There was a sound of thunder.
— from "A Sound of Thunder," by Ray Bradbury
As I read the final words of the story, a chill ran up my spine. The written word had never had so profound an impact on me. Although I was just 11, I knew that what I'd read would stay with me forever.
I still regard "A Sound of Thunder" as one of the greatest science fiction short stories ever written. It tells the tale of time travelers hunting a Tyrannosaurus rex. One hunter carelessly steps on and kills a butterfly, with dire consequences for humanity.
I read the story's chilling ending over and over. I stared at the cool cover art on the little paperback for hours. The collection's title and author were carved into my mind: R is for Rocket by Ray Bradbury.
It was just one of my big brother Jerry's numerous $1.50 sci-fi paperbacks from the rotating display rack at Woolworth's. But to me, it was gold. I tore into its other short stories, and they captivated me: Astronauts fight for their lives after crash landing in the swampy jungles of Venus; an ancient sea creature rises from the depths, drawn to the sound of a lighthouse foghorn; space travelers come to the realization that the paradise planet they discovered hides dangers they never anticipated.
Bradbury's unique, poetic prose encompassed a wondrous mix of science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and horror. I was hooked, and if Jerry couldn't find his other Bradbury books in his bedroom bookcase, he knew where they'd be. I read Bradbury's other short story collections — S is for Space, The Illustrated Man, The Golden Apples of the Sun — so many times that I cracked the books' spines, and Jerry and I often talked about our favorite stories.
Although I had always liked to write and often told family and friends that I planned to do so "one of these days," I was never serious about it until I read Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. In it, he wrote, "What are the best things and the worst things in your life, and when are you going to get around to whispering or shouting them? You fail only if you stop writing." I remember feeling that he was speaking directly to me, and I started to write on a regular basis shortly afterward.
In his seminal novel Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury wrote, "It doesn't matter what you do ... so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away."
A Ray Bradbury paperback is such a small, exquisite thing, and it can change things all down the years and across time — including the life of a kid for whom it resonated like the sound of thunder.
Chris Gibbons is a Philadelphia writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.