heat and humidity that sometimes weighs down June and July days is, for the most part, gone now, blown to lands far to the south.  The angle of the sun is noticeably lower, as darkness falls an hour earlier than it did during the height of summer.  Long shadows filter through the trees, lingering, not in any hurry to leave.

longshadows

 

There is an easy comfort in the air, the sunshine languorous, the breeze a soft kiss upon your cheeks.  It feels as though Time itself, tired of being perpetually on the go, has decided to take a moment to relax on the back porch, sipping a glass of cold lemonade, and just rest for a while.

backporch

 

Sunflowers dance and bob in the wind.

sunflowers

 

Fields of goldenrod carpet the land.

goldenrod

 

Farewell-summers and marigolds and rows upon rows of corn stalks, six feet tall, whisper a fond good-bye to the heat and a subdued hello to the chill of the coming fall.  It is a quiet time, a time for memories and stories and old friends reliving the days of their youth.  For me, it is an especially creative season.  When I began writing The Eye-Dancers, it was evening on a late-summer day, with the light fading, the shadows slowly spreading across the lawn.  A plump woodchuck waddled through the yard.  A hummingbird filled up on sugar-water at our feeder, preparing for the long migration south in just a week or two.

hummingbird

 

Looking at it all, I felt ready.  I knew I had a story to tell.  I knew I needed to share it.

So, to my friends, my lifelong friends, who I grew up with and  will see tomorrow–thanks, guys.  If it weren’t for you, The Eye-Dancers wouldn’t exist.  And for one weekend each year, you remind me why I wrote the novel . . .

  • The universe is full of questions we often do not even ask, let alone answer.
  • Friendship, especially a friendship forged in childhood, is a special and life-affirming gift.
  • An open mind is a mind able to learn and discover and ask the question, “Why?” and then be receptive to the answer.
  • And if we want it to, if we cultivate it, nurture it, and never stop believing, the magic we knew and wished upon when we were kids still exists, even into adulthood.

magic

 

***************

And to all of you in the wonderful WordPress community, I thank you so much for reading!

–Mike

The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street

Over the course of The Eye-Dancers, the four main characters undergo many dangerous, even life-threatening, situations.  They experience parallel universes, recurring nightmares that seem all-too-real, and the prospect of being permanently marooned in a strange, alien world.  Obviously, they have their work cut out for them.

However, perhaps the most significant obstacle they must face in their quest to solve the mystery and return home is . . . themselves.  They often resort to in-fighting, bickering, and the threat of violence looms, especially between Joe Marma and Marc Kuslanski.  Joe is the impulsive one, a natural leader, but quick to anger, and always eager to use his fists to resolve a conflict.  Marc is highly rational, logical to the core, a science wiz who continually tries to use quantum theory to solve their problems.  Needless to say, the two rarely see eye to eye.

This theme of turning on a friend, a neighbor, in times of adversity is explored in one of the truly classic episodes of The Twilight Zone— “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” –which originally aired exactly 53 years ago–in March 1960.  Like many of the better Twilight Zone episodes, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” is timeless, and it holds up very well today, half a century later.

The story opens peacefully enough, with an idyllic street scene . . .

maplestidyllic

 

In the opening narration, Rod Serling says in a voice-over:

“Maple Street, U.S.A.  Late summer.  A tree-lined little world of front-porch gliders, barbecues, the laughter of children, and the bell of an ice-cream vendor.  At the sound of the roar and the flash of light, it will be precisely 6:43 p.m. on Maple Street” . . .

maplestwhatsthatagain

 

maplestwhatsthat

 

“This is Maple Street on a late Saturday afternoon,” Serling continues.  “Maple Street, in the last calm and reflective moment before the monsters came.”

In the wake of the flashing light and roar from the sky, the residents discover that the power has gone out, the phone lines are down.  Even the radio reception is shot.  They are, in effect, thrown back into the “Dark Ages,” as one of them says, all the trappings of their (and our) modern society gone in an instant.

The neighbors congregate in the street, discussing the situation.

maplestspec

 

One of them, Steve Brand, suggests maybe the disturbance was caused by a meteor.  After all, what other explanation can there be?  Another neighbor, Pete Van Horn, decides to walk over to the next block and see if they’ve lost power over there, as well.

After Pete leaves, Steve and another resident decide they should drive downtown.  Maybe the town clerk’s office knows what’s going on.  But then a young boy, Tommy, tells them not to leave.

maplesttommy

 

They don’t want you to,” Tommy warns.  Steve asks him who “they” are.

“”Whatever was in the thing that came over,” the boy says.  He goes on to say it’s the same in every alien-invasion story he’s ever read.  The aliens send along advance scouts to earth–maybe a father, mother, and two kids.  They look like humans, but they aren’t.  They’re  sent ahead to prepare for the mass landing.

The neighbors all stand by.  Many of them look around, suddenly suspicious of the others.  A woman blows it off, asking how they could listen to a boy spout off from some comic book plot, and actually take it seriously.  Their nerves are frayed, that’s all, she says.  The last few minutes have been weird.

They get weirder when Steve Brand tries to start his car.  It won’t start.  Tommy again says the aliens don’t want him to leave.

Steve then quips, “Well, I guess what we need to do is run a check of the neighborhood and find out which ones of us are really human.”  Some of the others smile at this, but their faces are tight, tense.  It is clear that darker emotions are roiling just beneath the surface.

At this point, another neighbor, Les Goodman, comes outside and tries to start his car.  It, too, won’t start.  But when he gets out, the car starts on its own.  This causes a few of the other residents of Maple Street to question why his car started, and by itself no less.  And then a woman tells the congregation of neighbors that sometimes, late at night, she sees Les Goodman walk outside and look up at the sky, “as if he were waiting for something.  As if . . . he were looking for something.”

maplestconference

 

Les is flabbergasted.  “You all know me,” he says to his friends and neighbors.  “We’ve lived here for five years. . . . We aren’t any different from you, any different at all!”  But it’s no use.  They no longer trust him.

maplestmob

 

Later, as night has fallen and Maple Street is still without power, the neighbors continue to watch Les.  Their suspicions aroused, they whisper about him.  “He always was an oddball,” one man explains to his wife.

But then they begin to argue among themselves.  Someone mentions that Steve Brand has a radio set his wife sometimes talks about.  But no one has ever seen it.  “Who do you talk to on that radio, Steve?” they want to know.

For the bulk of the episode, Steve has tried to be the voice of reason amid the ever-growing paranoia of the group.  Here, he erupts, “Let’s get it all out.  Let’s pick out every idiosyncrasy of every man, woman, and child on this whole street! . . . You’re all standing out here, all set to crucify somebody.  You’re all set to find a scapegoat!  You’re all desperate to point some kind of a finger at a neighbor!”

If his words have any effect on the group, they are lost by a figure approaching out of the darkness.  “It’s the monster!  It’s the monster!” the boy, Tommy, shouts.  One of the residents runs to his house, then rushes back with a shotgun.

maplestgun

 

He shoots the approaching figure, and he falls to the street.  The throng runs up to him, and they discover that they’ve shot Pete Van Horn, the neighbor who had gone to check on the next block, to see if they had lost power, too.

More bickering ensues, more blame . . .

maplestconflict

 

And then, all hell breaks loose.  Lights flicker on in one house, and then another, and another.  Someone’s car starts on its own, then another car does the same thing.  Mass hysteria reigns, as neighbor turns against neighbor.  Stones are picked up, hurled.  Guns are retrieved from wall mounts, and fired.  Screams pierce the night . . .

maplestblood

 

maplestterror

 

maplestaccusations

 

Now the camera pans up, and we see Maple Street from above, the neighbors running around madly, fighting, killing . . .

maplestchaos

 

. . . until we see two aliens high above the street–and we realize:  the boy was right.  It wasn’t a meteor.  Aliens have landed.  But not in the way he had thought.

maplestaliens

 

As they watch the Maple Street residents lose all control the aliens discuss the situation.

“Understand the procedure now?” one of them says.  “Just stop a few of their machines . . . throw them into darkness for a few hours and then sit back and watch the pattern. . . .  They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find–and it’s themselves.”

It’s true, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” is a bit contrived, and the neighbors break into chaos and hysteria fairly quickly.  But the episode’s power and impact are not diminished by this.  It is a landmark Twilight Zone, and generally regarded as one of the series’ best.

Rod Serling concludes the episode with this voice-over:

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout.  There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices–to be found only in the minds of men.  For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy.  And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own–for the children, and the children yet unborn.  And the pity of it is–that these things cannot be confined to The Twilight Zone.”

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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