A Sound of Thunder

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In his classic short story “A Sound of Thunder,” first published in 1952, Ray Bradbury explores the concept of connectivity–the way things, even things that seem so small, or so far away, are intricately interrelated.  In the story, which takes place in the year 2055, a company called Time Safari, Inc., has the ability to transport big-game hunters into the distant past via a time machine, where they can hunt dinosaurs.  But everything is very carefully calibrated and forecast.  In the world of sixty million years ago, company engineers have constructed a path, which cuts through the ancient landscape six inches above the earth.  Nowhere does the path touch the ground.  Company guides continually instruct the hunters who take the trip into the past never to leave the path (which is spelled with a capital “P” in the story to give it emphasis).  Not one step.  Not one speck of the ground on your shoes.

One hunter on the tour, Eckels, asks why.  What’s the big deal if they crush a blade of grass, step on an ant or a mouse?  The guide answers, in sum, that the ramifications of that might be catastrophic.  Assuming a mouse is stepped on by a man sixty million years before his proper time, “what about the foxes that’ll need those mice to survive?” the tour guide replies.  “For want of ten mice, a fox dies.  For want of ten foxes, a lion starves.  For want of a lion, all manner of insects, vultures, infinite billions of life forms are thrown into chaos and destruction.  Eventually it all boils down to this:  fifty-nine million years later, a caveman . . . goes hunting wild boar or saber-toothed tiger for food.  But you, friend, have stepped on all the tigers in that region.  By stepping on one single mouse.  So the caveman starves.   And the caveman . . . is not just any expendable man, no!  He is an entire future nation. . . . Destroy this one man, and you destroy a race, a people, an entire history of life. . . . The stomp of your foot, on one mouse, could start an earthquake, the effects of which could shake our earth and destinies down through Time, to their very foundations. . . . Step on a mouse and you leave your print, like a Grand Canyon, across Eternity.”

Time Safari, Inc. has even scouted out which dinosaurs will be killed naturally–perhaps by a falling tree or the attack of another dinosaur.  And they send advance guides into the past to spray-paint a red blotch on the soon-to-be-killed creatures.  Then, when the tour arrives, the machine is calibrated to arrive only minutes before the targeted, spray-painted dinosaurs were to be killed.  In this way, the balance is not disturbed.  Any dinosaurs shot by hunters on the tour were about to die anyway.

Eckels has signed up to hunt the tyrannosaurus rex, the thunder lizard.  He wants a chance to hunt the fiercest predator ever to walk the earth.

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But when the moment arrives, Eckels panics, overcome with fear in the face of the thunder lizard.  In his panic, he momentarily steps off the path, accidentally crushing a butterfly.

When the time machine returns to the present day, Eckels is astonished to note that it’s not the same world he left behind when he ventured back into the past via the time machine.  There is a different president, the language is slightly off.  It’s like a different, alien world.  All from one butterfly, sixty million years in the past, which he inadvertently killed in his moment of confusion and chaos.

“No, it can’t be!” he cries. . . .  “Not a little thing like that. . . . Not a little thing like that!  Not a butterfly!”

The Eye-Dancers deals with the idea of connection, too.  In fact, one of the major themes of the novel might be summed up like this–What if two people, two complete strangers, are connected in such a way that when one of them is in desperate need of help, she is able to communicate with the other through the vehicle of dreams?  It doesn’t matter that they are separated by the gulf of a universe, that they exist in different layers of what we term reality.  It doesn’t matter that they don’t know each other.  The connection exists anyway, in ways no one can fully understand.

And so it is for Mitchell Brant and the “ghost girl” who comes to him in his dreams.  As Mitchell himself realizes at novel’s end:  “It’s like, even the things that seem so far away you can’t even imagine . . . even those things are right there with you.”

Maybe, just maybe, the universe, or the multiverse–if you buy into parallel-worlds theory–while infinite, and so vast it boggles and overwhelms the mind, is also small enough where everything affects everything else.

Just like with Ray Bradbury’s short story about the butterfly and the great thunder lizard from sixty million years ago.

So right now, even if it’s calm and sunny, or cold and snowy, or crisp and serene with the stars shimmering in the night sky like precious jewels where you are–somewhere, at this very moment, there is a storm, and Mother Nature is displaying her power and strength.  You can’t see it.  It’s miles away.  Maybe continents away.  But listen.  Closely.  Closely.  Can you hear it?

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A sound of thunder . . .

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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