The Illustrated Man. Ray Bradbury

“Never mind,” sighed the captain. “I had dreams too. In all of my fifty years I never had a dream until that week before we took off from Earth. And then every night I dreamed I was a white wolf. Caught on a snowy hill. Shot with a silver bullet. Buried with a stake in my heart.” He moved his head toward Mars. “Do you think, Smith,they know we’re coming?”

“We don’t know if thereare Martian people, sir.”

“Don’t we? They began frightening us off eight weeks ago, before we started. They’ve killed Perse and Reynolds now. Yesterday they made Crenville go blind. How? I don’t know. Bats, needles, dreams, men dying for no reason. I’d call it witchcraft in another day. But this is the year 2120, Smith. We’re rational men. This all can’t be happening. But it is! Whoever they are, with their needles and their bats, they’ll try to finish us all.” He swung about. “Smith, fetch those books from my file. I want them when we land.”

Two hundred books were piled on the rocket deck.

“Thank you, Smith. Have you glanced at them? Think I’m insane? Perhaps. It’s a crazy hunch. At that last moment I ordered these books from the Historical Museum. Because of my dreams. Twenty nights I was stabbed, butchered, a screaming bat pinned to a surgical mat, a thing rotting underground in a black box; bad, wicked dreams. Our whole crew dreamed of witch-things and were-things, vampires and phantoms, things theycouldn’t know anything about. Why? Because books on such ghastly subjects were destroyed a century ago. By law. Forbidden for anyone to own the grisly volumes. These books you see here are thelast copies, kept for historical purposes in the locked museum vaults.”

Smith bent to read the dusty titles:

“Tales of Mystery and Imagination, by Edgar Allan Poe.Dracula, by Brain Stoker.Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James.The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving.Rappaccini’s Daughter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce.Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.The Willows, by Algernon Blackwood.The Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum.The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth, by H. P. Lovecraft. And more! Books by Walter de la Mare, Wakefield, Harvey, Wells, Asquith, Huxley—all forbidden authors. All burned in the same year that Halloween was outlawed and Christmas was banned! But, sir, what good are these to us on the rocket?”

“I don’t know,” sighed the captain, “yet.”

The three bags lifted the crystal where the captain’s image flickered, his tiny voice tinkling out of the glass:

“I don’t know,” sighed the captain, “yet.”

The three witches glared redly into one another’s faces.

“We haven’t much time,” said one.

“Better warnThem in the City.”

“They’ll want to know about the books. It doesn’t look good. That fool of a captain!”

“In an hour they’ll land their rocket.”

The three bags shuddered and blinked up at the Emerald City by the edge of the dry Martian sea. In its highest window a small man held a blood-red drape aside. He watched the wastelands where the three witches fed their caldron and shaped the waxes. Farther along, ten thousand other blue fires and laurel incenses, black tobacco smokes and fir weeds, cinnamons and bone dusts rose soft as moths through the Martian night. The man counted the angry, magical fires. Then, as the three witches stared, he turned. The crimson drape, released, fell, causing the distant portal to wink, like a yellow eye.

Mr. Edgar Allan Poe stood in the tower window, a faint vapor of spirits upon his breath. “Hecate’s friends are busy tonight,” he said, seeing the witches, far below.

A voice behind him said, “I saw Will Shakespeare at the shore, earlier, whipping them on. All along the sea Shakespeare’s army alone, tonight, numbers thousands: the three witches, Oberon, Hamlet’s father, Puck—all, all of them—thousands! Good lord, a regular sea of people.”

“Good William.” Poe turned. He let the crimson drape fall shut. He stood for a moment to observe the raw stone room, the black-timbered table, the candle flame, the other man, Mr. Ambrose Bierce, sitting very idly there, lighting matches and watching them burn down, whistling under his breath, now and then laughing to himself.

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