A Little Journey
A Little Journey
By RAY BRADBURY
Illustrated by THORNE
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction August 1951.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
She'd paid good money to see the inevitable ...
and then had to work to make it happen!
There were two important things—one, that she was very old; two, thatMr. Thirkell was taking her to God. For hadn't he patted her hand andsaid: "Mrs. Bellowes, we'll take off into space in my rocket, and goto find Him together."
And that was how it was going to be. Oh, this wasn't like any othergroup Mrs. Bellowes had ever joined. In her fervor to light a path forher delicate, tottering feet, she had struck matches down dark alleys,and found her way to Hindu mystics who floated their flickering, starryeyelashes over crystal balls. She had walked on the meadow paths withascetic Indian philosophers imported by daughters-in-spirit of MadameBlavatsky. She had made pilgrimages to California's stucco junglesto hunt the astrological seer in his natural habitat. She had evenconsented to signing away the rights to one of her homes in order to betaken into the shouting order of a temple of amazing evangelists whohad promised her golden smoke, crystal fire, and the great soft hand ofGod coming to bear her home.
None of these people had ever shaken Mrs. Bellowes' faith, even whenshe saw them sirened away in a black wagon in the night, or discoveredtheir pictures, bleak and unromantic, in the morning tabloids. Theworld had roughed them up and locked them away because they knew toomuch, that was all.
And then, two weeks ago, she had seen Mr. Thirkell's advertisement inNew York City:
COME TO MARS!
Stay at the Thirkell Restorium for one week. And then,
on into space on the greatest adventure life can offer!
Send for Free Pamphlet: "Nearer My God To Thee."
Excursion rates. Round trip slightly lower.
"Round trip," Mrs. Bellowes had thought. "But who would come back afterseeing Him?"
And so she had bought a ticket and flown off to Mars and spent sevenmild days at Mr. Thirkell's Restorium, the building with the sign on itwhich flashed: THIRKELL'S ROCKET TO HEAVEN! She had spent theweek bathing in limpid waters and erasing the care from her tiny bones,and now she was fidgeting, ready to be loaded into Mr. Thirkell's ownspecial private rocket, like a bullet, to be fired on out into spacebeyond Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto. And thus—who could deny it?—youwould be getting nearer and nearer to the Lord. How wonderful! Couldn'tyou just feel Him drawing near? Couldn't you just sense His breath,His scrutiny, His Presence?
"Here I am," said Mrs. Bellowes, "an ancient rickety elevator, ready togo up the shaft. God need only press the button."
Now, on the seventh day, as she minced up the steps of the Restorium, anumber of small doubts assailed her.
"For one thing," she said aloud to no one, "it isn't quite the land ofmilk and honey here on Mars that they said it would be. My room is likea cell, the swimming pool is really quite inadequate, and, besides, howmany widows who look like mushrooms or skeletons want to swim? And,finally, the whole Restorium smells of boiled cabbage and tennis shoes!"
She opened the front door and let it slam, somewhat irritably.
She was amazed at the other women in the auditorium. It was likewandering in a carnival mirror-maze, coming again and again uponyourself—the same floury face, the same chicken hands, and jinglingbracelets. One after another of the images of herself floated beforeher. She put out her hand, but it wasn't a mirror; it was another ladyshaking her fingers and saying:
"We're waiting for Mr. Thirkell. Sh!"
"Ah," whispered everyone.
The velvet curtains parted.
Mr. Thirkell appeared, fantastically serene, his Egyptian eyes uponeveryone. But there was something, nevertheless, in his appearancewhich made one expect him to call "Hi!" while fuzzy dogs jumped overhis legs, through his hooped arms, and over his back. Then, dogs andall, he should dance with a dazzling piano-keyboard smile off into thewings.
Mrs. Bellowes, with a secret part of her mind which she constantly hadto grip tightly, expected to hear a cheap Chinese gong sound when Mr.Thirkell entered. His large liquid dark eyes were so improbable thatone of the old ladies had facetiously claimed she saw a mosquito cloudhovering over them as they did around summer rain-barrels. And Mrs.Bellowes sometimes caught the scent of the theatrical mothball and thesmell of calliope steam on his sharply pressed suit.
But with the same savage rationalization that had greeted all otherdisappointments in her rickety life, she bit at the suspicion andwhispered, "This time it's real. This time it'll work. Haven't we gota rocket?"
Mr. Thirkell bowed. He smiled a sudden Comedy Mask smile. The oldladies looked in at his epiglottis and sensed chaos there.
Before he even began to speak, Mrs. Bellowes saw him picking up each ofhis words, oiling it, making sure it ran smooth on its rails. Her heartsqueezed in like a tiny fist, and she gritted her porcelain teeth.
"Friends," said Mr. Thirkell, and you could hear the frost snap in thehearts of the entire assemblage.
"No!" said Mrs. Bellowes ahead of time. She could hear the bad newsrushing at her, and herself tied to the track while the immense blackwheels threatened and the whistle screamed, helpless.
"There will be a slight delay," said Mr. Thirkell.
In the next instant, Mr. Thirkell might have cried, or been tempted tocry, "Ladies, be seated!" in minstrel-fashion, for the ladies had comeup at him from their chairs, protesting and trembling.
"Not a very long delay." Mr. Thirkell put up his hands to pat the air.
"Only a week."
"Yes. You can stay here at the Restorium for seven more days, can'tyou? A little delay won't matter, will it, in the end? You've waited alifetime. Only a few more days."
At twenty dollars a day, thought Mrs. Bellowes, coldly.
"What's the trouble?" a woman cried.
"A legal difficulty," said Mr. Thirkell.
"We've a rocket, haven't we?"
"But I've been here a whole month, waiting," said one old lady."Delays, delays!"
"That's right," said everyone.
"Ladies, ladies," murmured Mr. Thirkell, smiling serenely.
"We want to see the rocket!" It was Mrs. Bellowes forging ahead,alone, brandishing her fist like a toy hammer.
Mr. Thirkell looked into the old ladies' eyes, a missionary amongalbino cannibals.
"Well, now," he said.
"Yes, now!" cried Mrs. Bellowes.
"I'm afraid—" he began.
"So am I!" she said. "That's why we want to see the ship!"
"No, no, now, Mrs.—" He snapped his fingers for her name.
"Bellowes!" she cried. She was a small container, but now all theseething pressures that had been built up over long years camesteaming through the delicate vents of her body. Her cheeks becameincandescent. With a wail that was like a melancholy factory whistle,Mrs. Bellowes ran forward and hung to him, almost by her teeth, like asummer-maddened Spitz. She would not and never could let go, until hedied, and the other women followed, jumping and yapping like a poundlet loose on its trainer, the same one who had petted them and to whomthey had squirmed and whined joyfully an hour before, now milling abouthim, creasing his sleeves and frightening the Egyptian serenity fromhis gaze.
"This way!" cried Mrs. Bellowes, feeling like Madame Lafarge. "Throughthe back! We've waited long enough to see the ship. Every day he's putus off, every day we've waited, now let's see."
"No, no, ladies!" cried Mr. Thirkell, leaping about.
They burst through the back of the stage and out a door, like a flood,bearing the poor man with them into a shed, and then out, quitesuddenly, into an abandoned gymnasium.
"There it is!" said someone. "The rocket."
And then a silence fell that was terrible to entertain.
There was the rocket.
Mrs. Bellowes looked at it and her hands sagged away from Mr.Thirkell's collar.
The rocket was something like a battered copper pot. There were athousand bulges and rents and rusty pipes and dirty vents on and in it.The ports were clouded over with dust, resembling the eyes of a blindhog.
Everyone wailed a little sighing wail.
"Is that the rocket ship Glory Be to the Highest?" cried Mrs.Bellowes, appalled.
Mr. Thirkell nodded and looked at his feet.
"For which we paid out our one thousand dollars apiece and came all theway to Mars to get on board with you and go off to find Him?" askedMrs. Bellowes.
"Why, that isn't worth a sack of dried peas," said Mrs. Bellowes.
"It's nothing but junk!"
Junk, whispered everyone, getting hysterical.
"Don't let him get away!"
Mr. Thirkell tried to break and run, but a thousand possum traps closedon him from every side. He withered.
Everybody walked around in circles like blind mice. There was aconfusion and a weeping that lasted for five minutes as they went overand touched the Rocket, the Dented Kettle, the Rusty Container forGod's Children.
"Well," said Mrs. Bellowes. She stepped up into the askew doorway ofthe rocket and faced everyone. "It looks as if a terrible thing hasbeen done to us," she said. "I haven't any money to go back home toEarth and I've too much pride to go to the Government and tell thema common man like this has fooled us out of our life's savings. Idon't know how you feel about it, all of you, but the reason all of uscame is because I'm eighty-five, and you're eighty-nine, and you'reseventy-eight, and all of us are nudging on toward a hundred, andthere's nothing on Earth for us, and it doesn't appear there's anythingon Mars either. We all expected not to breathe much more air or crochetmany more doilies or we'd never have come here. So what I have topropose is a simple thing—to take a chance."
She reached out and touched the rusted hulk of the rocket.
"This is our rocket. We paid for our trip. And we're going to takeour trip!"
Everyone rustled and stood on tiptoes and opened an astonished mouth.
Mr. Thirkell began to cry. He did it quite easily and very effectively.
"We're going to get in this ship," said Mrs. Bellowes, ignoring him."And we're going to take off to where we were going."
Mr. Thirkell stopped crying long enough to say, "But it was all a fake.I don't know anything about space. He's not out there, anyway. I lied.I don't know where He is, and I couldn't find Him if I wanted to. Andyou were fools to ever take my word on it."
"Yes," said Mrs. Bellowes, "we were fools. I'll go along on that. Butyou can't blame us, for we're old, and it was a lovely, good and fineidea, one of the loveliest ideas in the world. Oh, we didn't reallyfool ourselves that we could get nearer to Him physically. It was thegentle, mad dream of old people, the kind of thing you hold onto for afew minutes a day, even though you know it's not true. So, all of youwho want to go, you follow me in the ship."
"But you can't go!" said Mr. Thirkell. "You haven't got a navigator.And that ship's a ruin!"
"You," said Mrs. Bellowes, "will be the navigator."
She stepped into the ship, and after a moment, the other old ladiespressed forward. Mr. Thirkell, windmilling his arms frantically,was nevertheless pressed through the port, and in a minute the doorslammed shut. Mr. Thirkell was strapped into the navigator's seat, witheveryone talking at once and holding him down. The special helmetswere issued to be fitted over every gray or white head to supply extraoxygen in case of a leakage in the ship's hull, and at long last thehour had come and Mrs. Bellowes stood behind Mr. Thirkell and said,"We're ready, sir."
He said nothing. He pleaded with them silently, using his great, dark,wet eyes, but Mrs. Bellowes shook her head and pointed to the control.
"Takeoff," agreed Mr. Thirkell morosely, and pulled a switch.
Everybody fell. The rocket went up from the planet Mars in a greatfiery glide, with the noise of an entire kitchen thrown down anelevator shaft, with a sound of pots and pans and kettles and firesboiling and stews bubbling, with a smell of burned incense andrubber and sulphur, with a color of yellow fire,