This is my story for tomorrow’s ‘issue’ of the TTA Press Advent Calendar, which first appeared in a magazine called Kimota back when I was a young man. It’s absolutely nothing at all to do with Christmas, but as we just dodged the Mayan apocalypse maybe it’s kind of topical:-
THE ABRIDGED NOSTRADAMUS
Jerry had decided that nobody was home and was on the point of leaving when the door swung open. Standing in front of him was an elderly man dressed in a grey cardigan and grey flannel trousers, his face as dreary and washed out as the clothes he wore.
The man nodded, reluctantly it seemed to Jerry.
‘Mr. Milligan, my name is Jerry Perlmann. I’m a journalist.’ He flashed his press card and offered a hand which was pointedly ignored. ‘I’ve come about the book.’
Sandford Milligan winced, as if he’d developed a sudden stomach pain. ‘I see.’
‘Could we talk?’
Milligan hesitated for a moment and then stepped aside, his body language conveying a weary resignation. ‘You’d better come in.’
Jerry stepped into a hallway that was badly in need of decoration, paper curling away from the wall and threadbare carpet underfoot. The smell of boiled cabbage hung heavy in the air. Obviously his writing hadn’t made Sandford Milligan a wealthy man.
‘How’d you know about the book?’ asked Milligan. ‘It’s been out of print for over forty years.’
‘I’m an SF nut. I collect pulp novels from the fifties and early sixties. I found a copy in a second-hand bookshop a couple of years ago. When recent events started I made the connection and decided to look you up.’
‘I’m surprised you found me.’
‘Your publishers still had your address on file.’
Milligan shrugged. ‘I couldn’t afford to move.’
He ushered Jerry into a sitting room that looked no less shabby than the hallway. The furniture seemed very much the worse for wear, chair legs crisscrossed with scratch marks, the material faded and worn. A tray bearing a plate encrusted with grease lay on the floor in front of a desultory coal fire. At the older man’s invitation they sat on a badly sagging settee, its floral pattern adorned with unsightly stains.
‘You’ll have to excuse the mess,’ said Milligan. ‘I wasn’t expecting visitors.’
In the corner stood a television set, its screen aglow, the sound turned down so that it was barely audible. Every TV set in the world would be turned on today. It was the most important day in mankind’s history.
The screen was filled with an image of the vast alien craft that had hovered over New York for three days now, its underside bristling with weapons’ arrays. In the United Nations building directly underneath the alien warlord Gartok was relaying his peoples’ demands to the governments of the world. Those demands would be rejected. Before the end of the week mankind would be at war with the Munktare. All of these events had been foretold in Millennium Mayhem, a pulp SF novel written by Sandford Milligan and first published in 1956.
Of course alien invasion had been a staple of the genre ever since SF’s early days. What made Millennium Mayhem so remarkable was the number of correspondences between events in the book and what was now taking place in reality. Milligan’s description of the alien Munktare, their spacecraft and weaponry, the actions they took, all tallied perfectly with what was happening now. Even the words of Gartok’s public pronouncements were the same as in the book. Only the names of the people involved were different. It was impossible to believe that all of this was simply coincidence.
‘Perhaps you could explain to me how the book came to be written?’
‘It was all so long ago,’ said Milligan. ‘I really don’t want to talk about it.’
Jerry gestured at the television screen. ‘With respect Mr. Milligan, I think that you have to talk about it.’
Milligan sighed. ‘When I was a young man back in the fifties I used to have vivid dreams about things that were going to happen, premonitions of disaster. Usually they meant nothing, but sometimes they turned out to be accurate.
‘The events in Millennium Mayhem came to me in a series of dreams over a period of six weeks. I saw no point in going public at the time. I’d been ridiculed in the past and the alien invasion was so far in the future I didn’t expect to be vindicated. Instead I decided I might as well make some money out of my talent, so I wrote the book. That’s all there is to it.’
He waved a dismissive hand at his surroundings. ‘I didn’t make much money, as you can see.’
Jerry grinned. Somebody was going to make money now, money by the truckload. He could see all sorts of angles. The first thing was to get Milligan to sign a contract.
He pointed at the television screen. ‘But now that you’ve been proved right there’ll be opportunities for…’
‘It doesn’t matter. We’ll all soon be dead.’
Jerry frowned. Given what he knew Milligan had less reason to feel pessimistic than anyone. Millions were going to die but mankind would win through in the end, as it always did. Life would go on.
‘After the war…’ he began.
‘You don’t understand,’ said Milligan. ‘The book is a lie. My publishers had me rewrite the last three chapters. They wanted a more upbeat ending.’
He reached down by the side of the settee and retrieved a stack of yellowing sheets of paper filled with black type.
‘If you want to know what really happens…’
The television screen was suffused with a red glow.
Great story, Pete. Love the contrast between the richness of Milligan’s visions, and the poverty of his life. Maybe there are secrets hidden in sci-fi books.
Cheers Rob. I once wrote a story with the concept that there was no such thing as imagination. Creative people had a kind of sixth sense that made them sensitive to what was happening in other versions of reality, and these were the stories that they thought they made up.