by John Little
An author receives an anonymous gift, an ergonomic keyboard.
|Taking down the Christmas tree, Charlie finds an orphaned present hiding under the tree. The tag reads, To: Charlie From: . Charlie opens it and finds an ergonomic keyboard. They1 inspect the tag, the keyboard, the wrapping — nothing. It's not that they don't appreciate it, but an explanation would have been nice.
Or at least a gift receipt. There is nothing wrong with their current keyboard.
Paul comes down from the attic.
"You started already." He gives them a quick hug. They hang on a little longer. Paul laughs and holds them tighter.
"Looks like a keyboard."
"That definitely 'looks' like a keyboard. Did you need a new one?"
"You're not the anonymous gifter?"
"Do you like it?"
"I don't need it"
"Not from me, then."
They give Paul a quick elbow jab. He grunts with an exaggerated 'umph'.
"So, Boy Wonder, how did it get under the tree?"
"I don't know! Maybe somebody left it after the party? An ergonomic keyboard? You have been writing a lot lately, and your wrists have been bothering you. Problems?"
"I have been 'trying' to write, but all I get is garbage. I think it's carpal tunnel."
"Then this is from someone who cares."
Paul grunts again, but there is no exaggeration this time.
Charlie finds the keyboard dongle, plugs it into the computer. It snicks in and gives off a weird glow.
"What the hell?"
They start to experiment with the keyboard. Seems to work. If it fried my stories, there will be hell to pay.
A Little Red Demon materializes above their monitor.
"What the hell?"
The Little Red Demon sighs. "Everyone's a comedian. Can we get past that? Do you like the keyboard? How are the wrists? Everything all 'ergy'? Good. My, but you've got a lot done! Let's take a look, shall we?"
Charlie sags in their chair, not comprehending anything.
LRD crosses his arms and starts tapping his foot.
"I really hate this part. Look. You. Writer. Me. Best-Friend-a-Writer-Ever-Had. Got it?"
Charlie gets up from their chair and slowly backs out of the room. They go downstairs, start a fresh cup of coffee, and wait. Their mind is in shock — a complete blank.
"Earth to Charlie ..."
Charlie jolts. "Wha—?"
Paul looks at them, looks at the overheated coffee maker. "Coffee's ready ..."
They look at the coffee maker, look at Paul, look back at the coffee maker.
In a small voice, "Hold me ..."
After a long hug, Charlie pulls back. "Outside. We need to go outside. Now."
He looks at them, looks at the coffee, turns the coffee maker off, and grabs their coffee.
"C'mon", Charlie hisses.
He follows them to the gazebo. They sit down and the couple snuggle. Charlie sips their coffee in silence.
"What's going on?"
"I plug the keyboard in, the dongle does some weird electro thing, I sit down and start to type. And type, and type and type and type and type—"
"Oh." Silence. "I can't explain it. It is like I am on fire. The words, the stories — they just started to flow."
"I thought I had broken through my writer's block." They suck in air. "It was exhilarating."
"I bet. What went wrong."
"It was like I was ... possessed — Oh God no!" Charlie starts hyperventilating.
Paul holds them close. "Slow down. Breathe. Focus."
"Focus? Focus!? That's all I have been doing! I am drained! And it's all his fault. Oh God I am so damned!"
Charlie's body is racked with sobbing and Paul holds them tight. What the hell is happening?
They pull in closer to Paul — a death grip on the coffee mug.
"I've been digging up that new garden we wanted. See? I laid out the foundation for the raised beds over there, put in a couple posts for a front-facing trellis. I got the water feature scored out, along with where the water lines will run."
Charlie looks over the work. "What is the trellis for?"
"I thought it would be cool to have ivy, or maybe morning glories."
"Yeah. That'd be nice."
"You said it was his fault. Who?"
Charlie twists and looks at Paul. They take his hand. "Come. I'll show you."
They lead him back to the house, up to the attic. They hesitate at their door. Paul starts to get apprehensive. "Is ... is someone in there?" He keeps his voice low. Charlie just nods. He pulls them back from the door, wishing he brought the spade. He listens for a moment — hears nothing. One last look at Charlie, then he reaches for the door and bursts into the room.
He searches the room, the closet, checks the dormer window.
He steps back out, shakes his head, starts to search the rest of the attic. Charlie steps into the doorway, "HE'S RIGHT THERE!". Paul rushes back in.
"You ... you ... don't see him, do you?"
"Of course he doesn't. Humans. Hrmph. Look, you are the only one who can see me."
"WHY!? WHY ARE YOU HERE!?"
"Charlie. There is no one here ..."
"Paul ... Paul ..."
He pulls them back into the hall and closes the door.
Twenty years later, Paul and Charlie are still together, happy as any couple could be. Charlie never goes back up to the room, never goes upstairs. They had insisted he board up the attic and now Charlie runs a flower nursery. There is an odd absence of red in everything they grow. Eventually, Paul builds a new art studio out by the garden.
Paul tries to get Charlie to talk about it, tries to get them into counseling. The haunted look in their eyes convinces him to give up and just move on with their life together.
The nightmares never stop, but once they get the nursery business up and running, it is enough of a distraction to mute the nightmares — to a degree.
w/c 997 words