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´╗┐Title: A Little Journey
Author: Bradbury, Ray
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Little Journey" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                           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, that
Mr. Thirkell was taking her to God. For hadn't he patted her hand and
said: "Mrs. Bellowes, we'll take off into space in my rocket, and go
to find Him together."

And that was how it was going to be. Oh, this wasn't like any other
group Mrs. Bellowes had ever joined. In her fervor to light a path for
her delicate, tottering feet, she had struck matches down dark alleys,
and found her way to Hindu mystics who floated their flickering, starry
eyelashes over crystal balls. She had walked on the meadow paths with
ascetic Indian philosophers imported by daughters-in-spirit of Madame
Blavatsky. She had made pilgrimages to California's stucco jungles
to hunt the astrological seer in his natural habitat. She had even
consented to signing away the rights to one of her homes in order to be
taken into the shouting order of a temple of amazing evangelists who
had promised her golden smoke, crystal fire, and the great soft hand of
God coming to bear her home.

None of these people had ever shaken Mrs. Bellowes' faith, even when
she saw them sirened away in a black wagon in the night, or discovered
their pictures, bleak and unromantic, in the morning tabloids. The
world had roughed them up and locked them away because they knew too
much, that was all.

And then, two weeks ago, she had seen Mr. Thirkell's advertisement in
New 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 after
seeing _Him_?"

And so she had bought a ticket and flown off to Mars and spent seven
mild days at Mr. Thirkell's Restorium, the building with the sign on it
which flashed: THIRKELL'S ROCKET TO HEAVEN! She had spent the
week 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 own
special private rocket, like a bullet, to be fired on out into space
beyond Jupiter and Saturn and Pluto. And thus--who could deny it?--you
would be getting nearer and nearer to the Lord. How wonderful! Couldn't
you 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 to
go up the shaft. God need only press the button."

Now, on the seventh day, as she minced up the steps of the Restorium, a
number of small doubts assailed her.

"For one thing," she said aloud to no one, "it isn't quite the land of
milk and honey here on Mars that they said it would be. My room is like
a cell, the swimming pool is really quite inadequate, and, besides, how
many 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 like
wandering in a carnival mirror-maze, coming again and again upon
yourself--the same floury face, the same chicken hands, and jingling
bracelets. One after another of the images of herself floated before
her. She put out her hand, but it wasn't a mirror; it was another lady
shaking 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 upon
everyone. But there was something, nevertheless, in his appearance
which made one expect him to call "Hi!" while fuzzy dogs jumped over
his legs, through his hooped arms, and over his back. Then, dogs and
all, he should dance with a dazzling piano-keyboard smile off into the
wings.

Mrs. Bellowes, with a secret part of her mind which she constantly had
to grip tightly, expected to hear a cheap Chinese gong sound when Mr.
Thirkell entered. His large liquid dark eyes were so improbable that
one of the old ladies had facetiously claimed she saw a mosquito cloud
hovering over them as they did around summer rain-barrels. And Mrs.
Bellowes sometimes caught the scent of the theatrical mothball and the
smell of calliope steam on his sharply pressed suit.

But with the same savage rationalization that had greeted all other
disappointments in her rickety life, she bit at the suspicion and
whispered, "This time it's _real_. This time it'll work. Haven't we got
a _rocket_?"

Mr. Thirkell bowed. He smiled a sudden Comedy Mask smile. The old
ladies looked in at his epiglottis and sensed chaos there.

Before he even began to speak, Mrs. Bellowes saw him picking up each of
his words, oiling it, making sure it ran smooth on its rails. Her heart
squeezed in like a tiny fist, and she gritted her porcelain teeth.

"Friends," said Mr. Thirkell, and you could hear the frost snap in the
hearts of the entire assemblage.

"No!" said Mrs. Bellowes ahead of time. She could hear the bad news
rushing at her, and herself tied to the track while the immense black
wheels 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 to
cry, "Ladies, be seated!" in minstrel-fashion, for the ladies had come
up at him from their chairs, protesting and trembling.

"Not a very long delay." Mr. Thirkell put up his hands to pat the air.

"How long?"

"Only a week."

"A week!"

"Yes. You can stay here at the Restorium for seven more days, can't
you? A little delay won't matter, will it, in the end? You've waited a
lifetime. 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?"

"Well, ye-ess."

"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 among
albino 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 the
seething pressures that had been built up over long years came
steaming through the delicate vents of her body. Her cheeks became
incandescent. With a wail that was like a melancholy factory whistle,
Mrs. Bellowes ran forward and hung to him, almost by her teeth, like a
summer-maddened Spitz. She would not and never could let go, until he
died, and the other women followed, jumping and yapping like a pound
let loose on its trainer, the same one who had petted them and to whom
they had squirmed and whined joyfully an hour before, now milling about
him, creasing his sleeves and frightening the Egyptian serenity from
his gaze.

"This way!" cried Mrs. Bellowes, feeling like Madame Lafarge. "Through
the back! We've waited long enough to see the ship. Every day he's put
us 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, quite
suddenly, 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 a
thousand 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 blind
hog.

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 the
way to Mars to get on board with you and go off to find Him?" asked
Mrs. 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 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--"

It did.

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."





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