On Rod Serling’s “Escape Clause”

“Witness, my dear… the new Walter Bedeker!”

In Rod Serling’s “Escape Clause,” we meet the same insufferable bathrobe-wearing, bedridden, forty-four year old hypochondriac as found in The Twilight Zone episode. Walter Bedeker is demanding and annoying and despite his wife Ethel’s best efforts, Walter’s fears are many: “death, disease, other people, germs, drafts and everything else… In short, he was a gnome-faced little man who clutched at disease the way most people hunger for security” (33). In fact, his phobias are so severe that Walter even refuses to allow windows to be opened in the house.

He verbally berates a doctor, then a janitor, and his own wife before finally being left alone in his room when suddenly the deep, resonant, laughing voice of a man named Cadwallader can be heard in his room. Cadwallader is soon revealed to be the devil himself offering Walter Bedeker immortality in exchange for his soul. After a serious negotiation, Walter signs away his soul and begins testing his invincibility in a series of challenges, each more radical than the last. Unfortunately, his newfound freedom from fear makes him equally as insufferable a man. However, he soon faces a new kind of monotony in his life without the looming threat of death any longer. He devises a dark plot wherein he kills his wife and winds up in prison in Kansas. In despair, Walter exercises the “escape clause” of his contract with Cadwallader and he immediately dies. Life without death is empty and meaningless.

This short story closely mirrors the plot featured in its component Twilight Zone episode. Once again, the tone of this Serling tale is light-hearted, amused, and playful up until the point Walter kills his wife and winds up in jail, begging for death. These folkoric, supernatural, Faustian fables taking place in our contemporary context are simply terrific.

Serling, Rod. Stories From The Twilight Zone. Rod Serling Books: 1960 (republished in 1990 by the Serling family), Paperback Edition.

Click here to return to my survey of The Twilight Zone series.

Click here to read my review of The Twilight Zone episode “Escape Clause”

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