by Bob'n Around
Invisible matters of the mind turned real into the written word.
|Weekly SCREAMS!!! win
I like to read. I love the way a good book is a trap in plain sight, the way it captures and holds me spellbound between its covers. Being a copy editor of a major publishing firm I wade through a lot of waste before finding one that hooks me like that.
This one started out so good I couldn’t put it down. Being about quitting time, I did the unthinkable. I hid the manuscript under my shirt against my chest and carried it home. I felt guilty as hell, kept sweating, wondering if it was excitement or stress at doing something that could lose me my job. Can you believe it? I fought with myself, agonizing, clenching hands into fists, hitting my thighs without turning back.
Where I live isn’t much more than a half empty box. Most of what furniture there is consists of stacks of books. Boxes within boxes weighted down with hard bounds inside make up a table and chairs, end tables too. A mattress on the floor. The walls covered with boxes turned sideways and stacked together, make up bookshelves furnishing the rest of my bachelor nest.
Dinner could wait. I was hungry for getting lost in the book. Chapter one’s setting and buildup was perfect. The author’s characters born in chapter two came to life without pause. I slipped the bookmark away as I settled myself leaning against my apartment’s closed front door. The heading announcing Chapter three had its own page.
I am not a cursing man. The foulest words in my native tongue spit off my tongue. The next page and pages after were blank, except for being numbered. A teaser? I’d have to wait until morning. No. This was the weekend. Monday looked terrifyingly distant in the future for contacting the author. Only his name was provided. Face sheets, resume and any attached letters were filed for secretarial staff for followup after we editors got done determining the fate of what we read.
I felt like throwing up. I grabbed the single bottle of vermouth left over from the holidays and got deadly drunk instead. Talk about a hangover. I didn’t open my eyes until the next afternoon. The manuscript sat neatly near my face.
The cover page for Chapter three lay turned over. The blank page following it was not empty. I thought I was losing my mind. The shock knocked the hangover right out of my head. I stared, stunned, rubbing my eyes. My mouth began forming the words written in neat and tidy paragraphs flowing, you guessed it, from one page to another. Trapped again, reality became what I was reading.
How I wanted to stay there, in that artificially created perfection. When I hit the cover page for Chapter four, I was so enthralled that my heart gave out inside me when more blank pages followed. I couldn’t breath. I fainted. Me. A twenty-eight year old, six foot tall, one-eighty pound freak of nature who had never been sick before in my life.
When I came too, the first thing I did was examine the manuscript. A pattern had been established. Chapter four was completed while I lay unconscious beside the book. I knew it wasn’t me doing some kind of crazy ghost writing thing while I lay dead to the world. I could never write like this.
Unable to stop myself, I read to the end of the chapter, pausing only fleetingly before turning a few empty pages after the header of the next chapter. Rifling the white unfilled sheets to the last one I found a reassuring sense of closure. It was still the number one thousand, four hundred and eight-eight. That hadn’t changed.
How I wanted to force myself to take fitful naps and awaken to read more. It didn’t seem to matter how the book was writing itself. The thought surfaced, that perhaps the ghost writer was really the author having died and come back to finish his opus. I didn’t have time to consider. Nothing else mattered but reading the book.
I ignored my phone ringing, stayed silent like I wasn’t home during knocks at my door. I think I must have read the first visible chapters over and over until I had each word memorized. Jealousy entered my heart at the thought of sharing what was happening to me with anyone else. Trapped, yes, but so willingly. The book was mine. I owned it as much as it did me. Or so I thought.
Through the end of the weekend, I made it through a few other feverishly owned chapters as I fitfully slept and awoke. My usual diet of junk food takeout either ordered or purchased at one of the nearby fast food joints had been discarded. The same happened to my personal care.
If I wasn’t reading a new chapter, I found myself reading the old aloud, mouth caressing the words on my lips making love to them. The author was a master of almost poetic sensitivity, better than Ray Bradbury’s best. He put ‘Dandelion Wine’, my previous favorite, to shame.
By Sunday night, I grew tired of hearing my phone ring. Weekend promises to friends for get-to-gethers lay broken without thought of being repaired. I left a message on my answering service saying I was sick and my doctor wanted me to have complete bed rest. I’d get hold of people when things smoothed out. That took care of that. Work could take care of itself.
Personal crisis averted, I was about half way through, greedy for what lay ahead. The plot thickened with twists and turns better than a roller coaster ride. Clues appeared in view like signposts heralding an apocalyptic end unless a miracle happened.
My brain began doing one ‘what if’ after another, hunting for a satisfying resolution. The trap was closing in on me. With any other book, by now, I would have turned to the last page to find it out. There was some kind of twist I could see coming. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what it might be.
So close. So nervous. So worn out. Unable to sleep. Half dazed. Unable to see, my blood shot eyes were haunted by the sight of blank pages, waiting, my trembling lips urging them to fill up with words.
The last chapter. Oh, blessed be. Time, which seemed to have stood still, began to move again. My hands trembled on the pages so. My mouth so dry, my tongue stuck to the top of my mouth. Where before I had read aloud to treasure the sound and sight of each word, now only my mind dutifully followed each one.
No. How? No. Not again. It wasn’t my eyes torturing me. It was my very fingertips, attempting to turn each page. They no longer worked well enough to do so. Sobbing. Crying deep breaths in and out, forcing myself to calm down.
All I had to do was rest. Close my eyes. Sleep, awaken and the miracle of being able to finish the book would be mine.
My eyelids fluttered against my inner command. I heard, unbelieving, what my hands did next.
A ripping sound. Made while attempting to return each of the last pages back to the manuscript.
Was that screeching noise coming from me? Labored, shallow breathing in and out, rocking myself into a frenzy of disbelief.
There. The last few pages uncurled, facing me on my lap. I watched, eyes blurred, shocked vision restored.
The words were fading from where the paper was torn. I read as fast as I could, these split sentences with lost punctuation and missing words spilling off the pages. I groaned. I howled. I could not read fast enough.
The wounds I had caused in the manuscript were lethal. A previous chapter, then more in turn, scattered by my rocking back and forth, stared blankly back at me.
I lost my mind. It lays trapped on blank pages. I am as blank inside as they. No-one believes me. My therapist bade me vent and write my own version of what happened down. They say it is all in my head. Over work. There is no record of my receiving a manuscript nor is there a missing one.
I’ve tried writing the book from memory. The words are not the same. I can’t make them not my own.
When they made me an outpatient, gave me my medicine, and took me back to my rooms, the first thing I noticed was my books were gone. I needed a fresh start, they said.
I’ve left my apartment. It no longer feels like home. I wandered homeless, sold my meds for food. I still love books, though it is too much torture to buy one or check one out of the library. I can’t. They took away my card. I sit there just to be close to them.
Before me, I make sure the one thousand, four hundred and eighty-eight blank pages of paper are neatly stacked with their number on each one. Tired. I rest my eyes before opening them, waiting for words to appear.