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Authors: Long After Midnight (v1.1)

Bradbury, Ray - SSC 21

 
          
 

 
          
 

 
          
Long
After
Midnight

 

 
          
 
Ray Bradbury

 

 

 
 
 
         
In
his first collection in seven years, the incomparable Ray Bradbury conjures up
eerie ghosts of the past, present, and future that will bewitch and disturb his
millions of readers.

 
          
Meet
the parrot to whom Hemingway confided the plot of his last, greatest, and
never-written novel; the invisible ice-woman who called herself "Melissa
Toad, Witch" and offered perfect love and a magical immunity; the rookie
cop who was stunned by a girl's suicide—until he learned "her"
secret, plus 19 more
hauntings
and celebrations.

 
          
"Each
entry is a miniature and a jewel ... He can establish a mood in a line, can
suggest things that go bump in the night in soaring poetic fashion . . . This
is rainy-night stuff."

 
          

San
Francisco
Chronicle

 

 
          
 

 

 
          
 

 

 

 
 
          
Bantam
Books by Ray Bradbury

 
          
Ask
your bookseller for the books you have missed

 
          
DANDELION
WINE

 
          
DINOSAUR
TALES

 
          
THE
GOLDEN APPLES OF THE SUN

 
          
THE 
HALLOWEEN TREE

 
          
I
SING THE BODY ELECTRIC!

 
          
THE 
ILLUSTRATED MAN

 
          
LONG
AFTER
MIDNIGHT

 
          
THE
MACHINERIES OF JOY

 
          
THE
MARTIAN  CHRONICLES

 
          
A
MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY

 
          

IS FOR  ROCKET

 
          
S
IS  FOR SPACE

 
          
SOMETHING
WICKED THIS WAY COMES

 

 
 
 
         
 

 
          
 

 
          
BANTAM
BOOKS
TORONTO

NEW YORK

LONDON

SYDNEY

 
          
This low-priced Bantam Book
has been completely reset in a type face
designed for easy reading, and was
printed
from new plates. It contains
the complete
text of the original
hard-cover edition.

 
          
NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED.

 
          
RL
6, IL age 14 and up

 

 
          
LONG AFTER
MIDNIGHT

 

 
          
A Bantam Book
/
published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

 
          
PRINTING HISTORY Knopf edition published
September
1976

 
          
2nd printing . . . October 1976 Literary
Guild selection September 1976

 
          
"The Blue Bottle" Copyright 1950
by Love Romances Publishing Inc. "Forever and the Earth" Copyright
1950 by Love Romances Publishing Inc. "Punishment Without Crime"
Copyright 1950 by
Other Worlds,
"The
Miracles of Jamie" first appeared in
Charm,
"The October Game" In
Weird Tales,
"One Timeless Spring" and "The Pumpernickel" in
Collier's,
"A Piece of Wood" in
Esquire,
"The Utterly Perfect Murder^'
("My Perfect Murder") and "The Parrot Who Met Papa" in
Playboy
Magazine,
"Have I Got a Chocolate
Bar for You!" in
Penthouse,
"The
Wish" in
Woman's Day Magazine,
and
"Drink
Entire: August the
Madness of Crowds" in
Gallery.

 
          
Bantam edition / April 1978

 
          
2nd printing .. November 1978 4th printing
...
October 1980 3rd printing
....
August 1979     
5th printing .... August 1982

 
          
Cover artwork from the Will Stone
Collection,
San Francisco
,
Copyright
©
Bill Stoneham, Untitled.

 
          
All rights reserved. Copyright 1946, 1947,
1951, 1952,
©
1971, 1972,

 
          
1973, 1976 by Ray Bradbury.

 
          
Copyright renewed 1974, 1975 by Ray
Bradbury-

 
          
This book may not be reproduced in whole or
in part, by

 
          
mimeograph or any other means, without
permission.

 
          
For information address: Alfred A. Knopf,
Inc.,

 
          
201
East 50th St.
,
New York
,
N.Y.
10022
,

 
          
ISBN
0-553-22867-6
Published simultaneously in
the
United States
and
Canada

 
          
 
Bantam
Books are published by Bantam Books, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the
words "Bantam Books" and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in
U.S.
Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries.
Marca
Registrada
. Bantam Books, Inc.,
666
Fifth Avenue
,
New York
,
New
York
10103
.

 
          
 
PRINTED
IN THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

 
          
H      
14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6

 

 
 
          
This book, with love,

 
          
is dedicated to William F. Nolan,
amazing collector, fantastic
researcher, dear friend.

 

 

The Blue Bottle

 

 

 
          
 

 
          
The
sundials were tumbled into white pebbles. The birds of the air now flew in
ancient skies of rock and sand, buried, their songs stopped. The dead sea
bottoms were
currented
with dust which flooded the
land when the wind bade it reenact an old tale of engulfment. The cities were
deep laid with granaries of silence, time stored and kept, pools and fountains
of quietude and memory.

 
          
Mars
was dead.

 
          
Then,
out of the large stillness, from a great distance, there was an insect sound
which grew large among the cinnamon hills and moved in the sun-blazed air until
the highway trembled and dust was shook whispering down in the old cities.

 
          
The
sound ceased.

 
          
In
the shimmering silence of
midday
, Albert Beck and Leonard Craig sat in an
ancient
landcar
, eyeing a dead city which did not
move under their gaze but waited for their shout:

 
          
"Hello!"

 
          
A
crystal tower dropped into soft dusting rain.

 
          
"You
there!"

 
          
And
another tumbled down.

 
          
And
another and another fell as Beck called, summoning them to death. In shattering
flights, stone animals with vast granite wings dived to strike the courtyards
and fountains. His cry summoned them like living beasts and the beasts gave
answer, groaned, cracked, leaned up, tilted over, trembling, hesitant, then
split the air and swept down with grimaced mouths and empty eyes, with sharp,
eternally hungry teeth suddenly seized out and strewn like shrapnel on
theLtiles
.

 
          
Beck
waited. No more towers fell.

 
          
"It's
safe to go in now."

 
          
Craig
didn't move. "For the same reason?"

 
          
Beck
nodded.

 
          
"For
a damned
bottlel
I don't understand. Why does everyone
want it?"

 
          
Beck
got out of the car. "Those that found it, they never told, they never
explained. But—it's old. Old as the desert, as the dead seas—and it might
contain anything. That's what the legend says. And because it
could
hold anything—well, that stirs a
man's hunger."

 
          
"Yours,
not mine," said Craig. His mouth barely moved; his eyes were half-shut,
faintly amused. He stretched lazily. "I'm just along for the ride. Better
watching you than sitting in the heat."

 
          
Beck
had stumbled upon the old
landcar
a month back,
before Craig had joined him. It was part of the flotsam of the First Industrial
Invasion of Mars that had ended when the race moved on toward the stars. He had
worked on the motor and run it from city to dead city, through the lands of the
idlers and roustabouts, the dreamers and
lazers
, men
caught in the backwash of space, men like himself and Craig who had never
wanted to do much of anything and had found Mars a fine place to do it in.

 
          
"Five
thousand, ten thousand years back the Martians made the Blue Bottle," said
Beck. "Blown from Martian glass—and lost and found and lost and found
again and again."

 
          
He
stared into the wavering heat shimmer of the dead city. All my life, thought
Beck, I've done nothing and nothing inside the nothing. Others, better men,
have done big things, gone off to Mercury, or Venus, or out beyond the System.
Except me. Not me. But the Blue Bottle can
change
all that.

 
          
He
turned and walked away from the silent car.

 
          
Craig
was out and after him, moving easily along. "What is it now, ten years
you've hunted? You twitch when you sleep, wake up in fits, sweat through the
days. You want the damn bottle
that
bad,
and don't know what's in it. You're a fool, Beck."

 
          
"Shut
up, shut up," said Beck, kicking a slide of pebbles out of his way.

 
          
They
walked together into the ruined city, over a mosaic of cracked tiles shaped
into a stone tapestry of fragile Martian creatures, long-dead beasts which
appeared and disappeared as a slight breath of wind stirred the silent dust.

 
          
"Wait,"
said Beck. He cupped his hands to his mouth and gave a great shout. "You
there!"

 
          
".
.. there," said an echo, and towers fell. Fountains and stone pillars
folded into themselves. That was the way of these cities. Sometimes towers as
beautiful as a symphony would fall at a spoken word. It was like watching a
Bach cantata disintegrate before your eyes.

 
          
A
moment later: bones buried in bones. The dust settled. Two structures remained
intact.

 
          
Beck
stepped forward, nodding to his friend.

 
          
They
moved in search.

 
          
And,
searching, Craig paused, a faint smile on his lips. "In that bottle,"
he said, "is there a little accordion woman, all folded up like one of
those tin cups, or like one of those Japanese flowers you put in water and it
opens out?"

 
          
"I
don't need a woman."

 
          
"Maybe
you do. Maybe you never had a
real
woman,
a woman who loved you, so, secretly, that's what you hope is in it." Craig
pursed his mouth. "Or maybe, in that bottle, something from your
childhood. All in a tiny bundle—a lake, a tree you climbed, green grass, some
crayfish. How's
that
sound?"

 
          
Beck's
eyes focused on a distant point. "Sometimes— that's almost it. The past—Earth.
I don't know."

 
          
Craig
nodded. "What's in the bottle would depend, maybe, on who's looking. Now,
if there was a shot of
whiskey
in
it..."

 
          
"Keep
looking," said Beck.

 
          
There
were seven rooms filled with glitter and shine; from floor to tiered ceiling
there were casks, crocks, magnums, urns, vases—fashioned of red, pink, yellow,
violet, and black glass. Beck shattered them, one by one, to eliminate them, to
get them out of the way so he would never have to go through them again.

 
          
Beck
finished his room, stood ready to invade the next. He was almost afraid to go
on. Afraid that
this
time he would
find it; that the search would be over and the meaning would go out of his life.
Only after he had heard of the Blue Bottle from fire-travelers all the way from
Venus to Jupiter, ten years ago, had life begun to take on a purpose. The fever
had lit him and he had burned steadily ever since. If he worked it properly,
the prospect of finding the bottle might fill his entire life to the brim.
Another thirty years, if he was careful and not too diligent, of search, never
admitting aloud that it wasn't the bottle that counted at all, but the search,
the running and the hunting, the dust and the cities and the going-on.

 
          
Beck
heard a muffled sound. He turned and walked to a window looking out into the
courtyard. A small gray sand cycle had purred up almost noiselessly at the end
of the street. A plump man with blond hair eased himself off the spring seat
and stood looking into the city. Another searcher. Beck sighed. Thousands of
them, searching and searching. But there were thousands of brittle cities and
towns and villages and it would take a millennium to sift them all.

 
          
"How
you doing?" Craig appeared in a doorway.

 
          
"No
luck." Beck sniffed the air. "Do you smell anything?"

 
          
"What?"
Craig looked about.

 
          
"Smells
like—bourbon."

 
          
"Ho!"
Craig laughed. "That's
me!”

 
          
"You?"

 
          
"I
just took a drink. Found it in the other room. Shoved some stuff around, a mess
of bottles, like always, and one of them had some bourbon in it, so I had
myself a drink."

 
          
Beck
was staring at him, beginning to tremble. "What—what would bourbon be
doing
here,
in a Martian
bottle?" His hands were cold. He took a slow step forward. "Show
mel
"

 
          
"I'm
sure that . . ."

 
          
"Show
me, damn you!"

 
          
It
was there, in one corner of the room, a container of Martian glass as blue as
the sky, the size of a small fruit, light and airy in Beck's hand as he set it
down upon a table.

 
          
"It's
half-full of bourbon," said Craig.

 
          
"I
don't see anything inside," said Beck.

 
          
"Then
shake it."

 
          
Beck
picked it up, gingerly shook it.

 
          
"Hear
it gurgle?"

 
          
"No."

 
          
"I
can hear it plain."

 
          
Beck
replaced it on the table. Sunlight spearing through a side window struck blue
flashes off the slender container. It was the blue of a star held in the hand.
It was the blue of a shallow ocean bay at
noon
. It was the blue of a diamond at morning.

 
          
"This
is
it," said Beck quietly.
"I know it is. We don't have to look anymore. We've found the Blue
Bottle."

 
          
Craig
looked skeptical. "Sure you don't
see
anything in it?"

 
          
"Nothing
. . . But—" Beck bent close and peered deeply into the blue universe of
glass. "Maybe if I open it up and let it out, whatever it is, I'll
know."

 
          
"I
put the stopper in tight. Here." Craig reached out.

 
          
"If
you gentlemen will excuse me," said a voice in the door behind them.

 
          
The
plump man with blond hair walked into their line of vision with a gun. He did
not look at their faces, he looked only at the blue glass bottle. He began to
smile. "I hate very much to handle guns," he said, "but it is a
matter of necessity, as I simply
must
have
that work of art. I suggest that you allow me to take it without trouble."

 
          
Beck
was almost pleased. It had a certain beauty of timing, this incident; it was
the sort of thing he might have wished for, to have the treasure stolen before
it was opened. Now there was the good prospect of a chase, a fight, a series of
gains and losses, and, before they were done, perhaps another four or five
years spent upon a new search.

 
          
"Come
along now," said the stranger. "Give it up." He raised the gun
warningly.

 
          
Beck
handed him the bottle.

 
          
"Amazing.
Really amazing," said the plump man. "I can't believe it was as
simple as this, to walk in, hear two men talking, and to have the Blue Bottle
simply
handed
to me. Amazing!"
And he wandered off down the hall, out into the daylight, chuckling to himself.

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