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FAKE NEWS (short story)

Harald Renner

“Bishop and Countess?” He stretched his back. Far too long he had stared at the monitor.

She agreed with him. “Who starts?”

“Ladies first! But only thirty minutes, no encore.”

“And out! Don’t come back without coffee.”

Harry Becker was the oldest “bunny in the stable” of the culture department of a respected weekly newspaper. Alternating with his colleague Simone Niemeyer, he was in charge of the column “And nothing but the truth”, also known as “Mother of all fake news”. In an hour the colleagues would decide, and soon also the readers, who had this time the nose in front with its hair-raising history. An iron rule was that the author had to keep short. No unnecessary word. A standard remained the “shortest short story of all time”, which emerged from an international competition. All participants had to fulfill three conditions for the story: It had to play in distinguished circles and contain something religious and something erotic. The endowed first prize went to the author of a story comprising a single sentence won the endowed first price: “My God, Bishop,” said the Countess, “take your hand off my knee.

When Simone was alone, she opened her favourite book “Fundamentals and Techniques of the Art of Writing” in the front third with closed eyes. She opened her eyes. The first word on the page was “Ibsen”. The dark dramatist of the North had already annoyed her during her studies. Not a good start for a cheerful story. So she entered “Ibsen” into the search engine and found “Ibbenbueren” as another suggestion. The folk high school of the village promoted a magical evening with “Merlin, the master of illusions”. Not bad, she thought and looked at the clock.

Half an hour later, Harry balanced two cups of latte to the colleague’s workplace. Simone stood up and gave Harry her place so he could admire the fresh work.

Merlin, the master of illusions in Ibbenbueren, had shown the trick with the dove in the cylinder. It bases the deception on the perfect distraction of the audience at the decisive moment. It must remain hidden that a dove remains hidden in a black bag the master attaches to the back of the table before, invisible against the black background. The magician lifts his cylinder and shows that it is empty. It takes practice and skill to move the rabbit out of the bag and into the hat with a flowing movement before the magician puts it on again. Every child knows the rest. The magician lifts the hat again, and a living dove flutters through the hall.

The people of the village knew a retired and always irritated biology teacher as a militant animal protector. It annoyed him he had to sit in the very left of the front row. So he did not miss how the trick worked - so simple and banal, and so tormenting for the locked up dove! In the following weeks he did not let up to pillory the uncovered magician - and with him all magicians who conjure pigeons or rabbits out of their hats. The public reacted with protest. “Free the dove! became a celebrated slogan.

An investigative journalist researched the scandal and learned that a magician in Sonthofen no longer worked with a living animal, but with a genuine imitation made of polyethylene. The journalist revealed the construction plans of the drone, which helped the artificial bird to its liberating flight. However, he hadn’t expected so many raw verbal abuse to befall him. Even death threats were among them. The lesson hurt him very much: Not only biology teachers but also magicians were militant and easy to excite. Magic tricks betrayed. That was not possible at all.

“The plot is all right?”, Simone asked.

“You can make something of it, but the punch line is still missing.”

She smiled. “I already have five ideas, one better than the other.

Harry knew that was true. He nodded to the door. “Now it’s my turn.”

While searching, he had closed his eyes and found “Constanze Mozart”, the wife of the immortal composer. He liked better the “Lake of Constance” offered by the search engine. On YouTube, he found a blurred video clip. Three boys tried to walk on the water, following the prominent example. Some transparent plastic boxes floated on the sea - with the opening turned downwards so that air accumulated in the cavities. Good in theory, unsuitable in practice. The performance fell into the water. Not a ratings hit on YouTube, but a good template for Harry.

In his story, the boys didn’t fall into the water, but balanced on the boxes until they swallowed an appearing wall of fog. The world never saw again the boys.

Three spectators witnessed the event. They portrayed it. An old lady in a wheelchair swore she had seen the outlines of three sails in the fog, perhaps of a three-mast barque. The ship had disappeared from the smooth sea as the fog cleared. The niece of the old lady who was pushing her wheelchair remembered she could see oscillating lights in different colours in the haze. She had seen something similar in the series “Spaceship Enterprise”. A young man reported that there was nothing to see except fog, neither sails nor lights. But he also had an interesting theory. “Cui bono” he asked. Who kidnapped the boys and profited most? Perhaps they were gifted hackers with valuable experience in the cyber war. It interested which friendly or opposing secret service in their algorithms,

Simone read the story. “You still don’t have a punch line.”

“I can leave it to the reader, can’t I?”

“No way,” she protested, “everyone feels abandoned. There must be another firecracker. A joke, perhaps? Something that goes well with going for water?”

Harry thought hard. 

“What do you think: A vain politician, whose self-overestimation was legendary, thanked God for endowing him with so many unprecedented talents - except one he didn’t have yet: he couldn’t walk on water. God was gracious, granted the request, and the leader could henceforth walk the waves. Two anglers, who knew the politician from the media but did not like him, watched the spectacle, frowning. One said to the other: See, he can’t even swim!”

Simone smiled. “Why do we always talk about the mother of all fake news? Vain overconfidence - that’s a male privilege.”

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