November 26

            Surely I’ve lost you and surely you’re no longer with me. 

            Surely you’ve moved on to something a bit normal. 

            John Grisham or David Baldachi or Nicholas Sparks and James Patterson with whoever he’s “writing” with. 

            You’ve probably not gotten here but if you have then damn you’re good. 

            You’re demented. 

            You’re surely looking for some payoff and I’ll be honest I’ve been looking for one too. For a very long time. 

            Maybe if I can keep going, then you can as well. All I can do is keep going. Day and night, night and day. 

**

            Sometimes it seems as if there’s a radio playing in my head with a DJ who never shuts up. I sleep and hear him speaking in my dreams and nightmares. I wake up and wish I could drown him fully out, but the volume never fully gets to zero. The mumbling and blabbering goes on and lasts all day. 

            A phone call gets me out of bed earlier than I would like. I would be sleeping at least another hour on this Saturday morning, but when I see Betty’s name on my iPhone, I know I have to take it. 

            “Hi, Betty,” I say with a hoarse voice. “How’s it going?”

            “Jack was found dead in his house last night. Overdosed on something. They’re calling it a suicide.”

            I want to ask Betty if she’s joking with me over the phone, but I can tell in her tone that she’s not. Normally she would at least greet me in some sort of way. She’s serious. Dead serious, pun intended. 

            “How’d you hear?”

            “His girlfriend found him,” Betty says. “I’m not sure which girlfriend since he always seemed to have a new one every week.”

            It’s strange that I’m not surprised to hear Jack killed himself. I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone murdered Jack.       

            “Do they know for certain if it was a suicide?” I ask.         

            “That’s all I know,” Betty says.  “I wanted to let you know. Especially since we had just been talking about him.”

            I’m not going to tell her about my encounter with Jack nor about everything he’d told me. The last thing I want to do is get involved in some kind of mystery involving someone’s death. 

            Too late. 

            “How are you doing?” I ask her. 

            “We’re all pretty shaken. I’m not sure what to think anymore.”

            I talk with her a few more minutes before thanking her and asking her to keep me in the loop. When I click off the call, I just stand and look out the window in my family room. It’s strange because sometimes everything about this room seems nondescript. Blank walls and boring furniture and empty sounds and stale smells. 

            I decide to get ready and leave early for my Saturday morning hang out with Dermot. I’m curious how much progress he’s made on his novel. 

**

            “I’m just below 30,000 words,” Dermot says to me as he approaches my table. “29,911.”

            I shake his hand. “You couldn’t just come up with 89 more words to make it a nice round 30K?” 

            “I had to scrap a scene since I last texted you. But I think this is really good.” 

            And we’re off. 

            Dermot starts talking about the manuscript. It resembles a bit of what Jack was talking about with the secretive cult meeting and the possible human sacrifices and the evil and all of that. I want to ask him if he has met Jack in any way, but of course, I remain silent. Actually, I can barely get in one word except to say “hmm” and “cool” and “interesting”.

            “There’s an awesome agent I’m going to send this to after I’m done,” Dermot says. “Colin Scott. Works in Chicago.”

            I nod. “How’d you hear about him.” 

            “He represents some major authors. Vivian Brown is one of them.”

            I nod and know I’ve heard the name, but at the same time she doesn’t strike me as a big name. 

            I own a bookstore and can’t really recall this author. 

            “He used to work in publishing and hated everything about it,” Dermot tells me. “Now he wants to find new voices and new talents.”

            “Gotta finish the manuscript first, right?” I say. 

            “Absolutely.”

            “So—are you going to take your coat off? Maybe order coffee and get some breakfast?” 

            Dermot has been so enraptured telling me about his work-in-progress that he forgot to even get situated. 

            Passion. Gotta love it. 

**

            A slow day at the store. Black Friday sales were strong, so what sort of color can I call today? Sepia Saturday? No, how about Sky Blue Saturday. That just seems to fit. 

            The UPS driver delivers a series of packages. A few books I’ve ordered, some for myself and a couple for customers. A rectangular package is among the pieces, and when I pick it up I know it’s a manuscript. 

            Maybe Dermot’s sending me his book.

            But no. He would have given it to me this morning. I think about the three times something like this has happened before when I received a manuscript from a writer who acted as if I was a publisher. Three times. All three times I had to send the manuscript back telling them I sold books and didn’t publish them. This time I open up the package, I realize I’m not sending these pages back. 

            The sender happens to be dead. 

            A note paperclipped to the 300-something pages has writing that I’ve seen before. My name is much like the other names on the list he gave me. 

            Nolan: 

            If you’re reading this, it means something happened to me. I have given instructions for this to be overnighted in case they don’t hear from me otherwise. 

            You need to read this. You need to read it and then maybe you’ll understand. 

            I’m not sending this to you so that you can alert the authorities about me. I’m sending you this because you have a chance to make it out of here. I guess I didn’t make it. Sometimes that’s what happens in this world. 

            Just one thing: as you read this, realize that you’re not going insane. That’s what I thought initially until I discovered the truth. I tried to stop things. I’ve been attempt to argue my way out of this, but I couldn’t. 

            You play a different role here. You shouldn’t run away. You need to stay around. “Seek and ye shall find” as the saying goes. 

            Read the book in bits and pieces. Take breaks to keep your sanity. 

            Alcohol helps. 

            As far as the end of this book, whatever end it might be, take the input of the great Frank Herbert: “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” 

            It looks like my story has stopped. Don’t let yours do the same. 

            Jack

            I take off the note and see the cover page for the book. The title is really no title at all and the author is someone I’ve never heard of before. I quickly start to read the text. 

            When I get to my name, I stop reading. I look up and see if anybody is around watching. Maybe this is a prank. Some very elaborate prank that Dermot or Cameron or Casey is playing. Nobody is around. 

            Nolan Stewart. 

            Yeah, that’s me. 

            I read on and see that it’s talking about me, how I manage a bookstore. They even know what HH stands for.  

            “Hemingway’s Hideout.” 

            This is when I stop reading and slip the manuscript back in its package. My heart is racing and I’m completely bewildered. I look back and see the note Jack wrote me, and I reread it. 

            Read the book in bits and pieces. Take breaks to keep your sanity. 

            Now I know why he said this. 

            I recall what Mark had said about the manuscript, how the editor had said the first few chapters were the scariest he’d ever read. 

            I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified after reading just a handful of pages. It’s not because of the content itself. 

            It’s because you wrote them. 

            But I didn’t and I know I didn’t. 

            Alcohol helps. 

            I nod at Jack’s words. “Yeah. It will help. At least temporarily.”

            Time to close the shop so I can do exactly what Jack told me not to do: 

            Run away. 

**

            This sadness stays with me. 

            Somewhere between sunset and sunrise, I hear the DJ in my head again. 

            Inside the harmonies of the chords and the hues on the canvas lies the hurt and the conflict. 

            I haven’t picked up the manuscript again. I’ve been waiting for something else—a phone call, a text, an email. Or worse, a knock on my door. But silence is the only thing that shows up. 

            Silence can be worse than angry words. The voices that start to speak inside of you can be worse than those from your worst enemies. 

            I know what I need to do, but I can’t bring myself to even try. The manuscript remains in the package on the counter in my kitchen. I’m avoiding it like some kind of ticking explosive. 

            If the words are really and truly from me, what will they say? What if I wrote them when I didn’t even know it? 

            Write a novel in a blackout state. A new workshop coming from Nolan Stewart. 

            No. I didn’t write this during any drunken episodes. That’s a ludicrous thought. 

            Life is waiting and you’re still stuck down here wondering and holding off and resisting the urge. Go ahead, Nolan. Just do it. 

            I stumble to the kitchen and get the manuscript and begin to read. I wonder how much I’ll remember in the morning. 

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