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George Clayton Johnson
ALL OU US ARE DYING AND OTHER STORIES
Trade paperback / 7 x 10 / 546 pages / Publication date / Nov 2018
Shadowridge Press is proud to present the definitive edition of ALL OF US ARE DYING AND OTHER STORIES, the massive retrospective from legendary fictioneer George Clayton Johnson, newly expanded with selections not included in the hardcover edition.
“My friends Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont and Theodore Sturgeon taught me by example—as I watched them exercising different sets of mental muscles, switching from one to another as required by the story or the marketplace—that if I hoped to earn a living and have a writing career like theirs, I would need to learn to write effective film scripts as well as stories and articles. This retrospective collection contains examples of all three types of writing, selected from the work of a lifetime.”
- George Clayton Johnson
HERE'S A PREVIEW FROM ALL OF US ARE DYING
AND OTHER STORIES
BICYCLE LIKE A FLAME
Lying here I hear the sounds outside my window: that feathering of the breeze through the cottonwoods and the shouts of children at play, riding bicycles along the strips of paving that border the grounds of the rest home.
Thinking of it takes me back. With children riding bicycles, I remember those days made golden by time, and I remember you.
It's as though my memories are a vast reel of film that I play over and over, lingeringly. A magical film in the brightest color spiced with smells and various sounds and touches.
The film always begins in the same place with the jostling of children on a school playground, the click of colliding marbles and the rich smell of hot dust kicked up by running feet.
"Hey, watch who you’re shoving!"
"You pushed me first!"
It was the first day of the third grade and I stood by the bicycle rack holding my nickel tablet and my two yellow Ticonderoga pencils, waiting for the school bell to ring. I noticed you standing nearby eating a brown Holloway sucker.
A tall skinny kid came gliding toward us astride his bike, aiming it like a projectile, guiding it into the rack. He approached fast and at the last possible moment, as I held my breath expecting a crash, he clamped down on the brake pedal, dismounting grandly as the bike came to a halt. He was off across the school ground, running.
"Keen, huh?" you said. And I nodded dumbly.
"Which one is yours?" you said shyly, pointing at the racked bicycles.
"I don't have one," I said, feeling ashamed.
"Me neither," you said.
Just then the school bell rang. You looked up, startled, and turned to run.
"Hey, wait for me!"
From that first day we were always together; George and Abraham, Abraham and George, the names of might Presidents and schoolchildren.
I can see us walking through the alleys of the town exploring, walking down the paved streets passing the shops and show windows.
"If we only had a bicycle," you said one day. "If we had a bicycle we wouldn't have to walk."
Thinking of it I became excited. If we had a bike the entire town would be ours. Distances would vanish, blown away.
Our parents couldn't afford to buy us bicycles. We knew this but it didn't stop the dreaming.
That night, lying under the rough warm blankets, I pictured us riding on a bicycle. Because my legs were longer than yours I was pedaling and you sat in front of me on the crossbar. In my dreams we were like the centaur in our schoolbooks. We were half horse and half boy galloping in a hushed thunder under the cottonwood trees that lined the street.
In the morning when I say you I knew you'd seen visions too.
"Come on!" you cried. Your eyes sparkled with excitement.
It was a long walk downtown and short as your legs were I had trouble keeping up with you. "Abe!" I said. "What is it? Tell me!"
You stopped abruptly before a show window and pointed. I followed your outstretched finger with my eyes and I saw...
Bicycles! Dozens of them lining the walls of the bicycle shop. I was struck dumb by the sight. And then we were inside. The man who owned the shop was nowhere about. We moved to the row of bicycles and began to walk among them.
"Gee!" is said, and I couldn't say anything else.
"If you could have the one you wanted which would you take?" you asked, eyes ablaze.
I looked at the bicycles, seeing them as treasures. They were colored vividly in all the colors there are. My eyes danced over them, dazzled. I was in a trance and you had to tug at my sleeve before I heard you. "What color do you like the best?"
And I thought of a bicycle black as a panther rushing under creek-water skies. "A black one?"
You shook your head slowly and I followed your look. There it stood.
A bicycle like a flame.
"A red one," you said, as though it were the only possible choice.
And I knew you were right. A red one was best. It leaned there, sturdy as a thoroughbred horse. It smelled sweet of machine oil and new rubber tires. Its spokes gleamed with chromium lights.
"Look at the handlebars!"
The tubular steel they were made of was polished bright and they spread like eagle's wings. At their tips were black rubber handle grips shaped to fit growing fists.
"And the tires!"
Inflated full, heavily carved with tread, they were built to speed young bodies across the land.
I bent down and fingered the pedals, feeling the hidden bearings that let them spin freely. I ran my hands along the steel frame, my eyes dazed by the enamel red of it.
While I touched and prodded it you looked at the price tag. I heard your breath catch between your teeth and then you let it out slowly.
Twenty-two dollars and ninety-five cents."
I straightened up and stepped away from the beautiful bicycle. "How can we get twenty-two dollars and ninety-five cents? I asked as we headed for home.
"We'll find a way," you said.
We saw the other kids mowing lawns.
"Hey!" I said. "Look!"
You shook your head. "I've got a better way."
And so together we collected milk and pop bottles to sell for the refunds, filching them from backyards and off of porches. We scavenged copper wire, scrap brass and lead to sell to the junk yards and when these avenues of income were exhausted you conceived of others.
When you found out that the Wigwam Bakery packed their loaves in cardboard boxes for distribution we went to talk to them. You stood silently while I asked if they would buy cardboard boxes in good condition.
"We can use them," the man said. "I'll give you two and a half cents for every box you can bring me. Spread the word around."
But we never did. We kept the news to ourselves.
How many miles a day did we walk, Abe, searching through the downtown alleys, behind the department stores for cardboard boxes? How many dozen a day did we nest together and carry across town to earn dimes and quarters for our bicycle?
And the ice, Abe, remember the ice? It was one of the hottest days of summer. The ice wagon stopped in front of the house and later while eating the deliciously cold chips of ice that the iceman gave us you told me your plan.
"If we had a wagon or something we could sell ice on hot days."
Where would we get the ice?"
"You'll see," you said and you smiled.
"But we haven't got a wagon."
"We could build one!"
And that's what we did.
We'd pull the cart to the iceplant on the west side of Wheat Town and wait until the refrigeration cars were shuttled onto a siding. With rope, an icepick and tongs you'd let yourself down through the hatch of the car. I can still see you crouched in that metal shaft, striking with the icepick to send the glittering shards flying. And I, above you, smelling the winter climate in July, smelling the frozen iron and the wet straw, world pull up the unwieldy chunks of ice. When we had our cart adrip we'd pull it through the streets selling huge pieces to the housewives for ten or fifteen cents.
Do you remember our hiding place? We found it one day when we were in your back yard. We were burning the insulation off a tangle of copper wire which we planned to sell. While you stirred the fire I was looking for wood to keep it going. I thought I'd climb up on the big incinerator. From the top I could see the entire yard, and as I climbed one of the bricks came loose in my hand. We found that the brick fit smoothly back in place so that no one could tell that it had ever been disturbed. That evening while the others were out front playing kick-the-can we carried our money out and hid it behind the brick.
"What if somebody finds it?" I asked.
Your face grew fierce.
"What if somebody sees us come out here and starts snooping around?"
And that was when we made the pact to never go near the incinerator except after dark when nobody was up. Every time your father would carry the trash into the back yard to burn we'd hold our breaths, afraid to go back and watch him for fear we'd give ourselves away. When he'd come back carrying the trash cans we'd watch him carefully, watching the way he walked and the look in his eyes.
But we were growing boys, Abe, and we didn't hide all our money. Some days we'd keep out a little to spend.
And the spending, Abe, the glorious spending. The days and weeks of spending.