Ray Bradbury Stories, Volume 1 (6 page)

BOOK: Ray Bradbury Stories, Volume 1
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‘Cecy!’ he cried, to everything, everywhere. ‘I know you can help me! Shake me like a tree! Cecy!’

The blindness passed. He was bathed in a cold sweating that didn’t stop, but ran like a syrup.

‘I know you can help,’ he said. ‘I saw you help Cousin Marianne years ago. Ten years ago, wasn’t it?’ He stood, concentrating.

Marianne had been a girl shy as a mole, her hair twisted like roots on her round ball of head. Marianne had hung in her skirt like a clapper in a bell, never ringing when she walked; just swithering along, one heel after another. She gazed at weeds and the sidewalk under her toes, she looked at your chin if she saw you at all—and never got as far as your eyes. Her mother despaired of Marianne’s ever marrying or succeeding.

It was up to Cecy, then. Cecy went into Marianne like fist into glove.

Marianne jumped, ran, yelled, glinted her yellow eyes. Marianne flickered her skirts, unbraided her hair and let it hang in a shimmery veil on her half-nude shoulders. Marianne giggled and rang like a gay clapper in the tolling bell of her dress. Marianne squeezed her face into many attitudes of coyness, merriment, intelligence, maternal bliss, and love.

The boys raced after Marianne. Marianne got married.

Cecy withdrew.

Marianne had hysterics; her
spine
was gone!

She lay like a limp corset all one day. But the habit was in her now. Some of Cecy had stayed on like a fossil imprint on soft shale rock: and Marianne began tracing the habits and thinking them over and remembering what it was like to have Cecy inside her, and pretty soon she was running and shouting and giggling all by herself; a corset animated, as it were, by a memory!

Marianne had lived joyously thereafter.

Standing with the cigar-store Indian for conversation, Uncle Jonn now shook his head violently. Dozens of bright bubbles floated in his eyeballs, each with tiny, slanted, microscopic eyes staring in, in at his brain.

What if he never found Cecy? What if the plain winds had borne her all the way to Elgin? Wasn’t that where she dearly loved to bide her time, in the asylum for the insane, touching their minds, holding and turning their confetti thoughts?

Far-flung in the afternoon distance a great metal whistle sighed and echoed, steam shuffled as a train cut across valley trestles, over cool rivers through ripe cornfields, into tunnels like finger into thimble, under arches of shimmering walnut trees. Jonn stood, afraid. What if Cecy was in the cabin of the engineer’s head, now? She loved riding the monster engines across country far as she could stretch the contact. Yank the whistle rope until it screamed across sleeping night land or drowsy day country.

He walked along a shady street. Out of the corners of his eyes he thought he saw an old woman, wrinkled as a dried fig, naked as a thistle-seed, floating among the branches of a hawthorn tree, a cedar stake driven into her breast.

Somebody screamed!

Something thumped his head. A blackbird, soaring skyward, took a lock of his hair with it!

He shook his fist at the bird, heaved a rock. ‘Scare me, will you!’ he yelled. Breathing rawly, he saw the bird circle behind him to sit on a limb waiting another chance to dive for hair.

He turned slyly from the bird.

He heard the whirring sound.

He jumped about, grabbed up. ‘Cecy!’

He had the bird! It fluttered, squalled in his hands.

‘Cecy!’ he called, looking into his caged fingers at the wild black creature. The bird drew blood with its bill.

‘Cecy, I’ll crush you if you don’t help me!’

The bird shrieked and cut him.

He closed his fingers tight, tight, tight.

He walked away from where he finally dropped the dead bird and did not look back at it, even once.

He walked down into the ravine that ran through the very center of Mellin Town. What’s happening now? he wondered. Has Cecy’s mother phoned people? Are the Elliotts afraid? He swayed drunkenly, great lakes of sweat bursting out under his armpits. Well, let
them
be afraid awhile. He was tired of being afriad. He’d look just a little longer for Cecy and then go to the police!

On the creek bank, he laughed to think of the Elliotts scurrying madly, trying to find some way around him. There was no way. They’d have to make Cecy help him. They couldn’t afford to let good old Uncle Jonn die insane, no, sir.

B-B-shot eyes lay deep in the water, staring roundly up at him.

On blazing hot summer noons, Cecy had often entered into the softshelled grayness of the mandibled heads of crayfish. She had often peeked out from the black egg eyes upon their sensitive filamentary stalks and felt the creek sluice by her, steadily, and in fluid veils of coolness and captured light. Breathing out and in the particles of stuff that floated in water, holding her horny, lichened claws before her like some elegant salad utensils, swollen and scissor-sharp. She watched the giant strides of boy feet progressing toward her through the creek bottom, heard the faint, water-thickened shout of boys searching for crayfish, jabbing their pale fingers down, tumbling rocks aside, clutching and tossing frantic flippery animals into open metal cans where scores of other crayfish scuttled like a basket of waste-paper come to life.

She watched pale stalks of boy legs poise over her rock, saw the nude loin-shadows of boy thrown on the sandy muck of the creek floor, saw the suspenseful hand hovered, heard the suggestive whisper of a boy who’s spied a prize beneath a stone. Then, as the hand plunged, the stone rolled. Cecy flirted the borrowed fan of her inhabited body, kicked back in a little sand explosion and vanished downstream.

On to another rock she went to sit fanning the sand, holding her claws before her, proud of them, her tiny glass-bulb eyes glowing black as creekwater filled her bubbling mouth, cool, cool, cool…

The realization that Cecy might be this close at hand, in any live thing, drove Uncle Jonn to a mad fury. In any squirrel or chipmunk, in a disease
germ, even, on his aching body. Cecy might be existing. She could even enter amoebas…

On some sweltering summer noons, Cecy would live in an amoeba, darting, vacillating, deep in the old tired philosophical dark waters of a kitchen well. On days when the world high over her, above the unstirred water, was a dreaming nightmare of heat printed on each object of the land, she’d lie somnolent, quivering and cool and distant, settling in the well-throat. Up above, trees were like images burned in green fire. Birds were like bronze stamps you inked and punched on your brain. Houses steamed like manure sheds. When a door slammed it was like a rifle shot. The only good sound on a simmering day was the asthmatic suction of well water drawn up into a porcelain cup, there to be inhaled through an old skelatinous woman’s porcelain teeth. Overhead, Cecy could hear the brittle clap of the old woman’s shoes, the sighing voice of the old woman baked in the August sun. And, lying lowermost and cool, sighting up up through the dim echoing tunnel of well, Cecy heard the iron suction of the pump handle pressed energetically by the sweating old lady; and water, amoeba, Cecy and all rose up the throat of the well in sudden cool disgorgement out into the cup, over which waited sun-withered lips. Then, and only then, did Cecy withdraw, just as the lips came down to sip, the cup tilted, and porcelain met porcelain…

Jonn stumbled, fell flat into the creek water!

He didn’t rise, but sat dripping stupidly.

Then he began crashing rocks over, shouting, seizing upon and losing crayfish, cursing. The bells rang louder in his ears. And now, one by one, a procession of bodies that couldn’t exist, but seemed to be real, floated by on the water. Worm-white bodies, turned on their backs, drifting like loose marionettes. As they passed, the tide bobbed their heads so their faces rolled over, revealing the features of the typical Elliott family member.

He began to weep, sitting there in the water. He had wanted Cecy’s help, but now how could he expect to deserve it, acting a fool, cursing her, hating her, threatening her and the Family?

He stood up, shaking himself. He walked out of the creek and up the hill. There was only one thing to do now. Plead with individual members of the Family. Ask them to intercede for him. Have them ask Cecy to come home, quickly.

In the undertaking parlor on Court Street, the door opened. The undertaker, a short, well-tonsured man with a mustache and sensitively thin hands, looked up. His face fell.

‘Oh, it’s
you
, Uncle Jonn,’ he said.

‘Nephew Bion,’ said Jonn, still wet from the creek, ‘I need your help. Have you seen Cecy?’

‘Seen her?’ said Bion Elliott. He leaned against the marble table where he was working on a body. He laughed. ‘God, don’t ask me
that
!’ he snorted. ‘Look at me, close. Do you know me?’

Jonn bristled. ‘You’re Bion Elliott. Cecy’s brother, of course!’

‘Wrong.’ The undertaker shook his head. ‘I’m Cousin Ralph, the butcher! Yes, the
butcher
.’ He tapped his head. ‘Here, inside, where it counts, I’m Ralph. I was working in my refrigerator a moment ago over at the butcher shop when suddenly Cecy was inside me. She borrowed my mind, like a cup of sugar. And brought me over here just now and sifted me down into Bion’s body. Poor Bion! What a joke!’

‘You’re—you’re
not
Bion!’

‘No, ah, no, dear Uncle Jonn. Cecy probably put Bion in
my
body! You see the joke? A meat-cutter exchanged for a meat-cutter! A dealer in coldcuts traded for another of the same!’ He quaked with laughter. ‘Ah, that Cecy, what a child!’ He wiped happy tears from his face. ‘I’ve stood here for five minutes wondering what to do. You know something? Undertaking isn’t hard. Not much harder than fixing pot roasts. Oh, Bion’ll be mad. His professional integrity. Cecy’ll probably trade us back, later. Bion never was one to take a joke on himself!’

Jonn looked confused. ‘Even
you
can’t control Cecy?’

‘God, no. She does what she does. We’re helpless.’

Jonn wandered toward the door. ‘Got to find her somehow,’ he mumbled. ‘If she can do this to you, think how she’d help me if she wanted…’ The bells rang louder in his ears. From the side of his eyes he saw a movement. He whirled and gasped.

The body on the table had a cedar stake driven through it.

‘So long,’ said the undertaker to the slammed door. He listened to the sound of Jonn’s running feet, fading.

The man who staggered into the police station at five that afternoon was barely able to stand up. His voice was a whisper and he retched as if he’d taken poison. He didn’t look like Uncle Jonn any more. The bells rang all the time, all the time, and he saw people walking behind him with staked chests, who vanished whenever he turned to look.

The sheriff looked up from reading a magazine, wiped his brown mustache with the back of one clawlike hand, took his feet down off a battered desk and waited for Uncle Jonn to speak.

‘I want to report a family that lives here,’ whispered Uncle Jonn, his eyes half-shut. ‘A wicked family, living under false pretenses.’

The sheriff cleared his throat. ‘What’s the family’s name?’

Uncle Jonn stopped. ‘What?’

The sheriff repeated it. ‘What’s the family’s name?’

‘Your voice,’ said Jonn.

‘What about my voice?’ said the sheriff.

‘Sounds familiar,’ said Jonn. ‘Like—’

‘Who?’ asked the sheriff.

‘Like Cecy’s mother! That’s who you sound like!’

‘Do I?’ asked the sheriff.

‘That’s who you are inside! Cecy changed you, too, like she changed Ralph and Bion! I can’t report the Family to you, now, then! It wouldn’t do any good!’

‘Guess it wouldn’t,’ remarked the sheriff, implacably.

‘The Family’s gotten around me!’ wailed Uncle Jonn.

‘Seems that way,’ said the sheriff, wetting a pencil on his tongue, starting on a fresh crossword puzzle. ‘Well, good day to you, Jonn Elliott.’

‘Unh?’

‘I said “Good day.”’

‘Good day.’ Jonn stood by the desk, listening. ‘Do you—do you
hear
anything?’

The sheriff listened. ‘Crickets?’

‘No.’

‘Frogs?’

‘No,’ said Uncle Jonn. ‘Bells. Just bells. Holy church bells. The kind of bells a man like me can’t stand to hear. Holy church bells.’

The sheriff listened. ‘No. Can’t say as I hear ’em. Say, be careful of that door there; it slams.’

The door to Cecy’s room was knocked open. A moment later. Uncle Jonn was inside, moving across the floor. The silent body of Cecy lay on the bed, not moving. Behind him, as Jonn seized Cecy’s hand, her mother appeared.

She ran to him, struck him on head and shoulders till he fell back from Cecy. The world swelled with bell sounds. His vision blacked out. He groped at the mother, biting his lips, releasing them in gasps, eyes streaming.

‘Please, please tell her to come back,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry. I don’t want to hurt anyone any more.’

The mother shouted through the clamor of bells. ‘Go downstairs and wait for her there!’

‘I can’t hear you,’ he cried, louder. ‘My head.’ He held his hands to his ears. ‘So loud. So loud I can’t stand it.’ He rocked on his heels. ‘If only I knew where Cecy was—’

Quite simply, he drew out a folded pocket knife, unfolded it. ‘I can’t go on—’ he said. And before the mother moved he fell to the floor, the knife in his heart, blood running from his lips, his shoes looking senseless one atop the other, one eye shut, the other wide and white.

The mother bent down to him. ‘Dead,’ she whispered, finally. ‘So,’ she
murmured, unbelievingly, rising up, stepping away from the blood. ‘Sohe’s dead at last.’ She glanced around, fearfully, cried aloud.

‘Cecy, Cecy, come home, child, I need you!’

A silence, while sunlight faded from the room.

‘Cecy, come home, child!’

The dead man’s lips moved. A high clear voice sprang from them.

‘Here!I’ve been here for days! I’m the fear he had in him: and he never guessed. Tell Father what I’ve done. Maybe he’ll think me worthy now…’

The dead man’s lips stopped. A moment later, Cecy’s body on the bed stiffened like a stocking with a leg thrust suddenly into it, inhabited again. ‘

BOOK: Ray Bradbury Stories, Volume 1
9.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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