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Bradbury, Ray – “The Fox in the Forest” (1950)

07/10/2012

The place is Mexico, and “[t]he year is 1938. A good year.” Our protagonists, William and Susan Travis, a married couple, have escaped here from 2155, “a world that was evil. A world that was like a great ship pulling away from the shore of sanity and civilization, roaring its black howl in the night, taking two billion people with it, whether they wanted to go or not, to death, to fall over the edge of the earth and the sea into radioactive flame and madness.” Oddly enough, a company in this grim totalitarian future has just begun offering people jaunts into the past, which require a “psychological block” against talking to historical denizens about the future, but not against running away and staying in Mexico in 1938.

Luxuries (other than time travel?) are scarce in the year 2155, and what sets the Travises apart from the time-natives is their almost manic pursuit of pleasurable commodities, so when they notice “in the shadows, with bottles of assorted liquors at his elbow, the man in the Panama hat lit a Turkish cigarette and stared into the crowd, searching,” they know they’re in trouble. He picks them out, in turn, because Mr. Travis fails to lift the legs of his slacks properly as he takes a seat. The head of a governmental body known as the Searchers, he is there to return them to the jobs they left behind as workers in a bomb factory and a disease-culture unit (making “leprosy bombs,” no less) – although he lets them off the hook for one last night so that he can continue enjoying the “ancient vices.” They take advantage of this to ambush him and run him over with a car, and then take cover with a group of Americans in town shooting a movie. In the middle of a heavy-drinking hotel room party (hint, hint), the director spins the two of them a tale about a movie he’d like them to star in, about a couple who have escaped from a dismal future,“followed by a man who they think is evil, but who is only trying to show them what their Duty is.” They kidnap the Travises back into the future, leaving behind only a closet full of liquor, cigarettes, and cigars.

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