With a quiet sigh, Gerald Beam paced past the silent typewriters and dead radios. A few cigarette ends glowed like fireflies. Gerald steadied himself and took a deep breath: ‘As many of you may have guessed, the problems with your radios are not a malfunction.‘
There were whispers. The sharp edges of twenty words at once, as rough as the wind outside. Gerald continued: ‘I have deactivated them via the central control because our paper is dying. We’ve become nothing more than a transcription service. Some of you are no better than the bellowers on your radio sets. People…‘ He took a deep breath, tasting old whisky: ‘..If people want that kind of dreck, they can listen to the public broadcasts.‘
By now, the orange fireflies had multiplied to a small swarm and the chattering had quietened to a low rustle. Gerald let the corners of a smile creep onto his face: ‘We’re running a newspaper! And what do people get from a newspaper that they can’t get anywhere else? Humanity! Community!‘ He paused for effect: ‘At the moment, we’re as anonymous as the people on the radio! There are twenty million people in this city! Twenty million stories. Twenty million potential readers.’
He paused again and squinted into the gloom. He’d expected questions. He’d expected indignant fury. All he got was silence. Taking a deep breath that sounded as loud as the wash from an air-car, he carried on: ‘We can really bring this city together, people! So, get out there and bring me news. Find me the real spirit of this community! Pound the streets, take the pulse of the people. We can really be something!‘
Again, there was nothing but silence. Gerald’s eyes widened. A blush crept over his face. He glanced down for a second and pinched his leg. He wasn’t naked. The pain felt real. He wouldn’t wake up in a sweat.
With a barely-concealed tremble, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a hundred credit note. Holding it aloft, he said: ‘If that won’t motivate you, then maybe this will. One hundred credits for the best story! Now get out there and bring me the heart of this community!‘
Like a match dropped onto an anthill, the newsroom burst into life. The air was filled with the rustling of trench coats, the clicking of lighters and the rattling of cameras. Letting out a quiet sigh, Gerald leant against the bare wall and watched the grey horde shuffle towards the doors.
At first, the stories came in at a trickle. Trevanis had phoned in a few sentences about an old lady who scavanged roadkill from the train tracks. Booth had telegraphed an unprintable interview with a nightclub performer. Scott had fired off some confabulated nonsense about a sick man who built robot mannequins. Even with extra adverts, there was barely enough for a single page.
But, as the night wore on and Gerald’s glass got emptier, more and more stories came in over the wire. Good stuff too. Griggs had got an exclusive from the developers of the new Agora Shopping Precinct. Whittaker had written a piece about local residents’ reactions to the new phone box on Tennant Boulevard. Mason had nabbed a meteorological report about the freak fog event last week.
By midnight, Gerald had resigned himself to the fact that he’d have to hire a sub-editor. Still, as he let out a yawn and drained the dregs of his glass, he couldn’t help but feel satisfied.
A second later, he spotted the crumpled hundred-credit note on his desk and muttered under his breath. No doubt that they’d all be asking him who won. His eyes drifted over to the pile of printouts on the edge of his desk. Sighing, he decided to pick one at random tomorrow morning.
As he reached for his coat, a low rustling sound filled the air. Then silence. Just the rain. Gerald let another smile cross his face. Never before had reading the reports been so interesting that he’d tuned out the sound of the rain.
Hefting the coat over his shoulders, he strode towards the door. As he emerged into the empty newsroom, the noise started again. It was louder this time. It took him a couple of seconds to place it, but it was radio static. Probably a malfunctioning unit. No doubt an attempt at a “repair” from one of the reporters. He fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a scrap of paper.
But, before he could leave a note for the electrician, the crackling intensified. Then the voices started. “…and for all you gamers out there…”, “…oppression! The privileged classes will never…”, “..yum! yum! yum! Elastic gum!…”. By now, the broadcasts had began to merge with each other. The people were finishing each other’s sentences. Words broke in half and collided with each other to form new words. Greeful.. dexual..stubblick..cashyou..gamhorn….
Gerald didn’t notice the shifting shadow on the wall. The sour stench barely registered. He didn’t even hear the low, shuffling footsteps. It was only when he felt something cold and hard brush against his shoulder that he turned around. The scream froze in his throat. A mouth like a slashed bin bag smiled back at him.
By the time the reporters shuffled back into the office, the cleaners had already called the police. From behind the cordon, a few of them could just make out the scratched shards of bone littering the newsroom floor. Leaning past a burly cop, Griggs got a snap of a ripped trenchcoat. Crouching, Mason took a few quick shots of what looked like a crushed radio.
Lighting a cigarette, Trevanis held a microphone to one of the detectives and tried to ask questions. There was no comment. Booth sighed and said: ‘Serial killer or rabid dog, what shall we go with?‘
Griggs shook his head ‘We haven’t got proof.‘
‘When has that ever stopped us?‘ Mason chuckled grimly. ‘Anyway, people love a good mystery.‘
Trevanis took a deep drag and said: ‘No mystery here. Gerald asked us to go out and find the real spirit of this city. It looks like the spirit found him.‘