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.
"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 that."
"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?"
"I'll get you more coffee. Take it easy. My God, you look terrible."
"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 miles away."
"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 believe"
He cut in. "They promised!"
"But that was a lifetime ago!"
"What if in the meantime they changed their minds, or justforgot?"
"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 justdon'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 half-dressed...
One More for the Road. Copyright © by Ray Bradbury. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.