For the next entry in my little Ray Bradbury special, I’d like to explore one of his most popular stories: The Crowd. If you’ve read Bradbury before, there’s a good chance you’ve come across this story, if not in books, then perhaps depicted on television sometime, somewhere. Some of these early science fiction/horror stories are so unbelievably simple, yet still manage to be highly effective, and The Crowd is no exception.
Right from the start, we’re thrown into a scene of great violence, as our protagonist is sent hurtling through the air, after having been struck by another vehicle. As he lies bleeding on the street, he notices a crowd of people has gathered around him. He finds it odd how quickly the crowd has found him, long before any medical help arrives, but just chalks it up to human curiosity and thinks nothing more of it.
You already know where this story is headed, right? See how simple? It’s truly a thing of beauty.
As our protagonist heads home from the hospital, he passes yet another automobile accident, and by god, what does he see? Yup, you got it. He sees the exact same crowd of people who had gathered around his own accident. Of course, this gets him thinking something awful and for the next few pages he becomes totally obsessed with the thought. Does the same crowd of people gather at the scene of every accident? How do they know where these accidents will take place? Are they the ones causing them to happen in the first place?
He sets out for answers.
After a bit of research, he discovers the same crowd has appeared at every documented crash in town. His blood runs cold. He may have just stumbled upon some bizarre group of serial killers, killing their victims through planned car accidents, or uncovered some paranormal happening, or some other wild conspiracy. He decides he has enough proof to escalate the matter to the police.
(you already fucking know!)
…on the way to the police station, our protagonist is involved in yet another terrible accident! This time, however, as the crowd closes in on his broken body, he sees his destiny unfold right before his eyes… he is to become the newest member of the crowd!
And… that’s curtain.
Bradbury keeps this one lean and tight, yet still manages to pack enough story in to make it memorable. It’ll stick with you.
But why? Why is this story so popular?
It can’t be just the quality of writing, or else every one of his stories would be as memorable (not saying some aren’t). There’s not really a big twist at the end, at least not one you didn’t see coming, so that can’t be it either. It’s can’t be the protagonist, because 1) I can’t even remember his name, and 2) he’s pretty two-dimensional. It could have been anybody else and the story would’ve been just as memorable.
It may be that we’ve all experienced the happenings in this story in our day-to-day lives. We’ve all seen the carnage associated with a car crash, whether we were involved in it ourselves or just driving by. We can visualize these scenes intensely, vividly. We’ve been there. We’ve seen the crowd, we know they exist, yet we haven’t seen their faces. Who are they?
Bradbury very well may have been right.