On Rod Serling’s “Dust”

“There was a village built of crumbling clay and rotting wood. It squatted, ugly, under a broiling sun, like a sick, mangy animal waiting to die. It had a name, but the name was of little consequence. It had an age, but few people cared how old it was” (151).

In a remote town somewhere in the Southwest –a place haunted by misery, hopelessness, and loss of faith– a gallows is being constructed at the edge of town to execute an accused child killer named Louis Gallegos. At the same time, a shifty traveling salesman named Peter Sykes approaches the village selling a new rope for the hanging (albeit at a heavy price mark-up).   

However, the execution is controversial. Louis’s sixty-eight-year-old father Pedro and his young daughter Estrelita beg the local people for forgiveness. Apparently, he is a sad young man, lost without work, and despondent over the barrenness dryness of the earth. According to his father, Louis got drunk one evening and accidentally killed a little girl without realizing it.

Sensing his moment, Sykes decides to sell “magic dust” to Louis and Estrelita. He claims the magic dust has the secret power to turn hate into love, and he sells it for three gold coins. When the time arrives for Louis’s execution, the bloodlust and overwhelming roar of the crowd is suddenly hushed when the rope snaps and saves Louis’s life. He slowly shuffles back home while the crowd is left in a state of wonder. A shocked Sykes cannot believe the rope he supplied has. broken. In sober lament, he tosses his new gold coins at the feet of a trio of Mexican children standing nearby. Thus, presumably Sykes ends his petty quest for riches. For me, Rod Serling’s short story, while beautifully written, is not the greatest example of his pulp tales in The Twilight Zone, but it is still a worthy endeavor for true devotees of the show.

Serling, Rod. More 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 “Dust.”

2 thoughts on “On Rod Serling’s “Dust”

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