I moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to pursue my writing dreams. During my youth, I wrote dozens of short stories, but I knew the days of making a living off of the form were long over. No one wanted to pay for a good short story, since no one was reading short stories. So how to make a living at my craft? Screenwriting seemed to be the answer. Though I was lucky enough to find occasional gigs rewriting B-movie scripts, they were infrequent and I often had to take different odd jobs to keep afloat. One of those odd jobs was cleaning out a garage.
Ruth Schwartz had travelled the world. She was one of the first prominent female broadcasters, had worked in the arts, and most recently retired as a Dean from UCLA's film school. She had lost her husband a year or two earlier and was now ready to dispense with the past and turn to the future. And much of that past was stored away in a two-car garage.
Stacked front to back and wall to wall with boxes, packages, clothes, books, and tools, the garage contained everything except the vehicle it was built to house. For two days, I worked with her son-in-law and his friend as we tackled the project. It quickly became apparent that this stuff was not garbage (at the very least it could have gone to Goodwill), but we were mandated to simply throw away everything within those walls.
At the end of each day, I would fill my car with boxes of things that I wanted to keep for myself or that I didn't have the heart to throw away.
The worst was the books. I salvaged several boxes worth, but still ended up throwing away hundreds. I kept some simply because they were already boxed, but those sitting loose on the built-in shelves were thrown into garbage cans, hauled down the driveway, and emptied into a dumpster. As a writer, this broke my heart.
When the job was over, I came home exhausted and sore from my labour. My car was filled with boxes that I would deliver to Goodwill the next day. However, I brought the boxes of books inside to sort through them.
I quickly scanned the titles but nothing jumped out at me until I noticed a book called "Dark Carnival," by Ray Bradbury. Growing up, I loved to read short stories and science fiction. My own short stories were often inspired by such masters as Poe, Lovecraft, and especially Bradbury. The first Bradbury book I read was "The Illustrated Man," and when I was older I came to understand the inherent sadness of "The Rocket Man," a story that my own mother and I lived through when we lost my stepfather to a helicopter crash. As time passed, I continued to add many other titles to my collection: "R is for Rocket," "S is for Space," "The October Country" (where "The Wind" stood out as a great horror story), and many more. And so, I felt my heart pick up speed when, in the third box, I caught sight of this book.
I was excited because not only was "Dark Carnival" one of the few Bradbury titles I didn't have, but I could also see it was an old book. I immediately wondered if I had chanced upon a first edition. As I cracked open the cover, I was even more amazed by what I found written on the inside cover.
The book was indeed a first edition, but more importantly it was signed, autographed from an author whose words I had read often through my youth. And there was an inscription:
For Vincent Price - A small repayment for the pleasure your fine performances have given me over the years
From Ray Bradbury
I couldn't believe it. Not only did the book belong to Bradbury, but it was a gift for another legend, another person who influenced and shaped me through my youth. To this day, I don't know how Ruth Schwartz obtained this book. I've told many people about it, and more than a couple of them suggested that I sell it.
To give up such a treasure would be a sacrilege to my own heart. I will always value this book, a book I believe I was meant to find, a book that almost ended up in a dumpster, a book that, ironically, almost suffered a fate right out of "Fahrenheit 451."
(Stormcrow Hayes enjoys watching the glow of brushfires in Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A. For more information visit www.stormcrowhayes.com.)