More Unfinished Business
Charles C Cole
Wilson saw himself as, first and foremost, a struggling writer. He had cool titles, snippets of clever dialogue, villains that jumped off the page, but no tool to productionalize them. His therapist said he was afraid the finished product would never live up to the shining vision in his head; the safest choice would always be to NOT write. Until circumstances compelled him.
One thing Wilson had plenty of was money, thanks to Grampa’s wise investments. And, as he was the only grandchild, all surviving assets transferred to him. With motive and method assured, Wilson was this close to hiring a ghost writer to develop his first novel. Nobody would ever know. The theme, the characters and their backstories, the conflicts and resolutions were sketched out, waiting to be realized.
Wilson only needed words committed to paper and trust that a hired gun would “get” it, would keep the secret, would accomplish the months-long task with consistent passion for the end result. What if he or she burned out halfway? Or decided to co-opt precious ideas, rebrand the intellectual property? Wilson balked.
This is when the aspiring talent learned of the severed hands of the late horror author William LeRoy. While LeRoy, the victim of a heinous crime, had returned to his maker, his creative extensions simply, impossibly, could not stop the activity they had performed so well for so long. One-trick ponies with so much fire and momentum for LeRoy’s professional output, days after he’d died, they were literally twitching for the right opportunity to continue.
A friend, who knew of Wilson’s dire predicament and was also a zealous fan of LeRoy, wanted nothing more than to see the hands back in the saddle, doing what they were trained for.
Could they follow instructions? Could Wilson somehow guide them, chapter by chapter? Could they write his novel with his ideas or would they fall into a stylistic rut, cranking out a posthumous LeRoy tome, dictated by their puppet master from beyond the grave?
Wilson had them brought to his house in a plain, sealed cakebox. Jed Perham, an acquaintance of the deceased, nodded outside the front door. He passed the box as if the items inside were rare crystal. The fingers stirred at Wilson’s touch, if Perham was to be believed, drumming excitedly. Perham jumped back, startled or, respectfully, giving the artist’s remains the space to express themselves.
“They know. They’re warming up, impatient for a keyboard. You’ll see. Just open the box and let them do their thing.”
“Moment of truth,” said Wilson. “You’ve seen them in action?”
“Finishing LeRoy’s last novel. Me standing by adding paper to the typewriter. You’ll be using a computer? Don’t think it’ll make a difference, like a professional athlete on artificial turf or real grass.”
Though Wilson was nervously excited at the day of his becoming, his wide eyes and slack jaw told Perham a different story.
“I was thinking,” Perham continued, “they might let you put them in the sleeves of a dress jacket. It wouldn’t look so bad then. I have a jacket of Mr. LeRoy’s in the car.” Perham glanced back, eager to be of service.
“That won’t be necessary. I have jackets,” Wilson said, “if it comes down to it. I don’t want them to think they’re writing for him.”
“Can’t make promises. They have a mind of their own. But it could be a match made in heaven, your needs and their needs expressing something brand new.”
Wilson sniffed the box tentatively. “No smell? No rot?”
“They don’t know their dead. Or they refuse to accept it. Don’t let them wander. They won’t anyway. Keep the cats away. And that’s all she wrote.”
“I hope not,” Wilson said. “Here’s hoping she/they continue to write for a long, long time.”
The transaction finished, the courier left, backing to his car the entire way. Wilson locked the exit. He carried the box to the library. The curtains and blinds over the sliding glass door that led to the deck were closed. The laptop was ready. A new document was open and waiting, a summary of ideas on the first page; Wilson figured an electronic datetime stamp for all activity couldn’t hurt.
Wilson set the box on his desk. The rattling sounds intensified. Did they know?
Wilson owned a ladder that rolled on wheels, a luxury item, for retrieving books from his upper shelves. He cut the tape that sealed the box and climbed quickly to a polite distance. The hands pushed their fluttering way to freedom almost immediately, pausing as if mesmerized by the glow of the monitor.
“What are you waiting for?” Wilson asked. “Write, damn you!”
They explored the keys, running their fingers in small circles, then arched at the knuckles and began. For thirty minutes, the furious noise was unceasing. For a time, Wilson perceived the faded full silhouette of the original owner. Such was the expected style of an author who lived to write, with always another tale to tell, sleep and food and societal trappings be damned. It was a frightful wonder! Then, as quickly as they began, the spider-like hands retreated back into the box. Wilson advanced. He held the box shut with an old yearbook.
On the screen, to his dismay, his notes had been completely deleted. There was, instead, an extensive obituary to “the man that was,” listing his awards, his bestsellers, summarizing his life and times with wit and gratitude.
“No! No! This was about me, my dreams! I pointed the way. LeRoy is gone. You should have died with him.”
Wilson called Perham.
“Did it work?” asked Perham.
‘Yes, they’re amazing,” replied the would-be author, dismissively. “But they won’t listen to me. Take them back. I don’t want them.” He slammed down the phone.
Wilson tapped the box.
Jed Perham, that purveyor of broken dreams, returned for his belongings.
Wilson learned, to an author, life is just another story, the first one started and the last one completed.