This story is by Robert McMeen and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
By the time my stinging fingers gripped the cold brass handle of Jones Used Books I had replayed the words in my head a hundred times, “It’s just a couple of blocks. The walk will clear my head.” Yeah, you would think by now I would know not to listen to that stupid frickin’ voice. Nevertheless, I made it and managed to save the little bit of gas left in the Civic. The combination of furnace, old books and coffee melded into a bouquet for my senses. This would be a much better place to shake my writers block than my office. The office felt too much like a cell.
“Morning!” rang through the air before the silver bell on the door had stopped ringing. “Just started fresh coffee, should be ready in just a second. How’s the book coming?” Gracie asked.
“Oh, terrific, yesterday when I was here I got nearly three paragraphs before I got frustrated and filled the page with curse words.” I replied.
“Baby steps, dearie. You only been back a couple of months. Took you five years to write your first book.” Gracie said, leaning on the counter.
I plopped my computer down on the worn, wooden table and drug the stocking cap off my head. “But after that I could crank them out in no time. I gotta come up with something. Jill took everything when she left and the cupboards are getting pretty bare.” I said, pulling my computer from its bag.
“Maybe you should try a different genre. Winds have changed a bit since your Sadie days.” Gracie said.
“What, you think writing about a teen age girl, in the prime of her life may be harder now that I’ve killed a teen age girl in the prime of her life?” I said through clenched teeth. “Why can’t I let it go, I mean that was ten years ago?”
“Maybe because she’s still dead? I’m just throwing it out there.” Gracie said.
“Gee, Gracie, you should’ve been a doctor with that bedside manner.” I said.
“Well I’ll leave you to it. Gonna need anything besides coffee? If not I need to run back home for a minute. John locked his keys in the car last night and didn’t realize until this morning. I told him he’d have to wait until you got here before I could come home and help.”
“Guess I’m pretty predictable nowadays.” I said with a forced chuckle.
“Guess so.” Gracie replied. “If anyone comes in wanting anything other than coffee let them know I’ll be back in a jiff.”
My cursor blinked on the blank screen like a jeering middle finger, daring me to try to write anything other than gibberish. I sat almost mesmerized, when the bell jingle startled me from my trance. Standing in the doorway was a large man, wearing only a light leather jacket with a red scarf dangling loosely around his neck, blue jeans and work boots that looked like they had seen some pretty hard labor. The skin on the man’s face and hands looked almost like the same leather as his boots, but his blue eyes were piercing and vibrant.
“Morning,” he said with a slight head nod, making his way to the counter.
“Uh, the owner had to step out for a minute. She should be right back,” I said. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee while you’re waiting?”
“Sure, that would be great. It’s a bit chilly out there this morning.” He replied. “I’m Bill, by the way.”
“Jack,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”
“I don’t suppose you would know where I might find a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo around here.” Bill said looking at the randomly stacked books, some on shelves some on tables.
“Sadly, I don’t. I’m here trying to write a book, not buy one.” I said with a smirk.
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I’ll track it down,” Bill said.
“No, believe me, you have nothing to apologize for, I just can’t find my muse lately,” I said. “The Count of Monte Cristo, huh? I love Dumas. Always been more of a Three Musketeers fan myself.”
“You know, I used to be,” Bill answered, “But lately I just seem to relate more to Dantes than d’Artagnan. Well, son of a gun, look at that,” Bill said presenting a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo.
“Right there between Martha Stewart and Stephen King,” I said with a little chuckle. “I don’t think you would find any of my books in here that easily.”
“Books? Nice!” Bill said, “Anything I would have read?”
“You’re not exactly my demographic, to be honest. I used to write a series called The Big Adventures of Sadie Smalls. Frufru teenage stuff,” I said with a squint and wave.
“No kidding,” Bill said smiling, “My daughter used to read those books when she was in middle school. Why’d you stop writing those?”
“Long story,” I said turning my eyes back to the blinking cursor. Bill began flipping pages in the book and a picture of a girl fell out and onto the table.
“Wonder how that got in there?” Bill asked picking up the picture. “It may have been in there for years, just waiting for someone to find it.”
“Probably someone’s book mark,” I said taking the picture as Bill offered it. “Pretty girl, and nice taste in scarves. Looks just like yours.”
“Hey,” Bill said, “It just hit me. That reminds me of a game my wife and I used to play in the waiting room before she would go in for chemo. We used to make up stories about the other people in the waiting room, who they were, where they were from. C’mon, let’s give it a shot. I’ll even go first.”
“Um, well sure, maybe it’ll help get my creativity flowing.” I said.
“So, I’m guessing this is a senior picture. Some nerdy kid was tutoring her and she gave it to him, just out of courtesy. He takes it the wrong way and asks her to Prom only to get shut down. So, he stuck it in the book. Out of sight, out of mind.”
“Not bad. It’s definitely a senior picture. I’m thinking a girl had, like fifty of these things and after handing out all but one she decided to use it as a book mark and forgot it in the book.”
“You’re a writer and that’s all you got? Try this on for size.” Bill said, beginning to get a little animated. “So let’s say the picture belongs to a dad.” Bill gave a little nod and point. “She’s daddy’s little girl and all he has in the world. In fact, her mother had died of cancer just a couple of months before this picture was taken.”
Bill began pacing, tapping his finger on his scruffy chin. “She had just graduated high school and was going to be a missionary in, oh, I don’t know, let’s say China.” Bill said, stopping as if to get my buy in before he started pacing again, literally circling the table. “So she’s on her way home from getting her passport. She’s just giddy about it. Then WHAM!”
Bill stopped behind me and his scarf was under my chin and around my throat before I could react. “Some son of a bitch runs a red light and smashes into her car. I rushed to the hospital but Mary was gone before I even had a chance to say good-bye.”
Bill tightened the scarf. “So I waited until he was released from his slap on the wrist prison sentence, tracked him down, planted her picture and waited for my chance.”
Bill had the scarf so tight I couldn’t even get my fingers between it and my neck, and he was pulling me up completely off of the chair. External sounds faded to a loud throbbing in my ears and everything went from dark to piercing white. I knew I was going to die and I knew I deserved it. As I felt myself drifting off, it struck me, The Misadventures of Missionary Mary, that could have been a good series. Too bad I won’t be around to write it.