And there they stood in the dead city, a heap of boys, their hiking lunches half devoured, daring each other in shrieky whispers.

“Here goes nothing!” And suddenly one of them took off, into the nearest stone house, through the door, across the living room, and into the bedroom where, without half looking, he would kick about, thrash his feet, and the black leaves would fly through the air, brittle, thin as tissue cut from midnight sky. Behind him would race six others, and the first boy there would be the Musician, playing the white xylophone bones beneath the outer covering of black flakes. A great skull would roll to view, like a snowball; they shouted! Ribs, like spider legs, plangent as a dull harp, and then the black flakes of mortality blowing all about them in their scuffling dance; the boys pushed and heaved and fell in the leaves, in the death that had turned the dead to flakes and dryness, into a game played by boys whose stomachs gurgled with orange pop.

And then out of one house into another, into seventeen houses, mindful that each of the towns in its turn was being burned clean of its horrors by the Firemen, antiseptic warriors with shovels and bins, shoveling away at the ebony tatters and peppermint-stick bones, slowly but assuredly separating the terrible from the normal; so they must play very hard, these boys, the Firemen would soon be here!

Then, luminous with sweat, they gnashed at their last sandwiches. With a final kick, a final marimba concert, a final autumnal lunge through leaf stacks, they went home.

Their mothers examined their shoes for black flakelets which, when discovered, resulted in scalding baths and fatherly beatings.

By the year’s end the Firemen had raked the autumn leaves and white xylophones away, and it was no more fun.


“Did you hear about it?”

“About what?”

“The niggers, the niggers!”

“What about ‘em?”

“Them leaving, pulling out, going away; did you hear?”

“What you mean, pulling out? How can they do that?”

“They can, they will, they are.”

“Just a couple?”

“Every single one here in the South!”



“I got to see that. I don’t believe it. Where they going—Africa?”

A silence.


“You mean the planet Mars?”

“That’s right.”

The men stood up in the hot shade of the hardware porch. Someone quit lighting a pipe. Somebody else spat out into the hot dust of noon.

“They can’t leave, they can’t do that.”

“They’re doing it, anyways.”

“Where’d you hear this?”

“It’s everywhere, on the radio a minute ago, just come through.”

Like a series of dusty statues, the men came to life.

Samuel Teece, the hardware proprietor, laughed uneasily. “I wondered what happened to Silly. I sent him on my bike an hour ago. He ain’t come back from Mrs. Bordman’s yet. You think that black fool just pedaled off to Mars?”

The men snorted.

“All I say is, he better bring back my bike. I don’t take stealing from no one, by God.”


The men collided irritably with each other, turning.

Far up the street the levee seemed to have broken. The black warm waters descended and engulfed the town. Between the blazing white banks of the town stores, among the tree silences, a black tide flowed. Like a kind of summer molasses, it poured turgidly forth upon the cinnamon-dusty road. It surged slow, slow, and it was men and women and horses and barking dogs, and it was little boys and girls. And from the mouths of the people partaking of this tide came the sound of a river. A summer-day river going somewhere, murmuring and irrevocable. And in that slow, steady channel of darkness that cut across the white glare of day were touches of alert white, the eyes, the ivory eyes staring ahead, glancing aside, as the river, the long and endless river, took itself from old channels into a new one. From various and uncountable tributaries, in creeks and brooks of color and motion, the parts of this river had joined, become one mother current, and flowed on. And brimming the swell were things carried by the river: grandfather clocks chiming, kitchen clocks ticking, caged hens screaming, babies wailing; and swimming among the thickened eddies were mules and cats, and sudden excursions of burst mattress springs floating by, insane hair stuffing sticking out, and boxes and crates and pictures of dark grandfathers in oak frames—the river flowing it on while the men sat like nervous hounds on the hardware porch, too late to mend the levee, their hands empty.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray