The Silly Season C M Kornbluth
The Silly Season C M Kornbluth
IT WAS a hot summer afternoon in the Omaha bureau of the World Wireless Press Service, and the control bureau in New York kept nagging me for copy. But since it was a hot summer afternoon, there was no copy. A wrapup of local baseball had cleared about an hour ago, and that was that. Nothing but baseball happens in the summer. During the dog days, politicians are in the Maine woods fishing and boozing, burglars are too tired to burgle, and wives think it over and decide not to decapitate their husbands. I pawed through some press releases. One sloppy stencil-duplicated sheet began: “Did you know that the lemonade way to summer comfort and health has been endorsed by leading physiotherapists from Maine to California? The Federated Lemon-Growers Association revealed today that a survey of 2,500 physiotherapists in 57 cities of more than 25,000 population disclosed that 87 per cent of them drink lemonade at least once a day between June and September, and that another 72 per cent not only drink the cooling and healthful beverage but actually prescribe it-”
Another note tapped out on the news circuit printer from New York: “960M-HW KICKER? ND SNST-NY” That was New York saying they needed a bright and sparkling little news item immediately-“soonest.” I went to the eastbound printer and punched out: “96NY-UPCMNG FU MINS-OM” The lemonade handout was hopeless; I dug into the stack again. The State University summer course was inviting the governor to attend its summer conference on aims and approaches hi adult secondary education. The Agricultural College wanted me to warn farmers that white-skinned hogs should be kept from the direct rays of the summer sun. The manager of a fifth-rate local pug sent a writeup of his boy and a couple of working press passes to his next bout in the Omaha Arena. The Schwartz and White Bandage Company contributed a glossy eight-by-ten of a blonde in a bathing suit improvised from two S. & W. Redi-Dressings. Accompanying text: “Pert starlet Miff McCoy is ready for any seaside emergency. That’s not onjy a darling swim suit she has on- it’s two standard all-purpose Redi-Dressing bandages made by the Schwartz and White Bandage Company of Omaha. If a broken rib results from too-strenuous beach athletics, Miff’s dress can supply the dressing.” Yeah. The rest of the stack wasn’t even that good. I dumped them all in the circular file, and began to wrack my brains in spite of the heat. I’d have to fake one, I decided. Unfortunately, there had been no big running silly season story so far this summer-no flying saucers, or monsters in the Florida Everglades, or chloroform bandits terrifying the city. If there had, I could have hopped on and faked a “with.” As it was, I’d have to fake a “lead,” which is harder and riskier. The flying saucers? I couldn’t revive them; they’d been forgotten for years, except by newsmen. The giant turtle of Lake Huron had been quiet for years, too. If I started a chloroform bandit scare, every old maid in the state would back me up by swearing she heard the bandit trying to break in and smelled chloroform-but the cops wouldn’t like it. Strange messages from space received at the State University’s radar lab? That might do it. I put a sheet of copy paper hi the typewriter and sat, glaring at it and hating the silly season. There was a slight reprieve-the Western Union tie-line printer by the desk dinged at me and its sickly-yellow bulb lit up. I tapped out:
“ww GA PLS,” and the machine began to eject yellow, gummed tape which told me this: “WU CO62-DPR COLLECT-FT HICKS ARK AUG 22 105P- WORLDWIRELESS OMAHA-TOWN MARSHAL PINKNEY CRAWLES DIED MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES FISHTRIPPING OZARK HAMLET RUSH CITY TODAY. RUSHERS PHONED HICKSERS ‘BURNED DEATH SHINING DOMES APPEARED YESTERWEEK.’ JEEPING BODY HICKSWARD. QUERIED RUSH CONSTABLE P.C. ALLENBY LEARNING ‘SEVEN GLASSY DOMES EACH HOUSESIZE CLEARING MILE SOUTH TOWN. RUSHERS UNTOUCHED, UNAPPROACHED. CRAWLES WARNED BUT TOUCHED AND DIED BURNS.’ NOTE DESK-RUSH FONECALL 1.85. SHALL I UPFOLLOW?-BENSON- FISHTRIPPING RUSHERS HICKSERS YESTERWEEK JEEPING HICKSWARD HOUSESIZE 1.85 428P CLR. . .” It was just what the doctor ordered. I typed an acknowledgment for the message and pounded out a story, fast. I punched it and started the tape wiggling through the eastbound transmitter before New York could send any more irked notes. The news circuit printer from New York clucked and began relaying my story immediately: “ww72 (KICKER) FORT HICKS, ARKANSAS, AUG 22-(WW)-MYSTERIOUS DEATH TODAY STRUCK DOWN A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER IN A TINY OZARK MOUNTAIN HAMLET. MARSHAL PINKNEY CRAWLES OF FORT HICKS, ARKANSAS, DIED OF BURNS WHILE ON A FISHING TRIP TO THE LITTLE VILLAGE OF RUSH CITY. TERRIFIED NATIVES OF RUSH CITY BLAMED THE TRAGEDY ON WHAT THEY CALLED ‘SHINING DOMES.’ THEY SAID THE SO-CALLED DOMES APPEARED IN A CLEARING LAST WEEK ONE MILE SOUTH OF TOWN. THERE ARE SEVEN OF THE MYSTERIOUS OBJECTS -EACH ONE THE SIZE OF A HOUSE. THE INHABITANTS OF RUSH CITY DID NOT DARE APPROACH THEM. THEY WARNED THE VISITING MARSHAL CRAWLES-BUT HE DID NOT HEED THEIR WARNING. RUSH CITY’S CONSTABLE P.C. ALLENBY WAS A WITNESS TO THE TRAGEDY. SAID HE: – “THERE ISN’T MUCH TO TELL. MARSHAL CRAWLES JUST WALKED UP TO ONE OF THE DOMES AND PUT HIS HAND ON IT. THERE WAS A BIG PLASH, AND WHEN I COULD SEE AGAIN, HE WAS BURNED TO DEATH.’ CONSTABLE ALLENBY IS RETURNING THE BODY OF MARSHAL CRAWLES TO FORT HICKS. 602P220M” That, I thought, should hold them for a while. I remembered Ben-son’s “note desk” and put through a long distance call to Fort Hicks, person to person. The Omaha operator asked for Fort Hicks infor-
mation, but there wasn’t any. The Fort Hicks operator asked whom she wanted. Omaha finally admitted that we wanted to talk to Mr. Edwin C. Benson. Fort Hicks figured out loud and then decided that Ed was probably at the police station if he hadn’t gone home for supper yet. She connected us with the police station, and I got Benson. He had a pleasant voice, not particularly backwoods Arkansas. I gave him some of the old oil about a fine dispatch, and a good, conscientious job, and so on. He took it with plenty of dry reserve, which was odd. Our rural stringers always ate that kmd of stuff up. Where, I asked him, was he from? “Fort Hicks,” he told me, “but I’ve moved around. I did the courthouse beat in Little Rock-” I nearly laughed out loud at that, but the laugh died out as he went on-“rewrite for the A.P. in New Orleans, ^ot to be bureau chief there but I didn’t like wire service work. Got an opening on the Chicago Trib desk. That didn’t last- they sent me to head up their Washington bureau. There I switched to the New York Tunes. They made me a war correspondent and I got hurt-back to Fort Hicks. I do some magazine writing now. Did you want a follow-up on the Rush City story?” “Sure,” I told him weakly. “Give it a real ride-use your own judgment. Do you think it’s a fake?” “I saw Pink’s body a little while ago at the undertaker’s parlor, and I had a talk with Allenby, from Rush City. Pink got burned all right, and Allenby didn’t make his story up. Maybe somebody else did-he’s pretty dumb-but as far as I can tell, this is the real thing. I’ll keep the copy coming. Don’t forget about that dollar eighty-five phone call, will you?” I told him I wouldn’t, and hung up. Mr. Edwin C. Benson had handed me quite a jolt. I wondered how badly he had been hurt, that he had been forced to abandon a brilliant news career and bury himself in the Ozarks. Then there came a call from God, the board chairman of World Wireless. He was fishing in Canada, as all good board chairmen do during the silly season, but he had caught a news broadcast which used my Rush City story. He had a mobile phone in his trailer, and it was but the work of a moment to ring Omaha and louse up my carefully planned vacation schedules and rotation of night shifts. He wanted me to go down to Rush City and cover the story personally. I
said yes and began trying to round up the rest of the staff. My night editor was sobered up by his wife and delivered to the bureau in fair shape. A telegrapher on vacation was reached at his summer resort and talked into checking out. I got a taxi company on the phone and told them to have a cross-country cab on the roof in an hour. I specified their best driver, and told them to give him maps of Arkansas. Meanwhile, two “with domes” dispatches arrived from Benson and got moved on the wire. I monitored a couple of newscasts; the second one carried a story by another wire service on the domes-a pickup of our stuff, but they’d have their own men on the scene fast enough. I filled in the night editor, and went up to the roof for the cab. The driver took off in the teeth of a gathering thunderstorm. We had to rise above it, and by the time we could get down to sight-pilotage altitude, we were lost. We circled most of the night until the driver picked up a beacon he had on his charts at about 3:30 A.M. We landed at Fort Hicks as day was breaking, not on speaking terms. Fort Hicks’ field clerk told me where Benson lived, and I walked there. It was a white, frame house. A quiet, middle-aged woman let me in. She was his widowed sister, Mrs. McHenry. She got me some coffee and told me she had been up all night waiting for Edwin to come back from Rush City. He had started out about 8:00 P.M., and it was only a two-hour trip by car. She was worried. I tried to pump her about her brother, but she’d only say that he was the bright one of the family. She didn’t want to talk about his work as war correspondent. She did show me some of his magazine stuff-boy-and-girl stories in national weeklies. He seemed to sell one every couple of months. We had arrived at a conversational stalemate when her brother walked in, and I discovered why his news career had been interrupted. He was blind. Aside from a long, puckered brown scar that ran from his left temple back over his ear and onto the nape of his neck, he was a pleasant-looking fellow in his mid-forties. “Who is it, Vera?” he asked. “It’s Mr. Williams, the gentleman who called you from Omaha today-I mean yesterday.” “How do you do, Williams. Don’t get up,” he added-hearing, I suppose, the chair squeak as I leaned forward to rise.
“You were so long, Edwin,” his sister said with relief and reproach. “That young jackass Howie-my chauffeur for the night-” he added an aside to me-“got lost going there and coming back. But I did spend more time than I’d planned at Rush City.” He sat down, facing me. “Williams, there is some difference of opinion about the shining domes. The Rush City people say that they exist, and I say they don’t.” His sister brought him a cup of coffee. “What happened, exactly?” I asked. “That Allenby took me and a few other hardy citizens to see them. They told me just what they looked like. Seven hemispheres in a big clearing, glassy, looming up like houses, reflecting the gleam of the headlights. But they weren’t there. Not to me, and not to any blind man. I know when I’m standing in front of a house or anything else that big. I can feel a little tension on the skin of my face. It works unconsciously, but the mechanism is thoroughly understood. “The blind get-because they’have to-an aural picture of the world. We hear a little hiss of air that means we’re at the corner of a building, we hear and feel big, turbulent air currents that mean we’re coming to a busy street. Some of the boys can thread their way through an obstacle course and never touch a single obstruction. I’m not that good, maybe because I haven’t been blind as long as they have, but by hell, I know when there are seven objects the size of houses in front of me, and there just were no such things in the clearing at Rush City.” “Well,” I shrugged, “there goes a fine piece of silly-season journalism. What kind of a gag are the Rush City people trying to pull, and why?” “No kind of gag. My driver saw the domes, too-and don’t forget the late marshal. Pink not only saw them but touched them. All I know is that people see them and I don’t. If they exist, they have a kind of existence like nothing else I’ve ever met.” “I’ll go up there myself,” I decided. “Best thing,” said Benson. “I don’t know what to make of it. You can take our car.” He gave me directions and I gave him a schedule of deadlines. We wanted the coroner’s verdict, due today, an eyewitness story-his driver would do for that-some background stuff on the area and a few statements from local officials.
I took his car and got to Rush City in two hours. It was an un- painted collection of dog-trot homes, set down in the big pine forest that covers all that rolling Ozark country. There was a general store that had the place’s only phone. I suspected it had been kept busy by the wire services and a few enterprising newspapers. A state trooper in a flashy uniform was lounging against a fly-specked tobacco counter when I got there. ,;. “I’m Sam Williams, from World Wireless,” I said. “You come to have a look at the domes?” “World Wireless broke that story, didn’t they?” he asked me, with a look I couldn’t figure out. “We did. Our Fort Hicks stringer wired it to us.” The phone rang, and the trooper answered it. It seemed to have been a call to the Governor’s office he had placed. “No, sir,” he said over the phone. “No, sir. They’re all sticking to the story, but I didn’t see anything. I mean, they don’t see them any more, but they say they were there, and now they aren’t any more.” A couple more “No, sirs” and he hung up. “When did that happen?” I asked. “About a half-hour ago. I just came from there on my bike to report.” The phone rang again, and I grabbed it. It was Benson, asking for me. I told him to phone a flash and bulletin to Omaha on the disappearance and then took off to find Constable Allenby. He was a stage reuben with a nickel-plated badge and a six-shooter. He cheerfully climbed into the car and guided me to the clearing. There was a definite little path worn between Rush City and the clearing by now, but there was a disappointment at the end of it. The clearing was empty. A few small boys sticking carefully to its fringes told wildly contradictory stories about the disappearance of the domes, and I jotted down some kind of dispatch out of the most spectacular versions. I remember it involved flashes of blue fire and a smell like sulphur candles. That was all there was to it. I drove Allenby back. By then a mobile unit from a TV network had arrived. I said hello, waited for an A.P. man to finish a dispatch on the phone, and then dictated my lead direct to Omaha. The hamlet was beginning to fill up with newsmen from the wire services, the big papers, the radio and TV nets and the newsreels. Much good they’d get out of it. The story was over-I thought. I had some coffee
at the general store’s two-table restaurant corner and drove back to Fort Hicks. Benson was tirelessly interviewing by phone and firing off copy to Omaha. I told him he could begin to ease off, thanked him for his fine work, paid him for his gas, said goodbye and picked up my taxi at the field. Quite a bill for waiting had been run up. I listened to the radio as we were flying back to Omaha, and wasn’t at all surprised. After baseball, the shining domes were the top news. Shining domes had been seen in twelve states. Some vibrated with a strange sound. They came in all colors and sizes. One had strange writing on it. One was transparent, and there were big green men and women inside. I caught a women’s mid-morning quiz show, and the M.C. kept gagging about the domes. One crack I remember was a switch on the “pointed-head” joke. He made it “dome-shaped head,” and the ladies in the audience laughed until they nearly burst. We stopped in Little Rock for gas, and I picked up a couple of afternoon papers. The domes got banner heads on both of them. One carried the World Wireless lead? and had slapped in the bulletin on the disappearance of the domes. The other paper wasn’t a World Wireless client, but between its other services and “special correspondents”-phone calls to the general store at Rush City-it had kept practically abreast of us. Both papers had shining dome cartoons on their editorial pages, hastily drawn and slapped in. One paper, anti-administration, showed the President cautiously reaching out a finger to touch the dome of the Capitol, which was rendered as a shining dome and labeled: “SHINING DOME OF CONGRESSIONAL IMMUNITY TO EXECUTIVE DICTATORSHIP.” A little man labeled “Mr. and Mrs. Plain, Self-Respecting Citizens of The United States of America” was in one corner of the cartoon saying: “CAREFUL, MR. PRESIDENT! REMEMBER WHAT HAPPENED TO PINKNEY CRAWLES1.!” The other paper, pro-administration, showed a shining dome that had the President’s face. A band of fat little men in Prince Albert coats, string ties, and broad-brimmed hats labeled “CONGRESSIONAL SMEAR ARTISTS AND HATCHETMEN” were creeping up on the dome with the President’s face, their hands reached out as if to strangle. Above the cartoon a cutline said: “WHO’S GOING TO GET HURT?” We landed at Omaha, and I checked into the office. Things were clicking right along. The clients were happily gobbling up our dome copy and sending wires asking for more. I dug into the morgue for
the “Flying Disc” folder, and the “Huron Turtle” and the “Bayou Vampire” and a few others even further back. I spread out the old clippings and tried to shuffle and arrange them into some kind of underlying sense. I picked up the latest dispatch to come out of the tie-line printer from Western Union. It was from our man in Owosso, Michigan, and told how Mrs. Lettie Overholtzer, age 61, saw a shining dome in her own kitchen at midnight. It grew like a soap bubble until it was as big as her refrigerator, and then disappeared. I went over to the desk man and told him: “Let’s have a downhold on stuff like Lettie Overholtzer. We can move a sprinkling of it, but I don’t want to run this into the ground. Those things might turn up again, and then we wouldn’t have any room left to play around with them. We’ll have everybody’s credulity used up.” He looked mildly surprised. “You mean,” he asked, “there really was something there?” “I don’t know. Maybe. I didn’t see anything myself, and the only man down there I trust can’t make up his mind. Anyhow, hold it down as far as the clients let us.” I went home to get some sleep. When I went back to work, I found the clients hadn’t let us work the downhold after all. Nobody at the other wire services seemed to believe seriously that there had been anything out of the ordinary at Rush City, so they merrily pumped out solemn stories like the Lettie Overholtzer item, and wirefoto maps of locations where domes were reported, and tabulations of number of domes reported. We had to string along. Our Washington bureau badgered the Pentagon and the A.E.C. into issuing statements, and there was a race between a Navy and an Air Force investigating mission to see who could get to Rush City first. After they got there there was a race to see who could get the first report out. The Air Force won that contest. Before the week was out, “Domies” had appeared. They were hats for juveniles-shining-dome skull caps molded from a transparent plastic. We had to ride with it. I’d started the mania, but it was out of hand and a long tune dying down. The World Series, the best in years, finally killed off the domes. By an unspoken agreement among the services, we simply stopped running stories every time a hysterical woman thought she saw a dome or wanted to get her name in the paper. And, of course, when there was no longer publicity to be had for the asking, people stopped see-
ing domes. There was no percentage in it. Brooklyn won the Series, international tension climbed as the thermometer dropped, burglars began burgling again, and a bulky folder labeled “DOMES, SHINING,” went into our morgue. The shining domes were history, and earnest graduate students in psychology would shortly begin to bother us with requests to borrow that folder. The only thing that had come of it, I thought, was that we had somehow got through another summer without too much idle wire time, and that Ed Benson and I had struck up a casual correspondence. A newsman’s strange and weary year wore on. Baseball gave way to football. An off-year election kept us on the run. Christmas loomed ahead, with its feature stories and its kickers about Santa Claus, Indiana. Christmas passed, and we began to clear jolly stories about New Year hangovers, and tabulate the great news stories of the year. New Year’s day, a ghastly ratrace of covering 103 bowl games. Record snowfalls in the Great Plains and Rockies. Spring floods in Ohio and the Columbia River Valley. Twenty-one tasty Lenten menus, and Holy Week around the world. Baseball again, Daylight Saving Time, Mother’s Day, Derby Day, the Preakness and the Bel-mont Stakes. It was about then that a disturbing letter arrived from Benson. I was concerned not about its subject matter but because I thought no sane man would write such a thing. It seemed to me that Benson was slipping his trolley. All he said was that he expected a repeat performance of the domes, or of something like the domes. He said “they” probably found the tryout a smashing success and would continue according to plan. I replied cautiously, which amused him. He wrote back: “I wouldn’t put myself out on a limb like this if I had anything to lose by it, but you know my station in life. It was just an intelligent guess, based on a study of power politics and Aesop’s fables. And if it does happen, you’ll find it a trifle harder to put over, won’t you?” I guessed he was kidding me, but I wasn’t certain. When people begin to talk about “them” and what “they” are doing, it’s a bad sign. But, guess or not, something pretty much like the domes did turn up in late July, during a crushing heat wave. This time it was big black spheres rolling across the countryside.
The spheres were seen by a Baptist congregation in central Kansas which had met in a prairie to pray for rain. About eighty Baptists took their Bible oaths that they saw large black spheres some ten feet high, rolling along the prairie. They had passed within five yards of one man. The rest had run from them as soon as they could take in the fact that they really were there. World Wireless didn’t break that story, but we got on it fast enough as soon as we were tipped. Being now the recognized silly season authority in the W.W. Central Division, I took off for Kansas. It was much the way it had been in Arkansas. The Baptists really thought they had seen the things-with one exception. The exception was an old gentleman with a patriarchal beard. He had been the one man who hadn’t run, the man the objects passed nearest to. He was blind. He told me with a great deal of heat that he would have known all about it, blind or not, if any large spheres had rolled within five yards of him, or twenty-five for that matter. Old Mr. Emerson didn’t go into the matter of air currents and turbulence, as Benson had. With him, it was all well below the surface. He took the position that the Lord had removed his sight, and in return had given him another sense which would do for emergency use. “You just try me out, son!” he piped angrily. “You come stand over here, wait a while and put your hand up in front of my face. Ill tell you when you do it, no matter how quiet you are!” He did it, too, three times, and then took me out into the main street of his little prairie town. There were several wagons drawn up before the grain elevator, and he put on a show for me by threading his way around and between them without touching once. That-and Benson-seemed to prove that whatever the things were, they had some connection with the domes. I filed a thoughtful dispatch on the blind-man angle, and got back to Omaha to find that it had been cleared through our desk but killed in New York before relay. We tried to give the black spheres the usual ride, but it didn’t last as long. The political cartoonists tired of it sooner, and fewer old maids saw them. People got to jeering at them as newspaper hysteria, and a couple of highbrow magazines ran articles on “the irresponsible press.” Only the radio comedians tried to milk the new mania as usual, but they were disconcerted to find their ratings fall. A
network edict went out to kill all sphere gags. People were getting sick of them. “It makes sense,” Benson wrote to me. “An occasional exercise of the sense of wonder is refreshing, but it can’t last forever. That plus the ingrained American cynicism toward all sources of public information has worked against the black spheres being greeted with the same naive delight with which the domes were received. Nevertheless, I predict-and I’ll thank you to remember that my predictions have been right so far 100 per cent of the time-that next summer will see another mystery comparable to the domes and the black things. And I also predict that the new phenomenon will be imperceptible to any blind person in the immediate vicinity, if there should be any.” If, of course, he was wrong this time, it would only cut his average down to fifty per cent. I managed to wait out the year-the same interminable round I felt I could do in my sleep. Staffers got ulcers and resigned, staffers got tired and were fired, libel suits were filed and settled, one of our desk men got a Nieman Fellowship and went to Harvard, one of our telegraphers* got his working hand mashed in a car door and jumped from a bridge but lived with a broken back. In mid-August, when the weather bureau had been correctly predicting “fair and warmer” for sixteen straight days, it turned up. It wasn’t anything on whose nature a blind man could provide a negative check, but it had what I had come to think of as “their” trademark. A summer seminar was meeting outdoors, because of the frightful heat, at our own State University. Twelve trained school teachers testified that a series of perfectly circular pits opened up in the grass before them, one directly under the education professor teaching the seminar. They testified further that the professor, with an astonished look and a heart-rending cry, plummeted down into that perfectly circular pit. They testified further that the pits remained there for some thirty seconds and then suddenly were there no longer. The scorched summer grass was back where it had been, the pits were gone, and so was the professor. I interviewed every one of them. They weren’t yokels, but grown men and women, all with Masters’ degrees, working toward their doctorates during the summers. They agreed closely on their stories as I would expect trained and capable persons to do.
The police, however, did not expect agreement, being used to dealing with the lower-I.Q. brackets. They arrested the twelve on some technical charge-“obstructing peace officers in the performance of their duties,” I believe-and were going to beat the living hell out of them when an attorney arrived with twelve writs of habeas corpus. The cops’ unvoiced suspicion was that the teachers had conspired to murder their professor, but nobody ever tried to explain why they’d do a thing like that. The cops’ reaction was typical of the way the public took it. Newspapers-which had reveled wildly in the shining domes story and less so in the black spheres story-were cautious. Some went overboard and gave the black pits a ride, in the old style, but they didn’t pick up any sales that way. People declared that the press was insulting their intelligence, and also they were bored with marvels. The few papers who played up the pits were soundly spanked in very dignified editorials printed by other sheets which played down the pits. At World Wireless, we sent out a memo to all stringers: “File no more enterpriser dispatches on black pit story. Mail queries should be sent to regional desk if a new angle breaks in your territory.” We got about ten mail queries, mostly from journalism students acting as string men, and we turned them all down. All the older hands got the pitch, and didn’t bother to file it to us when the town drunk or the village old maid loudly reported that she saw a pit open up on High Street across from the drug store. They knew it was probably untrue, and that furthermore nobody cared. I wrote Benson about all this, and humbly asked him what his prediction for next summer was. He replied, obviously having the time of his life, that there would be at least one more summer phenomenon like the last three, and possibly two more-but none after that. It’s so easy now to reconstruct, with our bitterly earned knowledge! Any youngster could whisper now of Benson: “Why, the damned fool! Couldn’t anybody with the brains of a louse see that they wouldn’t keep it up for two years?” One did whisper that to me the other day, when I told this story to him. And I whispered back that, far from being a damned fool, Benson was the one person on the face
of the earth, as far as I know, who had bridged with logic the widely separated phenomena with which this reminiscence deals. Another year passed. I gained three pounds, drank too much, rowed incessantly with my staff, and got a tidy raise. A telegrapher took a swing at me midway through the office Christmas party, and I fired him. My wife and the kids didn’t arrive hi April when I expected them. I phoned Florida, and she gave me some excuse or other about missing the plane. After a few more missed planes and a few more phone calls, she got around to telling me that she didn’t want to come back. That was okay with me. In my own intuitive way, I knew that the upcoming silly season was more important than who stayed married to whom. In July, a dispatch arrived by wire while a new man was working the night desk. It was from Hood River, Oregon. Our stringer there reported that more than one hundred “green capsules” about fifty yards long had appeared in and around an apple orchard. The new desk man was not so new that he did not recall the downhold policy on silly-season items. He killed-it, but left it on the spike for my amused inspection in the morning. I suppose exactly the same thing happened in every wire service newsroom in the region. I rolled in at 10:30 and riffled through the stuff on the spike. When I saw the “green capsules” dispatch I tried to phone Portland, but couldn’t get a connection. Then the phone buzzed and a correspondent of ours in Seattle began to yell at me, but the line went dead. I shrugged and phoned Benson, in Fort Hicks. He was at the police station, and asked me: “Is this it?” “It is,” I told him. I read him the telegram from Hood River and told him about the line trouble to Seattle. “So,” he said wonderingly, “I called the turn, didn’t I?” “Called what turn?” “On the invaders. I don’t know who they are-but it’s the story of the boy who cried wolf. Only this time, the wolves realized-” Then the phone went dead. But he was right. The people of the world were the sheep. We newsmen-radio, TV, press, and wire services-were the boy, who should have been ready to sound the alarm. But the cunning wolves had tricked us into sounding the alarm so
many times that the villagers were weary, and would not come when there was real peril.
The wolves who then were burning their way through the Ozarks, utterly without opposition, the wolves were the Martians under whose yoke and lash we now endure our miserable existences.