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THE CITY THAT FORGOT

First episode taken from Adventure No. 1088 - August 28th 1943.

What would happen if everybody in your town suddenly forgot everything they had ever learned?

RAYS OF FORGETFULNESS.

Russell Boulder was faced with the greatest problem in its history. It was cut off from the outside world. No railway had ever linked the city with the outer world, but a fine road carried immense traffic out of the canyon, and the local authorities had been building an aerodrome of great size. No one had ever missed the railway. No one had ever guessed that grim tragedy could come to Russell Boulder. The trouble was not man-made. For weeks there had been heavy rainfalls in the surrounding mountains, but the landslide which had cut the city off from the outside world had only occurred at six o’clock the previous evening. It had taken place without warning. The entire south face of Grizzly Mountain had broken away and crashed into the narrowest part of the canyon entrance, blotting out the road, annihilating the cable system, filling the great gorge to a depth of hundreds of feet. “Sooner or later someone down at Denver will hear what’s happened, then we can expect help,” Jim Wilcox, the Mayor, had said. “There’s nothing more we can do tonight. I vote everyone goes to bed.” They had taken his advise. Silence brooded over Russell Boulder. Even the thunderstorms in the mountains had ceased, and the stars shone down from a clear sky. But on the edge of the city, where a tall, stone tower rose behind a fair sized villa, a man was very much awake. The top room in that tower was used by Dr Michael Wane as his laboratory and observatory. He was there now, poring over a mass of complicated instruments. A spare, vulturish looking man, with long nose and deep set eyes, the doctor was more interested in his experiments than he was in his practice. There had always been something queer about Dr Wane. His only servant was a dumb half breed named Sibbar. Nobody else was ever allowed in the house. Everyone in the locality knew Dr Wane dabbled in electrical research. After the disaster the Mayor had sent to ask if he had a wireless transmitting set in his possession. Dr Wane had two, but he sent back word that he did not possess such a thing. The disaster which had cut off Russell Boulder and its forty thousand people from the rest of America seemed to Wane the chance of a lifetime. For a long time he had been experimenting with a machine to produce ultra-short radio waves. It was not a new theory, that the power of human thought was brought about by short electrical waves produced in the brain, but Michael Wane was the first man who had ever seriously thought of interfering with those waves. On the table before him was a mass of coils, bulbs, and condensers which he believed could give off a series of tiny electrical waves which could annihilate the power of thought in all human beings over a given area. Tonight, as he gazed down from his observatory upon the sleeping city his dark eyes blazed with excitement. “The chance might never come again!” he told himself. “Maybe never again in history will an up-to-date community of forty thousand people be temporarily isolated. There are all kinds here—brainy people and stupid, miners and bankers, professional men and servants. It will be the most interesting experiment ever known to wipe out all memory from their brains—and see what happens. They will forget everything they’ve ever learned.”

A knock came to the door, and Sibbar entered. A huge, gorilla-like creature, he was devoted to the doctor, who had once saved his life. Since then he had worked whole heartedly for Wane. The doctor was his god, and he was the dull witted, faithful slave, content with his lot. He brought a glass of hot milk for Dr Wane, who was fond of milk, and drank several quarts a day. Michel Wane motioned for the tray to be set on the table, and waved Sibbar to go away. The huge creature limbered off as silently as he had come, closing the soundproof door behind him. “I’ll do it!” decided Wane as he sipped his milk. “I’ll do it! There’s a chance that it may drive everyone crazy, but risks have to be taken. It will be several weeks before the canyon can be cleared. We’ll see what will happen in that time. He went to a cupboard and took out a queer helmet made of sheet lead. It fitted closely over his head and round the base of the neck, completely covering his brain. He had discovered lead was the only metal which acted as an insulator against the ultra-short rays which his machine generated. By wearing this helmet he made sure his own brain was not affected. He returned to the table and studied the switchboard before him. One lever only had to be put over. It was a momentous occasion, and for a few seconds he hesitated. Click! He had put over the switch, there was a spluttering sound, and two huge glass balls filled with purple sparks. Faster and faster whirled these sparks until they filled the balls and gave off a radiance which flooded the laboratory and cast a ruddy glow over the vulturish face of the experimenter. Somewhere on the roof an aerial dispersed the rays being generated. They were travelling at a speed hitherto unknown to science. They were invisible, without colour, indetectable. For ten minutes that ruddy glow shone from the high laboratory windows, then Wane switched over and stilled the spluttering instrument. He lifted off his lead helmet. “Phew! If things worked as I expected, the trick’s done,” he muttered. “Not one of those sleepers will remember anything he had ever known when he wakens. It will be a remarkable state of affairs—remarkable!” He rubbed his thin hands together gleefully, reached for his milk glass, and saw it was empty. He pressed his finger on an electrical button. A bell in Sibbar’s quarters would bring more milk—if he remembered!

The doctor stood by the window studying the streets and blocks of buildings spread below him. There were many cars and lorries left in the street. “They’ll have forgotten how to drive them tomorrow,” he chuckled, then realised it was several minutes since he had rung the bell. He stormed to the bell and rang again, but without response. Grimly he took down a heavy whip from the wall and went from the laboratory. Sibbar was a slave, and was treated like one. When he failed in his duty he was beaten. Wane descended two staircases to the kitchen quarters, and was about to shout for the man servant when low growling noises, mingled with deep grunts, made him tiptoe towards the door of Sibbar’s dark, stone floored sleeping hole. This small chamber had once been a pantry. It had no comforts of any kind. The solitary window had two stout steel bars running across it. It was more like a prison cell than a bedroom. Grunting and snarling, the half-breed was slowly but surely bending those bars outwards. Sweat poured down the back of his neck. From time to time he gnashed his teeth together. The man’s strength was prodigious. Those bars were bending as though made of putty. The doctor had raised his whip, but now he lowered it and stood silently on the threshold. For once in his life he was afraid. With a wrenching noise one of the bars came out of its sockets. A deep growl of joy came from Sibbar. He tossed the bent bar behind him, almost hitting the watcher in the doorway, then heaved himself up and dived headlong through the gap into the grounds outside. “Phee-eew!” gasped Dr Wane, drawing a hand across his face. Fear had gripped the man who had doomed Russell Boulder to forgetfulness.

STRANGE AWAKENING.

The sun had risen above the Long Peak and was shining down into the streets of Russell Boulder, bringing light and warmth to the sleeping city. Somewhere an alarm clock went off, and the sleeper, Commissioner Rhodes, the chief of police, sat upright in bed. He was a big man with red hair, and just now that hair was stiffening on his scalp as he glared at the ringing clock. For about three seconds he stared at the thing, then snatched up a water jug and hurled it bodily at the alarm. Jug and clock smashed to the floor; the ringing stopped. Red Rhodes looked about him as though he had never seen that room before. When he slithered out of bed he crouched in a corner and glared around as though expecting danger. His foot touched something that slid along the floor before him. It was one of his own slippers, but he jumped back from it as though stung, baring his teeth and muttering under his breath. He wore a suit of striped pyjamas, the jacket of which had become unbuttoned during sleep. As he moved the loose garment flapped under his arm, and he wrenched it from him savagely, stripping himself to the waist. With another grunt he stalked across the room barefooted. In front of him was a long mirror, and directly he saw his reflection in it he assumed a position of defence, crouching, with crooked fingers, parted lips, eyes blazing with hatred. “Grr-rrr!” he snarled, and waited for the other to attack. Nothing happened, except that the figure in the mirror assumed the same posture. Red Rhodes stared for several seconds, then began to creep towards his reflection. It did the same. He was certain it was going to attack him. The shortwave rays released by Dr Wane had done their work well. Commissioner Rhodes did not remember having seen a mirror before. With calculated suddenness he made a leap for the other man. Crash! He had jumped squarely into the big mirror, and was flung back bruised and resentful. The mirror was shattered, his hand was cut, and the reflection disappeared. Muttering fiercely, he continued his tour of inspection. There was one door leading to the bathroom and the other to the landing at the top of the stairs, but Red Rhodes had forgotten how to open doors. The window attracted him. He tried to lean out, and bumped against the window glass. He beat at it with his hand, and smashed it, cutting himself again. He found a part of the window that was open, and looked out. “Ugh-h-h-h!” He shuddered when he saw the distance to the street, and his nostrils twitched as a faint smell came to him. It was from a meat store further up the road.

Carefully he climbed on to the sill. Attached to the wall was a drainpipe, and he made a clumsy grab for that, getting a grip more by good luck than judgment. This done, he began to climb down. Meanwhile other people in the city were wakening and emerging into the streets. None of those who had taken off their clothes before going to bed had dressed themselves properly. They had forgotten how to dress. They had robed themselves in blankets or sheets or the curtains from their rooms, wrapping these around in whichever way suited their fancy. Unshaven, ungroomed, all of them barefooted, they stared at the world before them with hostility. Many of them came out through windows. Others were trying to break their way out through unlocked doors or through walls when there were doors nearby. Dogs, which had never seen their owners in this mood before, rushed at them, barking and snapping at their bare feet. One burly shopkeeper snatched up an iron bar which had belonged to his shutters and smashed the nearest dog over the head, killing it instantly. Hardly had it fallen when he pounced on it, snatched it up greedily, and retreated into the house behind him. Four or five neighbours who had seen him do this rushed after him to share in the loot, and sounds of struggle came from within the house. Nobody was carrying on a conversation. They had forgotten their own tongue. They had forgotten who or what they were. They were conscious only of the most primitive emotions—anger, jealousy, hunger, and thirst. It was into this milling horde that Red Rhodes descended, and because he was bigger than most of them they made way for him, eyeing nervously the baton which he had grabbed before leaving his room, and which he had carried between his teeth when climbing. He shouldered aside any who barred his way, following the direction his nose led him. He was making for the butcher’s store. The chief of police came at last to the butcher’s shop. It had stout shutters over the front, but his nose assured him there was meat inside. He gripped the bars and pulled. They resisted his strength. He snarled, gritted his teeth, and tried again. It was strange that the man responsible for keeping law and order in the city should be the first to attempt to loot. From the observatory at the top of the tower Dr Michel Wane watched through his field glasses and chuckled with glee. Failing to get in by the front of the shop and still lured by the scent of fresh meat, Rhodes went down a side passage and came to an open door. The butcher had come out shortly before, and was now prowling around seeking drinking water. It had not occurred to the butcher there was all the water he wanted in the taps in his own house. He had forgotten how to turn on a tap!

Once inside, Rhodes tracked down the cool room in which sides of red meat were hung, and with his fingers he clawed off long strips of beef, stuffing them into his mouth and chewing lustily. That the meat was raw did not worry him a bit. He smacked his lips over the flavour. When he had eaten all he could swallow at the time he lifted down a large, bony joint weighing about thirty pounds, tucked it under his arm, and slunk out of the building. As he did so he almost collided with a man as big as himself, with swarthy complexion, dangling hair, and a chest as matted with dark hairs as the chest of a gorilla. It was Sibbar, his clothing torn to shreds by the violence of his night flight, his hunger driving him to seek food. Directly the half-breed saw the great hunk of meat under Rhodes’ arm, he snatched for it and got a hold on one end. The chief of police let out an angry roar and tugged to get it back. A vicious tug-of-war ensued between the two men, each of them gnashing his teeth and rolling his eyes with fury. Finally the meat dropped to the dusty gutter, and the two burly contestants closed, locking their arms around each other. Suddenly Sibbar drove a knee to the red haired police chief’s stomach, sending him staggering backwards to the wall. Putting his hands behind him to get a hard outward push, Rhodes came back with lowered head so suddenly that he caught the half-breed on the chest. Over went Sibbar, with Red Rhodes on top of him. Again they rolled on the pavement, each seeking to tear, smash, or gouge the other. There were no rules in that primitive combat. A slinking figure came round the corner, saw the hunk of meat in the gutter, snatched it greedily, and turned to run. Rhodes happened to glance up at that moment, saw what was happening, tore himself from his assailant’s embrace, and gave chase. Sibbar staggered to his feet, shook his hairy head, and followed likewise. The man with the meat had been a young local doctor. No one would have recognised him now. He wore nothing but a pair of shorts, and was running like a Marathon champion. Doggedly Red Rhodes stuck to the other’s heels, and when other people in the street saw what was happening they also gave chase. That hunk of meat was a prize worth fighting for.

With yells and snarls the mob joined in, until there were fifty or sixty men running as well as Rhodes and Sibbar. As they streamed down Market Street they passed a blazing bakery. Urged by the want of food, savage citizens of the City That Forgot had looted the place, and red hot cinders from the big stove had been scattered. Now the entire building was smothered with flames. The people nearby were staring at it in bewilderment, and making no attempt to put it out. They had forgotten what fire was.

THE MAN FROM OUTSIDE.

Young Dr Marston led the chase outside the town. He was making for the distant mountain side, but the weight of the meat was beginning to tell. He changed it from arm to arm, but his tired muscles gradually relaxed their grip, until finally he was obliged to drop the prize altogether. Red Rhodes was not far behind. A howl went up from the rest of the pursuers as they saw him grab it. The anger of the crowd was now turned against the chief of police. Rhodes was getting weary of running, when he saw a gate on the right he dived through it. He found himself in what had once been Russell Boulder’s most pleasant park. Some people were drinking water from the ornamental fish ponds and some of them were eating raw fish. Others clambered about the trees seeking food. It had not occurred to them that the shops in the main street were filled with foodstuffs. In the centre of the park was a pavilion. Concerts had been given there in good weather, and teas had been served. The chief of police saw in it a possible refuge; and he sprinted hard to reach it before he should be pulled down by the human wolves behind. Running along the front of the pavilion was a covered terrace. Ornamental poles supported the roof. Red Rhodes tossed the thirty pound joint up on to this roof, then swarmed up a pole to recover it. Once on the roof, he turned at bay. His only weapon was his policeman’s baton, which had become looped round his wrist by its leather thong. Baring his teeth, he crouched at the edge of the roof and waited. Sibbar was the first to come up one of the poles. The half-breed heaved his massive form within reach, and—Thud! Down came the baton on his head. With a roar of pain Sibbar released his hold and fell backwards. Luckily for him he fell on two of those below, crushing them to the ground. He was up in a moment, bellowing with anger, and rubbing the top of his head. Others of the hungry mob tried to reach Rhodes and the meat, but the long arm of the police chief wielded the baton with such effect that nobody succeeded in getting a footing beside him. Red Rhodes was left in possession of the meat, and finally the crowd went away, with the exception of Sibbar, who crouched behind some nearby bushes and watched the roof of the pavilion with baleful eyes. It was about this time that Dr Wane ventured from his stronghold and walked the streets to see how his experiment was working out. When he saw some of the things these modern savages were doing, he roared with harsh laughter. There was no pity in his heart for the luckless folk whose memories he had destroyed. He had made them little better than animals, and he was proud of it.

People were still shut in their homes, hammering to get out. Wane made no attempt to release them to tell them how to unlock their doors. Suddenly his head went back and he glared at the sky to the south. What was that noise in the sky? A tiny speck under the clouds answered his question. A plane was coming over the mountains. He showed his teeth viciously. “I’d forgotten planes!” he muttered. Anxiously he watched, and to his dismay it began to circle within the canyon. It was seeking a landing place. The unfinished aerodrome was just outside the city, but was not yet in a fit condition to inspire a pilot with confidence. After skimming low over it, the unknown airman rose again, and Dr Wane sighed with relief. “He won’t attempt it after all. He doesn’t like the look of it, and—Now, what’s the crazy fool doing?” His quick cry of alarm had come when the plane suddenly cut off its motor and glided down towards the main square of the city. The pilot had decided this offered him a chance of landing. Down glided the machine, a small one, and the angry doctor saw there was only one man in the cockpit. The plane made a perfect three point landing, ran halfway across the square, then stopped. The pilot detached himself from his straps and stood up. He looked about him in bewilderment. He could not understand why the streets were filled with stationary cars and vehicles, why there was nobody to be seen. That part of the city seemed deserted. “Hi! Hi! Where is everyone?” demanded the pilot, and his voice was that of a young man. Bill Powell was just twenty five, and this was the first machine he had actually owned. He had been flying it back to his ranch in the West when he had run into a thunderstorm amongst the mountains and lost his way. After flying for some hours and nearly exhausting his petrol, he had sighted the city in the canyon, and had decided to come down and re-fuel. He was surprised at this strange welcome. He did not see the skulking figure nearby. Dr Michel Wane had decided to keep out of sight. He was inwardly cursing this blundering airman for butting in on his great experiment.

Bill Powell walked up and down beside his machine, occasionally shouting. He was conscious of a dull murmuring and roaring in the distance. Somewhere a great crowd was on the move. He rid himself of his crash helmet, revealing himself as a good looking, fair young fellow, with level brows and resolute chin. He wanted petrol and to be on his way. He had expected trouble with the police for having landed in the city square, and when presently he heard running feet he was not surprised to see a man in police uniform. The previous night Constable Garry had fallen asleep fully dressed, otherwise he would not have been clothed in this fashion. He did not know how to get rid of the uniform. With thousands of others Garry had been up the canyon fighting for water when the great bird had passed over their heads, for such they had taken it to be. Hundreds of them had started to run after it, and Constable Garry happened to be the foremost. Bill Powell greeted him with a sigh of relief. For a few minutes he had feared something terrible had happened in this city. Sight of the constable had reassured him. He walked to meet Garry. “Sorry I had to make a forced landing,” he said. “I’ve run out of juice, and didn’t like the look of your aerodrome. I’m lost. What’s the name of this place, and can I get any aviation spirit?” The constable stared at him in alarm. He had forgotten he had ever heard noises like that coming from a human mouth before. He glared past Powell towards the plane, and began to stalk it cautiously, as one might have approached a dangerous monster. Bill Powell opened his mouth in amazement. “What’s the matter with you?” he demanded. “Has everyone gone mad around here? Haven’t you seen a plane before?” The constable paid no attention, but reached out a hand to touch the extended wing, jumping back as though it had bitten him. “Huh-huh-huh!” he grunted. “For the love of Pete, what’s the matter?” roared the pilot. “Is everyone screwy around here? Why’s all the traffic stopped? What’s been going on?” Into the square poured several hundred of the fastest citizens. They had followed the policeman, but few were as well clad as he. Some were very sketchily dressed. They let out savage cries when they saw the giant “bird” standing there. Some instinct told them a bird as big as that would be a menace. They surged towards it. Bill Powell jumped forward in alarm. “I say, be careful!” he remonstrated. “That’s my plane. I’m going to leave as soon as I get some juice.” They thrust him aside with angry cries. Crash! Thud! Crash! They hammered it from all sides, smashing with cold fury, tearing it with their fingers, rocking it from side to side, and finally overturning it. As it lay in pieces on the ground they battered it to even smaller fragments.

MODERN SAVAGES!

Bill Powell crept away from the wrecked plane. A gateway into a cool park lured him with a promise of rest. His head was in a whirl. He wanted to think things out for himself. “It must be some kind of mass madness or hysteria,” he thought. “I’ve heard of such things before. The sooner I get out of here and send in help the better.” His thoughts broke off when he saw a huge, hairy figure cautiously emerging from some bushes in front of the pavilion. It was Sibbar, and his eyes were fixed on the roof above him. For a long time he had watched Red Rhodes, and had seen the chief of police finally stretch himself out to sleep beside his hunk of meat. Now he was certain Rhodes was asleep, the half-breed meant to take him by surprise. The hidden airman watched with surprise as the man stooped and picked up a jagged stone. Sibbar crept to the foot of one of the uprights which supported the roof and began to climb. Acting on the impulse the airman climbed the tree before him. He wanted to see what was on the flat roof of the pavilion. By this time Sibbar was peering over the further edge of the roof, eyeing the sleeper. Bill Powell came down from the tree with a rush. He knew a muderous look when he saw one. The swarthy half-breed intended killing the re-headed sleeper. He must be stopped.

Bending low as he ran across the front of the pavilion, Powell in his turn picked up a stone. As he straightened he saw Sibbar advancing along the roof towards the defenceless Rhodes. The half-breed had no eyes for anyone but his victim. Thud! The thrown stone caught the would be murderer a glancing blow on the side of the head. It rocked him to one side without knocking him over. He gave a roar of rage, which roused the sleeper. Red Rhodes sat up stupidly. He had been sleeping in the hot sun, and was dazed with sleep. “Look out!” came a voice from below. “He’s trying to kill you! Look out!” Red Rhodes peered down at the stranger below and frowned. Then he saw Sibbar again advancing with the jagged stone in his hand, and understood his danger. The stranger had warned him. He had to fight for his life. He sprang to his feet and dodged as the stone hurtled past his head. Sibbar followed up the stone, and got a crack on the head from the baton. The half-breed howled, and lowered his arms to grasp for Rhodes’ legs. He got a hold, and the chief of police went over with a crash which shook the pavilion. Sibbar was now fighting mad. He landed on top of Rhodes like some savage bear. Bill Powell could no longer see what was happening up there, but he felt sure murder was being committed. He ran to the nearest upright and swarmed to the roof. It was well he arrived when he did. Borne over backwards by the weight and force of the half-breed’s rush, Red Rhodes was on his back, vainly striving to break the grip on his throat. Sibbar was not only strangling the chief of police, but he was banging his head on the concrete roof as hard as he could. Rhodes struggles were becoming feeble. At the last moment, he saw the stranger leap in with upraised hand. Thud! Bill Powell had no better weapon than the jagged stone which Sibbar had selected below, but he brought it down with punishing force on the half-breed’s head. Even Sibbar could not stand such a blow. He collapsed across his victim, and after a few moments of hard breathing the chief of police dragged himself out from underneath. Red Rhodes made noises in his throat. They were soft and soothing noises. He was trying to say how grateful he was for the aid he had received. Suddenly deciding to show his gratitude he stooped and grabbed the filthy hunk of meat. More crude sounds came from his throat as he held out the bleeding meat towards the young man, pointing to his mouth and inviting him to eat. This was the only way he knew of showing his gratitude. He was willing to share his prize with the man who had saved his life.

Bill Powell had found a friend in the City That Forgot!

THE CITY THAT FORGOT 12 Episodes in Adventure issues 1088 – 1099 (1943)

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd

Vic Whittle 2007