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Authors: Ray Bradbury

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

BOOK: Something Wicked This Way Comes
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Something Wicked This Way Comes
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Something Wicked This Way Comes

PROLOGUE

 

First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren't rare. But there be bad abd good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: schoool begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn't begun yet. July, well, July's really fine: there's no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June's best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September's a billion years away.

    But you take October, now. School's been on a month and you're riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you'll dump on old man Prickett's porch, or the hairyape costume you'll wear to the YMCA the last night of the month. And if it's around October twentieth and everything smokysmelling and the sky orange and ash grey at twilight, it seems Hallowe'en will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.

    But one strange wild dark long year, Hallowe'en came early.

    One year Hallowe'en came on October 24, three hours after
midnight
.

    At that time, James Nightshade of
97 Oak Street
was thirteen years, eleven months, twentythree days old. Next door, William Halloway was thirteen years, eleven months and twentyfour days old. Both touched toward fourteen; it almost trembled in their hands.

    And that was the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young any more. . .

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes
I

 

Arrivals

 

1

 

The seller of lightningrods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of
Green Town
,
Illinois
, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.

    So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door until he came at last to a lawn which was cut all wrong.

    No, not the grass. The salesman lifted his gaze. But two boys, far up the gentle slope, lying on the grass. Of a like size and general shape, the boys sat carving twig whistles, talking of olden or future times, content with having left their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town during summer past and their footprints on every open path between here and the lake and there and the river since school began.

    'Howdy, boys!' called the man all dressed in stormcoloured clothes. 'Folks home?'

    The boys shook their heads.

    'Got any money, yourselves?'

    The boys shook their heads.

    'Well - ' The salesman walked about three feet, stopped and hunched his shoulders. Suddenly he seemed aware of house windows or the cold sky staring at his neck. He turned slowly, sniffing the air. Wind rattled the empty trees. Sunlight, breaking through a small rift in the clouds, minted a last few oak leaves all gold. But the sun vanished, the coins were spent, the air blew grey; the salesman shook himself from the spell.

    The salesman edged slowly up the lawn.

    'Boy, ' he said. 'What's your name?'

    And the first boy, with hair as blondwhite as milk thistle, shut up one eye, tilted his head, and looked at the salesman with a single eye as open, bright and clear as a drop of summer rain.

    'Will,' he said. 'William Halloway.'

    The storm gentleman turned. 'And you?'

        The second boy did not move, but lay stomach down on the autumn grass, debating as if he might make up a name. His hair was wild, thick, and the glossy colour of waxed chestnuts. His eyes, fixed to some distant point within himself, were mint rockcrystal green. At last he put a blade of dry grass in his casual mouth.

    'Jim Nightshade,' he said.

    The storm salesman nodded as if he had known it all along.

    'Nightshade. That's quite a name.'

    'And only fitting,' said Will Halloway. 'I was born one minute before
midnight
, October thirtieth, Jim was born one minute after
midnight
, which makes it October thirtyfirst.'

    'Hallowe'en,' said Jim.

    By their voices, the boys had told the tale all their lives, proud of their mothers, living house next to house, running for the hospital together, bringing sons into the world seconds apart; one light, one dark. There was a history of mutual celebration behind them. Each year Will lit the candles on a single cake at one minute to
midnight
. Jim, at one minute after, with the last day of the month begun, blew them out.

    So much Will said, excitedly. So much Jim agreed to, silently. So much the salesman, running before the storm, but poised here uncertainly, heard looking from face to face.

    'Halloway. Nightshade. No money, you say?'

    The man, grieved by his own conscientiousness, rummaged in his leather bag and seized forth an iron contraption.

    'Take this, free! Why? One of those houses will be struck by lightning! Without this rod, bang! Fire and ash, roast pork and cinders! Grab!'

    The salesman released the rod. Jim did not move. But Will caught the iron and gasped.

    'Boy, it's heavy! And funnylooking. Never seen a lightningrod like this. Look, Jim!'

 
   And Jim, at last, stretched like a cat, and turned his head. His green eyes got big and then very narrow.

    The metal thing was hammered and shaped halfcrescent, halfcross. Around the rim of the main rod little curlicues and doohingies had been soldered on, later. The entire surface of the rod was finely scratched and etched with strange languages, names that could tie the tongue or break the jaw, numerals that added to incomprehensible sums, pictographs of insectanimals all bristle, chaff, and claw.

    'That's Egyptian.' Jim pointed his nose at a bug soldered to the iron. 'Scarab beetle.'

    'So it is, boy!'

    Jim squinted. 'And those there - Phoenician hen tracks,'

    'Right!'

    'Why?' asked Jim.

    'Why?' said the man. 'Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What colour is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies? Boys, you got to be ready in every dialect with every shape and form to hex the St Elmo's fires, the balls of blue light that prowl the earth like sizzling cats. I got the only lightningrods in the world that hear, feel, know, and sass back any storm, no matter what tongue, voice, or sign. No foreign thunder so loud this rod can't softtalk it!'

    But Will was staring beyond the man now.

    'Which,' he said. 'Which house will it strike?'

    'Which? Hold on. Wait.' The salesman searched deep in their faces. 'Some folks draw lightning, suck it like cats suck babies' breath. Some folks' polarities are negative, some positive. Some glow in the dark. Some snuff out. You now, the two. . .I - '

    'What makes you so sure lightning will strike anywhere around here?' said Jim suddenly, his eyes bright.

    The salesman almost flinched. 'Why, I got a nose, an eye, an ear. Both those houses, their timbers! Listen!'

    They listened. Maybe their houses leaned under the cool afternoon wind. Maybe not.

    'Lightning needs channels, like rivers, to run in. One of those attics is a dry river bottom, itching to let lightning pour through! Tonight!'

    'Tonight?' Jim sat up happily.

    'No ordinary storm!' said the salesman. 'Tom Fury tells you. Fury, ain't that a fine name for one who sells lightningrods? Did I take the name? No! Did the name fire me to my occupations? Yes! Grown up, I saw cloudy fires jumping the world, making men hop and hide. Thought: I'll chart hurricanes, map storms, then run ahead shaking my iron cudgels, my miraculous defenders, in my fists! I've shielded and made snugsafe one hundred thousand, count 'em, Godfearing homes. So when I tell you, boys, you're in dire need, listen! Climb that roof, nail this rod high, ground it in the good earth before nightfall!'

    'But which house, which!' asked Will.

    The salesman reared off, blew his nose in a great kerchief, then walked slowly across the lawn as if approaching a huge timebomb that ticked silently there.

    He touched Will's front porch newels, ran his hand over a post, a floorboard, then shut his eyes and leaned against the house to let its bones speak to him.

    Then, hesitant, he made his cautious way to Jim's house next door.

    Jim stood up to watch.

    The salesman put his hand out to touch, to stroke, to quiver his fingertips on the old paint.

    'This,' he said at last, 'is the one.'

    Jim looked proud.

    Without looking back, the salesman said, 'Jim Nightshade, this your place?'

    'Mine,' said Jim.

    'I should've known,' said the man.

    'Hey, what about me?' said Will.

    The salesman snuffed again at Will's house. 'No, no. Oh, a few sparks'll jump on your rainspouts. But the real show's next

door here, at the Nightshades'! Well!'

    The salesman hurried back across the lawn to seize his huge leather bag.

    'I'm on my way. Storm's coming. Don't wait, Jim boy. Otherwise - bamm! You'll be found, your nickels, dimes and Indianheads fused by electroplating. Abe Lincolns melted into Miss Columbias, eagles plucked raw on the backs of quarters, all run to quicksilver in your jeans. More! Any boy hit by lightning, lift his lid and there on his eyeball, pretty as the Lord's prayer on a pin, find the last scene the boy ever saw! A boxBrownie photo, by God, of that fire climbing down the sky to blow You like a penny whistle, suck your soul back up along the bright stair! Git, boy! Hammer it high or you're dead come dawn!'

    And jangling his case full of iron rods, the salesman wheeled about and charged down the walk blinking wildly at the sky, the roof, the trees, at last closing his eyes, moving, sniffing, muttering. 'Yes, bad, here it comes, feel it, way off now, but running fast. . .'

    And the man in the stormdark clothes was gone, his cloudcoloured hat pulled down over his eyes, and the trees rustled and the sky seemed very old suddenly and Jim and Will stood testing the wind to see if they could smell electricity, the lightningrod fallen between them.

    'Jim,' said Will. 'Don't stand there. Your house, he said. You going to nail up the rod or ain't you?'

    'No,' smiled Jim. 'Why spoil the fun?'

    'Fun! You crazy? I'll get the ladder! You the hammer, some nails and wire!'

    But Jim did not move. Will broke and ran. He came back with the ladder.

    'Jim. Think of your mom. You want her burnt?'

    Will climbed the side of the house, alone, and looked down.

    Slowly, Jim moved to the ladder below and started up.

    Thunder sounded far off in the cloudshadowed hills.

    The air smelled fresh and raw on top of Jim Nightshade's roof.

    Even Jim admitted that.

 

2

 

There's nothing in the living world like books on watercures, deathsofathousandslices, or pouring whitehot lava off castle walls on drolls and mountebanks.

    So said Jim Nightshade, that's all he read. If it wasn't how to burgle the First National, it was, how to build catapults, or shape black bumbershoots into lurking bat costumes for Cabbage Night.

 
  Jim breathed it out all fine.

    And Will, he breathed it in.

    With the lightningrod nailed to Jim's roof, Will proud, and Jim ashamed of what he considered mutual cowardice, it was late in the day. Supper over, it was time for their weekly jog to the library.

    Like all boys, they never walked anywhere, but named a goal and lit for it, scissors and elbows. Nobody won. Nobody wanted to win. It was in their friendship they just wanted to run forever, shadow and shadow. Their hands slapped librarydoor handles together, their chests broke track tapes together, their tennis shoes beat parallel pony tracks over lawns, trimmed bushes, squirrelled trees, no one losing, both winning, thus saving their friendship for other times of loss.

    So it was on this night that blew warm, then cool, as they let the wind take them downtown at
eight o'clock
. They felt the wings on their fingers and elbows flying, then, suddenly plunged in new sweeps of air, the clear autumn river flung them headlong where they must go.

    Up step, three, six, nine, twelve! Slap! Their palms hit the library door.

    Jim and Will grinned at each other. It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its greenshaded lamps and papyrus dust.

    Jim listened. 'What's that?'

    'What, the wind?'

    'Like music. . .' Jim squinted at the horizon.

    'Don't hear no music.'

    Jim shook his head. 'Gone. Or it wasn't even there. Come on!'

    They opened the door and stepped in.

    They stopped.

    The library deeps lay waiting for them.

    Out in the world, not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears. A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening guillotines; Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever. Invisible, silent, yes, but Jim and Will had the gift of ears and noses as well as the gift of tongues. This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts slumbered. Up front was the desk where the nice old lady, Miss Watriss, purplestamped your books, but down off away were
Tibet
and
Antarctica
, the
Congo
. There went Miss Wills, the other librarian, through
Outer Mongolia
, calmly toting fragments of
Peiping
and
Yokohama
and the
Celebes
. Way down the third book corridor, an oldish man whispered his broom along in the dark, mounding the fallen. . . .

    Will stared.

    It was always a surprise - that old man, his work, his name.

    That's Charles William Halloway, thought Will, not grandfather, not farwandering, ancient uncle, as some might think, but. . .my father.

    So, looking back down the corridor, was Dad shocked to see he owned a son who visited this separate 20,000-fathomsdeep world? Dad always seemed stunned when Will rose up before him, as if they had met a lifetime ago and one had grown old while the other stayed young, and this fact stood between. . . .

    Far off, the old man smiled.

    They approached each other, carefully.

    'Is that you, Will? Grown an inch since this morning.' Charles Halloway shifted his gaze. 'Jim? Eyes darker, cheeks paler; you bum yourself at both ends, Jim?'

    'Heck.' said Jim.

    'No such place as Heck. But hell's right here under 'A' for Alighieri.'

    'Allegory's beyond me,' said Jim.

    'How stupid of me,' Dad laughed. 'I mean Dante. Look at this. Pictures by Mister Doré, showing all the aspects. Hell never looked better. Here's souls sunk to their gills in slime. There's someone upside down, wrong side out.'

    'Boy howdy!' Jim eyed the pages two different ways and thumbed on. 'Got any dinosaur pictures?'

    Dad shook his head. 'That's over in the next aisle.' He strolled them around and reached out. 'Here we are: Pterodactyl, Kite of Destruction! or what about Drums of Doom: The Saga of the Thunder Lizards! Pep you up, Jim?'

    'I'm pepped!'

BOOK: Something Wicked This Way Comes
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