The photo flashes of the paparazzi were like diamonds winking in the sunlight. Even worse were the news reporters, who thrust their microphones like javelins into Michael’s face as they demanded he answer their questions. ​People thought that being a writer was nothing like being a celebrity, that as an author you were more like the men behind the curtain instead of the actors, but whether it was Michael’s individual situation or not, that wasn’t his experience. Right now, he imagined he was more famous than Jewl Haven herself.

​“Mr. Monroe, Mr. Monroe, how many words is your novel?”

​“Mr. Monroe, did you like writing it?”

​“Mr. Monroe, how many lightyears did it take to write your book?”​

Good Lord, Michael thought, ask me about the writing process or something. And for God’s sake, quit calling me that…

​Finally, a reporter dressed sleekly in black stepped forward. “Sir, would you mind telling the viewers what gave you the inspiration for your new novel?”

​Michael smiled. “That’s a great question, Mr.—”

​The reporter ducked his head as if shying from the attention, but he said, “Dreyer.” His vulture-like friends, meanwhile, were trying to get closer to him, hoping to be caught on camera for national television, but when security barreled through they parted like a wave. Soon it was only Michael and the reporter, the former sitting and the latter standing, with nothing but a podium between them. 

​“Mr. Dreyer,” said Michael. “The inspiration for my book came from an unknown source—and by that I don’t mean ‘I don’t want to tell you,’ I literally mean it was something I had never seen and have not seen before or since. It was a paper, all folded up a thousand times, as thick as two or three magazines. Its title was The New York Times, and it spoke of horrible things.” By now his voice had dropped to a whisper, and for once in television history, the reporters and Big Men stopped speaking, cared only to listen. Michael continued softly, as if singing a lullaby. “The paper seemed to consist of world news, of sorts. But it wasn’t any kind of news I’d ever experienced. The cover story spoke of riots—and do you know why the people were rioting?”

​No one spoke, but everyone’s faces said Why? as their eyebrows drew across their faces like question marks. “Because people with white skin color were mistreating those with darker skin color.” The silence was broken by a loud murmur. Michael saw many mothers cover their children’s ears, and many more spectators leave. He knew how crazy it sounded, and how awful, but he knew it to be true. “And you know what else? The other pages were filled with things like that, too, but worse. A woman who was incarcerated unjustly, but was forced to stay in jail because her jailers had more money than her lawyers. A man who—a man who forced himself upon a woman against her will. A baby who was stolen from her home in the nighttime—” 

​At this point Michael couldn’t continue because of the uproar. It was one thing to read about terrible deeds in a dystopian story; it was quite another to claim that those things had really happened in a world not unlike their own. 

​One of the producers of Michael’s special locked eyes with him and mouthed, What are you doing? So the writer cleared his throat. 

“Now, don’t worry,” he practically yelled. “I don’t believe that the papers were real. It was most likely just another writer, like me, toying around with ideas. But it did give me the inspiration for a world in which those terrible things really do happen.”

The original black-suited reporter nodded, although he was now so lost in the crowd that he was sure there was no way the writer of the novel had seen. The reporter hadn’t actually read the book, and now he was sure he didn’t want to. In what awful world would those situations ever happen, and why would one want to read about them? It was horrible, that any place could be so unjust. Even if it was fake. 

“Mr. Monroe, sir,” began a mousy-looking, short woman, “is there a meaning behind the name of your novel?”

Hound Dogs. Hmm,” Michael mused. With the stocky black javelin shoved to his mouth, he answered, “As a matter of fact, there is. You all know that my story is about an alternate universe in which bad things happen; things that question all of our morals (but not theirs), things that make us squirm. And it’s about how, in this other universe, most of the people don’t care anymore. Some will turn a blind eye, and others will partake in the madness, but mostly people have grown immune to the carnage and are simply too ignorant to do anything about it. The title is reminiscent of the fact that these people, the ignorant ones, are no better than the monsters themselves—that whether or not you cause the problem, if you ignore it, you’re no better than an animal. A wild dog; a stray hound dog, if you will, a rabid, stray dog willing to kill and be killed for scraps from the garbage. A beast.”

The audience hmmed thoughtfully. Michael knew that for many of them, his words would make no difference; but for some, they would, and so he said them. “I’ll answer one last question,” he announced. His mother was waiting for him at home, and she needed assistance with her insulin shots. 

There was an even louder uproar now—many people covered their ears. Michael heard an infinite number of foolish questions, as well as many he couldn’t discern because each ran over the other like a river over rocks. 

Suddenly he felt a gentle tug on his hand, and he looked down. It was the reporter from before, who’d approached in patient silence, and up close he looked young, so young that Michael wondered if he should even be there at all. 

“Sir,” said the reporter—Mr. Dreyer. He said it quietly because so close, he didn’t need to speak up. “Do you believe that there could ever be a world in which such awful things exist?” 

Michael nodded and held his hand up, silencing the chattering hens and screeching vultures. All the foul fowl who spoke mainly to hear their own voices. He repeated the question, so everyone would know what it was. He blinked in time to the camera flashes, which were still going strong, and he took a breath.

“I don’t believe that there could ever be a world like the one I wrote in my book,” he answered truthfully. “I really truly don’t. Because people have hearts. True, no one is perfect, and some are not as kind as others. But no matter who you are, what you’ve done, you have a heart.” Nodding, whispers of yeah and exactly. “And you know what else? People have moral compasses. That inner pull towards right and wrong, showing the way. It’s inside everyone and it keeps us from doing bad things. As long as we listen to our hearts and follow our moral compasses, we can do no wrong.

“So no, I don’t believe a world like this could exist, because humans will always have and always listen to those two things. No matter how far in the future and no matter what world they exist in.”

Michael smiled, gave a little bow for the audience, and went home to his mother, googling “insulin shots” as he went.

June 14, 2020 18:35

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