Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“Buried Talents” by Richard Matheson
Card picked: Four of Diamonds
From: I Am Legend, Tom Dorherty Associates, 1997 – This edition of I Am Legend contains ten other short stories.
A man in a wrinkled, black suit entered the fairgrounds. He was tall and lean, his skin the color of drying leather. … His eyes were pale blue. There was no expression on his face. It was a hundred and two degrees in the sun but he was not perspiring.
This strange man goes to one of the booths where marks are attempting to toss ping-pong balls into fishbowls. “Try your luck! Win a prize!” says the talker. If you’ve ever been to a street fair, carnival, or amusement park, you know that this sort of thing is not really a game of skill. Many carnival games are severely skewed toward the carnival if not out-and-out rigged. Climbing the hierarchy of prizes to get the better stuff (in the story, things like a four-slice toaster, a portable typewriter, a drill, a short-wave radio) is nearly impossible.
This strange man pays his quarter and proceeds to throw three balls into the same fishbowl. The talker is a little annoyed, but gives the man his prize and hopes he moves on. Instead, the man refuses the prize and pays another quarter. He easily sinks another three balls. They don’t even hit the rim of the bowl. This goes on for a few rounds. The talker tries to change the rules mid-game, but the crowd quickly takes the strange man’s side, cheering as he does what they cannot. After what should be four-slice-toaster-winning balls, the talker insists that those prizes are just for show. No one wins them. And right about then, the talker has something akin to a heart attack.
Who was this strange man in the black suit?
I don’t know what I think about the ending—I sort of saw it coming—but Matheson does an excellent job making the whole repetitive process of throwing balls *not* boring.
About the Author: Richard Matheson is part of that echelon of classic sci-fi and horror authors that everyone knows even if they don’t know him. His novel (novella? novelette?) I Am Legend has been adapted four times. Many of his other stories have been adapted into dozens of movies and television episodes, not to mention the writing he did directly for TV and the movies. My favorites (in both book and movie form) are Stir of Echos and What Dreams May Come.