AN UNTOLD CHAPTER TO COMMEMORATE THE 60TH ANNIVERSARY
OF 'THE ILLUSTRATED MAN'
FOR MY GREAT FRIEND AND MENTOR RAY BRADBURY
It was a hot summer day in the magical month of July. An endless time of fun and adventure all ten-year-old boys reveled in. Running, swimming, fishing and the best of all… fireworks, for it were the day before Independence Day.
With the combined earnings of many laborious Saturday afternoons mowing lawns, searching for treasured soda pop bottles turning them in for hard, cold cash and what little pittance I made from my paper route; I had a king’s ransom.
Ten dollars and twenty-seven cents.
I was rich beyond my wildest dreams!
With my best friend in tow; Snorky; a Boston Bull Terrier; the smartest, fastest dog on the block, off we ran down the street heading towards any adventure that awaited us.
Snorky and I came to a grinding halt, like the third gear shifting into reverse on my dad’s Edsel, gazing, hypnotically in awe towards the landscape at the edge of the sidewalk surveying an enchanted land of wonderment.
There it was in all its glory my Shangri-La that would only appear once a year.
The fireworks stand!
It was packed with families looking for the best bang for their buck carrying away large assortments of bags and overflowing boxes filled with colorful pyrotechnics that would light up the nighttime sky. A night that seemed to last forever.
A sudden chill crept over me. If I didn’t hurry and make my purchases there would be nothing left!
There, lined up in order, were Smokey Joes, Glow Worms, Sparklers, Piccolo Pete’s, Gyroblooms and Wild Bats to start the night off ending with the grand finale of one’s choice; the Roaring Lion or the Holy Grail of fireworks; the Old Glory!
While moms and dads were walking away with large, spectacular assortments such as the “Blockbuster” and “Forty-Niner,” the excited children screamed in delight and I knew that my mere ten dollars and twenty-seven cents would not go far.
Then I discovered the sign that gave me hope; “BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE!”
I sighed with relief. I knew a bargain when I saw one so I rushed up to the booth eyeing my future treasure trove.
After careful consideration of the vast selections pressing over the issue of whether or not to buy an extra box of “Snakes” or the “Mini Volcano,” I presented my money to the burly man with the tattooed arms as thick as tree trunks behind the steel meshed counter as he handed me my cherished bounty in a brown paper bag including enough change that would allow me the luxury of an ice cold soda, two comic books and a 50/50 bar!
“Young man,” the big, burly tattooed man called out.
“Yes, Sir?” I answered.
“How’s the fishing ‘round these parts?”
“Should be some good fishing tomorrow, Sir. Every year they bite on the Fourth of July. You can count on that,” I proudly answered.
“Tomorrow’s my last day here. I have to move on. Find another job,” he replied. “Thought I’d try my luck before I do.”
I stared at the tattoos on his arms. For a moment, they seemed to move, but it could have been the light through the screen on the windows of the fireworks stand playing tricks on my eyes.
“Where’d you get them tattoos? We’re you in the navy?”
“The circus?” I quizzically asked.
“I got them a long time ago from a witch woman in the future,” he answered. “’Sides, I don’t refer to them as ‘tattoos.’ They’re, ‘skin illustrations,’ young man.”
“Skin illustrations,” now that’s something you just didn’t hear everyday and that he got them from a witch woman in the future, well that just didn’t plain make any sense, but far from me to disrespect my elders and pry into this man’s business.
“But, don’t look too close,” the big, burly tattooed man said. “They come alive, tell people’s futures and sometimes they don’t like what they see.”
“Like what?” I said.
I pondered the thought of what my future would be and was going to choose an image to stare at when he suddenly changed the subject.
“Need any punk?”
I was told that punk was always good for lighting fireworks, but I never had any luck with it.
“Thank you anyway, but I have a box of matches. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow. It was a pleasure taking with you, Sir,” I said as Snorky and I ran down the street with my hard earned swag in hand.
The big, burly tattooed man smiled to himself as he watched me leave.
I had walked away with an assortment of fireworks that would last me all night.
It was an end to a perfect day.
The next morning Snorky and I got up bright and early. It was going to be a good day for fishing. With my pole slung over my shoulder, and a hunk of cheddar cheese from my mother’s refrigerator, Snorky and I ran down to my favorite spot on the lake on the old wooden dock.
I brought the cheese for two reasons. One; I always had great luck in catching fish using cheese as bait and two; in case Snorky got a little hungry. I could never understand why fish and dogs were attracted to cheese, but I imagined it was one of those mysterious secrets the universe kept to itself.
There we saw the big, burly tattooed man walking towards us holding a bucket of worms marked BAIT and another filled with fish. He had taken off his shirt, perhaps to enjoy some of the morning sun and there I beheld a most incredible sight. The big, burly man was covered with an assortment of exotic tattoos on his chest and back.
“You were right, young man. The fishing is good here,” he said.
“But, where’s your pole?” I asked.
“It was no different from yours; a bamboo reed with a string and a paperclip for a hook. When I finished with it, I gave everything back to nature.”
I looked at the large amount of fish he caught in his bucket. “And you caught all those fish with just a paperclip hook?”
“It was the bait. It’s special. Try it. It brought me luck, so now it’s your turn.”
“Thanks, Mister,” I said as I took a worm from his bucket and placed it on my hook, casting it into the water.
“We’re going to get a lot of fish today,” I said to Snorky who was busy looking across the lake at the other fishermen trying their skill.
“Say, mister, can I stare at one of your tat…,” I caught myself in mid-sentence and quickly corrected myself not to offend the big, burly tattooed man, “…skin illustrations to see my destiny?” I asked.
He looked down at me and smiled, “No, they’re not for you. You haven’t lived life yet and your destiny is still changing. But, because you were kind to me, as very few people are, I have something special I want to give you.”
He reached into his hip pocket and produced a small book.
“I give this gift to you because it has a special power to only those who can see it. I believe you are worthy of that power. But, you must not open it until your day is done and you can focus on its contents. Then, and only then, will you see the power you hold in your hands. You’ll be able to choose your own destiny without having to see it though my skin illustrations.”
I took the book from him and placed it next to me on the wooden dock.
“Thanks, mister! I’ll read it tonight,” I said.
He smiled at me and said, “live forever,” as he turned and disappeared into the woods.
I never saw him again.
That night, after the bar-b-que, fireworks and festivities died down, I went to my bedroom and prepared for a good night’s rest. Snorky was fast asleep on the floor at the foot of my bed content with his juicy steak bones from Mr. Tindall’s butcher shop dreaming his own dreams only a dog could imagine.
I opened the book the big, burly tattooed man had given me as he instructed and when I did, a bright light shone from it into my eyes. I quickly closed it, then slowly opened it once more thinking that perhaps I had looked at too many fireworks in the sky letting my imagination run away in my mind with spots before my eyes.
The bright light was there again emitting from the book’s pages as I began to read it.
It was a book that was written by a magician that took me to faraway worlds that would be or could be a thousand pasts ago or a thousand futures from now filled with spectacular wonders ranging from dinosaurs to rocket ships.
I was hooked. I could not stop reading and I didn’t even need my trusty flashlight that I used to read my comic books under my blankets at night the light was so bright the book emitted. I read it from cover to cover that night.
I read in awe and wonderment. I could feel a change in me. The big, burly tattooed man was right.
I had been given a gift by the Illustrated Man… the Bradbury Ray and I haven’t stopped reading the author’s works since.