Well, they finally got rid of war. For the first time there was peace on Earth—since the only possible victims were the killers

FICTION SPECIAL: The Place Where Chicago Was

Updated 2 weeks ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net
FICTION SPECIAL: The Place Where Chicago Was

By Jim Harmon*

* Harmon specialized in science fiction but also wrote "The Great Radio Heroes," documenting the 30s/40s when Green Hornet, Shadow, Superman, Lone Ranger were aired via radio --- theater of the mind. Harmon pass in 2010. Prior to his passing he gave his consent to a teenage would-be radio guru to adopt "The Place Where Chicago Was" as a follow up to WMUL's radio drama, "The Day They Dropped the Bomb."

It was late December of 1983. Abe Danniels knew that the streets and sidewalks of Jersey City moved under their own power and that half the families in America owned their own helicopters. He was pleased with these signs of progress. But he was sweating. He thought he was getting athlete's foot instead of athletic legs from walking from the New Jersey coast to just outside of Marshall, Illinois.

The heat was unbearable.

The road shimmered before him in rows of sticky black ribbon, on which nothing moved. Nothing but him.

He passed a signal post that said "Caution—Slow" in a gentle but commanding voice. He staggered on toward a reddish metallic square set on a thin column of bluish concrete. It was what they called a sign, he decided.

Danniels drooped against the sign and fanned his face with his sweat-ringed straw cowboy hat. The thing seemed to have something to say about the mid-century novelist, James Jones, in short, terse words.

The rim of the hat crumpled in his fist. He stood still and listened.

There was a car coming.

It would almost have to stop, he reasoned. A man couldn't stand much of this Illinois winter heat. The driver might leave him to die on the road if he didn't stop. Therefore he would stop.

He jerked out the small pouch from the sash of his jeans. Inside the special plastic the powder was dry. He rubbed some between his hands briskly, to build up the static electricity, and massaged it into his hair.

The metal of the Jones plaque was fairly shiny. Under the beating noon sun it cast a pale reflection back at Danniels. His hair looked a reasonably uniform white now.

He started to draw the string on the pouch, then dipped his hand in and scooped his palm up to his mouth. He chewed on the stuff while he was securing the nearly flat bag in his sash. He swallowed the dough; the powder had been flour.

Danniels took the hat from beneath his arm, set it to his head and at last faced the direction of the engine whine.

The roof, hood and wheels moved over the curve of the horizon and Danniels saw that the car was a brandless classic which probably still had some of the original, indestructible Model A left in it.

He pondered a moment on whether to thumb or not to thumb.

He thumbed.

The rod squealed to a stop exactly even with him. A door unfolded and a voice like a stop signal said flatly, "Get in."

Danniels got in. The driver was a teen-ager in a loose scarlet tunic and a spangled W.P.A. cap. The youth wouldn't have been bad-looking except for a sullen expression and a rather girlish turn of cheek, completely devoid of beard line. Danniels wrote him off as a prospective member of the Wolf Pack in a year or two.

But not just yet, he fervently hoped.

"Going far? I'm not," said the driver.

Danniels adjusted the knees of his trousers. "I'm going to—near where Chicago used to be."

"Huh?"

Danniels had forgotten the youth of his companion. "I mean I'm going to where you can't go any further."

The driver nodded smugly, relieved that the threat to the vastness of his knowledge had been dismissed. "I get you, Pop. I guess I can take you close to where you're headed."

They rode on in silence, both relieved that they didn't have to try to span the void between age and position with words.

"You aren't anywhere near starvation, are you?" the driver said suddenly, uneasy.

"No," Danniels said. "Anyway I've got money."

"Woodrow Wilson! I'll pull in at the next joint."

***

The next joint was carved out of the flat cross-section of hill that looked unmistakably like a strip ridge of a Colorado copper mine, but wasn't ... even barring the fact that this was Illinois. The rectangle of visible dinner was color-fused aluminum from between No. Two and Korea.

Danniels was glad to get into the shockingly cold air-conditioning. It was constant, if unhealthy. The chugging unit in the car failed a heartbeat every now and then for a sickening wave of heat.

The two of them pulled up wire chairs to a linoleum-top table in a mirrored corner. A faint purple hectographed menu was stuck between appropriately colored plastic squeeze bottles labeled MUSTARD and BLOOD.

Danniels knew what the menu would say but he unfolded it and checked.

Steaks
Plankton .90
Juicy, rich-red tantalizing hamburger .17

Accessories
Mashed potatoes .40
Delectable oysters, all you can eat .09
Peas .35
Rich, fragrant cheese, large slice .02

Drinks
Coke .50
Milk, the forbidden wine of nature .01
Coffee (without) .50
Coffee (with) .02

A fat girl in white came to the table.

Danniels tossed the menu on the table. "I'll take the meat dinner," he said.

The teen-ager stared hard at the table top. "So will I."

"Good citizens," the waitress said, but the revulsion crept into her voice over the professional hardness.

Danniels looked carefully at his companion. "You aren't used to ordering meat."

"Pop," the youth began. Danniels waited to be told that being short of cash was none of his business. "Pop, on my leg. Kill it, kill it!"

Danniels leaned over the table startled and curious. A cockroach was feeling its way along a thin meridian of vari-colored jeans. Danniels pinched it up without injuring it and deposited it on the floor. It scurried away.

"Your kind make me sick," the driver said in lieu of thanks. "You act like a Fanatic but you're a Meat-Eater. How do you blesh that?"

Danniels shrugged. He did not have to explain anything to this kid. He couldn't be stranded.

The kid was under the same encephalographic inversion as the rest of the world. No human being could directly or indirectly commit murder, as long as the broadcasting stations every nation on earth maintained in self-defense continued to function.

These mechanical brain waves coated every mind with enforced pacifism. They could have just as easily broadcast currents that would have made minds swell with love or happiness. But world leaders had universally agreed that these conditions were too narcotic for the common people to endure.

Pacifism was vital to the survival of the planet.

War could not go on killing; but governments still had to go on winning wars. War became a game. The International War Games were held every two years. With pseudo-H bombs and mock-germ warfare, countries still effectively eliminated cities and individuals. A "destroyed" city was off-limits for twenty years. Nothing could go in or out for that period. Most cities had provided huge food deposits for emergencies.

Before the Famine.

Some minds were more finely attuned to the encephalographic inversion than others. People so in tune with the wavelength of pacifism could not only not kill another human being, they could not even kill an animal. Vegetarianism was thrust upon a world not equipped for it. Some—like Danniels—who could not kill, still found themselves able to eat what others had killed. Others who could not kill or eat any once-living thing—even plants—rapidly starved to death. They were quickly forgotten.

Almost as forgotten as the Jonahs.

The War Dead.

Any soldier or civilian "killed" outside of a major disaster area (where he would be subject to the twenty years) became a man without a country—or a world. They were tagged with green hair by molecular exchange and sent on their way to starve, band together, reach a disaster area (where they would be accepted for the duration of the disaster), or starve.

Anyone who in any way communicated with a Jonah or even recognized the existence of one automatically became a Jonah himself.

It was harsh. And if it wasn't better than war it was quieter.

And more permanent.

The counterman with a greasy apron and hairy forearms served the plates. The meat had been lightly glazed to bring out the aroma and flavor but the blood was still a pink sheen on the ground meat. There were generous side dishes of cheese and milk. Even animal by-products were passed up by the majority of vegetarians. Eggs had been the first to be dropped—after all, every egg was a potential life. Milk and associated products came to be spurned through sheer revulsion by . Besides, milk was intended only to feed the animal's own offspring, wasn't it?

 

Danniels squirted blood generously from its squeeze bottle. Even vegetarians used a lot of it. It gave their plankton the gory look the human animal craved. Of course it was not really blood, only a kind of tomato paste. When Danniels had been a boy people called it catsup.

He tried to dig into his steak with vengeance but it tasted of ashes. Meat was his favorite food; he was in no way a vegetarian. But the thought of the Famine haunted him. Vegetable food was high in price and ration points. Most people were living on 2500 calories a day. It wasn't quite starvation and it wasn't quite a full stomach. It was hard on anybody who did more than an average amount of work. It was especially hard on children.

The Meat-Eaters helped relieve the situation. Some, with only the minimum of influence from the Broadcasters, ate nothing but meat. They were naturally aggressive morons who were doing no one favors, potential members of a Wolf Pack.

Danniels knew how to end the Famine.

The mob that was the men he had commanded had hunted him in the hills below Buffalo, and he had been hungry, with no time to eat, or rest, or sleep. Only enough time to think. He couldn't stop thinking. Panting over a smothered spark of campfire, smoldering moss and leaves, he thought. Drinking sparkling but polluted water from a twisting mountain stream and trying unsuccessfully to trap silver shavings of fish with his naked hands, he thought.

His civilian job was that of a genopseudoxenobeastimacroiologist, a specialized field with peacetime applications that had come out of the War Games—specialized to an almost comic-opera intensity. He knew virtually everything about almost nothing at all. Yet, delirious with hunger, from this he fashioned in his mind a way to provide food for everybody. Even Jonahs.

After they caught him—weeks before the Tag spot would have faded off—he wasn't sure whether his idea had been a sick dream or not. But he intended to find out. He wouldn't let any other mob stop him from that.

Danniels had decided he was against mobs, whether their violence and stupidity was social or anti-social. People are better as individuals.

The driver of the hot-rod was also picking at his food uncertainly. Probably a social vegetarian, Danniels supposed. An irresponsible faddist.

The counterman stopped staring and cleared his throat apologetically. "This ain't the Ritz but it don't look good for customers to sit with hats on."

Danniels knew that applied to only non-vegetarians, but he put his Stetson, reluctantly, on an aluminum tree.

The teen-ager looked up. And did not go back to the food. Danniels knew that he had been found out.

The counterman went back to wiping down the bar.

The youth was still looking at Danniels.

"You better eat if you don't want me to be discovered," Danniels said gently.

Young eyes moved back and forth, searching, not finding.

"It won't do you any good to run," Danniels continued. "The waitress and the counterman will swear they had nothing to do with me. But you were driving me, eating with me."

"You can't let even a Jonah die," the youngster said in a hoarse whisper that barely carried across the table.

Danniels shook his head sadly. "It won't work. You might have slowed down enough to let me grab onto the rear bumper or tossed me out some food. But you took me into your car, sat down at a table with me."

"And this is the thanks I get!"

Danniels felt his face flush. "Look, son, this isn't a game where you can afford to play by good sportsmanship. That's somebody else's rules, designed to make sure you get at least no better a break than anyone else. You have to play by your rules—designed to give you the best possible break. Let's get out of here."

He wolfed the last bite and jammed his hat back on his head, pulling it down about his ears. The sweat band had rubbed the flour off his hair in a narrow band. A band of green. The mark of the Jonah.

In the last war games, Danniels had come into the sights of a Canadian's diffusion rifle. For six months he had worn a cancerous badge of luminosity over his heart. Until his comrades had trapped him and through a system similar to the one their rifles employed turned his hair to green and cast him out.

Danniels scooped up both checks and with deep pain paid both of them to save time. He wanted to get his companion out of there before he broke.

The heat struck at their faces like jets of boiling water. The authorities said nuclear explosion had had nothing to do with changing climatic conditions so radically, but something had.

The two of them were walking towards the parked car when the Wolf Pack got to them.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/51832/51832-h/51832-h.htm

https://scifistories.com/s/654/the-place-where-chicago-was?page=1

 

 

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