Charles Beaumont’s fascinating short story “In His Image” is a wonderful bit of American science fiction with a shocking twist ending (a perfect addition to The Twilight Zone). Peter “Pete” Nolan is experiencing strange situations. We begin with him pushing a woman in front of a subway train as she rambles on about reading the Bible. Later, it is revealed that Pete is in love with a woman named Jess, and they are to be married. They depart together from the city and arrive at his house, but now something has changed. The whole area seems different, and no one seems to recognize Pete. Mrs. Cook, for example, has apparently been dead for three years even though Pete remembers seeing her only a week and a half ago. Somehow his whole hometown of Coeurville, New York seems to have aged twenty years. Pete also possesses the inexplicable urge to kill Jess. Why? He accidentally injures himself while picking up a rock and gazes down at his arm:
“He carefully pulled a flap of skin down three inches below the wrist, and focused his eyes. Beneath the flap of skin, where veins ought to have been, and cartilage, and bone, were hundreds of tiny flexible rods, jointed and gleaming, and infinitesimal springs, turning, and bright yellow coils” (152).
Pete’s story is about a “perfect artificial man” who suddenly becomes aware of his own artificiality. When he meets his creator, Walter, Pete learns that he was somewhat accidentally created albeit with flaws, especially with the impetus to start killing humans. Pete demands that Walter create a new version, one that can be happily married to Jess, blissfully unaware of the problems associated with the original Pete… In a brief coda, Pete and Jess are now happily married as they toast to their new life together. Outside, a newspaperman shouts: “Subway killer still at large!”
Beaumont, Charles. Perchance to Dream and other Short Stories. Penguin Classics. New York, NY (2015).
Note: In the Foreword to this essay collection, Ray Bradbury offers some lovely reflections on the life of Charles “Chuck” Beaumont, from initially meeting a sixteen-year-old Beaumont at a bookstore in Los Angeles (talking about Terry and the Pirates comic collection, Buck Rogers, Tarzan, and Prince Valiant), to helping Beaumont publish his first short story and embark upon a successful literary career –“His life revolved around a special desk which he had designed and had built by one of the finest cabinetmakers in the West. His files were beautifully stashed, labeled, and stuffed with a half-million notions, idle fancies, half-grown or full-grown dreams…” (xiii). His was a life that was cut short too soon –a great tragedy for American science fiction.
Ray Bradbury offers the following reflections on Charles Beaumont’s funeral:
“The friends of Charles Beaumont, at gravesite, felt… above all that a time was over, and things would never be the same. Our old group would meet less often, and then fall away. What was central to it, the binding force, the conversational fire, the great runner, jumper, and yeller, was gone” (xiv).
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Click here for my review of “In His Image” Twilight Zone episode