Content warnings for this episode include: Elder Abuse, Animal death (several mice), Suicidal Thoughts, Transphobia, Misgendering, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror
It was a dark and stormy night. The rain pattered…
Not pattered. Drove against the windows of the small urban home in which our protagonist lives.
I need a name… ‘Charles’? ‘Arthur’ I’ve already done. ‘Horace’. Heh. I think the readers would make assumptions if I named a character after myself. They’d write me letters asking if I was alright.
Yes, I’m fine. Despite what happens to everyone in my stories, I’m perfectly well adjusted. Writers are like that, you see. We trap our evils in ink.
Refocusing on the writing at hand.
It was a dark and stormy night, and the rain that ran down the windows was black as unused ink on a writer’s desk, as dark as a curious cat, as… what’s another word for dark? I’m out of synonyms. Lightless as…
As an author who is completely out of ideas.
*a peal of thunder*
...it’s really coming down out there.
Mother said that trying to dictate this story might somehow unlock what six months sitting with a pen in my hand couldn’t. Not sure where she got this recorder—a flea market maybe. Stole it from another resident, more likely. Come on, little yellow recorder. Give me a story.
*idle lip popping*
Nothing. I worry that I wrote every good idea I’ll ever have into the first book, and now I’ve got none left for the rest of my career.
I could get up. Go for a walk in the rain. That seems oddly appealing right now.
I could walk forever. Go on and on and on. When I got tired I could lay down, in pine needles or shallow water. And I’d never worry about sequels or spinoffs or second novels ever again.
*a meow from a cat*
Oh. But who would feed you, hm? Can’t leave you kitties alone. And besides, daddy has a book to finish.
I’ll sleep on it. I write best in the mornings anyways.
‘Nothing in my coffee’, said Detective Grant Dalton. ‘I like it bitter—it’s a bitter world, after all. Men leaving their stains on the planet one after another, like the coffee rings on this counter…’
Ugh. Can you hear that noise on the tape? They’ve had sirens going all morning. I live by the hospital—I have to be close to mother—so I’m used to ambulances at all hours. But this is ridiculous. They haven’t stopped.
I’d turn on the news, but I don’t need to. The neighbors blast theirs loud enough that I can hear it even here in the attic. It’s no wonder I can never compose my thoughts. I practically dream in the voices of news anchors and reality TV stars and antique salespeople.
Hey! Keep it down! Please and thank you!
When the progenitors of science fiction wrote their books, I bet they didn’t have to put up with this kind of racket.
Can you turn the volume down! Thank you! I’m trying to inspire a generation here!
Where were we? Right. Detective Grant. Stain on humanity. He sat by the window and watched the rain. It was too dark in this city, born of coal dust and sin. Left black trails on the windows. Dampness that got in his soul and started rotting…
That’s my mother. I have to get that. Ughh, I am never going to get this book finished.
Mother had some odd news from the hospital. Mister Bradley—who used to be a captain on a navy ship; they’ve figured out how to cheat at Euchre together—well he got up out of his wheelchair and began walking. Out of the hospital.
Police haven’t been able to find him because, well, hundreds of people are missing today. She says they all got up, started walking, and left town on the 24 to Michigan. This isn’t just in Toledo, apparently. It’s everywhere. Nobody knows what to do.
I don’t know what to make of it. Chances are she saw something on the news and invented the other half of the story—I do get it from her, after all. But if not… it could be a kind of shared insanity. Or a social media thing. Or just… people giving up, I don’t know. On this grinding machine that pays cents for the word and charges too much for rent.
I feel like I’ve missed something. Like maybe I was supposed to get up, last night, and just… go. But I didn’t. I’m still here.
I only know one thing, and it’s that this is excellent material for a book. It would be topical. Relevant. I’ll give a call to my agent later and see what she thinks.
That wasn’t all, though. The sirens aren’t for the people taking a spontaneous wilderness jaunt. There was something in the rain last night. Pollution, probably—I knew the smog would come down eventually. People are getting sick. I should check on the girls… Priscilla and Shelly and Mrs. Whiskers. It might be best to stay inside for a while. Not that I had other plans.
Mother is safe, at least. I worry about her. Too much maybe. But her aides don’t care for her as well as they should. They’ll move her things without asking, or leave her in bed all day. One of them kept misgendering her, but I had them sacked fast for that. I think sometimes maybe I should get her out of the keep home, but then again, she’s very talkative, and she watches the news on full volume all day, and I have got to get this book finished.
I’m going to go check on the cats.
They’re all here, thank god. Say hello Priscilla.
Not you, Shelly. Don’t hog the spotlight. You want attention so badly, don’t you?
*a thump as cat is put on the ground*
There. Go annoy your sisters. I’ll say this much, food for three cats is expensive. If I didn’t have mother to help with the bills, I don’t know what I’d do. The first book is still selling okay, but the advance is long gone. It never lasts as long as you think it will. And writers don’t get paid anything like what they show in the movies.
I got an email from a company called Botco a few weeks ago. They wanted to adapt my book for some alternate reality sort of thing. Whatever their Dreaming Box is supposed to be. I turned them down, obviously. I would rather my stories get no adaptation at all than have it ruined by some board of corporate marketing cronies.
Speaking of Botco, there’s a billboard behind my house now. I can see it from the attic window. It wasn’t there before; that was something I always liked, the view of the fields. It’s a huge white sign, with red letters blinking in the middle. It just says ‘Dream’. As if their posters on every street corner weren’t enough already.
My agent didn’t want to talk about the book. She says our publisher’s getting bought by Botco’s publishing arm.
It’s infuriating. They’re a tech company. They don’t have anything to do with art or commentary on the human condition. They made all their money in… I don’t know. Not writing. But then they can swoop in like a vulture and buy the entire market. It feels like there’s only one option. Like there’s nowhere left to go. I don’t know what that means for my next book. I’ll talk with her about it later.
Hm. ‘March of the Damned’. A million customers reject a megacorporation and walk north to start a new world of their own. That could work for a story.
God, I need a story.
Something is different. Something has changed.
I think it’s the sirens. They’re finally off, thank god. I’ve got ten pages written for this Grant Dalton story. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the neighborhood this quiet. What did I do to deserve such a blessing?
*meow from Mrs. Whiskers*
Oh hello Mrs. Whiskers. What’s that you’ve got their… OH please don’t drop that on my manuscript…
If that was ever a mouse…
There is a wet black lump on my manuscript. I can’t tell if it’s a mouse or a chipmunk or a bird or… it’s got a tail. Tails. Wet little eyes. It’s still twitching…
I’m going to throw it out, manuscript and all.
You’ve ruined my manuscript, Mrs. Whiskers. AGAIN. Now I have to start over.
Horace Loveland lived alone with his three cats in Toledo, Ohio, and when he got sad he worried that the world was ending. And it wouldn’t be so bad, the world ending, except that he was a writer, and had a book to finish, and nobody publishes books when there’s no one to read them.
*crumples up paper, throws it*
We’re not doing an autobiography. Too early in my career for that.
I’m not sure what I wanted my life to look like. It wasn’t this, sitting in an attic with only cats for company, typing away in the dark. But my life didn’t come with directions. You see roadmaps, when you’re young, in stories. And I was never going to be that sturdy colonial husband and father of five. I’m not much of a breadwinner; I have terrible luck and I’m gluten intolerant. I had nowhere to go.
It’s not that I’m unhappy, either. I have my little window that looks out on the field, on the ‘Dream’ billboard. I have my quiet attic with space for my typewriter. I have my cats for company. This is all I need, isn’t it? What more could I ever want?
I wish sometimes I’d gone out there. Into the world. Walked north. Walked anywhere. Tried to make friends. But I never knew where to start. I know there was a community there, but it just… never found me. Hiding in my attic. I’ve been busy. Trying to write about a world I don’t have time to see.
The power’s out. Great. Thankfully, I’ve spent a lifetime collecting candles.
Writing by candlelight. If I was going to write an autobiography, that’s how it would begin. But what would the rest be?
He sat at his desk, chewing on his pen, doing creativity exercises, in-chair yoga, making tea, playing with his cats, waiting for the words to arrive.
They never did.
And a world passed by outside his window. Seasons changed like the hours, and night skies turned like a merry-go-round of stars.
Maybe it was out there all along.
Maybe if he hadn’t been so afraid of the world, of being known without the protective barrier of a novel page, he might have found that inspiration.
Lost at a desk by candlelight. Thus dies Horace Loveland.
How’s that for an autobiography?
Things were not quiet this morning. There was more rain last night, and I woke up to cars honking. Traffic on every road. Like the entire town is packing up for vacation, about to check in at a roach motel.
I think it’s over now, though. At least in my neighborhood. I can still hear cars from the city. The skyline lights are all dead, except for one—the Botco office building, like a square empire state building. There’s a red eye on the side, in lights. I feel like it’s watching me. I closed the blinds on the front of the house, just to be safe.
My grocery delivery guys—Glass City Farms—are closing down. Found a letter in my mailbox this morning. Worries about water contamination, but also a lack of staff. They’re all leaving for this… Dreaming Box. The Botco office. I don’t fully understand what it is. I guess I don’t keep up with the times. I’m old-fashioned that way. Great writers are always born in the wrong generation, I think.
The billboard behind my house used to say ‘Dream’. It seems closer now; I think it’s moved up a few feet. Now it says ‘Escape’.
It’s quiet now, again. Just me and the cats.
Am I missing something?
I feel like I should be going somewhere. Doing something.
But then again, I’m used to that feeling. It’s called ‘Horace is avoiding his novel’.
I’m going to stand my ground. I don’t care what’s happening. I’ll turn off the news, and close the blinds, and keep writing. The world may be ending, but I’ve got to get this book finished.
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