Ray Bradbury was an iconic American science fiction, mystery and horror author having had many of his stories and novels adapted to radio, television and films. He even had his own tv program at one point called The Ray Bradbury Theater on HBO. It Came From Outer Space (1953), Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) and the television miniseries The Martian Chronicles (1980) are just a few of his works to be adapted. I won’t spend much time on the man’s illustrious career, but I want to make note of the first time I personally became aware of him. When I was in high school our English class had the assignment of picking out a science fiction novel from the library and writing a book report on it. I generally hated such tasks, but I reluctantly chose The Martian Chronicles as the one I’d try and force my way through. It ended up being one of the easiest pieces of homework I ever had, as I loved the book and devoured every page. I received an outstanding grade from the teacher for my effusive report, and for that, Ray Bradbury has my eternal thanks.
- “The Crowd” (1943) – After being involved in a car accident where a group of onlookers quickly emerged around him, the victim begins to wonder how they arrived so fast. Later, he drives by another accident and recognizes some members of the assembled crowd as those he’d seen at his. This sets him to doing some research which reveals that many of these people have been showing up at accidents for decades. Who are they and what are their objectives?
- “The Ducker” (1943) – An 18 year old American soldier fighting in WWII mentally reverts back to when he was 10 years old playing war with his friends. Back then each of them always argued about whether or not they were actually hit by the shots or not. He’d invariably say he was able to duck the imaginary bullets. He takes this mentality with him as he’s being fired upon by real German bullets to surprising results.
- “The Candy Skull” (1947) – While searching for a friend who’s gone missing in Mexico during their Day of the Dead celebrations, an American man finds a candy skull has been left in his room with his name on it. He insists on solving this mystery despite attempts on his life in this crime tale.
- “The Emissary” (1947) – A loyal dog goes out through the neighborhood wearing a tag from his owner which reads, “My owner is Martin Smith – ten years old – sick in bed – visitors welcome.” He returns with the collected smells of the areas he passed through and often brings in Miss Haight, his teacher from school, to see him when he returns. One day, however, he learns that Miss Haight has been killed in a car accident and the dog, his emissary, isn’t able to bring anyone else to see him for a long while. The dog seems anxious to tell him something before he leaves one day and doesn’t return for days on end. When the dog eventually does return one night while the boy’s parents are away, he brings an unexpected visitor with him. This is an excellent tale with a wonderfully creepy finale.
- “The Fog Horn” (1951) – A light house keeps being attacked and destroyed by a giant sea creature attracted by the sound its horn makes.
- “A Sound of Thunder” (1952) – In a future where time travel has been invented, hunters pay a company to take them to any point in the past to hunt whatever beast they want but with stringent restrictions on what they can and cannot do. It’s theorized that massive ramifications could take effect, rippling through time to change things, if even the most minuscule animal, plant or insect was killed before its time. The men in this story are being taken by a guide into prehistoric times to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex. They are strictly warned not to veer off the path in order to keep history safe, but one of the men panics and leaves it anyway. This story is the origin of the phrase “the butterfly effect”.
- “The Great Wide World Over There” (1952) – A woman named Cora is excited to have her nephew come stay with her for the summer hoping he can teach her to read. She’s jealous of her neighbor who flaunts the fact that she’s always getting mail, while Cora never does. This is not a horror tale, nor is it supernatural in any way. It’s more a slice of life piece with a bit of mystery woven in and a poignant finale.
- “The Dwarf” (1954) – A carnival worker who spies on the shy dwarf who comes in every day to go through the hall of mirrors so he can see himself as tall becomes jealous when the girl he likes takes an interest in helping the little man. He decides to play a hurtful prank on the dwarf which ends up having consequences.
- “The Town Where No One Got Off” (1958) – A man decides to get off at a random train stop on a whim to see what the place has to offer. He’s greeted by an old man sitting there who accompanies him into the small town saying he’s been waiting for years for someone like him to arrive. There’s nothing supernatural here, but there is a dark eeriness to it.
- “The Other Highway” (1996) – This one isn’t horror either but tells of a family driving down a busy interstate when the father notices the old, abandoned highway he used to use when he was younger beside the new, popular one. On the spur of the moment, he decides to turn off and take that quiet, now forested way. After doing so, he struggles against wanting to remain there, away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.
Article by Matt Cowan