Chapter 37: William Norris
by Brian Mark
Born into a rather poor family, William Norris grew up in an overcrowded, socially deprived area of Detroit. Named after his war hero Grandfather, he lived in a dilapidated, overcrowded apartment block, with his Father, Robert, Mother and older sister. It was a wretched existence. His Father, a car factory worker, was never regularly employed. The family had barely enough to live on. The rooms above and below had large families living there. There was such constant noise, banging and shouting, it almost drove the young William to the depths of despair. The worst was the constant sound of babies and young children crying.
This sense of despair was to be compounded by the death of his beloved Uncle, on his mother's side, a Teacher of Geology, who would look after him during school vacations, in his seaside home at Maine. There could have been no greater contrast to the crowded conditions of home. Then his Uncle died, and the idyllic seaside holidays were no more, but not before he had imparted to his Nephew, what was to be a lifelong understanding, and appreciation of the Earth's Tectonics !
The only saving grace for him were the stories of his Grandfather, William Norris. He had been a brilliant student in Berlin, just before the Second World War, and had helped to lead a resistance movement against Hitler, helping many hundreds of persecuted Jews to reach the safety of America and a number of neutral countries. He and his group operated both inside and outside Germany, during the War.
In fact, the Germans were so afraid of him, that they called him,'Sensermann', 'the Grim Reaper', so cold and calculated were the tactics he and his team would employ against them. He had secretly married a French girl, and had one child, Robert, whom he had smuggled out of occupied France, before mysteriously disappearing without trace, shortly after the War. It was widely believed at the time, that he was the victim of a Nazi revenge killing. His son, Robert, was brought up by William's parents. However, the young William had always harbored thoughts that, somewhere out there, his hero Grandfather was still alive, and would return one day, and be able to tell him all about his wartime exploits personally.
At school, William so excelled at science that he won a scholarship to Gotham University, where he made lots of friends among the City's growing elite. As fragile as his underlying psychological condition was, he managed to conceal this well. He still hated crowds, but to all his friends, he was simply good old, congenial Bill Norris, a guy you could sit down and have a beer with. By the time he had finished his university career, 'Bill' had come top of his year in Physics, Biology and Chemistry. Contrary to all social norms, he then went on to become a Doctor of Sciences.
It was while he was at university, that Norris first took an avid interest in World Population trends. Basically, there were two main aspects to the problems of over-population for Norris. Although there might be enough capacity in the world overall, to feed the World's many billions, in some parts of the world radical shifts in weather patterns dictate, that the growing population trend can no longer be sustained. And the second aspect is this: the need for most people to congregate in urban settings renders it almost impossible to guarantee a sufficiently satisfactory quality of life for the populations of the World's towns and cities, not to mention public health and safety considerations. According to some experts, the World was over-populated by approximately one-third, one in three.
Everything finally crystallized for William, while giving a series of lectures in Japan. Repeatedly, he was traumatized by the overcrowded conditions on the Tokyo underground. One day, he and several old men, women and children almost died in the crush on one particular carriage. Norris, along with many others, had to be hospitalized, and it was while he languished in a Tokyo hospital, that the Doctor of Sciences decided, that the time had come to do something about the World's over-population problem.
If there was some way of decreasing the Population of the World by one-third, two very important objectives would automatically be achieved, one, the excess would be gone, and two, the population level of the World could be stabilized as a constant, as it takes two people to make two babies. Goverments would need to be persuaded tointroduce legislation to limit families to two children. An education programme would be required, lecture tours and such like.
He would take care of the matter personally. He would start to decrease the World's population by a third, one-in-three ! He would devise means to eradicate individuals he would encounter on an every third basis, and he would be perfectly fair in this, every third man and every third woman, be they teacher, businessman or banker ! But more importantly, he would also look to find ways to cause the mass culling of populations around the world, in a way that would reduce them by approximately one-third. Would this, in effect, be at all possible ? Unfortunately for the World, Bill Norris had a very positive adage: 'Where there's a will, there's a way' !
He even thought of a name for himself, but this, of course, wasn't the least bit difficult in his case ! In a world, that had people with names such as Hawk, Catwoman, Batman, Penguin, the Riddler, Falcon, Kestrel, Eagle and Mr. Freeze, William Norris would reprise the title of his namesake, and take the name of the Grim Reaper ! After all, wasn't the problem of over-population like a plague, that had to be resisted, the way his Grandfather had to resist the Nazis all those years ago ?
So, there you have it, a truly spine-chilling character, and a great dichotomy ! For, on the one hand, you have William Norris, the Grim Reaper, and, on the other, good old Bill Norris, the sort of guy you can have a beer with.
Oh yes, there's one more thing. … William Norris was married. He was already several years into his campaign as the World's self-appointed Guardian, when his Wife, whom he loved dearly, announced to him one day that she was expecting their third child. William Norris left home, never to return.