Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Editor

Wrote this Poe/Lovecraft inspired short back in February.
Hope you enjoy.
I once had an editor who fancied himself a better writer than I. This is the story of how we severed ties.

###

I’d just completed my masterwork, a tome of prose so vibrant, so passionately effervescent; to say the words merely “leap off every page” would be at best a clich├ęd understatement, at worst pure invective. So when my editor, Daniel Simon, not only mouthed this exact phrase, but then called chapter twenty-one “a dull exercise in pointless self-indulgence,” I resolved to terminate our working relationship and move on the next.

“Gor wants a draft by the end of the week and I guarantee that as soon as they read this chapter they’re going to hot-rush the whole manuscript back to my office attached with some pimpled paralegal’s formal request for a return on their advance,” he lamented. The volumes lining my study shuddered in their shelves.

“Well in that case I suppose they’ll hear from my attorneys,” I joked.

“Get real,” he sneered, his polyurethane countenance looking like it was about to ‘leap’ from his skull. “We’re talking about one chapter here, and it’s not as if we’re in the position where we can make demands of the genre’s pre-eminent publishing house.” His imagined gavel drop was followed by the standard consolatory silence.

In this interim I sighed convincingly; his words didn’t so much sink in as they did ooze along the unresponsive surface of rational thought.

Just as he was about to continue I interjected with a humble concession: “I suppose you’re right,” I murmured like a frustrated author settling for the only available offer. “After all, it’s only one chapter.”

“Exactly,” he said. “And honestly, I get it. The drastic tonal shift, the sudden appearance of the third person narrator, the neologisms, broken prose: these meta-fictitious elements lifting the veil to re-emphasize your take on existentialism; and all the while, you get to show off your chops. I get it.” He placed a fatherly grip on my shoulder. Every fiber of my inner-being danced with voodoo hysterics, but I held back, kept still. “It’s just that the publisher isn’t going to see any of that. All they’re going to see is a reclusive writer basking in his own talent without any regard for the audience.”

It became too much; I had to stand. I walked to the opposite end of my study and peered out the window. Ghostly winds roared wild between the narrow spaces separating my Kew Gardens loft from the neighbors. Grey branches rattled on ancient cobble. The streets were almost totally vacant, the harsh cold keeping even the most desperate fiends behind closed doors…

“I mean, maybe you can turn that chapter into a one-shot short story,” Daniel said. “I’m sure there’s a ton of genre ‘zines out there that would still kill for one of your shorts, and in all likelihood it’ll get anthologized by year’s end,” he opined over my shoulder.

I wondered how long he’d stood there, his tiny gears turning at full steam, trying to draw up a way to make that last bit come off as non-patronizing as possible. I raised my gaze from the sidewalk to the studios across the street, making sure Daniel noticed my smile in the window’s reflection. “You know what, Dan?” I said, turning to face him. “For once, you’re absolutely right.”

“Well, I appreciate that,” he said with a crass chuckle.

“How about we grab a few drinks down the street?” I offered.

He took his Blackberry from his front pocket, asked the digital planner for permission. “Uh, yeah, I’m free for at least a few hours,” he said. “To be honest, I’d planned for you to fight me harder on this.”

“Ha, my reputation precedes me,” I replied.

###

As we sat across one another at a booth in the last-of-its-musty-kind barroom two blocks from my apartment, Simon jabbered on; about what, I couldn’t say - some mundane industry gossip, no doubt. I kept the conversation moving along, but unbeknownst to him, my thoughts dwelled elsewhere. When he once again paused to finger his Blackberry I took the opportunity to change the subject.

“I noticed you scoping my shelves earlier.”

“Ah yes,” he said, his thumb wiping condensation from the glass of his vodka-tonic. “Quite a collection you’ve got there.” He took a large, reckless gulp then placed his drink back on its coaster, his eyebrows rising as he went to speak. “Maybe someday it’ll rival my own.” He belched.

“Well, you must have some collection then.” I took a small, calculated sip of my lager. “Funny though, your name never once came up in my frequent haunts.”

Simon coughed, barely struggling to hold back a drunken snarl. “It’s time you found some new ones then, man.”

“Perhaps.”

“Perhaps definitely,” he proclaimed, the liquor raising his audacity by the ounce. “I hate to brag, you know, but I’ve been called one of the foremost collectors of contemporary horror in the country.”

Is that so?” I prodded.

“Damn, right. There isn’t a bookseller in the state that I don’t know on a first name basis. Go ahead and try me.”

“No, I couldn’t really.”

“Come on.”

“I really can’t.”

“Oh, come on,” he insisted.

“No, you don’t understand.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I should have spoken more clearly about those haunts of mine. You see, most of my collection comes from overseas."

“What are you talking about? I saw what you had: first edition Vonnegut, PKD, some early Poe anthologies. None of that comes from overseas. None of it’s particularly rare either,” he scoffed.

“Ah, but you only scratched the surface of my collection, the bulk of which I keep in a separate storage facility.”

“And where is that?” he demanded. The foolish look in his eyes told me I now had his full, drunken attention.

“A warehouse, two levels, not far from here actually. We could walk over if you like – it would only take about fifteen minutes.” I finished my beer and grabbed my coat as if preparing to leave, but Simon reached out to stop me, as I expected he would.

“Er, hold on a minute there.” His tone grew amusingly condescending with his level of intoxication. “Just what kind of jewels do you have over there?”

“Oh, let me think: an obscure printing of Will’s Horrid Mysteries, an early copy of Lyrical Ballads—”

“Early this, obscure that. Come on, man!” he shouted then laughed. “I’m just kidding. It sounds like you’re on your way. Let me know if you ever find something really valuable. Until then, I think it’d be best if we kept our relationship strictly editorial, if you catch my meaning.” He looked at his phone, checked the time, temperature, four-day forecast, who the hell knows what? “It’s getting late. Hate to drink and ditch, but I’ve really got to run,” he said sliding clumsily from our booth to balance on tilted legs.

“There’s one other thing,” I said.

“Oh, what’s that?”

“I have, in my storage facility, an original Necromancer.” His eyes became agog. “The original, I should say.”

“It can’t be. It doesn’t exist”

“Oh, but it does, and I have the only copy.”

“But how?”

“Through an anonymous source.”

“Who?” he demanded.

“Sorry,” I laughed, “but then it wouldn’t anonymous.”

"You’re serious. You really have the original Necro?” he asked, his doublespeak abbreviation turning my stomach over; the man even spoke like a text message.

“Yes, I am and I do,” I said through gritted teeth.

“I must see it,” he shouted.

“I don’t know,” I teased. “After all, like you said, it’s getting late. Perhaps another time—”

“Fuck that, man. That was then, this is now. Come on, you said yourself that the place is nearby. Let’s head over now.”

“Alright then, one more drink and we’ll be on our way.”

###

As I fumbled for the key to my warehouse’s front entrance, I relished in the success of my ruse; my editor had absolutely no idea that his presently vodka-redolent breaths, colored grey by frigid moonlit night, would be the last this world would ever see of him.

“Come on already, shaky,” he taunted, his teeth chattering in the cold.

“A thousand apologies - could you lend me your phone for a second? I can’t seem to find the right key.” Before I could finish my sentence the phone appeared in my hand, beaming an unearthly shade of blue. “Ah, there we go,” I said, quickly picking out the key and opening the door.

“About time,” Simon said, “I thought we were going to freeze to death out here.”

I flicked a switch on the wall and the room became awash with fluorescent light, revealing a hoarder’s trove of penny-paperbacks, classic comics, and other various discarded diamonds in the rough; walls of books stacked ceiling high, forming aisles upon aisles.

Simon coughed or made some other atrocious sound. “In here?” he gasped, as I led him past the entry-way.

“Of course not,” I laughed. “This floor only houses everyday reading material. I doubt you’d find anything truly collectible down here. The real treasure awaits us upstairs.”

I led the way, craftily negotiating the aisles’ twists and turns, while Simon followed kicking up dust. If the depth of my collection didn’t overwhelm my editor, then surely the sheer state of it must have. The aged assemblage of paper on paper stood as an outright offense to his Broadway-born couture. This man was no writer; he was barely a reader. As we scaled the steel steps leading to the next floor, I felt the vibrations of his trembling hand on the banister.

When the electronically sealed stainless steel door came into sight, Simon let loose a sigh of relief so long-winded it bordered on vulgarity. “Something troubling you?” I asked.

“Oh, no, just glad to see you’re paying the rarer books the respect they deserve.”

“But of course,” I said, placing my eye before the door’s retina-scanner. With an affirmative beep the mammoth safety lock unlatched and the door cranked open to reveal a white-walled room containing one shelf, one desk and one chair. As we entered the temperature control system hummed into effect, dropping the stasis temperature a fraction of a degree to compensate for our added body heat.

“Most impressive,” Daniel said. “Now, let’s see if this well-maintained, albeit meager, collection lives up to its hype.”

We approached the lone stainless steel shelf, which was finished with baked enamel and sealed behind a thin pane of glass. I let Simon sidle before the shelf several times, his eyes - still red from booze - peering eagerly through the glass. Then, when he scratched his head and came to halt at the shelf’s left-most section, I swung the chair out from the desk, placed my right hand on his shoulder, motioned with my left to the chair, and said, “If you wouldn’t mind.”

His lips motioned to make some smart-aleck retort, but all that came out was a reserved if not cordial “Sure.” I watched him sit, then turned back to the shelf and pulled out the same key chain from before. “Not those damn keys again,” he moaned.

“No worries,” I replied. “This one, I never miss.” I unlocked the glass window and removed The Necromancer, which had laid flat on its side in a home-made, black leather bound book jacket. Slowly, I walked over to the desk, all the while studying Simon’s naive enthusiasm. I gently placed the book on the table and removed its jacket. Again, his eyes became agog. “Now, before you examine the rest of the book, I hoped you might take a look at the colophon. You see, there’s an odd phrase there that I can’t seem to decipher. Perhaps you’ll have some luck with it.” I turned to the book’s final page and pointed at the backwards-Latin printer’s mark.

“sirednocsba rotatlucco sibrev A,” he read.

By the time he raised his confused little head to meet my frenzied gaze his figure had already begun to fade. He opened his mouth, as if to scream, but not even air escaped. No ‘ptoof,’ ‘whoosh,’ or other ridiculous onomatopoeia accompanied his disappearance; the fibrous strands of his being merely blurred into nothingness.

When he was gone I returned the book to its place and went home a happy man.

###

As for the chapter my oh-so-ambitious editor hoped to hide, it remained undisturbed in its rightful place and never affected the book’s critical or commercial reception in the least.

There was, of course, some vague inquiry into the whereabouts of Mr. Simon, for although he was now hidden from existence, he had indeed existed and I was the last to see him before his sudden disappearance occurred. But what could I tell them? We looked at some books and then he left, and that was all.

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