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!