I’ve been doing a previously unadvertised full-moon add-on to my Deal Me In short story reading this year, selecting thirteen stories by Ray Bradbury and intending to read them in random order on the thirteen full moons on 2015’s calendar. Katherine at The Writerly Reader is doing a “lunar version” of Deal Me In also (see her latest post here), as are two non-blogging friends of mine at work. Seeing the full moon appear in the sky is a great reminder that it’s time to read another story!
The Burning Man – Ray Bradbury
Young Doug and his Aunt Neva are heading out for a picnic at the lake on a scorching hot July day. Their old pickup truck disturbs the peace in a typical Bradburian way. It “plowed up dust in yellow plumes which took an hour to lie back down and move no more in that special slumber that stuns the world in mid-July.” Armed with lemonade and deviled ham sandwiches and the anticipation of beating the heat with a swim, they slow down as they see a man standing by the side of the road. The Burning Man. They give him a lift, but he soon begins with “the crazy talk” – mostly about the heat and it’s unbearable-ness. “You ever try to figure,” shouted the man, leaning forward between them “— whether or not the weather is driving you crazy, or you’re crazy already?” He also inquires if it “isn’t the year of the seventeen year locusts?” And begins to wonder aloud “Yes, sir, there’s more to the world than people appreciate. If there can be seventeen-year locusts, why not seventeen-year people? Ever thought of that?”
He comments that “Day like today, all hell breaks loose inside your head. Lucifer was born on a day like this, in a wilderness like this,” and all his talk soon leads the devout Neva to cast him out of the pickup, using the threat of bibles in the trunk, holy water in the radiator and a pistol with silver bullets under her seat, not to mention that “Reverend Bishop Kelley” is not far behind her on the road. The burning man hastily exits and Doug marvels at his Aunt’s language. Asking her if it was true. She says “no” and when Doug is shocked that she would be lying she asks him, “Do you think HE was lying too?” Doug isn’t sure. They proceed on to the lake, but this may not be their last encounter with The Burning Man that day…
This short story was a great snack of a morning read before work today. I own it in the collection “Bradbury Stories: 100 of His Most Celebrated Tales.” It checks in at just over six pages. I suspect I’ll be thinking about The Burning Man a lot today…
“The Burning Man” was adapted into a vignette for the modern Twilight Zone reboot and can be viewed on YouTube at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=xHh5ceJNTE8 (I haven’t watched it yet, so view at your own risk…)
(Below: a more famous ‘burning man’ of Bradbury’s has graced the cover of many editions of his hallmark work, “Fahrenheit 451”)