“First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say.
Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July is really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, Jun’es best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September’s a billion years away.” p. 1
“The seller of lightning-rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth.Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.
“So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door until he came at last to a lawn which was cut all wrong.
“No, not the grass. The salesman lifted his gaze.But two boys, far up the gentle slope, lying on the grass. Of a like size and general shape, the boys sat carving twig whistles, talking of olden or future times, content with having left their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town during summer past and their footprints on every open path between here and the lake and there and the river since school began.” p. 5.
“He turned slowly, sniffing the air. Wind rattled the empty trees.Sunlight, breaking through a small rift in the clouds, minted a last few oak leaves all gold. But the sun vanished, the coins were spent,the air blew grey; the salesman shook himself from the spell.” p. 6.
“And the first boy, with hair as blond-white as milk thistle, shut up one eye, tilted his head, and looked at the salesman with a single eye as open, bright and clear as a drop of summer rain. ‘Will,’ he said. ‘William Halloway’ ” p. 6.
“The second boy did not move, but lay stomach down on the autumn grass, debating as if he might make up a name. His hair was wild, thick, and the glossy colour of waxed chestnuts. His eyes, fixed to some distant point within himself, were mint rock-crystal green.At last he put a
blade of dry grass in his casual mouth. ‘Jim Nightshade,’ he said.” p. 6.
“‘And only fitting,’ said Will Halloway. ‘I was born one minute before midnight, October thirtieth, Jim was born one minute after midnight, which makes it October thirty-first.’
‘Hallowe’en,’ said Jim.
By their voices, the boys had told the tale all their lives, proud of their mothers, living house next to [p. 6] house,running for the hospital together, bringing sons into the world seconds apart; one light, one dark. There was a history of mutual celebration behind them.Each year Will lit
the candles on a single cake at one minute to midnight. Jim, at one minute after, with the last day of the month begun, blew them out.: pvz. 6-7.
“The man, grieved by his own conscientiousness, rummaged in his leather bag and seized forth an iron contraption.
‘Take this, free! Why? One of those houses will be struck by lightning! Without this rod, bang! Fire and ash,roast pork and cinders! Grab!’
The salesman released the rod. Jim did not move.But Will caught the iron and gasped.
‘Boy, it’s heavy! And funny-looking. Never seen a lightning-rod like this. Look, Jim!’
And Jim, at last, stretched like a cat, and turned his head. His green eyes got big and then very narrow.
The metal thing was hammered and shaped half-crescent, half-cross. Around the rim of the main rod little curlicues and doohingies had been soldered on, later. The entire surface of the rod was finely scratched and etched with strange languages, names that could tie the tongue
or break the jaw, numerals that added to incomprehensible sums, pictographs of insect animals all bristle, chaff, and claw.
‘That’s Egyptian.’ Jim pointed his nose at a bug soldered to the iron. ‘Scarab beetle.’
‘So it is, boy!’ [p. 7]
Jim squinted. ‘And those there – Phoenician hen tracks,’
‘Why?’ asked Jim.
‘Why?’ said the man. ‘Why the Egyptian,Arabic,Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What colour is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies? Boys, you got to be ready in every
dialect with every shape and form to hex the St Elmo’s fires, the balls of blue light that prowl the earth like sizzling cats. I got the only lightning-rods in the world that hear, feel, know, and sass back any storm, no matter what tongue, voice, or sign. No foreign thunder so loud this rod can’t soft-talk it!’ [pgs. 7-8]
“And jangling his case full of iron rods, the salesman wheeled about and charged down the walk blinking wildly at the sky, the roof, the trees, at last closing his eyes, moving, sniffing, muttering. ‘Yes, bad, here it comes, feel it, way off now, but running fast…’
“And the man in the storm-dark clothes was gone, his cloud-coloured hat pulled down over his eyes, and the trees rustled and the sky seemed very old suddenly and Jim and Will stood testing the wind to see if they could smell electricity, the lightning-rod fallen between them.” p. 10.
“Like all boys, they never walked anywhere, but named a goal and lit for it, scissors and elbows. Nobody won. Nobody wanted to win. It was in their friendship they just wanted to run forever, shadow and shadow. Their hands slapped library-door handles together, their chests
broke track tapes together, their tennis shoes beat parallel pony tracks over lawns, trimmed bushes, squirreled trees, no one losing, both winning, thus saving their friendship for other times of loss.” p. 12
“So it was on this night that blew warm, then cool, as they let the wind take them downtown at eight o’clock. They felt the wings on their fingers and elbows flying, then, suddenly plunged in new sweeps of air, the clear autumn river flung them headlong where they must go.
Up step, three, six, nine, twelve! Slap! Their palms hit the library door. Jim and Will grinned at each other. It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust.” p. 13
Description of Library in Something Wicked This Way Comes
“It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust.,
. . .
“Out in the world, not much happened.But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears.A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening
guillotines; Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever. Invisible, silent, yes, but Jim and Will had the gift of ears and noses as well as the gift of tongues. This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts slumbered. Up front was the desk where the nice old lady, Miss
Watriss, purple-stamped your books, but down off away were Tibet and Antarctica, the Congo. There went Miss Wills, the other librarian, through Outer Mongolia, calmly toting fragments of Peiping and Yokohama and the Celebes.” p. 13
“Way down the third book corridor, an oldish man whispered his broom along in the dark, mounding the fallen spices.
. . .
” That’s Charles William Halloway, thought Will, not grand-father, not far-wandering, ancient uncle, as some might think, but…my father.” p. 14
. . .
“They stood now, a boy with corn-coloured hair and a man with moon-white hair, a boy with a summer-apple, a man with a winter-apple face. Dad, Dad, thought Will, why, why, he looks…like me in a smashed mirror! And suddenly Will remembered nights rising at two in the morning to go to the bathroom and spying across town to see that one single light in the high library window and know Dad had lingered on late murmuring and reading alone under these green jungle lamps. It made Will sad and funny to see that light, to know the old man – he stopped to change the word – his father, was here in all this shadow.: p. 15
. . .
“Outside, a weather of stars ran clear in an ocean sky.”
“‘Heck.’ Jim sniffed north, Jim sniffed south. ‘Where’s the storm? That darn salesman promised. I just got to watch that lightning fizz down my drainpipes!’ Will let the wind ruffle and refit his clothes, his skin, his hair. Then he said, faintly, ‘It’ll be here. By morning.’
‘The huckleberries all down my arms. They say.’
The wind flew Jim away.
A similar kite, Will swooped to follow.” p. 16
“Watching the boys vanish away, Charles Halloway suppressed a sudden urge to run with them, make the pack. He knew what the wind was doing to them where it was taking them, to all the secret places that were never so secret again in life.Somewhere in him, a shadow turned mournfully over.You had to run with a night like this, so the sadness could not hurt. Look! he thought. Will runs because running is its own excuse. Jim runs because something’s up ahead of him.
Yet, strangely, they do run together.
“What’s the answer, he wondered, walking through the library, putting out the lights, putting out the lights, putting out the lights, is it all in the whorls on our thumbs and fingers? Why are some people all grasshopper fiddlings, scrapings, all antennae shivering, one big ganglion
eternally knotting, slip-knotting, square-knotting themselves? They stoke a furnace all their lives, sweat their lips, shine their eyes and start it all in the crib. Caesar’s lean and hungry friends. They eat the dark, who only stand and breathe.
“That’s Jim, all bramble-hair and itchweed. [p. 17]
“And Will? Why he’s the last peach, high on the summer tree.Some boys walk by and you cry, seeing them. They feel good, they look good, they are good. Oh, they’re not above peeing off a bridge, or stealing an occasional dime-store pencil sharpener; it’s not that. It’s just, you know, seeing them pass, that’s how they’ll be all their life; they’ll get hit, hurt, cut, bruised, and always wonder why, why does it happen? how can it happen to them?
“But Jim, now, he knows it happens, he watches for it happening, he sees it start, he sees it finish, he licks the wound he expected, and never asks why; he knows. He always knew. Someone knew before him, a long time ago, someone who had wolves for pets and lions for night conversants. Hell, Jim doesn’t know with his mind.But his body knows.And while Will’s putting a bandage on his latest scratch, Jim’s ducking, waving, bouncing away from the knockout blow which must inevitably come.
“So there they go, Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim, Jim breaking two windows in a haunted house because Will’s along, Will breaking one instead of none, because Jim’s watching. God how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.” p. 18
. . .
‘Distilled wine. … Fire-water, the Elixir Vitae, by God. … it was the Cure-all, the thing that worked miracles. Have a drink!?’
‘I don’t need it,’ said Halloway. ‘But someone inside me does.’Who?’
The boy I once was, thought Halloway, who runs like the leaves down the sidewalk autumn nights. But he couldn’t say that. So he drank, eyes shut, listening to hear if that thing inside turned over again,rustling in the deep bons that were stacked for burning but never burned.” p 19
“Charles Halloway put his hand to the saloon’s double swing doors, hesitant, as if the grey hairs on the back of his hand, like antennae, had felt something beyond slide by in the October night.Perhaps great fires burned somewhere and their furnace blasts warned him not to step forth. Or another Ice Age had loomed across the land, its freezing bulk might already have laid waste a billion people in the hour.Perhaps Time itself fixed was draining off down an immense glass, with powdered darkness failing after to bury all.” p. 23
“Or maybe it was only that man in a dark suit, seen through the saloon window, across the street. Great paper rolls under one arm, a brush and bucket in his free hand, the man was whistling a tune, very far away.” p. 23
“His mothers fingers twitched, her mouth counted, the happiest woman he had ever seen. He remembered a greenhouse on a winter day, pushing aside thick jungle leaves to find a creamy pink hothouse rose poised alone in the wilderness. That was [p. 34] mother, smelling like fresh milk, happy, to herself, in this room.” pgs. 34-35
. . .
“Will stepped into the parlour.
Immediately Mom opened a smile that was like lighting a second fire.” p. 35
“There was a thing in Dad’s voice, up, over, down, easy as a hand winging soft in the air like a white bird describing flight pattern, made the ear want to follow and the mind’s eye to see. And the odd thing in Dad’s voice was the sound truth makes being said. The sound of truth, in a wild roving land of city or plain country lies, will spell any boy. Many nights Will drowsed this way, his senses like stopped clocks long before that half-singing voice was still. Dad’s voice was a midnight [p.36] school, teaching deep fathom hours, and the subject was life.” pgs. 36-37
. . .
“‘…Will…makes me feel so old…a man should play baseball with his son…’
‘Not necessary,’ said the woman’s voice, kindly. ‘You’re a good man.’
‘ – in a bad season. Hell, I was forty when he was born! And you! Who’s your daughter? people say. God, when you lie down your thoughts turn to mush. Hell!’
Will heard the shift of weight as Dad sat up in the dark.A match was being struck, a pipe was being smoked. The wind rattled the windows.” p. 37
“No one else in the world had a name came so well off the tongue.
‘Jim Nightshade. That’s me.’Jim stood tall and now lay long in bed, strung together by marsh-grass, his bones easy in his flesh, his flesh easy on his bones. The library books lay unopened-by his relaxed right hand.
Waiting, his eyes were dark as twilight, with shadows under the eyes from the time, his mother said, he had almost died when he was three and still remembered. His hair was dark autumn chestnut and the veins in his temples and brow and in his neck and ticking in his wrists
and on the backs of his slender hands, all these were dark blue. He was marbled with dark, was Jim Nightshade, a boy who talked less and smiled less as the years increased.
The trouble with Jim was he looked at the world and could not look away.And when you
never look away all your life, by the time you are thirteen you have done twenty years taking in
the laundry of the world.” p. 39
“Will Halloway, it was in him young to always look just beyond, over or to one side.So at thirteen he had saved up only six years of staring. [p. 39] Jim knew every centimeter of his shadow, could have cut it out of tar paper, furled it, and run it up a flagpole – his banner. Will, he was occasionally surprised to see his shadow following him somewhere, but that was that.” pgs. 39-40
“Just after midnight.
Along the empty street came the lightning-rod salesman, his leather valise swung almost empty in his baseball-mitt hand, his face at ease. He turned a corner and stopped.
Paper-soft white moths tapped at an empty store window, looking in.
And in the window, like a great coffin boat of star-coloured glass, beached on two sawhorses lay a chunk of Alaska Snow Company ice chopped to a size great enough to flash in a giant’s ring.
And sealed in this ice was the most beautiful woman in the world.
The lightning-rod salesman’s smile faded.
In the dreaming coldness of ice like someone fallen and slept in snow avalanches a thousand years, forever young, was this woman.
She was as fair as this morning and fresh as tomorrow’s flowers and lovely as any maidmwhen a man shuts up his eyes and traps her, in cameo perfection, on the shell of his eyelids.
The lightning-rod salesman remembered to breathe.” p. 42
“Once, long ago, travelling among the marbles of Rome and Florence, he had seen women like this, kept in stone instead of Ice. Once, wandering in the Louvre, he had found women like this, washed in summer colour and kept in paint. Once, as a boy, sneaking the cool grottoes
behind a motion picture theatre screen, on his way to a free seat, he had glanced up and there towering and flooding the haunted dark seen a women’s face as he had never seen it since, of such size and beauty built of milk-bone and moon-flesh, at to freeze him there alone behind
the stage, shadowed by the, motion of her lips, the bird-wing flicker of her eyes, the snow-pale-death-shimmering illumination from her cheeks.
So from other years there jumped forth images which flowed and found new substance here within the ice.: p. 43
“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 attics and shedding silver off old mirrors in yet higher attics and s up dreams about docks in all beds where children slept.
Will heard it.
Muffled away in the prairie lands, the chuffing of an engine, the slow-slow-following dragon-glide of a train.
Will sat up in bed.
Across the way, like a mirror image, Jim sat up, too.
A calliope began to play oh so softly, grieving to itself, a million miles away.
In one single motion, Will leaned from his window, as did Jim. Without a word they gazed over the trembling surf of trees.
Their rooms were high, as boys’ rooms should be. From these gaunt windows they could rifle-fire their gaze artillery distances past library, city hall, depot, cow barns, farmlands to empty prairie!
There, on the world’s rim, the lovely snail-gleam of the railway tracks ran, flinging wild gesticulations [p. 45] of lemon or cherry-coloured semaphore to the stars.
There, on the precipice of earth, a small steam feather uprose like the first of a storm cloud yet to come.”
“The train itself appeared, link by link, engine, coal-car, and numerous and numbered all-asleep-and-slumbering-dream-filled cars that followed the firefly-sparked chum, chant, drowsy autumn hearth-fire roar. Hellfires flushed the stunned hills. Even at this remote view, one
imagined men with buffalo-haunched arms shoveling black meteor falls of coal into the open boilers of the engine.
Both boys vanished, came back to life binoculars.
‘Civil War! No other stack like that since 1900!’
‘The rest of the train, all of it’s old’
‘The flags! The cages! It’s the carnival!’
They listened. At first Will thought he heard the air whistling fast in his nostrils.But no – it
was the train, and the calliope sighing, weeping, on that train.
‘Sounds like church music!’
‘Hell. Why would a carnival play church music?’
‘Don’t say hell,’ hissed Will.
‘Hell.’ Jim ferociously leaned out. ‘I’ve saved up all day.Everyone’s asleep so – hell!’
The music drifted by their windows. Goose pimples rose bid as boils on Will’s arms.
‘That is church music. Changed.'”pgs. 45-46
“Sometimes you see a kite so high, so wise it almost knows the wind. It travels, then chooses to land in one spot and no other and no matter how you yank,run this way or that, it will simply break its cord, seek its resting place and bring you, blood-mouthed,running.
‘Jim! Wait for me!’
So now Jim was the kite, the wild twine cut, and whatever wisdom was his taking him away from Will who could only run, earthbound, after one so high and dark silent and suddenly
‘Jim, here I come!’
And running, Will thought,Boy, it’s the same old thing. I talk. Jim runs. I tilt stones, Jim grabs the cold junk under the stones and – lickety-split! I climb hills. Jim yells off church steeples. I got a bank account. Jim’s got the hair on his head, the yell in his mouth, the shirt on his back and
the tennis shoes on his feet. How come I think he’s richer? Because, Will thought, I sit on a rock in the sun and old Jim, he prickles his arm-hairs by moonlight and dances with hop-toads. I tend cows, Jim tames Gila monsters. Fool! I yell at Jim. Coward! he yells back.And here we -go! [p.48]
“And they ran from town, across fields and both froze under a rail bridge with the moon ready
beyond the hills and the meadows trembling with a fur of dew.”
The carnival train thundered the bridge, the calliope wailed.
‘There’s no one playing it!’ Jim stared up.
‘Jim, no jokes!’
‘Mother’s honour, look!’
Going away, away, the calliope pipes shimmered with star explosions, but no one sat at the high keyboard. The wind, sluicing air-water air in the pipes, made the music.
The boys ran. The train curved away, gonging it’s under-sea funeral bell, sunk,rusted, green-mossed, tolling, tolling. Then the engine whistle blew a great steam whiff and Will broke out in pearls of ice.
Way late at night Will had heard – how often? – train whistles jetting steam along the rim of sleep, forlorn, alone and far, no matter how near they came.Sometimes he woke to find tears on his cheek, asked why, lay back, listened and thought,Yes! they make me cry, going east,
going west, the trains so far gone in country deeps they drown in tides of sleep that escape the towns.
“Those trains and their grieving sounds were lost forever between stations, not remembering, where they had been, not guessing where they might go, exhaling their last pale breaths over the horizon, gone.So it was with all trains, ever.
Yet this train’s whistle!
The wails of a lifetime were gathered in it from other nights in other slumbering years; the howl of moon-dreamed dogs, the seep of river-cold winds through January porch screens which stopped the blood, a thousand fire sirens weeping, or worse! the [p 49] outgone shreds of
breath, the protests of a billion people dead or dying, not wanting to be dead, their groans, their sighs, burst over the earth!” pgs. 49-50
“The train had pulled off into Rolfe’s moon meadow, so-called because town couples came out to see the moon rise here over a land so wide, so long, it was like an inland sea, filled with grass in spring., or hay in late, summer or snow in winter, it was fine walking here along its crisp
shore with the moon coming up to tremble in its tides.
Well, the carnival train was crouched there now in the autumn grass on the old spur near the Woods and the boys crept and lay down under a bush, waiting.
‘It’s so quiet, whispered Will.
The train just stood in the middle of the dry autumn field, no one in the locomotive no one in the tender, no one in any of the cars behind, all black under the moon, and just the small sounds of its metal cooling, ticking on the rails.” p. 50
. . .
“But then a tall man stepped down from the train caboose platform like a captain assaying the tidal weathers of this inland sea.All dark suit, shadow-faced, he waded to the centre of the meadow, his shirt as black as the gloved hands he now stretched to the sky.
He gestured, once.
And the train came to life.
At first a head lifted in one window, then an arm, then another head like a puppet in a marionette theatre. Suddenly two men in black were carrying a dark tent-pole out across the hissing grass.
It was the silence that made Will pull back, even as Jim leaned forward eyes moon-bright.
A carnival should be all growls,roars like, timberlands stacked, bundled, rolled and crashed, great explosions of lion dust, men ablaze with working anger, pop bottles jangling, horse buckles shivering, engines and elephants in full stampede through rains of sweat while zebras
neighed and trembled like cage trapped in cage.
But this was like old movies, the silent theatre haunted with black-and-white ghosts, silvery mouth opening to let moon-light smoke out, gestures made [p. 51] in silence so hushed you could hear the wind fizz the hair on your cheeks. More shadows rustled from the train, passing the animal cages where darkness prowled with unlit eyes and the calliope stood mute save for the faintest idiot tune the breeze piped wandering up the flues.” pgs. 51-52
“Wandering alone in the library, letting his broom tell him things no one else could hear, hehad heard the whistle and the disjointed-calliope hymns.
‘Three,’ he now said, half-aloud. ‘Three in the morning…’
In the meadow the tents, the carnival waited. Waited for someone, anyone to wade along the grassy surf. The great tents filled like bellows. They softly issued forth exhalations of airthat smelled like ancient yellow beasts.
But only the moon looked in at the hollow dark, the deep caverns. Outside, night beasts hung in mid-gallop on a carousel.Beyond lay fathoms of Mirror[p. 54]Maze which housed a multifold series of empty vanities one wave on another, still, serene, silvered with age, white with time.
Any shadow, at the entrance, might stir reverberations the colour of fright, unravel deep-buried moons.
. . .
“Charles Halloway was cold. His skin was suddenly a lizard’s skin. His stomach filled with blood turned to rust. His mouth tasted of night damps.
Yet he could not turn from the library window.
Far off, something glittered in the meadow.
It was moonlight, flashing on a great glass.
Perhaps the light said something, perhaps it spoke in code.” pgs. 54-55
“Three in the morning, thought Charles Halloway, seated on the edge of his bed. Why did thetrain come at that hour?
For, he thought, it’s a special hour. Women never wake then, do they? They sleep the sleep of babes[p. 57] and children.But men in middle age? They know that hour well. Oh God, midnight’s not bad, you wake and go back to sleep, one or two’s not bad, you toss but sleep again. Five or six in the morning’s not bad there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon. But three, now, Christ, three a.m.! The blood moves slow. You’re the nearest to dead you’ll ever be save dying. Sleep is a patch of death, but three in the morn, full wide-eyed staring, is living death! You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rouse up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot! But no, you lie pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s burned dry. The moon rolls by to look at you down there, with its idiot face. It’s a long way back to sunset, a far
way on to dawn, so you summon all the fool things of your life, the stupid lovely things done with people known so very well who are now so very dead – And wasn’t it true, had he read it somewhere, more people in hospitals die at 3 a.m. than at any other time…?”pgs.57-58
“The sun rose yellow as a lemon.
The sky was round and blue.
The birds looped clear water songs in the air.
Will and Jim leaned from their windows.
Nothing had changed.
Except the look in Jim’s eyes.
‘Last night…’ said Will. ‘Did or didn’t it happen?’
They both gazed toward the far meadows.
The air was sweet as syrup. They could find no shadows, anywhere, even under trees.
‘Six minutes!’ cried Jim.
Four minutes later, cornflakes lurching in their stomachs, they frisked the leaves to a fine red
dust going out of town.
With a wild flutter of breath, they raised their eyes from the earth they had been treading.
And the carnival was there.
For the tents were lemon like the sun, brass like wheat fields a few weeks ago. Flags and banners bright as blue-birds snapped above lion-coloured canvas. From booths painted cotton-candy colours fine [p. 60] Saturday smells of bacon and eggs, hot dogs and pancakes swam
with the wind.Everywhere ran boys.Everywhere, sleepy fathers followed.
‘It’s just a plain old carnival,’ said Will.
‘Like heck,’ said Jim. ‘We weren’t blind last night. Come on!'” pgs. 60 -61
“…close up, the carnival was mildewed rope, moth-eaten canvas,rain-worn, sun-bleached tinsel. The side-show paintings, hung like
sad albatrosses on their poles, flapped and let fall flakes of ancient paint, shivering and at the same time revealing the unwondrous wonders of a thin man, fat-man, needle-head, tattooed man, hula dancer…” p. 61