Ktismatics

10 February 2014

Untitled Revenge Fantasy Fragment

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:08 pm

Here’s the very end of Station Zero, one of the novels in my Salon Postisme Suite. The main character, a frustrated writer named Bud, is walking through a bookstore, having suddenly and to his own surprise discovered that he is now a best-selling novelist. With a few modifications this scene, and especially the overheard dialogue that begins in the fourth paragraph, might work as a stand-alone short story. Then I could submit for publication, perhaps incrementally enhancing my slim chances of coercing an agent into representing my novels. Alternatively, I could act out the story…

* * *

He found himself standing at the foot of the store’s central stairway. He wound his way up, keeping a firm hold on the railing just in case. Conversations swirled around him, but he found that he couldn’t concentrate on what was being said, catching only the merest snippets. Writers listening for the voice. Readers identifying with the character, living through the character. The character living through the readers, through the writer. In the beginning was the word, and the word was made flesh, and the flesh was made word. Someone handed him a hardback book and asked him to autograph it: he barely recognized the title, barely recognized his own photo on the back cover, barely remembered what it was about. He fished in his pocket for a pen: it wasn’t his, but it looked and felt familiar. Inscribing his name on the title page seemed to restore his concentration which, after drifting around the room, landed on one particular conversation.

“…Maybe we turn it into a series. Each episode could be about a different parcel getting processed through the system. So we start every show with the same scene – the vast warehouse, the trucks being unloaded, the packages gliding along the conveyor belts eight feet off the warehouse floor, the sorters up on their perches shunting packages left, right, right, left. And then we focus in on one package in particular as it’s passing through the apparatus. We see the name and address written on the package, and now we dissolve or somehow change scenes to that address, that person. Or maybe we start with the return address, the sender, and built the story from that point of view. So already there’s the one episode we can use as a pilot, the one about the lawyer who receives the package from his old friend, his friend who may or may not still be alive, who may have been killed by someone who desperately wanted to get his hands on that package, and the lawyer keeps it locked away for a year, maybe twenty years, without ever opening it up to see what’s inside. Okay, so now I’m talking about another episode. Or wait, maybe instead of each episode being a stand-alone story, maybe there are multiple story lines unfolding over time, intertwined with each other.”

“The story please.”

“What? Oh, right. Okay, so like I said, we could start this story from either end of the delivery chain, either the sender or the recipient. Let’s say we start with the recipient. He’s just leaving his office. It’s kind of a bullpen, lots of people sitting at desks with computers and stacks of papers. He grabs his backpack, says goodbye to the woman at the desk next to him, and heads for the elevator. Maybe he walks past some flunky rolling a trolley around the office, delivering manila envelopes to people sitting at these desks as we watch our guy leave. They look a lot like the package we saw on the conveyor belt, the one addressed to this guy who’s leaving now. So our guy goes out the door, takes the elevator down to the garage, gets in his car, drives off. He stops somewhere. Where? Oh, I know. Before he leaves he calls his wife, tells her he’s got something to do before he gets home, to expect him in about an hour and a half. But of course this is an alibi, because we find out that in fact he’s heading for a quicky rendezvous with his mistress. So he pulls off the road, parks his car, sees this hot babe looking out the window of her apartment building, eying our guy with that come-hither look. He looks, sees, smiles, waves. He’s crossing the street, heading for her apartment, when a car goes by, left to right across the screen, driver’s side window open. We don’t see the driver’s face, but we do see his hand and, in it, the gun. It fires, and our guy is hit, right in the head. He’s lying in the middle of the street, supine, blood pooling around his head, staring up blindly at the sky, the woman in the window looking all Edvard Munch down at her boyfriend, who is now suddenly her ex-boyfriend. At the end of the scene we’re watching the rear end of the car getting smaller and smaller as it flees the scene of the crime.”

“Yes of course, we have seen this scenario many times. The suspense is killing me, as they say. But please, must you walk me through all of these clichés before you tell me the story?”

“Jesus, okay, fine. So the head-shot philanderer lying in the street? It turns out he’s a literary agent.”

“And the driving man who shot him is a rejected author, yes? And the package was the manuscript the killer sent to this agent, a manuscript which was rejected by this agent. And now the author is getting his revenge, yes?”

“Yes. But. This author, he’s been doing this for years, writing novels, sending them to agents, having them rejected, never getting published. Just like any other author, right? He gets the rejection letters and they always say the same thing: we liked your book but it’s too experimental, or not experimental enough, it’s a tight market, and blah blah blah we hope you’ll consider submitting something else to us in the future, best regards. After a string of rejections as long as your arm this author has reached the conclusion that these fucking agents never even look at his manuscripts. They just hand the package off to the typing pool to send out the standard rejection letter.”

“And our rejected writer has experimented to test this theory.”

“Yes. He has sent off manuscripts that weren’t even his – chapters from The Great Gatsby, or long passages from the Bible.”

“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

“Exactly. And he gets the exact same rejection letters. So now he’s finally reached his limit, going a bit mad. Now, instead of sending fake manuscripts he’s started sending these agents something else. He’s going to show those miserable hubristic fucks that it’s important to read what he sends them.”

“A matter of life and death, you could say.”

“Exactly. So typically the writer would send a cover letter, a description of his book, how it’s like a cross between Raymond Chandler and Philip Dick with a smidgen of Borges or some such pretentious crap that’s supposed to persuade the agent that this book isn’t just the next Pulitzer Prize winner but a sure best-seller to boot. But our writer, he’s past all that now. He sends each agent a cover letter, and attached to the letter is a story. A different story for each agent. But it’s more than just a tale, well-told though it may be.”

“It is a prophecy.”

“What? Yes, right, it’s a prophecy. It is a fictional tale, but this fiction is about to become reality.”

“Because it is the story of how and when and where this particular agent will meet his death.”

“Yes! Every writer wants to make an impact on the reader. Well in this case the writer makes a big impact on the non-reader. The writer picks out an agent, finds out about him, where he lives, what car he drives. He follows him around town, learns his habits, uncovers his secrets. And then he writes the agent a custom-made whodunit, a story about a frustrated writer who kills off, one by one, the agents who reject his submissions. The details are right there in black and white, a confession before the fact, submitted by the killer himself to his intended victim. All the agent has to do to save his ass is to take the time to read what’s in the envelope. But the writer, he knows it’s just never going to happen.

“The writer does this again and again, the same M.O. ”

“A serial killer, get it? You know, like the show is a series, a serial?”

“Yes, you are a laugh riot.”

“The writer writes a bunch of these murder stories and makes them all come true. And as he racks up the body count he is driven to even further madness, his rage and despair twisted into a kind of maniacal glee. And why?”

“Because he is never caught. Because no agent ever reads the story which the writer sends.”

“Yes, until finally…”

“The grand finale. The writer compiles all of these tales, these confessions, into a book, a crime novel. He finishes the manuscript, prints it, and sets it on the corner of his desk. Then he reaches into the top drawer of his desk and pulls out the pièce de résistance – a revolver. He sticks the barrel into his mouth and shoots himself dead.”

“Very good. And you know what the ironic part is?”

“That the last chapter describes his own suicide.”

“Right. And also this. The writer lives in an apartment, alone. Somebody finally notices the smell, the cops break in and find the body. They see the manuscript on the desk, spattered with the author’s own blood. They take it into evidence. So which do you think happens? Do the cops read the manuscript, figure out what it really is, close all of those open murder cases? Does the book set off a bidding war in the publishing industry, become a best seller, win the Pulitzer? Or does it sit in the evidence room, unread, for a week, a year, twenty years?”

“I do not have to guess the answer. I need only ask the author.”

“Sure, I’ll tell you, but guess first.”

“No, I mean the original author. This book has already been written, yes?”

“What? No. I just gave you the outline, but I haven’t really started the actual…”

“It is a finished book, written by another. It was a best seller; it won the Pulitzer. Surely you know?”

“What? That’s impossible. Who? Who wrote this book?”

In reply the other man looked across the room to where Bud was standing. He held Bud in his gaze until finally Bud turned around and headed back downstairs. Someone else was reading to the audience now: an old man with a West Indian accent. Bud knew this story but didn’t remember having written it down yet. He left the bookstore without buying anything. As he followed the hostess across the square a courier walked up to him, asked him to sign, and handed him the little white box with the gold ribbon.

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3 Comments »

  1. The reference to ‘The Shining’ was amusing.

    Comment by Patrick — 10 February 2014 @ 7:39 pm

    • I wonder if Stephen King ever in his life experienced writer’s block, or if it was a persistent terror that some day the spigot would run dry.

      Comment by ktismatics — 10 February 2014 @ 8:06 pm

    • But Stephen King had already scored with Carrie and Salem’s Lot before writing this third novel about a pathological novelist. That’s probably a shrewder move than coming right out of the box with a piece that might make the author seem dangerous to those very people he’s trying to woo. No, I guess I better not send this piece out as a short story until I’m already established or until I’ve given up altogether on traditional publishing channels.

      Comment by ktismatics — 11 February 2014 @ 3:55 am


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