A Sound of Thunder Summary
by Ray Bradbury

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Extended Summary

The story “A Sound of Thunder,” by Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), opens when a man named Eckels enters the offices of Time Safari, Inc., a company that offers safaris that take hunters to any time in the past to hunt any animals they wish to shoot. Eckels presents a check for $10,000 to the clerk and asks if the company guarantees that hunters return alive from the past. The clerk replies that the company guarantees nothing but encounters with dinosaurs. Hunters must strictly obey their guides, shooting only what and when they are instructed to shoot. Any disobedience will result in a $10,000 fine plus possible government-imposed penalties.

Eckels contemplates the nearby time machine and remarks that if Keith, the progressive candidate he favored in yesterday’s presidential election, had lost the contest, Eckels might be in the office now, trying to go to some other time to escape the outcome. The clerk agrees that it would indeed have been awful if Deutscher, Keith’s opponent, had been elected. The two men quickly return, however, to discussing the opportunity Eckels will have to shoot a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The clerk warns that if Eckels is attacked and eaten by a dinosaur, the company is not liable. Six safari guides died last year, along with twice as many hunters. The clerk wants Eckels to be sure that he really wants to make the trip.

Eckels indicates that he does, and so he is introduced to Mr. Travis, the experienced guide who will lead this safari. Travis and Eckels, carrying rifles, enter the time machine, which is already occupied by Travis’s assistant, Lesperance, and two other hunters (Billings and Kramer). The machine kicks into operation and the nights, days, weeks, months, years, centuries, and millennia whiz by. Leaving A.D. 2055, the men soon arrive in the midst of a jungle that existed 60,002,055 years before.

As they look out of the time machine, Travis points out a metal path into the jungle. Made of anti-gravity metal, it hovers half a foot above the ground. It was placed there by the company to prevent hunters from in any way having physical contact with the jungle. Travis emphatically instructs them that they are never to leave the path, for any reason. He insists that the men pay careful attention to this rule and never violate it. They are not to touch anything, and they are not to shoot at any animals unless Travis approves. When Eckels asks why, Travis elaborately explains that the company does not want to take any chances by changing anything at all about the future. Destroying even a flower, an insect, a mouse, or any other living thing could cause potentially massive unforeseen consequences in the future. This is especially the case since killing one living thing in the jungle would mean wiping out the potential offspring of that thing, and thus the offsprings’ offspring, and so on and on and on for countless generations. The results of killing anything in the jungle are literally unpredictable, which is one reason that all the men are wearing oxygen helmets—so as not to introduce any latter-day bacteria into the primeval jungle. Killing just one animal might some day mean, for instance, that a future caveman might not survive by eating the distant offspring of that animal, and the non-survival of that caveman could conceivably change human history. In short: no one is to kill anything except an animal designated by the company.

The company, as it turns out, sends scouts back in time through the time machine to the precise location of the hunt, but they arrive before the hunt and observe which animals will accidentally die in any case on the day of the scheduled hunt. Those are the animals—the dinosaurs in particular—whom the hunters are allowed to shoot: the animals whose deaths would not change a thing. The scouts mark these animals by shooting them with red paint so that they can be easily identified. Then, the hunting party arrives, stations itself where the animal was scheduled to die...

(The entire section is 1,264 words.)