“Keyboard in the Sky” – New Fiction Writing by R. L. Saunders
Horace Hackett Jr. was head down on his desk, the laptop filled with rows of b’s and the machine bleeping plaintively. Horace’s nose was pressed neatly on that letter, regardless of the machine’s discomfort.
Nearby were several empty bottles of a variety of alcholic beverages.
“Looks like it was beer, then whiskey with a beer chaser, then straight whiskey as the beer was all gone.”
Julie Montcalm was looking over the disheveled mess of the dorm room though the open door.
Behind her stood Micah De Wolf.
Both students were enrolled in the same school as Horace. And both were similarly disgusted by the state of Horace and his dorm room.
Laundry was everywhere but the hamper, with scattered pages of print outs. The printer was blinking and obviously out of ink. Several empty cartridges sat nearby, and more on the floor. They had completely missed the trashcan. Some of his school texts hadn’t.
Shelves for those books were filled with food wrappers and RPG manuals. In and amongst them were grade reports and various bills from equipment dealers and pawn shop receipts.
Micah crossed behind her to the keyboard on it’s stand against the wall. He put his smartphone into a back pocket and moved some old shirts and unmentionables over to the bed. Clicking the device on and he started a riff with the volume dialed low.
Julie meanwhile had crossed to Horace and pushed his head to the side, stopping the insistent beep. She brushed his thick locks away from his face with a soft touch, more as an elder sister than an editor asking after her story. The alcohol on his breath rose to her nose and she stepped back, raising her hand to it as if to shield it from further offense
At that, Horace moaned and slowly squinted his eyes to see who was bothering him. He saw someone standing there, sideways in his vision as it cleared. Slim, in tight jeans lit from the hallway light, it was obviously a her or a she. The curving hips on long legs was definitely not his room mate or any of the many female visitors that infrequently graced the male dormers. These were black jeans, cut for dual purpose of business as well as displaying her feminine charms. Not that he’d have a chance to bed this one, he recognised the ring on her hand as it left his forehead.
Tracing the line of her silhouette up the side of her form-fitting light blue and white checkered blouse, his head collided with the unlit desk lamp. He jerked his head away and the effort made his vision swirl again. Rubbing the bump it was sure to leave was more a habit than needful. His scalp was assuredly numb from the result of all those bottles that had emptied themselves into his mouth not far below.
“So it’s obvious that there is no story for me tonight.” The tight jeans had a commanding voice.
Horace’s ears were assaulted by the volume. He opened his eyes wide at this. “Julie! I’d say this was a pleasant surprise, but apparently you’re here on business.”
“Do you even know what day this is? Do you know that the Atworthy Quarterly is due to ship for publishing tomorrow? Do you?!?”
Horace held his ears with both hands, knowing that her voice could pierce through concrete and so his hand would do little to protect his throbbing head.
“Oh, is it that time already? I was just finishing up when I must have dozed off.”
“Dozed off after a six-pack and a quart of cheap whiskey? Or…” At this, she pulled a skimpy piece of lingerie off the top of that lamp, holding it up as evidence before his eyes, “Did you have some company to help you empty them?”
Horace focused on the sheer article she was dangling in front of him, tried to grab it, and missed as she cast it accurately into the trash can.
“Whoever the owner of that, I doubt she’ll miss it.”
Horace knew there was no response needed to that comment. No comment he could add other than to change the subject.
Micah was playing a soft tune in a dirgeful key, as if to bury the conversation they were having, or set the theme for what was coming.
“I said I nearly completed your story, just polishing up the next draft of it.”
“Since when did you start working in drafts? That’s why you got the job. You always write clean copy from the start. Engaging action and ‘the reader is pulled along for the adventure within seconds.’ Wasn’t that your last review? Or did you write that one, too?”
“Well, that was a good story. But this one is even better.”
She picked up some sheets from the floor. “What is this, romance? Or a tawdry sex romp between werewolves and vampires? We can’t be showing this to Alumni!”
“No, no, that was for Sheila. I was just showing her how anything could be changed from one genre to the next. Read closely and you’ll see how O. Henry has been changed to D. H. Lawrence within the modern forbidden love of popular paranormal…”
“Oh, this was just another effort of yours to bed another undergrad by prostituting your writing gifts.”
“Selling stories to potential publishers is either whoring all the way or not at all. Silvie has a blog and wanted some racy material for it. Evidently she left here without her copy.”
Micah had changes the music into something more sprightly, with a travelling theme.
Julie glanced to the trash and frowned, “Among other things.”
“Well I wasn’t aware of her leaving at the time…”
“And the promised story? Should I be prepared to re-shuffle the contents and drag up some over-used ‘classic’ from the morgue because you missed another deadline?”
Her arms now crossed her chest, which Horace noted created an enticing effect in the soft checkered fabric covering it. Tracing the buttons up to her collar and jawline gave him something to focus his eyes on. At that, one of her arms reached out and grabbed his chin to focus his eyes on hers.
“Well, Mr. Observant? Can you get your mind on the work you were supposed to deliver? And off female anatomy?
“Well, Jules, that’s a tough option with you in the room.”
She spun on her heel in disgust, arms now akimbo on her hips.
Micah looked over from his energetic keyboard sweeping to see Horace now focused on the accented area in between Julie’s arms. At that, Micah paused for effect a full measure.
Julie, realizing she had fallen for another or Horace’s ploys, sat down on the rumpled bed, and crossed her legs precisely away from Horace. Stooping to pick up an empty bottle from the floor, she raised her head and pulled the bottle, leading his Horace’s vision up her legs to her hand. She pointed its neck at him like a stiletto blade.
“Now do I have your attention? Lets get your mind out of the gutter.” She flung the beer bottle past him, bouncing off the wall to land expertly on the lingerie in the trash. In one fluid move, she uncrossed her legs, snatched up her Cappichino from his desk with its secure lid, and thrust it into Horace’s hands.
“Drink up. You’ve got work to do.”
Horace removed the top and carefully sipped the hot, sweet liquid. While it had no immediate effect, they both knew it would eventually.
Micah resumed with a Brahms lullaby as a sarcastic comment about Horace’s condition.
“No, really, the story is nearly there. It has a great plot. A hunk of a hero rescuing a strong-willed lady who was imprisoned by a notorious villain, all set in the Caribbean…”
“Wait, Horace, isn’t that just like one your Father wrote? One of his ‘greatest hits’?”
Horace paused for only a short moment. “‘All that’s ever been told has never been new’. The point here is that I can write any story I want and make a new page-turner out of it.”
Julie was caught up in her original idea. “Wasn’t that the one where he took his friend and put him into the story as the villain?”
“Yea, supposedly his greatest work. But that’s not this one. I can do his stuff much better than he ever did. Because he only ever wrote for a single character, himself. All the other characters were standing like cardboard cutouts. Mostly melodrama where the characters reacted to the plot. But that was the day, and that was what he was good at. People wanted pulp fiction.”
“Look, we just need a decently long piece to hold the issue together. And it has to be good enough to make sure the Atworthy College Alumni are impressed and will shower down some donations. If you can’t do that, then I’ve got to find someone else.” She rose and smoothed her checkered blouse, readying herself for other appointments.
“No, wait. Settle down. I’ve just got to wrap up some details in the dialogue and add some more color to the ending. You’ll have your story.”
“And by midnight tonight. No later. I’m going to have to get the line-editor and proofer up early as it is, but they’ve already been told to expect your stuff and are giving up their Sunday to have it all ready by Monday publishing. And you’ll be sending it to my cloud account so I can follow what you’re doing.”
“Whoa, I don’t do oversight editing. My stuff is original and complete when I say it is.”
“That might have been for other stories. This one you’ve worn out your last favor. I need to know you’re working on it, and not shacking up with some bimbo who knows she can flash her chest or skimpy shorts at you. This isn’t just some clickbait to get traffic.”
“No, this is prime stuff, top notch, real entertainment.”
“It better be. I don’t have time to mess with anything else. Of course, getting your grades depends on it.”
“Remember, you had to sign for that advance.”
“I thought it was just a release.”
“Since when have we made you sign a release. Although you did look a bit hung-over.”
“I was late for a party, er, meeting. What did I sign for?”
“That until that story arrived, the school would be able to hold your grade report. And that means your dear parent’s purse strings would be harder to loosen for your next semester.”
Horace slumped in his chair, lounging back and nearly hitting that desk lamp again.
Micah rolled into a minor key with his melody, matching the suddenly darkening scene.
“Well, I’m for it then. Better get to work.” At that he brightened. “You should see how this starts out. Swashbuckling is back again, along with the paranormal…”
“Just no vampires or zombies, OK? Remember, it’s Alumni that are supposed to be impressed, not your female writer-groupies.”
“No, no, it’s a real classic. Caribbean conflicts with English vs. Spanish. Privateers versus the almighty Armada. And mysterious happenings due to the native Amerindian influences working against the Catholic church interests.”
“You are going to be sensitive to minorities in this one? If you’re just revamping your dad’s one-hit wonder, then you’ve got to do more for Indians than call them lying spies. And then there’s that muscular pin-headed dark flunky…”
“Oh, come on, you know me better than that.”
“And why I had to ask. Your dad could get away with that in the ’30’s, but now we have all sorts of sensitivity committees who can’t censure your stories, but can raise a ruckus with the sympathic agenda-pushing press.”
“I get it – your job depends on this story.”
Julie bristled at this, pointing a manicured finger in his direction, “Don’t get thinking you can put me over a barrel. I’ve already got another story ready to slip in, if or when you screw the pooch on this one.”
Horace leaned back. “No, this story is rolling out like clockwork. I’m just revising the second Act of it now, right as the hero is getting into massive trouble over his head. It’s a great plot, all driving suspense and conflict. Mystery and Romance to boot. You’ll see.”
Micah brightened the tempo and went back into a major chord, similar to an action soundtrack by Williams.
“And no plagiarism. I’ve got a copy of your dad’s work, so you’d better make this good. Original. No copy/paste/rework.”
Horace’s mouth opened in shock, eyes wide while his rest of his body relaxed. “You don’t mean you are copy-checking my work. I’m shocked.”
“Oh, you’re about to say you’ve never pulled his or other people’s stuff up to pass them off as your own.”
“Copying the masters is a time-honored tradition painters have used…”
“And plagiarism can get you expelled along with anyone who edited or approved it. So don’t try my patience.”
“It’s easier to pull from real life. Like Micah over there would make a great model for the villain. Totally modern day. Aristocratic blood lines, but a commoner’s ancestry with his parents mixing according to current norms.”
Micah saw where this was going and stopped the accompaniment. “Wait, I’ve read your dad’s story. This is where you write me into it and all hell breaks loose. My life goes to hell and I have to listen to some damned typewriter in the sky telling me how I’m going to act. I don’t have time for this. I have an audition coming up for the Philharmonic.”
“Oh come on, Mikey, that’s just nonsense. Fantasy. Never happened in real life.”
“You haven’t talked to my Dad about that. He had nightmares for months after your dad wrote him into the story.”
“It’s just modelling. Take Julie here, she’s a much better ‘Lady Marion’ for that story than the cutout pasteup that my dad used. Auburn-haired, take-charge sort of gal who sees what she wants and goes after it. No-nonsense, but a heart of gold.”
Julie brightened at that and tucked her hair behind her ear, smoothing her blouse and leaning on one hip, with her other hand slipped into a back jeans pocket.
Micah continued. “No. You’re not using me in this one. I’ve got to go practice… Hey, What’s that awful smell?” He got up, trying to see if there was some recent spill he’d sat in or near.
Horace pushed on, “Imagine if Julie were there, the story would have turned out completely different. The men would have been eating out of her hands. And Julie’s sensible, hard-working approach to your craft shows in your schoolwork and would make the villain far more intelligent and discerning.
“These days of writing have to take the characters into account in writing the story. You just can’t have hackneyed melodrama pulled from some Plot Genie. Readers want real people in their stories, believable. So real they want the next installment in the series. We can do this up into a real page-turner. The college mag will have another collectible on their hands!”
Micah muttered, “Whatever. I’ve heard this before. But what is that smell? Is your toilet plugged again?” He moved around Julie to the dorm’s bathroom and entered.
Julie shook out of her reverie, “Just remember you have a midnight deadline. No funny business. If you can deliver half of even what you’re promising…”
Her frown returned. “Look, I really don’t care. I want something that will be a decent piece that doesn’t offend anyone but entertains them. It had better be good and better be on time. I don’t want to spend all night fixing your goofs and then have to throw it away. Just don’t waste my time. Don’t even try.”
At that, she stormed from the room and pulled the door tight behind her with a thump.
With the doors closed in his life except the story in front of him, Horace had to get to work. Picking the other empty bottles off the desktop, he added them to the wastebasket with a mental note to check across the hall for more trashbags. As he did, he smiled as the contrasting colors between them and the bright feminine article there. Then he nudged the rest of the bottles under the desk out of any accidental kicking range.
This was going to be some serious writing, he thought. Well, he always worked better under pressure.
Picking up the coffee again, he could almost smell Julie’s perfume on the cup. But that was probably his imagination working again. What a gal she is. Taking a deep drink from the cooling liquid seemed to clear his head. Minmizing all the other windows on his computer screen, be began again.
The clattering of the keyboard soon became the only sounds in the room.
Micah found the odor in the bathroom but wasn’t sure what was causing it. The door seemed to shut on his own, as if by reflex. In the darkness, he flicked on the switch. With a pop, the light went out. As his eyes accustomed to the darkness, he saw a series of steps going down toward some misty light source way below. Turning back to grab the door handle, he almost toppled off the step he was on.
There were no walls, no door, nothing but these old and moldering steps he was standing at the top of.
It hit him then.
Damn that Horace Hackett! He’s writing me into the wrong story. This isn’t his dad’s “Blood and Loot”, this is his dad’s other only hit, a disjointed horror story they had to call weird fiction just to classify it at all. Damn that Horace Hackett.
Well, OK, let’s get this over with. I’m supposed to find my hat and 4 hours of my life. But I can fix that. I know how he ended that story.
So Micah DeWolf started down the steps to his doom.
When Julie came to, she was laying on her back in sand, bright sun shining against her closed eyes. She brought an arm across her eyes to shield the brightness. And noticed the tight-fitting kid-leather glove on her hand. She peered at it, noticing it had incredibly fine stitching and fit almost like it was painted on. And then noticed the billowy white linen blouse that was buttoned tightly on her wrist. When did she put on gloves and what was this white linen she was wearing? It wasn’t the simple checkered blouse she’d put on to this morning before she woke up Horace…
She sat up. That was no blouse, it was a full gown with what felt like pearls sewn into it around the neck. And there was a wide-brimmed white felt hat with a silken strap nearby.
As the sound of the booming surf reached her ears, she looked around. A toothy series of rocks were being washed by a restless sea. To her right, a craggy point reached up and posed a brownish silhouette against a crystal blue sky.
Turning her head, she saw a great bay horse munching grass just inland of where the pristine white sand beach ended. As she struggled to her feet with the folds of long dress making her rise less than elegant, she also noted that she was wearing long leather riding boots, and was that, oh no. None of our modern underwear was invented yet. She could feel the cool sea breeze just about everywhere it could flow under the dress hem. The form-fitting dress was at least holding her top in, even without stays (or was their a corset under there?) Regardless, it was exposing a bit too much flesh for her taste.
How did she… where was she? No. NO. He. Didn’t.
“Horace Hackett. You ASS!”
But there were no echoes against that booming surf.
This was “Blood and Loot” again. Damn that Horace Hackett. His father’s greatest hit. He said he wouldn’t.
But one thing consistent about Horace was that he’d kept to his dad’s legacy. Say whatever you want, do whatever you want. Just keep people happy telling them whatever they think they want.
Now she was in his story. But that’s OK, she new how this one ended.
Wait, what’s this? In a side pocket of her dress, neatly sewn and positioned to hide itself, was her smartphone. And it had a full charge. Of course no bars. But somehow was getting a wifi signal. Was this ever strange… The settings said this was the dorm server. Yes! A little tapping got her into the cloud filesharing and she looked up Horace’s story.
Of course, he hadn’t actually finished it. He was only at the beginning. And she had just been written into it. “Flame-headed woman,” he had written.
Pulling a lock of hair up to look at it, Julie was impressed. Her hair had never been that red. And it must have grown a foot longer. Gorgeous, even for being wind-blown, and not a speck of sand in it.
Her linen dress was close, tight around the waist. She smoothed and tucked the skirt into a more comfortable fit. But it looks like she was a few pounds lighter. Whoever was her dressmaker knew how to accentuate her natural curves. And maybe a cup-size or two bigger… Horace, you devil.
Back to her smartphone, she scrolled back to find the backstory. Let’s see. Irish father, a land owner and spoke mostly rubbish with a very poor accent. Horace never could get dialects right. Big land holdings, and she was his only heir. Could ride and fight with a sword or musket. So far so good. Otherwise, the story just started with her fully grown, single, and “ripe.” She’d have some words for Horace when she got back. Fiction writers could write about whatever they wanted, but when they are dealing with real people…
Wait. She was now a fiction character. She paused for a moment. There it was. The sound of plastic keys clattering in the sky. Great.
Like father, like son. Damn both of those Hacketts.
She then scrolled back up and saw the words had continued without her. So far, so good.
On a lark, she pulled up the elder Hackett’s work. Let’s see. This had her entering the scene pretty quickly. The villain was supposed to wash up on the beach and she was supposed to keep her own goon squad from killing him.
As if on cue, the horse winnied and came over to her. The reins now were over his neck and on the pommel of that English side-saddle. So much for grazing. She stroked the gelding’s nose as he continued forward to nuzzle her and bury his nose in her flaming hair. Probably likes the lavender scent, she thought. Julie pocketed the smartphone.
But how am I suppoed to get up on this huge beast? And loop my leg around that saddle to hang on? Usually they had servants to help…
And suddenly, not only was she mounted , but galloping down the beach toward musket fire in the distance. Not only did she know how to ride and control this animal, but apparently could be a cover girl for Horsewoman Monthly. As if on cue, her dress parted to show her cleavage to the sun and the wind exposed a bit of leg above the top of her leather boots. The galloping seemed in slow motion which tended to highlight her new feminine charms as she rode in the saddle. (Mental note: Horace would get words about this when she got back.)
Coming up on her first real scene in the book, she saw the villain, a Spanish don, defending himself on eight sides by her troops. He was holding his own. Dirk, the black-bearded tall one, was saying something to Red. The villain just killed one of her men with a point to the throat, then another with one to the heart. Finally, someone knocked his sword out of his hand. And that was her cue.
The horse had moved her right up to the action, and the words came out of her mouth, “Stay! Back, you gutter sweepings! Dirk, hand him his sword, if he’ll permit a fatherless varlet to touch it!” (Boy, that was really stupid line-choice there. Like anyone would treat their own staff like that. Even in those ages. Basically calling an employee a bastard to his face. Note to self: Have to clean that up.)
She heard a noise behind her. “And get out of here before my groom starts laying the ‘cat on you.” Oh, and here’s the stereotypic black oaf magically appearting, seven-foot tall with a cat-o-nine-tails that he’s swishing menacingly. (Gawd, you’d think that Horace Jr. would have fixed his dad’s plot holes.)
So her squad then leaves her with this guy that has his weapon back. She’s on her horse, but even her groom is gone. Nothing but the beach, this villain and the three guy’s he’s killed.
Then the villain suddenly gets a hat with feather, swoops it off his head as he bows, and then falls to the ground, senseless, landing face down on one of the men he had killed.
Now, how is she supposed to get him back to her father’s place with no one around? (I guess this is why he simply had a scene shift…)
Micah saw a doorway about thirty steps down, and moved toward it. A few steps down, there was a peal of thunder and the earth rolled together over his head, putting the whole flight into darkness. (OK, that’s weird. He’d started out from a second story bathroom.)
As he felt and groped his way forward, step by step, he felt something hitting his leg in his pocket. Feeling for it, he put his hand in the tweed pants (funny, he had been wearing some chinos back in the dorm room. If this had been “Blood and Loot” they would have been pantaloons, so the small favor of pockets were welcome, itchy tweed or not.)
Punching the side of it illuminated the screen. He turned on the flashlight and was able to see the rest of the way down. While some of the steps were three feet tall and others merely inches, he was able to make the distance as evenly as possible under the conditions.
The landing had no door. OK, this was where something else happened. Turning off the flashlight app, he saw that he was still in the shared folder on the server. He had been looking it up while walking down the hall with Julie to Hackett’s dorm room. In that folder he found that he had a copy of Hackett senior’s only other hit story in it. That weird fiction trope-fest. Scrolling along, he found where he was in it and what was supposed to happen and then went further.
There it was. The point where an old, demented lady opened the door. Switching to editing mode, he put the cursor there and started typing.
In Micah’s version, the feeble light came on and a door knocker with medusa on it magically appeared. And instead of knocking, he simply turned the unlocked door knob and flooded the stairs with bright Caribbean light coming in from the windows of the room beyond. Micah then entered the room and closed that door behind him.
No old lady, no snarky young boy, no mystery here. “Blood and Loot”, just like was supposed to happen.
And then he found himself naked in a big four-poster bed with a bandage on his head and his side. Great.
Right on clue, a black servant wearing only a white gown came in the room with a tray. He helped Micah sit upright and fluffed the pillows behind his back. Then he put the tray on Micah’s lap and left.
Melon, a bottle of wine, some sweet buns, a pot of coffee, glasses, mugs, silverware, plates, and an envelope. (Which meant the tray was huge to hold all that. Another Hackett plot hole.) Micah opens the envelope and smells the lavender, reads the horrible version of “Old” English, and gets that Lady Marion hopes he’s doing better and can join them this afternoon.
Here’s where he suddenly remembers the audition, and found the tray had somehow moved off his lap and over to the side of the bed. What Micah remembered was finding that smartphone. Where did it go this time? He went over to the piles of clothing all cleaned and neatly folded. Rummaging through them, he found it. Full charge, still. So far, so good. Opens up the file-sharing app and scrolls down to that place in the story he was supposed to be in.
Let’s see. Ok, skip that. Micah started typing. Gym shorts with pockets. Poof. That was a little less drafty. Now, skip the servant helping him get dressed. Poof. Fully dressed and stuffy in all this humid climate. At least the shoes were comfortable.
Next, skip ahead and…
Poof. There he, looking out the window and just had told the servant to summon the mistress.
And he was hearing the clatter of the keyboard in the distance. He heard the door open, the rustle of silk as the lady bowed. He then turned and bowed himself.
Shock and awe resulted as they both rose.
Micah and Julie saw each other. Micah dressed as a Spanish count, Julie with her long very red hair (flaming) was piled high on her head with a gorgeous form-fitting dress that swept the floor.
Micah was the first to recover, closed his slack jaw, and reached inside his pantaloons to the gym shorts where his smartphone was secured. He opened up the editing app and saved it to “draft” mode. That would keep Horace from changing things for a little bit.
Julie saw what he was doing and cocked her head to listen. No clattering keyboard.
She said, “That was a smart move. He can type away, but it won’t affect us until we take it off edit mode.” She got her own smartphone out and did the same. Her story was already scrolled to that point. “I wish I had thought of that before. But I didn’t suspect we’d both be here.”
“Yea, that was a surprise to me as well. But you sure clean up nice. Never thought your hair was that red. And Horace can sure turn a nice phrase on how to dress you. How you got into such a tight dress is beyond me.”
“It was one of those ‘poof’ moments where it just happens. I just have to make sure I keep my hand on my smartphone when there’s a scene change. These dresses don’t necessarily have pockets, unless I edit them into it. Oh, and I also give myself some more comfortable underwear. Some of these period dresses are real scratchy. Bloomers hadn’t even been invented. Airy under all this.”
“Hey, I don’t mean to be impolite, but have to get this out of the way. Did he give you a bigger rack?”
Julie blushed and then nodded, “It seems like it. But I haven’t had a chance to check, since we haven’t gotten to any of the scenes were this character is even remotely disrobed.”
“I think we can move around in this story pretty much any way we want.”
“The bigger problem is that Horace is making just as big a mess out of this as his dad did. Plot holes that have plot holes. This is going to keep me into an all-nighter just editing this into shape. I’ve still got to get that issue out tomorrow.”
Micah walked over to the big bed, sat on it’s edge, and motioned Julie over. “Help yourself to some sweet buns and coffee. Or maybe you’d like melon and wine.”
“I’m starving, thanks.” She waltzed over in the long dress to the bed and leaned against its edge. Then she pulled up a sweet bun and chomped into it. Her smile told Micah how great it tasted, even though her mouth was too full to say anything.
Micah topped up his cup of wine and passed the bottle over to Julie. “Try this, it’s really good. A bit of a jolt, but sweet.”
Julie set down the sweetbun, reached for the cup that came with the coffee and filled it with wine. She then sliced off a piece of melon and chewed it as she looked off into space. “Have you got a plan for this?”
Micha pulled up his smartphone and started scrolling with his free thumb. “Now the original story has the villain surviving and the hero disappearing under a collapsing front porch. Lady Marion ends up in the villain’s arms but there’s no trace of her at the end.”
“Well, we’ll have to fix that. Needs a decent romantic ending. Has to include a happily-ever-after.”
Micah stopped and looked at her. “You know that means us. Our characters.”
Julie thought that over. “You know, its probably a good way to get to know you better. But it’s just characters.”
“Right. Just characters.”
Both were scrolling on their smartphones for a bit.
Julie cut the silence next. “Boy I can save us a lot of work on editing later if we do it now. Look, we can go in and out and fix things.”
Micah moved over to her side, “And if we go through to note the plot holes and fix them as we go, then the whole thing will roll right through.”
Julie leaned over and pointed out on his screen, “Look, we can do the whole thing from here, edit it in advance and then flip right to the ending.”
The sun didn’t move for several hours. Any position one of the other characters was in is where they exactly stayed while Julie and Micah did their editing. The big bed was comfy, and they bantered back and forth to fix things. Julie took the big picture approach with the overall story arcs, and Micah would fix the little scenes so it all fit together.
Eventually, they had everything the the way they liked it. Both were happy with the story.
During the course of editing, they’d gotten out of the most uncomfortable garments. Micah was in a grey t-shirt and his khaki gym shorts. Julie was in a light blue halter top and matching bikini briefs. They were lying side by side and smiling.
“You know, Julie, that was fun. Almost as good as sex.”
Julie propped herself up on one elbow and looked at him. “Are you serious? Sex is way better than editing.”
Micah looked deep into her eyes. “I just meant that I’d never had so much fun with anyone before like that. Not that I would ever ask you just to have a romp so we could compare things.”
“No, of course you wouldn’t.”
“No, of course I wouldn’t. Neither would you.”
“Neither would I.”
And silence continued while they continued to their mutual gazing.
Eventually, Julie leaned over, took Micha’s chin in her hand and planted a long kiss on his lips.
When they came up for air, Micah asked, “I don’t mean to be unappreciative, but can I ask you what that was all about?”
Julie smiled. “Well, if I have to have a reason, it was for how you complimented my dress and how you said fit into it.”
“Oh that. You do look nice, all the time. I don’t know how you do it. But I usually don’t have a chance to tell you about it, because it’s either Horace of someone else around who would then make fun of me. I’d never hear the end of it.”
“Really? How long have you been thinking that?”
“Years. Years and years. Ever since we were kids on the same block. Visiting on holidays and such.”
“No. Your kidding.”
Micah shook his head slowly.
Julie leaned over and gave him another peck on the lips.
“Now wait a minute, why was that so short?”
“I like to tease.”
“Hey did you ever think of something? We’ve got the world on pause. We can do whatever we want and don’t have to tell anyone about it. Just us and our fantasies.”
“Yeah, I was wondering when you’d get around to that idea.”
“OK, that’s two for me being the slow one.” With that, he reached up and pulled her arm out so that she dropped down on her back, and in that smooth motion Micah rolled half-way over on top of her, arm across her chest and holding other arm down. Almost in a whisper, he said, “Now, teacher, what do you want me to learn?”
Horace went down to the canteen to get some more coffee. Like a pitcher full.
Kurt von Rachen was at one of the tables waiting for his microwave to beep. He had a pad and mechanical pencil with a large eraser. Kurt was making wild notes and scribbling things down as fast as he could.
“Hey, Kurt, what’s going? You’re going to run out of pencil lead or get a cramp, I don’t know which first.”
“I’m just sprinting while my microwave cooks my Ramen noodles. Something I picked up in my last community critique.”
“Oh, the one where you try to write down all the ideas you can get as fast as you can? It would help if you actually turned the microwave on.”
“No wonder it was going so well. I thought I was going to set a record.”
“I think the point was to be aware of all your inspirations and to be able to get into the Zone simply, not setting idea-production records.”
Kurt paused and sat up, looking at Horace. “You’re probably right. It also explains why I’m so hungry. I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting here. But I’m about out of paper with this pad.”
“OK, let me help.” Horace punched the microwave start button. “It will be about a minute.”
“What are you up to today? Busy improving on my old man’s stuff.”
“Well that could only be ‘Blood and Lust.'”
“That’s ‘Blood and Loot’. Loot. But I’m thinking I should get heavier into the romance story arc. And your title could sell the story better, particularly if I put a bodice-ripper scene or two in it.”
“Well, don’t write anything you’d be embarrassed about later.”
“Me? Embarassed? Not likely. Plus, it would put a pink tinge on that uppity editor I have to deal with. She is so straight-laced.”
“Julie Montcalm? Oh, well in that case, do what you want. I’ve sworn off editors. Now I just self-publish everything. My audience will tell me what they want. I don’t need some editor telling me to do massive re-writes. One and done, that’s my new model.”
“How’s that working for you? Well it’s fine, but did you ever notice that the characters tend to write their own stories? At least editors would tell me that my inciting incident was blase’ or I didn’t compound my complications enough, or my story shift wasn’t dramatic enough. Hell, since I’ve just started asking the characters what they were up to, they give me all sorts of stuff I’ve never thought of before.”
“Yea, characters act strange sometimes, like they were actually alive. And then when I start to write the next scene, it flows out like someone had already written it, that I was just there to type it out. Still exciting and everything. But like the whole thing is out of my hands.”
They were both silent for awhile.
“Your noodles are getting cold.”
Both fully dressed again, Julie wondered outloud to Micah if she should type in a scene where a maidservant does her hair.
“No, it will be fine when the next scene starts. Look.” He took the edit off pause, hit Update all changes, and then hit pause again. Sure enough, her hair was perfect, there was a touch of rouge on her face, and lips, and she the scent of lavender clung to the air around her.
“OK, lets scroll through this as a double-check.”
“No, let’s don’t. No second guessing. Just scroll through to the end and skip all the naval battles and such.”
“OK, here goes…”
As they entered the scene, the sound of clattering plastic keys met their ears.
With shocked looks, Julie and Micah realized that Horace was editing the ending.
And that was their last signt as the scene faded to black…
It was almost midnight when Micah finally swam ashore and then climbed into the heights above Nombre de Dios. By sneaking through the battlefields back to his own cabin, he had discovered all the clues. They added up, finally. Now he solved the mystery of how Bristol had defeated the Spanish fleet. By taking a force in through the unfortified rear flank, he took fhe fort and turned their guns on the Spanish fleet. Then English were then able to crush the unsuspecting Spanish in their own trap.
Unlike the original book, the typing continued up in the sky. Clattering away.
Worse, he must have lost his smartphone in the action. His only hope was to find Julie. Otherwise, between Hackett and Bristol, it’s probable that all their work would be undone. Worse, they could both meet a tragic end. Death by a hack-writer’s fiction. Didn’t sound good at all.
His only companion now was the hot, sultry wind in the palms. The smoke rising from the sacked city hung thick in the air, adding a greasy feel to even breathing.
The English vessels rode the silent waves in the harbor while their crew were practicing their unlimited debauchery on what was left of the town.
While the original Spanish admiral had met his end before this point, Hackett’s dad had continued the story of Mike DeWolf far after this point. And that is what the keyboard was still clicking away at. His Nibs was still working “improving” his dad’s greatest work into his own.
Regardless, this was the end of the book. Micah had to hope that the revisions he and Julie had created were left alone.
Unfortunately, Horace Junior had some of the same cheap approaches to writing his dad had used. Both had used massive word output to simply power through their careers, without the real phrasing or plotting talent that made classics. They were inspired by deficits in their bank accounts. Genre fiction hacks, never true craftsmen.
But that gave Micah an idea that might just work. If Julie still had her smartphone, it would help.
Meanwhile, in the book Micah’s character had been created as a “swordsman without peer, a military genius, a clever and even treacherous gentleman.” So those would be his hole cards to play.
All his crew was dead, even that pin-headed, over-muscled stereotypic flunky he’d been saddled with through the whole story. They were all dead. All he had left to do was to drag himself through these tangled woods toward the darkened cabin his character had occupied so long.
Micah saw lights in the windows showing through their blinds. But he wasn’t here to just peep through cracks and skulk. Horace had written in his rapier was at his side and and a tireless arm. (Probably that unrequited love sub-plot…)
Stepping up to the porch, Micah found a buccaneer sentry sprawled there, bottle just falling from his slack grip onto the porch floor. Drunk was a mild word for it. Mike pulled a pistol from the sash that circled the sentry’s pudgy gut. Holding the gun in his left hand and pulling the guard’s sword with his right, the door had to be opened with a swift kick.
The scene was romantic. A beautiful table lit by tall yellow candles that made Mike’s crystal and gold gleam in their soft, flickering light.
At the far end, sat Julie as Lady Marion, as gorgeous as ever. She was smiling, even more beautiful in her simple gold gown. Julie heard the sound and smiled more broadly, even though she was looking at Micah in the doorway. Or maybe because of it.
Bristol, wearing a pristine turquoise silk shirt and gold sash, started to his feet at the noise. Micah noticed romance written into the scene, with items like “candlelight still in Bristol’s eyes.”
“Gog’s wounds ! Who’s this ?’’
“Oh come off it, Bristol. I’m Miguel St. Raoul de Lobo, and my friends call me Micah. But my friends don’t take over my house and burn the city I’ve been caring for. Nice silverware and gold cups. Oh, right. Those are mine, too.
“Damme!” said Bristol. “Ye’re a ghost!”
“Oh, come on. Just because you’ve been lead to believe you’re invincible doesn’t mean that someone else can’t play that game. It’s just the way you’ve been written. But we can fix that quick enough. You’re about to be edited out of this story.”
Julie was white as she looked from Mike to Bristol, her hand moving under the table.
“But ye’re dead!” cried Bristol. “With my own eyes I saw it!”
“And like you’ve had all this 20-20 vision with a bulletproof insanity to boot,” said Micah. “Come on, don’t dawdle. Spit the rest of Horace’s script out of your mouth.”
“But why . . . have you come back?” said Bristol.
“To kill you. So pick up that rapier and let’s go at it.”
All that talk made no great effect upon Bristol. Being written in with a charmed life for so many books in his shallow series made him stereotypically afraid of nothing. Bristol picked up his rapier from the arms of the chair beside a wall.
Micah almost gave in to the urge to blow his brains out at close range, but realised that it would alarm Julie, and make a mess in edting this story. He knew he was tired, exhausted. There’s every chance that Bristol could skewer him before he could even defend himself. Writing or no writing, this was a dangerous mess.
The chattering keyboard above was nothing reassuring. And prompted words from his mouth that weren’t his.
“Maybe you English fight before your women,’’ said Micah. “I don’t. There’s light on the porch.”
And Bristol followed his own script, snorting with derision, “Marion, please pardon me while I kill this gentleman once and for all.” And then strode past Micah, through the broken door and onto the porch.
Julie wasn’t watching, her head was looking down. Probably avoiding the conflict. Micah thought for a brief moment that she was completely out of character, both for the character Marion and for her.
Micah avoided the plot hole of trying to shut the broken door. He paused past the doorway and looked at English hero Bristol sitting there, taking his boots off.
“You found her very glad to see you I’ve no doubt,” said Mike, following the script to feign jealousy. Like anyone could be as shallow as these charicatures.
“Aye,” said Bristol. “And I’ve a debt to pay you, you hound, for sullying her fair name.”
“Like that bothered you so much you couldn’t keep from asking her to marry you,” said Micah.
“So I did,” said Bristol.
“And she accepted,” said Mike, “and then it went blah, blah, blah. All this stuff about a very touching scene, marching in triumph through the streets of London, your name on every lip, blah, blah, blah, and that at last she had found a man brave enough to command her humbleness blah, blah, blah, blah. Rest of her life spent worshipping the ground you walk on, etc. And then she kissed you.”
“Of course,” said Bristol. “But . . . how did you know?”
“Did I mention that you were very poorly written in all your stories. The titles alone should have given you a hint. So I know a lot.”
“I hope you know I do you favor to fight you. I’ve a town full of my men—”
“All drunk,” said Micah, “Just look at what they accomplished. They’ll blame it on the Spanish, of course. And at villainous priest will imprison and torture any witnesses. Look, have you got your boots off so you can get a better grip on the planked floor yet?”
Micah could hear the keyboard chattering in the silence.
Then came another pitifully-written script from Horace. “I fear,” said Mike, “that you’ll never live to spend the millions in bullion you found here today. For, Tom Bristol, I intend to run you through.”
“Garde!” cried Bristol.
Their blades crossed and, with furious attack and defense, they went at each other.
Micah’s blade suddenly flew from his hand as Bristol’s blade swished. Tom’s kick took the pistol away in the next moment. And the sword and scabbard on his waist vanished, along with the spare stiletto blade Micah always kept in his boot.
Bristol now had a point at Micah’s heart.
“Did ye think you’re so different than I?” Bristol was gloating. “Other than my birth in England and your’s in that hell called Spain, we might even have been comrades in arms had we shared the same country of origin. I’ve followed your trail for years. A worthy opponent, for sure. It’s just a shame you took the darker route to your own fame.”
“And what would you know of worthy opponents? Your scripts have never had an inkling of compassion for anyone except your over-sized ego. You’ve never gone beyond beating every bad guy with superior swordplay and witty repartees, not quite as sharp as your miraculous and ever ready blade? And that villain’s speech was truly tripe.”
Bristol was puzzled at this. Nothing in his background had ever prepared him for someone giving him a retort with a blade ready for his heart.
Micah saw the confusion in his eyes. “Can’t take the truth? What would you do without that blade or a pistol? And what do you think is going to happen to your life once you’ve returned to England? Did you ever look up whatever happened to the other privateers in history? No wonder you want to marry some rich girls for their Dad’s wealth. One in every port would be a nice touch. But check it out – it doesn’t matter. You’ve been given a complete carte blanche to kill as many enemies as you can catch. But what do you think happens the day after they sign the armistice? Your orders are invalid. Then they can come after you and string you up from your own yardarm or haul you right back to rot in prison based on your alleged crimes. Think about it. Just pause and think it over.”
The point no longer pricked his chest, and it lowered slightly. But a lung puncture wouldn’t help things.
Bristol shrugged, “And how do you claim to speak for history that hasn’t happened? Is this some devil’s work. Trust a Spaniard to be impious and cursed from all their contact with those insane priests you support. How could you know the future and tell me about it with such impunity? ”
Micah no longer heard the keystrokes. “Because I read a lot. All writers read a lot. What I never told Horace is that I practiced writing as much as I practiced my music. And you only get better the more you do – if you’re working to improve and not just make money off some fancy tool-set of fast fingers and a glib approach to life. You’re just manipulating people to get what you think you want. Just like Horace and his old man.”
Micah gently pushed the point of Bristol’s blade aside. “Look, even if you have millions and billions stashed away, when you get something by deceit and force, then you’re riches will be worthless. They only buy you loneliness and fear. Until you can trust no one really. Your last days are spent in hiding. That’s the lesson all history has shown. Spaniards and English, there’s always someone opposing your goals. That’s what people want to hear about. That’s ‘having your name on everyone’s lips.’ And it’s never true. A few years later, it will be someone else’s name, and then someone else after that. Old rich men die alone, if they live that long.”
At that, Micah turned away from Bristol, who had lowered his rapier point to the floor. “You live the story you want to live. Money and fame isn’t permanent. Because people worship your legend, and that’s not real appreciation. How you got the money and fame comes back to you. Want to live your life in fear and die lonely? Go ahead, keep traveling the road you’re on. It will get you there. That’s what history keeps saying.”
Bristol gritted his teeth. His fist clenched the grip of the sword he held. Breathing became faster. This was a hard truth to swallow.
“Turn, you coward. Face your fate like a gentleman, not the scourge you were raised to be.”
Micah only turned his head to look directly into Bristol’s angry face. He was waiting for the typewriting to have a blade instantly show up in his hand.
Nothing happened. Bristol just fumed, standing there. His moral code prevented him from killing an unarmed man in the back.
Micah knew this. Bristol threw down his rapier and charged.
Micah at first thought that the fury of Bristol’s attack was the cause of the floor’s shaking. That didn’t explain the lantern jiggling unless the foundation was faulty. Not likely. These buildings were brick and stucco. Something was shaking the scene.
Then he remembered the story he was in.
The shaking was soon so violent that it threw both of them down. Bristol, cursing, struggled up and was again thrown. Mike saw the porch roof start to come down and scurried back on his hands and knees.
Lightning flashed down in the sky, lighting the woods where trees were falling. Micah got up off the porch floor where he and the hero Bristol had fallen from the earthquake. The porch fell and covered Bristol along with his sleeping, drunken bodyguard. All that was left was Bristol’s rapier. Micah didn’t bother picking it up, but went to see how Julie was doing inside.
She was yelling for help as she couldn’t get a beam out of her way to get out of the cabin. The rain had started slashing down soaking them both through the opened roof. Micah simply reached in and under her arms, then pulled her across the opening above the beam.
“What’s happening?” she cried out.
“This is the big ending. We have to run down this path to get away from the building. Micah grabbed her hand and pulled her along with him as they ran.
The earth shook again, and they were cast down into the water. Julie and Micah swam for each other and out away from the cliffs.
“I didn’t think this was going to be so violent,” Julie yelled above the roar of the wind, thunder, rain, and waves.
“I don’t think this is part of the story,” Micah yelled back. “We should have simply had THE END show up in big letters.”
“Is this what happens when a story is published?”
Micah found a floating spart, and pulled Julie to him. He felt every inch of her respond as they kissed in the deep water.
As they did the rain quit, the skies cleared, and the waves calmed.
Big letters appeared in the sky.
Sunset and fade to black.
When they quit kissing, they were in her apartment bedroom. Micah was dressed in his t-shirt and shorts, Julie in a blue halter-top and bikini briefs. Both were soaking wet. Micah had one arm around a pillow and the other holding Julie close to him.
The lights in the room were off and a moon was shining in through the window. Not a cloud in the sky.
Her laptop came alive with a bleep, and lit the whole room with a light-blue glow.
They untangled themselves from each other and the bed sheets and covers. Then got up to see if Hackett had come through.
It was 11:59 pm. There was a notice that the file had been updated.
As Julie accessed the file, Micah looked over her shoulder, one hand on the chair back behind her, the other on her desk near her mouse pad and hand.
They scanned through it and found it was almost exactly the way they had fixed it.
Micah stood up and stretched. “That was certainly something. Wouldn’t want to go through that again.”
Julie said, “Well, not all of it. It does look like everything is just fine here. That gives me a few hours before my line-editor and proofer will be up. Almost like a regular night’s sleep.”
Micah looked down at Julie. “Or time for something.”
Julie rose up and turned in front of him, put one hand on his chest with the other around his neck. She looked up into his eyes with lips parted. “Yeah, something.”
The Atworthy Alumni magazine was a great success. Donations rolled in. Horace Hackett’s story was printed with a byline of Micah DeWolf as researcher. That story also had a short bio of Hackett saying that when he had begun writing himself, he found that “the 30’s style writing his dad was famous for wasn’t the only way to write”, and felt that “he could contribute a new version of it to the world”.
That was Julie’s idea. She had warned him about plagiarizing his dad’s stuff. But congratulated him at the Alumni banquet on breaking into the Romance genre. Hackett always wondered about that afterwards.
And Julie had a big smile on her face for weeks when anyone mentioned that story. But she never asked Hackett to write for her again. Said it was too strenuous.
Hackett quit trying to write fiction, as he found writing sales copy paid better. Soon he dropped out of school, just like his old man.
Micah passed his audition, but turned down playing for the Philharmonic.
He and Julie graduated together, and both moved to a small college town, where they now write Romance novels in their spare time.
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