It was while he was eating breakfast that Charles Douglas glanced
at his newspaper and saw the date. He took another bite of toast
and looked again and put the paper down.
"Oh, my God," he said.
Alice, his wife, startled, looked up. "What?"
"The date. Look at it! September fourteenth."
"So?" Alice said.
"The first day of school!"
"Say that again," she said.
"The first day of school, you know, summer vacation's over,
everyone back, the old faces, the old pals."
Alice studied him carefully, for he was beginning to rise. "Explain
"It is the first day, isn't it," he said.
"What's that got to do with us?" she said. "We don't have family,
we don't know any teachers, we don't even have friends anywhere
near with kids."
"Yeah, but..." Charlie said, picking up the newspaper again, his
voice gone strange. "I promised."
"The old gang," he said. "Years ago. What time is it?"
"We'd better hurry then," he said, "or we'll miss it."
"I'll get you more coffee. Take it easy. My God, you look
"But I just remembered." He watched her pour his cup full. "I
promised. Ross Simpson, Jack Smith, Gordon Haines. We took almost a
blood oath. Said we'd meet again, the first day of school, fifty
years after graduation."
His wife sat back and let go of the coffeepot.
"This all has to do with the first day of school, 1938?"
"And you stood around with Ross and Jack and what's his--"
"Gordon! And we didn't just stand around. We knew we were going out
in the world and might not meet again for years, or never, but we
took a solemn oath, no matter what, we'd all remember and come
back, across the world if we had to, to meet out in front of the
school by the flagpole, 1988."
"You all promised that?"
"Solemn promise, yeah. And here I am sitting here talking when I
should be getting the hell out the door."
"Charlie," Alice said, "you realize that your old school is forty
"Thirty. And you're going to drive over there and--"
"Get there before noon, sure."
"Do you know how this sounds, Charlie?"
"Nuts," he said, slowly. "Go ahead, say it."
"And what if you get there and nobody else shows?"
"What do you mean?" he said, his voice rising.
"I mean what if you're the only damn fool who's crazy enough to
He cut in. "They promised!"
"But that was a lifetime ago!"
"What if in the meantime they changed their minds, or just
"They wouldn't forget."
"Because they were my best pals, best friends forever, no one ever
had friends like that."
"Ohmigod," she said. "You're so sad, so naive."
"Is that what I am? Look, if I remember, why not them?"
"Because you're a special loony case!"
"Thanks a lot."
"Well, it's true, isn't it? Look at your office upstairs, all those
Lionel trains, Mr. Machines, stuffed toys, movie posters."
"Look at your files, full of letters from 1960, 1950, 1940, you
can't throw away."
"To you, yes. But do you really think those friends, or strangers,
have saved your letters, the way you've saved theirs?"
"I write great letters."
"Darn right. But call up some of those correspondents, ask for some
of your old letters back. How many do you think will return?"
He was silent.
"Zilch," she said.
"No use using language like that," he said.
"Is 'zilch' a swear-word?"
"The way you say it, yes."
"Don't 'Charlie' me!"
"How about the thirtieth anniversary of your drama club group where
you ran hoping to see some bubblehead Sally or something or other,
and she didn't remember, didn't know who you were?"
"Keep it up, keep it up," he said.
"Oh, God," she said. "I don't mean to rain on your picnic, I just
don't want you to get hurt."
"I've got a thick skin."
"Yes? You talk bull elephants and go hunt dragonflies."
He was on his feet. With each of her comments he got taller.
"Here goes the great hunter," he said.
"Yes," she exhaled, exhausted. "There you go, Charlie."
"I'm at the door," he said.
She stared at him.
And the door shut.
My God, he thought, this is like New Year's Eve.
He hit the gas hard, then released it, and hit it again, and let it
slow, depending on the beehive filling his head.
Or it's like Halloween, late, the fun over, and everyone going
home, he thought. Which?
So he moved along at an even pace, constantly glancing at his
watch. There was enough time, sure, plenty of time, but he had to
be there by noon.
But what in hell is this? he wondered. Was Alice right? A chase for
the wild goose, a trip to nowhere for nothing? Why was it so damned
important? After all, who were those pals, now unknown, and what
had they been up to? No letters, no phone calls, no face-to-face
collisions by pure accident, no obituaries. That last, scratch
that! Hit the accelerator, lighten up! Lord, he thought, I can
hardly wait. He laughed out loud. When was the last time you said
that? When you were a kid, could hardly wait, had a list of
hard-to-wait-for things. Christmas, my God, was always a billion
miles off. Easter? Half a million. Halloween? Dear sweet Halloween,
pumpkins, running, yelling, rapping windows, ringing doorbells, and
the mask, cardboard smelling hot with breath over your face. All
Hallows! The best. But a lifetime away. And July Fourth with great
expectations, trying to be first out of bed, first
Excerpted from ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD: A New Short Story
Collection © Copyright 2011 by Ray Bradbury. Reprinted with
permission by Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All
One More for the Road: A New Short Story Collection