I was rummaging through Mariposa’s desk the other day and found this short story she’d written a couple years ago and never did anything with. So instead of letting it go to waste, I’ve decided to share it with you! I’m sure Mariposa won’t mind, and if she does, I’ll just eat the story before she can use the evidence against me.
One afternoon, all the clocks in the world stopped.
I rubbed my hands together, constructing my evil plot.
People rammed into each other screaming frantically.
I studied my handwriting. What? People don’t ram into other—they’re not goats. I scribbled the words out but that created a glaring smudge. I folded the paper in half, dumping it into the puking wastebasket. I pulled a clean sheet from the drawer.
One afternoon all the…
The pencil broke. I stuffed the pencil into the electric sharpener. Nimbly taking the pencil out, I breathed in and set it parallel with the page. I glanced up. The other pencils in the basket were 2.347 millimeters longer.
I dumped all the pencils out, jabbing them into the sharpener until they were all perfectly uniform. I tapped my fingers on the desk, glaring at the blank page. What was I writing? Oh yes, one afternoon—
A water droplet splashed onto my nose then the plaster fell off the ceiling, coating the room with white particles. I calmly dialed my upstairs neighbor and calmly told him how much I greatly admired his germicidal habits but that leaving his shower running was clearly uneconomical. I hung up and pounded the blank paper.
The paper slit 0.01 inches into my thumb. I wrapped a bandaid around my finger. I yanked a drawer open and felt around. A pen jabbed my hand and exploded ink everywhere. I dabbed the ink with a paper towel, deciding it was safer to type on my phone. I typed one sentence then the screen blacked out from low battery. I searched through the desk for my charger and hundred plus pages of unfinished short stories, articles, and novels tumbled out of the bottom drawer.
I sighed, bending to pick them up. Most of the pages were half empty. My brain seemed like a mass of brick that grew thicker each year. It would let inspiration seep through for the first two sentences then everything else would turn sour. Most of my journals were filled only beginning sentences, or writing prompts as the public might call them. Except they didn’t prompt me to write anything but more writing prompts and that was very unhealthy for my stamina.
I pulled out one lone manuscript from the pile. I had worked on it for five years now and it was the only thing I was ever able to type “The End” and the first material I could confidently (or not so confidently as the case may be) submit to a publisher. I smiled, gently setting it on the desk before walking over to lift the blind. Across the street, my boss switched the sign on the bookstore to “OPEN.” I crammed the rest of the papers back into the desk and headed out the door.
My neighbor Dallas, clicked open her door. I wrinkled my nose, getting a whiff of her perfume and I wrinkled my eyebrows, getting a glimpse of her apartment. Papers, clothes, and a bunch of random junk cloaked the floor. I shivered, remembering the holocaust of my college days when my doom buddy slaughtered all my peace with disorganization. I was so anxious to get out of there, I forgot to pack my favorite pen!
I stomped and she clomped down the stairs to the crosswalk. While I looked both ways, she jogged across as our boss set a new book on display in the window. As soon the light turned green, I trudged over and studied the new book. “New York Times Bestseller” the cover stated. I scanned the first page. I gasped, pressing my nose against the glass. Ears streamed down her face. Ears! Why how dare they miss a letter I… A glance at my wristwatch made me dive inside.
“My book’s a cinch to get published. I got ten more visits on my blog this week,” Dallas boasted, setting a box on the table. I lifted the jackknife from my pocket and tore open the new shipment of books. I stacked them alphabetically while Dallas stacked them catastrophically. And when I walked over to arrange hers alphabetically, she went over and arranged mine catastrophically.
Now that my phone was fully charged, it dinged, letting me know some emails came in. I ripped it off my belt, but it was just an ad for some gluten-free macaroni that looked more like tofu. I flicked the screen off, gazing at the rows of books. I should be hearing from the publisher any day now. It’d been so long already. It was like sending out my heart for inspection and wondering if it’d still be beating by the time I got it back.
The bell tinkled as a man in a gray suit entered the bookstore. He was the spitting image of Clark Macullen, one of the biggest agents in the publishing industry. I nearly dropped Pride and Prejudice. Sneaking between bookshelves, I followed him to the health and wellness section. A hot pink heel pierced my foot.
“I saw him first,” I whispered.
Dallas raised her eyebrow. “By the time you get the gumption to pitch your book, I could’ve hit three home runs and a single.”
“I’ve rehearsed my pitch for months and…and…”
Glancing at the agent, she leaned against the bookshelf and crossed her arms. “Go ahead.”
I gulped, walking over and tapping the man on the shoulder. “Hello, sir, uh, I have this book…”
I straightened my posture. “On the Wings of the Dawn is a 180,000 word completed adventure novel about…”
Mr. Macullen blinked three times then walked outside and hopped in a van with “Dee-Dee’s Nursery” printed on the side. Either he was an undercover agent or Macullen had a double who was a florist. I had just pitched my book to a florist.
Dallas clomped off, smiling.
I clenched my fists. She knew all along.
“I’d like the citrus mango salad with raspberry vinaigrette and a Diet Coke.”
I shivered as Dallas carried that monstrosity to her table.
“Uh, ham and cheese with a regular coke.” I ordered a little too loudly, scoping the cafe for available seats. Only two chairs were left and they were both at Dallas’s table.
“You could sit here if you like.” She beamed, twirling her fork as she flipped opened her laptop. Trying not to look at her “salad,” I plopped next to her. She pursed her lips, grinning deviously at the screen. I leaned over and nearly choked on my mayonnaise.
“What?” She slid her glasses to the tip of her nose, peering at me.
“Uh…” I bit my lip, rearranging the ham slices on my sandwich so that they were even. “May I?”
She slid her laptop over. I studied the words, mentally editing. I hit backspace a few times and typed in seven letters.
“You ruined my book!” She screeched, so startled she accidentally flung a mandarin in my lap.
“I changed one word!” I flicked the orange back onto her plate.
“But it was my word!” She tore the laptop away, holding it against her.
“I believe the rightful owner is Webster.”
She narrowed her eyes, slowly handing the laptop back.
“Thank you.” I nodded, clamping my molars so hard my next dentist appointment would probably murder my bank account. I could feel Dallas’s eyes searing into my skull as my finger dangled above the backspace button.
Her face grew red. “That was a necessary sentence!”
“You just said she was scared in the above—“
“I wanted to emphasize how terrified she was.”
“Readers can figure that out—they aren’t stupid.”
“How dare you insult me!” She shoved her computer into her bag. “You don’t know anything about writing!”
“Well, at least I’m not the expert at typo-graphy.”
She pounded the table, catapulting all her oranges at her face.
“Here, let me—”
“No! I can do it myself!” She stomped off, unaware she still had cabbage in her hair.
I lagged behind Dallas as we clambered up the dark stairway. She fumbled through her purse.
I walked over. “About earlier…”
“You’re stepping on my newspaper.”
I glanced at my feet and stepped away. “I didn’t…I was insulting your writing, not you.”
Somehow that didn’t come out as I planned.
She slammed the door in my face, rattling everything in the hallway. I sighed, returning to my own apartment and picked the mail off the floor. Stormpower Electric Company, J. D. Graph Insurance, Long Publishing…Long Publishing! My eyes lit up as I tore the envelope open, my hands shaking. Your book is not right for us at this time, however another publisher or agent may feel differently.
I closed my eyes, lowering myself into a chair. It was like my book was so terrible they didn’t even want to take the time to point out what was wrong with it. I picked the Writer’s Market Guide off the table, flipping through the crossed out publishers. Long Publishing sounded perfect for my story. They were a small company, there shouldn’t even have been too much competition.
I gazed out the window as the bookstore’s sign blinked blue and yellow. What was I doing wrong? I followed everything in How to Get Published and then some. What about the authors of Midnight and Barry Hotter? If they could do it, why couldn’t I? My writing was better than theirs…or was it? If was worse than them, what did that make me?
I peered below at the dumpster. I yanked the desk drawer open and shook all the paper out the window. I grabbed a box from the closet. I pulled out my notebooks one by one, flinging them below.
Clenching my resignation, I stormed into the bookstore. If I couldn’t be a writer, then I didn’t want to surrounded by books and I’m sure the books would not want to be around me either because I’d be tempted to tear them up. My boss sat at the register while Dallas hauled out a leaning tower of books. I stomped towards the register but Dallas bumped me and I bumped the bookshelf and the bookshelf boomed to the floor.
“Those better not be damaged!” Our boss stomped over. “Clean this up pronto!”
“But…but…” I held out my resignation but he had already left. Dallas stared at the mess for a few seconds then disappeared into the back room, leaving me to clean the rubble. I scowled, tossing a few books aside and sorted through the pile. I picked up a book that had a scientist fleeing from an erupting volcano on the cover. I skimmed the back then lifted the front flap.
I’d written the first sentence.
I propelled myself into the book mountain, searching for another copy and trying to convince myself this was just an optical illusion. I excavated one from the bottom—this one started the same. I wobbled over to the reading table and flopped onto a chair. I heaved and picked up a book from the table, trying to calm myself. I flipped through pages to the prologue.
I’d written that first sentence too.
I banged the book on the table and covered my face. I stood up, glaring at the book pile. I slowly reached out for another book.
“Phew.” I sighed, not recognizing any sentences as my own. A young girl passed by me, reading. I glanced at the page she was on.
I’d written that first sentence.
I slammed two dozen books onto my desk and typed “writing prompts” in the google search bar. I scrolled until my head pounded and my eyes ached. I found one just as I reached the bottom. I clicked on the image and waited for the site to load. A box popped up and a virus nearly contaminated my laptop.
I sighed, shutting off the screen. There was absolutely no connection between the books. They were all by a different author and publisher, even the editors were different. The genres varied from comedy to horror and the target age varied from toddlers to senior citizens. How were they getting my prompts? I dug my nails into the desk. Someone’s getting sued for plagiarism.
I glanced at the empty cardboard box that used to hold my journals. Before I tossed them away last night, I owned eight notebooks. Or at least I thought I did. Had I thrown away eight or was one missing? I wasn’t exactly in the habit of counting my journals every afternoon so one could have easily gone missing without my knowledge. I lifted an eyebrow. Only one way to know for certain. I stuck my head out the window, glaring at the garbage can. No one in their right mind would want to steal a journal.
Nevertheless, my logic was unconvincing, and a few minutes later, my head was in the dumpster. One, two, three, four…seven. I held my breath. The eighth wasn’t there.
I dig deeper and found a tattered red notebook I didn’t recognize. I started to put it back when I noticed the first sentence. They were my words but not my handwriting.
An extremely hard pillow dashed my head. “Get your hands off my garbage!”
Dallas glared at me from her window.
“You stole my sentences!” I waved her notebook in the air.
“I did not! And even if I did, it’d serve you right for hacking off mine!”
I opened my mouth to speak but stomped back to my apartment, still clutching the notebook. All those writers getting credit for my hard work! Some of them probably have millions of readers and I…I don’t even have one. I tossed the notebook into the wastebasket and a letter slide out. Long Publishers? I peered closer. We regret to inform you that your book is not right for us at this time, however another…
I slumped in the chair, staring at the letter than at the notebook. She’d thrown away her work. But she seemed so confident. I flipped the notebook open, reading. I turned the page. And another. And another. She’d taken my first sentence and turned it into magic. I couldn’t even have gotten a third of far as she did with it. The story was rough, but underneath it sparkled. I leaned my head back and I studied my desk, remembering my favorite pen I’d left at college. If I’d forgotten to pack that, was it possible I could have left that eighth notebook there too? Any student could have gotten hold of it and posted the prompts on social media for all to see.
I walked over to my desk, flipping through the novels that started with my words. My prompts had inspired these authors to write the book of their dreams. Maybe they were having the same trouble I was, and I helped them to do what I could not.
Grabbing a red pen from my drawer, I flipped open Dallas’s journal.
I glanced up from the bookshelf as the door rattled open. Dallas clomped past me to the back room, without even looking my direction. I pulled her notebook from my coat and debated for several minutes about whether I should stay here behind the barricades or risk getting my head hacked off by Dallas on the battlefield. I crept towards the back room, but paused by the door.
I peered through the crack. Dallas clenched her purse tightly as she wiped the wetness from her eyes.
“Are you okay?” I stepped inside.
Her face flushed and she swallowed hard. “I’m…I’m fine.”
“It’s that rejection, isn’t it?”
She tucked her loose hairs into her ponytail. “I’ve done everything all the publishing books have told me and…and…”
“How many times have you been rejected?”
“You’ve only been rejected five times?” I gaped, remembering my last thirty-five rejections.
She winced and her eyes began to water.
“I’d like to help you with your book again.” I handed her the notebook.
“Why?” she mumbled, looking away.
“Because…because I think your book is something worth publishing…it just needs some work.”
“It won’t do any good.” Sniffling, she shoved her notebook back in my hand and left the room. I sighed, laying it on the table in case she changed her mind.
My boss popped his head in. “I want you to move those books to the clearance section.”
I nodded tromping out and yanking the books off the shelf starting with the A’s down to the O’s. Dallas glanced at me, lugging a pile of books to the back room.
My hand flinched and the O’s avalanched.
“You ruined it!” Dallas screamed.
“Oh, no.” I covered my ears, racing into the back room and mentally prepared to be attacked by pencils, Diet Coke bottles, mandarins, or whatever else Dallas found handy. That’s what I get for trying to be help—
Piles of Starbucks stained hardcovers were piled the floor—the same books Dallas had been hauling. I glanced from my boss to Dallas. He scratched his head, glaring into his thermos while Dallas glared at him.
“Sorry about that.” He apologized, leaving to take care of a costumer.
“The audacity of some people,” Dallas huffed, tossing the books into the trash.
“Here, let me help.”
“Thank you.” She smiled, gazing at her notebook. “For everything.”
Once we finished cleaning the mess, I meandered to the clearance section and brushed dust off the covers. These were bestsellers last year. I sighed. I may never write a book. I may never be published. I may be a nameless nobody for as long as I live, but I’d helped one aspiring author onto the right track and I felt as if I’d written a book of my own.
I grinned, remembering the beginning of Dallas’s book:
Sometimes it only takes one sentence to change the world.