[For the previous Dark Carnival post, click here.]
“The Night” (1946)
In the year 1927, an 8-year-old boy and his mother “are all alone at home in the warm darkness of summer.” Dad is at a lodge meeting, and the boy’s older brother Skipper, 12, is out playing with his friends. Matters turn worrisome when Skipper doesn’t come home on time. The mother and the boy venture out to look for him, and their search naturally gravitates toward the town-bisecting ravine, a “pit of jungled blackness” with “a dark sewer, rotten foliage, thick green odor.” It is a region where “civilization ceases, reason ends, and a universal evil takes over.” The mother and the boy fear that Skipper might have tried to cut across the ravine and encountered “Tramps. Criminals. Darkness. Accident. Most of all-Death.” Just as the dread builds to a crescendo, though, Skipper appears with his friends, safe and sound. But the boy has been struck by “the essential impact of life’s loneliness,” and the incident has a significant effect on his outlook onto to the world.
Bradbury, somewhat unusually, writes the story in the second-person, perhaps to emphasize universality (“There are a million small towns like this all over the world,” he writes. “Each as dark, as lonely, each as removed, as full of shuddering and wonder.”). Perhaps the author was just trying to distance himself from a story rooted in autobiography (Bradbury would subsequently expand on this material in “The Whole Town’s Sleeping” and Dandelion Wine, both of which explicitly invoke the serial killer known as “The Lonely One”). The sinister ravine setting proves a prominent element of Bradbury’s Green Town milieu, and also prefigures the Barrens in Stephen King’s American Gothic opus, IT. Yes, “The Night” casts a long shadow, and none of its dark brilliance has dulled after seventy-five years.