I just found out I share something with Leonardo DiCaprio. He and I name the legendary The Twilight Zone as our favorite TV series of all time.
But I’m a bit wary of DiCaprio’s long-nurtured idea of turning the show into a high-budget movie bombarded (pun intended) with CGI. It would butcher the series, whose wonderfulness lies precisely in its campiness and outdated effects, and the voice and presence of its unforgettable creator, Rod Serling. I have so far refused to watch any remakes of the 1959-64 original.
Some time ago, I wrote a short story inspired by The Twilight Zone. I later found lots of stories have been published online as homage to the series, under the fan fiction genre. It has also inspired some really cool fan art.
It shouldn’t be surprising, given The Twilight Zone’s deep imprint into pop culture.
This is NOT to be confused with Twilight and its Fifty Shades of [insert expletive]. Though I suppose there could be fans out there writing soft porn based on The Twilight Zone. I’d just rather not know.
Here’s my homage, loosely based on Twilight Zone episodes I’ve seen and loved (or maybe, more generally, on themes the series has tackled).
The Soldier, the Maid and the Miss
Overcome with emotion, the Soldier rang the doorbell of the château with trembling fingers.
Would she be there? What had she been up to? Had she changed a lot? Did she even remember?
Twenty years had gone by since the last time they had seen each other. He didn’t even know if she still lived there. The confirmation came when the Maid from twenty years ago opened the door for him.
She had aged just a little bit, but had a profound sadness in her eyes that only persistent pain from the years gone by could have brought. She recognized him right away and exclaimed, with a nervous electric current of hope and optimism amid her grief:
“Oh, how long we waited for you! The Miss is upstairs, in her room. Praise the Lord!”
“The Miss,” he asked, panting. “She didn’t marry?”
The Maid smiled, without directly answering his question:
“I knew this day would come!”
“She still… loves me?”
The Maid’s voice suddenly turned somber:
“You were the only man she could ever love. Please don’t be scared with what she says, or what you see. Please, just follow me… without making any noise.”
The Soldier entered the château in silence, but with his heart about to jump out of his chest. The house was dark, since all the curtains had been drawn. There were no rugs or carpet.
The floor and the few furnishings he was able to distinguish were so clean that they even shone against the darkness. The smell was like a hospital’s.
The Maid seemed to hear his thoughts, lamenting with a whisper:
“Everything is sterile, indeed… but what does it matter? She hasn’t left the room in several months.”
They went upstairs and stopped in front of the room. The Maid gave three precise knocks on the door with the knuckle on her index finger. They heard the sound of several locks being loosened, but no one appeared from inside the room.
“I will leave you two alone,” said the Maid, with a melancholic half-smile. “Maybe you can save her from the gloom.”
The Maid pushed the door open, went back downstairs and disappeared in the darkness. The Solider felt a knot in his throat, nearly suffocating as he entered the room.
One slit of gray light had been allowed in through the curtains, faintly illuminating the face of the Miss, his beloved from twenty years ago.
She was sitting in a chair, immobile, wearing black silk pajamas, a white mask covering her nose and mouth. Her body, once voluptuous and supple, looked brittle and thin. Her hazel eyes had gone gray.
On the table next to her there were all kinds of medicines. In place of the queen-sized bed they had shared in the throes of passion, of which only the Maid knew besides them, there was a single bed resembling a stretcher. In place of the posters of movie stars, there were posters explaining illnesses. It looked like a hospital, indeed.
“It’s you,” said the Miss, in an emotionless tone, partially immersed in the penumbra. “It’s been a while.”
The Soldier stood at a distance. He didn’t know how to proceed.
“Twenty years,” he said, clearing his throat.
“Why did you come back?”
“I… missed you.”
“Many things changed.”
Tears began rolling down his face:
“What happened? Are you sick?
“I don’t want to become sick.”
His voice assumed a tone of despair and confusion:
“What happened… with the house? It was so happy! You were so happy. That was what attracted me the most in you.
She remained impassive:
“There is no reason for joy when Fate is out to get you. There is reason for caution.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want to avoid Death. The Reaper took my parents, before I could even get to know them. Then he took my grandparents, who raised me. The Reaper was going to take me too, but I was wiser. I hid from him, little by little. After my pneumonia, I decided never again to leave the house. After I started coughing again, I decided no longer to leave the room. Here I am safer from the germs, despite their being everywhere. Germs are the Angels of Death.”
The Soldier remembered their walks through the park, their candlelit dinners, their kisses in the rain, their bodies intertwined beneath her pink satin sheets… scenes out of a storybook romance flashed before his eyes.
They were going to get married, until he had to go off to the War. When he returned, her grandparents had already arranged for her to marry someone else. At the time, she told him she loved the other man.
“You didn’t love him,” the Solider dared to say. “You loved me. Why didn’t you try to stay with me? We could’ve been happy.
Her voice acquired some expression, but she continued immobile.
“Out of caution. I wanted to love him because it was safer. What I felt for you was passion… a wild love. When you went away, I thought you’d never come back. And when you did come back, I thought that if I loved you too much, I’d be too vulnerable and could lose you.”
She caught her breath and continued:
“When my grandparents died, I… kicked the man they had chosen for me out of my life. I was lovely, only with the Maid, who continued by my side despite my complaints. I even took a job in my family’s company, for a while, but… left at some point. I isolated myself more and more. But I am happy this way, safe.”
The Solider took two steps forward and broke down in tears.
“No, you are not happy! You are slowly committing suicide. You are giving Death precisely what he wants! Living is full of risks, yes… but it is worth it. The Reaper will come and take all of us, sooner or later, and when your time comes, you won’t be able to avoid it. But there is still time for you to enjoy life…”
He paused, then tentatively whispered:
“There is still time for… us… if you want.”
He detected a fleeting glint in her eyes, and tried to get closer to her. She recoiled into the chair.
Oh, how he wanted to hug her! How he wanted to fix the traps her own mind had created!
“I got married, had kids,” he revealed, sobbing. “But now, I decided to… leave my wife… because I couldn’t forget you, mostly. I kept myself alive in the War… for you. I did so many horrible, horrible things to survive. Things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I never had a chance to tell you before.”
She sighed but said nothing. He tried to take her hand, but she pulled back abruptly, almost falling off the chair, a look of terror on her face.
“Please, give me a chance… I love you. I never forgot you, and… I never will.”
The Miss did not react to that right away. She was clearly trying to hold back her tears, regain her composure. After about a minute of silence, she cleared he throat and sputtered:
“You are only a face for me, like my grandparents… despite their having been the only people I once loved. Love is dead for me. It’s better like this, than to die. I could have died of suffering, but that is also dead. All my feelings are dead, because I decided to kill them. The dangers of Fate are my only reality.”
She averted her eyes but he kept staring at her. He wiped his tears off his face and said, resolutely:
“I will help you. But not alone… I need to go and find the help of a professional. I will come back. You will see… we can still be happy. We can start again!”
“Please… just leave,” whispered the Miss, her mouth contorting.
“You will be like before… everything will be like before, my love…”
“Nothing can be like before,” the Maid suddenly barged in. A white glove enveloped the hand with which she carried a cup. “Now I know. But here is your tea, my dear Miss.”
“Leave, both of you,” the Miss finally shouted.
Reluctantly, the Soldier followed the Maid out of the room. The Maid apologized, told him to leave the château and never look back. All the hope from before had left her voice as she repeated:
“Nothing can be like before.”
The Soldier was visibly broken, his face and body deflated. He gave an understanding nod and walked out into the advancing dusk.
The Miss found herself alone, as usual. She stood up, locked the door and sat back down to drink her tea. She took off her mask and left her tears run down freely, for the first time in a long while.
With each sip of the tea, a memory of their love returned to her, and the prospect of happiness warmed her chest, while the tea burned her throat. He loved her, and she knew she still loved him, too.
By the time she finished the tea, she had recovered her will to live. She opened the curtains wide, and the orange light of dusk flooded her room.
She ripped the hospital posters and kicked the stretcher, laughing and weeping at the same time.
But then she understood. The cup fell out of her hand. She felt the liquid consume her, and fell to the floor with a bitter smile on her face.
The Miss woke up the next morning, in her queen-sized bed, pink satin sheets caressing her skin – her room looked as it had twenty years before. She heard three precise knocks on the door.
© Ana Beatriz Ribeiro