She wants to report an incident.
No, not that sort of incident.
She is settling down at around two these days, with the kitten on her lap. It has legs like jelly but teeth like needles. She loves it more than she loves herself, but she loves reality television more than either. This is because she is normal, and reality television reassures her she is normal by showing her what is abnormal. She is a pedagogical experiment gone right.
Today – this Thursday, this 15th, this mad, mad March – is not like other days. These episodes are not like other episodes. She is learning something new. She is learning that pedagogical styles sometimes conflict with each other.
She is watching Tropical Survival, Hurricane Edition. Is it too soon after last episode’s East Coast storm surge for this post-apocalyptic sex fest? Yes, it is, but then strangers arrive on the island. Normally this would be the cue for another challenge, but these are familiar strangers – not familiar from Tropical Survival, but interlopers from another show altogether.
They are the cast of alt-reality show Brave New World, the drug-themed psychodrama! Dressed to the nines in boiler suits with baseball bats, but they shouldn’t be there, should they? Something has gone wrong; or something has gone very, very right.
It’s about 15 minutes into the show – although she’s unclear which show she’s watching, now – when the first casualty occurs. She’s not a monster: she phones the police immediately. I’d like to report an incident, she tells them. What sort of incident? The sort that ends with somebody dying on a windrock beach, their cranial fluid on the ebb tide.
“It’s on the television,” she tells the police voice.
“That’s not real, madam,” the police voice replies.
“It’s reality television!” she exclaims.
The police voice hangs up. Wasting police time is what they will call it, later, but that’s the least of the charges she will face.
Right now, she is not thinking of defending herself. She is still watching gap-mouthed gasping as the boys and babes of Brave New World wade out of the water and wade into the beach bums of Tropical Survival, Hurricane Edition. A sharp crack is heard around the world as Little Tania descends on the brooding DJ Ellis, and that crack is her disbelieving breath.
That baseball bat has nails in it. That shouldn’t be allowed. That can’t be allowed! She looks out of the window and her world is unchanged, eternal, immortal. She confides to her kitten that she does not like what reality television has become this afternoon, and looks back to the screen just in time to see –
Little Tania, her bat still coated with the glisten of the brainstuff of handsome DJ Ellis, is standing in front of the big bad desk of The Decider; and behind The Decider, as always one on each shoulder, are the Angel Investor and the Devil Investor. The big bad desk – and presumably the entire show – has been temporarily relocated to the island for reasons which are unclear to her, but The Decider is by nature unruffable and Little Tania will be judged on her execution of DJ Ellis’ execution.
The tension is unbearable, so she rings the police again. The kitten watches her from the couch, its attention as unwavering as the lash on your back.
“It’s happening, just like I said,” she tells the police voice.
“I’m sorry I didn’t believe you before,” replies the police voice.
“You believe me now?” she asks.
“We’ve had multiple reports,” the police voice replies.
“Somebody should do something!” she tells the voice.
They take the details of the incident, and the resignation in the police voice tells her she is not alone. The voice reassures her they will be looking into the incident as soon as they can contact somebody at the production company who can explain what the hell is going on. After she puts the phone down, she expresses slight shock that a police voice would use the word hell. The kitten tries to eat its own feet, and nearly rolls off the couch.
On the show – it used to be her show, but now it is anybody’s guess whose show it is – The Decider has put Little Tania into the punishment pen. It’s not really a pen, and it’s not much of a punishment for Tania, who has endured far worse already this season. Now The Decider is arguing with the Angel Investor about whether it was the right call, but it is always the right call.
This is why she doesn’t watch The Decider, except that now she is being forced to watch The Decider. She has forgotten about the kitten, she has forgotten that she ever had a kitten.
She checks the TV listings using the big blue button on the bunty box. The listings still say that this channel at this time is showing Tropical Survival, Hurricane Edition, and she supposes that it must be, because they are all still on the island: the Survivors, the Bravers, the Deciders, all crammed onto that tiny piece of real estate. Little Tania is out of the picture now; but the star of Brave New World, Hannibal, is leading an assault on the Decider’s desk to break her out of the punishment pen.
This is getting ridiculous. Their attack is being repelled by none other than a temporary alliance of the judges from Master Bar-B-Q and Rise Up Britain, barbeque and baking experts standing shoulder to shoulder for the first time. She is surprised by how effective their tactics are, although they do have the advantage of a strong defensive position behind the big bad desk of The Decider. The Decider himself has sensibly boarded a helicopter – he’s not a young man anymore, although if he was, he’d sure show them all – and the helicopter is now taking off for God knows where.
She doesn’t know what’s what anymore. She switches channels for just a second to the mid-show chat show, where ageless minions endlessly litigate the state of play, and discovers that this battle is driving the ratings through the roof, but also that nobody can work out which show deserves those ratings. She switches back immediately but she has already missed some serious developments in the meantime. The beach is covered in briquettes and baked goods, and Hannibal has been felled –
The doorbell rings. Barely able to tear herself away, she goes to answer it, and she should feel more surprised that Little Tania is dripping tropical blood on her welcome mat.
“You are needed,” Tania says. “You have always been needed.”
She doesn’t need any more encouragement than that. She doesn’t even invite Little Tania in for a cuppa. This is what reality has come to, and there’s nothing that anybody can do about these desperate screen gods clutching at crossovers, except – she goes straight for the knife drawer and comes back kitted out and committed. She leaves the kitten with a bowl of wet food and a bowl of wet water and a licence to do whatever it wants to the pot plants.
She dials the police one more time and sets the handset down on the table by the open front door.
“Hello?” says the police voice plaintively.
“We recommend you stay indoors,” it continues later.
There is a long silence while the kitten strolls down the hall, but she is already all the way down the street. Reality must face reality television, and one must win. The walls have begun to break down and somebody must stand on the barricades, a knife in each hand to defend the thin sliver of the world that remains.
Finally the police voice asks, “Do you want to report an incident?”
She wants to report an incident.
She wants to report an incident very badly indeed.
Paul Currion works as a consultant to humanitarian organisations, while writing around the edges. He has published short fiction in The White Review, Ambit, 3am Magazine, Litro, Going Down Swinging and other magazines; in anthologies for CyberSalon, Virtual Futures, Fox Spirit, Leaf Books, and National Flash Fiction Day; and non-fiction in Granta, The White Review, Aeon, The Guardian, The New Humanitarian and other publications.