Since it lies somewhere between waking and sleeping, between youth and old age, the Twilight Zone is often where I find myself. I’m hard pressed to say why the show made such an impression on a young and otherwise religious mind. Maybe it was because religion itself deals with the Twilight Zone of human experience. In any case, reading Rod Serling’s Stories from the Twilight Zone, as I continue to make my way through the books of my childhood, was a trip down memory lane. While living in coronapocalypse, these short stories, novelized from Serling’s teleplays, take you back to a different time. The late fifties and early sixties seem so very different from where we are now. And reading about them, I’m not sure why some people want to go back there.
At the same time, reading the physical book takes me back. My edition was printed in 1964. It smells like an old book. It has that unmistakable feel of pulp fiction. Reading a book is so much more than scanning the words with your eyes. It’s the lying on your back on a lumpy couch on a hot, humid summer day after being at work for endless hours. It’s the foxing of the pages and the almost laughable cover design. But more than that, it’s a signpost back to childhood. This is a book I first held before leaving home. It was a refuge from a tense life never knowing what might happen in a day. Believing that escape was possible could save a soul from a ton of grief. At the same time, those characters who do escape often learn why that isn’t the best option after all.
Some of these stories I remembered from the shows I watched, while others seemed unfamiliar. There really are no surprises here. You see, the Twilight Zone was long ago and the stories have entered our national consciousness. Some have been borrowed, adapted, and parodied by others. Others, such as “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” were even part of anthologies we read and discussed in school. Why are human beings so distrustful of others? I remember us talking about that in class. Serling’s version has a more grim ending, it seems, that the one I recollect as a youth. Sitting here in coronapocalypse, however, I see it playing out around me every day. We don’t know who might be infected. And suddenly reading about the Twilight Zone seems like a most sensible thing to do in the circumstances.