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Fiction Funny Suspense

Larry smelled pine smoke. He smiled at the thought of Andre, his brother, ‘Sipping brandy before the fire. What a life. Finally settled into his niche…’

Walking toward the study, warm, shifting light shone off the walls. He stepped into the doorway to see Andre sitting on the hearth, feeding papers into rising flames. Stacks of paper leaned against each other.

Larry said, “What’s up?

Andre looked haunted. “You’ve got to help me, man.”

“You want a sandwich?” Larry worked in catering.

Andre fed the fire. “No. I can’t do this anymore. I’ll go into accounting or something. Anything…”

The flames joyfully accepted each page he offered.

“But you’re creative. You’re the writer.”

“I can still be creative…”

Larry looked askance. “Take a break. Let’s talk… What are you burning?”

Andre looked up. “Getting rid of old papers.”

Another page flared up.

Larry flipped through the top of a nearby stack. “These are your stories, Andre. Don’t burn them.”

Andre laughed, “I’m done. Tired of the clutter. No one reads them. No one’ll miss them.”

“I read them. I’ll miss them.”

“You read them once. Won’t again. And you don’t like them.”

“True. Your writing isn’t my taste. But don’t burn them. You worked hard.”

“I can’t stand it anymore. My stories should be seen, celebrated, and assigned to English classes…”

“Yes, the epitome of success…”

Andre put the sheaf of papers down. “You never said… Why don’t you like them?”

Larry sat on a leather chair facing the fireplace. The warm room made him perspire.

“Your story, ‘The Creep’ for example.” Andre nodded. That story had gotten some attention. “You wrote it about me. And it’s not a fair representation. I considered suing you for slander.”

Andre’s eyes shone. “It’s not about you.”

“It’s not?” Andre shrugged. “Then no problem. But even if it were, I wouldn’t destroy it.”

“Here it comes…”

Larry began one of his famous ‘statements.’ Everyone knew one was coming by his officious stance, staring into the future.

“One’s personal taste shouldn’t determine another’s existence, or even art. How can one person or group of ‘experts’ mandate aesthetic absolutes? Merely attempting it disqualifies them as too stupid.”

“So, you only dislike my stories if you think they’re about you?”

“No. But don’t destroy them for me either.”

Andre looked at a stack of papers lying on the footstool. The fire crackled.

“Poe burned his manuscripts.”

“He didn’t.”

“You sure?”

“Would you know his name if he had?”

“Well, Dickens then.”

“Maybe some letters… You think they’ll remember you better when no one can read you? ‘Oh, he must have been a genius. He burned all his work…’”

Andre’s mouth dropped. “Mind reader…”

“How many undiscovered geniuses get celebrated for their self-destructive modesty?”

Andre blanched at the absurdity. “Uhm, none?”

“Kafka instructed his friend, Max Brod, to burn everything after his death. But Max didn’t.”

“Sheesh! Want something done, do it yourself.”

Andre poked the fire. He retreated when a shifting log sent sparks flying.

“Don’t burn yourself. A bad habit. No good comes of burning books.”

Andre wasn’t convinced. “What if the story’s all lies?”

“You mean what’s called fiction?”

“Or just bad writing?”

“Need a cure for writer’s block?”

Andre scoffed and pointed at the piles of paper. “Would I have this? It’s not blockage but overflow. Tons of crappy stories. Trees cry when I walk by.” He made a quick note on a blank page.

“You need an editor, Andre, not a torch.”

“Or revealing someone’s secrets?”

“What are secrets? Who’s embarrassed by anything anymore? One man’s dirge is another’s dance.”

“Betraying someone’s privacy?”

“If you’ll have to burn it, don’t write it. And these days, keeping it private means…”

“Don’t do it.”

“Don’t even think of it. You’ll be found out.”

Andre pointed to disheveled stacks of paper.

“Look, Larry, this isn’t all of it. I don’t need all this… I’ll reinvent myself.”

“Again? So rewrite them. You’d burn source material?”

Andre looked at the fire which had settled. He added another log. A flurry of sparks sailed up. He poked until flames caressed the split wood. He examined another manuscript.

Larry said. “Andre, burning books is a triumph of egotism. ‘I’m so smart. To protect everyone from sunburn I’ll lock them in the basement.’”

“Only burning my own, Lar.”

“So you’re keeping them from fans. No one else will miss them.”

“And where are these mythical ‘fans’?” He unbuttoned his shirt. “Man, it’s warm in here.”

Larry laughed. “Good question. But I promise they’re not sifting ashes on the roof.”

Andre nodded. He said, “Isn’t destroying manuscripts a writer’s tradition? You know, ‘the tragic loss of the author’s legacy…’ and all that. Juice my rep with rare examples. ‘A romantic fantasy of a tortured…’”

“If too many subscribe to that, you’ll put the censors straight out of business.”

“Collateral damage.”

Flames danced around the logs. Larry scanned the room strewn with manuscripts. He shook his head.

“Don’t burn them. But find a better filing system. Hand me some. I’ll tell you what needs tossing.”

Andre brightened. “Okay. An objective eye will help.”

Larry flipped through pages held together by a large clip. He dropped it onto the floor.

“This can go.”

“Why that one?”

“It’s about me, right?”

“‘The Monster’? You’re not the monster.”

“Maybe not about me, per se, but you modeled the character after me.”

“No, Larry. Everything’s not about you. Someday, I’ll write about your attitudes, but that’s not you.”

Larry perked up. “My attitudes?”

“The dictionary definition for ‘control freak’ features your picture.”

Larry looked around. “Really? That’s it? ‘Control Freak’ is another of your stories, right?”

Andre feigned a yawn. “So, you read ‘the Monster’?”

“Loved it. It’s hilarious.”

“Not funny. It’s deadly serious.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I never kid about deadly serious things, Larry.”

Smiling, Larry nodded. This was true. “Things can be both light and dark, you know.”

Andre’s expression reflected that sentiment expression as he paced before the fire.

“I know, Larry. It’s called irony. Hamlet has humor. But no one calls it hilarious.”

“Counterpoint...”

“Another reason I’m burning my stories. No one understands…”

“You’re ahead of your time. How will future generations discover you if it’s all burned?”

Andre stopped. “You got me. Hadn’t thought of that.”

“Lots of artists’ and writers’ live on, undiscovered ‘til the culture catches up.”

“Small compensation. Guess I’ll never know.”

“If it’s only for the money, there are more lucrative pursuits.”

“Like accounting… Someone once said, ‘anyone who writes for free is a fool.’ Or was it, ‘Writers who work for nothing get their worth’?”

Larry smiled. “Who said, ‘know thyself’?”

“Socrates. He also said, ‘Sell, sell, sell.’” Andre shrugged. “I admit, Lar, I’m a dud at selling.”

Larry laughed. “You need an agent.”

“To get an agent, I need to sell.”

Larry stood. “Tell you what… give me everything. I’ll rewrite them, sell them and give you a cut.”

“And why would I do that?”

“You don’t want them. You’d supplement your income. Win-win…”

“Let you take credit for my work? I’d rather burn them.”

“I’ll be your ghostwriter. Or you be mine.”

“There will be no ghosts in this house. Writing or not.”

“So much for my offering to help.”

“That’s not it. You always take credit.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“I’m creative. You always hover about to claim my ideas.”

“You believe that?”

He nodded.

“That’s silly, Andre. What an imagination. Didn’t realize you wrote fantasy.”

“Be honest, for once.”

“Here’s an idea... Cut all the extraneous commas. Burning them will light Poughkeepsie for a week. And hey! Readers won’t get bogged down in the comma swamp.”

“Every comma stays. They all belong. So, now you’re a comma-Nazi…? Or a critic?”

Larry shuffled through a pile of manuscripts. “Ahh yes, this story, ‘the Critic.’ This one about me?”

“Isn’t, but could be.”

“That’s it…”

Larry grabbed a sheaf of papers and stepped toward the fireplace. Andre raised his hands in defense.

“Here’s an idea, burn all your stories.” Andre reached to stop him. “Oh, wait, that’s your brilliant idea. You get sole credit for that inspiration.”

“Larry…”

“What? You don’t want my help?”

“No. I’ll do it myself.”

Larry sighed with frustration and set the stories down. Andre sat with his head in his hands.

“You’re right, bro. What am I doing? Thanks for making me think.”

Larry leaned against the door frame. His breathing calmed. “So, did I avert a tragedy? The stuff you burned… is it lost forever? Can you rewrite them?”

Andre sighed. “No need, I have back-ups. Always have back-ups.” He held up a flash drive.

Larry cracked up and Andre joined him.

August 16, 2023 23:45

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23 comments

Delbert Griffith
13:18 Aug 18, 2023

Well, writing about a writer. Nice! I especially liked the dialogue between the brothers. That was stellar, my friend. Even if you didn't know they were brothers, you'd certainly suspect it. Great piece of writing, that. You really delved into writers' insecurities, John, and you definitely mirrored many of my own feelings of inferiority. Your insight into the writer's mind was fantastic. Nicely done, my friend. Cheers!

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John K Adams
14:00 Aug 18, 2023

Thanks, Delbert. I've known a few writers, so maybe I got some insights from them. Or just the voices in my head as I prepare for the day... One never knows. Appreciate the kind words, regardless.

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15:16 Aug 17, 2023

Haha i love the banter between the two. At one point I was wondering was it one person with 2 identities (the writer and the realist). It reminds me of one of the British comedy acts from the 70s/80s, Morecambe and Wise or the like lol very good. Is there a mistake here: Andre’s eyes shone. “It’s not about you.” “It’s not?” Andre shrugged. “Then no problem. But even if it were, I wouldn’t destroy it.” --should it be Larry who shrugs as he is speaking there?

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John K Adams
16:17 Aug 17, 2023

Thanks, Derrick, for reading and the thoughtful comments. It is Andre shrugging, but I realize it is ambiguous. Thanks for pointing it out.

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Amanda Lieser
13:48 Sep 21, 2023

Hi John, Oh my gosh! I felt my soul in these characters. They truly embody the devil and angel on every writer’s shoulder. I’ve had this conversation with myself a million times. How often can we handle failure as creatives? Why do we automatically assume the rejection is failure? I’m glad the angel won this conversation. It was a great take to the prompt. Nice work!!

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John K Adams
14:43 Sep 21, 2023

Amanda, this was fun to write. And it spoke to the writers on this site quite loudly. It's not enough to put pen to paper. We want someone to read what we wrote! Deriving an income is a secondary consideration which often overshadows that primary objective. I appreciate your responses to my stories. Good to be seen.

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Michał Przywara
20:36 Aug 23, 2023

Ha! That ending is great :) A bit of "eat your cake and have it too", with the burning and the backups. Probably many on this site will be able to identify with Andre to some degree. Struggling with not being read, or being read and just worrying anyway, are hallmarks of the craft. Lucky for him he's got a brother that helped him figure things out. And Larry, he's not perfect either. Bit of a control freak, sure, and a bit of an ego too, assuming everything is about him. Fun banter :)

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John K Adams
02:11 Aug 24, 2023

Michal, This was fun to write, drawing on some perennial anxieties. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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John K Adams
02:11 Aug 24, 2023

Michal, This was fun to write, drawing on some perennial anxieties. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:19 Aug 22, 2023

Backup, contingency plans. All are important. Always have them. Fine work.

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John K Adams
19:39 Aug 22, 2023

Thanks for reading. Glad you liked it. And thanks for the comment!

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Philip Ebuluofor
20:53 Aug 23, 2023

Pleasure.

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J. D. Lair
00:57 Aug 22, 2023

Oh man, I’ve done some similar things lol. My wife has talked me off the edge of giving up several times.

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John K Adams
01:07 Aug 22, 2023

J. D., Winston Churchill and my Mom always said, "Never, ever, ever give up." I'm not sure who stole it from the other but good advice either way. I'm glad my story resonated with you. Hope you didn't lose sleep. I look forward to reading your stories.

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J. D. Lair
03:16 Aug 22, 2023

Appreciate the encouragement. :) your mom sounds like a smart woman! Don’t worry, I didn’t lose too much sleep lol.

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John K Adams
04:06 Aug 22, 2023

I didn't worry. Carry on!

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Mary Bendickson
02:10 Aug 17, 2023

Wicked writer's worries.

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John K Adams
02:27 Aug 17, 2023

Ain't it the truth!

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John K Adams
02:27 Aug 17, 2023

Ain't it the truth!

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John K Adams
02:28 Aug 17, 2023

Thanks, always, for reading and commenting. How is it going?

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Mary Bendickson
11:58 Aug 17, 2023

If I told you about Killer Nashville I am headed there this weekend. Need all the prayers and well wishes 🙏 can get.

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John K Adams
14:19 Aug 17, 2023

You've got them! Can't wait to read the whole story. And hear about your conference.

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John K Adams
14:19 Aug 17, 2023

You've got them! Can't wait to read the whole story. And hear about your conference.

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