by Mar Prax
Zea hasn't been living for four years, but that all changes when she meets newswriter Vael
|Chapter 1: “Act 2”
Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Cheerios?
I grabbed the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and poured it into a bowl. I took out the milk from the fridge, two percent as always, and slowly added it to the bowl. I retrieved a spoon and quickly dished a small portion of the cereal into my mouth. I picked up the bowl and relocated myself to the couch where I sat down and laid back, setting the bowl on my lap. I opened my computer screen and stared vacantly at the blank document that it presented me. The cursor blinked in front of me, impatiently waiting for words to be written. I just sat and ate my cereal, waiting for the words that desperately needed to fill the page to come to me. My eyes never left the computer and blinked far less than the cursor. I was left with near silence. All there was was the faint hum of the computer, the crunching of the cereal in my mouth, and the knock at the door.
The knock at the door? At this hour? For me?
It was midnight and I certainly wasn’t expecting any guests. For a short moment, I pondered whether I should stay seated or answer the door. It was a short moment because I soon concluded I had nothing better to do. I wasn’t very scared of who might be at the door. A robber? What’d he rob? A lamp. Sure, maybe it was some type of murderer, but they’d only end up taking a half-life. Besides, I’d just scream for help if it was or stab them with my spoon because I’m sure that would have been a great plan.
I got up, my cereal bowl in hand, and answered the door. Thankfully, no robbers or murders were there, just a geeky looking tall man. He had rectangular glasses that made me assume he had an affinity for math, although there was no particular reason I should have. He had clean brown hair that was styled nicely like he was headed to a job interview. His almost unusually large eyes held a light blue color which somehow irrationally reinforced his geekiness. He looked like he was trying for a smile but needed to reread the instructions for a refresher on how to do it correctly. He dressed nicely in a light blue button-down shirt, grey tie, black slacks, and black loafers. I almost wondered if he was a recent college graduate going back to congratulate the underclassmen for good time's sake.
He adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat as if trying to get my attention, not knowing he had already gotten it by previously knocking on the door.
“You must be wondering who I am,” he said. He tried readjusting his smile, but no progress was made in his attempts to appear sociable. He looked at me like he was expecting an immediate answer, instead, I returned with a blank stare accompanied by loud crunches of cereal. He tried, yet again, for a better smile. I took pity on him and conceded.
“No, not really,” I responded. “Would you like to come in? I’ve got a couch. You can probably see it, my apartment is small.”
“Uh…” He didn’t seem to know how to react to that.
“If you do, close the door so that rats don’t get in,” I remarked flatly. The man anxiously nodded and stepped in, closing the door behind him. He looked around and apparently decided the best option of what to do was nothing.
I gestured to the couch. He nodded meekly and his cheeks began to flush. He waddled over to the couch and took a seat, but more likely to be polite than for comfort. He had an odd habit of compressing his body as if he was being pressed into a tight space. I noticed it when he was standing in the doorway, but hadn’t seen the whole of it until I saw him on the couch. His legs were suctioned together and I was surprised his arms weren’t breaking his ribs. His fists were balled so tightly, his fingers were white. Even his neck looked like it wanted to sink down into his chest as if he were a turtle.
I sauntered over to him, but instead of sitting on the couch, I sat across from him on the floor. There was a crappy little wooden coffee table that lay between us. I had gotten it from a friend who was about to throw it away, it was obvious why. The thing looked as if it had been through a wood chipper. The man seemed to take notice of that. He also noticed my computer, still on, to the side of him.
“That is my next great masterpiece,” I told him.
“There’s nothing on it,” he observed.
“Therein lies the problem,” I quipped back. I thought maybe he smiled at that or quite possibly it was more of a nervous frown. I was starting to wonder if this man had even seen a person before or perhaps he never looked in a mirror so he couldn’t properly learn facial expressions. I had become an antisocial shut-in, but this man looked like a serious Anthropophobiac. He made me look like the town gossip. Although to be fair, it might have been my odd personality that set him off.
“Um… anyway… I’m a reporter, Vael Cruem, from Paper Mill Papers and I was wondering if I could ask a few questions,” he began, his words running together as if his sentence was like pulling off a bandaid.
I continued my streak of blank stares and raised my spoon to my mouth. I very undramatically emptied the contents of the spoon into my mouth and repeated the action. Plausibly; very anticlimactic for Vael.
I wasn’t usually one for thoughts, but one thought did creep into my mind: Vael? What an unusual name. Being named Zea, I was quite used to unusual names. Still, I voiced my thought because why not?
“Unusual name,” I said. “Don’t really like it.”
I could tell by the way he arched his eyebrow, he knew my name. He knew of its oddity and I could tell why I’d comment on his name with such a strange name of my own.
“Just don’t like unusual names,” I added to my statement. I attached a shrug to the scene then continued eating my cereal. I just hated it when it got soggy.
I knew Vaels’s mind was spinning; whatever he knew about me, it didn’t lead him to the conclusion of me being me.
“About the questions…,” he urged.
“I’m fine with any type,” I replied. “Weather, politics, trivia. I must warn you, I haven’t much of a stance on anything.”
He nodded, but what I had just said passed through him and didn’t bother to enter his mind for processing.
“Um… I would like to question you about your book,” he said and I nearly spit out the cereal in my mouth. The alarm nearly passed over my face, but I concealed any expression and contained my surprise. My eyes drifted from my cereal to Vael.
I nodded at him thoughtfully and expressed, “That is the only one I’m not fine with talking about.” That was a lie but I doubted he could guess any of the others.
“Oh… I’m sorry,” he returned, his apology genuine. “I’ll… I’ll––”
I usually wasn’t one for interruptions, but I interrupted him. “I won’t be fine, but ask them anyway. Not everyone has to be ‘fine’ all the time to live or even be okay. Nobody’s gonna be fine all the time so continue.”
He didn’t seem to understand, but I didn’t expect he would.
Vael cleared his throat again, and like before, it wasn’t needed to get my attention, especially since I was nearly out of cereal.
“When you created the main character, Tephen Green, were you molding him off a real-life person?” Vael questioned. I was slightly taken aback.
“No,” I responded. “There was no one in mind when I created that character.”
“What about the name?” he continued. “Did you use someone’s name for the book?”
I shook my head then took my last bite of cereal. I got up, a little huffy, but by my standards, it wasn’t by much. I went over to my kitchenette counter and pulled out a box of Cheerios. Vael looked a little concerned by this action, but he didn’t voice any of his reservations. I continued until I was satisfied with the portion of cereal I had.
“Well, keep talking,” I told him. “I can hear you perfectly fine from here.”
Vael nodded anxiously and asked, “Do you have any fan that demonstrates an obsessive interest in your book or close to it?”
I took the bowl then returned to my previous spot. Instead of eating the cereal, I placed it on the coffee table in front of me and met Vael’s gaze. That seemed to unnerve him more than anything else I did.
“Do you need me to repeat the question?” he asked.
“No,” I waved him off. “I heard you fine, but trust me when I say I have no fans like that.”
I scooped some cereal into my mouth and spoke between crunches. “Might I ask what you’re inquiring, Mr. Cruem? Whatever story you’re looking into seems to have to do directly with me. I don’t know what my book could have to do with anything, especially Tephen Green. I have no fans. I haven’t even got readers. The fame of my book died quite a while back. I barely make a buck off of it annually. So what could be so important about such an insignificant book?”
Vael looked rather impressed by the number of words I had construed without pausing. I wasn’t. I could be sharp-tongued and fast-talking if I wanted to, but most of the time I didn’t. Effort just seemed to take so much effort.
“There’s a person of interest…,” Vael began, slowing his words like what he was about to say was crucial and delicate information, “and his name is Tephen Green.”
“Coincidence,” I responded, although I wasn’t quite convinced of that myself.
“Well… I… uh…” Vael looked rather embarrassed with what he was about to say. “I… uh… read your book be––because that hit a flag with the name and in the synopsis, the Tephen Green in real life matched the Tephen Green in the book. So… I… uh…. read the book and it seemed more like the two were one and the same.” He awkwardly laced his fingers together, switching his eyesight from his fumbling fingers and me.
“You’re a pretty talented author, I must say, ma’am,” he added.
“Zea,” I responded.
“What?” he returned.
“Zea, not ma’am,” I clarified.
He tried for a smile, which held humility at best. “Uh… sorry… Zea.” He had a particularly hard time saying my name, but I wasn’t sure why since it was pronounced Z and Vael didn’t look to have any speaking issues besides his overwhelming shyness.
“I must admit,” he started, his words coming with great hesitance, “you weren’t exactly what I expected.”
I couldn’t blame him for that. I certainly wasn’t someone you’d consider an author and that perhaps was because I wasn’t. I was a very different person when I wrote that book and perhaps that was why I never could write another.
His eyes pleaded with me to respond somehow. Somehow my silence was making him more nervous than my anger or embarrassment would have. I might have responded, but I wasn’t quite sure what to say with that. I couldn’t really argue with him, his expectations were his own and they were to be… well… as expected.
After a long silence filled with nothing but my spoon diving into my cereal bowl, I gave an inadequate and likely a disappointing response to Vael. “I agree.”
He didn’t seem to know how to reply to that, well at least he knew how I felt.
“Are you sure you don’t know anyone who would impersonate your character?” he asked yet again.
I simply shrugged and responded, “My book never won any Pulitzers, it could have barely been considered a big thing when it came out. I wouldn’t know anyone who would hold out an obsession with that book for so long.”
“Unless they recently discovered it,” Vael countered.
I snorted then ate another bite of my cereal. “I don’t know how.”
Vael considered what I’d just said, but I don’t think he decided to take any lasting note on it so I decided I might as well. I made a quick mental bookmark of my statement, but with my memory, I doubted it would last long.
“So,” I said looking dismally at my bowl of cereal which just contained milk, “why exactly are you asking for this information? What does some guy impersonating a book character have to do with anything?”
Vael fumbled around with his fingers some more and I rolled my eyes. Alright, if he wanted to keep his secrets then I’d keep mine. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have and usually wouldn’t have cared what information he was withholding, but it was about my book and… well… there’d already been far too many things that bothered me during its writing and publication. I probably wouldn’t have been who I am if not for it, but then again, I might have been just the same.
I started drinking the milk from my bowl, giving Vael time to form an answer. Part of me was telling me to drink the milk faster and push Vael out the door. I already had plenty enough troubles with that book, I didn’t need anymore. Then there was the other part of me, that high pitched, bossy, and annoying voice in my head that was usually right, telling me to stick with that geeky man. It was the curious part of me that I thought I’d long since locked away, but I guess it’s true that you can’t get rid of every part of you. It told me that whatever Vael was talking about, I needed to listen carefully, even if that wasn’t my thing. I didn’t just need to know the problem, but address it and fix it.
Ugh, I hated addressing and fixing things. That was probably why my life was in shambles.
The two voices argued, but it was a rather polite argument like both voices were Canadian. One told me that whatever Vael’s story was, it wasn’t my problem. I’d already dealt with my ramifications and they were far severe enough. It was best to walk away. But then came that nagging voice which I hated so much. It told me that it was my problem if the book had spawned the issue. I had to jump on his story if it had to do with my story. I needed to find out who Tephen Green was. I had to meet the person I had created.
Ugh, that seemed so stressful and arduous.
The other voice quieted, making way for the annoying voice that was always right to get louder.
Fine, I thought, I’ll pursue it.
The voice died out. I wondered if that was my conscience. I almost hoped it wasn’t. I hadn’t imagined it being so annoying. I think I would have preferred a cricket.
I finished the milk in my bowl and set the bowl down on the coffee table. I’d get up to wash it when Vael answered my questions.
“Alright,” Vael began, “just don’t tell my editor any of it, okay?”