The following story by Ryan Benson is the 7th place winner of the Becoming Writer Story Contest.
There was once a man—a man of his times—named Donald Nibbler. He meant to share his stories, his visions, his musings with the world—ideas so strong he felt them coursing through his veins. However, Donald was not an imposing man. He was short and thin and although he never lacked a voice, Donald was seldom heard. Donald the Brave was no fighter—there was always too much of a chance he’d break his glasses and his large Mr. Rogers cardigans made it awkward to swing a fist.
Donald set to prove the pen truly is mightier than the sword and crafted his stories with the care of Mark Twain. After days perfecting his technique, Donald the Bard unleashed his gift onto the world—better known as his coworkers and immediate family. Although supportive, they shared similar criticisms, belying what Donald recognized as a dull mind. Who knew his work better than himself?
Weeks of unintelligent feedback from his circle led Donald to seek out compatriots in other locales. “My stories and sentence structure are far too complex for the Plebeian-American,” Donald the Aristocrat ruminated. “I am exactly like James Joyce,” he thought as a Cheshire Cat smile crept across his face. Donald realized he could reach likeminded comrades on the World Wide Web—the modern day Royal Library of Alexandria. Unfortunately, he found the Internet littered with Plebeian-Americans from every nation. Additionally, Donald found the so-called literary magazines hesitant to recognize his prose.
Breaking through the pervasive literary ignorance of the world began to affect Donald’s day job. The switch to part-time resulted in a shrunken paycheck, leading him to elegantly coin the phrase; “All authors are poor until they aren’t.” However, as a realist, Donald the Pragmatic understood the necessity of money. He needed quick cash and online contests were his best avenue until the eventual arrival of his royalty checks. The chance to win hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars while only spending ten to fifty dollars per competition was too good to miss. Thus began the most productive time in the writing life of Donald the Prolific.
Donald submitted several tomes in his first month as a “contestant.” These stories garnered no response, resulting in Donald increasing his output. It was simple math; the more stories submitted, the greater the chance of success. Despite this sound logic, Donald failed to win a single contest after months of work and hundreds of dollars. Eventually, he stumbled into the thriving international literary contest circuit, only increasing his submissions/expenditures.
At this time, Donald made the conscious decision to move into his brother’s house. Donald’s horses hadn’t come in, but he had a line on an underground genre piece contest held in the former Soviet bloc. Donald also sent a Nigerian prince the bulk of his life savings to help the prince publish a vampire/zombie genre eBook. Once the eBook was a success, the prince would return Donald’s investment ten-fold. Until then, Donald’s brother allowed him a small room off the kitchen with a bed and a desk. “Exactly how J.K Rowling must’ve lived before she hit it big!” celebrated Donald as he dropped his suitcase and surveyed his new home. Although Donald’s previous forays into romance and alcohol failed to jumpstart his creative juices—unlike Hemingway, he wasn’t good at either and both ended with him alone and sick—he hoped poverty was the grist for his mill.
Months turned to years but Donald failed to win a contest. One morning, Donald’s brother entered the room, startled to see a paper stack forest grown up around the room. He rarely entered the tiny room, which now had the musty scent of countless reams of paper, a smell Donald the Unwell happily equated with a library. The piles spread like invasive purple loosestrife; to Donald they symbolized beauty but to his brother they represented how Donald’s passion had crowded out any healthy thoughts. Worse still, his brother believed Donald had resorted to stealing from his family after he had used up all lines of credit.
“There is no treatment center in the phone book for what you have Donald,” his brother said. “Gambler’s Anonymous is the closest I could figure. Let’s go.”
Donald the Addict enjoyed his time in confinement. He thought little of contests and began to gain back weight. After ninety days, Donald left treatment and hailed a cab. To kill time on the hour ride, Donald regaled the cabbie with his experiences in “G.A.”
As Donald exited the car the cabbie shouted, “Hey buddy, you have quite a story!”
Donald stared back, mouth agape. This was his greatest story yet! He had to write it, twelve-step program be damned! As Big Al (his old roommate) would say, “How can you not take the action on a sure thing?”
Luckily no one was home, and Donald rushed to his room. Empty but for his desk! He searched the drawers and found a pencil and sketchpad. Donald wrote and wrote and wrote until the pencil dulled and broke. Desperate, he smashed the window for a sharpener and tried to carve away the wood. Finding himself unsuccessful, he instead carved flesh from his right index finger. Donald wrote and wrote and wrote in scarlet ink.
Donald the Hero never finished this story or any other—the ideas coursing through his veins were limitless but his blood was not. Unable to enter the room out of grief, his brother hired a church group to empty the room. One member, an art collector, found Donald’s final work. The words were unintelligible—it’s hard to write with blood—but the designs bore an unmistakable Pollockian beauty. This perceived splendor allowed for the posthumous recognition of a man who lived life by his terms as arguably the greatest avant-garde artists of his time. Donald failed to bring his own perspective into the world, but the meaning and vision other people assigned to his work will live forever.