‘Do you know how long you’re over?’
Gerry removed his glasses and rubbed his bloodshot eyes. The receiver cradled against his sweaty ear grew heavy as his publisher’s tinny voice berated him. The third time in as many days.
‘Eight weeks– ‘
‘That’s right, Gerry,’ the phone buzzed, ‘eight goddamn weeks and I’ve still not seen a single page. Are you even writing it?’
Gerry sighed, eyes flicking to the words on the screen. He daren’t linger any longer than a moment, couldn’t do that again. He shivered.
‘I’m writing it. I just need a few more days. The book’s heading in a different direction–‘
‘Different direction?’ the publisher snapped. Gerry jumped and dropped the phone into his lap. With a shaking hand, he recovered it. ‘I couldn’t give a rat’s arse if it’s booked itself a flight to the Maldives. I want that manuscript by tomorrow. Oh, and Gerry…’
‘If it’s not here, I want your advance in its place.’
The phone went dead. Gerry didn’t realise.
He’d seen the words again.
He’d seen those words every day since he’d started the book, even in his sleep. He couldn’t shake them. They’d infested the keyboard, growing on the screen – no, not growing, evolving.
They weren’t his words. In forty years, he’d never written anything so disturbing, so malevolent. This thing wasn’t a story; it was a demon.
And he knew how to exorcise it.
He replaced the receiver and reached for the bottle. A finger, make that a glass, for courage. God knows he needed it.
He held his breath, shut his eyes…and hit delete.
He pictured that little cursor racing along the screen, eating away at that abomination. Word after word was vanquished by its advance.
Bing. Bing. Bing.
It was over. He flopped back into his chair to stare at the blank page before him: empty of all but the blinking cursor.
He slept with the bottle that night, undisturbed. The best night he’d had in months. Even the morning’s reflection in the bathroom mirror looked more like the Gerry he remembered. His sunken, red eyes seemed brighter. The colour was returning to his face.
He wouldn’t deliver the manuscript; the first time in his career but he didn’t care. He was even whistling while he scribbled the cheque to the publishing house, wrote advance return on top and danced to his desk for an envelope.
Ding Dong. An email – his publisher.
He couldn’t finish reading before rushing to the bathroom to vomit, didn’t believe what it said:
I read it this morning, couldn’t put it down. It’s terrifying! The darkest thing you’ve written yet. A bestseller for sure. It’ll go viral. Excellent work. You’ve earned that advance.
Gerry lay on his bed, reached into the dresser drawer and found it.
He’d not realised it before but knew it was the only way. It had been waiting for him.
Into his mouth, a metallic tingle on his tongue.
He pulled back the hammer.