Welcome to my first installment of what will be a continuous monthly to bimonthly project. Free Fiction Stories. Approaching all genres, and sometimes even serialized (the serials will most likely be novelette or novella lengthed works). For February and March we have a brand new Extreme Horror piece — put the kiddies to bed — about a writer. A good chilling tale about a writer quickly brings to mind the work of Mr. King and Mr. Ketchum. One such tale that comes to mind right away is Secret Window (the movie version starred Johnny Depp). Sometimes a good story is too good to pass up, such as is the case with Secret Window. The picture below, which I got off the Web and am a die-hard fan of (I’m a die-hard fan of all pictures on my site, from Doctor Who to Action Figures to Whatever), I think compliments this piece well. It’s not for the faint of heart. But it does beg to ask the question: How far would you go to become a writer?
How far would you go to become a writer?
Free Fiction Series Take 1
THE OVERRATED PRO
The package fluttered as if it might fall, but it didn’t. Carnesto preferred to take a cigarette out of the pack himself. Despite the tremors, his fingers had facility, and he reached into the pack for a smoke. The paper fluttered and sounded, but out came the cigarette, and it orbited to his lips. He lit up by himself, too. He even had this way of making cool artsy smoke rings. The single and simple act assumed the proportion of a wannabe performance, which all watched as he sat in the back of the truck stop diner working heavily on his laptop. “Thanks, Colbert,” he said. “I promise I’ll leave you a tip next time.” He got a refill on his coffee.
“When are you writing this next bestseller?”
“As soon as one of these organizations actually recognize me,” he said.
Colbert nodded. “I guess that means never.”
“How’s your cat?”
“It’s okay. I’ll just go down to the Humane Society and pick me up a healthier critter. Anyway, good luck with your manuscript.”
There was something about people on computers in diners or Starbucks or sidewalk cafes. All were the next big thing, the next blockbuster screenwriter, the next professional anthologist, and, for the deluded, sometimes even Pulitzer Prize winner. They always looked cool sitting there with their Compaqs and Toshibas and Hewlett-Packards. At the end of their days they went home and popped an extra Zoloft or two, stared at themselves in their medicine cabinets, and often died of something like pancreatic cancer and very much penniless. As a balding, middle-aged man living between Middletown USA and the UK, however, he still didn’t get it yet. It was sort of like the meaning of life, only staring you cold right in the face. Being a writing celebrity was the most transient fame in the world, but it was magnificent while it lasted. Who could resist wanting to know what it was like to become as inflated as a zeppelin, even if rather hollow? Still, ego or no ego, magnificent while it lasted.
A man on the keyboard, if he had inspiration, could have more immediate impact in a couple of hours than a genre historian with a lifetime of books and no national or international exposure. For, at the end of the day, genre is what he wrote and absolutely creamed on himself just at the thought of it.
Clicking sounds from the keys, then long emailed queries.
A curious kind of aberrant, macroscopic reputation attainable because of the nature of the exposure, and the redundancy of the work routine combined. Much of his life revolved around two credits, and much to his pub mate editors’ likings. An amateur might write down a few interesting metaphors or pen just as decent a story—a beginning, a middle, and an end—publish a few in some low circulation or obscure quarterlies; it might a few years later change a portion of the face of the globe, and such a figure might or might not get to be known even inside the publishing community. Impact and creativity was fantastic. But the genre writer was straight on your eyes, because it was a form of fantasy, page by page, as while he repeated the lines written by another; if you watched television or went to the movies, plots came free and life was a contrived and clichéd vessel. He and the non-reading public became well acquainted, because, quite frankly, Carnesto never really wrote anything of worth. He was beat as a child if he got less than a B, sometimes his father would hit the bottle and then creep into his room in the middle of the night and display his inebriation. Carnesto even had a lax imagination at times to show for it. A character like himself writing fiction was like a dead fourth brain inside the human skull. Internet crazies with drug addictions thought he was super-important, and he might think so too. That spelled out Web Idol. But there was a difference between the web idol and the literary idol. For real writers the grandeur of self-satisfaction spelled New Heroes, New Days, New Minds, New Attitudes, New Influences. For Carnesto it often meant just another day glaring at that screen in the back of that smoky truck stop diner, full of resentment and false pride.
He’d even met an amateur one day, typing crazily and happily a few booths away. He went over to him and said, “Are you a writer by any chance?” and he saw next to the computer a stack of black and white magazines. “You know if you are, you really shouldn’t prostitute yourself to such small publications like this.”
They talked a bit and it just so happened that this other typist was also into genre. When he’d heard that, Carnesto felt embarrassed asking the amateur for advice; he even glanced over his shoulder to make sure Colbert and the diner regulars weren’t watching. “But these periodicals you’re in are mere fanzines,” he said. “Why do it for so little money?”
“Oh, you must be from the Old School,” the amateur writer said. “Because you only live once, and there are many other rewards and remunerations from this kind of writing.”
“No! I—I don’t understand it!” He actually clenched his hands into fists and grinded his teeth. “I—I don’t compute!”
“Well, of course you don’t. I noticed you over there, just spacing out at your screen. I didn’t want to say anything but it was just an observation.”
“What observation? What are you talking about?” Carnesto looked slightly heated.
“You know, progress.”
“Dear sir, I’ll have you know that I AM A PRO.” It almost sounded like he was doing a Colin Baker schtick. “I’ve appeared in these two publications and I was paid such and such a sum!”
“But look at the dungeon you’ve put yourself in. There’s no key to the door, no crawlspace, no way to get out. You get no satisfaction from it. It’s sad.”
“How can I get no satisfaction when the credits exist?”
“But you obsess over something you’ll still never be.”
“Are you trying to say I’m pathetic?”
“When I look from afar, yeah, I guess.” Then the amateur went on to say how many professional writers hate their lifestyles, their jobs, their families and their miserable existences. How it’s not as easy as it looks. “You see, I exist outside the bubble. You are trapped inside the bubble, where there are all sorts of stigmas and silly rules. Outside the bubble, there’s relaxation, lack of worry, so much space and area to explore. I live life to the fullest, you obviously don’t. Inside the bubble, you’re confined and injected with this malcontent. Even now, instead of focusing, you probably watch other writers making it one step ahead of you and feel like a prisoner in your own skin.”
“But I have two pro credits! I have two pro credits! Two pro credits!”
“That still does not make you a professional.”
“Yes it does! Two pro credits make me a somebody!”
The amateur looked back at Carnesto’s laptop and said, “Then if you’re a somebody, why are you dilly-dallying with me at my table when you should be over there writing your third professional credit?”
Then he explained to Carnesto that: Nothing x Nothing = Nothing.
But Carnesto wouldn’t have it, no matter how much the amateur tried to break things down to him. He stormed off insisting that he was right and the amateur was wrong. He stormed off insisting that he was this famous thing, trained by long forgotten grandmasters and alcoholic slush pile editors. The more Carnesto saw the cobwebs under his arms and suspected his own imposture, the exaggeration of his value, that his sublime vogue was just a façade for the crazies, the more he began to drink, cheat on the missus, and dissipated. He almost felt like lashing out his own failures in life on somebody who wouldn’t suspect, somebody he wished to be.
A few weeks later, in decline, reading from time to time of his own professional wane or passing, experiencing the oh-he’s-washed-up coldness of the public and the literary critics, and now, having lost his mind, having lost prestige or real value, he decided to choose his victim carefully and make that individual feel the same way. He wanted to make somebody feel just as inwardly collapsed. Emotionally, physically, professionally, deflated beyond recovery.
This would be his release. He would call himself “The Winner” at times.
But there was nothing to be won.
During these days, when he went on the Internet actively seeking people he hated or wished to be, or just couldn’t stand being happy because his own life lacked joy, his wife walked about with a deep inner upset. Carnesto, still not recuperated from his own lack of success, didn’t have the energy or desire to make love to her. They were often quiet at the dinner table, too.
“When are you going to get off that fucking Internet! I didn’t marry a robot. You’ve become this—this computer junkie. I needed you yesterday!”
There Carnesto sat at his computer, in a slumped position, head straight forward and practically paying her no mind.
“Did you hear what I said? I needed you!”
“Why? Because your friend Janet’s brother is in the hospital on a respirator?”
“That poor devil was in a terrible accident. He might not make it through another night.”
“So let them pull the plug. It’s not as if she cared about him anyway. They had their differences. If I’m a computer junkie, so’s she. Tell me, how many hours does she spend on the Web? If you ask me, she’ll probably be relieved once her parents fly back and they take the fellow off life support. Oh, and don’t ask me to come to the funeral.”
“Carnesto, what’s wrong with you?” his wife pleaded. “You were never like this!”
“I’m busy! Working!”
“On a fucking messageboard? Who are you talking to anyway?”
“This is strictly business. Now please get the fuck out of here.”
His wife came over and threw down some drug paraphernalia. His eyes glanced it briefly as he typed away. “And where did you get this?”
“I don’t know where you got that, but it’s definitely not mine.”
“Smoking drugs with that crack whore. I spotted you with her the other day, chatting about. She’s the big druggie and floozy of the neighborhood.”
“You know her?” Carnesto asked.
“Who doesn’t! What are you doing with that meth head?”
“We… We get along together. We understand each other.” There was a brief silence. “Oh, you wouldn’t understand. You’re not a writer, you’re not a professional. How could you understand?”
“Carnesto, I know full well what you do. You’re slacking off. You’re not the man I once knew. You talk of writing yet you haven’t written or edited a single draft in three months.”
He quickly changed the subject, talking about her inconsistencies: her manners, her mind, her language.
“Shit,” she screamed at him, “you’re always trying to make an idiot out of me!”
“I fear it’s a lost cause,” he said to her, then swiveled around in his chair back to his computer. “Just like this poor chap…”
“I’m not a lost cause! I’m your wife!”
“Says you. I’m giving you a difficult assignment. Change yourself a little,”—but this had only been an excuse to get rid of her and focus on his new computer mate—“make yourself into something fine. Learn how to cook or something.”
“I like the time I’m having with you now! If I didn’t care about you, if I didn’t care about our marriage, I wouldn’t be here begging with you, would I?”
The logic made him laugh.
Christ, she said to herself, he hasn’t fucked me in a month. I ought to go down to the pub or get a piece somewhere else.
He sensed her thought, but he was still heavily focused on something else.
“Look, darling, I’ll be with you in a few days. Now don’t get impatient. This Web business will all be over soon.”
“If that crackhead came along here, you’d be able to put out,” she complained. As she headed for the office door, she added, “And make sure you don’t do anything with her here!”
A little celibacy will be good for her, he thought to himself, grinning wickedly. It’ll drive her wild, and besides, I’ll get what I started online finished. They said I wasn’t a pro, I gave them helpful advice, but they just tossed me away. Well no more!
As time went on, his dilapidation showed. He didn’t shave, didn’t shower. He didn’t even brush his teeth. Lack of hygiene. But he couldn’t and wouldn’t let it be a singular ruin, as he was bent on taking someone else down with him. This was his therapy, because they all said and felt he wasn’t good enough. He was bent on destroying this other person who was almost a perfect identical image to him…
…only happy with life.
He went to messageboards, review sites, emailed friends of his—if one didn’t know any better, they’d think he was a full-time stalker—wherever this individual had been last, he would be there to spy and bait. Sometimes he even forced sleep deprivation upon himself and Googled the individual’s name as much as one hundred times in a single day. All the while muttering to himself, “I’m a professional! I’m a professional! I’m a professional!” At other times, he would say, “Fucking amateur! Fucking amateur! Fucking amateur!” He had become so obsessed with this other person’s writing career, that not only had he almost permanently forgotten his own, but he started checking his victim’s work for logistical and grammatical errors that either did not exist or just wasn’t to his liking.
Sometimes he thought of his ex-wife—by now, she had dumped him and not only was his computer on constantly, but he always carried a whiskey bottle and a loaded revolver by his side—and his marriage to her had been his foundation to begin with, and she was the only woman he had ever loved. “I will not pose any longer as a married woman nor tell myself any longer that this is a marriage,” she had said.
The words stayed on with him, fatally, robbing him of much. So along with the victim on his computer console, his life had spiraled downward and proceeded from one self-robbery to another, depriving him of the people and dreams he once had, though without doubt, by the nature of his current self, he had earned his defeats. And his only friends? Well, they were crazies.
The court awarded his ex custody of their little girl, and he must pay alimony until she remarried. But she hadn’t done that, and the cost of maintaining her lifestyle, and the costs of his daughter, had been a drain.
About three, four times a year he saw them. He was entitled visitation rights with his child, but his computer life always cut in, and there were times where he didn’t pursue the privileges. Besides, it was always unpleasant to see his wife for a few minutes or hours, only to realize he could never have her around permanently.
There came a point where his daughter had reached the age of twelve, and here he was, still latched on to his computer and his writer victim, who had started moving on to other things. The girl had lost her childhood charm and matured into a shapely, thinned-down girl. She had her father’s haunting features and the same bone structure as he. Carnesto was pleased with her beauty, and he complimented his wife. “You’ve done a fine job with the girl.” He held his daughter’s hands and stared at her.
His daughter said, “I think you’re so wonderful, Daddy. Everybody does.”
“It’s your mom who’s wonderful. Surely you must know what everybody else knows, that I’m a big international bum.”
“It’s not true, Daddy; you’re simply fabulous. I see all your literary works in a pile over there.”
He laughed. “I may let you head up the Carnesto Johanna Fan Society.”
“You’re so outrageous, Daddy, so simply outrageous.”
His now-ex came along. “Honey, be careful. You might fall afoul of someone like your father and get your life garbled before it begins.”
“Is your life so garbled?” Carnesto asked.
“I’m trying to spare her some of the things we’ve been through ourselves. Like computer privileges?”
“Don’t spare her any of that, and don’t do me any favors.”
When his ex left the room he looked over his daughter. She had leaping, anxious eyes, and she was crowding her father, wanting his attentions, even his arms around her. “Glad to see your mother letting you sleep over finally.” He looked around at the small flat. “It’s not much. At least, not like on my old teacher pay. Not like we used to have.” He grabbed hold of her and gave her an earthy kiss. He held her tightly and his hands, from a lifetime of typing and not touching, found its way over her developing breasts. His face flushed. What the hell was going on?
He felt rocked. He pulled himself away from her. He had a frenetic look on his face, which his daughter studied but couldn’t understand. With my own daughter, he told himself, staring at her loving face, her body full of trust and affection. What am I thinking? He wondered whether other fathers had incestuous surges toward their beautiful daughters. He paced up and down cursing his passions.
After his ex left and said she’d return on Sunday, he couldn’t get his daughter out of his mind, or quite out of his blood. He started looking for the revolver. You bastard, he said to himself, wanting to jazz his own child. He looked at the messageboard on the computer and thought he saw a familiar name sign in. “It’s your fault, you fucking amateur!”
“Daddy, are you okay?”
The gun was nowhere to be found. It had to be there. Maybe in a drawer, maybe underneath the bathroom sink. The incident preyed on him; it was a new experience, unlike writing fiction, and the thought shocked him. He had a second moment’s agony. How many crazies had such thoughts about their daughters, he wondered. He knew a lot of crazies, but why did the notion persist with him? There she was, in his imagining, all fresh and full of young blood, a handsome smile on her face all the while, a touch of cherry blossom softness in her cheeks, eyes wide and curious. He looked down and saw a bulge in his pants; he was rock-hard. Maybe, he said to himself, it’s a case of me wanting to screw myself. She looks like me. Goddamit, I better stay far away.
Then, as his daughter was changing in the bathroom, getting ready to go to sleep, he found the gun sticking out from one of the higher shelves of his bookcase. That one particular shelf had been lined with all the anthologies ever created, all the books ever produced, all the periodicals of the writer he had been victimizing all these years, and he realized, “Holy shit! I’m your number one fan.”
Glancing quickly over his shoulder, he saw flashing. When he turned around to face the computer he saw action on the screen. The numbers on the board lit up, and the writer, who he had lashed out his own misgivings and failings on for all those years had scored a book deal. “Oh no. Oh no, you don’t! You fucking amateur! I’ll prove you don’t deserve this!” He started tearing his hair out and walking in circles. Then he grabbed the computer and tried to log in and type right away, but he’d forgotten the password amongst the confusion with his daughter. “No you don’t! Stay at the bottom of the ladder, you fucking slime ball!” The gun was looped around a finger as he wrote.
“Daddy, what’s wrong?”
“I said not now!”
“What don’t you under—”
He swiveled around in his chair and let go of the trigger. A bullet entered the center of his daughter’s chest, ricocheted off her shoulder and lung, and exited through her back. Carnesto fell to his knees. The twelve-year-old girl’s mouth dropped in awe. She was wearing one of those long pink and white Hello Kitty sleep shirts. It began to soak red. The floor soon matched in color.
A few seconds later she collapsed at the side of the bed.
Carnesto rushed to her side, but she wasn’t breathing. Sitting at the edge of the bed, he cradled her in her arms, weeping like a baby. “I’m sorry, child… I didn’t mean to, I swear…” Teary-eyed, he faced the computer and it said that the new book being released by the same author he had victimized from all those years, was a story that, deep down, most hardworking authors working the trenches for many years would be able to associate with. But that was if Carnesto had the desire to live and add it to his collection.
The title, according to the online publicist, was “The Winner”.
Carnesto Johanna had three simple words for that publicist and the author as he put the revolver up to his own head. “I’m a pro…”