November 30

            Morning light muscles through the blinds making me pay attention. I don’t pay attention to much these days except for myself. Maybe thinking less of me is a good thing. A necessary thing. 

            I head outside and feel the chill. See the frost of my car. Watch the world pass by one more time on my way to work.  

            I notice as many things as I can. Maybe this will be my last opportunity to see 

them.

            After I park and look out over the river, the words of the strange stranger circle in my head. 

            “The reality, Nolan, is you might eventually slip away. Forgotten about. Stored away in some safe place. Perhaps to be revisited again. But probably not. You will be an interesting idea that never went anywhere because you didn’t fight to stay alive.”

            Stored away in some safe place. 

            Just like a writer’s words stuck in a document or in the pages of a notebook. Unfinished. Unpublished. 

            “But they served their purpose,” Travis said. “They were practice. They helped me get to the next book I wrote.” 

            But have I served my purpose? 

            A startling thought arrives as I stare at the sky.  

            Am I worthy of someone telling my tale? 

            Do I deserve to have my story be told? 

            Will I watch and wait for something wonderful to come my way? 

            I don’t know. 

            I have no idea. 

            Mysteries aren’t interesting if you don’t care whether the hero or heroine will live or die. 

            The mystery isn’t whether I’ll see December 1. The suspense is why it’s taken me this long to realize the truth about this life.     

            About my life. 

            I step over the strands of sunlight as I head to the bookstore. For a moment I stop and look over the stone road. The chill chased with the warmth staring down on me feels good. 

            It makes me feel real. Like belonging to something. 

            Some kind of story. 

            Some kind of creator. 

            Someone interested in me, in where I’m heading and what I’m doing.  

**

            Tying up loose ends today. I mean. . . if this really is the last day of my life, then I should at least try for some kind of closure. 

            Or maybe you can do the Bill Murray Groundhog Day approach and kidnap Punxsutawney Phil and driving us off a cliff. 

            First I text Dermot. 

            Last day of the month. How’s the story? 

            It doesn’t take him long to text back. 

            Incredibly behind on #NaNoWriMo, but just having a project I’m working on as much as I can feels very good. If I don’t finish in November, I’ll finish before the year is up I’m sure.

            Feels like I’ve read this somewhere before. Maybe in a Tweet somewhere. 

            Good for you. Keep writing. Hope you finish and send to that agent. 

            I think about who else I can text. Business is slow. I’m about to send a message to my mysterious lady friend, Lexi, but I stop myself. 

            Some things in life only serve as distractions to discovering the important parts. 

            “Red herrings,” I say. 

            Some things and even some people are red herrings in our stories. They mislead and distract and make us deviate from our true purpose.         

            I wonder what other red herrings have popped up in my life lately. Have they all been red herrings? Or did they all serve a purpose in helping me find out who I really am? 

            Jack. . . Cameron. . . the John Ryder fella. 

            Some story threads can’t be closed, a text tells me. 

            I look and see that it’s coming from Travis.            

            Some have to remain open for lots of reasons.

            I pause for a moment, then begin to text him back. 

            Why’s that? 

            Because those are all part of a bigger story. A story that needs to be told by others. You were just able to see some of the billboards.

            Okay, so maybe things aren’t going to come to a full closure today. I’m not going to argue with the boss. 

**

            So how does this all end? It’s late afternoon and the sun is disappearing and I keep checking my body to see if I’m slowly doing the same. But I’m still all here. 

            I have more questions. So many questions.

            I need more answers. Just a few will do. 

            So I walk over to Thrasher’s office. I’m hoping he hasn’t gone home. For some reason, I don’t think he has. I feel like he’s still there, working, writing, typing. 

            Sure enough, the lights are on behind his office door. He opens it after I knock. 

            “Wait,” he says right away. “You’re still here?” 

            He looks alarmed and distressed for a few seconds, then his expression turns to a dim-witted goofy grin and he laughs. 

            “I’m just kidding. Come on in.” 

            I don’t want to sit down in the chair and talk as if I’m having a counseling session. I just want to know a little more truth. 

            “What happens after today? I mean—what am I supposed to do today?”

            He nods. “I’ve been thinking about that. Maybe I’ll leave the decision up to you.”

            Travis appears to be amused. 

            “What’s so funny?” I ask. 

            “Nothing. It’s just—I’ve had lots of fun ideas on how to end this.”

            “Enlighten me.”

            “Sure. Of course. Well, we can have a happily ever after sort of ending,” Travis says. “I picture you at your bookstore–”

            “I’m closed for the day,” I tell him. 

            “Yeah, yeah. But you could open up again. I see this pretty blonde walking into the shop and picking up a random book. She’s lost, looking for her boyfriend who is a trader on the Chicago stock exchange.”

            “No,” I say. 

            “What?”

            “This isn’t a Hallmark film,” I say. “I refuse to end like that. Next thing I know you’ll give me a little bastard of a boy who sings Christmas carols and has to stay with me over the holidays.”

            “That’s a great idea,” Travis says with a chuckle.

            “Next idea.”

            “Well, we can do a dramatic cliff-hanger, what-the-f sort of ending. Like you can get a sweet message from Lexi to meet her, then when you arrive you see she’s been sacrificed and is dead.”

            “Damn,” I say. “That’s terrible. That’s like the worse ending ever. No author would ever do that.”

            He looks at me with that amused, boyish smile. 

            “What?” I ask. 

            “Are you joking?” he says. 

            “No. Unless you want me to joke. But I don’t think I’m joking.”

            “Okay. Well, yeah, let’s don’t kill off the girl at the end of the book. Terrible idea. Dreadful. We can have the dramatic twist.”

            “Didn’t we already have a pretty big dramatic twist?” I ask. 

            “True.”

            “So then have I fulfilled my mission?”

            “Your mission?” Travis says. 

            “My assignment? My purpose?”

            He thinks for a moment and nods. “Yeah, I believe you have.”

            “But how? Because I’ve gotten to November 30?”

            This seems to wrangle some sort of reaction from Travis. He’s bothered by my comment. He walks over to his desk, sits down, then clicks on the mouse and looks at his monitor. 

            “Time is a funny thing, Nolan,” he says to me while still staring at the screen. 

            “Why’s that?”

            “My life for the last nine years has been all about time. The ticking clock. Deadlines and late fees and late checks. I’ve been running to try to catch up, but I’ve never been able to.”

            “I’ve been trying to simply figure out what the hell is going on,” I say. 

            “Yeah. I’ve been doing that too. But here’s something that I just got emailed. A quote from someone I’m working with. It said this: ‘It matters to know that we all have a story. It matters to know that the story matters and there’s power in there.’”

            I nod. “That’s a powerful statement. Who said that?”

            He shrugs. “I don’t know.”

            “But you said it’s someone you’re working with.”

            Once again, I have to hear that stupid laugh of his. 

            “Yeah, well, that’s true. I just don’t know the name because I’m working with him in 2020, not 2016.”

            What? 

            This is not right. This is unfair. 

            “So a voice from the future gave you that quote?” I ask. 

            “No, not ‘a voice.’ I gave me that quote. It was uttered today. Well, not today. It was said four years from now.”

            “Are you telling me we’re ending with a time travel story?” 

            “No, no, no,” Travis says. “It’s just the truth. He sent me this quote via email. But I swear I don’t know who said it.”

            “My head hurts,” I say. 

            “Mine too.”

            “I’m going to take off now.”

            “And go where?” Travis asks. 

            “Wherever you want me to go.”

            “Characters have minds of their own,” he says. “They really do.”

            “Okay, fine,” I say. “I’m going to go to Aruba.”

            He shakes his head. “Sorry. Never been there. ‘Write what you know.’”

            We both laugh. 

            You say laugh a lot, don’t you? You have people smile quite a bit, don’t you? 

            “Shut up,” Travis tells me. 

            I forgot that he can hear my interior thoughts. 

            “Okay, so I’ll go back to my apartment and have a night cap and contemplate life and death and Christopher Nolan movies.”

            “Yes!” 

            “Hold on,” I say.         

            “What?” 

            “Did you just use an exclamation point?” 

            “Yeah, so?” Travis says. 

            “Those are from the devil and you know it. We can’t use quotation marks. They are worse than f-bombs.”

            “Fine.” 

**

            If I was any normal human being, I would be looking at old photos and watching old videos and thinking about my life. But I’m not normal and I don’t have all those old mementos to pine over. So all I can do is sit here in my bare apartment contemplating the journey of the last month. 

            The journey is everything, Nolan.

            The voice. My voice. His voice. 

            “Is that supposed to be motivational?” I ask. “Because that sounds like one of those cheesy motivational posters.”

            Or maybe a blog. 

            I wish my brain had an off switch. I wish I could just flip it and then become normal. Watch tv without all these thoughts. Walk down the sidewalk without all these voices. Work at my desk without all these questions. But the switch doesn’t work, so I’m stuck with that voice all day long. 

            A voice that whispers to me. 

            A voice that wants me to talk to him. 

            A voice that gives me instructions. 

            A voice that sounds like a loving father. 

            Woah, where’d I go just now? 

            It’s late. Very late. Almost midnight. I have a weird déjà vu, as if something like this has already happened. At least in a Travis Thrasher book.          

            Oh, well. End on a character meeting his demise by the date. 

            Maybe the journey is everything. Maybe it has served its purpose. Maybe it’s provided some much-needed inspiration for an artist needing fuel and fire. 

            A ding makes me grab my phone. It’s Dermot with another writing quote.

            You just have to go on when it is worst and most helpless — there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is go straight on through to the end of the damn thing.” — Ernest Hemingway

            I laugh. “Yeah, I guess that’s true, Papa. And Dermot.”

            And Nolan. 

            And Travis. 

            Go straight on through to the end of the damn thing. 

**

            hold on

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