Friday, January 1, 2010

Sneak Preview: THE AUTHOR

Prologue: The Beginning of the End

August 3

The author sits across the table from Jeff. Right now he looks very different from the photograph on the back of his novels.

The man in the black and white picture on the back of the books is the kind of man you might refer to as a guy, or even a dude. He leans comfortably against a wall, resting on one shoulder, in the kind of slouch that evoke James Dean or even John Wayne. The books started out as paperbacks, but lately they have come to be released in great, thick hardbound editions.

The earliest books had a different picture, of a man hunched over an older laptop, his face furrowed in concentration. Both the picture and the subject looked to be trying too hard.  The recent picture though, makes the author look as though he isn't trying at all, as if he hasn't a care in the world. The slight smirk on his face, which looks to the left of the camera, makes him appear as though he is watching something that he can't quite take seriously. The man in that picture, Jeff knows, looks ten years younger than he is, and acts at least 20 years younger.

The man who sits across from Jeff looks old and tired. The face is the same, to be sure, there is no mistaking it is the same man, but it looks as though it could have been digitally aged, like the sad and almost creepy pictures of missing children, “Have You Seen Me?”. The hair is as it always is, disheveled, but with much less intention now. The eyes are sunken and beneath them lurk heavy smudges, purple, almost black, into which the dark eyes almost vanish. The eyes are not rolling with panic, but Jeff thinks this would almost be a comfort. Instead, the eyes are disconcertingly steady and keen. Occasionally the author takes a slow blink, as if he is making an effort to stay awake.

He smells bad. It has been days since he showered, and although the room is now cool with a late summer evening breeze, the days have been hot. The air around the author is permeated with a mixture of body odor, stale bourbon-sweat, and chili farts. The author's writing spells seem to be fueled by nothing but Woodford Reserve, Nalley Walla Walla Onion Chili, and Pillsbury Biscuits. The warm, wholesome smell of the biscuits never lasts long in this space, their comforting scent quickly chased away by passed gas and spilled booze.

As long as he has not showered, he has also been wearing the same old polo shirt, and the shirt is also wearing chili and bourbon. It's collar is half up and half down, and it looks nothing like the casual pressed denim shirt he wears in the photo.

The photo is how Jeff first came to know the author, the photo and the name on the front of the books. The books were always black, with titles like Paranoia and Watching printed in uncomfortable colors, sickly green, bloody red, putrid blue, and always the author's name at the top of the volume, printed strikingly in white: Victor Stuart.

Not the most famous writer to be sure, and not the richest, but certainly successful. Yes, the critics always had and always would dismiss him as a genre writer, and the author himself is certainly willing to identified as such, but within that genre he is regarded as a genius. His books, all of one series, have increased in sales with every volume, gaining a wider fan base as the author aged. His last volume, Breath, was a New York Times Number One Bestseller with more than half a million copies sold within two weeks. Not Harry Potter numbers, perhaps, but beyond respectable. Not a juggernaut, but no one to dismiss, genre writer or not.

The smirk that graces the back of those books is nowhere to be seen now. The mouth is drawn down, not frowning, just as exhausted as the rest of the face. Perhaps it takes fewer muscles to smile than otherwise, but when you're this tired, who honestly gives a shit? Let the wrinkles do their worst.

Between them sits the bottle, the glasses, the laptop, and the silence. The silence is the largest by far, it spreads to the corners of the room, looking for respite and finding none, returning to sit between the two men, anxiously waiting to be dismissed. The glass before the author is empty and will likely soon be filled again. The glass before Jeff is filled with diluted bourbon, as Jeff has no taste for it, regardless of how much it costs. The bottle is half full of amber liquid, casting a sickly opaque shadow on the table. The laptop, a new and shiny-white Macbook Air, contains the latest thrilling tale of Alistair Wilcox, paranormal investigator and explorer of the unknown. It is called Tomb. Jeff can picture the title, printed on a black cover in a shining silver, or perhaps a skin-crawling shade of purple.

Jeff is looking at the man who has been his idol for almost a decade, since discovering Cemetery at the age of 13, the man who has recently become his mentor. Even though he has spent the last two months in the author's company, he can barely recognize him, and he can find nothing to say.

The author parts his cracked lips, the small sound it makes sending the silence running at last. Jeff sees a tiny string of saliva stretch between the lips, narrowing until it is almost invisible before it bursts. He gives a brief, sad smile, and within it is a touch of the smirk, a touch of the much younger, healthier looking man from the photos.

“So know you know,” the author says. “Now you know all my secrets.” He paused and gave a tiny shiver, as if someone had gently blown on the tiny hairs at the back of his neck. “And now, hopefully, you get it, you understand. Why you're here. Why I need you here. And why I can't let you leave.”

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