Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 677
Mr. Leonard Mead, in the year 2053 A.D., steps out of his house and into the darkness at eight o’clock on a November evening. He thinks about how much he enjoys being outside and walking in the quiet darkness, and how it does not matter which way he goes. It...
(The entire section contains 677 words.)
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Mr. Leonard Mead, in the year 2053 A.D., steps out of his house and into the darkness at eight o’clock on a November evening. He thinks about how much he enjoys being outside and walking in the quiet darkness, and how it does not matter which way he goes. It is cold outside, and his breath sends “patterns of frosty air before him like the smoke of a cigar.”
Sometimes Mead walks like this for hours, not returning home until midnight. In his mind he compares the houses he passes to graveyards because of their dark stillness. There is only an occasional shadow, like a “gray phantom” to be seen. If someone has left a window open, there might be “whispers and murmurings,” but no intelligible sounds.
Mead wears sneakers when he walks to avoid making noise that could draw the attention of dogs and homeowners. This evening he decides to walk toward the west. It is cold as he walks, he can hear his faint footsteps, and he picks up the occasional leaf to examine its “skeletal pattern.” He whispers, “Hello, in there,” to every house he passes and wonders what television channel and kind of program the people inside are watching. He imagines himself standing in the Arizona desert by himself, with nothing around for a thousand miles.
He thinks he hears laughter and stops walking. He continues again when nothing else happens, thinking about the fact that he has never met another person in his ten years of walking the streets. He stumbles over an uneven spot in the sidewalk. The cement of the sidewalk is overgrown with flowers and grass. When he passes an intersection he thinks about how busy it is in the daytime, imagining the cars "jockeying" with each other, the smell of car exhaust, and visualizing the open gas stations. Now, however, the intersection is completely empty.
On his way back, he is one block away from his home when a car appears and flashes a light on him. A voice coming from the police car tells him, “Stand still. Stay where you are! Don’t move!” It is the police. Mead is amazed because, although there are three million people in the city, there is only one police car, and it has found him. The previous year, there had been three police cars, but that was an election year. The police force has now been cut to one car. The reader learns that crime has dwindled to nearly nothing in the future, so police are no longer needed.
The voice asks Mead his name and profession. When Mead says that he is a writer, the voice notes, “No profession.” Mead thinks about the fact that books and magazines do not sell anymore because all people do now is sit in their houses, “the tombs,” and watch television, like “the dead.”
When Mead says that he has been out walking, the voice is surprised and suspicious. It is rude to Mead, ordering him not to speak unless he is spoken to. The voice asks Mead if he is married. Mead says, “No...nobody wanted me.” Mead thinks the encounter is about to end and asks, “Is that all?” But the back door of the car open, and the voice tells Mead to get in.
Mead looks into the car. It looks like a “little cell, a little black jail with bars.” It looks “hard and metallic.” The voice tells him again to get in. He says, “Now if you had a wife to give you an alibi....”
Mead gets in and asks where he is being taken. The voice says, “To the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies.” When the police car pulls away, it passes the only house in the entire city that is not dark. This house has all its lights on and looks “warm in the cool darkness.” Mead says, “That’s my house,” but the voice says nothing. As the car pulls away it leaves the streets of the neighborhood empty, silent, and motionless.