The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury

“The Pedestrian” (1951)
by Ray Bradbury

To enter out into that silence that was the
city at eight o’clock of a misty evening in November,
to put your feet upon that buckling concrete walk, to
step over grassy seams and make your way, hands in
pockets, through the silences, that was what Mr.
Leonard Mead most dearly loved to do. He would
stand upon the corner of an intersection and peer
down long moonlit avenues of sidewalk in four
directions, deciding which way to go, but it really
made no difference; he was alone in this world of
A.D. 2053, or as good as alone, and with a final
decision made, a path selected, he would stride off,
sending patterns of frosty air before him like the
smoke of a cigar.

Sometimes he would walk for hours and
miles and return only at midnight to his house. And
on his way he would see the cottages and homes with
their dark windows, and it was not unequal to
walking through a graveyard where only the faintest
glimmers of firefly light appeared in flickers behind
the windows. Sudden gray phantoms seemed to
manifest upon inner room walls where a curtain was
still undrawn against the night, or there were
whisperings and murmurs where a window in a tomb¬
like building was still open.

Mr. Leonard Mead would pause, cock his
head, listen, look, and march on, his feet making no
noise on the lumpy walk. For long ago he had wisely
changed to sneakers when strolling at night, because
the dogs in intermittent squads would parallel his
journey with barkings if he wore hard heels, and
lights might click on and faces appear and an entire
street be startled by the passing of a lone figure,
himself, in the early November evening.

On this particular evening he began his
journey in a westerly direction, toward the hidden
sea. There was a good crystal frost in the air; it cut the
nose and made the lungs blaze like a Christmas tree
inside; you could feel the cold light going on and off,
all the branches filled with invisible snow. He
listened to the faint push of his soft shoes through
autumn leaves with satisfaction, and whistled a cold
quiet whistle between his teeth, occasionally picking
up a leaf as he passed, examining its skeletal pattern
in the infrequent lamplights as he went on, smelling
its rusty smell.

“Hello, in there,” he whispered to every
house on every side as he moved. “What’s up tonight
on Channel 4, Channel 7, Channel 9? Where are the
cowboys rushing, and do 1 see the United States
Cavalry over the next hill to the rescue?”

The street was silent and long and empty,
with only his shadow moving like the shadow of a
hawk in midcountry. If he closed his eyes and stood
very still, frozen, he could imagine himself upon the

center of a plain, a wintry, windless Arizona desert
with no house in a thousand miles, and only dry river
beds, the streets, for company.

“What is it now?” he asked the houses,
noticing his wrist watch. “Eight-thirty P.M.? Time for
a dozen assorted murders? A quiz? A revue? A
comedian falling off the stage?”

Was that a murmur of laughter from within a
moon-white house? He hesitated, but went on when
nothing more happened. He stumbled over a
particularly uneven section of sidewalk. The cement
was vanishing under flowers and grass. In ten years
of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he
had never met another person walking, not once in all
that time.

He came to a cloverleaf intersection which
stood silent where two main highways crossed the
town. During the day it was a thunderous surge of
cars, the gas stations open, a great insect rustling and
a ceaseless jockeying for position as the scarab-
beetles, a faint incense puttering from their exhausts,
skimmed homeward to the far directions. But now
these highways, too, were like streams in a dry
season, all stone and bed and moon radiance.

He turned back on a side street, circling
around toward his home. He was within a block of his
destination when the lone car turned a corner quite
suddenly and flashed a fierce white cone of light
upon him. He stood entranced, not unlike a night
moth, stunned by the illumination, and then drawn
toward it.

A metallic voice called to him:

“Stand still. Stay where you are! Don’t move!”

He halted.

“Put up your hands!”

“But-” he said.

“Your hands up! Or we’ll Shoot!”

The police, of course, but what a rare,
incredible thing; in a city of three million, there was
only one police car left, wasn’t that correct? Ever
since a year ago, 2052, the election year, the force
had been cut down from three cars to one. Crime was
ebbing; there was no need now for the police, save for
this one lone car wandering and wandering the empty streets.

“Your name?” said the police car in a
metallic whisper. He couldn’t see the men in it for the
bright light in his eyes.

“Leonard Mead,” he said.

“Speak up!”

“Leonard Mead!”

“Business or profession?”

“I guess you’d call me a writer.”

“No profession,” said the police car, as if
talking to itself. The light held him fixed, like a
museum specimen, needle thrust through chest.

“You might say that,” said Mr. Mead. He
hadn’t written in years. Magazines and books didn’t
sell any more. Everything went on in the tomblike
houses at night now, he thought, continuing his fancy.
The tombs, ill-lit by television light, where the people
sat like the dead, the gray or multicolored lights
touching their faces, but never really touching them.

“No profession,” said the phonograph voice,
hissing. “What are you doing out?”

“Walking,” said Leonard Mead.

“Walking!”

“Just walking,” he said simply, but his face

felt cold.

“Walking, just walking, walking?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Walking where? For what?”

“Walking for air. Walking to see.”

“Your address!”

“Eleven South Saint James Street.”

“And there is air in your house, you have an
air conditioner, Mr. Mead?”

“Yes.”

“And you have a viewing screen in your
house to see with?”

“No.”

“No?” There was a crackling quiet that in
itself was an accusation.

“Are you married, Mr. Mead?”

“No.”

“Not married,” said the police voice behind
the fiery beam, The moon was high and clear among
the stars and the houses were gray and silent.

“Nobody wanted me,” said Leonard Mead with a smile.

“Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to!”

Leonard Mead waited in the cold night.

“Just walking, Mr. Mead?”

“Yes.”

“But you haven’t explained for what purpose.”

“I explained; for air, and to see, and just to

walk.”

“Have you done this often?”

“Every night for years.”

The police car sat in the center of the street
with its radio throat faintly humming.

“Well, Mr. Mead,” it said.

“Is that all?” he asked politely.

“Yes,” said the voice. “Here.” There was a
sigh, a pop. The back door of the police car sprang wide. “Get in.”

“Wait a minute, I haven’t done anything!”

“Get in.”

“I protest!”

“Mr. Mead.”

He walked like a man suddenly drunk. As he
passed the front window of the car he looked in. As
he had expected, there was no one in the front seat, no
one in the car at all.

“Get in.”

He put his hand to the door and peered into
the back seat, which was a little cell, a little black jail
with bars. It smelled of riveted steel. It smelled of
harsh antiseptic; it smelled too clean and hard and
metallic. There was nothing soft there.

“Now if you had a wife to give you an alibi,”
said the iron voice. “But-”

“Where are you taking me?”

The car hesitated, or rather gave a faint
whirring click, as if information, somewhere, was
dropping card by punch-slotted card under electric
eyes. “To the Psychiatric Center for Research on
Regressive Tendencies.”

He got in. The door shut with a soft thud.
The police car rolled through the night avenues,
flashing its dim lights ahead.

They passed one house on one street a
moment later, one house in an entire city of houses
that were dark, but this one particular house had all of
its electric lights brightly lit, every window a loud
yellow illumination, square and warm in the cool
darkness.

“That’s my house,” said Leonard Mead.

No one answered him.

The car moved down the empty river-bed
streets and off away, leaving the empty streets with
the empty side-walks, and no sound and no motion all
the rest of the chill November night.

– – – –

The Pedestrian by Ray Douglas Bradbury (August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012)