Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana
Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana

In the Spring of 1968, something wicked came to my hometown and killed more than 40 people with no warning at all.

A stream of natural gas, like the green mist in the Ray Bradbury film, gathered in the basement of the sporting goods store where I often spent my Saturday afternoons. When it ignited, it set off the cases of ammunition, the cans of gunpowder and the blasting caps stored there. Military surplus rifles – M1s and Mausers and Enfields – rained down on the roof of the library several blocks away. The explosion left a giant hole where the building once stood. It blew the engine out of a parked car and sent it screaming across Main Street, where it killed the kid brother of an elementary school classmate.

And it set the stage for a redevelopment project that did as much to destroy “downtown” as any explosion could. Among its victims was the public library, erected in 1864 but expanded, refaced with stone and converted into a Richardsonian Romanesque castle in 1892.

I spent hours inside that building as a boy. The main reading room had stone floors, vaulted ceilings, a mezzazine lined with wrought-iron rails, and oak-cased walls of volumes behind glass-paneled doors. A spiral iron staircase led up to a second level with its floor of filigreed iron we could see through. So unique and so popular were the old building’s details that many of them were salvaged and incorporated into its replacement in an earnest, if futile, effort to capture the magic of something now gone.

I was reminded of that old building while watching Something Wicked This Way Comes, with its haunting message about the longing we feel for the past, for our youth, for a world in which small boys could lose themselves in places that managed to be at once overwhelming and comforting. Memories came rushing back as I watched Charles Halloway replace volumes on a familiar mezzanine, and his son Will race down stairs like the ones I once knew.

The mMain reading room at the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana
The Main reading room at the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond, Indiana

The library in my hometown was a gift from a wealthy merchant. Its expansion was the result of a later bequest. Midway between those two events, the town adopted a tax to support the facility; prior to that it depended on overdue fines and the rent paid by the librarian for her living quarters in the building’s south end. Today, like most libraries, it gratefully accepts gifts but pays its bills with taxes, the dues we pay to live in a civilized world.

Something Wicked This Way Comes was Bradbury’s allegory about temptation, as illustrated by Mr. Dark’s carousel, which would transport the young ahead in time or let the aged return to the strength and glory and beauty of their youth. Those who succumbed to its lure found themselves trapped in the surreal nightmare of the mysterious carnival, a netherworld populated by shapeshifters, the blind, and the unconscious. We never learn the source of the grand library Charles Halloway tended. Was it the gift of a wealthy merchant, or the product of a community’s decision to tax itself in order to hold something grand in its midst?

The evil in the movie is portended by the angry black sky behind Tom Fury, who sells lightning rods to those who need “special protection” from what is coming. “Some folks,” he warns “draw lightning to ‘em like a cat draws a baby’s breath.” When the evil shows up, it rides a dark train, seems to appear out of nowhere, and promises something few townspeople can resist.

Those who surrender to its temptation and ride the carousel damn themselves forever. Their desire to recapture the strength, health and beauty they seek, or remember having once had, reduces them to writhing figures in the tattoos covering Mr. Dark.

The evil that comes our way today carries no such portents. Instead of black skies, we see flags wave. Instead of roiling clouds full of lightning and thunder, we hear an incessant call to turn back time, to return to an America that was young, healthy and beautiful. It doesn’t matter that we were never as pure and strong as we’d like to imagine. Those who want to ride the Tea Party carousel won’t leave the hall of mirrors that reflects only what they choose to see. They ignore the racism, the inequities, the hard times that made up the dark side of an America without organized labor or regulatory agencies or laws to extend basic rights to the most vulnerable among us. They ignore history that tells us that group has included black slaves, Mexican migrants, homosexuals and even middle-class women. Those yearning to ride the carousel backwards want that history ignored, even if that means destroying the education necessary to keep our democracy alive.

They say they want to shrink government, to reward initiative, to banish the moochers and deadbeats and the powerless. But in their shrill cries I hear the sound of a mystery train bearing down on our world, a ghost train hurtling toward us in the night, ready to transform all we’ve accomplished into something we won’t recognize. Given their way, they will starve our schools, our libraries, and our art. They will cut the safety nets from under the vulnerable and redesign our economic engine to devour the victims of the poverty it creates. They will drag us all through the gates of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show in their craven rush toward the magic carousel that leads to a world that never was.

Something wicked truly does come. And we don’t need Tom Fury to tell us what awaits us if we give in to its false promise.

Library scene from Something Wicked This Way Comes

Ray Bearfield

Ray Bearfield

Ray Bearfield went to Florida as a newspaper editor, but left that job for a life on the water. He developed environmental education programs for the state Department of Natural Resources, earned a captain’s license and became a fishing guide in the Ten Thousand Islands region of the Everglades, and wrote stories and articles about the coastal environment for national and regional publications. He now lives in Atlanta, where he is at work on his first novel.

  1. So how do we pay for this utopia you seek. Right now it is the Chinese and others willing to buy our debt. Do we continue to dig a deeper hole or do we stop digging now before we become another Greece, France, Ireland or Spain. I’m all for getting something for nothing but that is a pipe dream. But I did like your article; it was intriguing and I read it all. I hate that it ended badly.

    1. Money does not grow on trees, but we do grow trees to make paper to print money. Paper money is the ideal currency because it has no intrinsic value. The notion that money has value and needs to be rationed carefully to those who are “deserving,” is a convenient fiction that satisfies people who want to use money as an instrument of social control. They are wicked. How do we know they are wicked? Because controlling inoffensive people and conditioning their survival on their subordination to arbitrary dicta is wicked.
      Money is nothing, unless it represents something of value you’ve done for someone else. Money is a convenience to satisfy obligations. Money can be used to discharge a debt. But, of course, for it to do that, the debt first has to be created and recognized. The alternative is theft, to take without giving anything back.
      There are some valid pairs in life. “Debt or theft” is one of them.

      1. Money is a necessary evil to grease the skids of commerce. Otherwise we would have to barter or pay for things with gold or whatever the world decided was of value. When Russian currency was worthless, they paid for goods with Vodka (now we’re talking). And, how would governments be able to control commerce and tax incomes, goods and services if there were no money. Paper money is indeed worthless if not tied to gold reserves as it used to be. Now, if we need more money the Federal Reserve prints it without authorization from anyone but themselves. When they purchased toxic loans from banks last year it was done with new money. They continue to buy government bonds with new money. Our federal government borrows money from other countries at an alarming rate. New money entering the system will eventually cause inflation, making the money we citizens have saved worth less. If our government defaults on their loans then the dollar would not be worth the paper on which it is printed and the world would plunge into a colossal depression. Which begs the question – is this really what President Obama and the Democratic Party have in mind? It would certainly seem to be so based on their track record so far.

        Money is something that must be earned. If you don’t earn it you can’t have it. Government is the biggest thief of all. They earn nothing, take what they want from those who do and hand it out to others as they see fit. We elect officials to oversee this hand out but they channel funds to benefit their political ambitions and their political parties rather than the populace as a whole. This corruption is rampant in all political parties and is the wickedness I see. We yearn to be free but are willing to take any hand out we can get and see it as free government money in the form of entitlements when it is costing us all dearly. There is no such thing as a free lunch and even though money is a necessary evil it is the love of it that is the root of all evil.

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