I knew it was going to be a bad day when the werewolf knocked on my door and accused me of invading his privacy.
I’d only been up for an hour, and had barely finished my first coffee of the day, when the knock came. I was confused enough before I got to the door, as I hadn’t been expecting anyone, but when I opened it and saw a man in a business suit, shirt and tie, but with the head of a wolf, I was utterly flabbergasted.
Now, one might think I’d assume it was some kind of prank. I’d only yesterday turned in a piece about werewolves living in sleepy Iowa towns, and today here was a werewolf knocking on my door in Des Moines. You’d probably expect some kind of hilarious confusion, with me saying “Is that you Frank (or Bill or Joe as the case may be)?” and trying to pull his head off.
But that isn’t how these things happen in real life. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a werewolf up close, but they’re nothing like men wearing rubber masks. Their eyes and lips move, but even apart from that there’s the smell. Not that they’re unhygienic, but there’s still the smell of their fur, and there’s the rankness of their breath. No, if you ever meet a werewolf in the flesh, you know that that’s what’s happening, even if you can still taste the toothpaste.
So I opened the door and stood there mouth agape, while the werewolf did most of the talking.
“Uh. . .”
“I want a word with you.”
“Uh. . .”
“May I come in?”
“Uh. . .”
He came in. I finally got my head together enough to say something semi-coherent.
“Can I offer you a coffee, mister. . .?”
“Ventimore. I’m surprised you don’t remember my name. But yes, thanks. Black, one sugar.”
I went into the kitchen and put the coffee pot on, grateful for the chance to collect my thoughts. This was the werewolf I’d written about the day before. But it couldn’t be. Even granting for the moment the existence of werewolves – something I would have found preposterous even ten minutes before – I’d made that particular werewolf up out of my head.
To explain – I’m a journalist, of sorts. I freelance for Global Weekly, a tabloid you’ve almost certainly seen on the supermarket shelves. I’m not proud of it, but we’ve all got to eat, and it’s not like there are many journalism jobs at the moment – a journalism degree and two dollars will get you a cup of coffee, in this economy, so you do what you can.
Global Weekly has three stories, which it repeats in varying proportions every issue. The major two, by which it makes its bread and butter, are “Celebrities X and Y are having sex/are no longer having sex/are having sex again” and “Substance Z causes/cures cancer”. Those, plus the horoscopes, make up about ninety percent of your typical issue.
I still have too much self-respect to write those stories, though. Not that self-respect is a luxury I can really afford, but I’m a bachelor and live frugally. I really, really don’t want to write anything that will actually hurt anyone else.
So I do the third type of story, the stuff we put in for the whackaloons. “Elvis is alive. . .and he’s had a sex change!”, “Woman gives birth to ostrich, now in custody battle with zoo”, “Twelve telltale signs your neighbour is an alien”. You know the kind of thing.
And in yesterday’s paper, my story had been “Werewolf bankers: did they cause the housing crash?”
When I went back into the living room, Ventimore was sitting on my sofa, waiting for me.
“So how can I help you, Mr. Ventimore?”
“Frankly, sir, I think you owe me an apology. Your article yesterday bordered on racism.”
“Racism?” I was horrified.
“What else would you call it? Yes, I can sometimes make decisions that are a little impetuous when it’s my time of the month, but overall I’m a very prudent lender. Certainly to blame me and my kind for something that had macroeconomic causes greater than the influence of any individual or small group is the worst kind of scapegoating.”
“I’m sorry. I’d never thought of it like that. . .”
“And then there’s outing me. I don’t mind for myself – I came out to my colleagues several years ago, and they’ve been very understanding. Fenniman’s Bank has an extremely good diversity policy. But what about my children?”
“Little Jenny had to come home from school less than ten minutes after she went in today, do you realise that? The other children at the school were calling her ‘bitch’ and ‘dogbreath’. Frankly, sir, a less temperate man than I would have every right to punch you in the face.”
I was horrified. The idea that something I had written had caused a child to be bullied was awful. But none of this made any sense.
“May I ask how you knew I was a werewolf anyway?”
“That’s what I don’t understand. I made that story up!”
“Made it up?”
“That’s right. I just made it up.”
“So you deliberately slandered me, and it just happened that you got lucky and named a real werewolf?”
“You’re not making any sense now.”
“I made the whole thing up. I had no idea you even existed!”
“So you just happened to make up a half-Indian werewolf called Devanjan Ventimore, living in Iowa, working for a bank, and just coincidentally it happened to describe me? Do you really expect me to believe that?”
“Well, yes. I know it sounds absurd, but it’s true.”
“Sir, you insult my intelligence.” He put down his coffee, untouched. “I can see there is to be no reasoning with you. If there is no apology in next week’s issue of your paper, both you and your publishers will be hearing from my lawyers. Good day, sir”
Once he had gone, I realised that he’d actually saved me a week’s work. We’d never run an apology to a monster before. That was the kind of idea the loons who bought the paper would love. I called up Chuck, my editor, and he agreed it was a usable idea, so I knocked off a couple of thousand words of (for once) sincere apology, emailed it in, and sat down to watch the news on TV.
The main item was an interview with Glenn Miller.
Miller was talking about how he’d been dropped off at a random spot in Montana, by the aliens who’d kidnapped him in order to get the secret of how he got that full, lush horn sound on his records (the secret, apparently, was to use four sax players plus a clarinettist). Apparently, the time dilation on his trip to Betelgeuse had meant he was only two years older now than he had been when he disappeared, and he was on TV mostly to promote his comeback tour.
I’d written that one two weeks earlier.
This was getting weird. Could it be that whatever I wrote was coming true? I sat down at my computer, and typed “I am now a millionaire”. I waited a couple of minutes and then called my bank, but the way the manager spoke to me left me in no doubt that I was exactly as impoverished as I had been the day before.
Over the next few weeks, I figured out the pattern. I tried selling stories to other papers and magazines, and nothing happened (a shame, as my true confession “I Am Irresistible To Supermodels” would have been fun), but everything I sold to Global Weekly turned out to be true. Remember when the United Nations commissioned that giant floating baseball cap to cover the hole in the ozone layer? That was me, experimenting.
When I tried to talk to anyone else about this, they all seemed confused. “You’re a journalist. You’re meant to be telling the truth!” was a typical response. Even Chuck, who had always been the most cynical man you’d ever met, started praising me for my journalistic ethics and fact-checking.
The real problem, of course, was that Global Weekly was such a limited market. I tried persuading Chuck to run stories about how I’d won the lottery, or how Porsche were giving free cars to everyone in the country called Norman, but he wouldn’t do it. Said they were dull, or just wish-fulfillment. After a couple of these were knocked back, he started making noises about not commissioning my work at all any more. Obviously I couldn’t have that – I’d been given a godlike power, and however much it was constrained by what was publishable in a downmarket tabloid, it was still not something I wanted to give up.
So for a few months, the world became a very strange place indeed. The Loch Ness Monster was found, and turned out to be gay (although my line about it being a Cock Ness Monster was deleted by a prudish subeditor). The entire Republican Party was revealed to be made up of shape-shifting lizards (I vote Democrat. They still somehow got 51% in the mid-terms). It was revealed that all Shakespeare’s plays, and all the historical evidence for them, were really mid-twentieth-century forgeries by a builder from Liverpool, England. Bigfoot had a hit record, a remake of the old song Your Feet’s Too Big, backed by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Bill Gates admitted that he’d only released Windows Vista as a joke.
Annoyingly, I couldn’t even make money from these stories by betting on them. The first couple of weeks, the bookies wouldn’t take the bet because it was so stupid, and after that they wouldn’t take the bet because they knew I had some kind of inside source. I was literally writing the history of the world, and yet I was only getting a few hundred dollars a week. This had to change.
It did. But not for the better.
I’d finally figured it out – a way to get more money from my writing. I’d written a story about how aliens from Zeta Reticuli had come down to earth to take over our publishing companies, claiming that we’d been printing ‘anti-Gray propaganda’, and that they’d started with Global Weekly. We did a big splash front page about it, with a mocked up photo of one of those big-headed aliens, smoking a cigar, sat behind a desk with a ‘publisher’ nameplate. It was one of our best stories – and the pull quote from the alien was “To show that we Reticulans are not the monsters you Earthlings think, we are tripling the pay of all Global Weekly reporters!”
They also changed the name of the paper to Interstellar Weekly.
And that’s where the problems started. My stories had only been coming true when they were published in Global Weekly. The name change to Interstellar Weekly meant that whatever had been causing this to happen was no longer working. Not only that, but one by one my old stories started becoming somehow lessened, more forgettable. The Republicans all stuck in their human form, and accused anyone who mentioned that they were lizards of ‘liberal bias’. Bigfoot’s chart career ended abruptly when it was realised he was miming. Glenn Miller went into hiding, unable to cope with the pressures of modern fame. The Loch Ness Monster settled down with a female monster and had a bunch of baby monsters.
And Interstellar Weekly went bust within a month, as it couldn’t afford the new higher word rates it was paying us all.
I sometimes wonder if all of this was just the aliens’ plan, a way to take control of our publishing industry. Because that’s the only thing that hasn’t yet changed, and now most of our newspapers and magazines are full of articles about “Our Friends, The Grays”, and special features on celebrities’ anal probe experiences. It would have been easy enough for them to use their telepathic talents to put the ideas in my head, I suppose, and they had the technology to do all the other stuff. And with a world as crazy as the one we briefly had there, no-one was going to kick up a fuss about something as unimportant as the newspaper industry.
My one regret is that I never got to do the final story I planned for Interstellar Weekly. I decided I’d go and interview Ventimore the werewolf, to find out how he felt about having been the first of the stories in what was being called the Weird Winter. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very happy to see me – he was so angry, he physically attacked me, and my photographer caught it all.
It would have made a great story, but the paper went bust before we could use it. It’s a shame, as it was the first piece of truthful journalism I’d written for them.
And I’ve always wanted to write something with the headline “Dog Bites Man!”