The furious clicking of the keyboard sounded throughout the house as Brandon finished what he claimed would be his best work yet. The rain spattering
lightly on the windows worked in counterpoint to the machine-gun bursts coming from behind his office door, creating a pleasant backdrop as Katie sat
on the faded blue loveseat in the living room, sipping her coffee and reading one of the books she'd checked out from the library. With only half an
hour to go before she needed to get ready for the nightshift at the motel, she was anxious to get through at least one more chapter.
A brief silence issued from the hallway, followed by the soft sounds of the LaserJet giving life to formerly blank pages. She knew what was coming,
so her eyes moved greedily down the pages as she heard the office door open. He came down the hallway at an eager trot, and she glanced up to see the
gleam in his eyes. She knew she wouldn't be able to tell him 'no', even before he asked.
"Katie, would you um..." The nervous excitement was evident in his voice; he sounded like a little kid asking to go out and play too late at a
friend's house. "Do you think I could get you to proofread my story?" He indicated a modest stack of papers in his hand. She smiled at him; she
knew that "proofread" was his euphemism for "read it and tell me I'm not wasting my time, no matter how bad it is, but do it honestly."
"Of course honey, here." He dropped the story into her outstretched hand and walked quickly outside for a cigarette. She could see him just
outside the rain speckled window, clouds of smoke billowing past his head, as he paced nervously like an expectant father in a hospital waiting
She thumbed through the stack to gauge the length of his two weeks worth of effort; ten pages, 12 point font, single spaced. Definitely his
so far. She turned back to the first page and started reading.
Brandon had taken up writing as a hobby a month or so ago, and he loved doing it--she could see that, and she encouraged it. Unfortunately, he had
all of the writing ability of a brick, and some of the short science fiction stories he'd penned might have been better if they had
written by inanimate masonry.
Katie felt bad for thinking this about something he took such obvious pride in, but she couldn't help it--he was terrible. Brandon's characters
were thinner than the paper they were printed on, leaving little more than a name up to the imagination. His ability to drown any cohesive storyline
with adjectives was matched only by an uncanny lack of concern for any plot devices that might catch a reader's interest, like, for example,
With little else to do during her long night shift behind the motel's counter, Katie read an average of two decently-sized novels a week, so she had
an idea of what was "good" writing and what wasn't. She figured that with a couple of years of hard work, Brandon might be able to get away with
writing a review for a book on a second-rate website, working his way up to bigger things, like reviews on Amazon.com. She hated herself for thinking
this way, and as much as she loved him, she almost hated him for making her feel it.
By the time her eyes found the heralded words "The End" at the middle of the last page, she'd come to the conclusion that the extra room for detail
ten pages gave him would've been put to better use had it been left blank. He apparently had been watching her read, as the door opened only moments
after she set the story down. Katie saw the anxious look in Brandon's eyes and her heart sank; she couldn't lie to him about it anymore.
"So, whatcha think? Better?" He shuffled from side to side, trying to both warm up from the cold rain and expend his nervous energy.
"Well, yeah," she said cautiously. It was technically true, like saying three-day-old fish didn't smell as bad as four-day-old fish. It was
essentially the same story as the last three he'd written--alien invasion, humanity enslaved, a couple falls in love against all odds. As Joe Friday
might've said, only the names had been changed, to protect the innocent from any continuing embarrassment his pen would bring them. His wanting
expression drove a tinge of pain into her heart, and she sighed heavily.
"Look, Brandon, you have potential; you could be a great writer. But these alien stories, they're just...it's just not happening." She glanced
at the clock to take a break from the pain in his eyes; she was running late now. "Crap, I need to get ready. Why don't you try a different story?
Try writing what you know." She gave him a kiss as she walked to the bathroom to start her nightly ritual of makeup and fighting her short,
His mental thesaurus could've probably found thirty different words and phrases to make it sound more romantic, but "disappointed" worked well
enough. It wasn't quite a strong enough word--heartbroken, crestfallen, dispirited, all of those felt a little closer--but disappointment was still
what it boiled down to. He walked back to his office after she left, trying not to sulk, or mope, or anything else he'd have one of his
cookie-cutter characters do at such a time. He closed the word processor program, the cursor still flashing at the end of his latest attempt, and
started up a game of solitaire, the only other program he knew how to use other than the standard web browser and email client (neither of which he
really knew how to use very well, but he could do what he needed with them.)
He was still playing as she hurried in forty-five minutes later and gave him a quick kiss goodbye. He played long after he heard the door shut and
her car pull out. He played for quite some time altogether that night, just staring at the green tableau and the sequences of red and black, thinking
of--not pondering, or contemplating, or analyzing--what she'd said.
Write what you know
her voice kept repeating in his mind.
I don't know anything, not to write about anyways
Well, get to know something then
. This was a different voice, not quite hers and not quite his. A little of both, but still unique, seeming
to come from somewhere else entirely.
Get to know something
, it repeated as he fell asleep, staring at the green pixels on the screen.
Brandon woke the next morning to the sounds of the garbage being picked up, indicating it to be slightly after nine A.M. He stretched painfully as he
realized he'd fallen asleep at his desk, apparently writing given the amount of text on the word processor application in front of him. He glanced
sleepily around the room, yawning, trying to get his brain started. He stopped glancing.
He hadn't done
any further writing last night; he'd spent all night playing solitaire. He looked back at the text on the screen--still
there, and definitely not any of his previous work. The number at the bottom of the screen told him there were eight pages of new material here. He
took a quick glance through a few pages and then printed it.
It must be an old story I wanted to go over before bed
, he assured himself under the buzzing whir of the printer. Has to be
printer stopped and he took the pages as he leaned back in his chair. His eyes grew wide as he read.
It was definitely something new, and definitely his best work ever, although he didn't feel as though he was reading his own writing. Hell, it was
actually damned good writing, better than a lot of the short stories he'd read online in the past month or so as he "studied the market" in
Katie's words. But the quality of the writing was only partially what surprised him; the content of the story shocked him even more.
Unlike his normal, cheesy sci-fi fare, the pages in his hands contained a rather erotic story, something he had never even considered writing. The
plot--two strangers meeting in an online chat room, then having an affair--was something straight from a mid-budget skin flick, but the writing was
superb. Just enough detail to keep the story flowing, but not so much as to be tacky. The characters were developed as well as eight pages would
allow; the man bearing much resemblance to Brandon himself (something he'd tried to do several times when working on a lead male, failing miserably
each time), the woman a striking young blonde fresh out of college. By the time he read the last words he was not only aroused, but finishing the
story left him feeling a little empty, like he was saying goodbye to a couple of new friends.
He grinned slyly. Katie might like this, Brandon
, he thought to himself. She might
really like this
. The grin thickened--of
course she would; they had similar tastes in the bedroom, so if he got something out of it, she certainly would. And besides, she always seemed to
get a kick out of those "trashy sex novels" she got at the supermarket.
He looked at the clock on the computer. Nine-thirty-four A.M. She got off work at eight, and was normally home and in bed within forty-five minutes.
She might be a little miffed at him for waking her, but as he glanced back over some of the steamier scenes, he knew it would be a short-lived anger
that the story (and aftermath) would easily compensate for. He got up and walked quietly towards the bedroom.