A bunch of years ago, my friend Joe Gentile of Moonstone Books asked me to contribute a short story to an anthology called Vampires: Dracula and the Undead Legions. Out of that came a story called “Man Bites Dog,” starring Weekly World News reporter Leo Persky, better known to his readers as “Terrance Strange.” (“My real name is Leo Persky. But ‘Terrance Strange’ sounds like he’d be a big, strapping adventurer who travels the world seeking out the dangerous and, yes, the strange, while Leo Persky sounds like a middle aged, five foot, seven inch tall balding and bespectacled Jew who cowers at the slightest sign of danger. Seeing as how I am the latter but would rather readers believe I’m the former, I go with the macho name, not to mention a photograph at the top of my column of my paternal grandfather, Jacob Persky, who also used the nom de bizarre of “Strange” but who actually was a big, strapping adventurer who traveled the world seeking out the dangerous. Unfortunately, I take after my mother’s side of the family. Scrawny and whiney.”)
Weekly World News was a real publication–I was Executive Editor for its last year and a half of existence, along with Managing Editor, pal, and Crazy 8 colleague Bob Greenberger–even if everything we published was false. It was a great gig, and I thought it would be fun to write a character who inhabited a world in which WWN was a journal of truth, although a majority of its readers still believed it was all fake. I was right. It was fun. Here’s an excerpt from the third Leo story, “Shunning the Frumious Bandersnatch,” which you can read in its entirety, along with the other Leo stories, if you’re interested, in my Crazy 8 Press short story collection, In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other Stories.
My mirror misery began with Rob Berger, as is true of most of the woes life has chosen to inflict on me. Berger, the size of a grizzly bear, almost as furry, and about twice as ferocious, was the night editor of the News. It was a position for which he was uniquely suited insofar as it kept him separated from the vast majority of the staff who worked the day shift and who speculated that exposure to sunlight would cause him to disintegrate into a heap of dust. He was, to put it kindly, not exactly a people person.
In fact, I have some question as to whether he’s any kind of person at all, but as I rely upon him for my livelihood I was content to give him the benefit of the doubt. For all his flaws ⎯ and they were legion ⎯ he was a hell of an editor. Sure, he motivated through the twin tactics of fear and intimidation, but he knew how to cut to the heart of a story…as well as how to cut the heart out of a reporter who didn’t deliver on an assignment. The fact that I had survived under his despotic reign longer than any other reporter, since my humble beginnings as a wide-eyed and bushy tailed stringer while still in college, I considered myself one of his favorites. Which just meant that he was happy to allow me to continue to draw breath, as long as I was in some form of constant pain and/or discomfort. If by some fluke convergence of karma and good luck I happened not to be in either state, Berger could always be counted on to throw something my way to send me plunging back into the fiery pits of misery.
“So, what do you know about mirrors?” my esteemed editor growled even as my foot crossed the threshold into his den.
“That they’ve yet to make one that won’t crack under your beatific scowl?” I said, hazarding a guess and risking a large, heavy object being hurled at my skull.
He must have been in a benevolent mood because all he did was curse me and several generations of my ancestors for a general lack of intelligence and dubious paternity before saying, “Don’t you read your own goddamned newspaper? I mean the Mirror of the Third City, you moron.”
I swept to the floor the stack of books, manuscripts, and old editions piled on his single visitors chair that he kept there to discourage anyone from sitting down and staying any longer than was necessary.
“Uh-uh, and I’m supposed to know what you mean because I became a mind-reader exactly when?”
“Around the time I emailed the background material to the smart phone this company pays a fortune to supply you with and which you’re supposed to have always switched on and check regularly for such items as emailed background material on things like the Mirror of the Third City, that’s when.”
I sat down.
“Oh. That Mirror of the Third City.”
He did what he did best and glowered at me.
“Who the hell said you could sit down?”
“Yeah. Have a seat. And answer my question.”
“Uh, you see, the phone fell in the toilet and…”
“Not that question, schmuck. The mirror.”
“Legendary ancient Atlantean artifact from the reign of Turmerac the Elder, made with sand from the shores of the Eternal Sea and silver smelted from the soul of his mother-in-law, Calthandra, who he had cast into the fire pits of Darkworld as punishment for conspiring with his son, Turmerac the Younger, to overthrow him in league with, what’s his name? The one-eyed king of the Gem City?”
“Rubic the Obese.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Papa Turmerac had his royal sorcerer whip up the mirror to entrap sonny’s soul in eternal torment on the razor-edge between this world and Darkworld because, I guess, even he wasn’t cruel enough to have thought of sending the kid to work for you.”
Berger elevated his left eyebrow a quarter of an inch, his version of a sardonic laugh. The only thing that elicited true laughter from him was human misery. Preferably mine.
“I would’ve taught the little bastard the meaning of loyalty, that’s for sure.”
“No doubt. Hell, that’s why you won’t ever catch me conspiring with any one-eyed fat guys against you.”
“Good call. Make sure you keep it that way.”
“So why the sudden interest in a mirror that no one’s seen since about 12,000 B.C. anyway?”
“Because, if you’d read my email, you’d know that it’s turned up again.”
That got my attention.
“No shit? Where?”
“On an episode of ‘The Antique Bazaar,’ shot in Lubbock, Texas. The idiot appraiser lied and told the owner it was a nineteenth century Art Nouveau design, worth maybe a few hundred bucks, and then tried to buy it from the guy after the taping.”
“Uh-oh is right. The precious stones set into the frame are worth a few million alone, but the mirror itself is priceless…and deadly to anyone whose lies and deceit are reflected in its surface.”
“So the appraiser’s now sharing bunk space in hell with Turmerac, Junior?”
“Yeah, although you’ve got to admit, that’s a fitting punishment for anybody from a reality TV show.”
I couldn’t argue with that, but, as appealing as was the image of Honeybooboo and her clan and all their Jersey shore, motorcycle building, gold mining, storage unit buying ilk writhing on the devil’s pitchfork, I let it go in favor of journalistic inquiry.
“Okay, and then what happened?”
“Then a dwarf warrior with a sword stepped out of the mirror, cut off the lying antique dealer’s head, fought off a couple of freaked out security guards, then took off into the night with the mirror.”
“Gee, you’d think something like that would’ve warranted at least a mention in the local news.”
“It did. Only the authorities told a slightly altered version that fits better with accepted reality and local sensibilities. They blame the attack on a meth crazed illegal Mexican immigrant wielding a fireplace poker that he grabbed from a set brought in for appraisal by a gay couple from Amarillo.”
“Suus ‘facillimus ut sit credere quod suus’ facillimus ut credere,” I said with a shrug of rabbinical proportion.
Rob didn’t miss a beat. “It’s easiest to believe what’s easiest to believe,” he translated, then fixed me with a stare. “Two Jews who know Latin, go figure. Your mission, Persky, like I give a crap whether you decide to accept it or not…”
“Find the mirror,” I said, jumping in on the obvious cue.
“And make it quick, will you?”
“What’s the rush? You’ve got five days until the next issue closes.” I had taken out my smart phone and turned it on so I could get at my email. I’m not as such user friendly in that I’m not a friendly user. I don’t trust technology. Technology is just what we call the magic and alchemy of our age. Instead of witches and bubbling cauldrons, we now have scientists, engineers, and manufacturing to turn our thoughts and desires into something real for personal or political gain. And the magic, no matter what you called it throughout history was, though often triumphant, always corrupted. The Atlanteans called theirs “manna.”
“The rush is, numbskull, people are dying!”
In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other Stories is available:
© Paul Kupperberg