And so the dry and crackling people, the people who spent their time listening to their hearts and feeling their pulses and spooning syrups into their wry mouths, these people who once had taken chair cars to California in November and third-class steamers to Italy in April, the dried-apricot people, the mummy people, came at last to Mars …

September 2005: THE MARTIAN

The blue mountains lifted into the rain and the rain fell down into the long canals and old LaFarge and his wife came out of their house to watch.

“First rain this season,” LaFarge pointed out.

“It’s good,” said his wife.

“Very welcome.”

They shut the door. Inside, they warmed their hands at a fire. They shivered. In the distance, through the window, they saw rain gleaming on the sides of the rocket which had brought them from Earth.

“There’s only one thing,” said LaFarge, looking at his hands.

“What’s that?” asked his wife.

“I wish we could have brought Tom with us.”

“Oh, now, Lafe!”

“I won’t start again; I’m sorry.”

“We came here to enjoy our old age in peace, not to think of Tom. He’s been dead so long now, we should try to forget him and everything on Earth.”

“You’re right,” he said, and turned his hands again to the heat. He gazed into the fire. “I won’t speak of it any more. It’s just I miss driving out to Green Lawn Park every Sunday to put flowers on his marker. It used to be our only excursion.”

The blue rain fell gently upon the house.

At nine o’clock they went to bed and lay quietly, hand in hand, he fifty-five, she sixty, in the raining darkness.

“Anna?” he called softly.

“Yes?” she replied.

“Did you hear something?”

They both listened to the rain and the wind.

“Nothing,” she said.

“Someone whistling,” he said.

“No, I didn’t hear it.”

“I’m going to get up to see anyhow.”

He put on his robe and walked through the house to the front door. Hesitating, he pulled the door wide, and rain fell cold upon his face. The wind blew.

In the dooryard stood a small figure.

Lightning cracked the sky, and a wash of white color illumined the face looking in at old LaFarge there in the doorway.

“Who’s there?” called LaFarge, trembling.

No answer.

“Who is it? What do you want!”

Still not a word.

He felt very weak and tired and numb. “Who are you?” he cried.

His wife entered behind him and took his arm. “Why are you shouting?”

“A small boy’s standing in the yard and won’t answer me,” said the old man, trembling. “He looks like Tom!”

“Come to bed, you’re dreaming.”

“But he’s there; see for yourself.”

He pulled the door wider to let her see. The cold wind blew and the thin rain fell upon the soil and the figure stood looking at them with distant eyes. The old woman held to the doorway.

“Go away!” she said, waving one hand. “Go away!”

“Doesn’t it look like Tom?” asked the old man.

The figure did not move.

“I’m afraid,” said the old woman. “Lock the door and come to bed. I won’t have anything to do with it.”

She vanished, moaning to herself, into the bedroom.

The old man stood with the wind raining coldness on his hands.

“Tom,” he called softly. “Tom, if that’s you, if by some chance it is you, Tom, I’ll leave the door unlatched. And if you’re cold and want to come in to warm yourself, just come in later and lie by the hearth; there’s some fur rugs there.”

He shut but did not lock the door.

His wife felt him return to bed, and shuddered. “It’s a terrible night. I feel so old,” she said, sobbing.

“Hush, hush,” he gentled her, and held her in his arms. “Go to sleep.”

After a long while she slept.

And then, very quietly, as he listened, he heard the front door open, the rain and wind come in, the door shut. He heard soft footsteps on the hearth and a gentle breathing. “Tom,” he said to himself,

Lightning struck in the sky and broke the blackness apart.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray