Dark Come Soon

By Nick Bowen

The mingled squawks of crows flying overhead wrenched him from his thoughts. Alistair looked through the bay window of his manor, perchance to spy what it was that had the murder in such a fuss. He saw no point of interest in the grassy plains surrounding his home. All that was out there was gray, miserable tracts of sadness that seemed to stretch for hundreds of miles…
       Just like my heart, Alistair said with a touch of despair in his voice. His gaze drew back to where it was a moment earlier; that portrait over his fireplace. The one that had been created and erected in his most sacred place in the world, the one spot of sanity in an eternal pit of madness. He had pleaded, begged, told her that a man should have one room where he can be alone with his thoughts, fearing no intrusion from the outside world.
       She wouldn’t hear of it.
       And now, there she stood above his mantle, a smile on her face that he was sure was mocking him, that familiar look of condescension looming down upon him for all eternity.
       How he loathed her.
       And yet…with every passing day, he longed for her. He ached for her touch; the thought of the pain of another day without her there, even if it was to criticize his writing, bordered on too much to bear. The confounding cacophony of the hypocritical thoughts swirling in his head had lead him to drown his sorrows in seas of wine, hiding himself away from the world for weeks on end, leaving many concerned–
        “Oh, good God,” Eli said with a groan, “this is such horse shit.”
       He stared at the screen on his computer, re-reading what he had just written, and mentally backtracking to hopefully figure out where it was his good idea had turned into a heap of clichéd garbage. After the third go through of the few paragraphs he had slapped together, he realized that there was no point where it was good. It was shit; a big, heaping, festering pile of fertilizer, done up in a fancy font he’d found online in hopes of possibly tricking his brain into thinking that this was a “serious work” that needed his top of the line creative juices. Better to pretend then accept it for what it was: some low rent, second-rate Poe rip-off claptrap he was talked into doing by his agent to make ends meet while he finished up his second novel.
       The big trick with that was, really, there was no second novel. Outside of a few pages of an outline tucked away on some forgotten file on his computer, there was nothing. Eli had banged the outline out in a dizzy haze of liquor and cigarettes on New Year’s Eve a few years ago, certain that he would awake and begin to compose his masterpiece. Confidence chemically inflated, he was certain the muse would be flowing through him the way it must have when Beethoven sat down to compose Fur Elsie, or the way it must have when Tesla sketched out his first coil.
       He sat down the next day, bleary-eyed and hung over, giving the outline a look that a toddler might give a calculus formula. If the muse was still with him, that little bastard was constipated as hell.
       Eli looked up at the shelf above his desk, a faux-wood job he’d bought from IKEA in a happy buzz of consumerism, amazed and proud that he needed a shelf for writing awards. It held the dust-covered relics from his early years as a published writer, what he now referred to in (what he hoped was) a self-deprecatory tone as “my wunderkind years.” And, while drawing a few laughs now and then, there was truth to it; the publishing industry had cooed and praised that season’s big find: a Southern boy scraping by on a menial job, using his breaks on the night shift to write using cheap ballpoint pens and a legal pad. As it turned out, what he was writing on his little yellow pages were wonderful short-stories that he had published in various literary magazines, collected and released as his first book, Flowery Beddings and All. In turn, this book had netted him several “Best New Author” and “Best Short-Story” for his story “Wonderful/Fantastic,” loosely based on his work as a night shift janitor at a rather famous and prestigious investment firm. Thankfully, at least to his agent and editor, Eli was sharp enough to make the workplace in the story very vaguely specific, lest the team of foaming-at-the-mouth lawyers the prestigious firm kept on retainer sue the pants off him.
       After that came his novel, Strange Bedfellows (which was changed against his will from You, Me, and the Devil Makes Three at the behest of his publisher, for fear that some religious fanatics might think the novel was promoting Satanic worship.) The story, about a wannabe rock and roll star who was wasting his twenties playing random things like weddings, birthdays, open mic nights, and an all Def Leppard set at a funeral. As his protagonist struggles to hold onto his childhood dream, like any rock star worth his salt, he begins an affair with a bad woman. The woman is his best friend (and drummer)’s mother, a woman in her late forties who is well aware she is attractive and is tired of being treated like a piece of rotten veal by her husband, who cheats on her at great length while out on the road as a salesman for a factory that makes industrial fryers. Of course, the romance ends poorly. And of course, the book-buying public went bananas for it, making it a number one best seller for nine months straight. However, quite unexpectedly, the book began to receive praise from “highbrow” critics, including an upset win for “Book of The Year (Fiction)” award from a very well-known and respected literary magazine. Though many readers of the magazine where aghast, many more went out and bought the book.
       Eli had reaped a heap of benefits from his seemingly Midas-touch in regards to his writing, least of which was moving out of his crapshack apartment in the city into a nice, quiet three bedroom, two bath home out on a country road, just as he had always wanted. In addition, he had bought his first ever new car (a Nissan, painted a dark forest green,) gotten a cat (a skinny, slinky black and grey tom he had named Zeke), and met a girl (Sara, an author of historical fiction novels that received high praise from critics and was requisite on many a college reading list. She was a very sweet, soft-spoken girl who had a knack for deadpan humor and playing the banjo.) Theirs was a long-distance relationship, her in Vermont, him in Georgia, but it worked.
       After that…nothing.
       A few short stories published now and then, all of them falling in the range of “not too shabby,” but paled in comparison to the ones collected in his first book; once those were out of his system, his agent sent out the occasional press release to inquiring media, assuring them that Eli was hard at work on his next novel, assuring them it would be a knockout.
       That was four years ago.
       Really, it wasn’t a matter of money; due to some smart investments, Eli could honestly just live off the interest from Strange Bedfellows for quite a while. No, it was about pride, about integrity, about proving to the world at large that he wasn’t ready to rest on his laurels. He was a writer, dammit! An artist! A creator! A mover, a shaker! A fucking force to be reckoned with! His next novel, whatever it would be, was going to be like a boulder going off the side of the Matterhorn, crushing the bullet train that was the book world helplessly caught up in its path.
       …of course, when there are no ideas to be had for said miraculous masterpiece novel, it’s a touch bit hard to get the aforementioned boulder to move, much less rolling off the side of a mountain.
       After a bit of soul-crushing begging on his part to find something, anything that would try to get him writing again, Eli ended up staring down the barrel of repugnancy: an online e-zine called Mortuary Monthly, a literary magazine put together by two college sophomores out of Salem, MA, specializing in “horror, dark erotica, and hor-rotica.” Eli had to choke down the bile to send in a trial submission, “Dark Come Soon,” under the pen name “Nathaniel Shaklee.” Eli’s luck being what it was, the story was a massive hit, forcing him to turn the one-off into a series, with their even being talk of a book deal for Mr. Shaklee.
       Having literally written himself into a corner, Eli kept the game up, and continued to write installments about the spooky, bizarre life of a character he referred to only as “the Count,” who was haunted by the specter of a lover he may or may not have killed.
       Dreck; pure, unadulterated dreck.
       But, unfortunately for Eli, dreck sold.
       The count had no use for their concerns- he was an island, a cabin alone in the vast wilderness. He was a man. And to hell with them and their poor attempts at concern. All they were concerned for was to make sure that the count was alive and kicking, lest the flow of money stop flooding their accounts,
       He got up from the high backed velvet-lined chair behind his desk, making sure to take the wine with him, and began to pace his study. The pages for his latest work lay blank upon his oak desk, but there was no worry in the count- he knew the inspiration would come.
       It always did.
       Just as he took a sip from his glass, there was a knock upon the study door. Knowing good and well that his front door was bolted tight, the count’s mind jumped to the only logical conclusion: assassins. They thought they could catch him off guard, pick him off the way an alley cat picks off a rat for sport. But the count was ready, always vigilant in his watch for possible attackers. He made haste to his desk and removed the loaded revolver he kept in the top right drawer for just such an emergency.
       He cocked back the arm on the top of the gun, index finger on his left hand grazing the trigger, and walked to the study door.
       “Who’s there?”
       “It is I, count.”
       “Who is ‘I’?”
       “Why, I am your wife, Priscilla.”
       The pipe fell out of the count’s mouth as he let out a silent gasp.
       To be continued…
       Eli re-read the final paragraph.
       He shrugged.
       “Better than nothing.”
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