In the living room the voice-clock
seven o'clock, time to get up, time to get up, seven o'clock!
As if it were afraid that nobody
would. The morning house lay empty. The clock ticked on, repeating
and repeating its sounds into the emptiness. Seven-nine,
breakfast time, seven-nine. In
the kitchen the breakfast stove gave a hissing sigh and ejected from
its warm interior eight pieces of perfectly browned toast, eight eggs
sunny side up, sixteen slices of bacon, two coffees and two cool
glasses of milk. "Today
is August 4, 2026,"
said a second voice from the kitchen ceiling, "in
the city of Allendale, California."
It repeated the date three times for memory's sake. "Today
is Mr. Featherstone's birthday. Today is the anniversary of Tilita's
marriage. Insurance is payable, as are the water, gas, and light bills." Somewhere
in the walls, relays clicked, memory tapes glided under electric eyes.
Eight-one, tick-tock, eight-one
o'clock, off to school, off to work, run, run, eight-one!
But no doors slammed, no carpets
took the soft thread of rubber heels. It was raining outside. The
weather box on the front door sang quietly: "Rain,
rain, go away; rubbers, raincoats for today..." And
the rain tapped on the empty house, echoing. Outside, the
garage chimed and lifted its door to reveal the waiting car. After a
long wait the door swung down again.
At eight-thirty the eggs
shriveled and the toast was like stone. An aluminum wedge scraped
them into the sink, where hot water whirled them down a metal throat
which digested and flushed them away to the distant sea. The dirty
dishes were dropped into a hot washer and emerged twinkling dry.
the clock, time
Out of warrens in the wall, tiny
robot mice darted. The rooms were a crawl with the small cleaning
animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling
their mustached runner, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at
hidden dust. They like mysterious invaders, they popped into their
burrows. Their pink electric eyes faded. The house was clean.
The sun came out from behind the
rain. The house stood alone in a city of rubble and ashes. This was
the one house left standing. At night the ruined city gave off a
radioactive glow which could be seen for miles.
The garden sprinklers whirled up
in golden founts, filling the soft morning air with scattering of
brightness. The water pelted windowpanes, running down the charred
west side where the house had been burned evenly free of its white
paint. The entire west face of the house was black, save for five
places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as
in a photograph, a woman bent to pick up flowers. Still farther over,
their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy,
hands flung into the air higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and
opposite him, a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came
down. The five spots of paintthe man, the woman, the children,
the ballremained. The rest was a thin charcoaled layer. The
gentle sprinkler rain filled the garden with falling light.
Until this day, how well the house
had kept its peace. How carefully it had inquired, "Who
goes there? What's the password?"
and, getting no answer from lonely foxes and whining cats, it had
shut up its windows and drawn shades in an old-maidenly preoccupation
with selfprotection which bordered on mechanical
paranoia. It quivered at each sound, the house did. If a
sparrow brushed a window the shade snapped up. The bird, startled,
flew off! No, not even a bird must touch the house! The
house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small,
servicing attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the
ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.
A dog whined, shivering, on the
front porch. The front door recognized the dog voice and
opened. The dog, once huge and fleshy, but now gone to bone and
covered with sores, moved in and though the house, tracking mud.
Behind it whirred angry mice, angry at having to pick up mud, angry
at inconvenience. For not a leaf fragment blew under the
door but what the wall flipped open and the copper scrap rats flashed
swiftly out. The offending dust, hair, or paper, seized in miniature
steel jaws, was raced back to the burrow. There, down the tubes which
fed into the cellar, it was dropped into the sighing vent of an
incinerator which sat like evil Baal in a dark corner. The
dog ran upstairs, hysterically yelping to each door, at least
realizing, as the house realized, that only silence was
there. It sniffed the air and scratched the kitchen door.
Behind the door the stove was making pancakes which filled the house
with a rich baked odor and the scent of maple syrup. The
dog frothed at the mouth, lying at the door, sniffing, its eyes
turned to fire. It ran wildly in circles, biting at its tail, spun in
a frenzy, and died. It lay in the parlor for an hour.
sang a voice.
Delicately sensing decay at last,
the regiments of mice hummed out as softly as blown gray leaves in an
The dog was gone. In
the cellar, the incinerator glowed suddenly and a whirl of sparks
leaped up the chimney.
Bridge tables sprouted from patio
walls. Playing cards fluttered onto pads in a shower of pips.
Martinis manifested on an oaken bench with egg-salad sandwiches.
Music played. But the tables were silent and the cards
untouched. At four o'clock the tables folded like
butterflies back though the paneled walls.
The nursery walls
glowed. Animals took shape: yellow giraffes, blue lions,
pink antelopes, lilac panthers cavorting in crystal substance. The
walls were glass. They looked upon color and fantasy. Hidden fills
clocked though well-oiled sprockets, and the walls lived. The nursery
floor was woven to resemble a crisp, cereal meadow. Over this ran
aluminum roaches and iron crickets, and in the hot still air
butterflies of delicate red tissue wavered among the sharp aroma of
animal spoors! There was the sound like a great matted yellow hive of
bees within a dark bellows, the lazy bumble of a purring lion. And
there was the patter of okapi feet and the murmur of a fresh jungle
rain, like other hoofs, falling upon the summer-starched grass. Now
the walls dissolved into distances of parched weed, mile on mile, and
the warm endless sky. The animals drew away into thorn brakes and
water holes. It was the children's hour.
The bath filled with clear hot water.
Six, seven, eight o'clock.
The dinner dishes manipulated like
magic tricks, and in the study a click. In the metal stand opposite
the hearth where a fire now blazed up warmly, a cigar popped out,
half an inch of soft gray ash on it, smoking, waiting.
A voice spoke from the study ceiling: "Mrs.
McClellan, which poem would you like this evening?" The
house was silent. The voice said at last, "Since
you express no preference, I shall select a poem at random."
Quiet music rose to back the voice. "Sara
I recall, your favorite...."
There will come soft rains and the
smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their
And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white;
Robins will wear their feathery fire,
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;
And not one will know of the war,
Will care at last when it is done,
Not one would mind, neither bird
If mankind perished utterly;
And Spring herself, when she woke
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
The fire burned on the stone
hearth and the cigar fell away into a mound of quiet ash in its tray.
The empty chairs faced each other between the silent walls, and the
At ten o'clock the house began
The wind blew. A falling tree
bough crashed through the kitchen window. Cleaning solvent, bottled,
shattered over the stove. The room was ablaze in an instant! "Fire!"
screamed a voice. The house lights flashed, water pumps shot water
from the ceilings. But the solvent spread on the linoleum, licking,
eating, under the kitchen door., while the voices took it up in
fire, fire!" The
house tried to save itself. Doors sprang tightly shut, but the
windows were broken by the heat and the wind blew and sucked upon the
fire. The house gave ground as the fire in ten billion
angry sparks moved with flaming ease from room to room and then up
the stairs. While scurrying water rats squeaked from the walls,
pistoled their water, and ran for more. And the wall sprays let down
showers of mechanical rain. But too late. Somewhere,
sighing, a pump shrugged to a stop. The quenching rain ceased. The
reserve water supply which had filled baths and washed dishes for
many quiet days was gone. The fire crackled up the stairs.
It fed upon Picassos and Matisses in the upper halls like delicacies,
baking off the oily flesh, tenderly crisping the canvases into black shavings.
There Will Come Soft Rains from Peter Cotter on Vimeo.
* Ray Douglas Bradbury (b.1920)
was born in Waukegan, Illinois, a small city some 40 miles north of
Chicago. He began publishing his stories in 1941, and several have
been selected for the Best American Short Stories collections.
Bradbury arranges his highly moralistic stories in science-fiction
settings that often possess allegorical meanings for the present. He
has written also for stage, radio, and film. Among the most popular
of his many works are Dark Carnival (1947), The Martian Chronicles
(1950), Farenheit 451 (1953), and A Medicine for Melancholy (1959).
** This short story was taken from
Bridges: Literature across Cultures, a compilation of literary works
by Gilbert H. Muller and John A. Williams and published in 1994 by McGraw-Hill.