While most of author Ray Bradbury’s best known works are not yet in the public domain, one story is! Here’s A Little Journey, published in the August 1951 edition of the magazine, Galaxy Science Fiction.
A Little Journey
“Don’t let him get away!” Mr. Thirkell tried to break and run, but a thousand possum traps closed on him from every side. He withered. Everybody walked around in circles like blind mice. There was a confusion and a weeping that lasted for five minutes as they went over and touched the Rocket, the Dented Kettle, the Rusty Container for God’s Children.
“Well,” said Mrs. Bellowes. She stepped up into the askew doorway of the rocket and faced everyone. “It looks as if a terrible thing has been done to us,” she said. “I haven’t any money to go back home to Earth and I’ve too much pride to go to the Government and tell them a common man like this has fooled us out of our life’s savings. I don’t know how you feel about it, all of you, but the reason all of us came is because I’m eighty-five, and you’re eighty-nine, and you’re seventy-eight, and all of us are nudging on toward a hundred, and there’s nothing on Earth for us, and it doesn’t appear there’s anything on Mars either. We all expected not to breathe much more air or crochet many more doilies or we’d never have come here. So what I have to propose 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 take our 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. And you were fools to ever take my word on it.”
“Yes,” said Mrs. Bellowes, “we were fools. I’ll go along on that. But you can’t blame us, for we’re old, and it was a lovely, good and fine idea, one of the loveliest ideas in the world. Oh, we didn’t really fool ourselves that we could get nearer to Him physically. It was the gentle, mad dream of old people, the kind of thing you hold onto for a few minutes a day, even though you know it’s not true. So, all of you who 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 ladies pressed forward. Mr. Thirkell, windmilling his arms frantically, was nevertheless pressed through the port, and in a minute the door slammed shut. Mr. Thirkell was strapped into the navigator’s seat, with everyone talking at once and holding him down. The special helmets were issued to be fitted over every gray or white head to supply extra oxygen in case of a leakage in the ship’s hull, and at long last the hour 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 great fiery glide, with the noise of an entire kitchen thrown down an elevator shaft, with a sound of pots and pans and kettles and fires boiling and stews bubbling, with a smell of burned incense and rubber and sulphur, with a color of yellow fire, and a ribbon of red stretching below them, and all the old women singing and holding to each other, and Mrs. Bellowes crawling upright in the sighing, straining, trembling ship.
“Head for space, Mr. Thirkell.”
“It can’t last,” said Mr. Thirkell, sadly. “This ship can’t last. It will—”
The rocket exploded.
Mrs. Bellowes felt herself lifted and thrown about dizzily, like a doll. She heard the great screamings and saw the flashes of bodies sailing by her in fragments of metal and powdery light.
“Help, help!” cried Mr. Thirkell, far away, on a small radio beam.
The ship disintegrated into a million parts, and the old ladies, all one hundred of them, were flung straight on ahead with the same velocity as the ship.
As for Mr. Thirkell, for some reason of trajectory, perhaps, he had been blown out the other side of the ship. Mrs. Bellowes saw him falling separate and away from them, screaming, screaming.
There goes Mr. Thirkell, thought Mrs. Bellowes.
And she knew where he was going. He was going to be burned and roasted and broiled good, but very good. Mr. Thirkell was falling down into the Sun.
And here we are, thought Mrs. Bellowes. Here we are, going on out, and out, and out. There was hardly a sense of motion at all, but she knew that she was traveling at fifty thousand miles an hour and would continue to travel at that speed for an eternity, until….
She saw the other women swinging all about her in their own trajectories, a few minutes of oxygen left to each of them in their helmets, and each was looking up to where they were going.
Of course, thought Mrs. Bellowes. Out into space. Out and out, and the darkness like a great church, and the stars like candles, and in spite of everything, Mr. Thirkell, the rocket, and the dishonesty, we are going toward the Lord.
And there, yes, there, as she fell on and on, coming toward her, she could almost discern the outline now, coming toward her was His mighty golden hand, reaching down to hold her and comfort her like a frightened sparrow….
“I’m Mrs. Amelia Bellowes,” she said quietly, in her best company voice. “I’m from the planet Earth.”
Ray Douglas Bradbury was an American author and screenwriter. He worked in a variety of genres, including fantasy, science fiction, horror, and mystery fiction. Bradbury was predominantly known for his novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) and his science fiction and horror story collections The Martian Chronicles (1950), The Illustrated Man (1951), and I Sing the Body Electric! (1969), and he was one of the most celebrated 20th- and 21st-century American writers. Most of his best known work is in fantasy fiction, but he also wrote in other genres, such as the coming of age novel Dandelion Wine (1957) and the fictionalized memoir Green Shadows, White Whale (1992). He also wrote and consulted on screenplays and television scripts, including Moby Dick and It Came from Outer Space. Many of his works were adapted to comic book, television, and film formats. The New York Times called Bradbury “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream” (Wikipedia.)
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