Studebaker Studios Presents
The Little Black Book
This was not your average celebration of life. Canes were swinging, the elderly were dancing, and champagne corks shot across the room like fireworks with streams of liquor trailing behind them. Uncle Studebaker was much like the Count in A Series of Unfortunate Events. No one, except his nephew Hansel, was disappointed when he passed away. In fact, the town was so relieved to hear of his passing that most of the people who attended his funeral went solely to make sure he was actually dead. The result of their findings created a rhapsody of relief that was nearly palpable. People ran around with expressions so exuberant you'd think they'd just been freed from slavery or won a war. The raucous partying continued all night.
While Hansel was the only living relative of his uncle, he did not want any part of his uncle's inheritance. He knew that any money uncle Studebaker had was dirty money, and he wanted nothing to do with it. Hansel was opposite to his uncle in every way. Hansel was determined to live a dignified life, one of integrity. He would not earn a dollar through dishonest gain. Rather than inheriting his uncle's company, he gave it to a charity as an act of penance. Instead of working with or for his uncle, he worked at the lowest rung of society. His piety had nearly driven his family into poverty, and even still, the villagers distrusted him. It was not because of any flaw in his character but solely because of his uncle.
The day after the funeral, Hansel lost his job. After inquiring about why he was fired, they told him it was related to his uncle. "My uncle is dead," he retorted, "How can my dead uncle make me lose my job?!" As soon as he got home, he broke down "It's just not fair," he said. "I've not wronged a soul in my life, and yet I face discrimination every day. I feel as if I am nothing, each time I reassemble my dignity and strive for the common good, I get battered down by incredulous strangers who cannot see me for who I am. I should have kept uncle's company. Even doing the right thing in this town always backfires."
In the middle of his monologue, the doorbell rang. Hansel signed for the package without looking down, and his wife Amy tried her best to reassure him. "My salary will cover half of our expenses," she said. "We've got enough to last us the week, with my income maybe two weeks. So long as you can find a new job by next week, we should be alright." As the door shut, Hansel opened the package. He was surprised to find a little black book inside of it. After tossing it on the counter, he proceeded out the door in search of a job. He meant to ask Amy if she'd ordered it online but forgot to do so. A silly notebook wasn't that important anyway. The harder he looked, the more he felt like people were trying to run him out of town. Despite visiting 25 businesses, not a single one offered him an interview. Some threw his resume away right in front of him.
When he finally got home, Amy told him that the package didn't have a return address. Then she haphazardly added that inside the book, she had found his uncle's signature. "I don't want any additional reminders of him. The cruel reminders I face every day are enough!" He said the words with such intensity that he surprised even himself. The anger was bubbling up inside of him. He threw the book in the trash and went to bed. When he awoke in the morning, he returned to the waste bin and loomed over it. Bending down, he mumbled to himself, 'It's the only thing I have left of the old scrooge; I might as well keep it. Besides, everybody could use a little bit of scratch paper now and then.'
He bent to pick it up, and for the first time, he really noticed it. The small black book had intricate metallic gold writing on its cover, which beamed so bright that it looked as if it could glow in the dark. The words inscribed there made him queasy, and the small diamond engraved above them reminded him of the abundant wealth he had given up. With all of these stacking bills and no way to pay them, he could really use the help now. 'Isn't life fickle,' he thought, 'I reject something one moment and wish I hadn't the next. I chose to act in dignity. I'm not going to let hard circumstances make me sour.' Hansel had seen hardships turn good people into grumbling, grouchy old buffoons. His uncle was the primary example of this. 'I won't ever be like him,' Hansel thought.
As Hansel raced out the door that morning, he quickly scribbled a grocery list on the first page of the notebook: eggs, orange juice, steak, mixed veggies, dish soap, toothpicks. That evening when he returned home, he saw the groceries piled on the counter. He shouted to Amy, "Thanks for getting the groceries on my list, honey! I'm surprised you even saw it." She came racing down the stairs, "What are you talking about?" she asked. Hansel began to respond, "Well, I said, thanks for getting…", but she interjected, "No, I heard you, but I don't know what you're talking about; I didn't get any groceries." They stood for a moment, baffled, thinking perhaps someone had broken in. But then they remembered that people who break in usually take stuff, not leave it. For a moment, it seemed they'd been transported into the twilight zone. They argued profusely, then they began to wonder if they were in someone else's house by mistake or if they were going crazy.
Finally, Hansel picked up the little black book and went over his list one by one. "Look, every item's accounted for," he said. Perplexed, she looked at him "if we're not lying and neither of us is joking, what's happening?" After a moment, Hansel responded, "what if it's the book? I know it sounds crazy, but the book is from my uncle, and he was the craziest man I knew. If anyone could find or create magic, it would be him." They anxiously placed the book in front of them, thinking about what they should write. Amy exclaimed, "Why don't you write $20,000 into existence? If it works, it should be just enough to tide us over until you can land a job." Without skipping a beat, Hansel began writing in the notebook. They waited and waited for something to happen until finally, they both fell asleep.
When Hansel awoke, he was slumped over the counter, with his head on the book and drool dribbling down his cheek. Electric sparks were jolting forth from the book and dancing across the room like little strands of lightning. As they materialized into dollar bills, Hansel quickly realized that this little notebook was much more than simple scratch paper. It was an energy source capable of storing ideas and feelings, giving life to them, and then releasing them into time itself. With uncontrollable excitement, Amy grabbed the book and began scribbling away. She wrote all the things that she had wanted but that her meager life with Hansel had been unable to provide her. They waited eagerly for the items on their list to apparate, but they were disappointed when instead, a slobbery liquid flooded their home.
The book only seemed to register Hansel's actions, both intentional and unintentional. After trying it on others, Hansel confirmed that the book only worked for him. Why, why would his uncle give him such a thing? Hansel tried his best to use the book sparingly, but he soon found himself writing in it every time he had a need. The more he used it, the more attached he grew to it. It was like having a superpower. In time, he grew lazy. He was no longer the sort of man who earned what he had, who worked hard, and who cherished the journey. Now he was always looking for shortcuts. He didn't even clean the drool up himself. He simply wrote it out of existence. Not to mention it took six hours of wading through spittle before the book even began to start soaking up the mess.
One day Hansel wrote a new car for the family. The next day he wrote a plane. He spent a whole week writing them a new wardrobe and then got tired of traditional luxury items. He created a puppy made out of gears and a waterfall that flowed with endless varieties of soda. He made a rainbow in his house to slide on as he traveled from one floor to the next. Of course, before he made this, he first had to add the additional floors. Despite what his wife said, thinking things up was hard work, and writing them into existence was even more challenging. She always said writing wasn't a real job, but in his opinion, it was the most incredible job in the world, especially with this little notebook in his toolbelt. The only problem was that the townsfolk were catching on to his sudden prosperity. The envious glares he was getting were enough to make a grown man cry.
When the pen one day began levitating in front of him, Hansel grew pale in the face. It looked as if an invisible hand had picked it up and started scribbling with it. Was the pen magic now too? Word's appeared at the top of the page "Nephew, did you ever consider that I gave you this book for a purpose other than pleasing yourself?" Trying not to wet himself, Hansel reached for the pen and snatched it out of the air. "Who is this," he wrote. He knew the answer, but he did not know how it was possible. He needed to make sure. The pen lifted itself and began writing again.
"Nephew, you have been careless in using the book. I gave it to you because I believed in your integrity. You have let me down." At this point, Hansel interjected "But Uncle, how was I supposed to know?" The pen scribbled "Integrity is something that comes from within. It’s our decision to do right, even when no one is watching or telling us what to do." Hansel grimaced before responding, "Who are you, to give me a lecture on integrity?!"
"Do you know why everyone hates me, Nephew? When I first discovered the book, I was naïve. I showed the whole town thinking we could use it to craft a better future. Instead, everyone started fighting over it. Each person wanted me to write their every fleeting whim into existence. I slaved away for a month, doing everything I could to please them, but I saw that the more I gave them, the more they wanted. I decided to never use the book on myself or another person as long as I live.”
“When I wrote the book out of existence, they all thought I was lying. They thought no one would be crazy enough to sacrifice such power. I worked as hard as I could to build up my business, but they attributed all my success to the book. That's why they hated me. They thought I was keeping it all for myself. The elders remember the book from our youth, they are delirious for it. They ransacked my company and my estate and are headed here. My selflessness somehow stored my life within its pages. I am afraid that their selfishness will bring destruction. Will you write me back to life to help you win this fight?” Amy gently whispered in Hansel’s ear, “Can we trust him?”
About the author
Michael Heil has been a gleeful storyteller from the time he began first forming sentences. He likes making people laugh out loud and finds joy thinking that his writings might help others to avoid making the same mistakes he has.