Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales, 2003
1. Introduction, 2003
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2. The Whole Town's Sleeping (из "Вина из одуванчиков"), ?
3. The Rocket, 1950
Many nights Fiorello Bodoni would awaken to hear the rockets sighing in the dark sky. He would tiptoe from bed, certain that his kind wife was dreaming, to let himself out into the night air. For a few moments he would be free of the smells of old food in the small house by the river. For a silent moment he would let his heart soar alone into space, following the rockets.
Now, this very night, he stood half naked in the darkness, watching the fire fountains murmuring in the air. The rockets on their long wild way to Mars and Saturn and Venus!
3. Season of Disbelief (из "Вина из одуванчиков"), ?
4. And the Rock Cried Out, 1958
5. Drummer Boy of Shiloh, 1960
6. The Beggar on O'Connell Bridge, 1961
7. The Flying Machine, 1953
In the year A.D. 400, the Emperor Yuan held his throne by the Great Wall of China, and the land was green with rain, readying itself toward the harvest, at peace, the people in his dominion neither too happy nor too sad.
Early on the morning of the first day of the first week of the second month of the new year, the Emperor Yuan was sipping tea and fanning himself against a warm breeze when a servant ran across the scarlet and blue garden tiles, calling, "Oh, Emperor, Emperor, a miracle!"
3. Heavy-Set, 1964
4. The First Night of Lent, 1956
5. Lafayette, Farewell, 1988
6. Remember Sascha?, 1996
Remember? Why, how could they forget? Although they knew him for only a little while, years later his name would arise and they would smile or even laugh and reach out to hold hands, remembering.
Sascha. What a tender, witty comrade, what a sly, hidden individual, what a child of talent; teller of tales, bon vivant, late-night companion, ever-present illumination on foggy noons.
He, whom they had never seen, to whom they spoke often at three a.m. in their small bedroom, away from friends who might roll their eyeballs under their lids, doubting their sanity, hearing his name.
5. Junior, 1988
6. That Woman on the Lawn, 1996
Very late at night he heard the weeping on the lawn in front of his house. It was the sound of a woman crying. By its sound he knew it was not a girl or a mature woman, but the crying of someone eighteen or nineteen years old. It went on, then faded and stopped, and again started up, now moving this way or that on the late-summer wind.
He lay in bed listening to it until it made his eyes fill with tears. He turned over, shut his eyes, let the tears fall, but could not stop the sound. Why should a young woman be weeping long after midnight out there?
3. Ylla (из "Марсианских хроник"), ?
4. Banshee, 1984
5. One for His Lordship, and One for the Road!, 1985
6. The Laurel and Hardy Love Affair, 1987
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7. Unterderseaboat Doktor, 1994
The incredible event occurred during my third visit to Gustav Von Seyfertitz, my foreign psychoanalyst.
I should have guessed at the strange explosion before it came.
After all, my alienist, truly alien, had the coincidental name, Von Seyfertitz, of the tall, lean, aquiline, menacing, and therefore beautiful actor who played the high priest in the 1935 film She.
In She, the wondrous villain waved his skeleton fingers, hurled insults, summoned sulfured flames, destroyed slaves, and knocked the world into earthquakes.
5. Another Fine Mess, 1995
The sounds began in the middle of summer in the middle of the night.
Bella Winters sat up in bed about three a.m. and listened and then lay back down. Ten minutes later she heard the sounds again, out in the night, down the hill.
Bella Winters lived in a first-floor apartment on top of Vendome Heights, near Effie Street in Los Angeles, and had lived there now for only a few days, so it was all new to her, this old house on an old street with an old staircase, made of concrete, climbing steeply straight up from the low-lands below, one hundred and twenty steps, count them. And right now...
4. The Dwarf, 1953
Aimee watched the sky, quietly.
Tonight was one of those motionless hot summer nights. The concrete pier empty, the strung red, white, yellow bulbs burning like insects in the air above the wooden emptiness. The managers of the various carnival pitches stood, like melting wax dummies, eyes staring blindly, not talking, all down the line.
Two customers had passed through an hour before. Those two lonely people were now in the roller coaster, screaming murderously as it plummeted down the blazing night, around one emptiness after another.
4. Wild Night in Galway (из "Зелёные тени, белый кит"), 1959
5. The Wind, 1943
The phone rang at five-thirty that evening. It was December, and long since dark as Thompson picked up the phone.
"Oh, it's you, Allin."
"Is your wife home, Herb?"
Herb Thompson held the receiver quietly. "What's up? You sound funny."
"I wanted you to come over tonight."
"We're having company."
"I wanted you to spend the night. When's your wife going away?"
"That's next week," said Thompson. "She'll be in Ohio for about nine days. Her mother's sick. I'll come over then."
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13. No News, or What Killed the Dog?, 1994
It was a day of holocausts, cataclysms, tornadoes, earth-quakes, blackouts, mass murders, eruptions, and miscellaneous dooms, at the peak of which the sun swallowed the earth and the stars vanished.
But to put it simply, the most respected member of the Bentley family up and died.
Dog was his name, and dog he was.
The Bentleys, arising late Saturday morning, found Dog stretched on the kitchen floor, his head toward Mecca, his paws neatly folded, his tail not a-thump but silent for the first time in twenty years.
5. A Little Journey, 1951
6. Any Friend of Nicholas Nickleby's Is a Friend of Mine, 1966
7. The Garbage Collector, 1953
This is how his work was: He got up at five in the cold dark morning and washed his face with warm water if the heater was working and cold water if the heater was not working. He shaved carefully, talking out to his wife in the kitchen, who was fixing ham and eggs or pancakes or whatever it was that morning. By six o'clock he was driving on his way to work alone, and parking his car in the big yard where all the other men parked their cars as the sun was coming up. The colors of the sky that time of morning were orange and blue violet and sometimes very red and sometimes yellow or a clear color like water on white rock. Some mornings he could see his breath on the air and some mornings he could not. But as the sun was still rising he knocked his fist on the side of the green truck, and his driver, smiling and saying hello, would climb in the other side of the truck and they would drive out into the great city and go down all the streets until they came to the place where they started work. Sometimes, on the way, they stopped for black coffee and then went on, the warmness in them. And they began the work which meant that he jumped off in front of each house and picked up the garbage cans and brought them back and took off their lids and knocked them against the bin edge, which made the orange peels and cantaloupe rinds and coffee grounds fall out and thump down and begin to fill the empty truck. There were always steak bones and the heads of fish and pieces of green onion and state celery. If the garbage was new it wasn't so bad, but if it was very old it was bad. He was not sure if he liked the job or not, but it was a job and he did it well, talking about it a lot at some times and sometimes not thinking of it in any way at all. Some days the job was wonderful, for you were out early and the air was cool and fresh until you had worked too long and the sun got hot and the garbage steamed early. But mostly it was a job significant enough to keep him busy and calm and looking at the houses and cut lawns he passed by and seeing how everybody lived. And once or twice a month he was surprised to find that he loved the job and that it was the finest job in the world.
2. The Visitor, 1948
3. The Man, 1949
4. Henry the Ninth, 1969
"There he is!"
The two men leaned. The helicopter tilted with their lean. The coastline whipped by below.
"No. Just a bit of rock and some moss -" The pilot lifted his head, which signaled the lift of the helicopter to swivel and rush away. The white cliffs of Dover vanished. They broke over green meadows and so wove back and forth, a giant dragonfly excursioning the stuffs of winter that sleeted their blades.
"Wait! There! Drop!"
The machine fell down, the grass came up. The second man, grunting, pushed the bubble-eye aside and, as if he needed oiling, carefully let himself to the earth. He ran. Losing his breath instantly he slowed to cry bleakly against the wind:
6. The Messiah, 1971
"We all have that special dream when we are young," said Bishop Kelly.
The others at the table murmured, nodded.
"There is no Christian boy," the Bishop continued, "who does not some night wonder: am I Him? Is this the Second Coming at long last, and am I It? What, what, oh, what, dear God, if I were Jesus? How grand!"
The Priests, the Ministers, and the one lonely Rabbi laughed gently, remembering things from their own childhoods, their own wild dreams, and being great fools.
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5. Bang! You're Dead!, 1944
6. Darling Adolf, 1976
They were waiting for him to come out. He was sitting inside the little Bavarian cafe with a view of the mountains, drinking beer, and he had been in there since noon and it was now two-thirty, a long lunch, and much beer, and they could see by the way he held his head and laughed and lifted one more stein with the suds fluffing in the spring breeze that he was in a grand humour now, and at the table with him the two other men were doing their best to keep up, but bad fallen long behind.
2. The Beautiful Shave, 1977
3. Colonel Stonesteel's Geniune Home-made Truly Egyptian Mummy, 1981
4. I See You Never, 1947
The soft knock came at the kitchen door, and when Mrs. O'Brian opened it, there on the back porch were her best tenant, Mr. Ramirez, and two police officers, one on each side of him. Mr. Ramirez just stood there, walled in and small.
"Why, Mr. Ramirez!" said Mrs. O'Brian.
Mr. Ramirez was overcome. He did not seem to have words to explain.
He had arrived at Mrs. O'Brian's rooming house more than two years earlier and had lived there ever since. He had come by bus from Mexico City to San Diego and had then gone up to Los Angeles. There he had found the clean little room, with glossy blue linoleum, and pictures and calendars on the flowered walls, and Mrs. O'Brian as the strict but kindly landlady. During the war, he had worked at the airplane factory and made parts for the planes that flew off somewhere, and even now, after the war, he still held his job. From the first, he had made big money. He saved some of it, and he got drunk only once a week-a privilege that, to Mrs. O'Brian's way of thinking, every good workingman deserved, unquestioned and unreprimanded.
5. The Exiles, 1949
Their eyes were fire and the breath flamed out the witches' mouths as they bent to probe the caldron with greasy stick and bony finger.
"When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning, or in rain?"
They danced drunkenly on the shore of an empty sea, fouling the air with their three tongues, and burning it with their cats eyes malevolently aglitter:
"Round about the cauldron go;
8. At Midnight, in the Month of June, 1954
9. The Witch Door, 1995
It was a pounding on a door, a furious, frantic, insistent pounding, born of hysteria and fear and a great desire to be heard, to be freed, to be let loose, to escape. It was a wrenching at hidden paneling, it was a hollow knocking, a rapping, a testing, a clawing! It was a scratching at hollow boards, a ripping at bedded nails; it was a muffled closet shouting and demanding, far away, and a call to be noticed, followed by a silence.
The silence was the most empty and terrible of all. Robert and Martha Webb sat up in bed.
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3. The Watchers, 1945
4. Dark They were, And Golden Eyed (The Naming of Names), 1949
The rocket's metal cooled in the meadow winds. Its lid gave a bulging pop. From its clock interior stepped a man, a woman, and three children. The other passengers whispered away across the Martian meadow, leaving the man alone among his family.
The man felt his hair flutter and the tissues of his body draw tight as if he were standing at the centre of a vacuum. His wife, before him, trembled. The children, small seeds, might at any instant be sown to all the Martian climes. The children looked up at him. His face was cold. "What's wrong?" asked his wife. "Let's get back on the rocket." "Go back to Earth?" "Yes! Listen!"
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3. Hopscotch, 1978
Vinia woke to the sound of a rabbit running down and across an endless moonlit field; but it was only the soft, quick beating of her heart. She lay on the bed for a moment, getting her breath. Now the sound of the running faded and was gone at a great distance. At last she sat up and looked down from her second-story bedroom window and there below, on the long sidewalk, in the faint moonlight before dawn, was the hopscotch.
Late yesterday, some child had chalked it out, immense and endlessly augmented, square upon square, line after line, numeral following numeral. You could not see the end of it. Down the street it built its crazy pattern, 3, 4, 5, on up to 10, then 30, 50, 90, on away to turn far corners. Never in all the children's world a hopscotch like this! You could Jump forever toward the horizon.
3. The Illustrated Man (другой рассказ!), 1950
4. The Dead Man, 1945
5. And the Moon be Still as Bright (из "Марсианских хроник"), ?
6. The Burning Man, 1975
7. G.B.S. - Mark V, 1976
"Charlie! Where you going?"
Members of the rocket crew, passing, called.
Charles Willis did not answer.
He took the vacuum tube down through the friendly humming bowels of the spaceship. He fell, thinking: This is the grand hour.
"Chuck! Where travelling?" someone called.
To meet someone dead but alive, cold but warm, forev-er untouchable but reaching out somehow to touch.
The voice echoed. He smiled.
Then he saw Clive, his best friend, drifting up in the opposite chute. He averted his gaze, but Clive sang out through his seashell ear-pack radio:
10. A Blade of Grass, 1949
11. The Sound of Summer Running (из "Вина из одуванчиков"), ?
12. And the Sailor, Home from the Sea, 1960
13. The Lonely Ones, 1949
14. The Finnegan, 1996
To say that I have been haunted for the rest of my life by the affair Finnegan is to grossly understate the events leading up to that final melancholy. Only now, at threescore and ten, can I write these words for an astonished constabulary who may well run with picks and shovels to unearth my truths or bury my lies.
The facts are these:
Three children went astray and were missed. Their bodies were found in the midst of Chatham Forest and each bore no marks of criminal assassination, but all had suffered their lifeblood to be drained. Only their skin remained like that of some discolored vineyard grapes withered by sunlight and no rain.
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4. On the Orient, North, 1988
5. The Smiling People, 1947
6. The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl, 1953
7. Bug, 1996
Looking back now, I can't remember a time when Bug wasn't dancing. Bug is short for jitterbug and, of course, those were the days in the late thirties, our final days in high school and our first days out in the vast world looking for work that didn't exist when jitterbugging was all the rage. And I can remember Bug (his real name was Bert Bagley, which shortens to Bug nicely), during a jazz-band blast at our final aud-call for our high school senior class, suddenly leaping up to dance with an invisible partner in the middle of the front aisle of the auditorium. That brought the house down. You never heard such a roar or such applause. The bandleader, stricken with Bug's oblivious joy, gave an encore and Bug did the same and we all exploded. After that the band played "Thanks for the Memory" and we all sang it, with tears pouring down our cheeks. Nobody in all the years after could forget: Bug dancing in the aisle, eyes shut, hands out to grasp his invisible girlfriend, his legs not connected to his body, just his heart, all over the place. When it was over, nobody, not even the band, wanted to leave. We just stood there in the world Bug had made, hating to go out into that other world that was waiting for us.
2. Downwind from Gettysburg, 1969
3. Time in Thy Flight, 1953
4. Changeling, 1949
5. The Dragon, 1955
The night blew in the short grass on the moor; there was no other motion. It had been years since a single bird had flown by in the great blind shell of sky. Long ago a few small stones had simulated life when they crumbled and fell into dust. Now only the night moved in the souls of the two men bent by their lonely fire in the wilderness; darkness pumped quietly in their veins and ticked silently in their temples and their wrists.
Firelight fled up and down their wild faces and welled in their eyes in orange tatters. They listened to each other's faint, cool breathing and the lizard blink of their eyelids. At last, one man poked the fire with his sword.
3. Let's Play "Poison", 1946
4. The Cold Wind and the Warm, 1964
5. The Meadow, 1948
6. The Kilimanjaro Device, 1965
7. The Man in the Rorschach Shirt, 1966
8. Bless Me, Father, for I Have Sinned, 1984
9. The Pedestrian, 1951
To enter out into that silence that was the city at eight o'clock of a misty evening in November, to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in pockets, through the silences, that was what Mr.Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do. He would stand upon the comer of an intersection and peer down long moonlit avenues of sidewalk in four directions, deciding which way to go, but it really made no difference; he was alone in this world of 2053 A.D., or as good as alone, and with a final decision made, a path selected, he would stride off, sending patterns of frosty air before him like the smoke of a cigar.
2. Trapdoor, 1985
3. The Swan (из "Вина из одуванчиков"), ?
4. The Sea Shell, 1944
5. Once More, Legato, 1995
Fentriss sat up in his chair in the garden in the middle of a fine autumn and listened. The drink in his hand remained unsipped, his friend Black unspoken to, the fine house unnoticed, the very weather itself neglected, for there was a veritable fountain of sound in the air above them.
"My God," he mid. "Do you 'hear?"
"What, the birds?" asked his friend Black, doing just the opposite, sipping his drink, noticing the weather, admiring the rich house, and neglecting the birds entirely until this moment.
4. Way in the Middle of the Air, ?
5. The Wonderful Death of Dudley Stone, 1954
"Alive in New England, damn it."
"Died twenty years ago!"
"Pass the hat, I'll go myself and bring back his head!"
That's how the talk went that night. A stranger set it off with his mouthings about Dudley Stone dead. Alive! we cried. And shouldn't we know? Weren't we the last frail remnants of those who had burnt incense and read his books by the light of blazing intellectual votives in the twenties?
_The_ Dudley Stone. That magnificent stylist, that proudest of literary lions. Surely you recall the head-pounding, the cliff-jumping, the whistlings of doom that followed on his writing his publishers this note:
8. By the Numbers!, 1984
9. Usher II (из "Марсианских хроник"), ?
10. The Square Pegs, 1948
11. The Trolley (из "Вина из одуванчиков"), ?
12. The Smile, 1952
In the town square the queue had formed at five in the morning, while cocks were crowing far out in the rimed country and there were no fires. All about, among the ruined buildings, bits of mist had clung at first, but now with the new light of seven o’clock it was beginning to disperse. Down the road, in twos and threes, more people were gathering in for the day of marketing the day of festival.
The small bay stood immediately behind two men who had been talking loudly in the clear air, and all of the sounds they made seemed twice as loud because of the cold. The small boy stamped his feet and blew on his red, chapped hands, and looked up at the soiled gunny-sack clothing of the men, and down the long line of men and women ahead.
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3. The Miracles of Jamie, 1946
Jamie Winters worked his first miracle in the morning. The second, third, and various other miracles came later in the day. But the first miracle was always the most important.
It was always the same: "Make Mother well. Put color in her cheeks. Don't let Mom be sick too much longer."
It was Mom's illness that had first made him think about himself and miracles. And because of her he kept on, learning how to be good at them so that he could keep her well and could make life jump through a hoop.
4. A Far-away Guitar, 1950
5. The Cistern, 1947
It was an afternoon of rain, and lamps lighted against the gray. For a long while the two sisters had been in the dining-room. One of them, Juliet, embroidered tablecloths; the younger, Anna, sat quietly on the window seat, staring out at the dark street and the dark sky.
Anna kept her brow pressed against the pane, but her lips moved and after reflecting a long moment, she said, "I never thought of that before."
"Of what?" asked Juliet.
"It just came to me. There's actually a city under a city. A dead city, right here, right under our feet."
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5. The Machineries of Joy, 1960
Father Brian delayed going below to breakfast because he thought he heard Father Vittorini down there, laughing. Vittorini, as usual, was dining alone. So who was there to laugh with, or at?
Us, thought Fathez Brian, that's who.
He listened again.
Across the hall Father Kelly too was hiding, or meditating, rather, in his room.
They never let Vittorini finish breakfast, no, they always managed to join him as he chewed his last bit of toast. Otherwise they could not have borne their guilt through the day.
6. Bright Phoenix, 1963
One day in April 2022 the great library door slammed flat shut. Thunder.
Hullo, I thought.
At the bottom step glowering up at my desk, in a United Legion uniform which no longer hung as neatly upon him as it had twenty years before, stood Jonathan Barnes.
Seeing his bravado momentarily in pause, I recalled ten thousand Veterans’ speeches sprayed from his mouth, the endless wind-whipped flag parades he had hustled, panted through, the grease-cold chicken and green-pea patriot banquets he had practically cooked himself; the civic drives stillborn in his hat.
Now Jonathan Barnes stomped up the creaking main library steps, giving each the full downthrust of his power, weight, and new authority. His echoes, rushed back from the vast ceilings, must have shocked even him into better manners, for when he reached my desk, I felt his warmly liquored breath stir mere whispers on my face.
“I’m here for the books, Tom.”
I turned casually to check some index cards. “When they’re ready, we’ll call you.”
“Hold on,” he said. “Wait-“
“You’re here to pick up the Veterans’ Salvage books for hospital distribution?”
“No, no,” he cried. “I’m here for all the books.”
I gazed at him.
“Well,” he said, “most of them.”
“Most?” I blinked once, then bent to riffle the files. “Only ten volumes to a person at a time. Let’s see. Here! Why, you let your card expire when you were twenty years old, thirty years ago. See?” I held it up.
Barnes put both hands on the desk and leaned his great bulk upon them. “I see that you are interfering.” His face began to color, his breath to husk and rattle. “I don’t need a card for my work!”
So loud was his whisper that a myriad of white pages stopped butterflying under far green lamps in the big stone rooms. Faintly, a few books thudded shut.
Reading people lifted their serene faces. Their eyes, made antelope by the time and weather of this place, pleaded for silence to return, as it always must when a tiger has come and gone from a special fresh-water spring, as this surely was. Looking at these upturned, gentle faces I thought of my forty years of living, working, even sleeping here among hidden lives and vellumed, silent, and imaginary people. Now, as always, I considered my library as a cool cavern or fresh, ever growing forest into which men passed from the heat of the day and the fever of motion to refresh their limbs and bathe their minds an hour in the grass-shade illumination, in the sound of small breezes wandered out from the turning and turning of the pale soft book pages. Then, better focused, their ideas rehung upon their frames, their flesh made easy on their bones, men might walk forth into the blast furnace of reality, noon, mob-traffic, improbably senescence, inescapable death. I had seen thousands careen into my library starved, and leave well-fed. I had watched lost people find themselves. I had known realists to dream and dreamers to come awake in this marble sanctuary where silence was a marker in each book.
“Yes,” I said at last. “But it will only take a moment to re-register you. Fill in this new card. Give two reliable references-“
“I don’t need references,” said Jonathan Barnes, “to burn books!”
“Contrarily,” said I. “You’ll need even more, to do that.”
“My men are my references. They’re waiting outside for the books. They’re dangerous.”
“Men like that always are.”
“No no, I mean the books, idiot. The books are dangerous. Good God, no two agree. All the damn double-talk. All the lousy babel and slaver and spit. So, we’re out to simplify, clarify, hew to the line. We need-“
“To talk this over,” said I, taking up a copy of Demosthenes, tucking it under my arm. “It’s time for my dinner. Join me, please-“
I was halfway to the door when Barnes, wide-eyed, suddenly remembered the silver whistle hung from his blouse, jammed it to his wet lips, and gave it a piercing blast.
The library doors burst wide. A flood of black charcoal-burned uniformed men collided boisterously upstairs.
I called, softly.
They stopped, surprised.
“Quietly,” I said.
Barnes seized my arm. “Are you opposing due process?”
“No,” I said. “I won’t even ask to see your property invasion permit. I wish only silence as you work.”
The readers at the tables had leaped up at the storm of feet. I patted the air. They sat back down and did not glance up again at these men crammed into their tight dark char-smeared suits who stared at my mouth now as if they disbelieved my cautions. Barnes nodded. The men moved swiftly, on tiptoe, through the big library rooms. With extra care, with proper stealth, they raised the windows. Soundlessly, whispering, they collected books from the shelves to toss down toward the evening yard below. Now and again they scowled at the readers who calmly went on leafing through their books, but made no move to seize these volumes, and continued emptying the shelves.
“Good,” said I.
“Good?” asked Barnes.
“Your men can work without you. Take five.”
And I was out in the twilight so quickly he could only follow, bursting with unvoiced questions. We crossed the green lawn where a huge portable Hell was drawn up hungrily, a fat black tar-daubed own from which shot red-orange and gaseous blue flames into which men were shoveling the wild birds, the literary doves which soared crazily down to flop broken-winged, the precious flights poured from every window to thump the earth, to be kerosene-soaked and chucked in the gulping furnace. As we passed this destructive if colorful industry, Barnes mused.
“Funny. Should be crowds, a thing like this. But… no crowd. How do you figure?”
I left him. He had to run to catch up.
In the small café across the street we took a table and Barnes, irritable for no reason he could say, called out, “Service! I’ve got to get back to work!”
Walter, the proprietor, stolled over, with some dog-eared menus. Walter looked at me. I winked.
Walter looked at Jonathan Barnes.
Walter said, “‘Come live with me and by my love; and we will all the pleasures prove.’”
“What?” Jonathan Barnes blinked.
“’ Call me Ishmael,’” said Walter.
“Ishmael,” I said. “We’ll have coffee to start.”
Walter came back with the coffee.
“’Tiger! Tiger! Burning bright,’” he said. “’In the forest of the night.’”
Barnes stared after the man who walked away casually. “What’s eating him? Is he nuts?”
“No,” I said. “But go on with what you were saying back at the library. Explain.”
“Explain?” said Barnes. “My God, you’re all sweet reason. All right, I will explain. This is a tremendous experiment. A test town. If the burning works here, it’ll work anywhere. We don’t burn everything, no no. You noticed, my men cleaned only certain shelves and categories? We’ll eviscerate about forty-nine point two percent. Then we’ll report our success to the overall government committee-“
“Excellent,” I said.
Barnes eyed me. “How can you be so cheerful?”
“Any library’s problem,” I said. “is where to put the books. You’ve helped me solve it.”
“I thought you’d be… afraid.”
“I’ve been around Trash Men all my life.”
“I beg pardon?”
“Burning is burning. Whoever does it is a Trash Man.”
“Chief Censor, Green Town, Illinois, damn it!”
A new man, a waiter, came with the coffee pot steaming.
“Hullo, Keats,” I said.
“’Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,’” said the waiter.
“Keats?” said the Chief Censor. “His name isn’t Keats.”
“Silly of me,” I said. “This is a Greek restaurant. Right, Plato?”
The waiter refilled my cup. “’The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness…This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector.’”
Barnes leaned forward to squint at the waiter, who did not move. Then Barnes busied himself blowing on his coffee: “As I see it, our plan is simple as one and one make two…”
The waiter said, “’I have hardly ever known a mathematician who was capable of reasoning.’”
“Damn it!” Barnes slammed his cup down. “Peace! Get away while we eat, you, Keats, Plato, Holdridge, that’s your name. I remember now, Holdridge! What’s all this other junk?”
“Just fancy,” said I. “Conceit.”
“Damn fancy, and to hell with conceit, you can eat alone, I’m getting out of this madhouse.” And Barnes gulped his coffee as the waiter and proprietor watched and I watched him gulping and across the street the bright bonfire in the gut of the monster device burned fiercely. Our silent watching caused Barnes to freeze at last with the cup in his hand and the coffee dripping off his chin. “Why? Why aren’t you yelling? Why aren’t you fighting me?”
“But I am fighting,” I said, taking the book from under my arm. I tore a page from Demosthenes, let Barnes see the name, rolled it into a fine Havana cigar shape, lit it, puffed it, and said, “’Though a man escape every other danger, he can never wholly escape those who do not want such a person as he is to exist.’”
Barnes was on his feet, yelling, the “cigar” was torn from my mouth, stomped on, and the Chief Censor was out of the door, almost in one motion.
I could only follow.
On the sidewalk, Barnes collided with an old man who was entering the café. The old man almost fell. I grabbed his arm.
“Professor Einstein,” I said.
“Mr. Shakespeare,” he said.
I found him on the lawn by the old and beautiful library where the dark men, who wafted of kerosene perfume from their every motion, still dumped vast harvestings of gun-shot dead pigeon, dying pheasant books, all autumn gold and silver from the high windows. But…softly. And while this still, almost serene, pantomime continued, Barnes stood screaming silently, the scream clenched in his teeth, tongue, lips, cheeks, gagged back so none could hear. But the scream flew out of his wild eyes in flashes and was held for discharge in his knotted fists, and shuttled in colors about his face, now pale, now red as he glared at me, at the café, at the damned proprietor, at the terrible waiter who now waved amiably back at him. The Baal incinerator rumbled its appetite, spark-burned the lawn. Barnes stared full at the blind yellow-red sun in its raving stomach.
“You,” I called up easily at the men who paused. “City Ordinance. Closing time is nine sharp. Please be done by then. Wouldn’t want to break the law-Good Evening, Mr. Lincoln.”
“’Four Score,’” said a man, passing, “’and seven years-‘”
“Lincoln?” The Chief Censor turned slowly. “That’s Bowman. Charlie Bowman. I know you, Charlie, come back here, Charlie, Chuck!”
But the man was gone, and cars drove by, and now and again as the burning progressed men called to me and I called back, and whether it was, “Mr. Poe!” or hullo to some small bleak stranger with a name like Freud, each time I called in good humor and they replied, Mr. Barnes twitched as if another arrow had pierced, sunk deep in his quivering bulk and he were dying slowly of a hidden seepage of fire and raging life. And still no crowd gathered to watch the commotion.
Suddenly, for no discernable reason, Mr. Barnes shut his eyes, opened his mouth wide, gathered air, and shouted, “Stop!”
The men ceased shoveling the books out of the window above.
“But,” I said, “it’s not closing time…”
“Closing time! Everybody out!” Deep holes had eaten away the center of Jonathan Barnes’ eyes. Within, there was no bottom. He seized the air. He pushed down. Obediently, all the windows crashed like guillotines, chiming their panes.
The dark men, bewildered, came out and down the steps.
“Chief Censor.” I handed him a key which he would not take, so I forced his fist shut on it. “Come back tomorrow, observe silence, finish up.”
The Chief Censor let his bullet-hole gaze, his emptiness, search without finding me.
“How…how long has this gone on…?”
He tried but could not nod at the café, the passing cars, the quiet readers descending from the warm library now, nodding as they passed into cold dark, friends, one and all. His blind man’s rectal gaze ate holes where my face was. His tongue, anesthetized, stirred. “Do you think you can all fool me, me, me?”
I did not answer.
“How can you be sure,” he said. “I won’t burn people, as well as books?”
I did not answer.
I left him standing in the complete night.
Inside, I checked out the last volumes of those leaving the library now with night come on and shadows everywhere and the great Baal machinery churning smoke, its fire dying in the spring grass where the Chief Censor stood like a poured cement statue, not seeing his men drive off. His fist suddenly flew high. Something swift and bright flew up to crack the front-door glass. Then Barnes turned and walked after the incinerator as it trundled off, a fat black funeral urn unraveling long tissues and scarves of black bunting smoke and fast-vanishing crepe.
I sat listening.
In the far rooms, filled with soft jungle illumination, there was a lovely autumnal turning of leaves, faint sifts of breathing, infinitesimal quirks, the gesture of a hand, the glint of a ring, the intelligent squirrel blink of an eye. Some nocturnal voyager sailed between the half-empty stacks. In porcelain serenity, the restroom waters flowed down to a still and distant sea. My people, my friends, one by one, passed from the cool marble, the green glades, out into a night better than we could ever have hoped for.
At nine, I went out to pick up the thrown front-door key. I let the last reader, an old man, out with me, and as I was locking up, he took a deep breath of cool air, looked at the town, the spark-burned lawn, and said, “Will they come back again, ever?”
“Let them. We’re ready for them, aren’t we?”
The old man took my hand. “’The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together.’”
We moved down the steps.
“Good evening, Isaiah,” I said.
“Mr. Socrates,” he said. “Good night.”
And each walked his own way, in the dark.
2. The Wish, 1973
3. The Life Work of Juan Diaz, 1963
4. Interim (Time Intervening), 1947
Very late on this night, the old man came from his house with a flashlight in his hand and asked of the little boys the object of their frolic. The little boys gave no answer, but tumbled on in the leaves.
The old man went into his house and sat down and worried. It was three in the morning. He saw his own pale, small hands trembling on his knees. He was all joints and angles, and his face, reflected above the mantel, was no more than a pale cloud of breath exhaled upon the mirror.
3. Almost the End of the World, 1957
Sighting Rock Junction, Arizona, at noon on 22 August 1961, Willy Bersinger let his miner's boot rest easy on the jalopy's' accelerator and talked quietly to his partner, Samuel Fitts.
'Yes, sir, Samuel, it's great hitting town. After a couple of months out at the mine, a juke-box looks like a stained-glass window to me. We need the town; without it, we might wake some morning and find ourselves all jerked beef and petrified rock. And then, of course, the town needs us, too.'
'How's that?' asked Samuel Fitts.
4. The Great Collision of Monday Last (из "Зелёные тени, белый кит"), ?
5. The Poems, 1945
6. The Long Years (из "Марсианских хроник"), ?
7. Icarus Montgolfier Wright, 1956
8. Death and the Maiden, 1960
Far out in the country beyond the woods, beyond the world, really, lived Old Mam, and she had lived there for ninety years with the door locked tight, not opening for anyone, be it wind, rain, sparrow tapping or little boy with a pailful of crayfish rapping. If you scratched at her shutters, she called through:
"Go away. Death!"
"I'm not Death!" you might say.
But she'd cry back, "Death, I know you, you come today in the shape of a girl. But I see the bones behind the freckles!"
5. Zero Hour, 1947
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6. The Toynbee Convector, 1984
7. Forever and the Earth, 1950
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8. The Handler, 1947
9. Getting Through Sunday Somehow, 1962
10. The Pumpernickel, 1951
Mr. and Mrs. Welles walked away from the movie theater late at night and went into the quiet little store, a combination restaurant and delicatessen. They settled in a booth, and Mrs. Welles said, "Baked ham on pumpernickel." Mr. Welles glanced toward the counter, and there lay a loaf of pumpernickel.
"Why," he murmured, "pumpernickel. . . Druce's Lake. . ."
The night, the late hour, the empty restaurant - by now the pattern was familiar. Anything could set him off on a ride of reminiscences. The scent of autumn leaves, or midnight winds blowing, could stir him from himself, and memories would pour around him. Now in the unreal hour after the theater, in this lonely store, he saw a loaf of pumpernickel bread and, as on a thousand other nights, he found himself moved into the past.
4. Last Rites, 1994
Harrison Cooper was not that old, only thirty-nine, touching at the warm rim of forty rather than the cold rim of thirty, which makes a great difference in temperature and attitude. He was a genius verging on the brilliant, unmarried, unengaged, with no children that he could honestly claim, so having nothing much else to do, woke one morning in the summer of 1999, weeping.
Out of bed, he faced his mirror to watch the tears, examine his sadness, trace the woe. Like a child, curious after emotion, he charted his own map, found no capital city of despair, but only a vast and empty expanse of sorrow, and went to shave.
4. The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse, 1954
When first we meet George Garvey he is nothing at all. Later he'll wear a white poker chip monocle, with a blue eye painted on it by Matisse himself. Later, a golden bird cage might trill within George Garvey's false leg, and his good left hand might possibly be fashioned of shimmering copper and jade.
But at the beginning--gaze upon a terrifyingly ordinary man.
"Financial section, dear?"
The newspapers rattle in his evening apartment.
"Weatherman says 'rain tomorrow.'"
6. All on a Summer's Night, 1950