Twilight Zone Tuesday – Dust

Dust

Luis Gallegos – John A. Alonzo
Gallegos – Vladimir Sokoloff
Estrelita Gallegos – Andrea Darvi
Sheriff Koch – John Larch
John Canfield – Paul Genge
Mrs. Canfield – Dorothy Adams
Peter Sykes – Thomas Gomez

Trigger Warnings: Execution by hanging

Spoiler Tidbit


SERLING:
There was a village built of crumbling clay and rotting wood and it squatted ugly under a broiling sun like a sick and mangy animal wanting to die. This village had a virus shared by its people. It was the germ of squalor, of hopelessness, of a loss of faith. For the faithless, the hopeless, the misery-laden there is time, ample time, to engage in one of the other pursuits of men. They begin to destroy themselves.

You can always tell what kind of episode it’s going to be from Rod Serling’s voice alone, even if you had no synopsis. You can tell from the amusement, the wryness or, in this case, the absolute disgust with humanity.

It’s a dry, dusty town. Exactly as described by Mr. Serling. The horse in the foreground is absolutely pitiful looking. I hope it was taken care of. It’s very skinny and sway-backed. As it stands there in the dust someone comes riding up, yelling that he’s there, Peter Sykes is there. A man in a ail cell looks annoyed and distressed. Sykes is apparently a peddlar but a nasty one. He’s dirty and looks like he’d be stinky. He says that he’s stocked up in St. Louis with everything one needs for the house, kitchen and a parched throat. If the only whiskey he’s got is the one he’s chugging on, thanks but no thanks. He’s leading a pack of four mules (the middle one must not like company because it has blinders and a muzzle on). Sykes takes a swig from his bottle and sidles up to the jailhouse window. He greets the man inside. His name is Mr. Gallegos.

Sykes acts forgetful and says that it’s a very special day today for Mr. Gallegos, isn’t it? Mr. Gallegos just looks at Sykes. Sykes, being the kindly gentleman that he is, suddenly remembers why it’s such a great and special day. Mr. Gallegos is set to be hanged that day. Gallegos turns his back on the window and Sykes. Sykes gleefully announces that today “Young Mr. Gallegos, killer of children, dances on the gallows!”

Who he’s shouting to is beyond me because it doesn’t seem like there’s anybody around. Sykes slides into the jailhouse and asks Sheriff Koch if he needs anything. More rope, perhaps? The Sheriff does not look amused. In fact, he looks deeply troubled at the thought of the day before him. Sykes goes on to tell Gallegos of the fancy, brand-new, five stranded rope that he sold the town for Gallegos’ necktie party. He says it could lift five more of Gallegos so it’s super-strong. He turns his attention away from Gallegos to ask what Sheriff Koch has a fancy for. Sheriff Koch says he has a fancy for taking Sykes’ carcass and his loud mouth out into the open air. He finally raises his head from his hands to glare piercingly at Sykes. Koch says it’s a small room and a hot time of the morning. Failing to get much out of the Sheriff, Sykes turns his attention back to Gallegos. Sykes asks what Gallegos would like, a nice hacksaw, maybe? Sykes says that there’s going to be a burial procession down the street soon. They’re burying the little girl that Gallegos ran over with his wagon. Gallegos looks up at Sykes. Sykes says that now that Gallegos has sobered up he remembers the little girl that he ran over with his wagon while stinking drunk. To be fair, it doesn’t look like he’s forgotten. His depression seems a bit more than just for his own pity. That’s the last straw for Gallegos and he lunges at Sykes and tries to grab him through the bars. Sykes says “uh uh uh, he’ll have plenty of time to move round later that day. Then he laughs and turns away.

Sykes takes another swig of his ‘tonic’ and tells the Sheriff that it will be just the thing to set him up for a hanging-. Eww, I wouldn’t want to drink after him (or anyone else, for that matter). Sykes says that it makes a man strong and firm and then makes a muscle for the Sheriff to feel. The Sheriff tells Sykes that he doesn’t touch dog meat. Sykes looks quite offended. Sykes accuses Koch of talking big while hiding behind a badge. Koch replies that it only sounds big because Sykes is such a midget, Sykes says he always wondered about Koch, how he’s always taken to foreigners and strays but is close-lipped when it comes to his “own kind”. Koch says he’s not any kin to Sykes so kindly stop claiming that. Sheriff Koch tells Sykes that Gallegos has had his trial and will swing for it later that day. Koch goes on to say that there’s nothing in his sentence that says Gallegos has to be tormented by a pig that sells trinkets at funerals. Koch tells Sykes to get out and Sykes huffily snatches up his ‘tonic’ and stomps out. Sykes pops his head back in to ask Koch what he’s hoping to be a zinger: “After today which one will you weep for, Koch?” Koch replies that he has tears enough for both.

Just after Sykes leaves the door a procession appears down the street. It’s a wagon with a coffin on it. It’s followed by a preacher and mourners. Sykes takes off his hat and wheedles up to the Canfields and gives them his condolences. The Canfields are the parents of the little girl. They don’t seem to be listening to Sykes. He tells them that the afternoon would be a lot more cheerful. Sykes goes on to say that the dirty dog who did it is going to be strung up and their little girl will be avenged. He acts like he caught the guy himself and got the whole thing done. Sykes prattles on to say that “they’ll string up that mangler of children” yessiree. How freaking tacky is it to say that to someone going to their child’s burial. Douche. The Canfields don’t seem to be listening to him, at least. The Sheriff stops Sykes from following and bothering the Canfields further. The Sheriff tells Sykes he can act like a brainless ijit some other time but not now.

Looking down the street Sykes sees something that offends his delicate feelings. He says that Gallegos’ old man has a lot of nerve to show his face. yeah, what a jerk, showing compassion for something his son did. He starts to say that somebody ought to horsewhip him but the Sheriff gives him a look that stops him.

As the procession goes by the man and little girl, the old man takes off his hat and kneels to the parents. Speaking for him (I think to show humility and that he doesn’t feel that he has the right to address them himself) the little girl starts to talk: “My gather wishes me to tell you that his heart is broken. That if he could, if he could give his own life in return, he would. He would do so with great willingness.” She starts to say he understands but Mr. Canfield tells her to get out of the way. Not unkindly, exactly, but blankly, I guess. Which is understandable.

Some men are approaching the jail and the father starts to say to them that his son did not mean to do it. That he’s a lover of children. They throw a rock at him. Gallegos tells his father to go, he’s no needed. Sykes breaks in to say “That’s what you say to your own father?” Uhh, yeah, when he’s trying to not get his father toned in front of his sister. I think Sykes was just hoping for more rock-throwing. Luis’ father tries to give his son a coin. A lucky coin that it’s said one can make a wish on it. Sheriff Koch tells Gallegos’ Father to go home and make his prayers and wishes. Father Gallegos asks the sheriff if he’s ever been drunk? If he’s never been so filled with misery that salvation only seemed to look at him from a bottle? Has he never felt such pain that he’s had to ride through the night and not look behind him? He says that his son was so hungry and felt such pain that he felt the need to drink to forget it.

After everyone leaves Sykes tells the little girl to go and get her papa. To tell him that his coin is no good but he, Sykes, has magic dust that turns hate into love. But it’s very, very precious. So he wants her to run home and tell her papa to bring 100 pesos to his room in an hour and he’ll sell him the dust of love and forgiveness. As the little girl runs off he chuckles to himself and takes out a bag of tobacco (I think) and dumps it. Then scoops up a handful of dust out of the street and puts it in the bag. To presumably be ‘magic dust’. What a dick. He’s very pleased with himself over his plan.

There are more people gathering in the town and Luis remarks that it should be a good gathering. Sheriff Koch remarks a bit bitterly “When was it God made people? The sixth day? He should have quit on the fifth.” Luis says they’re tired of hating the town, they need something else to hate. The Sheriff tells the man driving the wagon that just pulled up that it’s a hanging, not a carnival. Mr. Rogers tells Sheriff Koch that he brought the kids because they’ve never seen a hanging before and that it’s a good time to show them what happens to drunks who kill kids. Koch wants to know how he teaches them pain? Shoot them in the arm? Rogers just rolls his eyes and unloads the family, telling them to stay together. One of the little boys marches over to the window and asks if Luis is the man they’re going to hang. Luis says yes, he is. The boy asks if it will hurt and Luis responds “If God wills it”. Koch tells the boy to run along. He asks Luis if he’s ready, it’s about that time. Luis says he’s ready. Sheriff Koch leads him out of the jail, where more people have gathered.  Luis is on the scaffold, with the crowd looking on. Luis kneels down to pray with the priest. People are pissy about it and want to get on with the show. The Canfields are not yelling, just the crowd.

Back at the town, Father Gallegos comes running to see Sykes, who dangles the bag in front of him. Sykes tells the father that the dust is very special, magic and if it’s sprinkled over the heads of the crowd it will make them feel sympathy for his son. Then he asks if Papa brought the money with him. Father Gallegos holds out a handful of gold coins to Sykes. Sykes is astonished to see gold coins and asks where Father Gallegos got them from. Father Gallegos says that all of his friends helped. One sold a wagon, one a horse and some borrowed. They got many pesos and converted them. He asks Sykes if it will work, is he sure it will work? Then he says that Sykes sold the rope that will hang his son and now he’s selling him that which will save him? Why? Sykes says that he’s a businessman. He makes no distinctions, he repeats that the dust will work. Sykes takes the money and Father Gallegos grabs the bag and runs to his son. Sykes is very pleased with his scam.

The onlookers are getting restless. Father Gallegos runs through the crowd yelling at them to wait. He runs to the front of the crowd and says to please wait! They must pay heed to the magic, now, and starts throwing the dust around. The people laugh at him (because there’s nothing funnier than a desperate parent, dontcha know). Father Gallegos keeps throwing the dust around saying “Magic for compassion, magic for his son’s life”. He falls off the scaffold but still tries to throw it. Sykes and the rest of the crowd are highly amused. Father Gallegos is saying the magic is for love, for compassion, for them to be like they used to be.

As he’s begging for his son the gallows doors bang open and the crowd gasps and looks stunned. I’m not really sure why since that’s what they were all gathered for and were just bugging the Sheriff to get on with it. The crowd gasps and the father looks around and gasps in surprise. The rope is broken and Luis fell to the ground, still alive. Sykes is baffled. The rope he sold was awesome and strong and absolutely could not break. There was supposedly a rule that if the rope broke then it meant that the criminal could go free. I don’t know if that’s true or just an urban legend.

Someone in the crowd tells them to go ahead and try it again. Sheriff Koch tells him that there are only two people in the crowd who have the right to ask for an eye for an eye. Sheriff Koch asks the Canfields how about it? Are they ok with Luis going free? Mr. Canfield looks like maybe he does but Mrs. Canfield tells him no. No more. Mr. Canfield says that he killed their child. Mrs. Canfield says that he also killed part of himself when he did so.

Mr. Canfiled tells the sheriff for the rope to break like that there must be another hand in it. Perhaps the hand of Providence. Sheriff Koch asks Mr. Canfield if that’s the end of it then and Mr. Canfield says that this is where it ends. One victim is enough. Everyone wanders off. No hanging today. Sheriff Koch uncuffs Luis and tells him he can go home. Father Gallegos insists that it was the magic dust that brought back the love to the people. It brought back the love to the people. Luis agrees that it was magic and asks to go home now. Luis and his father look happy at the turn of events as they walk off but not overly happy. Just relieved, really.

Sykes wanders over to marvel at the rope breaking some more. Then he clinks his ill-gotten coins in his hand. Three children walk up and look at him. One of them is Estrelita, Luis’ sister. The other two kids are probably the children of the neighbors that helped to buy the dust. Sykes tosses the coins on the ground and tells the kids to go ahead, pick them up. He walks off, laughing at the thought of it being actual magic.

SERLING:
It was a very small, misery-laden village on the day of a hanging and of little historical consequence. And if there’s any moral to it at all let’s say that in any quest for magic, any search for sorcery, witchery, legerdemain, first check the human heart. For inside this deep place there’s a wizardry that costs far more than a few pieces of gold. Tonight’s case in point in the Twilight Zone.


Spread out by a week it’s probably not as noticeable but The Twilight Zone watched back to back can give you whiplash. First there’s a goofy camera, a cute Santa story and…a hanging. I also have to give Rod credit for not taking the easy way out and making the boy totally innocent. There’s a large grey area that leaves a lot of room to talk about. we welcome comments but please keep them polite.


Thank you for joining us and come back for next week’s episode: Back There

4 thoughts on “Twilight Zone Tuesday – Dust

  1. I almost wonder if the Joseph Samuel case was the one that inspired the story since in the episode it specifically mentions the “five-cord” rope. I may not believe much in divine intervention but it would make me start to wonder as well. I wonder, with the first Joseph (maybe it’s in the name, lol) whether they tried the door after it was moved or before. It’s not very clear on that. Thank you for those links! They were very interesting!

    I do remember reading about George Burroughs. I used to read quite a lot on the Salem trials because they were basically damned if you do, really damned if you don’t. One that also impressed me a lot was Giles Corey. It cost him his life but he did screw their system over, at least. And went down in history as one BAMF for doing so.

    1. I wondered about that “five cord” specification myself. Seems too odd to be just a coincidence.

      And, yeah, Giles Corey. There should be a celebration in his honor on his death day, September 19 (O.S.). Nowadays, if you refuse to plead, a “not guilty” plea is entered for you. This became a significant issue circa 1970 when many political radicals brought to trial made it clear they refused to recognize the legitimate authority of the U.S. court system.

      1. I definitely agree with you. He certainly earned it.

        It makes sense. With the theory being ‘innocent until proven guilty’ it’s better to enter a ‘not guilty’ plea is better than a guilty plea on your behalf, I suppose.

  2. Seems to be an urban legend about a hanged man going free by law if the rope broke. That isn’t to say crowds haven’t sometimes intervened to prevent a man from being hanged again, but that was an . . . um . . . extrajudicial remedy. There seem to be two recorded case of men whom they tried to hang three times (so much for one failure getting you off) and failed all three times, although a rope breaking was involved in only one of the hangings.
    Here’s a Wikipedia link to one of the two cases, which contains a link to the other:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Babbacombe_Lee

    Footnote: Something related happened in Salem in 1692. Rev. George Burroughs (Harvard, A.B., 1670) was tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang for witchcraft. According to legend, witches and other people who sold their souls to the Devil could not recite the Lord’s Prayer without fault. While waiting to be hanged, Burroughs did it faultlessly! It is commonly written that Rev. Cotton Mather (Harvard, A.B. 1678) told the crowd that the Devil could somehow perform tricks like this, and that is what doomed Burroughs, although whether Mather said this before or after Burroughs was hanged is open to question.

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