Listen to Your Toaster!

A free sample short story from The Devil and Leo Persky

I used to be a writer and editor for Weekly World News, the fake news supermarket tabloid that chronicled such phenomena as Bat Boy, Big Foot, alien babies, and Elvis sightings. The job of a WWN writer was to think up crazy shit and write a couple of hundred humorous words on it because, of course, everything we published was fake…except for the disclaimer in six-point type at the bottom of page three that confessed we were just funnin’ you for entertainment purposes.

I missed WWN when it folded in 2007. Not only was it a great day job where I got to work with a small staff of friends (including fellow Crazy 8’er Bob Greenberger), but writing those wacky articles was fun. It was all about starting with a premise loosely based on reality; an idle thought about what happened to the rest of the rabbits whose feet were used to make good luck charms, I wrote an article about the disabled surviving hares bringing class action lawsuits against rabbit’s foot manufacturers. I turned historical speculation about Abraham Lincoln’s mental health into a story in which he was a straitjacketed lunatic. Anything and everything was fodder for a WWN story.

A couple of years later, I was invited to contribute a short story to a horror anthology with a vampire theme. In search of a protagonist, I eventually hit on the thought of making him a reporter for WWN, but not exactly my WWN. Instead, this version of the paper existed in a world where every single word it published was true, from aliens to zombies. I’ll admit, there was a tinge of Carl Kolchak of The Night Stalker fame in my thinking, but considering the extreme wackiness of the average Weekly World News stories, I wanted to inject a lot more humor into the character and the stories. At first, I was leaning towards someone modeled after a fictitious WWN “contributor,” Matthew Daemon, the creation of the real WWN contributor, the late Dick Siegel, and star of the comic strip I had commissioned in my editorial capacity from Mike Collins.

Matthew Daemon was your typical big, strong, trench coat- and slouch-hat-wearing supernatural adventurer. But, as dad-bodied Kolchak proved, big and strong isn’t as funny as an ordinary guy, and if an ordinary guy was funny, a little nebbish guy was even funnier. Yeah, I’m looking at you, pre-Interiors Woody Allen!

So with Woody and Arnold Stang (a comic actor best known as the voice of Top Cat and for his role in 1970’s Hercules in New York), I went total nebbish and found Leo Persky there waiting for me. Recognizing that at 47 years old and “five foot seven, 142 pounds, glasses, and a spreading bald spot that’s got me to wearing a hat,” he wasn’t the most imposing authority figure, Leo, a third generation monster hunter, has adopted the name and photograph of his strapping, imposing grandfather Terrence Strange for professional use.

“Man Bites Dog” was the result, and even before I was finished with the first story, I knew this wouldn’t be the last time I visited with Leo Persky. In fact, I went back to Leo and his world of genies, aliens, and snake-gods, five more times, including a story starring Leo’s Mom, the little old tough-as-nails septuagenarian Barbara in another vampiric encounter, “Come In, Sit Down, Have a Bite” for the Crazy 8 anthology Bad Ass Moms. And then, because I still wanted to play some more with Leo, the novella, “The Devil and Leo Persky.” And I have a feeling I’m still not done with him!

But look, you don’t have to take my word about how much fun Leo is. I’ve posted “Man Bites Dog” in its entirety over on my website as a free sample that will hopefully whet your appetite for more. As Leo says, “The government learned a long time ago that the best way to keep a secret was to tell it to everyone…because only the nutjobs are ever going to ask in the first place.”

Or as former Weekly World News managing editor Sal Ivon once famously said, “If someone calls me up and says their toaster is talking to them, I don’t refer them to professional help, I say, ‘Put the toaster on the phone’.”

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