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LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, PLEASE DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SETS. NORMAL SERVICE WILL BE RESUMED AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
Television screens display this message the world over in different languages and dialects. From Adis Ababa to Zelonograd screens first fuzz over, speakers hiss and the message fades until replaced with a single yellow circle criss-crossed by a double black lightening bolt. People are at first puzzled, then perplexed, then irritated. It is Prime Time, but then again, when isn‟t it Prime Time these days? Twenty-four hour TV is king. Nobody‟s life is safe from its message, whatever that message might be. Cable, satellite, terrestrial , free-to-air, digital - TV is everywhere and people believe everything that it says. “Did you see that thing last night on channel one? My God, it was awful! Maybe, if we‟re lucky, they will show it again! It was such a terrible thing to see.” That‟s the mindset. That‟s the life. The single yellow circle with the double black lightening bolts begins to roll, slowly and vertically. It slips from the bottom of the screen only to reappear at the top and continues its journey, like a credit list containing only one item. People flick from channel to channel and are confronted with the same image. Remotes are pressed feverishly, the buttons become warm and sticky to the touch and sets are banged on the tops and sides. Gently at first, then hard enough to make ornaments on cabinets shake and fall.

Irritation is being replaced now by something else. A sense of fear has crept in, silently, like death. We live in dangerous times. What if we’ve been invaded by our enemies or Martians. Worse, what if we’ve become victims of network wide strike action. TV will be lost for days. No game shows or chat shows. No soaps. No documentaries about how Uncle Norman now wants to be known as Auntie Norma. No reality TV. No talent contests – such as they are. My God, we might actually be forced into listening to – heaven help us - THE RADIO!!! Or READING to the kids at bedtime!!! That we should come to this in the twenty first century, to behave like our parents for a night. Expected to entertain ourselves by imagining something! Grief, is this what I pay my license fee for? No sir! The damn government had better sort this shit out, and damn fast too! Oh for Chrissake, come on! The game is about to start. Wheel Of Fortune is on tonight. Serial Killer begins in five minutes. Come on, come on, COME ON!!! The single yellow circle with the double black lightening bolts stops reeling and settles, centre screen. There can be heard across the globe, a gentle exhalation of relief and it is felt like a puff of breeze, cooling tempers by degrees. A high-pitched whine eschews then from every TV speaker in the world. Not so high as to be like a dog whistle, but it rather akin to broken glass being dragged across rusted tin sheeting. Hands fly to cover ears. Teeth grit in pain, eyes clench shut, faces contort then, mercifully, there is silence. Then there is a voice. Slow. Deep. Clear. The Voice speaks like a melody, like the water of a babbling brook, like the first snow on a high mountaintop. It eases the fears of the people and causes them to relax when they hear

it in their own Mother Tongue. It is charming and refined. It is wise and educated. The Voice is everything that the people want it to be. Man, woman and child. And it asks “can you hear me?” and nothing more, for the moment. People who are with other people, look to each other. Those who are alone stare at their own reflections in the black screen. Nobody dare speak and hardly dare breath. Five minutes pass. Then ten. Then fifteen. There is nothing more until at last “can you hear me?” is repeated, though louder – clearer - this time. “Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” Tone even, inflection balanced. Not urgent or rushed. Controlled and at peace with itself. “I am told that you can, in fact, hear me now, that is good. I apologise for this interruption and, also, I am sorry to announce that there will be no returning to your scheduled programs. No football will take place, or baseball, or snooker, or basketball or hockey or cricket. No boxing. No racing. No events from whichever house you were hoping to spy on will be shown and nobody is going to win a million tonight, my friends, but me. The killer always makes his or her appearance in scene three - trust me, I wrote the book on serial killers - so you‟ll not be missing much there. Stifling Grove is shut down and that doc on how horses masturbated in the fifteenth century is really quite dull.” Everybody in the world groans in unison. They know, collectively, of what the voice speaks and are annoyed at having their fun spoiled. “Now, to continue. If you‟ll all retune to the channel number that is about to flash up on your screen, we can get this show – MY show – on the road. I‟ve not much time. Digital viewers – I know how anything other than really soft pornography confuses you - can just press the red button if all those numbers are too complicated to fathom. See you all soon.”

There is a loud click and on screen three numbers materialise from the depths of darkness that has replaced the double black lightening bolts. The world‟s population are pissed now. They want to know what the hell is going on. How dare this guy disrupt my routine? How dare he spoil my pleasure? Frantically and as one, they retune to the channel indicated by the three numbers floating before them, or press the red button after incorrectly pressing the yellow one first. This screen is a deep crimson when they find it. It flickers yellow at the edges and at the centre is a penny-sized dot of white. Static buzzes from the speakers and then fades, until the heart wrenching squeal is heard again and then stops as suddenly as it did before, much to everybody‟s relief. “Are you with me? Good! Sorry I‟ve been so long, I had to wait for the Chinese. They‟re not used to having so much choice in one night. Well, it is my sincere and absolute pleasure to welcome you to this evening‟s show. We‟ve got lots to keep you entertained and a zillion prizes to give away. So let‟s crack on shall we?” The people nod, hungry to learn more. It’s a game show. Life is saved! “I have some orders for you which cannot be ignored. Don‟t go thinking I‟m some sort of terrorist though. That will just spoil my reputation. I am not just some terrorist. I am, in fact, Terror and I‟ve been planning on dropping in on you for ages. I thought at first that I might use the internet. But you lot – well, some of you at least – are just too damn slow at getting to grips with technology. Yes, that‟s right, I‟m talking about the likes of you David Crimbleton of twenty-four Patterson Avenue, High Wycombe, England and to you Gladys Davies of Fifth and Madison, New York City, USA. So that left me with TV. The flexible friend to which everybody has access and in front of which you vegetate night after night and day after day.

“Now, it‟s come to my notice that God is planning a bit of a clearout and I wanted to stake my claim early. You know, like you do on the day after Christmas when the sales start, but without the camping out and the terrible singing to Beatles tunes. “Anyway, like I was saying, God is having a clearance. He‟s fed up to the back teeth with mankind. Wars, famine and misery were his invention and you‟ve started causing them all by yourselves, which makes him feel a bit inadequate apparently and, I must say I can sympathise. “However, I also think you‟re all doing a hell of a job and want to offer you this once in a death time opportunity to …” The Voice begins to sing. “…Come on over to my place. Hey you, I‟m havin‟ a party. There‟ll be swingin‟, dieing and screaming. So come on over tonight.” The Voice chuckles. “Sorry, couldn‟t resist it. Now, back to business. God, in his infinite wisdom (Ha!) has decided that you‟re not worthy to grace his finest creation any longer and has cogitated and procrastinated and concurred with The Panel that placing voles in charge would be a fantastic idea. “But, with God being God, he‟s also decided to keep some of you to one side as an example to the voles of what might happen to them should they get too big for their boots. A bit like he did last time with the Dionosaurs, when he said that crocodiles could stay. Bloody useless Crocodiles are. Don‟t do anything except for lie there all day, waiting for flies to clean their teeth. “ Come to that, personally, I think you‟re all pretty useless as far as sinning is concerned. I mean, you build bombs that can wipe places out and never use „em and have thoughts that

can curdle milk about your neighbour‟s wife and don‟t have the bottle to follow them up…mostly! “What‟s up with people for goodness sake? Is conviction an alien concept to you all or something? You should have been brave. You should have been bold. Done something! Been anything! But what have you done with your lives, hmm? Worked for „a nice home‟ to leave the kids when you die and watch TV until you do! Sheesh, I ask you!!?? “Anyway, it‟s too late now. Your number‟s up. But before you go, I want to grab as many as I can. For later. Just in case. “I got a great deal on the Tyranosaurus last time around, but haven‟t quite been able to slip them in unnoticed whilst you‟ve all been knocking about. They‟re just too damn big! But I‟m confident of utilising your own, err, special abilities somewhere down the line. Probably when the voles get Bolshy and begin forming Gospel choirs. “So what I want you to do for me is to stand up and, on the count of three, put your hands on your heads, with the fingers of each hand interlaced on your crowns, and swear an oath of allegiance to me for all eternity, before jumping out of the nearest high window or onto the nearest sharp object. “You got that Mister Askanov, of two twenty six, Volotov Crescent, Moscow? Yes, that‟s right, you. It‟s no use trying to rebel at your age, not against this. It‟s not nineteenseventeen any longer. Your days of revolution are well and truly over my friend. “Now if we‟re all ready, you may stand.” On every continent of the globe, in every country, in every city and town of every state and county, the world gets to its feet with the eyes of the populace locked on to the yellow circle with the double black lightening bolt jammed through them, that has swum back into view from within the white dot at the centre of the crimson screen. “Excellent. Now, on three raise hands and interlace. One … Two ….”

A roll of thunder echoes through the air and the people look around in stunned silence. They are looking at their TV screens as though they have never seen the machines before and wonder, not for the first time that evening, what on earth is going on. It‟s almost as though they have been dozing and have been given a short sharp shove to stir them into action. The Voice, when it speaks again, has lost some of its assurance. “Don‟t mind about that. It‟s just Him getting pissy about the game of poker we had the last time we holidayed in Spain. Beat him fair and square, though he doesn‟t seem to see it that way. Reckons I cheated, doddery old fart that he is! Now, if we‟re already, I‟ll start ….” But The Voice is once more interrupted as thunder bounces across the heavens and lightening splices the air to illuminate the night skies and light skies across the world. People are roused now. They‟re beginning to realise what‟s happening and are rising against it. People, being people, don‟t like to be told when their time is up. They prefer to queue up in an orderly fashion, discuss the prospect of Armageddon in committees and unions for a while, get some obscure member of royalty killed and then unleash Hell on earth for themselves. It‟s tradition and they will be damned if they‟re going to let some prissy sounding upstart, who nobody had ever laid eyes on before, boss them around at this their finest, final, hour. Besides, they want to find out for themselves if the footy was won, lost or drawn. Discover for themselves who the killer is and to see if they didn‟t appear in scene three, as The Voice had predicted. They want to find out how Aunty Norma makes out with an Adam‟s apple bobbing beneath her pearl necklace and twin set. As the rain falls, so the people remain motionless, whilst The Voice resumes its countdown.

“One …” and now The Voice has an edge to it that could be clearly defined as excited. Some of its control has been lost. “…Two…” and the people can almost see the unseen extended fingers of whatever owned The Voice whipping down as it speaks, it‟s nails flashing like sabres in the sunlight. “THREEEEEEE!!!!” The Voice screams and the people do not move a muscle … at first. Then, in a leafy suburb of Basildon, Essex, England, Little Johnny Evans – who is in fact twenty-nine years old, fourteen stones in weight and six feet seven inches in height – plods up to his newly acquired Veleron thirty-six inch, wide-angle, surround sound, cinematic projection, liquid crystal screened set and hoists it high above his head. There he holds it for a micro-moment, with a childish grin etched upon his dimple ridden features, before hurling it - not without some degree of finesse, it has to be said – against the wall, away to his right. The electric cables are yanked from their sockets, but hardly alter its flight into oblivion one jot. A booming roar echoes through his tiny, one bedroom flat as the TV collides with solid brick and mortar. Sparks and smoke fill the air, shards of glass fly like hail and plastic housing scatters like so much scattered plastic TV housing that has just been chucked at a wall. Nobody else on earth can possibly know that Little Johnny Evans, of Basildon, Essex, England has made this stand against The Voice. Nobody can see him and only those within his closest proximity can hear the results of his actions. Yet, somehow, inexplicably, the whole world does know and, as one, so does the planet follow suit. “Now, come on people, play the game here! What do you think you‟re doing, huh? You, Missus Brady? No, not you in Kinshasa, you in New Deli. You‟re one-hundred and

four and are always complaining about the cold. Don‟t you fancy a break down here, where it‟s nice and warm? Don‟t you think you‟re just a little old to be lifting a heavy thing like that, when you are as fat as that? And what about you, Albert DeFromage? What about your nails? They‟ll crack and splinter if you‟re not careful.” But The Voice is now being ignored as people, one by one, country by country, city by city, county by county and state by state, lift their TV sets into the air as though they were so many bags of feathers, and hurl them at walls, through windows, over balconies and out of doors, where they smash and explode into so many capsules of uselessness. “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!” The Voice is yelling in fury “Do you know what you are doing? Do you know how long it has taken me to set Channel Six, Six, Six up? No, you have no idea do you? You just sit there, night after night, vegetating. You have no perception of what you‟re all tossing away. And for what? Another quiet night in?
Another dull end to another dull day? You could have had it all with me, but oh no, you choose him don‟t
you? Mister God I Am The Light Almighty! What‟s he ever given you, eh? Diptheria , Antiques Roadshow and Harry bloody
Seacombe on Sunday nights. There must be more to life. There must be ….”

The Voice has faded out as each television set across sea and land is obliterated until, at last, The Voice has silenced completely. People of every race, colour, creed and religion are unified in their celebration. Fireworks are being ignited, champagne is being uncorked and Marijuana is being dispensed at Boots the chemists, free of charge. Everybody is happy. Everybody comes together as one … for about fifteen minutes. Then they unilaterally realise the enormity of what they have done and how empty the corner of the room where the TV used to sit, now looks. That corner – the body which warmed the umbilical chord of their lives not thirty minutes earlier – now looks lost, lonely, barren.

And when this thought hits home, hard, there is great sorrow across the world for fifteen minutes more. Yes, the people have won a great victory. But for what and, more importantly, at what cost to themselves? Nobody knows, until Joseph Butler – a carpenter originally from Toronto, but now settled in the frozen wastes that surround Reykjavik, Iceland – wipes the tears from his eyes, blows congealed phlegm onto the red checkered sleeve of his lumber jacket with the fake seal fur collar, and sits upright in his place in the now tube bereft corner of his wooden hut. Ah well, at least I’ve no longer got an excuse not to build that bookcase. It’ll look nice here, in the corner. A couple of pot plants on either end of the top shelf. I can get some classics sent to me. Dickens, Bronte, Tolstoy …Reader’s Digest abridgements. No rubbish. Yeah, it’ll be good. And then I can set about that twenty - thousand piece jigsaw of the cat I got five years ago from my Uncle Norman. The time will soon begin to fly again, just you wait and see, Joe. Just you wait and see. It’s not the end of the world. And so, all of the right – and wrong – minded people of the world, reached the same conclusions and dismissed all thoughts of the Devil‟s eye being on them, forever. After all, nobody was ever hurt by a jigsaw. ***


				
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posted:11/15/2009
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