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A Master's Reputation

Words have a price

By Hyde Wunderli Published 4 months ago Updated 4 months ago 12 min read

Alden died during a cold winter morning. Far away from society. At his small cabin in the woods. In his favorite chair. Tucked into his desk and focused on unraveling yet another captivating story onto paper.

Snow was falling heavily outside the window. A fire climbed up the chimney. Red cherries sat at the edge of the desk in a glass bowl. A club soda next to it. A trail of pencil lint scattered along the table like bread crumbs. My dead skin, if you will.

He was wearing a maroon cardigan over his button pajamas. The sleeves covered the liver spots on the top of his hands. He adjusted his notebook until every side was perfectly parallel with the sides of the desk. In front of him, mounted to the wall, was a circular mirror. Before picking me up, he gazed at himself. There was something very Leo Tolstoy about his face. Cheeks that looked like they were melting from his skull, an anvil nose, a messy beard, and untamed hair.

Still array from a night's rest, his white hair reached in different directions, like stretching freshly picked cotton. His waterbed cheeks twitched. He squinted. Thinking intently. Then as soon as the light entered his tired eyes, he picked me up and began to write. My finely sharp point scratched at his notebook. Halfway down the second page, his scholarly handwriting wavered. The perfect lines faded into squiggles. Before he could finish the sentence, I tapped the edge of the mahogany desk and then slipped through his fingers. I hit the floorboards. The fire’s light gleamed on the wooden surface and led a path I rolled along until I entered the shadow underneath the sofa. I saw just a sliver of the fire’s light and wished I’d rolled there. I imagine the affection the warmth gives was much like being caressed in the hands of my master. The creator. He who gives me purpose.

They were often dry, his hands. Mountain callouses at the base of his fingers. Each wrinkle in his palm was a story told. A part of him that gave life to memories, and at the same time etched his coming death into his skin. He quite literally gave his life to his writing. And he trusted me with his heart. The one now collecting dust mites in his chest. But it lives on through my blood, passionately spilled onto paper.


Days passed. Winter became spring. I fell victim to dust, and spiderwebs that claimed territory upon my body. The empty house groaned at night. The roof cackled. The floors creaked. So consumed by the invasion of neglectful housekeeping, I’d forgotten my importance. I feared my graphite would no longer write.

Morning rose and then sat along the floor in the room. Branches tapped against the window in a soft breeze that whistled through the window’s framing. From the floor, on the backside of the sofa, I saw a bluejay perch upon the window. I welcomed new friends like this but it was often short-lived. Then, for the first time since I was misplaced, I heard footsteps. Two very different types of shoes. One clacking sharply. The other, a dull thud like a stomp.

“Paul, It's not going to happen. Let it go.” A woman’s voice said. It was familiar. Alden’s daughter. She often brought him food and coffee when she felt he’d been away from town for too long.

“I’m going to find that manuscript. It’s outrageous to just let it go to waste. You know what this could be worth to publishing companies?”

“I showed you it in confidence. A stupid girl impressing a boy like a childish crush.”

“It’s his fault for never publishing. I could sell it for a pretty Penny Margerie, and your Father’s beautiful work will be known to the world.

“He didn’t want it to be. He had a change of heart. When Mom died-” She wasn’t able to finish the sentence.

He ignored the grief in her tone. “And in pencil. The silly man always liked to write in pencil before the final draft turned to typing. It’ll sell for so much more.”

“You aren’t hearing me,” Margerie’s voice climbed to a volume not to be reckoned with. “It stays in the family.”

“You know where it is don’t you?”

“You aren’t getting it. And I think you should leave. For good.”

“Excuse me? Unbelievable. So not only are you throwing away thousands of dollars. You’re just going to toss our relationship out the window? Over some words on paper?”

“Get out Paul." Margerie shifted her weight to her left leg. I stared at the birthmark on her calf. It was tan and shaped like a bowtie.

“Not until I get what I came for.” There was stomping that rattled the floorboards. “Out of the way Margerie. I’ll tear this place apart if I have to.

“And just what do you think you’ll do? Tear me down to get to it?” The heels and dress shoes were paired up close enough to do the tango.

“Why do you care so much? I remember countless times how frustrated you were with your Father’s obsession with his work. His time away in his, what did you call this place? Ah, avoidance bunker.”

“You no longer get to have an opinion on the relationship with my Dad. He was a difficult man at times. But I do NOT doubt the love he had for his family.”

“Well then maybe you're naive.”

There was a loud slap. “How dare you.”

“You’re pushin’ it Mar.”

The brown dress shoes shifted their way closer to the sofa. They looked weathered. Much of the burgundy color had faded. The wooden soles were scuffed black. His right shoe was on the verge of untying.

“Look Mar.” He sat on the sofa. His pants at his ankles slid up showing the triangle patterns on his dress socks. “What do you say we talk to your brother? See what he thinks.”

“I know what he’ll say. And you aren’t family, you have no business in those discussions.”

“I’ve been a part of your family for the latter end of two years now. And just like that you’re going to underplay what I mean to you?”

“Right now, I’m not sure if I know you at all,” Margerie retorted.

“I’m the same person you’ve always known.”

“Minus the dollar signs stabbing your eyeballs.” Margerie’s black high-heels stepped closer to the sofa. “You will not be getting that manuscript. If you don’t leave now, I’ll have you arrested.

“Alright listen. I didn’t want it to come to this. I was imagining more cooperation. Or agreement. I mean this is real money we’re talkin'.”

“Come to what?” There was silence. “Come to what Paul?”

“When your Dad became ill I got curious. I searched for sellers to see what would bite. A couple of weeks ago, some Russian guy reached out and said if the manuscript was legit, he was willing to pay a large sum of money. Just like everyone else, he’s familiar with Alden’s work. He was intrigued immediately. I got excited about how much he was willing to offer and may have exaggerated some facts.”

“What have you done Paul?”

“I told him I had the manuscript but for precaution didn’t bring it to the meeting. Told him it’d take me a week or so to get it to him. The guy fronted me cash! Fifty thousand dollars as a deposit! Can you believe that?”

“What’s the man’s name? Why would he just give you fifty thousand dollars?”

“That’s what I thought too. Name was Vlad something. I can't pronounce his last name. Either way, he didn’t seem like a guy I’d want to cross. He keeps contacting me but I keep dodging him with more lies. I think he knows, Mar. I need that Manuscript.”

“So just give him the money back.”

“I don’t think that’ll work anymore. He says if I don’t have it he’ll have me killed.”

“Go to the police!”

“And say what? I accepted illegal money from some shady art dealer?”

In the other room, a loud bang went off. Like something large hit the floor. More stomps against the floorboards disturbed the ground and entered the room.

“Okay. stupid American this is taking too long. I want that manuscript.”

Margerie fell back onto the sofa with a yelp. The sofa’s feet scratched the wood like nails on a chalkboard. The man with a Russian accent stomped over. He had an interesting gait that suggested he was in pain. As he walked his left foot didn't raise as much as his right. The heavy boots he wore probably didn't help either. They had to of been at least a size fourteen. They went all the way up to the middle of his shin. His brown pants were tucked inside. The all-black leather was well-kept and smooth. His laces were tightly knotted.

“You brought him here?” Margerie shrieked.

Paul stood up from the couch. “I’m handling it. Please, don’t hurt her,” he pleaded.

“You lied to me,” Margerie said.

“Margerie do what he says and no one has to get hurt.”

A gun-shot sounded. Margerie let out a scream. Birds in the tree by the window scattered into the sky. The floor beneath me rattled. It Brushed the dust off my bones. Paul fell like an oak tree. His thin face stared back at me. I watched the life from his eyes disappear. They were a Nordic blue. Even with his body gone cold, they didn’t dim. They just went blank.

“The manuscript where is it? And if you would kindly point me to the man who wrote it. The man called Alden.”

“My Father? Do you not know?”

“Take me to him,” Vlad said. He stepped over Paul's dead body and limped closer to Margerie.

“My Father’s dead.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“He died right there in that chair. Three months ago.”

“No! You’re lying!”

“I found him myself. Who are you? And what do you want with him?

“This man assured me he was alive.” Vlad kicked Paul's limp legs.

“He’s dead,” Margerie croaked. She was sure to be swelling tears. The kind I used to see my master drop to his desk.

“No!” A bullet was fired from his gun nearly hitting Margerie's right foot. It went straight into the ground. Smoke rose from the hole in the wood slab.

“He’s supposed to die from my hands. I guess you’ll have to do. Then I find the manuscript. And I burn it to ashes.”

Margerie fell to the floor. Her spring dress draped down her leg to the wood. One of her high heels came off. She leaned her back against the sofa. I could see small strands of her white hair. Remnant of her Father’s.

“No, please! Why does it interest you so much?”

“It is a disgrace. The way he writes. I am not the man he says I am. Me and Sheela were in love. She didn't always agree with my way of life. Nonetheless, we were in love. I will see that the story about us never exists.”

“He didn’t want it published. I gave him my word. It’ll never get out. I swear," Margerie said.

“As long as those that know about it are alive, I cannot know that for sure."

“Put the gun down Vlad,” A low voice said.

“Sam? Oh, Sam what is going on?” Margerie cried.

Sam was the eldest. His beard was half the size of his Father’s last I saw him. By now It could be twice the length.

“Ah Samuel the brave,” Vlad turned to face him. “Your Mother spoke highly of you. I can see why now. Though I must admit, I pictured you a little more lumberjack-like. Given the way your mother described you.”

“Don’t talk about our mother. You never deserved her.”

Sam stepped forward. The blue jeans folding over his work boots were muddy.

“I have the manuscript,” he said.

“You what?” Margerie said.

“Dad anticipated this happening when he found out Mom told Vlad about the story. She didn’t like him writing about it and thought he deserved to know. Dad didn’t trust Vlad with that knowledge.”

“Why didn’t he ever destroy it himself?” Margerie asked.

“Insurance,” Sam said sternly. “You used to hurt our mom. She never loved you. Dad knew exactly who you were. I give you the manuscript, and you leave us alone. If you don't accept that, then I shoot you.” There was cocking of a gun.

“I believe you. I can see it in your eyes. Well then, where is it?” Vlad Stepped next to Margerie. He spoke calmly.

His boots scuffed onto her hanging dress. He grabbed her by the head and pulled back. I could see more of her hair. “Tell me! She’ll go right next to her stupid boyfriend.” He was yelling now.

By now, Paul’s body had ejected enough blood for him to look lighter. The smell of Iron in the wood released a pungent smell. I heard Audible gag noises coming from Margerie.

Vlad pulled on Margerie’s scalp until her hair almost reached the ground. The weight of her body pushed the right side of the sofa against the wall. The left-back peg slid forward and gave me a push. I sprung free from beneath the sofa out into the center of the floor. Right into the chaos.

The confidence in Sam's eyes fleeted. Seeing a gun pointed at his sister was probably one of the few things that could make his masculinity waiver. He lowered his gun. Vlad still pointed one at Margerie’s head.

“Okay. right here. Don’t hurt her. I’m going to reach into my bag now.”

Around his right shoulder, Sam secured a gray satchel. He dug his hand in and pulled a large stack of papers out. The manuscript was wrapped in a leather-bound cover. Sam held it near his sternum.

“Now let her go.”

Vlad gently kissed Margerie on the head. He pushed her forward to join Paul on the floor.

“To me, you are him,” Vlad said.

He raised his gun and pulled the trigger. Sam acting on instinct, brought the manuscript to eye level and stretched out his hands. As a consequence to protect himself his gun fell to the floor. So did he. His head nearly hit the brick fireplace. Vlad stood up. Took a strong stance. And then readied the gun towards Sam’s head. But before he could pull the trigger again, he felt blood flowing out from his neck. Margerie held Sam’s glock in her hand. Just to be sure, she shot two more times hitting Vlad in his barrel chest. The big man fell to his knees. The small cabin almost went down with the earthquake. The Top half of his body then went down as an aftershock.

“Sam!” Margerie shouted.

She crawled her way over to him and lifted his body to her lap. There was a small open wound just below his right collarbone. Probably hurt like hell, but he’d live.

Margerie embraced her body with her brother’s. He shared his blood on her flower dress. They hugged as if they’d never see each other again.

She whispered, “Our Father’s reputation proceeds him.”

Sam laughed deep from within in his chest. And then winced in pain clutching his wound. Margerie helped him to his feet. They paced the room like walking a graveyard. Vlad’s body took up most of the living room. Paul looked tiny in comparison.

Pages scattered along the floor. Together, Margerie and Sam gathered them into a pile. They placed them right next to me. Probably incidentally. I was close to the title page. It read, “Send My Love to Russia.” A bullet hole went straight through the page, the same as all the other ones. The hole, not any bigger than a dime, sat right below the word "Love".

Sam crouched down. He pulled a lighter from his pocket. He waved the flame across the pile until the fire spread fast. By the time it subsided, I was covered in ash.

Before standing up straight, Sam relished in his satisfied work. He pulled a cigarrette pack from his left pocket and fingered one out. After lighting it and trapping it between his lips, He brushed the ash aside like a soldier clearing debris. He spotted me and gave a curious look.

"Hmm," He said.

His lips were loose around the cigarrette but it didn't flee to the floor. He picked me up, brushed some black residue from my body, and walked me to the corner of the room. I was placed next to a tattered notebook perfectly placed in the middle of the desk. Deep inside the warn-out pages, I heard a heartbeat. And I knew I was back home.


About the Creator

Hyde Wunderli

Enthusiast of dark romanticism or, gothic romance.

Inspired by the works of edger Allen Poe, Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, and Stephen King

Here for the dopamine, the passion, and the challenge to push my comfort zone.

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  • Test4 months ago

    great read

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