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META

An exercise in Creative Visualization

By Eidolon Schreiber Published 3 years ago 7 min read

“Three hundred children died in the explosion- the third deadliest event in Texas history. As a result, an emergency legislative session was called. The new laws required thiols to be added to natural gas so that leaks could be more easily detected.” Holy cow! Zahnrad Katze’s eyes widened as she read the details of the tragedy.

How have I never heard of this? She wondered. She had been born in Texas and had lived here all her life, yet the story of the New London school explosion of 1937 seemed to be some dark secret no one dared mention.

It was a crisp Tuesday morning in January. Her daughter, Elke, dutifully worked on school assignments at the dining table. She had started sixth grade at a new school months ago, but thanks to COVID-19 she had yet to set foot in the building.

Zahnrad really should have been washing dishes, or adding more clothes to the infinite pile of clean laundry on the sofa. But instead she was cuddled under her quilt, in bed, browsing Reddit. She had been mesmerized by this thread about macabre historic events for at least twenty minutes. Ok, one more page and then I’ll do something productive. She negotiated with herself. As she scrolled the front page a title jumped out at her- it seemed like the beginning of a fantasy story. Always interested in fairy tales, Zahnrad clicked on the link.

It turned out to be an advertisement, but her interest remained piqued as she discovered the listing for a vocal.media writing contest. The top prize was $20,000! Since it was sponsored by Moleskine the primary rubric was that the story must include a little black notebook. Yeah yeah, little black notebook. Got it. Zahnrad was already calculating how she would spend the prize money.

At the ripe old age of forty the single mother had FINALLY managed to buy her own house! Now, two years later, she joked that it was “The Land of Half Finished Projects”; that she should guide tours through and describe how everything was intended to be once it was all completed. Fortunately, the cozy storybook house was a new build, so it didn’t need repairs. But she was excited to make it her own. Previously generic off-white walls were now painted in bright, cheerful colors. The dirt lot surrounding the house had been transformed- as if by magic- into a lush, diverse ecosystem with plenty of native and flowering plants to support pollinators. But for every project finished, she had ideas for dozens more.

But to get that prize money I have to write a winning story. No pressure, right? Zahnrad chuckled to herself as she grabbed a pen and sketchbook. She was primarily a visual artist, but her writing skills were pretty good as well. She flipped to a blank page, pressed pen to paper, and...

Nothing.

Total blank. Writer's block right off the bat.

As she sat there staring at the stark white paper, Elke happened to walk past the open doorway.

The only difference between the two was thirty years and fifty pounds. They both had jet black hair, piercing blue eyes, and the same short, stocky build. In addition to appearance the mother daughter duo shared an insatiable appetite for art, reading, and writing. They were constantly coming to each other for brainstorming and critiques.

“Hey!” Zahnrad called out. Elke stopped to see what her mom wanted. “I found this cool short story contest. It has to include a little black notebook and a $20,000 windfall. Any ideas?”

Elke stood silently for a few seconds as she thought. “How about aliens?”

Zahnrad automatically began writing the suggestion, then stopped as she realized she would have to fabricate an entire story based on the premise.

“Wait a minute. Why would aliens give someone $20,000? How would aliens have human money?” Zahnrad shook her head and scratched out the ‘aliens’ note. “Meh... that’s impossible.”

Elke grinned and countered, “Nothing is impossible. Just varying degrees of improbable.”

“I kinda want to do something supernatural.” Zahnrad mused aloud. The pen marks on the paper were morphing into a doodle of a witch. “You know I love that crap. Like the notebook is haunted or something.”

“Yeah, the character could write wishes in the book and they come true.” Elke extrapolated.

“Something like that.” Zahnrad muttered. The gears had become unstuck and she was making steady notes about the story forming in her mind’s eye. Elke could see she was no longer needed and resumed her trip to the kitchen.

Over the next couple of weeks Zahnrad made steady progress on her entry. Her main character had found a tattered old notebook in an antique store with sigils filling the first few pages. Each sigil was accompanied by labels for common wants: love, money, healing, etc. The character found that if she copied the sigils and focused on what she wanted, they came true! But Zahnrad, being the eternal pessimist, added a Monkey’s Paw style twist where every granted wish also resulted in a proportionately bad outcome elsewhere in the MC’s life.

Overall the story was pretty cool but it was still missing that prize winning spark. So the next time Zahnrad was grocery shopping she headed over to the office supply section. Perhaps an actual Moleskine will give me some inspiration. She found the brand quickly among the journals and day planners and was immediately drawn to a mustard yellow cover. The tag said ‘dotted notebook’ and Zahnrad furrowed her brow. What the heck is a dotted notebook? She had already been debating between a lined notebook to write her story or a blank paged sketchbook to draw in, this could be the tie breaker. She flipped through the pages and found there was a grid on every page. But instead of lines there were simply dots where the intersections would be. Hmmmm... not sure how to use this, but ok. And tossed the book in the shopping basket. She arrived at the end of the aisle and stopped suddenly. She reached in and retrieved the yellow book, walked back to the Moleskine section, and put it back where she found it.

Then her hand hovered over the other spines until she located... a dotted notebook with a BLACK cover. Got to follow the rules if I want to win that prize money. She smirked.

The deadline fast approached, Zahnrad tweaked and polished her story. She also had fun doodling in the dotted notebook. The suggested structure made it easy to design the geometric sigils from her story. She intuitively designed the one for “money” and drew it over and over. As she drew the symbol in varying degrees of complexity she focused on that $20,000 prize. How cool would it be to actually win? She knew that it was highly unlikely- near impossible- but it was still fun to dream.

In the true spirit of procrastination, she began typing her story a mere thirty six hours until deadline. But she made it, and then spent the following weeks checking for an announcement of the winners. She was not surprised to learn that someone else had won the grand prize with a story titled “META”. As Zahnrad read it, she couldn’t even be mad. Dang, this story is pretty clever. Much more original than mine. She wasn’t disappointed at all. Every few months she’d find a writing contest or art show to enter and nothing life changing had ever happened. Nevertheless, she enjoyed the challenge.

That night Zahnrad had a crazy dream.

In her dream she was laying in bed, then the house was suddenly flooded with an eerie blue light. She got up to see what was going on and when she stepped into the living room she was struck with a jolt of terror as she recognized the figure of a man.

The fear dissolved into confusion as she realized the figure wasn’t a man at all.

The humanoid was nude, but didn’t have any visible features such as mammaries or genitalia that needed to be covered, just smooth pale grey flesh. Its elongated fingers were clasping a flawless silver case - like chrome, but somehow without seams. On the top of the case was etched one of the sigils she had designed for her story.

The creature had a bulbous head with large dark eyes. Despite the initial shock, she now had a calm, peaceful feeling about the encounter. Below slitted nostrils, thin lips seemed to smile, and it almost nodded in encouragement as the box was extended toward her. She reached out to receive it...

And woke up in her bed, the morning sun shining through her window and her dog snoring next to her. Oh man, that was weird. She just laid there for a moment and replayed the dream in her mind.

“Mom! What is this?” Elke’s voice calling from the living room jolted her back to reality.

“What’s what?” Zahnrad called back as she tossed her quilt off of her legs. She shuffled into the living room, still groggy from sleep.

Elke stood near the front door. She was holding the shiny metal box from Zahnrad’s dream!

Now Zahnrad was fully awake as she stepped forward to run her hand over the symbol on the top side. She was finally able to recognize its significance as she flashed back to all the times she had drawn this symbol in her little black notebook. It was her sigil for “money”.

When her skin brushed across the surface the top suddenly withdrew into a hair-thin slot in the box. It now sat open and they could see the contents clearly.

$20,000 in U.S. currency.

Zahnrad and Elke stared at the money, then looked up at each other with widened eyes. Elke grinned like a Cheshire Cat. Zahnrad muttered “Well I’ll be damned.” And looked back down in disbelief.

fact or fiction

About the Creator

Eidolon Schreiber

Lazy mystic, and weirdo extraordinaire.

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    Eidolon Schreiber Written by Eidolon Schreiber

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