Ray Bradbury is probably remembered best for his contribution to the canon of 20th century American literature, Fahrenheit 451. He is also probably generally remembered more broadly as a science fiction writer. This makes sense, since he made some real contributions to the field of science fiction. Bradbury is probably not as well remembered for his works in general literature, even though he was both commercially and artistically successful in writing during the high years of literary fiction being something that the average American consumed in magazines.

One of the greatest selling points about Bradbury for me is his use of atmosphere. Whatever his skill at characterization, thematics, or plot, the hallmark of Bradbury was atmosphere. This was especially noteworthy because he often worked in a very short story format---under ten pages, and because the distinctiveness of his atmosphere is the same whether he is writing a story set amongst aliens on Mars or amongst senior citizens listening to the harp at a hotel. And so it with "The Town Where No One Got Off", an eight page story, originally published in 1958 in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, about a traveler on a train who decides to do something that many train or bus travelers have at least considered doing: get off in a small town in the middle of the Great Plains, and spend the day walking around town waiting for the next train. This could be a bucolic fable about the warmth of small town America, a whimsical exploration of how much the smallest interstices of our world have to show us. In fact, his story The Day It Rained Forever is just that.

But this is something else, and despite the fact that this story is over 50 years old, I am going to include a spoiler warning.








Really. It is that good. Don't read further unless you've read it.








If you have chosen to read this far, the only spoiler I am going to give is that this is a horror story. This story is eight pages long, and yet it is suspenseful, with a plot twist that I didn't imagine. And it is a horror story that works despite the fact that it has nothing in it that is supernatural, and nothing in it that involves a single overt act of violence, and without a drop of blood being shed. For the length and total lack of violence, this is the single most frightening horror story I have ever read, and it is all due to Bradbury's ability to almost instantly create an atmosphere that envelopes you in the story.

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