After King Kong Fell
"After King Kong Fell" is a short story by American author Philip José Farmer that was published in the short story anthology Omega in 1973, edited by Roger Elwood. It was nominated for Best Short Story at the 1974 Nebula Awards. It is set in Farmer's "Wold Newton Universe," a series of stories which link together scores of fictional characters through a genealogy that explains their near-superhuman powers. The story treats the original King Kong film and its 1932 novelization as works inspired by the real Kong's capture and rampage through New York City in 1931.
In 1973, the 55-year-old Tim Howller sat watching the film King Kong on television. When a commercial break interrupted him, he called his 6-year-old granddaughter Jill in to watch with him, and prepared cookies and lemonade for her while imagining all the many uses commercial breaks could have in one's life. He filled her in on the movie up to that point, and when the commercials were over, she sat on his lap and they watched it together. While she was initially frightened of Kong, she was rooting for him by the end, and cried when he fell off of the Empire State Building. Howller recalled that when he had taken her mother to see the same movie, at around the same age that Jill was now, she had cried at the end as well. After the film, a Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner cartoon came on, and she began to feel better. However, on seeing Wile. E. Coyote fall from a great height, she wondered why Kong did not recover from his comparatively smaller fall to the coyote's. Jill, being quite young, had difficulty distinguishing between live TV and pre-recorded programs, and didn't consider the difference between animated and live action programming. This concerned her grandfather more than he was willing to admit, and he secretly worried whether or not exposure to the TV had made her permanently unable to distinguish fiction from reality. All the same, he explained to her that Wile E. Coyote was animated, which led her to the conclusion that Kong had not been real, due to the film's having been taped, and not a live performance, which she believed was the only kind of program in which people could undergo real harm. Howller then explained that while the movie had not shown real harm befall Kong, it was based on true events that he had witnessed as a 13-year-old in 1931. He revealed that he had gone to see the real Kong the night he had broken out, and gathered in the crowd around his body after the fall.
Howller and his parents had traveled from their home in Busiris, Illinois to visit his Aunt Thea in New York, who had married a rich man and now lived in an apartment within the Empire State Building. He remembered that Thea, with whom Tim considered himself in love, and her husband Nate had not been married happily. No one ever spoke to him about it, and they tried to pretend things were fine when the young Tim was around, but he could sense the tension. One night during their visit, Nate paid $20 apiece to get the five of them orchestra seats at the public unveiling of King Kong. This took Tim's mind off of the trouble at home, and he imagined how the other middle-schoolers would admire him when they learned he had been one of the first to see the monster. The newspapers had been hot with speculation as to Kong's nature, as Denham had been very secretive with information surrounding the beast. However, as they were preparing to leave, Thea developed a headache and decided she would be unable to attend. After a shouting match with her husband, she remained behind and the remaining four went to see Kong without her. Despite this sour beginning, all memory of arguments fled when they entered the excitement of the theater.
Opting to censor the story for his granddaughter in order to not shatter the heroic image she had of him, he told the truth in that he had waited to leave the theater until all other patrons had left, but this was only because the man in front of him had kneed him in the jaw as he scrambled over the seats, knocking him out cold. In later recollections, he resented his parents for abandoning him, despite their claims that they had been swept away from him by the crowd. As he grew older, he realized that had he been in their place, he would have run away too, making him glad he had been unconscious and unable to make that judgement call. When he finally awoke, crews were hauling away the dead. As he made his way out to the street trying to find his aunt and his parents, he discovered that he had wet himself. In embarrassed response to this, he opted to return to the Empire State Building to get clean garments. In retrospect, he suspected he would have run North with the crowd had he not soiled himself. Jill inquired about the noise, and Tim recalled all the car horns, yelling, and sirens as he made his way back to the apartment. He tried to stop everyone to ask what had happened. As he continued down the street, he saw overturned cars and sheet-covered corpses. He hadn't known it at the time, but Kong had been searching for the tallest point in the city, and taken Ann with him to the top of the Empire State Building. A block away from his destination, a biplane crashed into the pavement as five more passed overhead. Jill noted that the film had shown many more planes than six, and Tim replied that the book claimed there were six, and was more accurate to the truth of the matter, including its depiction of Kong's battle with the planes happening at night as opposed to the daytime. He watched as Kong tore half a plane off as it passed, and Tim noted that its 250 mph speed and momentum should have torn Kong's arm off, or knocked him off the tower, but he remained planted.
Howller didn't see the ape fall, and he regretted that he hadn't, but since that day he had tried to find meaning in other such historical falls, likening Kong to Icarus, Vulcan, Lucifer, and Babel. All the same, he was unable to find meaning in any of them. He was one of the first to arrive around Kong, who lay 30 feet away from him, looking nothing like he had in the film. As opposed to a body, he likened the sight to "an ape skin rug", with his blood and entrails all around. Denham proclaimed that "Beauty had killed the Beast," which Howller remembered that the book had claimed he said at the top of the tower, and the movie showed happening at the base. This was due to Denham's showboating nature leading him to repeat his profound words from the summit again at the foot where an audience could hear them. Despite this knowledge, Tim hadn't been close enough to hear him speak. Just after this, a person on the street directed him to his parents, who had been trying to get his attention.
His parents claimed that after being swept away they had been forced toward the Empire State Building, and they had regrouped with Nate before returning to the theater to search for Tim before returning to the Empire State Building while Nate tried to get the police to check on Thea in their apartment. The Mayor, the Governor, and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived before a black limousine with flashing lights arrived carrying a giant golden-eyed stranger, and he asked a nearby stranger with hawk-like features and his beautiful companion if they knew the man's name, but he received no reply.
Before the cleanup crews could mop up the blood, Denham declared that no one would touch the body except for his hired taxidermists, as he wanted to salvage his investment by exhibiting a stuffed Kong rather than a live one. A general from the Air Force then tried to claim the body due to its being the only ape killed in aerial combat in order to keep his skin as a trophy. The owners of the Empire State Building tried to claim it, as did a representative for the transit system who wanted it to sell to cover Kong's damage to the elevated train tracks. The theater owner arrived to file suit against Denham for damages, but the police seized the body for evidence in the case against Denham. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal negligence, but the manslaughter charge was dropped, and he served a year in prison before being paroled. Shortly after being freed, the witch doctor from Skull Mountain Island, who had been brought to the city, killed him as revenge for kidnapping and killing Kong. Before the trial, a consul from the King of England came with a warrant revealing that the island had been in British waters, thus eliminating any claim Denham believed he had to Kong. Ann Redman then threatened to sue him for $10 million for physical indignities suffered at the hands of Kong, and the mental anguish this had caused her. Unfortunately, Denham had no money when he went to prison, and she dropped the suit. These indignities were thus never elaborated upon, but a suit against John Driscoll for "breach of promise," and a remark from him that she "should have sued Kong" led the public to speculate that she had been raped by the monster. Howller then began to try and calculate the size of Kong's phallus before Jill interrupted him, as he had not yet told her what had happened to Kong.
In order to get traffic flowing again, and keep businesses making money, Kong was hauled away to a cold storage facility where he would remain until his ownership could be determined. He and Jill then discussed the nature of Kong, with Tim telling her that he was neither good nor evil, just an animal doing what any person would have done in his situation: try to escape captivity. He then tried to turn her mind away from King Kong, to little success. He began to cry, for he had finally found meaning in Kong's fall. He remembered that as the crane lifted Kong's body up, he saw two flattened naked bodies underneath him. He reasoned that Kong must have thrown them to the pavement on his ascent before falling on top of their bodies. It was his Aunt Thea and a stranger. His Uncle Nate cried out in anger and in revenge, while Tim cried in anguish of his loss. Jill then asked if there were any more King Kongs. Tim told her no, not wanting to explain something she would not understand: with the death of every King Kong, a new one rose to take its place.
- The names "Ann Redman" and "John Driscoll" are references to early drafts of King Kong, wherein Ann Darrow was named Shirley Redman, and the male lead was a man named "John", which is sometimes abbreviated to "Jack".
- The gigantic man with gold-flecked eyes is implied to be another member of Farmer's Wold Newton Universe: Clark Savage Jr., better known as Doc Savage. While this is an unlicensed crossover, and the stranger is strongly implied to be Savage, Kong and Savage would cross paths over 40 years later in the officially licensed novel Doc Savage: Skull Island by Will Murray, endorsed by the Merian C. Cooper estate. Much like in "After King Kong Fell", Doc Savage: Skull Island shows Savage arriving at the scene when Kong falls.
- The second mysterious figure Howller meets in the crowd is intended to be the famous pulp hero The Shadow and his "friend and companion" Margo Lane. Much like with Savage, Farmer was unable to mention him by name.
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