Clarisse McClellan: The Girl Who Was Different
You think you know me so well, but I have news for you: you don't know me at all. Those of you who have read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 know a small part of my story, but no more. You know me as Clarisse McClellan, but that's not my real name. If you want to know my real name, you'll be disappointed, because I can't tell you. I think the first thing I should say is that I'm not crazy, no, not crazy at all. I'm just as sane as anyone else. However, because I think differently, the people in this world shun me. That's how I ended up hidden in the bushes surrounding a high school football field. It seems like I'm always hiding. That's where my story begins.
I had to flee my last home because the firemen set the "Mechanical Hound" on me. I was known as Ashley Douvin back then, but even that wasn't my real name. I'm still not entirely sure what I did. I guess it was just because I was different. That's the only thing I can think of. I was lucky enough to be given a warning when the hound was let loose. A letter tied to a stone was thrown through my window. Tacky, sure, but at least it was a warning. I looked out the window, but since no one was there I pulled the letter off the stone and read it. After all, what did I have to lose?
I've just discovered that the Mechanical Hound has been set to your chemical complex and is on its way to your house now. Don't go out the front door, the Hound should be arriving any minute. Open your window and jump through it. If you open the stone you'll find a spray bottle of a special formula to hide your chemical complex. Spray it on your shoes before you leave your house, as it will hide the path you take. Good luck on your journey.
I had been expecting that to happen ever since I began attracting attention at school, so I had packed a small suitcase full of necessities. I grabbed it and jumped through the window. I made sure to cover my movements by spraying the special formula on my shoes. I wasn't sure what it was or how it did what it did, but it was worth a try. I picked my suitcase back up and ran down the fire stairs, relics of a day when firemen put fires out instead of starting them. I ran down the street, hoping I was traveling away from the Hound and not toward it. After about a mile, I sprayed my shoes again, just in case.
I made sure to run through a river near my house before following along it on the other side. I felt sure that there had to be some civilization along the river further down. Also, if I followed the river, I wouldn't have to worry about where I'd get my water. I ran on for another ten minutes, and then flopped down on the river bank like a rag doll, exhausted. I took a few gulps of water and splashed some on my face, hoping to cool off. It was then that the full realization of what I had just done hit me. I was now without a home. I sat on the bank for a while, assessing my situation, when a thought hit me. I had family in a city not too far from where I was. It, too, was along the river. I set out, hoping I would reach it before dark.
After walking for a couple hours, I grew lonely and began to hope I would come upon another traveler. Luckily, after just a few minutes, I spotted a man walking on the opposite bank of the river. I was a bit apprehensive, but I called to him anyway.
"Hi, there," I yelled. Not very impressive, I know, but I didn't know if he'd respond or not. His head shot up, and he looked around. His eyes focused on me, narrowing into tiny slits, hardly big enough to see through. I was worried that he might do something crazy, but then he smiled and his eyes opened back up, gaining a warmth that made me feel safe.
"How are you, Miss," he yelled back.
"I'm fine, thank you, Sir, and yourself?"
"I'm doing well, thanks. Why don't you come over to this side of the river? The towns are all over here anyway." I contemplated the thought. I knew the cities were all on that side of the river, but should I risk it? I decided that if anything did happen, it wouldn't matter at this point anyway.
"Sir, do you know a shallow portion of the river where I can cross?" I figured that this, at least, might help me. I could seem polite and yet maybe still avoid crossing the river. If he did know a shallow portion, well, I'd have to take my chances.
"Well, about where that tree is up there, the water comes up only to your knees, you could probably wade across up there." So he did know somewhere. Well, I guess it wouldn't be too bad.
"Thank you, Sir." I waded across where he had indicated and we walked along in silence. I noticed a city up ahead and felt my heart leap like a kangaroo when I recognized it. As we approached the first building, I remembered exactly where my uncle's house was.
"Sir, I have reached my city, but thank you for escorting me. I felt much safer."
"Not a problem, Miss, I hope you have a good life."
"Thank you, Sir, and the same to you." I smiled at him then turned to walk down the street. I hoped my aunt and uncle still lived in the same place.
I walked down the labyrinth of avenues, boulevards, and streets until I found their apartment. I took a deep breath and walked up the stairs. I checked myself at the door. Did I really want to do this? What if they didn't live there anymore? What if they wouldn't let me live with them? Even worse, what if the Hound found me here? They would surely be killed with me. I shook the thoughts out of my head. They were perfectly safe as long as I was cautious. I took a step forward and knocked on the door, then closed my eyes, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.
"Oh, my darling niece! What a surprise!" I opened my eyes upon hearing my aunt's voice. I smiled my first real smile of that day.
"Hello, Aunt Sally. I was wondering if I could stay with you and Uncle Joe for a couple of weeks. I'm having some trouble at home."
"Yes, Dear, we know all about it. I just got off the phone with your mother. You know, I think we should go over some safety measures. Oh, but listen to me, blabbing away! Come in, come in!" I stepped inside and set down my suitcase. Their apartment was smaller than my parents', but it was cozy.
My aunt started talking again, but I didn't really listen. Uncle Joe offered me a drink, which I readily accepted. It was decided that I would stay home from school, saying that I dropped out because I was different. When asked my age, Uncle Joe told me to say 'Seventeen and crazy'. I was going to protest, but was too tired. We decided I would be known as Clarisse McClellan from now on.
As they continued debating what issues needed to be addressed, I fell asleep. I didn't wake up until two days later. I guess I really was exhausted. When I woke up, I found a message on the coffee table.
We have gone to work, there is food in the kitchen, feel free to help yourself. If you want to go outside, be sure to cover your tracks. Take care, dear.
-Your Aunt and Uncle
I decided to skip breakfast, and instead look around the city. I walked around for hours, not knowing, and not caring, exactly where I went. Once it was dark, I headed back to the apartment. It was then that I met Guy Montag.
I was standing on a street corner watching the leaves blow across the pavement when I heard a sound. I looked up and immediately noticed the salamander on his arm and the phoenix disc on his chest. I was terrified. Was he a fireman sent to attack me? I wiped my face clean of all emotion. I looked back at him with no emotion.
"Of course," he said, "you're our new neighbor, aren't you?" I was taken aback by his question.
"And you must be…" I looked into his eyes, "…the fireman." Now that the ice was broken, we had a short conversation. I told him my new name, and he told me his. I asked if I could walk back with him, and he told me to 'come along'. I liked this man in spite of myself. He was not like the other firemen I had met.
"You know, I'm not afraid of you at all." I meant what I said, but he looked surprised by my words.
"Why should you be?" Apparently I had said the wrong thing. I covered myself quickly.
"So many people are. Afraid of firemen, I mean. But you're just a man, after all…" I hoped he would accept that answer. He seemed to, and we walked in silence for a while. As we walked, I decided to show him that I was crazy. I broke the silence and asked some stupid questions. I asked him how long he'd been a fireman, if he'd ever read any of the books he burned, if firemen had ever put out fires instead of starting them, if he'd ever watched the cars, and whether he knew there was dew on the grass and a man in the moon. By the time we reached my house, I was positive that he felt I was crazy. As I walked inside, I asked one last question.
"Are you happy?" I asked him.
"Am I what?" was the last thing I heard before going inside. After that encounter, I thought it best to go out only during the morning where I could blend in. I searched for Guy, of course, because I felt that if I were to be seen walking with a fireman, no one would suspect me of anything.
I finally saw him again a few days later. It was raining, and I had my head back, trying to catch the droplets in my mouth. I explained to Guy how wonderful rain was. I showed him a dandelion I had picked. I told him a stupid story about how if you rub a dandelion on your chin and it leaves pollen, you're in love. It rubbed off on me, but it didn't on him. He was upset and tried to say there was no pollen left for him. I apologized for upsetting him. I told him that I had a psychiatrist appointment that day, hoping to convince him even more that I was insane. As we walked along, I asked him some more stupid questions. I didn't know why I kept doing it. After all, I was positive that he thought I was insane. I ran off after asking him a couple more questions, leaving him to assume I was heading to my appointment.
As I got to know him better, I left little presents for him. I left bouquets, chestnuts, and autumn flowers. The next time I saw him, it was he that asked the odd questions. I wondered if he was trying to see if I was really crazy. I was confused by what was happening and didn't know what to do. I remember our conversation like yesterday.
"Why is it," he said, "I feel I've know you so many years?"
"Because I like you," I answered, "and I don't want anything from you. And because we know each other."
"You make me feel very old and very much like a father."
"Now you explain why you haven't any daughters like me, if you love children so much?"
"I don't know," was his answer.
"I mean—" He stopped and shook his head. "Well, my wife, she…she just never wanted any children at all."
"I'm sorry. I really thought you were having fun at my expense. I'm a fool."
"No, no," he answered. "It was a good question. It's been a long time since anyone cared enough to ask. A good question."
"Let's talk about something else. Have you ever smelled old leaves? Don't they smell like cinnamon? Here. Smell."
"Why, yes, it is like cinnamon in a way." He smiled again.
"You always seem so shocked."
"It's just I haven't had time—"
"Did you look at the stretched-out billboards like I told you?"
"I think so. Yes." He laughed.
"Your laugh sounds much nicer than it did."
"Much more relaxed."
"Why aren't you in school? I see you every day wandering around."
"Oh they don't miss me," I said. I was uncomfortable now. Had he figured me out? "I'm antisocial, they say. But social to me means talking to you about things like this."
"Well, you are a bit different."
"Yes, I do stand out, don't I?"
"You know, I always wonder about you. Your name doesn't really fit you, does it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Oh, nothing, I'm just curious."
We talked for a bit longer, and then I told him I'd better go.
Our conversation had worried me. I felt sure that he had figured me out. I decided I better leave before the Hound was set on me. That night, I had a long conversation with my aunt and uncle. They agreed with me. We devised a plan. I was to disappear tomorrow. I would leave everything at home. I would go to a new town, obviously I can't tell you where. I would hide out there at the school. My aunt and uncle would meet me there in a couple days. They would tell the neighbors that I had been hit by a car and that they could no longer stand to live there. I hoped that our plan would work.
I hardly slept that night. I was so nervous. The next morning dawned warm and bright. I grabbed a small purse with a bottle of water in it. It was a long walk, but there was no other way to do this. I sprayed my shoes again, just in case, and set off after saying good-bye to my aunt and uncle. They promised they'd meet me in two days.
It took me half a day to get to this city. I found a nice place to hunker down for a couple days on the football field of the school. I called my aunt to let her know where I was, so they could find me when they got here.
That was yesterday. I'm still waiting for them to arrive. They should get here tonight or tomorrow morning. Hopefully it's today, because I really need a good sleep and a nice, warm shower, though I must admit, it is quite cozy here. The ground is soft and the leaves aren't too prickly. I'd best go now, before I reveal any incriminating information. I hope my story lives on, even if I do not. I want everyone to know about "Clarisse McClellan", the girl who was different.