The Project Gutenberg eBook of You Don't Walk Alone

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Title: You Don't Walk Alone

Author: Frank M. Robinson

Illustrator: W. E. Terry

Release date: October 13, 2021 [eBook #66529]

Language: English

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


You've heard reports about strange lights
in the sky—flying saucers and all that rubbish!
A Joke? Illusion? Possibly, unless, of course—

You Don't Walk Alone

By Frank M. Robinson

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
March 1955
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

It wasn't my idea—I wasn't the first one to think of it. It started with John Kelley, who passed the idea on to me. And I'm going to do something about it. I think John wanted to but he never got the chance.

It began about two months ago when I was sitting at the lunch counter in Chicago's LaSalle Street station, drinking coffee. I was on my second cup when John walked in. He saw me about the same time I saw him and came over to the counter and we gave each other the I-haven't-seen-you-for-years-what-are-you-doing-now routine.

Which was a laugh, in a way, because while he wouldn't know what I had been doing, I couldn't help but know what he had been doing. And so would you if I told you his right name. You wouldn't have recognized him, of course. He was the inconspicuous type, the sort of man who blended in so well with his background you would have had to hunt to find him, even if he was standing right in front of you. He was thin, not particularly tall, with limp, straw colored hair that clung close to his scalp and a complexion that had never been exposed to the sun. He was dressed in an old blue suit, a shapeless hat that might have been new five years ago, and a lightweight gray topcoat that hadn't been cleaned and pressed since he had bought it.

See? You wouldn't have noticed him at all.

It's a somewhat deceptive description, of course. John could have afforded a Brooks Brothers suit and at least one Cadillac but the fact was that he preferred being inconspicuous and in his job it was a definite advantage. Both John and I were reporters but the difference was—as Oscar Levant would say—the difference between talent and genius.

He ordered coffee then gave me a once-over with a pair of tired blue eyes that took in everything from my brown shoes that needed a shine to the newest thing in string bow-ties.

"How's it going, Charley?"

I blew the loose sugar off a doughnut and dangled it just over the edge of the cup. "It goes all right. It could be better but I suppose it could be worse, too. What brings you to Chicago?"

"I'm on a story."

"Sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to pry."

He got a refill on his coffee and stirred in half a pound of sugar. "You're not prying. As a matter of fact, maybe you can help me."

"What's up?"

"I'm doing a story about an invasion. It's one that started just a few years ago, one that I'm afraid was highly successful, and one that I think is still going on."

I looked at him blankly. "Invasion? What invasion?"

"One from out in space," he said casually. "You know, one from another planet or another star. That type of invasion."

I sat there letting my coffee grow cold because all the time I was thinking that the one thing in the world John Kelley didn't possess was a sense of humor. As long as I had known him he had never told a joke and came damn close to never laughing at any.

"I don't recall any reports of anybody running around with six arms or green skin or tentacles instead of limbs," I protested mildly.

He shook his head, deadly serious. "You're not looking at it logically, Charley. The only beings who would be interested in the planet in the first place are beings who could live here. And if they could live here, then it's possible they could have the same sort of physical make-up." He paused. "Maybe the exact same sort of physical make-up. Even to the extent of the average man's desire to avoid trouble."

Kelley had something there. Every time you think of an invasion from outer space, you think of a hundred huge rocket ships settling down with ray guns going full blast and king-sized atomic bombs breaking up the landscape. Actually, of course, it doesn't have to be like that at all. Granted a physical resemblance in the first place, then maybe it wouldn't be an invasion. It might be more of an ... infiltration.

I jerked my thumb towards the people who crowded around the train gates and sprawled out on the benches. "You mean that some of those people aren't ... genuine?"

"That's right," John said slowly. "Some of them aren't the real McCoy."

I watched the people for a moment more, staring hard at the old man buying a paper at the newsstand and the old woman who was selling it to him.

"How can you tell which are which?"

"I can't. So far as I know, there isn't any way."

He had forgotten his coffee now. It sat at his elbow, an unappetizing mixture of lukewarm grounds, cigarette ash, and disintegrated doughnut.

"Any leads?"

"You've been reading them every day, Charley. A dozen times a year somebody sees flashes in the sky, a dozen times lights settle down in relatively uninhabited sections of the country. Sure, people see them and report them. And what happens?" He shrugged. "The papers treat them as part of the silly season, readers only glance at the reports. You know as well as I that nobody packs up a camera to go out and investigate."

I took another look around the station. The bored people, sitting on benches and reading their papers. The mother with her baby, sleeping now but one you knew would be squalling in a few minutes. The porter sweeping up just in front of the wash-room. The man in the information booth rifling through a stack of time-tables.

All very prosaic all very every dayish. I turned back to Kelley, my face showing disbelief.

"You don't believe me, do you?"

I turned up my hands. "It's a pretty big order, John."

"That's the one big drawback—convincing people." He sat there for a moment, fingering the check the waitress had given him, then made up his mind. "Meet me tonight by the library, Randolph street side. Nine o'clock. I'll have some photographs along."

I reached for my hat. "Exhibit A better be pretty convincing John." And oddly enough, I didn't have any doubts but what they would be. His reputation was that good.

It was a nice, warm summer night when I got to the library a couple of minutes after nine. Downtown was already filling up with teenagers and pick-ups who flutter around the bright-lights like moths around a candle. I stood on the library steps and waited watching people crowd out of the IC entrance.

I had smoked my way through half a pack of cigarettes before it occurred to me that maybe John wasn't going to show. My first thought was that he had pulled a gag on me. My next was that something had delayed him. I started to walk over to his hotel.

Between Michigan and Wabash, right next door to the library, there's a small street that's more of an alley than a street. Street cars used to turn down it before the Chicago Transit Authority got into office and a lot of trucks use it to make deliveries. It's not too well lighted and the only people who use it at night to cut through from Washington to Randolph are people in a hurry.

You're way ahead of me, I know. And you're right. But you're wrong if you think I found him after five minutes of playing Sherlock. The police found him at three in the morning after they had combed the loop half the night.

John Kelley was in one of the store fronts, his head bashed in.

John Kelley was the first martyr to the cause. In a lot of ways, he didn't make a very good one. The papers put it down to gangland enemies—the usual explanation for murders in Chicago—and for a while I thought I had convinced myself that they were right.

Then I caught myself glancing behind me when I walked up dark streets at night and staring hard at the mirror in the local bar, watching the people on the stools and wondering which were real and which were fake. Kelley's story had started to haunt me and I couldn't shake it.

I thought maybe a vacation would help so I pulled strings at the office and got the last two weeks in July. I usually take my two weeks up in northern Wisconsin, around Hayward and Spooner and the Chippewa Flowage. It's one of the best fishing spots in the nation—everything from muskies to bullheads, bass to trout. You can take along a small fortune in flyrod for game fish, or you can have a lot of fun with a plain bamboo pole and bobber for pan fish.

Fred Gray—he was in the advertising department—went along with me. After all, fishing is a gregarious sport and besides, whoever heard of going alone? And Fred was the kind of man who was good company. The big, bluff variety with a string of stories as long as your arm.

We packed up Friday night and left early Saturday. With both of us trading off on the driving, it was still a fourteen hour trip. If we pushed it we could get to the Flowage early Saturday evening.

Fred took his turn at the wheel first and I sat in the back seat and snoozed. When I woke up it was early afternoon and the towns and the farmlands had started to fall away and there were longer and longer stretches of second growth timber and wild looking country that was largely devoted to Indian reservations. And even then, the shacks were getting fewer and fewer—an occasional wisp of smoke every few miles marking a cabin back in the brush.

I took the wheel and when we had about two hours to go, I stopped at a cross-roads store to pick up some groceries. While I was picking over the bacon and the pancake flour and the cornmeal, Fred was glancing through the assortment of plugs in the beat-up showcase near the door.

I took what we needed up to the counter and slid them across to the character who ran the place. He was an old man, the veins standing out big and blue on his arms and his face showing the effects of a lot more than just age.

"Henney's pancake flour is real good flour," he said, glancing at the box I had picked out.

"What's wrong with this?"

"Nothing—just make a couple more cents on Henney's."

I started for a moment, then decided to be obliging and went back and got a package of Henney's. "Do you have any white flour?"

"Yep, we got flour. Comes in bulk—gotta ask for it."

He fixed me up with a paper bag containing a couple of pounds, then started to figure how much I owed him, using a pencil and a hunk of wrapping paper.

"Pretty dead around here, isn't it?"

"Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't."

Fred came over with a brilliant red and blue striped plug. "How much?"

The old man glanced at the plug and then at Fred. "Two fifty, maybe."

Fred dug for the money and I said, "When isn't it dead around here?"

"Last night, for one." He pocketed the two fifty. "Lots of lights off in the woods a spell. Figured it was some city people. Local folks go to bed at a decent time of night."

I stood there looking at him and John Kelley's nightmare crawled out of the dim recesses of my mind where I thought I had buried it, and squatted right between my eyes, like a big, friendly collie dog making itself at home. Lights. Late at night lights. Lights like in a hundred news reports I had filed and forgotten.

I opened my mouth to say something and then let it go. An old school bus had ground to a stop out in front. The driver came in and I didn't more than glance at him. Young fellow, tanned, wearing marine fatigue pants and a white tee shirt. A vet, I thought. You see a hundred like him every day.

He jerked a thumb towards the gas pump in front. "Need some gas, Pop. About ten should do it."

The old man gave up figuring what I owed him and went out to fill the tank. I tried to strike up a conversation.

"Beautiful country around here."

"Sure is. I like it best in the summertime."

"Do much fishing?"

He shrugged. "Some. I'm generally pretty busy."

I looked out through the window at the bus where the old man was cranking the gas pump counting the profits on ten gallons of gas. The bus itself was battered and scarred, the red and yellow paint flaking off the sides. It was filled with adults—most of them young—and a sprinkling of kids.

"Some kind of outing?"

He laughed. "That's right. The Young People's League from the Methodist Church in Winook."

"Hard group to keep entertained, huh?"

He made a face and said, "You know how it goes."

The old man came back from the pump. "That's two seventy-six, son. Took a little over ten."

The driver paid and started for the door.

"See you around," I said.

"Yeah, sure thing."

I turned back to the old man and asked, "What do I owe you for the groceries?"

"Call it three and a quarter," he said slowly, not taking his eyes off the window where the bus still sat while the driver worked the gas pedal. The aimless whirring finally caught and the bus lumbered off. "Something funny there. Real funny."

"What do you mean?"

He came out of it, took my money, and leaned closer so even Fred, who was still fingering plugs at the far counter, couldn't hear. "You know, that young feller came by last night and that bus of his was empty. There's a fork in the road up ahead and he went to the right. Nothing up that away at all. The road just deadheads into the brush for about three miles and that's it. And I would've sworn that's where he came from just now. Didn't hear him go back last night and ain't seen him all morning. Don't know where all those people come from."

"He said they were from some young people's group in Winook."

The old man looked surprised. "Winook? No town around here by that name that I heard of—and I been here a mighty long time."

I picked up my load of groceries and started for the door. "Maybe I misunderstood him," I mumbled. "He must've meant some other town."

Out in the car, I let the motor idle for a minute. Up the road for about three miles, the old man had said. My stomach felt funny and the palms of my hands were oozing dampness. But I had to take a look, I had to go.

"What's the matter?" Fred asked.

"Nothing," I said. I put the car in gear and went straight ahead. I took the right fork.

"Where you going?"

"Just up the road a bit. I want to check on something."

He looked sour. "It's after six now. We don't have much time."

"It'll only take a couple of minutes."

He turned indifferent. "Suit yourself. I was thinking we might get some fishing in." He let it hang there and I almost changed my mind. You know how it is with fishing. If there's any daylight at all, you want to at least trail a hook in the water before hitting the sack.

The asphalt changed to loose gravel and I ground my teeth every time I thought of what the gravel and the dust were doing to the finish of the car. It took ten minutes to make those three miles. Then the gravel thinned out and we came to the end of the road in a small clearing rimmed with pine trees and other scrub timber.

Fred was surly. "Here we are—now what the hell was it that you wanted to see?"

I got out and stretched, then put my hands on my hips and looked around the clearing. It almost looked like Fred was right. There wasn't a damn thing to be seen. Brush and trees and knee-high grass and the two inch mosquitoes that only seem to come out at dusk. Then I saw what looked like a piece of paper by one of the trees. I ran over and picked it up. It was paper and yet not paper—it looked more like a fusion of paper and plastic with an odd kind of printing on it. I couldn't shake the idea that it was a scrap of some foreign paper. Then I looked around and saw where the grass was trampled and where a rough path led back through the woods.

I yelled, "I'll only be gone a minute!" and started out.

It was longer than a minute. It was the longest half hour in my life. The path wound between trees and through little gulleys and I had trouble following it because the sun was going down and shadows half hid the path. And then I came out in another clearing—a big clearing. It took me a minute to appreciate the fact that the center of the clearing wasn't a clearing so much as a depression. A large, neat, circular depression where small trees, bushes, and grass had been mashed flat to a pasty smear of green.

And then I saw other things. Bits of clothing—clothing made of cloth that I didn't recognize. More of the plastic-paper, some wrapped around lumps of what I imagined was food. I circled the clearing. The path I had taken was the only exit—or entrance.

And you're way ahead of me again, aren't you? Kelley had been right all along. The lights the old man had seen the night before were those of a ship from God only knew where. The young man with the bus had gone there earlier that evening to pick up his passengers.

The bus driver. The bus driver who had reminded me of a hundred other people I had known. Or two hundred. Or a thousand. And his curious-faced passengers, none of whom had gotten out to stretch their legs or buy a candy bar or chance a nickel in the coke machine or take advantage of the pause that refreshes.

I looked round the clearing again. Before they had gotten on the bus, they had changed clothes and then ... they had had a picnic.

Which I suppose was as good a way as any to start their first day on Earth.

The cabin was small and cozy and smelled of pine and cedar and fish. I sat on one of the bunks and pawed through a suit-case while Fred moved around and lighted kerosene lamps and played boy scout with the fire place. I found what I was looking for and then discovered a glass on the window sill. I wiped it out, thinking all the time about detective stories where the private eye took his straight—in a dirty glass.

Fred didn't approve of drinking on fishing trips and his plump face showed it.

"You look scared, Charley."

"I am."

"Something to do with going into the woods back there?"

"That's right. A lot to do with it."

He sat on the bunk opposite me and concentrated on tamping tobacco into his pipe. "You wouldn't care to tell me about it, would you?"

"Sure, I'll tell you," I said. "I'll tell anybody. I'll tell the whole world." I tilted the glass to my lips and let the liquid burn its way down. "It started with a damned good friend of mine named Kelley." And I told Fred the same story that Kelley had told me. And I told him what I had discovered back in the woods.

Fred laughed. "You're taking it too seriously, Charley. If you did some research on it, I'd bet you ten to one that you'd find a natural cause for everything."

"I've done some research," I said tightly. "Only I didn't know that I was doing it at the time."

I felt a little reluctant to talk. This wasn't the sort of setting where you talked about an invasion from another world. The door of the cabin was open and I could smell the lake and the night air and the nearby pines. It made it seem so damned unreal.

"What kind of research?"

"Nothing intentional—just stuff I picked up every day." The level in the bottle went down another half an inch. "They're running a regular commuter service, Fred. They're bringing them in by the thousands. By the hundreds of thousands. And all within the last few years."

He seemed interested. "Why do you say the last few years?"

I shivered. "The number of sightings of strange lights in the sky that have been made, for one thing. And population statistics for another. Our birthrate has been declining for some time. But in recent years the population has shot way up. More than it should."

"It's the veterans. Starting new families."

"Yeah? How many vets do you know with a lot of kids?"

"Anything else?" Fred asked softly.

"It's the perfect time for it," I mumbled. "World's all mixed up, everything is in a state of flux. They could land and how could you tell? DP's come into the country every day. That's one reason why we never notice."

"And you can't tell the aliens from human beings, can you?"

"No, you can't." I paused and wiped away the sweat from my forehead. "They're perfect copies. There's no way of finding them out. The man in the store could have been one. The driver was—and I couldn't have guessed." I laughed. "You could be one, too, for that matter."

He was up at the fireplace, stirring the embers again. When I finished talking he turned around, the poker clutched in his hand. His face was impassive.

"Not only could be, Charley. I am."

I suppose there's a time in everybody's life when the chips are down and you have to react automatically, you have no room for thought. I let him have the bottle square in the face and then the poker glanced off my shoulder and he was on me.

He gripped me by the throat and forced me back against the wall. "You'll never leave alive," he said and it was like ice-water down my neck because he said it in a monotone, with no emotion at all. I tried to break his grip and couldn't and then the world turned a spotty black and I could feel my life start to slip away like a bar of wet soap.

I fell to the floor and doubled my knees and drove my heavy boots into his stomach. He had to loosen his hold then and for a moment I was free. I didn't waste time and I didn't bother about fighting fair.

We both went for the poker but I got there first.

I killed a man that night. Without compunction, without regrets, without any hesitation. I killed Fred and buried him in the woods and loaded the car that same night.

When I started the car it kicked right over and I spun out of there, gravel spraying from beneath the wheels. I didn't breathe any easier until I was a hundred miles away.

I thought a lot about what I was going to do on the way back. I'm not the hero type but I just can't see them move in on Earth without fighting back. And I consider Fred only the downpayment on John Kelley's murder.

One important thing. I've found a flaw, a weak spot.

The invaders are imitators. The perfect imitators. They're a lot like Fred was. They never have original ideas of their own, they parrot the editorial pages and even the stock of jokes they save for stag parties aren't funny because you've heard them all before.

You can see them on the street-car on their way to work. Half will sit with blank stares on their faces, reading the transitads, while the other half will sit with their noses buried in their papers. Watch them. If they looked alike you'd be reminded of the rockettes on the stage of the RCA Music Hall. Or walk into a bar when the fights are on and watch the customers with their faces glued to the TV sets. All with their glasses of beer in the right hand, all with the same rapt expressions on their faces.

You see, they're imitating human beings. And they've got an organization. They've infiltrated the government bureaucracy. How do I know? Read some of the pamphlets the government puts out. There's one on washing dishes that starts out with the proper size pan. Silly. But not for somebody for whom washing dishes is a brand new experience. And there's another pamphlet that says younger married men and women own more sports clothes, older men wear hats, and older women have more fur coats. Very interesting data. Like when I was in the army and they briefed us on foreign customs before going out on a pass.

There's probably thousands of Imitators in the government itself, weighing, analyzing, and surveying humanity so they can issue reports on how to act ... like a human being. Reports and pamphlets that are point for point instruction books for the new arrivals.

There's an organization. And there has to be somebody at the top of that organization. That's the man I want to get.

Fred knew a lot of people, he had a lot of contacts, and I'm investigating them one by one. It isn't going to be too long before I meet somebody that Fred knew back ... home. And then I'll find out about the organization and I'll be on my way.

I already have a good idea whom I'm looking for. He's an average man with maybe a wife and a couple of kids, driving last year's car and living in a house that isn't all paid for. He likes TV and he drinks beer and he's drummed up a hell of a lot of interest in baseball games. He probably wears blue serge and white shirts and small figured ties and silk socks and black shoes. Maybe he even wears a hat, he's probably that age.

And I think there's even a good chance he's reading this magazine. It's become pretty popular, it's the thing to do.

But it isn't going to do any good to run or hide or doubt your friends. Someday I'm going to find you.