Back in the late 70s I read a story in either a textbook (we didn't read it in class, though) or in a school library book. The basic story was a man walking into a travel agency and talking about looking for a place to go live. I seem to remember him dropping hints that finally prompted the travel agent to bring out a brochure that showed something that was kind of 1920s or 1950s style, with a small town feel to it where it looked like all the adults worked at good jobs and kids could grow up safely and happy to live in that kind of idyllic setting. (And, while this sounds like the Willoughby episode of The Twilight Zone, it's not, but the type of town they're looking for is similar.)

For some reason, I think it was by Ray Bradbury. It certainly seems Bradbury-esque.

The agent gets what the man is asking about and the fee is whatever the man has in his pocket (I think that symbolized, in some way, him giving up the last of his possessions to make the trip.) He's given a meeting place and he and a number of other people are driven out, in a bus, to a barn (or something similar) and they wait. There's a storm going on and they wait a good while. Finally the man stands up, says he thinks something's wrong, and walks out to look around (against their instructions).

While he's out, there is a flash of lightning and a clap of thunder. He goes back in and all the people were gone. He goes back to the travel agency, and they don't seem aware, at all, of what he's talking about and the agent he originally talked about tells him, "When you were here last time, you left this money here. I don't know why, but here it is." The implication is that he's lost his one and only chance to go to this nostalgic utopia.

  • I think you're right about it being Bradbury, it fits with a vague memory I have, from a short stories book by Bradbury I read in the mid-90s. – jv42 Oct 12 '11 at 8:33
  • The story I had remembered about a man going permanently back to the 1890s, happily and nostalgically, as Ray Bradbury's "A Scent of Sarsaparilla" was actually "The Third Level" by Jack Finney. So I sought and reread Bradbury's Sarsaparilla story. Just now. It also had a man leaving, after much nostalgia in his attic, for a similar, earlier time. The year is not given; he names several years to which one might travel. Of course, he eventually leaves to go there the rest of his life. He just has to do so without his angry, unwilling wife. No wonder I mixed it up with "The Third Level". – Occam Shave May 16 at 16:54

Of Missing Persons by Jack Finney. To quote from the Wiki:

... When Charley asks him, "when does it stop being a joke?", the proprietor tells him, "Now. If you want it to." He gives Charley a bus ticket and asks him for whatever money he has on him — "two five-dollar bills, a one, and seventeen cents in change" — as payment, saying that he wouldn't need it on Verna and that it would help to pay the light bills and rent for Acme Travel.

...As he sits and waits in the dark barn, Charley descends into a rage after he concludes he has been played for a fool. He storms out of the barn, but just as he crosses the threshold, he looks back and briefly glimpses, in a flash of light, the planet Verna through the back window of the barn before the barn door slams shut. By the time he gets the barn door back open, the people he left in the barn are gone, taken to Verna. Returning to the travel agency some time later, Charley is greeted by the proprietor, who hands him his money and says, "You left this on the counter last time you were here. I don't know why."

  • Thank you! As I read the description, I remembered details, such as the brochure being presented as a joke. I had forgotten about the Vernans intervening in Earth as the entry includes, but that's definitely the story. I have to admit I could have sworn it was by Bradbury -- maybe that was why I never found it. And I would never have matched the title with what I remembered. – Tango Oct 12 '11 at 21:09

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