A short story that appeared in the Illustrated Man collection…
This story was expertly written. The breadcrumbs of information made the reader want to follow that path…
The year was 1938. Our characters, William and Susan, were in Mexico. They were at a celebration and they were enjoying themselves, being at one with the crowds, the sights, and the smells. Ray Bradbury wrote this in a way where it was like hearing a conversation in my own head. It was smooth, no breaks in concentration and no re-reading of lines. This makes it very easy to ride-along with the tale. So there you are, getting a sense of scenery, a sense of our characters and knowing they are having the time of their lives until on William says, “They’ll never find us.”
That one statement created a cascade of questions tumbling through my head. Who are they? Why are they looking for William and Susan? What do Mexico and the year have to do with this story? Why were those details mentioned?
Right? Four words turn this vacation tale into a mystery.
There were little clues like this peppered throughout this short tale. The man in white watching them (who was that guy?). Susan was worried that this man was a Searcher! (what is a Searcher?) The man in white approaching them, smoking a cigarette, calling them by different names and then you learn what was really going on.
William and Susan are not their real names. They are people escaping from the year 2155 AD. There was a war going on in the future and William happened to be a bomb maker, an intrinsic cog in the war effort. They couldn’t let him be…they needed him.
The reader finds out how they got to the past. It was one of the vacation options from the future. Yeah, you could take a vacation in the past. Want to see Julius Caesar be assassinated? Sure! No problem. Maybe see Babe Ruth hit a homerun? Why not? They would even supply you with the appropriate clothes and the appropriate language so you’d pass as a native!
William and Susan were trusted citizens at the time. They were allowed to take this Time Vacation. When they got to where (when) they were supposed to go, they changed their names, clothes and traveled as far away as they could to escape the Searchers and to escape having to go back to the future.
But sadly, they were caught. They attempted to blend in and stay with a group of filmmakers because to be taken back, it had to be done in secret with no witnesses. They couldn’t just use the time machine in the middle of a busy, public street. The Searcher made it clear that he would wait. He was very patient. He would get them alone eventually and they would find themselves back where they were meant to be but, if they didn’t come with him soon, when their usefulness was exhausted in the future, they would be subjected to incredible pain.
William saw no way out for himself. In order to go back without putting up a fight, William negotiated Susan’s safety. If he turned himself over, the Searcher would let her stay. The Searcher was really only interested in William anyway, so he agreed and a meeting time was set up for the next day.
At this meeting time, William ran over the Searcher with a car, killing him. What? Now they were both safe and after being cleared by the police, they made plans to become invisible again.
The filmmakers provided them with the opportunity. They were invited out to California. Susan could be an actress. In their minds, it was potentially the perfect cover. They agreed. The filmmakers invited them to their rooms to celebrate.
Once in the room, out of the public eye, the filmmakers revealed themselves to be the second team of Searchers. They always sent two teams.
William and Susan didn’t escape. The story closes with them disappearing into the future.
What I learned:
- The dialogue was very effective in progressing this story forward. Even if the context was initially mysterious, it was later clarified with brilliant simplicity. Mastering dialogue helps master story direction.
- Little snippets of information are always better than long expositions. It helps build suspense and mystery and prevents reader attention diversion.
Well, what do you think? Have you read this? You’re doing yourself a disservice if you haven’t!
Hope you enjoyed my prattling.
Have a great week. Be kind to everyone!
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