Short story: Sunday Bloody Sunday
ONCE upon a time. Once. Upon. A. Time.
Wilson Burke had no truck with those four words. Even as a child he knew fiction was foolish. Pointy-hat wizards? Pointless. Newspapers were better than make-believe. Articles about missing children and grieving mothers amused Wilson. All that hand-wringing! The boo-bloody-hoo brigade.
Showbiz scandal was best. Football scrappers and mini-skirt slappers - bring it on, and bring 'em down!."
But Wilson hadn't read newspapers regularly for two years. Not since he lost that Call Centre gig. (Accused him of stealing! Proved zilch, mind. Same went for the sex-pest charges.) Now he hoarded his cash for life's essentials. Lager and chips.
Wilson snored fitfully, slumped on the sofa in a mist-grey vest and thundercloud Y-fronts. A half-empty lager can balanced on his belly. Jeremy Kyle burbled in the background.
A thump at the front door woke him. Something soft, yet heavy, landing on the mat. He crossed the hall, pushed open the door (the lock was broken) peered out, and down.
On the raggedy mat, a newspaper. The Sunday Mercury.
He studied the Mercury at his stained coffee table for five minutes, before realising the exercise was pointless. Today was Monday. Yesterday's news. As stale as the chip wrappers and empty cans scattered round the flat. Yet he kept his nose in the paper. There was a gory report about Birmingham serial killer, the Midland Mauler. He'd struck again.
But what really hooked Wilson was eye-popping news about the United player, Jevon Holmes. It was the first Wilson had heard about it. How had he missed such a shocker? Surely he'd have stumbled upon a telly newsflash, while flicking between 'Dave' repeats and Channel 4 pornumentaries? He read on...
HOLMES GOES HOMICIDAL
Premiership striker kills soap-star girlfriend
The article had juice. Cocaine. Jealousy. Knife-gouging. Now United's star player was holed up in Winson Green. No chance of a Premiership start until the 2025 season. Meanwhile, Hollyoaks needed a replacement blonde, and sharpish.
Wilson clicked on Sky News. No mention of Jevon in the sport report, or the serious news. Not a cough or spit in the showbiz round-up. He turned to the BBC. A similar blank. The telly was treating a mega-story as though it hadn't happened...
Wilson was shaken from a drunken doze by the soft, heavy thud at the door. Unslumping himself from the sofa, he staggered through the dirty hall. A Mercury on the mat. Different edition, though. Another sensational front page.
CHARLIE IS KING OF BURGER ALL
Protest Prince Takes Job Flipping Burgers
According to the report, Prince Charles stormed out of Buckingham Palace when the Queen refused to abdicate. Now he'd joined the board of Burger King, and was introducing vegetarian hamburgers made from lettuce leaves and Dandelion Clocks. Madness.
Wilson tossed the paper across the room and turned on the telly news. Nothing about Charlie. He was about to click back to Kyle when he registered that the anchorwoman was a babe. Licking his lips, rubbing the ginger stubble on his chin, he settled into the sofa.
"To round up this morning's news..." said the babe.
"You can round up all over my face, love," leered Wilson.
"... Premiership footballer, Jevon Holmes, was charged with murder an hour ago..."
The leer vanished from Wilson's face.
No sofa slumping today. Wilson stood bolt-upright at the front door, ear pressed to wood. Nothing. He pulled the door open, peered down the gloomy hall. Nothing.
The soft thump came while he was preparing a Pot Noodle in the kitchenette. Whoever delivered the Mercury had vanished when he opened the door. At the coffee table, he studied the front page.
SCHOOL BUS CRASH KILLS TWENTY
Youngsters die on way to zoo
The bus had smashed into a fallen tree on Kirkmarten Drive. That kind of story had to be on the local TV news. Wilson switched on the telly. Zip. Nyada. But the main news was interesting. The Prince Of Wales had resigned... and joined Burger King. Charles was speaking to a Sky reporter, live. The words coming from his mouth were the lines quoted in yesterday's Mercury. More madness!
The Sunday Mercury was arriving when it wasn't Sunday. It plopped on his mat, even though he didn't order it. And it was packed with the next day's news.
Who was delivering this rag? A wizard in a pointy hat? Maybe Wilson was going insane. His mum always said he was a weird 'un.
He scanned the paper. Witnesses from nearby houses said the bus crash took place just after 2pm. If his newspaper really was predicting the future, that meant tomorrow...
Kirkmarten Drive, 2pm. Wilson hunched against a wall, across the road from the fallen tree. At 2.02pm a bus rounded the corner. Wilson caught a glimpse through the windows as it sped onwards. Children. Wilson smiled.
The future was waiting for him on the mat.
MIDLAND MAULER STRIKES AGAIN
Pretty student latest victim
The Mauler, up to his old tricks! The modus operandi was familiar. Victim's throat slashed. Lumps gouged from body. Since Wilson was reading a Mystic Mercury - reporting the future - this meant the murder would happen on Saturday.
The article stated that the victim's screams were heard at 11.35pm. Her body found in Simmerson Alley. But Wilson had the power to stop this grisly future. He could save the damsel in distress. Or maybe just watch...
11.30pm. Wilson lurked inside the dingy bus stop, across the road from Simmerson Alley. Saw the pretty brunette enter the shadows. Then, a figure in a balaclava, following her into the dark. Wilson stumbled across the road, paused at the mouth of Simmerson. Heard the scream. He took two more steps. And there it was. Better than TV. Better than Kyle.
Wilson mumbled, licking his lips. Then he fled into the night.
Wilson in his flat, pacing. Mouth dry. Needing that fix. It didn't come. All day.
"No Mercury on bleedin' Sunday," he spat. "That figures!"
It arrived at midnight. He heard the soft thump, and it sounded like his heart. He raced through the pages, hungry for blood, carnage. But the ink was smeared on every page. A black mash with no meaning.
Except one page. Page 22. But this was no good! It was a new Mercury feature. Fiction! A story called Sunday, Bloody Sunday.
Wilson read. A chill ran through him.
He read about a no good bum. A bum who received a mystic newspaper. A bum who watched kids and a pretty student die - and smiled as he watched.
The bum had a name. Wilson didn't want to look at that name. He kept reading.
A serial killer glimpsed the bum in a dark alley, according to the story, and followed him home. The psycho waited a day before heading back to the bum's flat, then he pushed open the front door with the broken lock...
Droplets of sweat fell from Wilson's forehead, staining the last lines of the story. Ink ran, ink blurred. Wilson couldn't make out how it all ended.
A shadow fell across the newspaper. The Mercury shook in Wilson's hands. He couldn't turn round. Just stared at the page. Started reading from the beginning (if only he could return to the beginning).
"Once upon a time," he whispered. "Once. Upon. A. Time