Photo of Ray Bradbury.

Photo of Ray Bradbury. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. His stories are mind-bending, to say the least, but his true power lies in his masterful use of the English language when he conveys a whole scene or thought process in shimmering words that bend around your mind like the colors in a kaleidoscope. (Bradbury’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ is one of my favorite short stories of all time. Look it up.)

UPDATE: I found a link to ‘Kaleidoscope’! Here it is 🙂

I thought I’d honor him today by writing him a tribute, so here’s a little bit of fiction inspired by his stories. Enjoy! Also read more Bradbury.

—~

It was a dark and stormy night.

😛

Shutters on houses rattled ominously, and lampposts flickered high above. Trees bowed and danced with the wind, flailing their leaves as if ecstatic. The streets flowed with swelling torrents of rainwater that washed away the town’s daily garbage, like a grumbling old maid trying to wipe away the dust of modern civilization. No one was foolish enough to wander outside; even the dogs had fled to seek shelter somewhere and were silent.

Inside the house at the corner, there was quiet, frenzied activity. Unlike the violent noise and whirling outside, inside the great clamor was hushed, like a time-lapse video with the volume turned low. The small girl sat on the couch hugging a little worn teddy bear, in the pseudo-dark of the living room lit by Christmas lights, a flat little television, and little else. Instead of watching the television, which was turned to a news channel, she watched her parents like she was watching a tennis game, back and forth, back and forth across the kitchen, into the basement, into the bedroom, back and forth. Their house was not large, but there never seemed to be as many things in it as there were now, tonight, gathering them all into one place, frantically separating the essential from the rest, opening cabinets, collecting, counting, carrying, and doing it all in a quiveringly taut silence.

Every now and then the thunder shook the whole house.

The little girl was kicking her legs against the couch when her mother came into the living room and turned once more to the television, breathlessly, her hand on her forehead, as she had been doing for the past hour, as though she were hoping it had changed its mind.

It hadn’t.

This time, though, she turned to the girl on the couch and held her had out to her.

‘Come on,’ she sighed, ‘let’s go. Daddy says we’re just about ready now.’

Her daughter leapt up from the couch and took her mother’s hand, still clutching her stuffed bear in the other. Together they descended the creaky stairs from the kitchen into the basement, where there was a couch, a chair, an ancient washer and dryer, a single light bulb, and enough dry food and water to last the three of them two weeks, if they were careful. Hats, scarves, rubber gloves, and blankets were heaped in a corner along with clothing and a sewing machine. The girl immediately skipped to the couch and sat hugging her teddy bear just as she had in the living room.

They could even hear the thunder in the basement.

The girl’s father came staggering down the stairs, laden with various supplies remembered at the last minute, including the still-running television. The mother rushed to help him, and they placed the television, still running the news, once again in front of the girl. The father went up the stairs to close the door to the kitchen, and the mother sat on the couch next to her daughter.

‘In all of those guidebooks, and in all of those practice drills, they never said it was going to be storming like this,’ she complained halfheartedly to her husband and the news anchor.

Her husband collapsed, exhausted, on the couch. ‘You never did practice drills,’ he panted, ‘and you never read the guidebooks. That was our parents’ generation. Our generation never thought it would happen at all, in a storm or not.’

His wife did not reply. She did not vocalize the thought that they should have seen this coming for years, decades even, and maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if she had been brought up doing air-raid drills, too. But people had gotten older and less paranoid, a bit more hopeful or at least a bit more cynical…or maybe just a bit more blind.

Because, the world had learned, it is impossible to raise an entire generation under a threat as oppressive as that of nuclear warfare, and still have it strike fear in the hearts of its grandchildren.

When the news came of imminent attack, screaming over the Internet and clogging phone lines, spreading like fire through all television and radio channels, and all the digital road signs, it had been a simple matter of a web search to find ages-old columns and handbooks scanned by some anonymous history buffs into digital files that advised the mid-century household on how to prepare in the event of a nuclear attack. They found most of the instructions still applied, but nobody knew what would happen to digital networks, the Internet connection, cell service.

‘When’s it gonna happen?’ the little girl asked brightly, a painfully shimmering sound like a needle in her parents’ thoughts.

‘I already told you, Ray, nobody knows,’ Ray’s father replied in between a short silence and a long silence.

‘What’s gonna happen?’ Strident and out of place as a kazoo.

Her mother sighed again. ‘Ray, we already told you, remember? About the bad guys and their weapons? Like when Mommy and Daddy watch the news, and things explode? Like that, but bigger.’

Thunder drowned out her last few words.

‘Why are the bad guys so bad?’ asked Ray, who already knew the answer.

‘Nobody knows, Ray,’ her father replied tersely.

Ray crossed her arms over her teddy bear in a cartoon-like show of indignation. ‘Boy, you guys don’t know much, do you.’

Her mother managed a small smile, and took hold of her husband’s hand over the back of the couch. Both parents held their daughter, forming a tiny circle of humanity that was warm against the chilly light of the television.

‘No, we don’t,’ admitted her father.

Ray shifted herself on the couch, curling herself between her parents, and began to fight her eyelids, which were sliding closed.

‘We love you,’ her mother added helpfully as Ray drifted off to sleep.

Every now and then the thunder shook the whole house.

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