“The Burning Man” by Ray Bradbury

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!

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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”)

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13 Comments

  1. Cedar Station said,

    February 4, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Love Bradbury! What a great add on to your challenge. I read one of his this week, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dale said,

    February 4, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Aunt Neva’s threats sound like classic Bradbury humor!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 4, 2015 at 1:56 pm

      I didn’t even mention the box of crucifixes! (which was also part of her ‘litany’)

      Like

  3. Ti said,

    February 4, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    I read Bradbury recently when we read Something Wicked This Way Comes and it was a little odd and way, way out there. I enjoy his writing for the most part but I am always looking for a message and I’m not always sure there is one.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 4, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      Yeah, he can be “out there” sometimes. I prefer his short stories to his longer works. I also recently read his “The Martian Chronicles” (which started out as independent short stories) and really loved it.

      Like

  4. Richard Boyle said,

    February 4, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Jay, What a great short review. I love the quotes you selected to use and how they were integrated into your summary. Like a perfect appetizer prior to the meal. Made me want to reread “Burning Man” again which I intend to do this afternoon. Thanks for the reminder of how my time is always well spent with Bradbury.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 5, 2015 at 7:49 am

      Thanks, Richard. I’m happy if my post led you to revisit a Bradbury story. I also recently enjoyed his “The Woman on the Lawn”

      Like

  5. hkatz said,

    February 4, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Holy water in the radiator is funny. Haven’t read this one, but I have a feeling I’ll like it, especially if it’s Twilight-Zone-ish. 17 year people? (Is he hinting that he’s like a locust?) Ok, I’ll go read this at some point…

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 5, 2015 at 7:51 am

      The holy water may have been in the “carburetor” the more I think about it,but either way…

      This story reminded me that I’ve read several works that have a kind of “encountering ‘the devil’ in the middle of nowhere” theme to them. Stephen King’s “The Man in the Black Suit” is one, as is Kevin Helmick’s “Driving Alone” it might be fun to try to come up with a list of those. Hmmm…..

      Like

  6. Paula Cappa said,

    February 5, 2015 at 10:14 am

    I watched the film with Piper Laurie. Loved it. I don’t have the text version but will have to go find it at the library or somewhere.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 5, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      I just watched it too on my lunch hour. It’s actually quite faithful to the text too (except for the flat tire incident). I was gratified that they included almost all of the quotations I used right near the initial appearance of the Burning Man.🙂

      Like

  7. John-Paul said,

    February 7, 2015 at 5:10 am

    I love the idea of a lunar challenge. I’ve never read Bradbury. Is this a confession someone should make?

    Like

    • Jay said,

      February 10, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      I don’t know, but it is definitely something one should rectify…🙂

      Like


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