Publisher’s Note: The footnotes for “Julie Templeton…” are at the end of the story.
Julie Templeton and the Automatic Orchestra
He was a son. He could very well have been your own.
With fair hair, an even fairer complexion, he would wake up early each morning
and put on his sneakers.
Imagine his world, that enchanting world of a thirteen year-old boy, who wakes
up early each morning to put his sneakers on.
Never in history has there been a moment like the moment he surely knew.
Oh, how he would wake up early each morning and put on his sneakers,
the house of his mother still foggy with the dingy shades of grey staining the walls and floors in a
vain prelude to the rising of the sun.
Trekking from his mother’s home, he walks east down Honey Lane, turns at the
stop sign, and heads across the parking lot of his junior high school, now closed for the
It is upon the bleachers that encase the school’s small football field, that he
watches the morning sun, in all of its bronzed glory, break the silent horizon beneath its
enormous golden body.
Bathing himself in the haze of yellows…the winds of orange, he knows this, he
understands these things.
This boy, young as he may be, he understands many things.
Having scored the highest in his class during the state administered spring-term
testing, his intellectual confidence was surely boosted on high, and he came to understand
how and why the world was the way that it was; he understood the culture…all of its
television and nuclear arms…beautiful girls and broken hearts…
He knew these things. He knew that you would not catch your vegetation in the
process of photosynthesis, but that it went something like this:
…and he knew that he was in love–
……… and hopelessly
and in love….
He could nearly feel himself flying, as if he would look down and see the tips of
his sneakers levitating from the pavement. Heart on flight in his boney chest, excitement
oh-so riveting, unlike anything he had ever felt before.
Maybe it had been the sunrise that he had just witnessed from the top of those
bleachers. The horizon exploding into a haze of colors, lifetimes…a day all its own, if
only to last a few moments.
Maybe it had been the shocks of excitement that Andre’s thin body seemed to be
coursed with, as if his nerves were alive and dancing the Bossanova beneath his tanned
No, it was none of these things.
It was a she.
He knew her name.
And it was, as it always had been…
sits beneath the shade tree of her own small backyard, where she often sits on warm
summer days such as these and reads a book from her school’s summer reading list. Her
teacher, Mr. Mercer, so small in stature, lumbered over to her desk on the final day of her
eighth grade year, where he slid the printed piece of computer paper onto the surface of
“I hope you have a lovely summer, Miz Templeton” Mr. Mercer said, as he
scratches at his bushy brown mustache. “Such a bright young girl, like yourself, shall be
missed at our junior high school. It was a pleasure having you in my class.”
Barely looked up.
“Thank you, Mister Mercer.”
He smiled, walked away down the row, and she heard him say the exact same thing,
in the exact same tone, with the exact same stature as he had just presented it to
her, to a different student.
She giggled to herself.
Oh, Mister Mercer, you old fool, Julie Templeton thought to herself as she
reached and lifted the single sheet of paper from the surface of her desk.
Gazing down the list held in her soft hands, Julie Templeton repeated names
in her mind, debating…choosing…which would surely make the best choice of literature for
her summer reading:
- The Sorceress of Mount Greenbean by E.M. Howe
- A Broken Moon by Benjamin Harlan
- Selected Tales of Magic and Mayhem by R.C. Morgan
- Time & Its Predecessors by Dr. Harold H. Broadway
- Lunar Sadness: A Blake Buckley Mystery by Buck Blakely
- The Lovers: A Novel by Salvador Mercer
Hmmmm, she hummed to herself, half expecting some title to jump out at her.
But what was she thinking? It was only a high school summer reading list; there would
be nothing so fascinating to pick, and that was when a title caught her eye:
“What a peculiar title,” she uttered to herself. “Oh, Mister Mercer!”
“Why, yes, Julie, dear?” the old man turned to face her.
“I believe I have a title selected for my summer reading project,” she said with a
“Really, now, young Julie?” he asked with a grin, “And what have you chosen?”
“I would really like to read this one,” she held the sheet of paper up, tapping the
title with her finger.
“Which one?” inquired Mister Mercer, sliding on his large spectacles and
stepping forth to get a better view. “Oh, really? The Automatic Orchestra…ahh…what a
fine choice, Miz Templeton. What a very fine choice, indeed!”
“Do you have a copy handy, Mister Mercer?” Julie asked.
“Yes, I believe I do,” he replied. “If you would kindly come with me, we’ll see if
we can get you fixed up with one.”
And so Julie rose from her seat, a sudden chill of cool air running up her long,
pale legs, protruding from her plaid skirt.
He led her from the classroom to a storage closet marked MERCER ROOM 108
on the wooden door.
Pushing it open, Mister Mercer flicked on a light switch, bringing soft luminance to what
Julie recognized as being shelves and shelves of books.
Some of the spines appeared very worn and flecked with dust, while others shimmered as
if brand new.
“Let’s see, let’s see,” Mister Mercer mumbled to himself, running his index finger
along the spines, making a clack, clack, clacking noise that seemed to echo through the
It was then she noticed, in glancing over to a photograph that had been balanced
on a low shelf, that a very young, and quite handsome, Mister Mercer had been gazing at
her from beneath its glossy surface.
A name tag, placed at the bottom of the photograph, read S.F. MERCER – CLASS
OF ’34 in dark, blotted ink.
“Ah-ha!” he exclaimed, holding up a large and worn, jacketless book. “I believe
I’ve found it.”
“Great!” Julie smiles. “So can I borrow it for the summer?”
“Well, Miz Templeton,” he said, massaging his forehead with his thumb and
index finger, “if it were any other student of mine, I would have to say probably not…”
She continued looking at him, now beginning to recognize some of the details
belonging to his Class of ‘34 self submerged beneath the wrinkled flesh of age that he
had worn so well the entire year she had been in his class.
“But,” Mister Mercer continues, “I will make an exception.”
“Great!” Julie smiled as he handed her the book.
“The Automatic Orchestra”
the words upon the surface of the book’s bare face read, as Julie runs her fingers
along the crevice formed by each letter.
“This book, Miz Templeton,” Mister Mercer narrowed his eyes behind the thick
frames of his spectacles, “this novel is all of the tragedy and tribulation…all of the
broken hearts…throughout time…history.”
“What do you mean, Mister Mercer?” she inquired.
“Just you wait and see, young Julie Templeton.” He softly replied. “It is not a
piece of work to be taken lightly.”
And there she sits, his one and only true love, golden locks swaying softly in the breeze,
brushing the porcelain skin of her bare shoulder exposed from her floral-print sundress.
She was his all, and he knows this to be true. He knows that he must have her.
“Hello, Andre,” she looks up from the book in her lap, shading her eyes with one
thin arm, “to what do I owe this pleasure?”
Andre, his pocketed hands already trembling uncontrollably, hesitantly
He could barely believe that he has so much as begun to muster up the courage to
jog all the way to Julie Templeton’s small, ranch-style home on Spring Street, knock on
her front door, converse with her frail, but kindly mother, only to be directed to the
backyard, where Julie sat beneath a large tree, book in lap.
“Hi, Julie.” Andre began, voice cracking, “I was just in the neighborhood and–”
“But, Andre,” Julie cut him off with a smile, “you live all the way across town.”
Blunt and clever, Julie Templeton was.
Such a lovely young girl, with golden hair and ivory skin, standing tall…wistful,
and thin…like a dancer…like a film star…Andre had taken to loving her the moment he
had laid eyes on her.
“Well, you see,” he stutters removing his right hand from his pocket and
scratching his left arm with it. “I-I was just thinking about the Summer Hop down at
Melcher Park tonight…and…well…”
“Yes?” she smiles.
“I was wondering,” the words feel like sludge, so difficult to roll off of his tongue,
“I was wondering if…you were planning on being there?”
“Andre,” she says in a giggle, “are you asking me on a date?”
Stunned, Andre can only stare for a moment before nodding his head.
“Well,” Julie Templeton says, shutting the book in her lap and standing, the
ruffles of her sundress dancing in the breeze, “well, I’ll bet it took a lot of courage to
come over to a girl’s house and ask her that.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, but with a smile, “it sure did.”
“I admire that kind of courage in a man,” she says as she approaches him, “and
to think they once said that chivalry was dead.”
“What’s chivalry?” Andre smiles.
“Oh, never you mind, silly Andre,” she says, “pick me up at six.”
She slowly leans forth, kissing him softly on his pale cheek.
On the way home. . .
Andre begins to fly. . .
In The Automatic Orchestra, a young scientist by the name of Wilford Shea specializes
in working with recently developed machinery.
Julie Templeton cannot help but imagine Doctor Shea as looking a bit like Andre.
After his bold and daring act of courageousness, Julie felt quite smitten, although she’d
never have admitted it to you.
But she was, so much in fact, that immediately after young Andre’s departure, she
tucks The Automatic Orchestra under her arm, heads back into the house, and rummages
through her bedroom closet for a fetching evening dress that she could wear for him.
She lays several out on her bed: a red strapless, a blue ball gown, and a polka dot
Though she felt rather foolish, having contemplated wearing a blue ball gown to a
summer shindig down in the park, the idea of dancing close to Andre in ballroom fashion
appealed to some small shade of consciousness within her young mind. Although she
ultimately decides upon wearing the polka dot party dress, she still feels it necessary to
slip into the others and model them in front of the bedroom mirror.
She had been asked out by other boys on numerous occasions, sure, but had only
taken one of them up on his offer.
That boy’s name had been John Hardy, and though she had thought him to be
kind of cute, and rather funny, she felt little to nothing in common with him.
He hadn’t been as handsome as Andre, nor had he been near as…advanced…the
way she saw Andre as being.
The date ended when John had practically pounced on her in her theater seat and
tried to do something like stick his tongue between her lips; the taste of chewed popcorn
and red cream soda tainting her own mouth with its raunchy taste, the braces on his teeth
itching against her lips.
She no longer accepted invitations from boys in her class after that.
Andre spends all afternoon experimenting with his hair…combing it forth and then back
again…unable to decide on a particular fashion that may or may not please Julie
Though nearly two years her junior, he wants more than anything to prove that he
was, in fact, much more mature than any of the other boys that Julie may know.
Sure, he did not have a car…he was too young to work a job…but he was the man
she needed him to be…or at least he could try.
After deciding that a simple tee-shirt would not pass as sophisticated enough for
this date, he finally settles on slipping into a red button down shirt that his father left
behind in his closet.
The shirt, itself, is far too big for him…but if he tucks it into his pants and rolls
the sleeves to his elbows, it looks proportionate on him.
All of a sudden, his insecure apprehensions give way to sudden bursts of
At the public library down on Main Street, Julie flips through the large drawer of
reference cards until she catches the surname of ‘Ribbons.’
Following the numbers she had copied down on her hand in blue pen, she is led
far beyond the usual section of children’s books that she has generally inhabited.
She is led far across the building, past the towering wooden shelves of Adult
Fiction and Science Fiction…she passes a small little nook of shelves marked
MYSTERY, until finally, she arrives at the very far end of the building, surrounded by a
forest of shelves.
Kneeling down on the floor, following the numbers on the spine of each book, she
counts until they finally match those upon her hand.
There, on the bottom of one of these enormous shelves, rests the thick book, Post-
Taking the large almanac in her hands, Julie makes her way through the maze of
bookshelves, until she spots a small reading table that is empty.
It is here, through the pages of Post-War Fiction and Its Pioneers, that Julie
“What a tragedy.” She murmured to herself when she had finished reading
about the lonesome death of Jack Ribbons. “What a sad, sad man.”
Evening has fallen.
Elegant shades of yellow and orange pierce through the neighborhood trees as
Andre pedals his bike along the side of the road.
Trying not to sweat too heavily against his red shirt, he avoids putting too much
leg work into riding the bike, but can’t help speeding up his legs’ rotation each time he
thinks of her.
And though she had kissed his cheek hours before…he still feels the pressure of
her lips against his skin.
And though he has never met a princess in real life, he imagines that if he ever
were to, she would look a good deal like Julie Templeton.
“I love her.”
He understands it…he knows this to be true.
Above the park, the sky has grown from orange to strawberry in its hue, casting a red
glow across the surface of the earth, so far below.
Andre meets Julie in front of her house, where he lends her his bike, volunteering
to walk beside as she pedals.
For this Julie is grateful, as the evening is still fairly warm, and the heavy fabric
of her polka dot party dress does not make it any easier to move in this heat.
Down in the park, all the high school kids gather, dancing and smoking, while the
melody of a new hit song hangs upon the radio waves and drifts into the crowd, a popular
rock n’ roll group singing all about some strange magic, and, initially, Andre would not
have understood it…nay, he would have found it queer to say such a thing in a rock n’
roll song…but with this night above him, this air surrounding him, this girl beside
him…it feels magical, and it feels strange…and so Andre is content…so content, in fact,
that in a bold move in a split second, he reaches over and takes Julie Templeton’s soft
hand in his own, halfway surprised when he feels the squeeze of her fingers around his.
As they make their way to the center of the crowd, aimless bodies dancing around
them, and amid these polyester spirits clad in macramé chains, Andre turns to face her,
taking both of her hands in his.5
He gazes into those eyes, bright green, like emeralds in time, as she gazes back
into his own.
“Let’s ditch this place,” Julie speaks, “I want to talk, I want to share and express
my interests and my concerns…not to dance the night away in a haze of lunacy, like the
souls around us. So come with me, Andre.”
“I will,” Andre speaks, not breaking his eyes from hers, “I will come with you.”
“And I with you,” she speaks, moving to rest her forehead against his.
A vein of stars, displayed like a frozen shock of dust in the sky above, is all that
Andre sees from his spot on the ground.
Lying on his back beside Julie Templeton, he smiles to himself and takes her
hand, once more.
“A mechanical orchestra?” Andre asks. “Like of robots?”
“Machines,” she replies, a grin beginning to spread across her face.
“Some were tiny…little bitty,” she continues, “and they sang falsetto…and in all
of their whirring and howling…it sounded just like voices…”
Andre continues to gaze into the sky above them, imagining now, a row of small
“And in the rows behind them,” Julie whispers, “the larger devices, they played
low…and heavy…providing a bass. Then the tall skinny ones, they blew steam as they
shrieked…sounding as if they were female…”
And he sees it all: the entire automatic orchestra at the disposal of Doctor Wilford Shea…
whose entire life’s path
was written by
a single man
who died alone…
And they were beautiful…
These rows and rows of gleaming machines…shining bronze-tinted yellows,
blues, and grays.
The sound, Andre imagines, would be something not of this earth.
But he knows, that like the vein of stars high above him, she will never stay.
Young as he is, he’d never heard the phrase…he only feels it, right now, in this moment.
While down on earth, a young boy lies in the grass, far away from the noise of the
parties, of the cities, of the cars and the people…
…In his hand, his true lover’s is placed, but he can already feel it fading.
Fading and fading
But they will meet again
Just as they have
And from the grass beneath him, Andre can feel a distant rumbling, an echo of sound and
With the hand of Julie Templeton inside of his, the rumble grows louder, and the
melody becomes real…until they are both engulfed in lights. He shuts his eyes, resting to
the rhythm of her breathing.
He knows that somewhere high above them, an automatic orchestra is playing a
symphony of love, never to be passed through the speakers of the radio or the record
players within the homes of all the people.
…It will only be heard in his mind.
And he knows this.
He believes it
…to be true.
Footnotes for “Julie Templeton and The Automatic Orchestra”
1This is what may be known as the net chemical equation for photosynthesis. Does a young boy such as Andre know this off the top of his head? Or did the author possibly find it amusing to put a line of ionic numbers smack in the center of his story involving a young boy’s self-confidence and school-age crush?
2 The Automatic Orchestra published in May of 1954, garnered little acclaim. The novel’s author, one Jack Carlton Ribbons, had worked as a machinist for the United States military during the final months of the Second World War in 1945. When the war came to an end, Ribbons was sent back to his home near Santa Monica, California, where he retired to writing a novel based on his experiences working as a World War II mechanic. In early 1954, Ribbons emerged from seclusion with an 800-plus paged manuscript, entitled The Automatic Orchestra. Published by the now defunct company, Large Bird Press, The Automatic Orchestra sold less than two hundred copies during its first week. Those who did read and review it all seemed to dismiss it as “nonsense,” and “over-complexity for the sake of over-complexity,” according to a reviewer from one small Seattle periodical. Ribbons would never publish another piece of literature in his lifetime.
3 Post-War Fiction and Its Pioneers by Martin Gallagher (Ocean Way Publications, 1971)
4 Though Martin Gallagher’s book, Post-War Fiction and Its Pioneers, only dedicated a small section of a single pageto the life and career of Jack Ribbons, it did provide a substantial amount of information regarding his post-Automatic Orchestra whereabouts, though surprisingly little on his brief career as a military man. According to Post-War Fiction and Its Pioneers, Jack Carlton Ribbons was born in Fresno, California, in 1912 and grew up around the San Francisco Bay area. After graduating with a degree in management from a now defunct community college, Ribbons worked various management positions throughout the 1930s. In 1941, he moved to Santa Monica, where he managed a small diner. Always intrigued by vehicles, Ribbons enlisted in the military in 1943, in hopes of working as an aero-mechanic within the Air Force. He was not called on to do so until nearly two years later, in 1945, when he was to be stationed in Seattle. There he was employed as part of a maintenance crew, working on various machines that were used to craft plane pieces, never being granted his wish of working directly with the planes. After the War came to a halt later that year, Ribbons returned to Santa Monica where he went into complete isolation in his small suburban home, working on what would eventually become The Automatic Orchestra. Although briefly marketed as the next great science fiction epic upon its publication by Large Bird Press in May of 1954, The Automatic Orchestra was panned by readers and critics alike. Ribbons wrote a second manuscript, years later in 1962, but no publisher would pick it up, leaving Jack Ribbons disgraced and disheartened. To this day, no trace of this failed work has ever turned up. Having never been married, Ribbons lived alone until his death from liver failure in the summer of 1968. He was 56 years old.
5 Interestingly enough, at the same gathering, a young man named Ben Frensky (b. 1952) was also attending, at the request of a much younger girlfriend. Frensky, tall and lanky in stature, never joined athletics during his time in school. He, instead, took up the art of welding and metal sculpture. In a small shed behind his parents’ home, he would spend many an afternoon with sparks flying around him, and with his hammers and picks, he would sculpt the soft steel, making each piece into various images or simple shapes, until eventually, he had gained a bit of a customer following. This was when he decided to skip college and go straight to work for himself. He named his little shop in the backyard Frensky’s Metal Works, and it had been of modest financial success as of that June night down in Melcher Park, where Ben Frensky would turn from dancing with his lover to see the very young, very charming couple at the center of the crowd. The young boy had turned to face his date, taken either of her hands inside of his, and was simply staring…intrigued…deep into her eyes. Ben had never seen anything quite like this image, nor had he ever felt the way he had on viewing it. That night, alone in his shop, he would create a small statue in the form of a tall boy in striped bellbottoms and Beatle hair…grasping the hands of a smaller, lovely young girl in a small polka dot dress. The sculpture sold a week later to a man named Terry Jackson, who had been browsing through Frensky’s shop when he noticed the piece resembling a young boy and girl falling in love. Jackson had purchased the diminutive statue as a gift for his wife, as he knew it would remind her of their own son, who had recently left for college up North. Frensky’s Metal Works later became Frensky & Son Metal Works, and it is still in operation today, with Ben Frensky’s son, Jarrod, contributing many of his own sculptures to their locally popular catalogue. Frensky’s sculpture rested on the mantle of the Jackson’s fireplace, until it was removed thirty-eight years later by an aging Mrs. Jackson, who had removed many things in a frantic bout of spring cleaning. Mr. Jackson carried a sack full of trinkets, Frensky’s sculpture among them, into a local flea market known as Trade N’ Save. It was here, in Box 231, that the sculpture would sit for the next several months, priced at three dollars, until it was picked up by a young writer, one Austin C. Morgan, eager to find inspiration. It now rests on his desk to this day and has served as a primary inspiration for this tale.
6 The Automatic Orchestra by Jack Ribbons is now available in mass market paperback from