Thursday, March 4, 2010

Author's Note: New Chapters

I just completed chapters 53 and 54.  They are entitled The Request and The Schemes.  If you wish to read them, you should definitely email me.  I am maintaining my chapter a day pace and the ending is within reach.  I'm not quite sure how many more chapters there are, but not a lot.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chapter Fifty-Two: The Pages

August 3

Jeff made a half-assed bed for himself in front of Stuart's door by laying down some of the seat cushions from the couch. He watched Stuart take two pills in the bathroom and something about the man's reflection in the bathroom mirror made him look even more drawn and sickly than he did face to face.

Stuart entered his bedroom, closed the door behind him, and then Jeff pulled the blinds. The dining room light remained on, but you couldn't tell with all the daylight burning through the curtains. As last time, there were plenty of reasons why he might not be able to sleep, but he was sure he'd have no trouble this time.
Jeff's body simply shut down. It asked no questions of him, just pulled the plug on everything that wasn't essential and he slept for seven straight hours, waking up around dinner time. He awoke to the sound of sobbing.

After Jeff had been asleep for only two hours, the door to Stuart's bedroom opened. The writer might have slept, his clothes were possibly more rumpled than before, but he moved with a purpose he hadn't shown in days. He moved directly to the childrens' bedroom, retrieved the laptop from between the mattress and the box spring and returned to the dining room table. He was aware that the typing might wake the kid, but it wasn't his concern.

He sat at his usual place, poured himself a bourbon, opened the laptop. His eyes were focused and emotionless, but a thin smile of what might have been satisfaction played over his lips. It fell when the computer woke up. He rebooted it, grunted, rebooted it again.

It was a testament to Jeff's exhaustion that he did not wake up as Stuart grew more and more frustrated, animal sounds escaping him, but the younger man slept on. Eventually Stuart grew silent again, the only sounds those of crumpling paper and glass on glass as he poured himself more liquor.

Jeff blinked woozily when he woke up, feeling that hot, drained feeling that comes with sleeping at odd hours. It took a moment for the sound to penetrate and then he sat up. Someone was crying, so it must be Stuart, but it barely sounded human, let alone like a man. It sounded like a terrified child or, with a flash of a war movie he'd seen when he was far too young, it sounded like a man undergoing surgery without anesthesia.
Stuart sat at the table, the light in the room now more orange than the yellow it had been when Jeff went to sleep. Before him was a table covered in what looked like trash, shreds of paper, stacks of sheets, receipts, a pizza box...and they were all covered in words.

Stuart had a pen grasped clumsily in one hand and he was laboriously trying to write on a paper towel. The pen kept tearing through the paper. Jeff could see that he had written on the pizza box, what looked like all the paper from the printer in Stuart's room, on the backs of receipts that were stained from time in the garbage under the sink. He had written on a few sheets of red and blue construction paper, too, their bursts of color somehow unsettling. In the dusky light of the dining room, the red construction paper looked like dried blood.
Stuart was weeping. That was the only word for it. Runnels of spit and snot hung from his nose and mouth, his face was red and his eyes were barely visible for how collapsed his face was in anguish. As Jeff watched, he sobbed and hiccuped, throwing the paper towel to one side, casting about for something else to write on. He looked up and his eyes opened wider.

“You,” he said, in that unpleasant voice that came from the throat, “This is all your fucking fault.”

“What are you talking about?”

Stuart slammed his hands on the table and rose, knocking his chair over. “It can't read you mind, smartass. Oh, it can watch you, it certainly sees what you did, but it CAN'T READ YOUR MIND!” Spittle flew at this last, and Stuart swept a pile of papers off the table, showing the laptop to the younger man.

Jeff stared at the computer and realized what Stuart had said. The house, no, the post, could watch him, but it could not read his mind. That's why it hadn't seen where he put the computer the first time. He looked up and saw that Stuart was still staring at him with blazing eyes.

“I did what you wanted me to do.”

“NO!” he screamed, his throat raw.

“Yes, I did. You wanted me to hide the computer so you could get some sleep. So you could rest. I did what you wanted. Maybe I didn't do what you asked when I put a password on your computer, but I did what you wanted me to.”


“You, goddammit, you, Vic, not this fucking...” Jeff pointed at the floor beneath them. “I did what you wanted.”

Stuart's shoulders heaved up and down and Jeff couldn't tell if he were trying to break free or if he was bracing himself to attack.

“And you were writing while your mind was away again, weren't you? Because if you'd have been present when you ran out of paper you'd have remembered there's at least another ream in a drawer under the printer. Instead of fucking around with all...this,” Jeff said, sweeping a hand at the table. He saw that every scrap, every receipt, every piece of construction paper, had a large, obvious number in one corner. Even when he was out of his mind, the book was still the highest priority. “It's not as smart as it thinks it is.”

Stuart tried to sit back into his chair, forgetting it was lying on its side now. He stumbled back and fell onto the floor. At any other time it would have been a pratfall worth of any sitcom. Instead it was perhaps the most pathetic thing Jeff had seen so far. He moved to the other side of the table, his concern temporarily negating his justifiable paranoia that Stuart might hurt him.

He locked wrists with Stuart and put the other hand under his shoulder, helping him to his feet. Stuart clutched at him, pulling him closer and when they were on their feet, he would not let go. Fear began to surge into Jeff's mind, now he was going to do something crazy and—

“Help me, Jeff.” His voice trembled to match the sudden shiver that wracked Stuart's body. “You have to help me.”

“That's why I'm here, man. That was the whole reason I came out here, remember? I'm just not helping you the way I thought I would. I guess I'm not helping you as much as I thought I might be able to yesterday, either.”

“No.” It was unclear what he was denying. “No, it's too late for that. I'm done, Jeff. I'm done. You have to help me end it. I won't be strong enough. I have to—You have to kill me.”

Dun duh DUH!

ATTENTION READERS: There are maybe five or six chapters remaining in The Author.  I know how the book will end and I promise you, NONE of you do.  Well, maybe one of you.  I will continue to write chapters at the rate you are used to, but if you want to read the conclusion you will have to contact me at beau.prichard at gmail or via my personal email.  The price for the book is $5.  If you want a permanent copy, I would be happy to send you a pdf of the entire thing when it is finished.  If you want to continue to read a chapter a day to continue the suspense, I will be happy to send you an email a day until the end.  I have a great surprise coming up for you soon and I've been thrilled to share this story with you.  I look forward to your support and finding out just how many of you are actually out there!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Chapter Fifty-One: The Plan

August 3

Jeff couldn't help but remember when the writer had pulled a gun on him. He wondered if it were nearby, if that would be the next idea Stuart would have if Jeff said no.

“I'll get it,” he said. “But you have to go somewhere else. I won't let you see where I put it. Because you don't know, do you?” Stuart had his own set of Rover keys, so if the post could see the laptop or tell Stuart where it was, this wouldn't be happening. He would simply have woken to the sound of typing and seen Stuart, awake or not, working at the computer.

Stuart's shoulders sagged from where he had bunched them up in aggression. “Where,” he asked, and his voice was once again full of grief. “Where do I go?” Jeff knew he was only partly talking about where he would go at this moment.

“Go back in the bathroom,” Jeff said. “Take a shower,” he added, with sudden inspiration.

“Okay,” Stuart said. He turned to go to the bathroom and then looked back. “I'm sorry,” he said, his voice cracking.

“Was it your idea to keep writing?” Jeff asked.

“Fuck no! I think I'd be happy to never fucking write again.”

“Then you don't have to apologize.”

After Jeff heard the water start running, he returned to the kitchen. It occurred to him that Stuart could be running the water, only to poke his head out to discover Jeff's hiding place. That didn't seem beyond the author's cunning but Jeff didn't think his mind was running in that direction. And if it was, more power to him and he was welcome to his goddamn laptop.

The MacBook was back on the table and plugged in when Stuart emerged from the bathroom with a towel around his waist. He immediately made for the table, a peculiar look on his face.

“Get dressed first,” Jeff said, feeling like a parent.

Stuart stopped and considered, then pivoted and returned to the room. A moment later he emerged, wearing, Jeff was sure, the nearest clothes he could find.

The writer took his place across from Jeff, opened the laptop, and poured himself a bourbon. His hands were already gravitating to the keyboard, but he restrained them a moment longer.

“Now what?”

“You ready to keep writing?”


“Sleeping pill didn't work?”

Stuart shook his head and began to futz with his laptop.

“So, I guess we'll sit here and you write until you're ready to collapse and then we'll call it a day.”
Stuart didn't look up. “Can you stay up that long?”

“I'll manage,” Jeff said.

It took more out of him that he imagined. Stuart wrote for five more hours, until almost ten that morning, and considering how tired Jeff had been before his “nap”, he was jittering from too much caffeine by the time Stuart was ready to call it a day.

Jeff drank Coke and watched movies through the early hours. Twice he poured a cold lump of chili over a biscuit for the writer and once he poured a large glass of water and left it within Stuart's reach. He never drank it. Jeff contented himself with a large bowl of cold cereal around six and some pretzels around nine.
He was beginning to nod in front of the some talking heads on a morning news show when the author spoke for the first time since he had started typing.

“Jeff.” The voice was quiet, but Jeff had been listening for it. He hoped that now, even though it was light outside, they could finally get some sleep.

Jeff shoved himself out of the couch and approached the dining room table.

“Are you done?” he asked.

“I'm struggling not to just let it do its thing,” the writer replied. “I need to stop.”

“Can you?”

“Well, I'll need you to take the laptop again. I'm so tired now I think I can get a bit of sleep, anyway. I'll take two pills this time.”

“Okay, let's give it a shot.”

Stuart slowly and deliberately took his hands away from the keyboard and moved them down to his sides. It looked as though he were resisting a weight when he did it. He made fists and sat there for a moment.

“I need your help,” he said, finally.

“What is it?” Jeff asked.

“You're going to have to take the laptop.”

“Yeah, that's fine, I'll hide it like I did before.”

“No, I mean if you don't take it away from me, I won't be able to stop. I'm barely able to keep from typing right now.”

Jeff moved around to the head of the table, facing Stuart over the corner. He gently unplugged the computer, holding his breath, waiting for the bolt of lightning. There was nothing.

Stuart nodded encouragingly, his eyes starting to bulge with panic. Jeff pushed the laptop closed. Stuart nodded harder, a muscle beneath his left eye twitching.

Jeff put his hands on both sides of the very thin laptop and then the lightning struck. Stars burst behind his left eye, his left ear rang, and a searing pain tore at his left cheek. His hands fumbled with the laptop and it slid the length of the table, knocking over a glass and clattering to the floor.

Jeff took an instinctive step back and then reached up to touch his face. Stuart was looking at his right hand as if it had been replaced with someone else's.

“It was going to hit you,” he said. “Punch you. I forced the fingers apart, I was going to slap you, but instead...”

Jeff took his fingers away from his cheek and saw that they were bleeding. Stuart's nails, of course woefully under-manicured along with the rest of his lack of hygiene, were long and ragged. He could feel three separate burning marks where the nails had dug into his flesh.

Stuart was staring at him now and Jeff was again struck by the comparison he'd thought of before: Stuart as a Nazi, on trial, saying he was just taking orders, it wasn't his fault. Only now, there was sympathy there as well. Maybe some people really didn't have a choice when it came to taking orders. “Sorry,” the man said in a whisper.

Jeff swallowed. “You fought it.” It was not a question.

Stuart nodded, looking like nothing more than a child in trouble.

“Keep doing that, then, okay?”

“You should put it away,” Stuart said, gesturing to the other end of the table with his head.

“Can you close your eyes?”

Stuart did so and Jeff went to pick up the laptop. Jeff took it into the children's room and had a brain wave. He opened the computer, made a small adjustment, and then slid it between the box spring and the mattress on the pink bed. He returned to the table.

“Okay,” he said and Stuart stood.

“Listen, um,” Stuart still looked the part of the penitent child. “I know I don't really deserve to ask but...could you sleep in front of my door? I don't think it'll stop me from getting up wants me to, but at least it'll wake you up at the same time.”

Jeff felt nothing but pity. The grown man before him was melting away, to be replaced by a sad kid and an old man. “I can do that, yeah.”

Stuart nodded without speaking, blinking back tears. “I'm sorry,” he said again, his voice trembling.


“Yeah?” The man kept looking down.

Jeff put a hand on his shoulder. “We can beat this thing. I know it.”

“I hope so,” Stuart replied, but he didn't sound like he had any hope left.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Chapter Fifty: The Problems

August 3

Jeff looked at Stuart. The man seemed to have aged as he told his story, gradually shifting from a man who only partially looked like his author photo to a man who seemed a hollow shell of himself. The bourbon that Stuart had poured him at some point was now a watery mess. He sipped at it and then sighed.

“So now what?” Jeff asked.

Stuart shook his head. “Beats the shit out of me, kid.”

“How much is really left?”

“Of Tomb? Well, I'm pretty confident there isn't going to be a false ending and I'm coming up on the showdown between Wilcox and the spirits in the tomb itself so. After that, there's a brief wrap up and denouement.” Stuart pronounced the French word with a surprisingly cultured accent. “I couldn't guess pages numbers, you know I don't really think that way, but...” he looked up, thinking. “I can give up editing it, just focus on getting the book out and, figure three full days. Minimum.”

“If you write full days, will that be enough?”

“For the...” Stuart avoided saying anything about where the book came from, “process?”

“Will it be enough for the process?”

“I don't know. This fucker is kicking and screaming to come out like an angry baby. It might not be.”

“Well, what if you let that happen? Won't you be done in, what, 24 hours?”

“Maybe, but I won't do that. One, every time it happens, and it's happened at least once since you've been here, too, by the way, I slipped away and came back and I'd just kept at it, I feel like another part of myself is stolen. I won't do that voluntarily. But the other danger is that if I go under, I'll just keep at it and start on the next one, and that's something I really want to avoid. Both because I need to break away and because I do not want to keep writing that thing.” He almost spat this last word. “To say nothing of the fact that by the time I finished, my hands would be ready to fall off.”

“What's it like when you can't stop?” Jeff asked.

“It's miserable. You know what melatonin is?”


“It's supposed to be the chemical that regulates your sleeping cycle. You can buy it at drug stores and some people take it instead of a sleeping pill. Natural, and all that shit. I tried it once, years ago, my wife suggested it. It put me into a half-sleep, I was lying in bed, I couldn't move, but I was conscious. It was awful. Most of the time when I sit here and write, it's my idea, you know? I mean, I'm sure as hell being encouraged, but it is voluntary. Then sometimes, it's like I'm done, but the book isn't done with me. So I have an experience like on that pill, I'm only partly there. I guess that state is halfway between me writing and the book writing itself. Sometimes I can break out of it, sometimes it's just one more chapter before I go to bed. It's like a petulant kid at bedtime. I'm finished, it wants just a little bit more.”

“What if...”

“What if what?”

“What if you let the battery run out?” I mean, you can't keep writing if the computer is dead. A few hours before quitting time, you unplug the thing and then you're done whether you like it or not. Or whether it likes it or not.”

“I tried it. The battery never goes beneath half power.”

“But that's—“

“Impossible? Crazy? Yeah, it is. It's still the truth.”

They both sat in silence for a minute, thinking.

“Well, let's start with something easy. What's a schedule you can maintain. You said full days writing, what does that mean? Eight hours? Twelve?”

“At least.”

“Okay. Well what's a regular pace. Noon to midnight? Can you do that?”

Stuart considered. “I think so. How would you keep me on it, though?”

“One question at a time.”

“Yes, twelve hours of writing would exhaust me. Not enough to make me go to sleep, maybe, but damn well enough to make me sick of writing for the day.”

“What time is it now?”

Stuart touched the pad on his computer and woke it up. “It's almost three.”

“Are you done for the day?”

Stuart's hands twitched. My body says no, but I'm about ready to call it a night. What about you?”

“I'm fuckin' exhausted.”

“Right. Of course you are. Well let's try to get some sleep for now and see what tomorrow looks like, okay? I'm going to get up and go to the bathroom. I'll be a couple of minutes. When I'm gone, make sure I can't see this,” he said, nodding at the laptop. “Hide it from me. Maybe that'll help me sleep. Sure can't hurt.”

“I can do that.”

Stuart got up and went to the master bath between the bedrooms. As soon as the door closed, Jeff got up, slapped the thin Air laptop shut and unplugged it. He couldn't think of anywhere in the house that had a lock on the door, certainly not one that wouldn't lock him in with the laptop. “The further away the better,” he muttered to himself, thinking that the more distance he could get between the laptop and the thing in the crawlspace beneath him that the less power it would have. He had a mad flash of the post with a giant orange cat eye atop it, vision courtesy of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings, naturally, casting about the house like an obscene radar, trying to find the computer.

Before he ran out of time, he ran into the kitchen, grabbed his keys from their hook, and took the laptop outside. He locked it in the trunk of the Land Rover, using his key to avoid the alarm beep sounding. It wasn't the best hiding place, he was sure, but getting it out of the house seemed like a good start.

He was safely back at the table when Stuart came out of the bathroom. The author never looked at him, but moved to the door to his room. He stood there for almost a full minute and Jeff could see the muscles bunching and releasing beneath his thin and dirty t-shirt. He was fighting the urge to return to the table.

Stuart willed himself to stop trembling. Fuck this house, he thought to himself. No more. This gets done and I'm out of here, do you hear me? He took deep breaths, inhaling, counting to five, exhaling. Gradually the muscles that strained at the sides of his face chose to release and his teeth stopped grinding.

“Good night,” he said, without look at the kid or the living room. “I took a sleeping pill. Hopefully it'll help.”

“Good night,” he heard the young man call after him.

Jeff set himself up on the couch, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping in the kids' room. Shit, just about everything in the place made him uncomfortable, he realized. It shouldn't matter, if Stuart was as good as his word, his children would never see the house, let alone the room again, but it was their space, not his. Just as the basement wasn't his space either, and never had been. He didn't have a space, he realized.

The couch would have to do, it was comfortable and there were blankets and he was, at least, willing to steal a pillow from the children's room. He opted for the royal blue one rather than the one with prancing unicorns on it.

Even though his body was exhausted the revelations and ideas of the day still had him wired. He wondered if he'd be able to sleep and had a vision of himself sitting up and typing all night instead of the author, his insomnia keeping him going until the house took over and then—

He shook his head. He vowed then and there not to type another word until he left this place. If he were a good writer, he could finish Danny's Dime on his own. He'd written another book before he came here, just like Stuart had, and he'd be damned if he sold himself as cheaply as the famous man had. He wouldn't let things slip away like that. He would keep Stuart's warnings in mind and he would not sell himself cheaply, not to agents and publishers, and certainly not to this fucking place.

Sleep came for him aggressively, even though he left the light in the living room on. He could see the bulbs making globes or light reflected in the black screen of the television and he was thinking of how he could creatively describe them and then he was asleep.

Less than two hours had passed when he woke up. He could see Stuart standing over him, his face shining with moisture, tears or sweat, and his eyes blaring in the leftover light.

Jeff twitched in surprise, pulling his blankets closer and struggling to sit up. “Jesus, what—“

“Where is it, Jeff?” Stuart asked. Jeff could tell from his voice that the wetness on his face was from tears, not exertion. “You know I need it. Give it back to me, please.”

Jeff said nothing, shocked, still fuzzy from sleep.

Stuart's face twisted, and he saw the animal in there once again, the thing behind the man. “Give it to me,” he said, and this time his voice was in his throat, no longer teary, but angry and feral. “Give me my fucking computer.”