Clocks and spirals and quotations in forgotten alphabets whirl through animated outer space until a door appears. The eerie old theme music fades to Russell Kirk’s voice: “You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension—a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving out of preconceived answers and ideologies into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into…The Timeless Zone.”
Jack staggered back to his dorm room feeling exhilarated but exhausted; he could shower in the morning to wash away the faint smell of tear-gas. The handsome youth glanced at the assigned books left unread on his desk; Burke’s Reflections, Rousseau, de Tocqueville on the French Revolution: tedious stuff compared to the thrill of protest and the promise of a new future. As he drifted off to sleep, he could almost still hear the chanting crowds inspired by his words, and feel the electric surge of hope.
Russell Kirk, computer-generated and flickering, on a small American campus: “Meet Jack Samson, a typical undergraduate in a typical college. He dates girls, skips class when he can, and yet longs for a nobler and more equal world. If that world exists he will find it, once and for all in…The Timeless Zone.”
“Jacques! You’re late! Your people are waiting!” cried Robert, his lab partner. Jack had never been called Jacques before, and why was Bob wearing baggy sleeves and a ridiculously long vest? He looked down to discover that he was dressed almost identically.
“Your speech, Citizen,” Bob added, thrusting a sheaf of hand-written papers into his hand. Jack started to ask a question until he heard the voices through the open window; thousands or even tens of thousands calling out his name. He saw them filling the square below and the streets beyond, packed together tightly, arms and voices raised. Instinctively, Jack knew what he had to do. Yes, they adored him, but they longed for leadership and direction and the inspiration that he could provide. A new world lay ahead, which was theirs for the making.
“Move swiftly, Citizen!” urged Martha, who resembled an auburn-haired, green-eyed girl he had met at another protest somewhere off campus; a venue that now seemed unclear and far away, drowned by the roaring crowd below. Six big men, possibly jocks, escorted him down the wooden stairs; they were dressed as old-fashioned toy soldiers but that did not matter now. The crowd kept calling him, louder and louder it seemed. Did they even know what they wanted, apart from an end to injustice and relief from their suffering? Those were mere details, thought Jack, and all good things could come from change. He would read the speech, or improvise. It was time to act. They mustn’t lose the momentum: he could fill in the blanks later.
“He went quietly,” Martha observed. “It worked.”
The others nodded and moved to the window to watch. They saw the horrified realisation spread over Jack’s face as he was bound and forced into the cart, but his cries for help were soon lost among the shouting masses.
“He served his purpose,” whispered Robert with a hint of sadness. The Revolution is always hungry, observed another, who clutched a sword and wore a three-cornered hat. Soon Jack and the cart could no longer be seen amid the clamouring mob, still chanting Jack’s name but more fervidly than before. Over the heads of the throng, in the distance they could see Jack’s final destination, the towering guillotine. The next morning in the college dorm, Jack’s bed was empty.
Russell Kirk: “The message is be careful what you wish for: overturning Order can take an unexpected direction of its own. The Revolution devoured its own children in France, in Russia and China and Cambodia: it could happen here. Jack could have read it in books, but learnt a lethal lesson in…The Timeless Zone.”
(Same introduction as above). She hushed them as she tucked her little ones into bed. “Jeremy, sweetest, your tummy hurts because all you wanted for supper was frozen yogurt and organic cookies. Dharma, darling, you two are both cranky because you insisted on staying up past midnight again and tomorrow’s a school day.”
She paused to listen to her daughter as her husband nodded from the doorway. “Of course, dearest,” she replied. “It’s your decision whether you stay home tomorrow, but Dick and I both think that school is important whenever you agree to go.” She referred to their father by his first name, as the children were taught to do. “Jeremy, please stop whining! I’m getting a headache!” she begged. “Of course you can chew gum in bed. I’ll run downstairs and get you some.”
Russell Kirk, computer-generated, outside of a typical suburban house: “Meet Dick and Jane Sinclair, the model of modern parents, familiar with every up-to-date theory on how to raise little Jeremy and Dharma. Children need love, commitment, and patience; subjects they will soon learn more about when they slip into…The Timeless Zone.”
Jane groaned and turned over, but the alarm clock wasn’t on her nightstand as usual. She reached behind but her husband wasn’t there. She sat up: somehow she was in Dharma’s bed while little Jeremy slept in his own nearby, his back displaying his favourite red Spiderman pajamas. Dharma must be asleep with Dick, Jane realised, but she had no recollection of swopping bedrooms on the night before. Suddenly, two strange adults entered the room.
“Up and at ‘em, kids!” the female one announced cheerfully. “You’ll need to hurry if you want to finish your chores and walk to school. But first, you need hot oatmeal and bacon and milk!” Her voice sounded strangely familiar. Then Jane heard her husband’s voice from the adjacent bed.
“Sure thing, mommy!” Dick replied in a voice that was somehow higher than normal. “After school can Tommy come over and play my Avenger game?” Jane stared at him: Dick’s face had grown smooth and almost tiny; he was no larger than Jeremy and wore their son’s pyjamas. Then she looked in horror at her own shockingly small hands and her body the size of a nine-year-old, clad in a childish and unfamiliar chenille night-dress printed with angels.
“”Now, Dickie,” the man explained patiently, “you know that mommy and daddy gave away those video games. Mommy and I will pick you two up after school and we’ll all go to St. Anne’s because it’s a Holy Day of Obligation. Then Grandma’s coming over, to read you one of your new storybooks. I think it’s about pirates.” His voice resembled Jeremy’s, but deeper.
“Cool!” replied Jane’s ten-year-old husband. Then she realised that Dharma was the female grown-up in the room and Jeremy had also become an adult. Dick and Jane were now children. While they slept, the generations had somehow traded places. As distressingly, Jane was being given orders: she wasn’t asked her opinion or left to choose. She’d given her own children complete choice over everything. What could she do? What did she even wish to do?
The two adults smiled at one another: God had given them the best and happiest children anyone ever had. Dharma vaguely recalled feelings of uncertainty and even distress in her own childhood so long ago. Now, after the children were put into bed at eight, she and Jeremy often talked of how kids crave limits and norms, even rules.
“Jane, as you dress, I’ll quiz you on your times-tables,” declared Dharma.
Jane answered automatically, even before she had time to think: “Thanks! I’ll be the best in my class! I love you, Mommy!” She surprised herself, both with her answer and by feeling so unexpectedly calm. Bit by bit, the change began to take hold and her initial surprise ebbed away. Incrementally, without full realisation, Jane came to feel more happy and safe than ever she had before.
Russell Kirk: “The poet Wordsworth said “the child is father of the man.” Granted a second childhood so different than what they gave their own two children, Dick and Jane Sinclair will now adapt to a disciplined certainty, comfort and happiness and love…in The Timeless Zone.”
(Want more episodes? Ask under Comments below. Acknowledgements to the great Rod Serling).
Books related to this topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.