Treehouse

online magazine for short, good writing

5 Episodes of the Twilight Zone You Need to Watch Right Now

by a contributor

from Alex Sobel, author of Home:

The Twilight Zone is my favorite television show. Created by Rod Serling, who not only gave the show its poetic narration, but also wrote 99 of the 156 episodes, The Twilight Zone was an anthology show that often mixed sci-fi or supernatural elements with well-developed characters, emotional depth, and biting social commentary. It’s a show that when I first saw it when I was little, immediately made me want to be a writer (somewhere I have notebooks with knock-off episodes that 10-year-old me wrote just in case they brought the show back to television). It’s a show that when I see it now, I feel my chest tighten with how much I love every second of it. It’s a show that when I find someone who hasn’t seen it, I immediately insist that they watch it. So with that, here are the episodes that I always start people off with. A list of some of my favorites that showcase the wide range of styles and themes the show was capable of, and will hopefully get those who are Twilight Zone-deficient hooked.

  1. “Walking Distance”
    Two things that people associate with The Twilight Zone are science fiction monsters and twist endings, but “Walking Distance” (in my opinion, the single greatest episode of the series) has neither of those. Just an interesting character who, in less than 30 minutes, is better developed than most shows are capable of in several full seasons of episodes. Martin is a worn out businessman who, when his car breaks down, decides to visit the town that he grew up in. When he gets there, he finds that he’s actually traveled back in time, his parents are still alive, and the town is exactly as it was when he was little. What follows is a reflection on the dangers of nostalgia, the pain that comes from a life of irreversible losses, and the emptiness that is adulthood: and how despite all that, life is still worth living.

  2. “The Obsolete Man”
    I once read that Rod Serling’s stories often showed how much love he had for people and for humanity as a whole. In no episode is this more present than in “The Obsolete Man.” Burgess Meredith, in one of his four appearances on the show (one of which is arguably the series’ most famous episode, “Time Enough at Last,” which aside from the gut-punch of a twist ending, isn’t really a standout) plays Romney Wordsworth, a librarian (how could he not be with that name?) who, in a totalitarian future, is put on trial for being an obsolete human, the sentence for which is death. The episode consists mostly of dialogue between Wordsworth and Fritz Weaver’s calculated Chancellor, and their verbal sparing reveals the depth of man’s search for meaning, for relevance, for purpose, and what it really means to be obsolete.

  3. “Nick of Time”
    Most people would lean toward William Shatner’s other Twilight Zone appearance, “Terror at 20,000” (another great episode that could have easily been on this list), but for me, “Nick of Time” is better. Shatner’s Don Carter is a superstitious man whose car breaks down (this show loves having broken down cars) on his honeymoon. When he and his new wife stop in a diner, Carter begins to get sucked into the power of the “mystic seer,” a small fortuneteller box that for a penny gives you a slip that appears to predict Carter’s future. The beauty of this episode comes from the ambiguity of whether or not the mystic seer is really revealing the future, or it’s all in Carter’s superstitious head. It forces him to ask the question: if we were able to know our future, would we really want to know?

  4. “Eye of the Beholder”
    It’s a bit of a standard choice, but I couldn’t leave this one out. As I mentioned above, The Twilight Zone is really well known for it’s twist ending, and “Eye of the Beholder” has one hell of a twist. Janet Tyler is a woman living in a totalitarian society (the show also loves its totalitarian societies) who has a face so hideous that, if this final operation doesn’t work, has to be shipped of to a special camp of “people just like her.” If you’re one of the few people who don’t know the ending, I won’t ruin it here, but I’d recommend watching it for yourself.

  5. “It’s a Good Life”
    Because The Twilight Zone is an anthology show, the appeal changes from episode-to-episode. Some have social commentary, some are great character studies, some are fun sci-fi romps, and others, like “It’s a Good Life,” are creepy as hell. Bill Mumy (who in the same year also starred in the episode “Bang! You’re Dead” of another great anthology show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents) plays Anthony Fremont, a young boy who has psychic abilities and uses them to terrorize the adults of his town. The episode is a great comment on how power shouldn’t be given to the irresponsible, but again, it’s really enjoyable because the kid is so damn creepy, turning people and animals into horrific creations or “sending them into the cornfield,” his term for killing them. This episode is also darkly funny, as the adults are forced to be uneasy around the child out of fear. There’s no real closure or twist ending in this one. Just a great episode of my favorite show of all time.


Home

by a contributor

Alex Sobel

“I was okay,” I said, trying to keep my hand off of my nose, draw attention to it. “I didn’t have the arm for it, for throwing to second base. I couldn’t catch people trying to steal. I was always a better hitter.”

“You were? Best average?” I could hear the surprise in his voice, looking over me, scrawny, not the physique of a power hitter, not what people expect. But I never said I hit homeruns. I just got on base. Third in the batting order, looking for an RBI. It’s all a coordination thing. My eyes, my hands, they knew what each other was thinking. Looking back, I don’t even know how I did it, how anyone does it. To see the pitch, decide if it’s worth swinging at, and then making contact, all within a fraction of a second. It doesn’t seem possible.

“I went three straight seasons without a strike out,” I said, without any pride, because I didn’t feel any.

“Well, darn,” the doctor said, slapping his knee, his castrated language feeling more natural coming out of the mouth of a grown man than it should. “That’s good. Do you still play? Like, on an adult league or something?” Somehow, I’m young enough to be called kid, but old enough to play in an adult baseball league.

“No,” I said, “I quit a few years back.”

“Why is that?” he said.

“My knees,” I said, grabbing them, one in each hand, making a circular rubbing motion as if that made them feel better. “Arthritis. My mom has it, everyone on her side. I couldn’t crouch, couldn’t slide. Had to give it up.”

All of this was true, but I didn’t tell him how I hated baseball. I didn’t say how alone it made me feel. For a sport like basketball, when you lose, you lose as a team. No single basket matters, no foul completely fatal. Basketball games are a sum of parts, of an entire match’s actions. But baseball’s not like that. A strike out, a ground ball between your knees means everything. Remember Bill Buckner? The Red Sox lose Game Six of the 1986 World Series after a ball rolls through his legs. Nobody cares about the rest of the game, just that one missed ball, and it’s all his fault. He’ll never live that down. I mean, hell, baseball actually counts and tallies errors. What other sport counts mistakes that way? It’s inhuman. To place that much weight on individual failure, but then put it in the context of a team. Make you responsible for other’s success.

“That’s too bad,” the doctor said. “There are a few leagues around here that could use a hitter like yourself.” I nodded, smiled. Oh well. Too bad. How funny life is sometimes. “The good news,” the doctor continued, shifting his chair toward the desk next to me, “is that you don’t need any blood work. A few questions and you can go.”

But my mind was already gone, the last time I would ever be up at bat, to ever be alone like that on a baseball diamond. Top of the ninth inning, we’d already won the game, but didn’t have enough season wins to play in the tournament. The burden was gone. It was just gravy, meaningless, the whole thing. The ball off my bat, circling the bases, the third base coach yelling, keep going, like a kind of mercy. Sliding into home, my last chance to go out with a home run. As the dust cleared around me I saw the catcher’s glove on the ground, the umpire lifting his thumb, You’re out, ending my baseball career forever.

As if I needed him to tell me I was out. As if I wasn’t home already.


Alex Sobel is a freelance journalist living in Toledo, OH. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post Online; Foundling Review; Ink, Sweat, and Tears; and theNewerYork.

See Alex’s list of 5 Things on Wednesday.

Notes on home, notes on reticence

by a contributor

Steven Ray Miller

I won’t bother with the sky
It is indeed grand as the slogan
maestros claim. 

A New Yorker in the Midwest was horrified when I told her I crave the smell of forest fire.  One day last summer there was a big wild fire in Minnesota.  Its lovely, choking smoke had blown east and Milwaukee’s sky was hazy and hot.  She, having heard the dangers to those with respiratory problems, was rightly taken aback at my comment.  I struggled to explain how the smell evokes the best memories of home, certain concrete things, but mostly wispy images of my favorite qualities in the myths of the West. She had no idea what I was talking about.  I’m not sure I did either.

Don’t be fooled:
the silence of the rancher,
and of the rancher’s son,
is like a butcher’s bleached apron.

Nevermind good fortune.  Nevermind tacit schooling alongside mom, dad, brother, sister, neighbors, friends.  Nevermind their instructive stories, their quilt work of comedy and intrigue, their invitations to stitch yourself to their warmth.  A man only needs himself, for hardship tells its own stories.¹ When the land says No, there is knowledge.  When the land says Yes, there is dialogue.  When the land says Yes or No predictably, there is discourse.  Learning.  A way to make it through the world.

These hard men (and women) will occasionally remark on the vista. For some, when they say pretty things about the valley or the mountain, the gesture is perfunctory, a vexing inheritance from foolish Romantic forebears.  For others, the gesture is sincere, albeit extremely impoverished.  These hard types have a very difficult time with the idea of the lyric.  When a metaphor takes root, it is stunted.  When a musical phrase is a spark in their minds, it dims at once. It seems a lack of social experience limits their capacity for expressing beauty, which they, unlike others among them, at least appreciate.  In company, they might want to talk beyond small talk, to relate with a flourish something of absolutely no consequence.  They just don’t know where to begin.

The former wants to be a hero for enduring self-imposed loneliness, for eschewing all frivolity, for saying not a word—even on beauty.

The latter holds no hero fantasy.  The latter enjoys his solitude, and perceives beauty as solitude itself, but he recognizes an appreciation of beauty depends very much on its expression. When the forest smoke floats his way, it appeals to him, but he can’t give it a name.

                                                                                                                                           
¹ Maybe I learned it wrong but that’s what I learned from so many stillborn utterances that don’t need explaining.  A newcomer, a new idea . . . Pff.

 



Steven Ray Miller is from Colorado. A long time ago, he earned an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He and his super smart wife live in Milwaukee with their two dogs, Otis T. Pooch and Edgar Von HuffNPuff. Steve’s garden is small and sometimes successful.

 

Kisses Over Babylon

by a contributor

Jill Ann Mceldowney

consider your noctem carped.
your camel back to the sandbox leaves at 6 am
but im organizing toothpicks instead of packing. i don’t want you to go so:
im all kisses over babylon
im wearing purple lace underwear whispers
and (Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall) i say the next time you come home
we play with shotguns, or play house, or play spin the bottle like we are thirteen again.
right now-i’m pretty sure my liver is failing right here on this carpet
i look like lights over london & that friend request my mother sent me
i’m pretty sure you tried to sell crushed advil to JFK and pass it off as the real deal
he’s most dangerous gaming you and I right now
when he finds us- i won’t tell him about your baby teeth,
i’ll tell him that my frontal lobe is migraine littered ,
how the kitchen floor is so cold, how though the hole in the sky,
i can almost see God mowing the White House lawn.


Jill Ann Mceldowney is a model & poet who lives and works out of chicago. Her work has been printed or is forthcoming from foothill lit mag, BLOOM, ghosttown, and smokinggluegun among other notable publications.

See Jill’s list of 5 Things tomorrow.

K Names: Kelsey

by a contributor

Jill Ann Mceldowney

Kelsey strays in on the edges of soliloquies
                                                  street lights
                                      highway heartbeats
                                         folded valentines
                   water rings on your nightstand.

Parking Lot Under Your Window- ragged ear tomcats, swoop like owls at the corners of
                                       dumpsters, the color and texture of salt.

   “I want to show you, I want to show you, I want to show you.”

                                       Her voice is bloody and full of resurrection.

Kelsey takes me to a sepulcher in the woods
                               a rock formation arming in the gypsy eyed galaxies of the both of us,
                                                                      overturned boats, red stag bottles, peach pits
                                                                      photographs never taken- now all ash.

“This is where he burned the bodies when he was done. I want to show you what he burned.”

Her hands on my face, I realize I want to have tea with her too.
She’s crystal ball reading me because when you share a person
you share more than bong hits and Facebook friends.

Above us, the clouds are rolling in and the nooses that hang- ready to use- sway from low trees.


Jill Ann Mceldowney is a model & poet who lives and works out of chicago. Her work has been printed or is forthcoming from foothill lit mag, BLOOM, ghosttown, and smokinggluegun among other notable publications.

See more poetry from Jill tomorrow.

Five Things on Letters

by a contributor

from Jeff Burt, author of Tilting, Faces, and Fires That Burn, Fires That Do Not Burn:

  1. Postal home delivery began during the Civil War when a postmaster decided that mothers and fathers of Union soldiers should know when their sons had died and not have to wait to pick up the notice at the post office, to secure the intimate loss in the privacy of their own homes.  What can electrons convey compared to the height and breadth and length and weight of human sympathy in the dark ink in the ounces of a letter?

  2. I treasure hand-written lines from my grandmother, shaking penmanship in spare words in straight rows down the page, or my wife’s exultant whispers overflowing rows that lose their way much as a dreaming young farmer forgets the line of furrows and wanders off course across the field.

  3. I treasure the smudges of ballpoint ink left when a thought stalled, or the ink of the ribbon faded on the white-white paper my father used.

  4. I treasure the scented notes that my mother used, sympathies, questions, mirth and myth passing one to another with a touch of lilac or lavender.  Joy jumped and skipped across the page.  Sadness looped.

  5. When I slit open the top of the letter, the earnest desire to see what is inside, the thrill of an amateur biologist opening a first carcass or a botanist opening an unknown pod I express in that cut.  I take out the letter and give it air, let it breathe, give it back its life.


Fires That Burn, Fires That Do Not Burn

by a contributor

Jeff Burt

 

I was thinking of love and she and I were lying in a hollow on a hill listening to a man with a face worn like rock who lit a fire near a cliff, and squatted in khaki with a pipe out of pocket,
whose face was lit by fire, who retold the story of the Gemini twins as ashes rose to the heavens.
I was thinking of heavens, of her and her hand in mine, was thinking of ash in the air when the man said the tales are old but not forgotten and I was thinking of men who kept beasts away by fire.
I was thinking of fire, of men who looked for fire to keep an inner beast at bay, who sought gods and kept lights in the night, who told tales as this man told tales of a crippled god, of Helen and of Paris, of Dido and Aeneid, of man as woman’s immolation, woman as man’s Pyrrhic death, of the dangers of a single kiss.
I was thinking of a single kiss and saw the wood reduced to ash and ember and thought of going back by stepping forward for I had grown tired of old tongues and the telling of old tales
as he the dark-faced man, man only, fell silent, man only, as big as body and tongue.
I was thinking of tongue as I turned to see her eyes in the dark, and in the dark they were not foreign and I was thinking that we must live in our own light, that we must be our own Prometheus, that what we see and that we see must set our world on fire.
I was thinking of fire, of love, and thought this must be love: I can reach in her fire and not get burned.


Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California. He has published works in Thrice Fiction, Storm Cellar, Star 82 Review, and soon in The Cortland Review. He won the SuRaa short fiction award in 2011.

See Jeff’s list of 5 Things in our ongoing contributor series tomorrow.

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