A story for those who wish to live a simpler life.
This is a short story aimed at those who wish to return to a pre-modern world. This story is based on an episode from the old TV show "The Twilight Zone."
Copyright, 2008. All rights reserved.
This story is related to a “Twilight Zone” episode called “A Stop at Willoughby.” The episode starred actor James Daly who played Gart Williams who worked for an ad agency in New York during the 1960s. He has an ulcer from the stress of his job. Due to his misjudgment, he has just caused a multi million dollar account to be lost to another agency along with his assistant who took the account there. His boss is described as an overbearing overweight man who is constantly pushing Williams and blames him for the loss of the account.
One day Williams reached his breaking point and insulted his boss by telling him to shut up and referred to him as “fat boy.” He took the train home to Connecticut and during the ride he was seemingly transported back to a simpler time and place. The time is 1888 and the place is Willoughby, a picturesque an idealized town that could be a setting for a Norman Rockwell painting. Willoughby is an idyllic place with a band playing in the town square, boys with fishing poles, and people using horses and wagons. Williams did not get off the train but believed that he would be happier in this simpler time and that Willoughby was a place where a man could live his life full measure, a phrase that is used throughout the drama.
When Williams confided his unhappiness to his wife Janie but she was unsympathetic to his need to live an easier life. She coldly insulted him and belittled him and complained that she is married to a man who wants to be Huckleberry Finn. At the end of the story Williams has had another troubling and stressful day at work and is again on his way home. This time when Willoughby appears during a stop he decided to get off the train and go to Willoughby. Now he will be able to live his life full measure. However, Williams has really jumped off the train and is dead. The funeral home transport truck has “Willoughby and Sons” on the side of its vehicle. In this use of irony, Gart Williams has made it to Willoughby after all.
In this follow up story Williams actually gets to Willoughby.
I am going to get off Gart Williams thought to himself. I am not going to wait anymore. The conductor cried out, “Willoughby, this stop, Willoughby.” As the train stopped Williams knew that this was his chance, perhaps his only opportunity to escape the life he had made for himself. He knew that if he did not get out now he might never get the chance again. He would go to Willoughby and live in a simpler time. Hadn’t the conductor told him that Willoughby was “a place where a man could live his life full measure.“
A time when boys went fishing and life moved at a slower pace. He would leave his wife Janie behind and his boss, that obese and piggish man who owned the agency. He would never have to hear, “This is a push, push, push business boy and you have to push, push, push to get anywhere.” He had not been fired for losing the 3 million dollar automobile company account that his assistant, Jake Ross had landed and then took the account with him to another agency. It didn‘t matter now he would never see the agency again. “Willoughby,” the conductor said, “this stop Willoughby.”
Williams jumped off the train. He would find peace and rest here. Willoughby where he could slow down at last. Willoughby, a lovely little village in 1888. It was summer there. As he got off the train he saw that the women carried parasols and wore long dresses.
Williams saw three boys with fishing poles and asked. “Is the fishing good?”
“Yes sir,” the boy said, the other replied, “fishing is real good, lotsa fish, lotsa room.”
“Well maybe I’ll join you,” Williams responded.
“Anytime sir,” one of the boys said.
As Williams walked into the town a man in a wagon said, “Good day to you sir.“
Williams responded with a happy, “and a good day to you.“
As he approached the town square he breathed deeply and the air felt good in his lungs. He was beginning to relax. The large clock in the town square showed that it was 3 PM.
There was a band playing and a barber shop quartet performed to the applause of the gathered people. The carousel at the center of town went around and around and he could see the smiling faces of the children as they enjoyed the ride. Williams found an open seat on a bench and savored the scene. He was so tired that sleep came to him as a friend.
When he awoke everyone was gone. It was night time and the carousel had closed. He looked up and saw all of the stars. They were beautiful and he knew that getting off the train had been the best thing he had ever done in his life. He would live in Willoughby and he would know the peace and tranquility that had eluded him for so long. Janie, well perhaps she would be better off without him. In truth he had departed from her a long time ago, or perhaps it was the other way around. He looked up and could not get over the darkness. He actually stumbled in the street. He had never experienced such darkness. In the city all of the reflection from the bright lights kept one from seeing the stars. Now he could see all of them and they were beautiful. Here he could live his life to its full measure.
Well, he thought to himself. I had better find a place to sleep. As he walked through the town he looked up at a sign that said “Willoughby Tavern,“ it had looked so quaint in his dreams. He decided to enter the place.
He saw a group of men sitting at one table. The wagon driver who had said hello to him was sitting at table. He waved to the man who waved back.
What’ll it be sir?” the bartender asked.
“Oh, nothing, but wait, can I have a glass of water, it was real hot out there today and I didn’t realize how thirsty I was.”
Williams thought he saw a slight frown on the man’s face.
“Sure, I can give you some water,” Williams smiled and thanked the man.
Williams drank the water and it was warm.
That’s right, he thought, they don’t have much in the way of refrigeration here. Perhaps they have an ice house in the back.
Williams walked over to the table that the wagon driver was sitting and one of the chairs was empty.
“Mind if I sit in and join you fellows?”
“Sure,” one of the men said, “I’m Hank, are you new to these parts?”
“Well yes, in a way I am.” Williams said. “I would like to settle here.”
“Why?” one of the men asked.
This town looks so peaceful and quiet I think that it would be tranquil.”
“Tranquil, what do you mean tranquil?” The wagon driver asked.
“Well it seems so relaxed, I was at the town square today and I saw the carousel and the ladies walking and it just seemed so peaceful.”
“I wish that I had the time to do that,” the wagon driver said.
“Yeah, me too,” one of the men said. “I had to shovel all of that crap from the animals from that carousel today. All of that turning makes the oxen dizzy and loose.”
Williams then remembered that the source of the movement for the carousel had been two oxen. He had forgotten that electricity had barely been utilized in the world of 1888.
“What were you talking about?"
He imagined that they must have been talking about how great the fishing was and what a fine day it had been. Perhaps they were debating which fishing hole was the best or how beautiful the night sky was.
“Well we were just talking about the election coming up.” the wagon driver said, spraying Williams with some tobacco that had formerly been lodged between two of his yellow teeth. Williams recoiled from the projectile which landed on his cheek. He wiped it away with his sleeve and that was when he noticed it.
The horrible smell.
This fellow had been shoveling crap all day and he and his clothing certainly smelled from it. William’s nose also told him that the wagon driver had a horrible body odor. Then he noticed that the man was also missing a large number of his teeth.
Gart did not want to be rude and leave so he placed his hand over his nose. He decided to join in with what the men had been discussing.
The wagon driver whose name was Michael said. “I was saying that the tariffs needed to be preserved and increased to protect our industries from foreign competition. George here was saying that they need to be lowered.”
“You only feel that way because you make saddles,” George responded. “You are just trying to protect your livelihood. Why should I have to pay more for a saddle made here when we can import them from overseas and pay less?”
“You only want the tariffs lowered so that you can buy cheap foreign goods and kill American industries,” Michael the wagon driver responded.
Another man named Albert said, “Gentlemen, using the latest scientific and mathematical techniques on my abacus I have calculated that our dependence on the horse will be the ruination of us all.”
“Shut up Albert,” all the men said at once.
Albert ignored the men and addressed Gart, “Did you know that at our current rate of population increase and our dependence on the horse, my calculations show that we will be buried in horse manure by the year 1922. Manhattan Island itself will be under 20 feet of horse manure unless we stop using the horse now. The level of horse manure will rise so much that we will have no place to put it. We will be drowning in it. The domesticated horse is the worst thing ever to happen to the planet. Earth, our planet itself, is in the balance.“
What do you think we should do about it?” asked Gart.
“We must tax on every horse sold based on the amount of manure produced. Only then can we save our planet.”
“Shut up Albert,” all the men said again.
“That ought to be good for you George,” Michael said, mockingly.
“Well I am voting for Harrison the Democrat,” George said.
“I am going for Cleveland again,” Michael said.
Gart found the body odor of those at the table overpowering. Luckily for him the group was breaking up and the tavern would close. He was feeling a little hungry, what would he do for food?
He walked over to the bartender who he had gathered owned the place and asked him if he had any food to eat. The bartender asked him if he had any money and Williams realized that he did not have any money that could be used in 1888.
“No,” he replied,.
“Well I’ll tell you what, You help me clean up the place and I will stake you to a meal, I’m James.”
“Thank you James, my name is Gart, Gart Williams,“ he replied.
“Do you have a place to sleep?”
“Actually I don’t,” Williams replied.
“Well you can sleep in the back room. I can give you a blanket, it gets kind of cold at night.”
Is there a place I can take a bath or shower?” Williams asked.
“Bath or shower,” James said. “You’ll catch your death of cold if you do that.”
Williams helped James clean up and true to his word, James gave him some bread and a piece of pork roast that he had been cooking along with some beer. James left the tavern and Williams bedded down for the night in the backroom.
It wasn’t long before he felt something crawling on him. It was a rat. Williams jumped up in fright and the rat scurried away. Williams also felt himself being bitten by mosquitoes. He swatted at them and wished he had some insecticide and also wished that the room had a screen. Screens also would have to wait for the machines to mass produce them had not been invented yet.
The next morning about at dawn Williams was awakened by a rooster crowing. He got up with welts and he itched from the insect bites. He saw that the town was already alive with movement.
Williams began to walk around the town and observed the blacksmith shoeing a horse and a wheelwright replacing a wagon wheel on an ox cart. “Good morning neighbor,” Williams said.
“Good morning to you sir,” the blacksmith replied.
“Any idea when the band will start playing in the town square?”
“They won’t be back today,” The blacksmith replied. “Yesterday was Sunday, the Lord’s day, everyone is back at work today.”
“Good fishing around here?”
“Yes sir, if you go down to the creek and walk up a ways to an oak tree, that is usually the spot that most people favor.”
“Care to join me?” Williams asked.
“I wish I had the time” the blacksmith said. “I have to go to the service today,”
“The little Jenkins girl died from a fever.” he replied.
“Oh, I am sorry to hear about that.” What did she die from?”
“The doctor said that she had a pain in her ear and the infection just spread to her brain. There was nothing he could do except to relieve her suffering.”
“Why didn’t they give her some anti____?“ Williams stopped himself. He had almost said antibiotics but he realized that they did not have them in 1888.
“What,” the blacksmith asked.
“Oh nothing, nothing at all” Williams said. “I am sorry for the family and the little girl.”
It was hard for Williams to imagine a child dying from something so easily cured in his time. I guess she will never get the chance to live her life to full measure, he thought.
Williams headed to the creek to do a little fishing. There was only one person there. He was a boy about 16.
“Hello,” Williams said.
The boy ignored him.
“Hello,” Williams said louder but the boy did not even turn around.
Williams tapped the boy on the shoulder and the boy, startled, uttered an unintelligible sound.
The boy was deaf.
The boy grunted and made noises but Williams could not understand what he was trying to say.
Everyone else is in school but this boy is allowed to run wild, Williams thought. Back in the 1880s he would just be considered deaf and dumb. He remembered that at this time there were a few schools for the deaf just beginning to take hold but this boy lived so far away they might as well be on Mars.
Williams began to feel a little uneasy. A little girl dying from a simple infection, a deaf boy allowed to run wild and not get an education. The odors and poor hygiene of the people. The infestation of mosquitoes and rats. The never ending work from dusk till dawn. The real and early onset of darkness without the benefit of electric lighting. What he wouldn’t do for a nice hot shower and indoor plumbing. What he would not do for air conditioning or a ride in an automobile.
“Excuse me, Mr Williams, Mr Williams”
“What, what,” Williams said not sure where he was.
It was the conductor. “You were moaning, you must have fallen asleep. Did you have a bad dream?”
“Yes,” Williams looked around reassured and relieved that he was back in his own time. “it was a nightmare.”