21 November 2014: Winter is setting in, and the freesheet distributors have intensified their reign of terror on the London streets. The chill darkness arrives earlier and earlier; each evening brings with it the pack of thirsty marauders and a new stack of damned newspapers. They thrust the fresh edition into your gloved hands and woe betide those who hesitate before accepting. There was once a time – oh so distant, now! – when refusing a copy of Thelondonpaper or its one competitor, London Lite, was acceptable, even common. But now, with over twenty different evening freesheets competing fiercely against one another, a walk home is like dashing through a forest of wolves. The old havens – tube stations, buses, coffee shops, pubs – are now patrolled heavily by vendors and it is a lucky man who reaches the safety of his home with a wad of newspaper less than ten inches thick. Some are duplicates; they do not care.
Do not accuse me of exaggerating the truth with frivolous verbal furbelows. I have seen first-hand the savagery of these creatures. Writing these words, my gnarled hand shakes as I hold the pen; mine eyes dart from side to side as I recall the events, which occurred this very day, almost to the hour, two years ago. Finishing work one dreary Wednesday evening, I deviated from my usual route for no particular reason that I can remember. Perhaps I was trying to avoid a tiresome colleague, or maybe I merely wished for a change of scenery. But how I wish I had never flinched from the safe monotony which drives us all forward! As I walked down that Fitzrovia alley – a place which lurks constant in my dreams – I espied five vendors heading toward my direction. Before they saw me, and knowing I could be in trouble if they spotted the rival newspapers I had accumulated, I quickly ducked behind a nearby bin. Holding my breath as they approached, I suddenly sensed that I had misjudged the situation. My suspicions that this was no normal distribution job were confirmed as I noticed, with jerk of panic, that the largest of them, a pale, greasy bruiser of a man, had streaks of blood on his shirt. He was silent, eyes to the ground; the others were babbling to each other in words that seemed, in my delirious trepidation, almost nonsensical. Still crouching, my hands gripped my shins in fear. Then they passed, and I was safe. This was, I am afraid, not the end of my ordeal.
After waiting a good few minutes to ensure the quintet had indeed left the scene, I continued down the alley. What I saw will remain with me until the final day of my life. The man, dressed in what I guessed to be his work suit, was lying in an odd, nightmarish position, utterly still. His clothes were in disarray: the tie pulled tight into a knot, the jacket suffering a large rip. Certain that I beheld a corpse, I suddenly understood the awful events that had transpired - he had refused to take the newspapers which had been offered him. Perhaps I am being dishonest, dear reader: there was an additional detail which helped me understand what had occurred, although the word "detail" does perhaps underplay the stark and ugly quiddity of this killing. The man's eyes had been gouged. Terrible enough, you might think. But protruding from the sockets, rolled up, were two newspapers he had refused.
At this time, in this city, just denying the vendors was a wild act of rebellion for which the deceased had paid the ultimate price. As the popular saying goes: there is no such thing as a free paper.
More on the freesheets