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Extended Summary

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 entire section is 677 words.)