Who's Who 19: About the Author

It happened on some anonymous night, as they sat in front of the TV. The position correctly assumed by most of society as the sun set these days. The work done, the meal cooked and consumed. They move to the other room, switch on the screen and choose tonight’s flavour of distraction.

It was probably a documentary. He’d become a little obsessed with documentaries. Too many 22 episodes a year, superhero in a low budget suit shows, had taken their toll. They’d left him disillusioned with mainstream fiction.

He’d watched too many versions of the same myth. He could spot the seams between the ad breaks. The recognisable traits. The revolving carousel of non-threatening villains. The shiny fights. The interweaving soap operas. The cameos for the true geeks, there to invest a marketing exercise with a little purchased history, borrowed as credit for credibility. Each challenge was solvable in just under 50 minutes. With one larger obstacle taking around 20 hours to overcome, allowing for a breather during the inescapable mid-season break. Twists sent smoke signals before their arrival. Shock deaths soon became shock resurrections, if the ratings didn’t approve.

Of course, you could stream heroes as well now. Licenced properties were spreading like the tendrils of some modern plague. A plague spread by executive greed. Franchise-itis. The Black Brand Death.

Shows born to this new, mutated form of television came with a different sort of warning. It’s good, but you need to get through the first few episodes.

It’d all become a little too disheartening. All these shows he would’ve loved fifteen years ago were swarming his screen and chasing him into the arms of the shows his parents watched.

That anonymous night, the weight of the day still wrapped over his shoulders, he performed a magic trick by accident. It was steered by muscle memory. He reached a hand into his pocket, thinking he was checking for a tissue. Only his fingers changed tact, dipped into the fold of material and plucked out something else instead. Cold, round, metallic. A coin. He brought it up for all the world to see.

“Look,” he declared. “Free money.”

It couldn’t have been there before. He had a mortgage. Power, water and credit card bills. These new sofas hadn’t just magically appeared. There was no such thing as forgotten money. It was all spoken for, so he was quickly crossed examined.

Had someone given him at work? Had it fallen out of his wallet? If he didn’t remember putting it there, was it possibly his wife’s money? (She was quite happy for that to be the truth, she pointed out.)

He set it on the coffee table and turned his attention back to the TV. As one documentary bled into another, evening turned to night. His wife’s red wine gifted her a comfortable doze, giving her a chance to warm up before bed. Her ability to sleep so soundly was keeping him awake at night.

He found his mind turning to last week. A trip to the cinema. A hastily eaten taken away suddenly sluicing through his system like a vengeful weather front, only minutes before he was meant to be watching a two hour movie. His brother-in-law joined them and slipped him money for the ticket. A note and a coin.

There. The spell was broken. He’d just had to poke the bear, hadn’t he?

Back when he’d been drinking, half his problem had been a few too many merry glasses would convince him to chase after wonder. Usually the disappointment in finding only stale, late night reality waiting for him between bars would then cause him to dive into the next glass. And the next. And the next.

Now, stone cold sober, he’d managed to find something unexpected and had immediately dissected it. Except no one else knew. As far as his wife was concerned, the coin was still a glimmer of something special. He’d begun to think of it as lucky as well. Or distinguished. It hadn’t been something to be spent or squandered. No, it’d had auspicious significance. It’d had status beyond currency. A status he’d chosen to grant it, before he’d swiftly stripped it away.

He could keep the truth to himself, preserve the illusion. That was an option. Only him and the coin would be in on the secret then. They’d know the truth, unless it ever came up in conversation with his brother-in-law.

As the TV played on and his wife shifted on the sofa, slipping deeper into a dream, he realised this was the truth behind everything wasn’t it. This was how stories worked. This was how fiction pretended to be true. This was how news became facts. This was how people rose from the dead and led others to build special houses where they could sing songs to them, hoping they might do the same. This was how currency was allowed to have worth. This was how the entitled could stand up and speak for other people they were truly disconnected from, assuming like some blinkered parent that they knew best..

Society had come from a truth remembered after an illusion had been performed with plausible deniability. History had simply added weight to the acceptance of the fact. Gifted the right people with the magic words: but it’s always been this way.

Fiction and non-fiction, born from a dash of coincidence sparkling amongst the humdrum. Proving an investment of belief in a little impossibility could go a long way. It allowed the very best stories to hold their sway.

Thankfully, at least on paper, the lesson had only cost him a pound.