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FAHRENHEIT 451by Ray BradburyThis one, with gratitude, is for DON CONGDON.FAHRENHEIT 451:The temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burnsPART IIT WAS A PLEASURE TO BURNIT was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. With thebrass nozzle in his fists, with this great python spitting its venomous kerosene upon the world,the blood pounded in his head, and his hands were the hands of some amazing conductor playingall the symphonies of blazing and burning to bring down the tatters and charcoal ruins of history.With his symbolic helmet numbered 451 on his stolid head, and his eyes all orange flame withthe thought of what came next, he flicked the igniter and the house jumped up in a gorging firethat burned the evening sky red and yellow and black. He strode in a swarm of fireflies. Hewanted above all, like the old joke, to shove a marshmallow on a stick in the furnace, while theflapping pigeon-winged books died on the porch and lawn of the house. While the books went upin sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning.Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame.He knew that when he returned to the firehouse, he might wink at himself, a minstrel man,burntcorked,in the mirror. Later, going to sleep, he would feel the fiery smile still gripped by his facemuscles, in the dark. It never went away, that. smile, it never ever went away, as long as heremembered.He hung up his black-beetle-coloured helmet and shined it, he hung his flameproof jacket neatly;he showered luxuriously, and then, whistling, hands in pockets, walked across the upper floor ofthe fire station and fell down the hole. At the last moment, when disaster seemed positive, hepulled his hands from his pockets and broke his fall by grasping the golden pole. He slid to asqueaking halt, the heels one inch from the concrete floor downstairs.He walked out of the fire station and along the midnight street toward the subway where thesilent, air-propelled train slid soundlessly down its lubricated flue in the earth and let him outwith a great puff of warm air an to the cream-tiled escalator rising to the suburb.Whistling, he let the escalator waft him into the still night air. He walked toward the comer,thinking little at all about nothing in particular. Before he reached the corner, however, heslowed as if a wind had sprung up from nowhere, as if someone had called his name.The last few nights he had had the most uncertain feelings about the sidewalk just around thecorner here, moving in the starlight toward his house. He had felt that a moment before hismaking the turn, someone had been there. The air seemed charged with a special calm as ifsomeone had waited there, quietly, and only a moment before he came, simply turned to a

shadow and let him through. Perhaps his nose detected a faint perfume, perhaps the skin on thebacks of his hands, on his face, felt the temperature rise at this one spot where a person'sstanding might raise the immediate atmosphere ten degrees for an instant. There was nounderstanding it. Each time he made the turn, he saw only the white, unused, buckling sidewalk,with perhaps, on one night, something vanishing swiftly across a lawn before he could focus hiseyes or speak.But now, tonight, he slowed almost to a stop. His inner mind, reaching out to turn the corner forhim, had heard the faintest whisper. Breathing? Or was the atmosphere compressed merely bysomeone standing very quietly there, waiting?He turned the corner.The autumn leaves blew over the moonlit pavement in such a way as to make the girl who wasmoving there seem fixed to a sliding walk, letting the motion of the wind and the leaves carry herforward. Her head was half bent to watch her shoes stir the circling leaves. Her face was slenderand milk-white, and in it was a kind of gentle hunger that touched over everything with tirelesscuriosity. It was a look, almost, of pale surprise; the dark eyes were so fixed to the world that nomove escaped them. Her dress was white and it whispered. He almost thought he heard themotion of her hands as she walked, and the infinitely small sound now, the white stir of her faceturning when she discovered she was a moment away from a man who stood in the middle of thepavement waiting.The trees overhead made a great sound of letting down their dry rain. The girl stopped andlooked as if she might pull back in surprise, but instead stood regarding Montag with eyes sodark and shining and alive, that he felt he had said something quite wonderful. But he knew hismouth had only moved to say hello, and then when she seemed hypnotized by the salamander onhis arm and the phoenix-disc on his chest, he spoke again."Of course," he said, "you're a new neighbour, aren't you?""And you must be"-she raised her eyes from his professional symbols-"the fireman." Her voicetrailed off."How oddly you say that.""I'd-I'd have known it with my eyes shut," she said, slowly."What-the smell of kerosene? My wife always complains," he laughed. "You never wash it offcompletely.""No, you don't," she said, in awe.He felt she was walking in a circle about him, turning him end for end, shaking him quietly, andemptying his pockets, without once moving herself."Kerosene," he said, because the silence had lengthened, "is nothing but perfume to me.""Does it seem like that, really?""Of course. Why not?"She gave herself time to think of it. "I don't know." She turned to face the sidewalk going towardtheir homes. "Do you mind if I walk back with you? I'm Clarisse McClellan.""Clarisse. Guy Montag. Come along. What are you doing out so late wandering around? Howold are you?"They walked in the warm-cool blowing night on the silvered pavement and there was the faintest

breath of fresh apricots and strawberries in the air, and he looked around and realized this wasquite impossible, so late in the year.There was only the girl walking with him now, her face bright as snow in the moonlight, and heknew she was working his questions around, seeking the best answers she could possibly give."Well," she said, "I'm seventeen and I'm crazy. My uncle says the two always go together. Whenpeople ask your age, he said, always say seventeen and insane. Isn't this a nice time of night towalk? I like to smell things and look at things, and sometimes stay up all night, walking, andwatch the sun rise."They walked on again in silence and finally she said, thoughtfully, "You know, I'm not afraid ofyou at all."He was surprised. "Why should you be?""So many people are. Afraid of firemen, I mean. But you're just a man, after all."He saw himself in her eyes, suspended in two shining drops of bright water, himself dark andtiny, in fine detail, the lines about his mouth, everything there, as if her eyes were twomiraculous bits of violet amber that might capture and hold him intact. Her face, turned to himnow, was fragile milk crystal with a soft and constant light in it. It was not the hysterical light ofelectricity but-what? But the strangely comfortable and rare and gently flattering light of thecandle. One time, when he was a child, in a power-failure, his mother had found and lit a lastcandle and there had been a brief hour of rediscovery, of such illumination that space lost its vastdimensions and drew comfortably around them, and they, mother and son, alone, transformed,hoping that the power might not come on again too soon .And then Clarisse McClellan said:"Do you mind if I ask? How long have you worked at being a fireman?""Since I was twenty, ten years ago.""Do you ever read any of the books you bum?"He laughed. "That's against the law!""Oh. Of course.""It's fine work. Monday bum Millay, Wednesday Whitman, Friday Faulkner, burn 'em to ashes,then bum the ashes. That's our official slogan."They walked still further and the girl said, "Is it true that long ago firemen put fires out instead ofgoing to start them?""No. Houses. have always been fireproof, take my word for it.""Strange. I heard once that a long time ago houses used to burn by accident and they neededfiremen to stop the flames."He laughed.She glanced quickly over. "Why are you laughing?""I don't know." He started to laugh again and stopped "Why?""You laugh when I haven't been funny and you answer right off. You never stop to think whatI've asked you."He stopped walking, "You are an odd one," he said, looking at her. "Haven't you any respect?""I don't mean to be insulting. It's just, I love to watch people too much, I guess.""Well, doesn't this mean anything to you?" He tapped the numerals 451 stitched on his charcoloured

sleeve."Yes," she whispered. She increased her pace. "Have you ever watched the jet cars racing on theboulevards down that way?"You're changing the subject!""I sometimes think drivers don't know what grass is, or flowers, because they never see themslowly," she said. "If you showed a driver a green blur, Oh yes! he'd say, that's grass! A pinkblur? That's a rose-garden! White blurs are houses. Brown blurs are cows. My uncle droveslowly on a highway once. He drove forty miles an hour and they jailed him for two days. Isn'tthat funny, and sad, too?""You think too many things," said Montag, uneasily."I rarely watch the 'parlour walls' or go to races or Fun Parks. So I've lots of time for crazythoughts, I guess. Have you seen the two-hundred-foot-long billboards in the country beyondtown? Did you know that once billboards were only twenty feet long? But cars started rushing byso quickly they had to stretch the advertising out so it would last.""I didn't know that!" Montag laughed abruptly."Bet I know something else you don't. There's dew on the grass in the morning."He suddenly couldn't remember if he had known this or not, and it made him quite irritable."And if you look"-she nodded at the sky-"there's a man in the moon."He hadn't looked for a long time.They walked the rest of the way in silence, hers thoughtful, his a kind of clenching anduncomfortable silence in which he shot her accusing glances. When they reached her house all itslights were blazing."What's going on?" Montag had rarely seen that many house lights."Oh, just my mother and father and uncle sitting around, talking. It's like being a pedestrian, onlyrarer. My uncle was arrested another time-did I tell you?-for being a pedestrian. Oh, we're mostpeculiar.""But what do you talk about?"She laughed at this. "Good night!" She started up her walk. Then she seemed to remembersomething and came back to look at him with wonder and curiosity. "Are you happy?" she said."Am I what?" he cried.But she was gone-running in the moonlight. Her front door shut gently."Happy! Of all the nonsense."He stopped laughing.He put his hand into the glove-hole of his front door and let it know his touch. The front doorslid open.Of course I'm happy. What does she think? I'm not? he asked the quiet rooms. He stood lookingup at the ventilator grille in the hall and suddenly remembered that something lay hidden behindthe grille, something that seemed to peer down at him now. He moved his eyes quickly away.What a strange meeting on a strange night. He remembered nothing like it save one afternoon ayear ago when he had met an old man in the park and they had talked .Montag shook his head. He looked at a blank wall. The girl's face was there, really quitebeautiful in memory: astonishing, in fact. She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock

seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of a night when you waken to see the time and see theclock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, allcertainty and knowing what it has to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward furtherdarknesses but moving also toward a new sun."What?" asked Montag of that other self, the subconscious idiot that ran babbling at times, quiteindependent of will, habit, and conscience.He glanced back at the wall. How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many peopledid you know that refracted your own light to you? People were more often-he searched for asimile, found one in his work-torches, blazing away until they whiffed out. How rarely did otherpeople's faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermosttrembling thought?What incredible power of identification the girl had; she was like the eager watcher of amarionette show, anticipating each flicker of an eyelid, each gesture of his hand, each flick of afinger, the moment before it began. How long had they walked together? Three minutes? Five?Yet how large that time seemed now. How immense a figure she was on the stage before him;what a shadow she threw on the wall with her slender body! He felt that if his eye itched, shemight blink. And if the muscles of his jaws stretched imperceptibly, she would yawn long beforehe would.Why, he thought, now that I think of it, she almost seemed to be waiting for me there, in thestreet, so damned late at night . .He opened the bedroom door.It was like coming into the cold marbled room of a mausoleum after the moon had set. Completedarkness, not a hint of the silver world outside, the windows tightly shut, the chamber a tombworldwhere no sound from the great city could penetrate. The room was not empty.He listened.The little mosquito-delicate dancing hum in the air, the electrical murmur of a hidden wasp snugin its special pink warm nest. The music was almost loud enough so he could follow the tune.He felt his smile slide away, melt, fold over, and down on itself like a tallow skin, like the stuffof a fantastic candle burning too long and now collapsing and now blown out. Darkness. He wasnot happy. He was not happy. He said the words to himself. He recognized this as the true stateof affairs. He wore his happiness like a mask and the girl had run off across the lawn with themask and there was no way of going to knock on her door and ask for it back.Withou