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And All the Writing Died

by Kincaid Jenkins 10 months ago in Short Story
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Brown Paper Box

He tucked the brown paper box under his arm and entered the lobby. The receptionist was on the phone so he took a moment to browse the walls. Framed book covers. Many he had read, many he hadn’t heard of. They stretched down the long hall on either side and disappeared around a corner. A voice spoke.

May I help you?

Yes ma’am. My name is Thomas Nelson.

Yes? Do you have an appointment?

My father was Reese Nelson.

Yes? And?

I’m sorry. I assumed you’d know him. He always told me he had a standing appointment here.

He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a much read and weathered book titled “And All The Dust Settled” and handed it to her. She turned it over and studied it. She briefly surveyed the back but passed it back to him without finishing.

I see that we published this book at one time but I’m not sure what this is all about.

It’s my father’s book.

He pulled from under his arm the box and held it before her.

So is this. He asked me to bring it here and talk to Albert Price.

I’m sorry but Mr. Price hasn’t worked here in some time. Let me call someone.

He sat and considered how out of touch he was with the literary world. His father had encouraged him to read any and everything but being raised in seclusion limited his ability to get the latest titles.

A long, lean and young man walked down the hall towards him. He extended his hand and they shook.

Mr. Nelson, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Victor Mason, one of the editors here.

They continued pleasantries and small talk down the long hall to his office. They both sat and Victor motioned to the box.

Is that your father’s latest manuscript?

It’s his last one. My father died last month.

I’m sorry to hear that. He’s a legend and we’ve certainly been waiting a long time for him to finish another novel.

He opened the parcel and hefted the manuscript. He thumbed through through it.

Must be nearly 500 pages.

Yes.

He continued to look at it while rubbing his chin. He opened to the first page and read then let the cover fall back in place.

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. Your father hasn’t published anything in 25 years. I’m told that was a classic.

You haven’t read it?

Well, no. It’s not really what I go for. My point is we could maybe make some money off this. He has the mystique of a Salinger. It’s a long lost work. We could treat it like they did Harper Lee. I’m just not sure it’s worth it to us at the moment.

Thomas sat shocked. Of all possibilities this is one that hadn’t occurred to him.

I don’t understand. I’ve read it. It’s fantastic. I know people have been waiting for him to finish this.

People don’t read things like this anymore. People read to escape reality. Do you know what the world’s like today? People don’t want to read about the trials and tribulations of someone dealing with life. They want escapism.

Escapism is great. I’ve sat up late at night reading Heinlein and Wells. I’ve taken camping trips with a stack of Jack Kirby comics. But if everything you publish is escapism then how do people escape from that?

I’m sorry. It’s the state of the industry. This plight of man stuff just doesn’t register anymore but if you can bring me a young adult fantasy about a sexually ambiguous creature of magic fighting against imperialistic forces threatening all of existence I can not only publish that but give you a series deal.

I would read that but isn’t there room for both?

I’m afraid the readers dictate the market. Gone are the days of the writer. Now genre rules.

He pushed the box back to Thomas who sat dumbfounded.

Can you give me the number or address of Albert Price?

Sure I can. But don’t get your hopes up, he hasn’t worked in the industry in a long time. And if memory serves it was his long devotion to your father finally finishing this second novel that did him in. His bosses got tired of waiting.

He left the office in a state of disbelief. A great sadness for mankind swelled inside him. They can’t all be like this, he thought.

He hailed a cab and gave the driver the address. It took him to a tiny brownstone on the outskirts of the city. He paid and ascended the steps to the main stoop. There he found the desired name and pressed the buzzer. He waited a long moment then pressed again.

Yeah? What?

Mr. Price? This is Thomas Nelson. My father was Reese Nelson.

A brief silence. A hoarse cough. Christ, the voice said. It’s about damn time.

The door buzzed and he went inside and up the stairs. The door was cracked open. He pushed it wide and a voice spoke from within. It sounded drunk.

Do you remember me, boy?

Sir?

I met you once when you were little. I think it was the last time he came to the city. Guess you were about 5 at the time.

I remember coming to the city. I’m afraid I don’t remember meeting you.

I bought you a toy to play with while your father and I talked in my office. You remember that toy truck?

Old memories now. A young boy pushing a truck across shag carpet. The blurry figures of two men sitting around a desk talking. Yes, he said. I remember that. I still have it on my shelf.

Well, what are you here to tell me? Is it finished? Did he give up? Tell me, did he die?

Yes. He passed away last month. Before he went he told me it was finished. Or rather he said it’s ready.

Price eyed him over. Well, why did you bring it to me? Take it to the real publishers.

I did. They didn’t want any part of it.

Price let out a startling laugh. He spilled a bit of the drink he was holding.

Don’t that beat all. I dedicate my life to that work. Put my career on the line at a time when it would have been the most anticipated release of all time. Now it’s worthless.

I can’t believe that. What happened?

The lowest common denominator happened, kid. And it won.

They sat for a while and talked about the state of things. Publishing. The world. Hours passed.

Are you staying here in the city?

Yes. Through the weekend. I don’t know what I’ll do if no one will publish it.

Well do you mind if I keep it tonight? The only person this book meant more to than your father was me. I have to read it. At least once. I’ll be done with it by tomorrow night.

Of course. I know he wanted you to read it. He wanted everyone to.

After Thomas left Albert grabbed his phone.

Terry, it’s Albert. Listen could you come over tonight and type something up for me? It’ll take you a few hours. About 500 pages. Do it and I’ll pay you $100.

The next day Thomas had lunch at a cafe in the city. He looked at the people all around him sitting in booths and at the counter. They were all looking at their cellphones. Not a single person held a book, magazine or newspaper.

He walked down the street and turned into a book store at the corner. He browsed the signs. Aisle upon aisle of fantasy and science fiction. Posters of brightly colored super heroes and wizards adorned the walls. Another section of true stories. Biographies of adventure and travel and true crime. Another aisle for self help. Entertainment. Humor. Is there no room for serious literature, he thought? He found a clerk and asked where he might find Hemingway or Fitzgerald.

Classics, he said. All the way down and left at the water fountain.

He followed the directions and came upon a tiny and unkempt shelf. Many books were out of order. One had fallen on the floor and been stepped on bending the cover violently. He shook his head and picked it up and walked away. At the front of the store he sat on a reading bench and flipped through his find. It was a book of short stories by John Updike. He had read it before and he began to get lost again. A girl sat beside him.

Cool. Do you read a lot? I’m a writer.

He looked up at her. Finally, he thought. Camaraderie. I’ve found it.

What have you published? I’d love to buy a copy.

Oh I don’t have a book. I write online.

He looked at her confused, his once beaming smile softly fading. She pulled out her phone and showed him.

I blog. I post to sites. I’ve got over 10,000 followers. I also make memes.

He scrolled through her postings. He opened one at random. It was littered with grammatical and spelling errors. Nothing flowed or fit.

Do you not have an editor? Do you have any formal training?

There was no malice in his response, he was genuinely curious. She gave him a puzzled look as if she were weighing whether or not she were being insulted.

No. Nobody cares about that. Looks at my hits and likes. That’s what gets you read.

So something can be good and never be read while something can be popular but devoid of any quality or significance?

She took her phone away and stood up. She addressed him angrily.

You need to read my article on what sells and growing your brand. Until then don’t talk to me like you know the business.

As she walked away he noticed she had left a book sitting on the bench. It was a self help business book titled “Being A Social Media Socialite” and it cost $25. There was an entire shelf by the register devoted to it.

He waited until dark and then headed back to Price’s flat. When he came inside Price was sitting by the window sipping a drink. He appeared to be crying.

Hey boy.

Hello sir. Are you finished? I can come back if I need to.

No, no. I’m all done. It was everything I could have hoped for. Thank you for the opportunity.

He passed the brown paper box with the manuscript inside to him.

What do you plan to do with it?

I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t think the world deserves it.

Price considered this and nodded.

I may take it home with me and store it. I may destroy it. I think dad would rather have that than for it to sit in some monopolized store on a shelf in the corner where no one goes.

They parted and Thomas took a cab out to the park. There was a lake there and he sat on the shore in deep contemplation. After a while he took out the brown paper box and lit one corner with a match. It burned a cherry black. He turned it in the night air and the flame spread. Once it was half engulfed he pitched it into the lake and watched as the once bright spark burned out instantly and sank.

In his apartment Albert stared at his computer screen. His finger hovered over the enter key. Finally he pressed it. The work appeared on a writing website with no title and posted as an anonymous writer with no followers. Next to it a juvenile story by a social media handle had over 3,000 views. After a month of being posted the anonymous work had only 12 clicks but it sat there at large for anyone who cared to find it.

Short Story

About the author

Kincaid Jenkins

Avid traveler, reader, artist, athlete, moviegoer.

IG: kincaidjenkins103

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