“If you’re selling something—“ she began.

“No, wait!” he cried. “What town is this?”

She looked him up and down. “What do you mean, what town is it? How could you be in a town and not know the name?”

The captain looked as if he wanted to go sit under a shady apple tree. “We’re strangers here. We want to know how this town got here and how you got here.”

“Are you census takers?”


“Everyone knows,” she said, “this town was built in 1868. Is this a game?”

“No, not a game!” cried the captain. “We’re from Earth.”

“Out of the ground, do you mean?” she wondered.

“No, we came from the third planet, Earth, in a ship. And we’ve landed here on the fourth planet, Mars—“

“This,” explained the woman, as if she were addressing a child, “is Green Bluff, Illinois, on the continent of America, surrounded by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, on a place called the world, or, sometimes, the Earth. Go away now. Goodbye.”

She trotted down the hall, running her fingers through the beaded curtains.

The three men looked at one another.

“Let’s knock the screen door in,” said Lustig.

“We can’t do that. This is private property. Good God!”

They went to sit down on the porch step.

“Did it ever strike you, Hinkston, that perhaps we got ourselves somehow, in some way, off track, and by accident came back and landed on Earth?”

“How could we have done that?”

“I don’t know, I don’t know. Oh God, let me think.”

Hinkston said, “But we checked every mile of the way. Our chronometers said so many miles. We went past the Moon and out into space, and here we are. I’m positive we’re on Mars.”

Lustig said, “But suppose, by accident, in space, in time, we got lost in the dimensions and landed on an Earth that is thirty or forty years ago.”

“Oh, go away, Lustig!”

Lustig went to the door, rang the bell, and called into the cool dim rooms: “What year is this?”

“Nineteen twenty-six, of course,” said the lady, sitting in a rocking chair, taking a sip of her lemonade.

“Did you hear that?” Lustig turned wildly to the others. “Nineteen twenty-six! We have gone back in time! This is Earth!”

Lustig sat down, and the three men let the wonder and terror of the thought afflict them. Their hands stirred fitfully on their knees. The captain said, “I didn’t ask for a thing like this. It scares the hell out of me. How can a thing like this happen? I wish we’d brought Einstein with us.”

“Will anyone in this town believe us?” said Hinkston. “Are we playing with something dangerous? Time, I mean. Shouldn’t we just take off and go home?”

“No. Not until we try another house.”

They walked three houses down to a little white cottage under an oak tree. “I like to be as logical as I can be,” said the captain. “And I don’t believe we’ve put our finger on it yet. Suppose, Hinkston, as you originally suggested, that rocket travel occurred years ago? And when the Earth people lived here a number of years they began to get homesick for Earth. First a mild neurosis about it, then a full-fledged psychosis. Then threatened insanity. What would you do as a psychiatrist if faced with such a problem?”

Hinkston thought “Well, I think I’d rearrange the civilization on Mars so it resembled Earth more and more each day. If there was any way of reproducing every plant, every road, and every lake, and even an ocean, I’d do so. Then by some vast crowd hypnosis I’d convince everyone in a town this size that this really was Earth, not Mars at all.”

“Good enough, Hinkston. I think we’re on the right track now. That woman in that house back there just thinks she’s living on Earth. It protects her sanity. She and all the others in this town are the patients of the greatest experiment in migration and hypnosis you will ever lay eyes on in your life.”

“That’s it, sir!” cried Lustig.

“Right!” said Hinkston.

“Well.” The captain sighed. “Now we’ve got somewhere. I feel better. It’s all a bit more logical. That talk about time and going back and forth and traveling through time turns my stomach upside down. But this way—“ The captain smiled. “Well, well, it looks as if we’ll be fairly popular here.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray