Wednesday, May 30, 2012

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Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the scary thing about carnivals and childhood

The last time I got this scared reading a book was with Stephen King's It. The clown that killed the stuttering boy chasing the paper boat on the street gutters during a hard rain made a deep impact on me that I never thought of them (clowns) the same way again. Unfortunately I never got to finish the book, one of the thickest paperbacks in our little library, probably because at the time I was itching to start on new ones. But I'm determined to read it later. Certain stories are best read with maturity.

But what I really want to write about is Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, a story of two boys who like going on adventures. Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway are next-door neighbors, playing, running together—the best of friends.

I like how the author described them:
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 window 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 each other.
Mysterious things start happening. One fine October day they meet a salesman who hands them a lightning rod. He warns the boys: lightning will strike one of their houses down. He can smell lightning from afar, the salesman says, and it's passing by this town.

At 3 am the boys hear a moving train. They jump out of their windows, follow the distant, enchanting music from the calliope, and from a distance, realize that it's a carnival being set up in town. A carnival stirs in boys a curiosity so overwhelming they can't help but yield. But they begin to feel that something is different—and they don't like it. After all,
A carnival should be all growls, roars like timberlands stacked, bundled, rolled and crashed, great explosions of lion dust, men ablaze with working anger . . . But this was like the old movies, the silent theater haunted with black-and-white ghosts, silvery mouths opening to let moonlight smoke out, gestures made in silence so hushed you could hear the wind fizz the hair on your cheeks.
They investigate further. The more they feel that something's not right, the more they get intrigued. They learn that the carnival isn't what it seems. A merry-go-round can reverse or accelerate a man's age, depending on the direction of its turning. A maze of windows can trap a person indefinitely. Old, untold mysteries lurk. It's an evil place. Will wants to go home, but Jim wants to know more.

The people running the carnival eventually know about the boys' intrusion. But how to hide from those wicked people is beyond them. They know they're kids, and no one will believe them.

We read of Charles Halloway, Will's introvert father, who believes their story unreservedly. The man, who works as a janitor in the town library, also has heard the 3 am train. He's instrumental in getting them out of trouble and in saving all their lives.

The book is scary, yes, but it's so much more.

I was reminded of  Mike Tan's Youngblood piece on childhood summers, the one that appeared on the Inquirer this May. I also felt nostalgic about my childhood, among the happiest days of my life.

How long has it been since I had been to a perya (town fair)? I remember going to one when our family visited the Suenos in their ancestral home in Barrio Cinco, a couple of minutes away from the Koronadal poblacion. The perya was set up in the barrio's basketball court and playground, and it came alive at night. The place was colorful, bursting with fun and excitement and laughter. Booths were cloaked in blue tarpaulins. Kids munched on fluffy, pink cotton candy. I was with Manong and Nonoy. It was my first time to be in a perya.

We asked our parents for  spare change so we could play in a couple of games. I failed to get any prize because I never managed to figure out how to toss the coin inside that wretched square board successfully. But what fun I had, and what thrill I experienced when I gave my coins away for a minute or two of adrenalin rush!

Maybe that's why Ray Bradbury's book felt so enchanting to me. Reading about Jim and Will was like a trip down memory lane—only that the carnival I had been to did not weird me out, but gave me an exhilaration best experienced with childlike awe.

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Bradbury. I haven't read this novel, just his short stories (Illustrated Man, Martian Chronicles).

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