A Twilight Zone:
by Paul Thorsteinson (PT52)
There might be hundreds of episodes of the Twilight Zone, but every year I only see one. I don’t know why. It finds me. Inevitably, I find myself sitting down, perusing the channels, and like a dark vortex that I wander around until I eventually fall in, I watch the same episode.
It’s always a black and white. An eerie throwback from the 1950’s. An era known for fake families, ivory white smiles, and a disconcerting undercurrent of secret violence. I don’t know why the episode is important. I don’t even like the Twilight Zone. But like a lost urchin of esoteric meaning, cloaked in dark rags of sorrow, I walk through the desert and behind me, the story follows.
It starts with a man. He wakes up. He is alone. Grey walls without definition tower up around him. No corners or edges are visible, just a bare circular chamber. The man doesn’t remember who he is, although he has a uniform. His uniform indicates he is a major.
The major searches around, and out of the shadows comes a clown with a flower pot affixed to his head. A striking image. The first person you discover in isolation.
You’re not alone, but your company is a pot headed clown. The two of them embrace each other’s company. Naturally their conversation gravitates toward the most pressing topics. The major rambles on spewing random questions like fifty cal shells dropping from a machine gunners position, each shell containing the weight of purpose and existence.
How did I get here?
Why am I here?
Who am I?
Finally in an attempt to sedate the major’s frantic questions of purpose and meaning, the clown happily informs him, simply and with a casual tone, “You’re just like the rest of us.”
The army major questions, “What do you mean, the rest of us?”
Out of the shadows creep three new players. Each character a performance all in the same seance. A ballerina dancing, a bag pipe player playing and a hobo slinking.
Awestruck, the five of them come together in a rough semicircle, measuring each other and continuing to search out the point of their confinement in the metal chamber. What do we have in common?
The army major,
the bag-pipe player and
Out of the five, the ballerina is the most profound. She drops poetic bars like a prophetic magi, wisdom laced words drip from her lips like syrup oozing from an open scar in a wounded maple tree.
we just woke up here, in the darkness
nameless things, of no memory
The major doesn’t know who they are or where they are but he knows he wants out. Dramatically, he cranes his head and looks outward and upward.
An opening! A night’s sky is above them! He points and gestures like a neolithic man with some newfound discovery. Ape-ish and jumping around he points to the sky, “What’s…up…there?”
The ballerina cuts in
Maybe we’re on another planet
Maybe we’re on our way to another planet
Maybe we’re all insane
With the silence that settles in over her speculation of insanity, the quiet is shredded apart by the ringing of a deafening bell.
don’t be afraid,
the ballerina promises the frightened others,
I can dance for you.
She stops midway through her dance to calm the others.
Maybe there are many dungeons like this?
Unconvinced that the answer to their fate is simple and without a consequence of some sin or malicious nefariousness she speculates further.
“Perhaps that’s who we are,” she looks around to the others, “the unloved.”
She waits for a moment and indignation sets in, “we must belong somewhere!”
Randomly, the major blurts his revelation out, hardly listening to anything else around him. His interjection not what you’d expect from a wise countryman but instead as a shipwrecked man grasping for purchase on some wayward board to make sense of his survival.
“There’s a way out! We can work together, and we can climb on each other’s shoulders.”
“Yes! It could work!” He stares around madly at his shipmates in this infernal wreck.
Under his breath and with great conviction, the clown shakes his flower pot and utters, “Things were much more simpler before You arrived.”
One by one, they step on each others shoulders, eventually climbing higher. Finally the ballerina is the last to climb up over each one, carefully closing the distance to the opening above. Desperately, she stretches out her hands, grasping toward the edge of the cylindric prison…
“I can’t!” she cries out in melancholy, “I…can’t…reach…it.”
“It’s just a little above me,” just inches short, her finger splay out, as if that would make them a teeny tiny bit longer.
As they wobble, they lose purchase and all come tumbling to the ground.
Begging for an answer, the others cry to the ballerina, “How much farther?”
“How close were you?”
“Inches,” she hangs her head in defeat, “it was inches.”
“Might as well be miles,” the clown scoffs.
A thought brewing in the major’s head as if Edison and Tesla were teaming up to conquer the cosmos, “What if we made a grappling hook out of this fabric and this sword?”
“It could work!” He beamed with mad glory, “we could close those final inches!”
Again they tried. Standing on each other’s shoulders, he throws the grappling hook, and it catches! He pulls himself up to the edge. Straddles it, and then…
“Major where are we?” the ballerina questions. She doesn’t get her answer though. The major is gone. He has fallen into the unknown on the other side.
“He may come back, but it won’t be to get us,” the tramp utters his first words.
The camera pans out. Winter store fronts stretch into the distance. It’s snowing. A toy soldier lays in the white powder next to an aluminum barrel with the fiery red letters of truth emblazoned on the cylinder’s side.
View Park Girls Home, 17th Annual Christmas Drive
A girl walks by.
She picks up the soldier, turns him over in her hands.
Thinks for a moment and places him back in the container.
Toys lay strewn on the bottom.
The face of the ballerina.
A single tear streaks down her cheek.