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The Untitled Document

A Writer’s Disease

By Victoria CagePublished about a year ago 12 min read

The coffee timer has been set for 3am on the dot. Every clock in the house—the grandfather in the dining hall, the electric in the living room, the quartz in the office, and the alarm in the writer’s bedroom. All ticked and tocked in sync as if they were one. And then the first alarm went off.

Clothed in blue silk, the artist’s spidery fingers grazed over the alarm’s button and sighed when it went quiet. Routinely, he sat up in his unwrinkled sheets and swished his legs over the side of his king sized bed. He patted down the pillows to remove his head’s imprint before he stood back and examined his bedroom for imperfections. When he found none, he settled on shifting a framed newspaper ever so slightly to the right, and then back to the left. His eyes lingered on the title he couldn’t read in the dark but knew was there: Best Selling Author of the year. And below it a name that was meant to represent him, but wasn’t really him. His facade, his persona, whatever term was used, seemed more himself than what he had always been known as.

Stepping onto the cold kitchen tiles, his feet carried him to the fourth cabinet on the right; every black mug was placed an inch and a half apart, and the handles faced the same way. He grabbed the second to the left, closed the cabinet door, and took five steps to the coffee machine. With his last step, the timer went off, and within three beeps he had shut it off and poured himself a cup.

Throughout the halls he could hear synchronized ticking; and his wrist watch followed in suit. At 4 he made himself toast and cleaned every crumb off his table. At 5 he drank another cup of coffee. At 6 he folded his clothes that he had been drying the night before and placed all the shirts in the shirt drawer, every pant in the pants drawer, and every sock in the sock drawer. By 8 he dusted and polished every tabletop and counter. 9oclock he dressed himself in gray slacks and a white button down; every clothing item lacked wrinkles. At 9:30 he sat in his office chair and opened an untitled document. His pale fingers reached over the keyboard and stopped. The blank document waited for him; it waited to be written. The quartz clock ticked behind him. The single, pulsing black line on his blank paper fell in sync with the ticking. And he watched it, his hands hovering over the keyboard.

At 11 he dipped his paintbrush into a perfectly round, gray splotch of paint and raised it to the canvas. The electric clock, one he had received as a gift, watched his hesitation.

At 1 in the afternoon he ate lunch; pasta and Alfredo, with a slice of garlic bread. Thirty minutes later he washed his dishes, dried them, and put them away.

At 3 he went to play the grand piano in the dining hall. But what should he play? He knew every classic, from the greatest composers to the lesser known. He played Mozart, he played Beethoven. But what professional couldn’t play pieces written by them? In front of him, droning like a mechanical bumble bee, was the gray grandfather clock. The oldest in the house; one passed down to him by his father. It was the one item he could not dust, polish, nor examine it for long. He did not like it as a child and he did not like it fully grown. It had a face, he thought, an old man’s face. One almost like his father’s or a distorted version of his father. His hands slipped from the keys and hit a sharp. The disturbance brought him back to reality.

At 7 he ate dinner; a steak, steamed asparagus, and mashed potatoes with a single slice of butter.

When 9oclock came around, he opened up the untitled document and wrote a sentence. The essence of life is constructed and ruled by time and routine. Yes, that sounded right. Rereading it again, he deleted the last two words. It had too many ‘and’s for an opening sentence. The essence of life is constructed and ruled by time. Did he like the usage of the word constructed? It didn’t seem to fully represent what he wanted to say. He took it out of the sentence. The essence of life is ruled by time. Essence? Maybe not the essence. Life is ruled by time. He leaned back and stared at the five black words stuck on the screen with the ticking line beside the period.

By 10 he had changed into his silk pajamas and slid neatly into his large, empty bed. He read The Art of Patience until 11. The lamp light flickered out and he was left in darkness.

The night consumed him; swallowed him whole and spit him out in the land of dreams.

Pink, orange, yellow and blue lit up the skies in this world. Clouds of fluffy white floated past three suns. Stars glittered high above him, and beneath him were rolling hills of flowers of purple and green grass. On this night he was in the wheat fields and he was a child. Letting out an excited laugh, he raced through the tall stalks of grass. The wind felt good on his face and the air smelled sweet. He splashed through a crystal clear river and climbed up the hills until he came upon a cliff side. The drop was long and at the bottom was an ocean reflecting the colors of the sky. The ground rumbled; he crawled onto his knees to watch what would come out of the water. A smooth muzzle poked out, and then a set of beady eyes and a slimy body; the whale floated into the sky and behind it came sharks and schools of fish. They flew upwards as if swimming in the air. The artist watched in awe. He turned when something else stirred the wheat stalks behind him. An ant three times his size snapped through the wheat and clicked its pinchers at him. Advancing on him, he tripped off the cliff side. He yelled for help but the waves drowned his voice out. Water choked him and deafening silence crushed him. It wasn’t colorful in the ocean. It was just black. And then something broke the silence—the ticking of a clock. He turned in the darkness to see the grandfather clock with its face, even more horrid in this world. “Go away.” He heard himself say. “Stop tormenting me and leave me be.” The ticking stopped, he realized in surprise. But the silence that followed it was worse. He was blind and deaf. He could not feel, he could not breathe. Was he even alive?

And then the first alarm went off. He sat up in bed gasping and clawing at his throat as if he truly were drowning. The alarm screamed at him until he slammed the button. He heard a crack and paused in his moment of anger. It wasn’t damaged—the alarm clock—or at least not that he could tell in the dark. His hand swiped across his perspired forehead and he shakily made his way to the kitchen. The coffee maker went off before he could open the cabinet so he quieted it. The silence reminded him of his dream and so did the dark. The couches he could see in the living room were shadowy, figureless blobs. And the clocks echoed throughout his house. Ice crawled down his spine. Why did he feel like a mouse about to be trapped? A roach about to be crushed by a boot? An enemy in his own home? Home. It didn’t feel much like a home at that moment.

The hallways had never given him such anxiety as they did this morning. His fingers finally found the light switch to his office and there he locked himself. A relieved sigh left him when he sat in his chair. He escaped them. Startled by his own thought, he murmured aloud, “escaped from whom?” Looking back, it was ridiculous how afraid he had felt. But things were much clearer in the light. As his heart rate slowed to a steady pace, he opened the document and there he read his sentence.

Life is ruled by time.

Dread filled his stomach. Did he write that?

Goosebumps crawled along the back of his neck. Was someone watching him? Swallowing, he turned to the quartz clock. He noticed, for the first time, it also had a face. A tiny, angry face. Before he realized what he was doing, he had grabbed a hefty book on his desk and threw it. The quartz crashed to the tile; it was like fireworks in the echoey house. For a moment he thought he could still hear its noises, but remembered the others throughout the house. “I must be going mad.” He didn’t move.

He stayed in his office till 7, when he knew the sun was well up, before he unlocked himself from his office and made his way into the living room to paint. He rose the paintbrush and slowly dragged it across half the canvas. He wasn’t sure what he was painting, but it was better than nothing. He created another gray line, this one vertical. That looked nice. The pattern continued; he painted smaller lines like arrows around the two large ones to draw the viewer’s eye to the center. Nearly satisfied, he took a step back to inspect his creation. It was different from what he used to paint before, but it was something. People liked odd things, he supposed.

His gaze drifted to the electric clock, high above his head. A gift from a friend didn’t seem so warm anymore. Why did it stare at him like that? Was it waiting for him? But what could it be waiting for? Why did it have to watch him so intently? Why was it looking at him? His eyes traveled to what he had painted: the face of a clock. The canvas and all the paints fell; gray specks dotted his blue silk pants.

At 9 he tossed his alarm, coffee machine, electric and quartz clocks out into the street; all of them were broken. Slamming his door shut behind him he panted heavily. It was quiet. After a few moments he slicked back his hair and started cleaning his mess.

By 7pm the sun had begun to set and every speck of gray had been cleaned off the floor. The canvas was thrown out. He hadn’t eaten all day; he couldn’t until everything was perfect. But now all the evidence of a mess was gone and the house was quiet.

And then he heard it.

The low ticking of the grandfather clock.

It held his gaze as he entered the dining hall. Grooves along the sides of its face made it look wrinkled; its back was arched and its head hung ever so slightly. He remembered, as a child, hiding in its stomach from his father during one of his fits. The pendulum would swing against his back like a finger tapping him. Once, when his father found him hiding there, he locked him in the clock for the night. He hadn’t touched it since. He hated it. He hated it with every piece of himself.

At 7:40 he returned with a hammer. A hefty one; the biggest in his basement. He rose it and stared at its face, a face like his father’s, a face like...himself.

“I look like him.” Slowly, cautiously, his fingers brushed the splintered wooden surface and opened the stomach in one motion. The gold pendulum rocked back and forth. But something was stuck to it. A paper note. Trembling, he snatched it and read it. It was from his father. The old man must’ve believed his son would come back to the clock eventually, to hide again, and left it there.

If you find yourself hiding from me once more, know that I am sorry for what I did to you. All I need is some time to get better. I love you always.

Time. That word again. Some time. “You never changed till the day you died.” He shredded the note and brought the hammer down on the clock’s face. The crushing noise almost seemed as if it were screaming. He struck again. And again. He didn’t stop until there wasn’t a single unbroken part.

In the morning he opened the curtains and let in pale yellow sunlight. His canvas was ready, as well as his paints. He colored a sky of pink and red, of flying fish and giant bugs. He listened to the birds singing outside his window, and he hummed along with them. He was so pleased with his art that he decided to paint his white walls. The living room was green, the office red, the kitchen yellow. And he could change those colors whenever he wished.

He sat down in his office chair and stared at the untitled document and the ticking black line. His fingers danced along the keyboard. My life was ruled by time. Regulation, order, and repetition has no place in art. It is restrictive to the creative mind and damaging to the soul. Overcoming the fear of breaking habits is the second hardest part; letting go of the past is the first.

He wrote and painted and played piano but never in the same order. Although he broke free, he wore a reminder on his wrist. Sometimes when it was really silent, he could hear it still. The tiny ticking. But he never took it off; it was a reminder of the lesson he learned. A lesson he would never forget, no matter how much time passed by.

Short Story

About the Creator

Victoria Cage

I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. Every chance I could get I was either writing, drawing, or telling anyone who’d listen my stories. Throughout high school I self published three books on Amazon. Enjoy my short stories!

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