Don’t Lose My Place

I received a volume of Weird Science comics for Christmas. Published in the early 1950s, they were part of a genre of comics that also included Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear, and Shock Suspense Stories. They were a marvelous read and contained stories by such up and coming writers as Ray Bradbury. The art work tended to be uneven and some of the stories were predictable, but some of the plot lines remain with me to this day.

In one story written by Bradbury, children are asking their parents what happens to kidnappers. “They are arrested,” the children are told. “Then what?” they ask. “Well, there is a trial,” came the reply. “Are they punished?” the children ask. “If they are found guilty, they are,” was the answer. “What is the punishment?” came the question. “They are executed, of course,” the parents all replied. “Executed? How?” was the question. “Oh, they are electrocuted,” the parents said. Thanking their parents, the children go running off. Later that day, the children are seen holding what the parents consider to be a mock funeral, carrying a small makeshift coffin to a freshly dug grave. There is some conversation about this event, but no one raises any concern until a mother comes running up, looking for her son. She has looked everywhere and he is no where to be found. The parents asked their children, “where is Billy?” “Oh, he was found guilty of kidnapping and executed.” “Kidnapping?” came the startled rejoinder. “Yes, he took Suzie’s doll, so we had a trial and found him guilty and electrocuted him.”

Another story, by an author I don’t remember concerned a man who was in love with a woman who loved another. A marriage was planned and the man became obsessed with jealousy. The man plotted to kill the woman’s fiance. As a plot twist, the fiance, it seems, owned a rather nice tuxedo. Part of the murder plot included getting that tuxedo. The murder is accomplished, but to the man’s dismay, the prospective bridegroom was buried in that rather nice tuxedo. Does this deter our hero? Certainly not. He repairs to the cemetery, digs the fellow up and steals the tuxedo. On the next page, we find that the man is about to marry the woman and we see them standing before the altar, he nattily dressed in that tuxedo. Suddenly he begins to sweat profusely and collapses and dies in agony before a shocked crowd. The autopsy later revealed that he had died of embalming fluid poisoning. A lesson, of sorts, to all men planning a similar deed.

My mother hated these comic books and would not allow them in the house. I was also enjoined not to buy them, and she told the owner of the corner grocery not to sell them to me. This posed a slight dilemma which I ultimately solved by talking a friend into buying them for me. My mother’s dislike of these comics also extended to science fiction in general and I was told I could not buy any of the various science fiction magazines on the market, nor was I to buy any of the numerous books being published at the time. Such prohibitions became a challenge and I had several sources for the prohibited material. A family friend gave me the first two issues of Playboy which contained Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Oh, I looked at the pictures, especially the spread of photos of a naked Marilyn Monroe, but it was Bradbury who captured my imagination and, in my mind’s eye, I cast my mother into the role of a fire fighter, the name given to the book burners of this indeterminate future time.

Growing up on a resort lake, science fiction novels were generally easy to come by and, best of all they were free. People would bring them along on their vacation and discard them when they were finished, often giving them to me. By September, and the end of the season, I had collected a treasure trove of books. Asimov, Campbell, Heinlein, Clarke, they all took me to worlds unknown. My problem was hiding them until they could be read. I couldn’t take them into the house. If found, they would be promptly disposed of and I would be punished; twice usually. First by my mother, and later by my father when he returned home from work.

My solution was to put them in plastic bags and hide them outdoors at places I frequented as I wandered the northern Indiana countryside. I would stick them in the branches of trees, trying to make sure no one would find them should they pass by. I would visit these spots as I could, reading a chapter here and a chapter there. Only the most inclement weather kept me away and in the dead of winter I would chance sneaking one into the house and hide it in the maze of tools and paint my father kept in the basement, normally quite safe. I would bring them out only when my parents weren’t at home. It was a satisfactory arrangement and I only had to guard against their returning before I was able to hide the book. A close call on more than one occasion.

There came a time when a science fiction story appeared in my school literature book, 8th Grade I believe, which I made sure my mother knew about and I wrote a book report on Asimov’s I, Robot. This broke the barrier and my reading was not questioned after that.

Despite that, there are books out there that I never retrieved. One or two, maybe more. I like to think they are still waiting for me to finish them. Should you run across one in your ramblings in the northern Indiana countryside, don’t lose my place.