Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2091876
The dilemmas of editing as you write.
|An entry for |
The carved wooden lamp cast a yellow glow over the editor's workspace. One hand, elbow resting on the distressed pine schoolmaster's desk, held up her tired head. The other worked the trak-ball mouse, correcting tense issues, inserting commas, deleting worn phrasings. While Sam was elated that this writer had finally gotten over her dry spell and sent her some more chapters, it had been a rough couple of weeks of cajoling, hand-holding and shoulder-being to get her author to start producing some decent work. Ultimately, it had taken threatening to travel to Indiana to remove her delete key from her keyboard to get the point across.
Abby had been having a love affair of late with that nefarious key. She'd grind out sentence by slow sentence, a paragraph or three, only to delete them. It didn't flow, didn't sound right, was stilted or any number of other excuses. Pages would be deleted in an instance of supreme lack of confidence in her writing. An entire chapter was symbolically torn from an invisible typewriter, summarily crumpled and tossed to the floor in a fit of pique. Then she'd answer her phone with a lackluster "Hello, Sam," when her editor, connected by some thin thread known only to those of an editorial bent, called to ask how her writing was going.
"Not good," Abby said. "I can't get them out of that darned cave. It took Danny an hour to convince KC to even go in there with him and now she won't leave. The tour group's long gone and all she wants to do is kiss Danny or talk about how pretty it is. KC was the one with the claustrophobia issues, but now Danny feels like the ceiling (or maybe it is called a roof?) of the cave is going to fall and crush them both."
"I hate caves," her editor said, glumly, not even looking forward to this part of the book, although it was one of the climaxes leading up towards the end. "I suppose it is all wet and dripping water and cold, right?"
"Of course," Abby said, her voice brightening for a moment. "I deleted about 1500 words though, pretty much what I wrote yesterday. It just didn't feel right. She was scared, now he is, but he won't come out and say that. She's all 'Look at that stalag-thing.' Or 'The water is so clear,' and he's just wanting to grab her and get the hell out of there. Right now, she's wanting to get all cuddly on this narrow path with a rock wall on one side and a fifty-foot drop on the other and he's looking down at the huge boulders lying down there, and inside he's freaking. She has no clue he's halfway to being totally terrorized!"
Abby's editor shook her head and shivered. She completely understood what Danny was feeling. "What did we discuss about that delete key? You really need to quit using it!"
"I know, I know. But--"
"No buts. Do. Not. Use. It. Forget you have one. Write through it and we can figure it out later. You know the drill."
"Okaaay," Abby dragged out the word. "So, Sam, you think they should get lost in there or ...?"
"Depends. They could get lost and have the tour guide come back for them. Or maybe he actually says something to the effect that he wants to get out of there. You know, actual communication?"
"Good luck with that," Abby laughed. "You know how these two are."
"Yeah. You couldn't have even gotten me in the cave in the first place. So, pretend I'm Danny and get them back to the surface. I'll talk to you tomorrow, and remember, Abigail, no more delete key!"
"Yes, Mom," Abby said in a sing-song voice. "It's early yet, I figure I've got a couple of hours' worth of writing still in me tonight. Thanks for calling though. You always seem to know when I need a push."
"Yeah, right off that cliff you've got them on," laughed her editor. "In the meantime, it is after midnight and I need to get to bed. I'll have a chapter or two bouncing around in my inbox in the morning, right?"
"Yes, Ma'am," giggled Abby.
"No more delete key, promise me!"
"I promise," Abby said. "I will not touch the delete key. Go to bed. Sleep well."
"Will do, g'night."
Samantha saved the document, closed down her computer, turned off the light and got ready for bed. Crawling between the sheets, shoving the pup down to her feet, and nudging her husband, Kent, so that he'd stop snoring. Sam snuggled into her blankets. It had been a long, long day full of meetings, a trip to the printer to pick up another author's latest book and setting up an author's round table discussion at a nearby library. She'd approved a final layout and then started editing Abby's manuscript well after ten at night.
I should have taken some aspirin, Sam thought as her head throbbed. A far off rumble of thunder had the dog coming to full alert and a half-hearted, warning woof sounded deep in her throat. "Not tonight, please," Sam mumbled to herself. "Sleep, I need sleep."
The storm had eased off and now only the drip of rainwater off the gutter spout pattered to the ground. Having spent the last hour twisting and turning under the covers, they were now cocooning Sam. The dog walked up the length of her body and settled in the curve of her back, her head resting on Sam's shoulder.
Kent crawled along the narrow crevice in front of Sam. The roof of the cave had angled downward until they were basically slithering through a two-foot-high crack in the granite mountain. Water, freezing cold water, ran along the bottom and Sam was soaked. She knew it was just her nerves, but she could swear she felt the rock beneath her vibrating.
Feeling something skitter across her hand, Sam jerked back. Stars exploded as she hit the back her head against the unforgiving rock. She swatted at Kent's foot. "Hon? How much further?"
Sam tried to reach the back of her head, but the small space was just too confining. There was no air in this cave. Everything was pushing in on her. "Kent," she gasped, feeling her throat closing up. "Hon? Can you see how much further we have to crawl until this opens up? I need to get out of here. Now!"
His voice was muffled. She barely heard him reply that it was about another fifty feet or so.
"Well, can't you go any faster? Hurry up!" It felt as if the weight of the entire mountain was pressing down on her, squeezing and flattening her. She really, really hated being in tight places. Claustrophobic since childhood, she had not wanted to do this, but she'd been assured, promised even, that there were no tight, confining spaces. If this wasn't tight and suffocatingly close, she didn't know what was!
"Please hurry," she panted. Despite the cold, she felt sweat dripping down her forehead. Or was it blood? Shaking, she shoved at the foot in front of her. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Sam closed her eyes, tried to slow her breathing, tried to calm the ferocious beating of her heart that felt as if it could burst from her chest at any moment. Finally, she was able to draw in a deep breath.
A bit of daytime reality seeped into Sam's dream. "This is all Abby's fault. If it weren't for Danny and KC being in that stupid cave, I wouldn't be stuck here now."
Kent's hand reached out, pulling Sam into an upright position. "There now, that wasn't so bad, was it? I mean, sure, we are wet, but we're just fine."
Sam looked at him, goggle-eyed. "Just fine? Wasn't so bad?" Her voice jumped an octave with each word. "I am not fine. Get me out of here!"
"Okay, okay," he responded, in an attempt to calm her down. "Look: all we have to do now is go down that little path," pointed her husband, in the light from his headlamp. "Then, we cross the basin by the underground lake and climb the steps on the other side of the bridge and we'll be outside again."
"Oh, that's all," retorted Sam caustically. She was hurrying across the basin, barely even noticing the small ripples circling out from the center of the small lake. She and her husband paused on the wood and rope bridge as their guide came rushing down the steps.
"There you are. Hurry, everyone's waiting for you," he said sternly.
The ground rumbled. Kent, grabbing Sam's hand, practically pulled her off her feet as they ran the rest of the way across the violently swaying bridge. Just as they started up the steps, the shaking intensified and rocks plummeted from the ceiling. Knocked to the ground by a glancing blow from a falling stalactite, Sam felt Kent's body stretch to cover her own as the ground continued to tremble as debris landed all around them.
Sam looked up to see the dazed expression in Kent's eyes as blood streamed down his face from a gash in his forehead. This can't be happening, thought Sam. I need to wake up. In the background, the falling rocks and pebbles sounded much like the sound of a fast typist on a keyboard.
Suddenly she knew. Sam pushed herself up on her elbows and screamed, "Abby, stop typing! Hit delete. Hit delete!"
Abby nibbled on her bottom lip and stopped typing. She'd promised Sam she wouldn't delete anything. Still, she really didn't want Danny or KC hurt. Maybe she could have the ceiling collapse just after they'd gotten out and have the cave entrance be blocked in a landslide of dirt, dust and rocks. Hmmm. Does have, she continued to think, a high cringe-ability factor, which would certainly have KC all but scampering into Danny's arms. Kind of like that idea better, she mused.
She raised her finger to hit delete, then paused. Chewing on a fingernail, she thought some more. She did promise Sam. Maybe she should just leave it. She could almost hear Sam saying, "Do. Not. Hit. Delete." Abby sighed. She didn't have to tell Sam she'd deleted anything. She'd never know. Right. Damned editor knew everything. Still ... KC had just gotten over being in the car wreck and Abby wasn't so sure it was even a good idea for her to get hurt again so soon. She was turning into a bit of a klutz as it was. Really don't want her becoming a pathetic wimp. KC had to be strong underneath everything. Should she or shouldn't she hit delete? Abby sat there, her index finger poised over that troublesome key. Everything in her was screaming to delete it, to wipe the last two pages and write it differently. It wasn't right. She could always save this version and then revise the part she didn't like. That could work. Abby clicked 'save as' and amended the file name. Then she stubbornly cut the last page and a half.
Less than a minute later, her cell rang. Only Sam knew she'd be up at this ungodly hour.
"You hit delete!" Abby's eyes widened as Sam yelled at her.
"Whaa--? How the hell?"
"You are never gonna believe this...."