Just as I’ve discovered writers who only wrote a handful of stories and then, for a variety of reasons, didn’t write anymore, I’ve also discovered writers whose careers — and lives — were sadly cut short before they could reach their fullest potential. On one hand, I’m eminently grateful for the work they produced; on the other hand, I can only imagine what they could’ve accomplished if they’d lived longer. One of those writers is the inimitable Charles Beaumont.
I discovered The Twilight Zone late in life. Of course in high school we read several of the teleplays aloud (“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” being a textbook staple), and I have hazy memories of watching an episode or two of the mid-eighties reboot on television as a kid. However, it wasn’t until about ten years ago I started making sure to catch the New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day TWZ marathon on the SyFy Channel every year. Eventually, I began using handpicked episodes in my classroom to teach different lessons.
Ironically enough, even as I realized how valuable a teaching resource they were, I came to understand how valuable a resource they were to me, the budding speculative fiction/horror writer. I began watching episodes not only to use in the classroom, but also to enrich my storytelling diet. I’ll save an in-depth analysis of The Twilight Zone for a future installment of this column, but suffice to say it greatly informed my development as a speculative fiction writer.
It didn’t take long to realize some of my favorite episodes were credited to the same writer. “Perchance to Dream,” “Elegy,” “Long Live Walter Jameson,” “Shadow Play,” “Printer’s Devil,” and many others, all written by Charles Beaumont. I found it odd I hadn’t heard his name very often among horror colleagues, especially ones my age or younger. Some research explained why: He suffered an untimely death at the age of 38, unfortunately falling short of making the same mark on speculative fiction that his peers would go on to make. When I started expanding my reading diet around 2011, he was one of the first writers I wanted to explore.
The first collection I read was The Howling Man. Like many out of print books, the availability of this one on the secondary market wavers between affordable and expensive. Over years, I’ve read several of his other collections. The Hunger and Other Stories, Touch of the Creature, and The Magic Man. Other short story collections exist as well, but from what I can tell (will happily accept correction if I’m wrong), I don’t think a “definitive” or “Best of” collection of his short fiction exists. They seemed to be spread out over a variety of collections, some in print, others not, and there’s a decent amount of overlap in the collections of repeat stories.
In any case, what I found in Beaumont’s work testifies to “household name greatness which never was.”
Kevin Lucia’s short fiction has appeared in several anthologies, most recently with Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Bentley Little, Peter Straub and Robert McCammon. His first short story collection, Things Slip Through, was published November 2013, followed by Devourer of Souls in June 2014, Through A Mirror, Darkly, June 2015, and and his second short story collection, Things You Need, September 2018. His novella Mystery Road was published by Cemetery Dance Publications in May 2020. For three free ebooks, sign up for his monthly newsletter at www.kevinlucia.blogspot.com.