Chapter 9 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

The middle-aged couple in the apartment across the hall from 1017 had just finished dinner and were sitting side by side on the couch. The television set droned away, its flickering blue light casting flickering blue shadows across the room. A small lamp with a green shade cast yellowish/greenish light onto the couple from an old wooden end table beside the couch. Pale moonlight shimmered in from the window.

It was ten minutes after nine. The woman said, "Well, shall we read the paper?"

Each week at this time the couple read the Weekly World News. They liked it much more than the National Enquirer, which they read two days earlier each week. The Enquirer spent much more time with articles about Hollywood stars and miracle diets. The Weekly World News, on the other hand, was given over almost entirely to important news stories, the news somehow overlooked by the larger, daily newspapers. The couple often wondered how a newspaper that came out every day and used up so much paper and weighed so much could ignore big news like the discovery of a crashed UFO on Mount Everest or the birth of a child with three heads. The couple had long ago stopped subscribing to the big newspapers, with their incomplete journalism.

Each week, when the Weekly World News was delivered to their doorstep, the couple would bring it in and leave it on the coffee table. They each carefully avoided reading the banner headlines or looking at the murky black and white photograph sometimes associated with them. The paper would sit on the table, unexamined and undisturbed, until well after dinner. They each savored the waiting, each concealing from the other their excitement at the prospect of soon reading this, their favorite newspaper. It was the high point of their week, and neither of them wanted to rush it.

And each week, they would sit on the couch, waiting until they could stand to wait no longer. Then, they would sit side by side, holding the paper between them, reading with amazement about the ghost of Bigfoot, the truth behind the Bermuda triangle mystery, proof of reincarnation, and the secret society that controls and manipulates the actions of top government officials everywhere.

"I guess we might as well," said the man as casually as he could, "there doesn't seem to be much of anything on television."

"OK," said the woman, trying to look disinterested as she retrieved the paper from its place on the coffee table.

The man and the woman looked at the front page of the paper.

The banner headline proclaimed, "RUSSIANS TEST NEW SECRET WEAPON."

The man and the woman turned excitedly to the article, and began reading, their heartbeats racing, their breath quickening.

The article explained that the Russians had developed a way of increasing the radiation output from television sets so that it burned frequent television viewers to ashes.

The man and the woman gazed at each other in terror and astonishment. The man jumped up, dashed over to the television set, and turned it off. For good measure, he also pulled out the plug. Then he sat down next to his wife.

They sat there for a long time. Neither moved, neither spoke. They just stared at the blank screen of the television set, wondering.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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