This story is by Mey Cervera and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The woman took in her wrinkly, scarred, sun-spotted hands. How alike we are, she mused. Taking a deep breath she opened the lid of the trunk at the foot of her bed.
It is time.
A purr, warm and fuzzy, much like that of a contented cat, reached her ears. It stood at odds with the rows of sharp teeth and curved, deadly talons protruding from the creature’s extremities. The spots of singed hair on its back were perfectly round against the dry, scaly skin. Different colors and it could have been cute as a ladybug she thought as she stroked a finger down its back. Gruesome as it was, the woman would never get rid of it. After all, it was her most belovedly hated companion. Now, her only companion.
The creature stirred awake, peering at her through its bottomless black eyes.
“Time to go,” she whispered, nestling it to her chest.
At half-past seven the woman was making the doorbells chime at the Bluebonnet Coffee Shop.
Placing an old leather bag gently on her lap as she sat by a window. Carefully she retrieved a small yellow notepad and a pen. Before closing the bag she whispered to the creature inside, “be still, let me work.”
A few moments later a round-bellied man took the seat next to her. There was something vaguely familiar about him. She observed while he pulled a stack of papers and immediately started annotating. The red marks he was making clued her in to his identity. Peter Lazard, Rarehouse Publishing’s most renowned (and ruthless) senior editor now sipped his flat white next to her.
Just my luck, she thought as she diligently got back to her writing exercises. Does he come often? Dare I talk to him? Ask him to share a nugget of wisdom? Perhaps ask for a job? I could start as an intern. Work my way up to an editor position. We’d sip fancy coffee together. I’d find the courage to show him the manuscript I would’ve written while working for him. He would–
Someone clearing their throat brought her train of thought to a grinding halt.
“Can I help you?” said Peter Lazard, senior editor.
The woman just blinked at him in bewildered silence.
“You tapped on my shoulder, did you not?”
Her eyes darted to the bag on her lap and found it empty. Snapping her head back up she cast her gaze wildly around them. Her breath caught as she found the creature standing right behind Mr. Lazard. Still hovering a scaly tendril by his shoulder.
“Are you ok ma’am?”
“Sorry, yes, I’m fine. Thought I’d lost something.”
“Ahh, well.” With a jut of his chin toward her notes, Mr. Lazard asked, “are you a writer?”
The old woman felt a chill down her spine. “On my good days.”
This brought a smile to his face. “Anything I would’ve read?”
How many people would kill to be in my seat? she thought and yet, her throat felt constricted, unable to form words. She composed herself enough to shake her head.
“Would you like some professional feedback?”
The woman scrambled to cover her notepad, “it is nothing yet.”
“Well, isn’t that the point?” Then he said, “ I’m known for providing a good hint here and there, you know?”
Her heartbeat pounded against her ears. She realized her panic was mirrored in the creature’s raised hackles.
“I- I-” She knew instantly she wouldn’t manage to finish that sentence. Instead, she handed the notepad over with shaky hands.
Mr. Lazard gave an encouraging smile. He placed the notepad on the table, uncapped the red marker, and got to work. Not halfway through the first sentence, he put tip to paper.
The creature, which had barely contained its unease, suddenly stood preternaturally still. For one second everything froze except for the scratch of red ink on the paper.
Then it pounced.
Fancy coffee soaked through her pages. Mr. Lazard jumped up startled and snatched the manuscript off the table, mostly dry.
“What the hell happened?” he asked, blinking in shock at the table.
The old woman shoved all her stuff quickly back in the bag, including the creature. “Time to go.”
At exactly nine o’clock the woman swept in through her office door. The room gleamed, light bouncing off the hundreds of books inhabiting every spare inch of the room. What couldn’t fit on the walls was stacked on the floor, only a narrow path from the door to the desk remained opened.
For a few seconds she allowed herself to observe the dust motes swirling lazily in the air. Everything looked the same. Smelled the same. Felt the same.
The old woman strode purposefully across the room and took a seat at her desk. Laid her bag, and companion, on the floor. Whispered a plea and bade it behave. From the bottom left drawer, she pulled a brand new lined notebook and placed it carefully in the middle of the desk. From another drawer, she pulled out her favorite pen. With the same might that a knight would use to draw their sword, she set the tip of the pen to the blank page.
As always she started by writing down the date. March 20, 2021.
Then she waited.
And waited some more.
Perhaps the problem was not knowing where to begin. There were too many options. What if I choose poorly? What if I have a story worth telling but write it so badly no one can read it?
A cold numbing dread started seeping into her body. She caught a tendril creeping out of her bag and grabbing at her ankle. Shaking her foot and mind free, she pushed the creature back and snapped the clasp shut. Straightening her spine, the woman continued.
Pen to paper, and waiting.
Visualize your success. She imagined herself writing, filling page after page. Her eyes would be feverish, her fingers would spasm with the need for rest, the candles on her desk would burn lower and lower. A single tear would stray down her cheek as she finally wrote the magical words in her notebook, The End. Perhaps her phone would ring, and the voice of Mr. Lazard would sing the words “hidden talent of this generation.” She’d stand up on a podium while accepting the award, she’d be humble but wise-
The sudden lack of oxygen yanked her back to the present. Choking. She was choking.
Her lungs were on fire, chest gritty and heavy. The weight of those fantasies called the creature to life. Lost in thought she’d let it sink its claws in her neck. Squeezing any hope right out of her.
The woman frantically clawed at her throat desperately trying to weaken its hold. Kicking and writhing she felt her foot connect with something. Kicking as hard as her old muscles allowed. Desk, chair, and body collapsing.
The resounding clatter of things toppling over finally loosened the creature’s hold. Icy air reached her lungs. Gasping desperate breaths, clinging to cool relief the woman urged her awareness back to her.
A slithering movement caught her eye and, for once, reacted without thinking. She pounced on top of the creature. Pinning it to the floor, letting it spit, fight and claw as she regained control.
The sting of the grazes on her body a reminder that there was no such thing as leaving unscathed.
Breath in. Breath out.
When her heart managed a more steady beat and she could no longer feel the cold sweat down her neck she sat up. Cradling the now calm, purring creature in her arms. Appeased, for now.
The office stretched out like a battleground before her. Desk askew, stacks toppled over. Notebooks littered the floor, their pages bent at odd angles. All eerily calm.
With one hand the woman picked up the closest notebook. Took in the words written atop an otherwise blank page. October 25th, 1985.
She picked up the next. May 29, 1990. The rest, blank. Picked up the next. August 31, 1996. December 10, 2005. July 13, 2011. All very much blank.
The creature sniggered and soon found itself flying, along with the notebook, hurled against the wall.
“There has to be another way!” she howled in frustration. Hot tears pooling in her eyes, her throat suddenly tight. “Magnificent or not at all can’t be my only two options.”
Her back against the wall, she slid slowly to the floor and sobbed.
The clock chimed five times. The old woman took in the hands of the clock, before heaving a sigh and getting up.
After straightening the desk and tidying up some of the mess, she picked up the worn leather bag and opened it. The creature sauntered inside it and curled up immediately. She swung it, heavy, over her shoulder. She headed for the door and cast her eyes over the office.
“Tomorrow,” the old woman said, turned off the light, and left.