‘I’m dying on my fucking arse here!’
The words were accompanied by a curling sheaf of paper that arced through the air before the pages went their separate ways, fluttering over the desk of a withered man of indeterminately advanced years, who appeared borne entirely of shadow.
‘I need some shitting news, NOW!’
This squealing torrent belonged to a fat pig slicked in sweat. This was The Editor, a creature who did little else besides bellowing and eating. In the summer he enjoyed the outdoors, rolling in his own seepage until sundown. His interior was ulcerated stomach lining and simmering, swollen bowels. From the outside, he was a perspiring, stinking porcine; pale skin like raw bacon, lips of fat edged rind, a puckered, ruddy complexion like processed meat.
The man seething in lengthening shadow was Linden Fortune, an arrangement of skeletal limbs like a pressed flower; sullen eyes peeping from the corner of an unlit office room. Beyond the gloomy office the grey reach of a nameless city leered toward the glass. Linden’s business was news – not so much the reporting of it, as the actual manufacturing.
“Alright, alright, I’m inking now. Just bear with me,” He said. His reply choked with undisguised bitterness.
Grunts rent the air by way of reply: “Now, you fucking moron.”
Despite accumulated years, Linden was an example of a new breed of re-trained employee – the Neo-journalist. He had not served time at an academic institution, had not been trained in the art of squeezing words from rock, nor extracting column inches from stony silence. There was no need – this was the 21st Century and no one bothered to think about the news. None of the people lined up before the rapid-fire bulletins had any need for content. Rarely did the words lodge in their mind, passing through as hot bullets, forced clean through the soft flesh, leaving their faltering awareness neatly cauterised. Exit wounds gaped. Drool slithered over slack jaws. Bodies turned slowly toward vast plasma screens. Homes filled with dust; with the corpses of tiny insects. Those in the older housing, generally those with an accumulation of years, were issued with a pen and a form that enabled them to apply to have their life improved by the introduction of iridescent plasma. Outside the blank buildings waste clung like moss to the exterior.
Linden leaned over the desk before him. To the right of the conventional keyboard and monitor set-up was a small wooden enclosure that took up the greater part of the broad wooden desk: raised edges, four inches high and a smooth, black floor – the ink pen.
Linden poured a liberal splash of black ink into the compartment and using a small, wheeled roller smeared the ink back and forth until it had been encouraged over the surface and into the corners. He pressed down the tip of his forefinger and was satisfied when it came away with dark stain that roared like a bruise.
Linden pushed his chair away from the desk with a squeal of wheels and opened a drawer at knee height. He took out a clear Perspex box that at first glance might be assumed to contain sandwiches. In actual fact it contained a fundamental component of the news making process. A series of holes had been punched into the lid with an aggressively applied ballpoint pen. Displaying the utmost respect for the contents Linden gently peeled away the lid. Inside the box, blinking in the sudden exposure, were seven wolf spiders. Linden had neglected to feed them and as a result they scuttled in frantic manoeuvres, a sufficient guarantee that the news would be at its best.
The spiders fought the acute angle as Linden tipped the box in the direction of the ink pen as one by one they landed on the shiny surface. Immediately they scrambled and scribbled in a melee of directions, colliding with one another as they attempted an escape. Linden glanced across the room where the plump Editor frothed in an impossibly small chair. “Couple of minutes, boss," he said.
“Hurry the fuck up numb-nuts.”
Linden took a sheet of heavy grade paper from a plastic tray to the left of his monitor. Ensuring he avoided damaging any spider legs he slid a sheet of paper into the box, urging the spiders into one corner with a gentle hand.
This is how news is made:
Freshly inked spiders scamper across the virgin sheet, painted black tracers becoming a network of lines as leg by leg, scatter by scatter, the footsteps form letters, which in turn became headlines, which in turn became hard copy, only minutes away from a live transmission. As the headlines were manufactured Linden typed them into his computer and emailed them to the Editor with an audible ‘ping’no doubt designed to emulate the return of an ancient typewriter carriage:
‘PM chokes on Victoria Sponge in bath’
‘African dictator kills family in reversing incident’
‘Children's TV star scalds genitals in failed suicide bid’
‘War now inevitable in all countries beginning with T’
With a bashing of trotters the Editor considered his emails. His editorial duty consisted of little else beyond passing a snout over the headlines. Within moments they would be injected electronically into the NewzComp system, transferring the news to satellite stations across the country in a heartbeat. From there the headlines would arrive as ticker-tape slide-bys across plasma screens across the nation.
Linden sat back in his chair freeing a deep sigh, hands behind his head.
“Good fucking work!” The Editor squealed as he struggled to get out of his chair. “Now, ‘let’s get the news from your area’, fuckwit,” he ordered in a sneering squeal. Slipping on unsteady trotters he transported his bulk from the office, afternoon duties complete.
For local news Linden was permitted to work unsupervised; enjoying the responsibility for pressing the button that fed NewzComp. A transferred template was then sent, adapted by each station to give it local colour. For this Linden chose Montgomery, the largest of the spiders. The remainder were returned to their unfurnished apartment, miniscule pads now paced free of ink.
Montgomery ambled back and forth as Linden prepared fresh paper sliding it beneath the eight legged printer. “Get to it Monty,” Linden said. He smiled wearily, scooping up the spider and re-positioning him at the top of the paper. Without colleagues the headlines came slower, painstakingly choreographed by Montgomery and his leathery-legged pirouettes:
‘Burglary more common than sunshine’
‘Murder now expected earlier each evening’
‘Trains closed due to outbreak of unidentified virus’
‘Children killed in supermarket explosion’
As each headline broke Linden typed. Words waited in lines. With one finger on a button embossed with a south-westerly arrow the news was fed to 32 different counties simultaneously. Minutes later newsreaders mouthed the words as an automatic cuing machine rolled skyward. Ties were adjusted, skirts smoothed beneath desks. From each bright screen in each desperate house twin news banners – flanking the top and bottom of the screen – dawdled from right to left. People turned to one another, forks poised midair, mouths agape as they hovered between consumption and indigestion.
Meanwhile, Linden allowed Montgomery to run off the remainder of the ink before reuniting him with the others. Within minutes he had switched off the computers and left the office. The news of the day was done.
Another day: each despairingly similar to the one before, the one after. It arrived shapeless, predominantly grades of jumbled grey. The social transport was grey and travelled on grey rails. The treeless streets were a deeper, charcoal grey, degraded by the suffocating smog of industry. He negotiated the innards of the dense city, between towering obsidian buildings, filthy pavements and drab fragments of sky far from reach. It was in the drizzled dawn, lacking in all promise, that Linden reached the inevitable conclusion that he had tolerated enough. Today the news would come from his inked fingertips; even hard-bitten, exploited arachnids deserve a day off.
Slinking into the unlit office he passed the Editor who was nosing heavily within the genitalia of an old, wrinkled cabbage. Cutlery shone unused on the surface of the desk. A chill, throttling wind blasted through an open window, sheets of paper in snowstorm. “Morning boss,” Linden said with a sigh. Lifting his snout from the desk the Editor replied – “Fucking late, fucking idiot.”
It was mid-morning and there was news to be fabricated.
As Linden inked the pen Montgomery and six scrambled with agitation inside their box. It was around this point that the Editor let loose a piercing cry before jerking in his chair. A series of grunting convulsions left him lying on his side on the floor, the chair wedged around him. Linden rose slowly and stood over the Editor who was scratching at his throat with a mismanaged trotter.
“What’s that?” Linden asked with a grin, “I can’t fucking hear you, you fat fucking fool!”
Linden took a leisurely saunter around the office even pausing to look out of the window before casually dialling the main switchboard.
“Hello, reception, this is Linden,” he began, yawning slowly and stretching his back. “Yeah, it’s the fat guy he’s having some kind of seizure.”
He replaced the handset. He thought it might be a heart attack but dismissed it instantly, The Editor having never demonstrated anything to suggest there was a heart inside him anymore.
The spiders were lowered into the pen.
Moments later medical staff arrived with a canvas stretcher. Following a struggle the chair was removed and the prone Editor rolled onto the stretcher, two uniformed staff backing out of the office without comment.
The spiders meanwhile had begun their work:
‘3 Year old stabs pensioner’
‘Ex-President Bush in learning shock’
‘Street fires rage through Birmingham’
One by one Linden picked up the spiders. “Sorry guys, now he’s gone I’m doing the news.” With the spiders back in their drawer Linden adapted the news. Pressing his fingertips into the ink pen he selected a fresh piece of paper with his free hand. With the precision of a figure skater he moved his fingers across the paper.
‘Prime Minister donates millions after flooding’
‘NewzComp Editor killed by Porcine Stress Syndrome’
‘Spiders released from journalist slavery’
He paused before spinning the local news from his fingertip:
‘Woman rescues family from fire’
‘Village welcomes local homeless into their community’
‘Spontaneous happiness on the increase in rural areas’
‘Hope spreads eternal’
He shifted position and began typing. He hit the button and waited for confirmation of receipt from NewzComp. Without warning the screen of his monitor went black. A warning flashed in red capital letters:
Linden pressed a series of buttons without effect. Before he was able to consider further action the door to the office crashed open as two thickset men in security uniform burst in. Linden was taken by force and minutes later found himself on his back beyond stone steps. Above him the NewzComp building smiled sardonically in the afternoon half-light. Gathering himself up he brushed away the street dirt.
Blank eyed, a nation turns toward twin banners at shuffle:
---for the time being NewzComp are sorry
to announce a news blackout ---for the time
being NewzComp are sorry to announce a news
blackout---for the time being---
Linden moved away from the building his paperclip shadow strung across ashen slabs.
Maybe a walk by the dark water.
Perhaps cast a couple of wishing stones into the surface foam.
By dusk he would have become shadow.
Seven redundant spiders move in the dark; slow measures designed to conserve the limited air.