"Specter of Youth" was a story printed in the first issue of The Twilight Zone comic published by Dell.
Max Tiberias was a selfish antique dealer. He wanted nothing more out of life than to be wealthy—except perhaps to be both wealthy and young. Realizing no amount of riches he was able to amass would help him to fulfill both of his wishes, he was certainly willing to settle for only wealth. That was, until one day a stranger entered his shop with a mysterious container for sale. What was inside of that ancient artifact would unwittingly bring Max closer to his goal than he had ever hoped to dream and into...the Twilight Zone.
Cast of characters
- couple from the orphanage
- guard captain
- guard #1
- local couple
- pedstrians (#1-2)
- sponge diver
- tourist couple
"This is the shop of Max Tinerias, dealer in curios, over the counter...and under the counter. In a land rich with ancient treasures, old Max values only modern currency..."
The ancient ruins of Port Levant had become victim to looting by both looters and corrupt authorities. After a complaint from a professor conducting an archeological dig, the local captain of the guard suggested they pay a visit to the antique shop in the nearby town. The shop was owned by Max Tiberias, who had long been suspected of selling stolen antiquities but the case could never be proven. Again, the authorities found nothing and left the shop, but not before the professor warned the shop owner that he would be repaid for the evil that he done in robbing his country's history.
Soon after the group had left, Tiberias gave the all clear and another elderly gentleman appeared from a secret trapdoor in a backroom, carrying a swaddled object. The man's name was Anton and he had a statuette under the wrapping, stolen from the old temple at the dig site. The thief and the store owner began haggling over a fair price but the negotiations came to an end when Max threatened to inform the police of Anton's theft. The old man in the beret settled for five piastres and left the curio shop in disappointment.
Max knew the statue, of course, was worth fair more than the price he had paid and soon sold it to some wealthy tourists. This was how Max Tiberias had risen from being a penniless orphan to the wealthiest man in Port Levant. Still, he wished that it had not taken so long to amass his riches. He wished that he could have been able to enjoy the wealth while he was still young. He had no intention, however, of sharing his wealth with anyone else that may be able to benefit from his success, even those still in possession of their youth. So when a couple from the local orphanage came around asking for contributions, the selfish curio peddler bluntly refused.The next day a young stranger brought a large amphora into the shop. He told Max that he was a sponge diver and had discovered the ancient vase amongst the wreckage of a ship while on a dive. The diver expected it may be worth a considerable amount but, although Tiberias knew that it truly was, the businessman assured him that the jars were common and nearly worthless. The sponge diver, who had been suffering through a poor sponge harvest that year, gladly accepted the paltry sum of three silver pieces. The young man suggested that he may be able to bring some more vases to the shop in the future and Tiberias was secretly overjoyed, but visibly only welcomed the idea with a lukewarm response. He knew that he could sell the amphoras to an Egyptian dealer for an outrageous profit.
Before long, Tiberias' storeroom became filled with the old vessels until one day the diver brought in a small vase that, unlike the others, was sealed. Curious, Max pried open the jar to find a golden yellow liquid was inside. Tiberias quickly dismissed the liquid as nothing more than a worthless chemical residue and promptly ushered the diver out of the shop, so that he might inspect the discovery in private.Max spent the rest of the evening examining the find. It had been engraved with an inscription and he set to reference books to translate the text. When he had finished, he learned that the ancient inscription told that the vessel held nectar, the drink the ancient Greek gods used to remain eternally young. Max used his pencil to stir the contents and was shocked to find that the pencil began to turn green and sprout leaves!
In disbelief, but driven by temptation, the elderly swindler poured a small amount of the liquid into a coffee mug. Then, as he placed the antique back on the storeroom shelf, he turned to witness a stray cat drink from the cup. Before his eyes, the cat was transformed into a kitten! His curiosity grew even stronger, assuming that if he were to drink the amber liquid, his youth would also be revived. He quickly poured another cup of the fluid, but decided it best to consult the reference book one final time before taking a sip. At the bottom of the page, he noticed a warning: "A terrible fate awaits the mortal who drinks it."
Max Tiberias did not heed the warning, however. The chance for the fulfillment of his wish to be both young and wealthy was too tempting to be ignored. He filled the mug again, even fuller than it had been before, and emptied it down his throat.The transformation was instantaneous. His hair darkened, his wrinkles faded and his muscles thickened. Soon his clothes became too small for his bulking frame, as his age regressed farther and farther toward youth. He reached his forties, then his twenties and before long he was again a teenager. He felt the thrill of youth again! His excitement soon turned into worry, however. The potion wasn't stopping! With every second, his age slipped backward. Before too long he was a child and as a child, Max no longer was concerned about things such as wealth. Instead, he simply wanted to play with the kitten lingering at his feet. He chased after it and as he did, his clothes fell off his body as it regressed all the way back to that of a toddler! Later that afternoon, a concerned neighbor called the police after she noticed an infant sitting in the middle of the floor in Tiberias' antique shop. The suspicious police captain now had even more reason to question the old swindler, but could not find him anywhere. All the police find are the old man's ripped clothes, an overturned chair and a broken antique vase surrounded by a golden puddle. In the commotion of chasing the kitten about the shop, the vase had been broken and its contents emptied, ensuring no one would make use of its wondrous power ever again.
As for Max Tiberias, he was once again an orphan. The police captain took him to the orphanage operated by the couple Tiberias had so rudely rebuffed. Unfortunately for him, they remained underfunded; so underfunded that they could not afford to shelter another abandoned child. In the selfishness of his old age, Tiberias had unwittingly made certain that his wish would never come true: he would never be young and benefit from his wealth.
"And so today, Max Tiberias, the richest man in town, has found his youth again...but only in the the Twilight Zone!"
Response and analysis
There are two themes that are easily apparent in the story. The first is that charity and good will are more likely to be returned to those who offer it of themselves and that selfishness is less likely to be a beneficial trait in the long-term. A message not unlike the idea of karma—and Tiberias had created a fair bit of bad karma in his lifetime. His bad karma came back to him as a result of his own inaction. If he had given a generous donation to the local orphanage, perhaps they would not have had to turn him away when he was taken there as an infant. Perhaps then he would have had a life that was better than his first.
The second theme is that not all wishes granted are fulfilled exactly as one might have hoped. In the end, Max got his wish, after all. He had his wealth and he had his youth and yet certainly not in the way he had imagined. In fact, at the age he reverted to, his infant mind had no use for any of his riches.
Notes and annotations
- The country in which the tale occurs is never mentioned by name, though it appears to be a Mediterranean nation which was part of the Ottoman Empire, possibly Greece. This can be judged from dress, languages, mythology and terminology. There is a Port Lavante located off the coast of Sicily, in the Aeolian Islands, but the town in the story was most likely a generic invention.
- The Levant is a geographical area in the Eastern Mediterranean set within the boundaries of the Zagros Mountains to the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, the Taurus Mountains to the north and the Arabian Desert to the south. The term originated from the Middle French term for "the Orient," applying primarily to the "Mediterranean lands east of Italy." The term came back into use in 19th century travel guides to refer to eastern regions under current or recent governance by the Ottoman empire, such as Greece. It also came into use around the same time in archaeology when speaking of the overlapping cultures in the area, meant to reference the area instead of any specific regional culture.
- The piastre or piaster was a unit of currency in French Indochina (Present-day Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), and in the Ottoman Empire.
- According to Homer, nectar and ambrosia was considered to be the sum of the Olympian Gods' diet, nectar being Latin for "drink of the gods" and ambrosia meaning "food of the gods." Nectar has its origins in the Greek word νέκταρ (néktar), "presumed to be a compound of the elements nek- 'death' and -tar 'overcoming'." German scholar, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, theorized that both terms used in Greek mythology actually were references to honey, because of the use of mead, created from fermented honey, as an entheogen in the Aegean world and its health benefits as an anti-septic.
- Originally published in color
- Printed on newsprint, 10 pages
- Reprinted in The Twilight Zone (Gold Key) 21
- The signs outside Tiberias' curio shop read:
Notes and references
- ↑ "Aeolian Islands take their name from the God Eolo, God of the winds, they are seven islands to the northeast of Sicily...Vulcano is characterized from an acrid sulphureous smell, due to active volcano of the island. Evocative, the bays of Port Levante for its fine sand beach fine of black colour..." Italy Sea Charter. "Isole Eolie." Retrieved: June 26, 2009.
- ↑ Wikipedia contributors. "Levant." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia," Version: June 21, 2009. Retrieved: June 25, 2009.
- ↑ Wikipedia contributors. "Piastre." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia," Version: May 1, 2009. Retrieved: June 25, 2009.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 Wikipedia contributors. "Ambrosia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia," Version: June 24, 2009. Retrieved: June 26, 2009.
- ↑ Wikipedia contributors. "Nectar." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia," Version: June 16, 2009. Retrieved: June 26, 2009.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Google. Google Language Tools. Retrieved: June 26, 2009.
- Bob Klein and Mike Tiefenbacher. "Four Color 1173 (1942 series)." Grand Comics Database. Retrieved: July 14, 2009.