He stumbled and fell.
I’m done! It’s over!
But the falling made a difference. An instant before reaching him the wild beetle cut and swerved out. It was gone. Montag lay flat, his head down. Wisps of laughter trailed back to him with the blue exhaust from the beetle.
His right hand was extended above him, flat. Across the extreme tip of his middle finger, he saw now as he lifted that hand, a faint sixteenth of an inch of black tread where tyre had touched in passing. He looked at that black line with disbelief, getting to his feet.
That wasn’t the police, he thought.
He looked down the boulevard. It was clear now. A carful of children, all ages, God knew, from twelve to sixteen, out
124 FAHRENHEIT 451
whistling, yelling, hurrahing, had seen a man, a very extraordinary sight, a man strolling, a rarity, and simply said, “Let’s get him,” not knowing he was the fugitive Mr.
Montag, simply a,number of children out for a long night of roaring five or six hundred miles in a few moonlit hours, their faces icy with wind, and coming home or not coming at dawn, alive or not alive, that made the adventure.
They would have killed me, thought Montag, swaying, the air still torn and stirring about him in dust, touching his bruised cheek. For no reason at all in the world they would have killed me.
He walked toward the far kerb telling each foot to go and keep going. Somehow he had picked up the spilled books; he didn’t remember bending or touching them. He kept moving them from hand to hand as if they were a poker hand he could not figure.
I wonder if they were the ones who killed Clarisse?
He stopped and his mind said it again, very loud.
I wonder if they were the ones who killed Clarisse!
He wanted to run after them yelling.
His eyes watered.
The thing that had saved him was falling flat. The driver of that car, seeing Montag down, instinctively considered the probability that running over a body at that speed might turn the car upside down and spill them out. If Montag had remained an upright target. . . ?
Far down the boulevard, four blocks away, the beetle had slowed, spun about on two wheels, and was now racing back, slanting over on the wrong side of the street, picking up speed.
But Montag was gone, hidden in the safety of the dark alley for which he had set out on a long journey, an hour or was it a minute, ago? He stood shivering in the night, looking back out as the beetle ran by and skidded back to the centre of the avenue, whirling laughter in the air all about it, gone.
Further on, as Montag moved in darkness, he could see the helicopters falling, falling, like the first flakes of snow in the long winter. to come….
The house was silent.
Montag approached from the rear, creeping through a thick night-moistened scent of daffodils and roses and wet grass. He touched the screen door in back, found it open, slipped in, moved across the porch, listening.
Mrs. Black, are you asleep in there? he thought. This isn’t good, but your husband did it to others and never asked and never wondered and never worried. And now since you’re a fireman’s wife, it’s your house and your turn, for all the houses your husband burned and the people he hurt without thinking. .
The house did not reply.
He hid the books in the kitchen and moved from the house again to the alley and looked back and the house was still dark and quiet, sleeping.
On his way across town, with the helicopters fluttering like torn bits of paper in the sky, he phoned the alarm at a lonely phone booth outside a store that was closed for the night. Then he stood in the cold night air, waiting and at a distance he heard the fire sirens start up and run, and the Salamanders coming, coming to bum Mr. Black’s house while he was away at work, to make his wife stand shivering in the morning air while the roof let go and dropped in upon the fire. But now, she was still asleep.