The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury, 1951
The magic trick:
Making regular modern life feel eerie and terrifying
This is a classic bit of social commentary. Bradbury describes a scene. First, he places it 100 years in the future. Then the way he describes it – the adjectives, the things he focuses on – makes the world feel like some kind of desolate pit of hell. In actuality, he’s describing his contemporary times. He’s basically only complaining that no one reads or walks anymore. They’re all too consumed with television and cars. A fair point, but nothing too terribly sinister. Set in the world of this story though? It’s positively terrifying. And that’s quite a trick on Bradbury’s part.
Sometimes he would walk for hours and miles and return only at midnight to his house. And on his way he would see the cottages and homes with their dark windows, and it was not unequal to walking through a graveyard where only the faintest glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind the windows. Sudden gray phantoms seemed to manifest upon inner room walls where a curtain was still undrawn against the night, or there were whisperings and murmurs where a window in a tomb- like building was still open.
You probably have already heard that RB did not drive. I don’t think he ever got a license. I’ve heard from the director of The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies here in town that this story was based on/inspired by an encounter of the author’s with the LAPD while walking. This is also one of the few Bradbury stories available online. The author also resisted allowing his books to be published in electronic format.
Great stuff, Jay!