Raymond Bradbury: Farewell Summer

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    Farewell Summer
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Douglas's hands fisted in his pockets, clutching dust, marbles, and a piece of white chalk. At any moment Charlie would run, the gang with him, yapping like dogs, to flop in deep grape-arbor twilight, not even swatting flies, eyes shut.

Douglas swiftly chalked their names, CHARLIE, TOM, PETE, BO, WILL, SAM, HENRY, AND RALPH, on the gravestones, then jumped back to let them spy themselves, so much chalk-dust on marble, flaking, as time blew by in the trees.

The boys stared for a long, long time, silent, their eyes moving over the strange shapes of chalk on the cold stone. Then, at last, there was the faintest exhalation of a whisper.

"Ain't going to die!" cried Will. "I'll fight!"

"Skeletons don't fight," said Douglas.

"No, sir!" Will lunged at the stone, erasing the chalk, tears springing to his eyes.

The other boys stood, frozen.

"Sure," Douglas said. "They'll teach us at school, say, here's your heart, the thing you get attacks with!

Show you bugs you can't see! Teach you to jump off buildings, stab people, fall and not move."

"No, sir," Sam gasped.

The great meadow of graveyard rippled under the last fingers of fading sunlight. Moths fluttered around them, and the sound of a graveyard creek ran over all their cold moonlit thoughts and gaspings as Douglas quietly finished: "Sure, none of us wants to just lie here and never play kick-the-can again. You want all

"Heck no, Doug…"

"Then we stop it! We find out how our folks make us grow, teach us to lie, cheat, steal. War? Great! Murder? Swell! We'll never be so well off as we are right now! Grow up and you turn into burglars and get shot, or worse, they make you wear a coat and tie and stash you in the First National Bank behind brass bars! We gotta stand still! Stay the age we are. Grow up? Hah! All you do then is marry someone who screams at you! Well, do we fight back? Will you let me tell you how to

"Gosh," said Charlie. "Yeah!"

"Then," said Doug, "talk to your body: Bones, not one more inch! Statues! Don't forget, Quartermain owns this graveyard. He makes money if we lie here, you and you and you! But we'll show him. And all those old men who own the town! Halloween's almost here and before then we got to sour their grapes! You wanna look like them? You know how they got that way? Well, they were all young once, but somewhere along the way, oh gosh, when they were thirty or forty or fifty, they chewed tobacco and phlegm-hocked up on themselves and that phlegm-hock turned all gummy and sticky and then the next thing you know there was spittle all over them and they began to look like, you know, you've seen, caterpillars turned into chrysalis, their darned skin hardened, and the young guys turned old, got trapped inside their shells, by God. Then they began to look like all those old guys. So, what you have is old men with young guys trapped inside them. Some year soon, maybe, their skin will crack and the old men will let the old young men out. But they won't be young anymore, they'll be a bunch of death's-head moths or, come to think of it, I think the old men are going to keep the young men inside them forever, so they're trapped in all that glue, always hoping to get free. It's pretty bad, isn't it? Pretty bad."

"Is that it, Doug?" said Tom.

"Yeah," said Pete. "You sure you know what you're talking about?"

"What Pete is trying to say is that we gotta know with precision, we gotta know what's accurate," said Bo.

"I'll say it again," said Doug. "You listen close. Tom, you taking this down?"

"Yup," said Tom, his pencil poised over his notepad. "Shoot."

They stood in the darkening shadows, in the smell of grass and leaves and old roses and cold stone and raised their heads, sniffling, and wiped their cheeks on their shirtsleeves.

"Okay, then," said Doug. "Let's go over it again. It's not enough just seeing these graves. We've got to sneak under open windows, listen, discover what those old geezers are sick with. Tom, go get the pumpkins out of Grandma's pantry. We're gonna have a contest, see which of us can carve the scariest pumpkin. One to look like old man Qjiartermain, one like Bleak, one like Gray. Light them up and put them out. Later tonight we start our first attack with the carved pumpkins. Okay?"

"Okay!" everyone shouted.

They leapt over WHYTE, WILLIAMS, and NEBB, jumped and vaulted SAMUELS and KELLER, screamed the iron gate wide, leaving the cold land behind them, lost sunlight, and the creek running forever below the hill. A host of gray moths followed them as far as the gate where Tom braked and stared at his brother accusingly.

"Doug, about those pumpkins. Gosh almighty, you're nuts!"

"What?" Doug stopped and turned back as the

"It ain't enough. I mean, look what you've done. You've pushed the fellas too far, got 'em scared. Keep on with this sort of talk you're going to lose your army. You've got to do something that will put everything back together again. Find something for us to do or else everyone will go home and stay there, or go lie down with the dogs and sleep it off. Think of something, Doug. It's important."

Doug put his hands on his hips and stared at Tom. "Why do I got this feeling you're the general and I'm just a buck private?"

"WTiat do you mean, Doug?"

"I mean here I am, almost fourteen, and you're twelve going on a hundred and ordering me around and telling me what to do. Are things so bad?"

"Bad, Doug? They're terrible. Look at all those guys running away. You better catch up and think of something between here and the middle of town. Re-carving jack-o'-lanterns. Think, Doug, think."

"I'm thinking," said Doug, eyes shut.

"Well then, get going! Run, Doug, I'll catch up."

And Doug ran on.


ON THE WAY INTO TOWN, ON A STREET NEAR THE school stood the nickel emporium where all the sweet poisons hid in luscious traps.

Doug stopped, stared, and waited for Tom to catch up and then yelled, "Okay, gang, this way. In!"

Around him all the boys came to a halt because he said the name of the shop, which was pure magic.

Doug beckoned and they all gathered and followed, orderly, like a good army, into the shop.

Tom came last, smiling at Doug as if he knew something that nobody else knew.

Inside, honey lay sheathed in warm African chocolate. Plunged and captured in the amber treasure lay fresh Brazil nuts, almonds, and glazed clusters of snowy coconut. June butter and August wheat were clothed in dark sugars. All were crinkled in folded tin foil, then wrapped in red and blue papers that told the weight, ingredients, and manufacturer. In bright bouquets the candies lay, caramels to glue the teeth, licorice to blacken the heart, chewy wax bottles filled with sickening mint and strawberry sap, Tootsie Rolls to hold like cigars, red-tipped chalk-mint cigarettes for chill mornings when your breath smoked on the air.

The boys, in the middle of the shop, saw diamonds to crunch, fabulous liquors to swig. Persimmon-colored pop bottles swam, clinking softly, in the Nile waters of the refrigerated box, its water cold enough to cut your skin. Above, on glass shelves, lay cordwood piles of gingersnaps, macaroons, chocolate bits, vanilla wafers shaped like moons, and marshmallow dips, white surprises under black masquerades. All of this to coat the tongue, plaster the palate.

Doug pulled some nickels from his pocket and nodded at the boys.

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