2 (out of 4 stars)
A serial killer dubbed, The Lonely One is on the loose in a small, quiet town in Illinois. He's claimed a few victims already and he's still out there lurking. The entire town is in a state of panic. Residents aren't out after dark. Their doors are locked and windows bolted. Nobody takes any risks. And there is no room for errors.
Lavinia, Francine and Helen have plans to go see a Charlie Chaplin movie. They love life, themselves, and a good time. There is so much apprehension from Francine and Helen, though, because the Lonely One is still out there. Lavinia Nebbs, however, is not afraid. She's free flowing, and throws caution to the wind. She's not afraid of death; she's curious about it.
One their way to the movie, the girls stop at the drugstore where the clerk tells them that he saw a strange man, who asked about Lavinia and where she lives. The clerk, who is probably the biggest idiot in the story, gives her address to this strange man. Still, Lavinia is not intimidated. The girls will not let this ruin a good night. They go see the movie. Once inside the theater a strange man fitting the exact description of the man seen in the drugstore, finds a convenient seat a few rows behind them. Helen freaks out and calls for the lights. It proves to be just paranoia. The Lonely One was not among them.
After the movie they walk home on the lonely, isolated streets. Francine is the first to be dropped off, Helen is the second. They both worry about their friend, but Lavinia tells them not to worry. The Lonely One is probably long gone by now. He's moved on to another town, with other women who need to look behind their shoulders on their way home. The Lonely One is a distant memory.
The best scene in the story is when Lavinia has to go through a small patch of woods where she has to cross a ravine. Bradbury's style is simple, yet evokes so much suspense. It's as though the ravine is cut off from the rest of the town, and the rest of the world. There are a few moments of true suspense as she makes her journey through the darkness. It was in this area where a few of the victims were found. Lavinia knows this because it was she who found one of them earlier in the evening. Now, she's beginning to get spooked.
Lavinia does make it home safely. Or does she?
The very last line is a surprise ending. A final twist of the knife. But it leaves me wanting so much more.
The story was first published in 1950 and was in Dandelion Wine, although I'm reading it from, Bradbury Stories: 100 of his Most Celebrated Tales. Douglas Spaulding makes an appearance in the story as well. In an early scene, the girls make their first journey through the woods that leads to the ravine. Little Doug Spaulding hides behind some trees and scares them. I found it so odd that a boy of his age would be out there playing pranks but I guess times where different. Much of the story is borrowed from a real life cat burglar who was on the loose when Bradbury was a small boy. The burglar was never apprehended, even though he taunted police and called himself, The Lonely One.
Aside from the final sentence, which could have been revised, I really enjoyed this story. I love the suspense, ambiguity and Bradbury's perfect pace and timing. It moves with ease, and each time you turn the page, you're kind of asking yourself what these ladies have in store for themselves. The Lonely One is never seen, we don't even know if he really still is in this town. We only know what Lavinia's mind is telling us. She does start to get paranoid near the end of the story. She hears footsteps following behind her; she hears noises in the dead of night; she feels alone. The fear of the unknown is the scariest of all. But a greater fear is knowing that the monsters don't lurk in the pages of horror books, or on the big screen. No, sometimes the real monsters are everyday people who walk among us.
Does Lavinia's mind play tricks on her?
Or is The Lonely One right behind her as she closes the door and hits the light switch?
We don't know, but somewhere, Mr. Bradbury is proud for making us think.