Story so far: Reporter Edna Lee has travelled to a desert town with other journalists to interview Manuka Das, who claims to have written a story so frightening that it has killed two readers.
THE AVERAGE ADULT needs 10 mg of irony, 12 mg of patience and at least 15 mg of humor a day.
Edna prayed for all three as celebrity reporter Dan Blather marched straight up to author Manuka Das and kissed her hand.
His producer, Ronny Rott whispered: “Stop! Touching a woman is a hanging offence in this part of the world.”
Blather turned his handsome profile to him. “The secret of my success is that all women are touched by me. If not their hands, their hearts.”
Rott gave him a look of contempt, as did Blather’s assistant Stella Tin. Blather, luckily for him, was immune to withering glances thanks to his hard, protective shell of extreme stupidity.
Edna and the other reporters faded into insignificance as the international TV crew switched on hot, bright floodlights to illuminate the scene.
“Jeez, can you crank up the aircon a bit higher?” Blather barked, mopping his brow and smearing his make-up. Book agent Tina Meyer raced to the side of the room to see what she could do.
Even Manuka Das looked uncomfortably hot. She picked up the tall glass of iced water which her servant had placed in front of Blather and sloshed some of it into a cup for herself. After a sip, she sat back in her seat and fanned herself with a copy of the manuscript of her book.
Producer Rott barked the words “live in five” and silence descended. Blather’s face lit up with fake excitement as he stared into the camera and recapped the details of the story. “Can a horror story really kill? That’s the question the whole world is asking about ‘Scared to Death’, a tale which has allegedly killed two people who read it. We’re going to find out—LIVE on this show.”
Watching from the back of the room, Edna saw how Blather’s questions came across as tough-minded and skeptical, yet always stopped short of undermining the news story.
Author Manuka quietly explained that her tale was based on a true story, the legend of the desert devil, a lethal but invisible force that lived in these parts. Yes, two people had died, but she could not confirm that her book had killed them.
Blather interspersed the interview with short readings from the opening paragraphs of the book, which seemed innocuous enough. Then the TV producer cut to a commercial break.
Blather sat back and read the rest of the first chapter of the book. His eyes flickered quickly across the text as he was caught up by the exciting tale.
“Back in five,” the producer said.
Blather, apparently gripped by the story, did not respond.
The show restarted.
Blather did not move.
His eyes became glazed.
Then he fell forward, crashing against the small table which contained his water glass.
“Oh dear. He’s fainted,” the author said.
Edna’s hand flew to her mouth. “Or he’s dead.”
Tomorrow: How can a story kill?