|Author Harry M. Zubkoff|
Harry’s setting is one he found familiar – the newsroom. He wrote the story, like many of his others, when he lived in Greenbelt, MD (1949 to 1963), where he spent a lot of time volunteering at the city newspaper office. His involvement there and in other Greenbelt activities probably gave him excellent fodder for his imagination. (See one example in the news clipping at the bottom of this page.)
This is the last of Harry’s fictional stories I’ll post for now because others are too long for a blog; some run 50 pages or so. He also left behind several unpublished novels.
The Managing Editor was still reasonably young, although his sandy hair was balding on top and he could no longer read copy without his black-rimmed glasses. But he didn’t need his glasses to note with appreciation every movement of his secretary’s ripe figure as she approached his desk.
“Here it is, Chief,” she announced triumphantly as she slapped an envelope down on his desk. “It’s marked Personal for you,” she added, “and there’s no return address, but there’s no doubt who it’s from.”
His heart beat a little faster as he fingered the envelope, absently watching her hips as she walked away. Then he swiveled his chair to face the window, carefully adjusted his glasses, and opened the envelope.
The letter was handwritten, unusual for a reporter like Larry. He must be hiding somewhere without his typewriter, the thought flashed through his mind as he started reading.
When you first assigned me to do a story on the boom in apartment buildings, I was uncertain how to tackle it. We’ve had dozens of stories in the Real Estate Sections during the past year, so there seemed to be little I could add in terms of construction starts or building plans.
Every major city in the country is going through the same experience, with modern high-rise monstrosities coming to dominate the skyline from coast to coast. These apartments aren’t inexpensive, either, with rentals ranging from over $100 a month for efficiencies to several hundred a month for multiple bedroom units.
Frankly, I found it hard to believe that there were enough people around to fill these buildings. And I found it doubly hard to believe that there were enough people around who could afford these prices. The more I thought about it, the more it struck me that no one had ever written a story about the people who live in all those new apartments. Oh, sure, there have been planning studies, in statistical terms, of the impact of apartment dwellers in a given area – on the road facilities and traffic patterns, the shopping facilities, the employment markets, etc. But how many human interest stories have you seen? How many stories about people – who they are, where they come from, what they do?
Well, that was my gimmick. I decided to peg the story on the “population explosion”; but first I had to do a little research to find out just how fast the population is growing in order to tie it in with the number of apartments being built. That’s when I started running into trouble. I kept checking and rechecking my figures, but somehow they didn’t make sense to me.
Consider, for example, these statistics. China, which is and always has been the fastest growing nation in the world, had about 70 million people at the time of Christ. If the population had been increasing at the rate of only 1% per year since then, it would amount to something like 21 million billion today (which would come to 13 Chinese per square foot of the Earth). Obviously, this is not the case. The most reliable estimates put the Chinese population at about 700 million today, which means that their rate of growth has been a very small fraction of 1%.
Let’s bring this a little closer to home. Europe, throughout the period of its greatest growth in the 19th century, never exceeded a growth rate of 1%. In fact, between 1800 and 1950, the population of Western Europe went from 125 million to 310 million, an average increase of 0.6% annually. These figures represent the norm, against which all other statistics must be measured. With that in mind, does it make any sense at all to believe the United States Census figures? Look at these incredible statistics for some of our states. Between 1900 and 1960 the population of Arizona increased by 958.5%; California by 958.1%; Florida by 836.1%; Nevada by 578.6%; and so forth and so on for a total United States increase of 135.5%. Not only are those figures incredible, they are absolutely unbelievable.
I know I’m taking the long way around, Chief, but just bear with me a few more minutes. You must realize the state I was in when these figures finally registered with me. The statistics are based on a head count by official census takers, so they must be right. And obviously, the people are here. So the question I was stuck with was – where are all those people coming from?
Now seriously, have you ever stopped to consider that question? Has anyone? Well, I have – and what’s more, after racking my brains over it for a long time, I think I’ve come up with the answer. The fact is, I don’t think they’re people at all. Have you been reading all the reports about flying saucers lately? Well, judging by the frequency of these reports, it seems to me that somebody “up there” is running a shuttle service to Earth – that there’s a mass immigration taking place right under our noses.
Now wait a minute, Chief, don’t flip your lid just yet. I know it sounds wild, but I ask you again, stop and consider. Even a hard-nose editor like you can’t help but be impressed by these statistics.
The astronomers estimate that there are about 6,000 million galaxies, like our own Milky Way, within range of our 200-inch telescopes. (There are probably millions more that we haven’t seen yet.) They also estimate that our galaxy contains about 30,000 million stars, most of them bigger than our Sun and each of them with its own family of planets. If each of the galaxies contains approximately the same number of stars, and the truth is, most of the galaxies are considerably bigger than our own, then we can conservatively guess that there are something like 180 million million stars out there. Multiply that figure by ten and you get a rough idea of how many planets there are. Now with all those trillions and trillions of planets, literally more numerous than the grains of sand on all the beaches of all our oceans, there must be at least a few on which life similar to ours has evolved. A few – well, let’s put it this way … If only one planet in a million had life like ours, there would be billions; if only one in a billion had life like ours, there would still be millions. With odds like that, it seems quite reasonable to assume that life like ours has evolved elsewhere and that they have discovered our existence.
And if they’re anything at all like us, they must think the grass is greener here, and maybe it is, at that. Anyway, I think they’re coming here, probably from many different places, landing secretly on dark nights, printing their own money (which accounts for inflation that’s taking place) and setting themselves up in residence. Maybe they look upon the Earth as a vacation capital of the universe. After all, viewed through their eyes, we’re probably good for a lot of laughs the way we behave towards each other. Or maybe they look upon us as a horrible example and are trying to figure out how to avoid making the same mistakes themselves.
By now you probably think I’ve gone off the deep end, and in a way I don’t blame you. But you’ve come this far with me so you might as well hear me out. Like any reporter, as soon as I’d make the assumption, I started to check it out. First, I spent some time just observing the people (creatures?) living in one recently completed luxury apartment house. The pattern of their lives struck me immediately. To begin with, they all seem to be fairly young people. The men are all handsome; the women all beautiful; everyone well-dressed at all times. The men play a lot of golf; the women a lot of bridge; and none of them seem to have to work for a living. Now I ask you, Chief, is that the way normal human beings live? Of course not.
I noticed, too, that there were a lot of single young men and women living there, with no visible means of support. How can young people afford to live like that? If they’re human, they can’t. There was also a complete absence of children. A lot of pets, but no children! How do you account for that? It’s just not human, that’s all.
In probing deeper, I learned that almost all of them were college graduates, so I decided to visit a few campuses to see what I could learn. Well, Chief, that’s where I struck pay dirt. Without exception, all the campuses (including some of our most famous universities) have been literally transformed into an alien environment. I could see at once that in their younger years these aliens bear only a superficial resemblance to human beings. Oh, now and then you see a human being, but for the most part, the students are obviously aliens. They go to school, apparently, to learn something of our language and our culture, but among themselves they speak incomprehensible jargon and have a culture which is decidedly un-human. Everything about them is different – their dress, their speech, the way they walk or their “gait,” if you will, the way they sit or slouch – everything which goes to make up our “human qualities” is missing. And get this, Chief, they’re also either sexless, or their sex is interchangeable – at least, in most cases, it’s impossible to distinguish between the sexes. I think what happens is that about the time they graduate, give or take a year or two, they undergo a metamorphosis and emerge into something which bears a much closer resemblance to human beings, even to the extent of assuming a gender, although exactly how the change takes place is still obscure.
In any event, Chief, I think I have established a prime facie case for my thesis, but I can understand that you may feel that I still need more concrete evidence. The trouble is, something’s wrong. There’s an old jungle that keeps running through my mind. It describes my situation, in a way, and it goes like this:
I took her to the movies,
I took her to a show,
I took her almost every place
A boy and girl could go.
I took her out to dinner,
I took her out to tea,
When suddenly I realized
That she’d been taking me!
You see, Chief, during the last couple of weeks I’ve had the most uncanny sensation that I was being watched. Just this morning I found out for sure. I spotted them, two of them, everywhere I went, and I suddenly realized that all this time, while I’ve been observing them, they’ve had me under observation, too. And suddenly I’m scared. That’s why I’m writing this letter, to bring you up to date on my findings, just in case. As soon as I mail it, I’m going to drop out of sight. I’ll be holed up in a friend’s place (she’s a very good friend) at 1121 Park Road. The phone number is 221-4573, if you want to reach me for anything. But please, Chief, you’re the only one I’ve told and I ask you to keep it strictly between us until the heat’s off.
When he had finished reading he sighed and swiveled back to his desk. Almost reluctantly his finger reached out to punch the intercom button.
“Call the Security Squad,” he told his secretary. “He’s at 1121 Park Road.”
The fourth one this month, he thought sadly, and more of them learning about us all the time. And yet, he consoled himself, it’s still the easiest way to settle a new planet with the fewest possible casualties to the poor natives.