I knew this one was more than the biggest story of my life; it was the biggest story in the lives of everyone on this planet. I fought hard for the story--fought harder than ever before, because I knew it was more than news. Much more. I felt people should know about it so they could be prepared when it happened again. If it’s possible to be prepared for something like this…
It began fairly quietly. Lincoln Park Zoo, September 2nd, 5:30am. Shanka, the zoo’s prize cheetah, was expecting her morning feeding. It never came.
Amidst a whirl of windblown straw, Shanka the cheetah races crazily about her cage. But that does not save her.
It started for me on a day which is supposed to be one of my happiest - the day of the first game of the first World Series for the Cubs in twenty-nine years. The day began badly.
Ron Updyke is the temporary sports editor. He has prodigious store of baseball lore, but has forgotten something very important to Carl: World Series tickets. It seems two weeks ago Ron had the misfortune of offending Stuffy Padachenko of the Atlanta Amazons, a rollerblading team. Carl reveals that he intervened, discouraging her from further mayhem. Ron immediately promised Carl a World Series ticket, but Carl isn’t pleased to discover Ron’s has forgotten. A threat to take up where Stuffy left off convinces Ron to part with a ticket. As Carl prepares to leave, Vincenzo arrives with a story he’ll have to give to someone else: the death of a cheetah from the zoo. Carl is convinced Tony has the facts wrong; that story was yesterday, and it was a panther. But Tony says, no, two animals are dead in two days. Carl is hooked and Tony knows it--snatching the wire report, Carl heads for the zoo.
En route, Carl’s scratchy ballgame is interrupted by his police scanner: a “Code 5--Priority--201 in progress, Raydyne Electronics, Commerce and 24th Street.” Detouring, Carl finds police at the scene--someone inside tripped the alarm. Abruptly, some silent explosive force bursts the wall outward and scatters onlookers in all directions. As the stunned witnesses close in, four pallets of lead bars vanish into thin air. Police Captain Quill tells Carl to disappear and has two officers show him how; as Carl is escorted to his car, he passes a group of officials--important people, for Quill salutes them.
Carl resumes his trip and this time, his poor radio loses the ball game signal to a talk show. A caller is complaining about the Street Department, which has “screwed up” his street, Mariposa Way, by leaving tarry sludge all over his lawn. At the zoo, Carl gets a picture of the cage, the bars bent inward. On the floor of the cage is some black sludge. The zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Bess Weinstock, tells him this is a “viscid mass”, basically, sticky goo, containing a lot of acetone. She believes vandals intended to foul the entire zoo with it but were scared off. Moving on to the topic of recent animal deaths, Carl learns that they all died of heart attacks First a panda, then a leopard, a panther, and finally a cheetah.
Calling the radio show, Carl has no luck learning the location of the irate caller. They claim he never called. And the vet seems disinterested in the sludgy mess from the cheetah’s cage. City Hall is no more forthcoming--they claim no record of roadwork on Mariposa Way. The ballgame continues as Carl pulls into Mariposa Way. There, Carl finds the caller, Alfred Brindle, and learns that an hour after the call, four trucks from the Street Department pulled up. They tried shovels, chemicals, and finally flamethrowers to remove the stuff. Brindle also shows Carl a broken window belonging to his neighbor, Henry Anskeroni. It seems that last night an intruder kicked in the window and snatched a stereo away while Anskeroni was listening to it, but he never saw who it was. The police found the cabinet and chassis in a culvert back of the house but no trace of the electronics. Carl manages to retrieve a small fragment of sludge the Street Department missed.
Elsewhere, Peter Hudson, out on parole and out of money, endangers the first to improve the second: he snatches a woman’s purse and races around the corner into an abandoned building. The basement he picks is full of appliances and electronics; Hudson thinks he has hit the jackpot. However, it turns out that entering this particular building was the last mistake Hudson will ever make as the whirlwind force sweeps over him.
Meanwhile, Carl returns to the zoo and the vet with his sample. She is uninterested in comparing the two samples but eventually Carl’s cajolery wins her over. She reveals that they are identical. The stuff is a mix of hydrochloric acid, acetone, and bone marrow. All the animals killed at the zoo had puncture marks at the major bone joints and all the marrow had been extracted from their bones. Weinstock believes someone ate the bone marrow, then threw up.
Back at the INS office, Monique helps Carl develop his pictures but they don’t show much. Convinced they’re trash, she tears up the prints, and Carl orders her to reprint them, then heads to the morgue for a visit with Gordy the Ghoul. Carl wants the autopsy report on the guard who died at Raydyne Electronics. He’s about to get it (after some cash changes hands) when in walks Stanley Wedemeyer, the head coroner, forcing Gordy to backpedal. But the coroner seems happy to give Carl the results: subject, Lloyd Relm, male Caucasian, sixty years of age, prior history of myocardial infarction, immediate cause of death, cardiac arrest, other autopsy findings unremarkable. But Gordy is shaking a silent “no”, and showing Carl a cassette. Carl wants to look at the body, but Gordy cuts him off--reminding him that’s not permitted while secretly passing him the cassette. Sneaking into a nearby room, Carl slips the cassette into his machine--it’s the dictated autopsy, with the real results. Although the history of cardiac problems was real enough, the cause of death--heart attack--was bogus. And of particular interest: marrow was extracted from at least some of the guard’s bones.
September 2nd, 10:00pm, Leon VanHeusen, single, ambitious, slightly paranoid. By day a television repairman, by night an observer, a man with a purpose. The author of Mathematico, a universal language that Leon has refined for use in unconventional communication. Unfortunately, on September 2nd at 10:00pm, Leon learned the oldest word in the universal language…
Carl bursts into Captain Quill’s press conference and makes himself loved by asking difficult questions about the rumors of puncture marks on the body of the Raydyne guard. Quill dismisses the rumors. And then there are the lead ingots--were they simply misplaced? Quill has no reason to believe otherwise, and when Carl reminds him what they both saw, Quill adroitly maneuvers the conversation so that if Carl recounts his tale, he will seem foolish. Quill reminds the assembled reporters of the importance of responsible journalism, and how one must take care not to unduly alarm the public--or erode one’s own credibility.
Carl next probes for a link to other thefts of electronic gear; Quill denies knowledge of any connection in a way that again makes Kolchak look foolish. When Quill consults his watch to predict the time of some upcoming arrests, he discovers it has stopped. Carl notices and checks his watch, which has also stopped--at the same time, the time they were at Raydyne Electronics.
Quill and I weren’t the only ones with watches that didn’t work. Everyone that had been at Raydyne Electronics had the same problem. Question: What would stop seventeen wristwatches at exactly the same time? Answer: An electromagnetic field so strong it might swing a compass needle off true north, to the final truth.
Tony is eating an elaborate dinner (a bet payoff from the editor of the Times), when Carl finds him and begins recounting his fantastic tale. It’s a toss-up which one kills Tony’s appetite: the gruesome deaths or Carl’s fantastic assertions. Carl leaves in search of his pictures as some nondescript visitors enter Tony’s office. In the records room, Carl discovers that “suits” have intimidated Monique into surrendering his photos. As a disappointed Carl returns to Tony’s office, the “suits” are leaving. Tony then mentions that he “doesn’t need a UFO story”, and Carl leaps on that--he’d never mentioned UFOs to Tony, which tells him the suits must have. Tony’s evening meal is now a glass of antacid. Carl attempts to find out how one might report a UFO sighting to the government and quickly learns there are no longer any agencies for that purpose. They will, however, refer insistent people to a private group. Leon VanHeusen was a member of this group, which consists of private individuals convinced they have encountered alien visitors.
VanHeusen called in an “OPUS”--One Person, Unverified Sighting--near Snake Rock. As two members are arguing over the implications of the destructive star Wormwood, Carl eases away. Carl soon locates VanHeusen’s equipment--and the dead VanHeusen. He also finds a recording of VanHeusen’s last few seconds, during which he is attempting to talk to something. And Carl’s theory about the compass seems to be correct: the needle is errantly swinging. As Carl follows the needle, something that seems to be mostly wind and noise passes him. He follows…
At a planetarium, the projector moves; a guard lies dead nearby, and Reilly, his partner, summons the police. The dials that control the projector turn without anyone visible touching them. Carl’s compass has led him to this spot. Entering the observatory, he tries to strike up a conversation with the guard, whom be believes is asleep. Then he realizes the truth and that no one is operating the still-moving projector. Something rises from the console, something that is and isn't there, and yet casts a shadow. The thing moves towards Carl, stirring up a wind, and Carl tries for a picture. As it looms over him, he snaps a shot--and it backs away.
The police arrive and Captain Quill dispatches men to the console to turn on the lights--a disastrous move for the policemen. Carl tries to tell Quill that the light from his camera drove…it…away. He also shares a theory that it is here looking at maps. Carl believes the reason it can’t be seen is that it radiates light in a different spectrum--one that human eyes can’t perceive. And he further believes that’s why his camera stopped it--the light drove it off. Quill begins to buy into this and takes the theory to the government men.
Emerging, Kolchak finds the police in disarray. The lights just irritated the thing, and the light truck is now in flames. But if not the light, what? Quill threatens Carl’s career, but the police are regrouping and Carl sneaks away in the confusion. Returning to the planetarium, Carl takes a few more photos, and realizes that when it recharges, his camera emits a high-pitched whine. He shares the theory with Quill, who isn’t interested any more. And Quill warns him: he’ll be dealt with “at a higher level”. Leaving Carl, Quill drives off.
Carl continues to follow his compass. Soon enough, the instrument begins to spin madly, eventually shattering its glass. Wandering nearby, he stumbles upon an alien vehicle, like a metal hut with a hatch, resting on the ground. It’s real; he can touch it. But the door does not yield to his strength. Then the owner returns, whirling the leaves and swirling the air. It advances on Carl, but the whine of his camera seems to drive it off. It enters the vehicle, which noiselessly departs.
They tried to make a little park out of the woods near Snake Rock: daffodils, tulips. But they couldn’t get anything to grow. There was an area shaped like a saucer at the bottom. If you want to see it, you’ll have to hurry. Our park commission decided overnight to do extensive reclamation work in that particular spot. They’re filling it in with concrete. What happened? It’s all a point of view, really. A traveler has a breakdown, stops to fix it, get a bite to eat… it’s happened to all of us. This traveler happened to be light-years off his course, instead of miles. As for me? Well, I haven’t heard from the boys in the sedan. Yet.
Written by Gadfly on Nov 30, 2015