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Drama Fiction

The day Jesse was supposed to finish his novel just happened to be the day the power went out overnight, leaving his laptop at a measly seventeen percent power. With the power still out too, Jesse cursed under his breath, whispering despite living in an empty apartment. His editor, Mr. Kaplan, told him to give him an update after New Year’s, but Jesse took it upon himself to finish by Christmas. It had to be by Christmas, Jesse thought, gripping his laptop and remembering the last good Christmas he had.

When he was twelve, his parents got him a hardback collection of Edgar Allan Poe stories. He gleefully ran his fingers along the golden pattern on the front, inhaling deeply as he flipped through the pages to smell the scent of an unopened book. He had been talking nonstop about how much he loved his Halloween themed English lessons from this year, with Poe of course being front and center. The collection enraptured him to the point that he didn’t notice his little sister got a new handheld gaming device and a video game to go with it.

“My present cost more Jesse!” Annie teased. “Mom and Dad love me more!”

The phrase gripped his fast beating heart with a sharp fear, but Jesse’s mom instantly saved him. “Annie, that’s enough. It’s about the thought behind the gift.” And so Jesse smiled, gently opening the book to the first story, already planning on what to do for his thirteenth Christmas.

Jesse unlocked his cellphone, preparing to call the power company. That’s when he noticed he didn’t have internet either. His finger hovered over the call button before he convinced himself that this turn of events was a gift after all. He walked over to his bookshelf, almost one hundred books on it, though only a quarter of them had sticky notes jutting out. Jesse set his phone down next to his collection of Poe, still as pristine as he could keep it. Then he walked back over to his laptop and headed to sit down with it, no distractions at all.

“Merry Christmas Jesse,” he spoke to himself as he prepared to finish his last chapter. His nightmare would finally end today.

The mechanical clicks of his keyboard were no different than the scratches of his pen on paper from over a decade ago. He had to be careful, doing his best to make all three paper copies as close to the same as possible. As a kid, Jesse was way ahead of schedule, finishing by the time he started seventh grade. He stapled the pages together, the covers all reading “The Werewolf’s Heart: by Jesse”. He packed his first stories at the bottom of his sock drawer, hiding them for Christmas. On occasion, he’d pull out his story and read it over and over, ecstatic at how good it was. He’d quietly put it back, pages slowly getting crumpled each time he impatiently reread it.

Then the thirteenth Christmas happened.

“It’ll be different this time,” Jesse muttered aloud, keys clacking with a thunderous echo in his apartment. Eleven percent battery. He couldn’t focus on that now. His novel “Cry for Wolf” was so close to escaping its creative limbo state. Another twist, another turn, another blood curdling scream for help, the end in sight. He was in the zone, mind fully present in his apartment, his ego barricading his memories up for now. He wasn’t thirteen anymore, no need to think about-

Then his phone chimed from the other room. He had left the sound on. The sound wrenched Jesse out of the zone, his head shooting up the same way when prey hear their predators in the distance. “Who’s texting me on-“ he wondered before reaching the obvious conclusion. It was Christmas after all.

“Fine!” Jesse shouted indignantly, pushing his laptop aside, leaving it open, and heading toward his phone. With each step on the cold hardware floor came a crack in his mental barricade. Memories overflowed into his conscious as he relived the same Christmas that had haunted him for half his life.

“What do you think?” he gleefully asked his family that Christmas, with the three of them holding their own personal copy of “The Werewolf’s Heart”. Jesse was on his knees, panting after running up and down the stairs to unearth his first story from his sock drawer. “I tried to make it as scary as I could, and I drew pictures too!” His eyes scanned the room and saw…

Nothing.

Then confusion.

“You wrote this?” his dad questioned while absentmindedly flipping through the thirty or so pages. “And you used up all this computer paper too?”

“W-well, just try and read it,” Jesse stuttered, holding on to his confidence.

“Ew, no! That’s gross!” Annie cried as she dropped the pages to the ground, showing Jesse’s crude drawing of a werewolf holding a bloody heart, still drawn in the shape of a Valentine rather than being anatomically correct.

“It’s supposed to be gross! It’s a scary story!” Jesse yelled, now fully on the defensive. Without a second thought, he thought spoiling his story would convince Annie to change her mind. “The werewolf can’t live with himself after all the people he’s killed, so he rips his own heart out under the full moon and-“

“Jesse!” his mother snapped. “That’s not appropriate to talk about on Christmas of all days.”

That pain he felt last year, that gripping fear around his heart returned as Jesse looked at his mom. He could feel tears about to form but he refused to cry, trying one more time to reach out. “But Mom… it’s supposed to be a gift for all of you. It’s the thought that counts right?”

His mother looked puzzled, scrambling to find the right words for her son. But she failed. “Jesse, that’s true, but this story… I don’t know, it’s too violent.” She kept her head down as she flipped through the pages. “Jesse, do you need to talk to somebody?”

Now he’ll show her. As Jesse neared his phone, preparing to read his mom’s bland “Merry Christmas” text, now was his chance to finally unload everything he’s kept bottled up. His mom who had pressured him to go to therapy again and again just because he liked horror stories. His sister who kept pulling away from him, totally indifferent to his interests. His dad who complained about him moving out of state for a bachelor’s in English of all subjects. Year after year after painfully slow but still all too quick a year. Each Christmas coming with a broken New Year’s resolution to finish the perfect horror novel and have it published by the holidays. But this Christmas, thirteen years later, he could finally text his mother everything he felt now that he had his book finished and-

>Happy Holidays to all my Bullseye team members. Remember if you aren’t working today, you’re working both New Year’s Eve and Day. Please see me if you have complaints.

           It was Jesse’s department store manager. Former manager. He had been fired at the beginning of December since he spent all his shifts on his phone typing out sections of his novel, but of course no one accepted that as a valid excuse. The Bullseye manager had accidentally kept Jesse’s number and included it in his store wide text.

           Jesse stood alone by his bookshelf, the unread books tauntingly reading the manager’s text over his shoulders. Jesse’s eyes fixated on the current time, 3:30 PM. Even though he knew he didn’t, he still scrolled back and checked to see if he missed any other texts. Nothing. And even though he knew he should’ve, he didn’t delete the manager’s message. He kept it there by itself, the only text from today.

           He stared out the window at the accumulating snow on the ground, the sunlit whiteness starting to bother his eyes. He was only distantly aware of the fact that he had left his laptop open, slowly dying, document unfinished and unsaved. Each falling snowflake contained a new emotion that floated through Jesse, dying within seconds of being born, consumed by the mass of snow below. That's all he was, a mass of cold and fleeting emotions, covering up the memories of his thirteenth Christmas.

           Jesse roared with a curse, transforming amidst the dying light, his rage forcing himself back into the zone. He picked up his laptop, percentage irrelevant to him. He knew what he had to do.

           “It’s not good enough, just one more twist, I need something, something to stab you through the heart,” he ranted out loud, looking back on the last chapter, desperate to see how he could slip in a last minute change. It spat in the face of his careful planning, all the lessons he devoured in college. But it didn’t matter.

           “That’s it! That’s it!” he shouted, fingers on fire as he pushed to the end. His laptop started heating up, fan whirling desperately to cool it down in its dying breaths. “The stupid mom was supposed to be the wolf the whole time, but that’s not good enough. Instead of eating her daughter, the daughter kills the wolf! But it doesn’t transform back into a human! She’ll never know if her mom was eaten by the wolf or was the wolf the whole time! She’ll end by crying for the wolf, cry for wolf, that’s been the title the whole time, and she’ll relive the moment again and again and again and again and-“

           Jesse’s fingers trembled, his anger subsided. He looked down upon his improvised ending. He panted as he scrolled the pages up and down, barely remembering what he wrote. He looked at the battery. One percent. With a swift motion, he saved the document, the laptop shutting off at the same time.

           It was done. At least, he hoped it was saved in time. The power was still out, even now at 5 PM. Night had fallen without Jesse realizing it.

           He stood up carefully, unsure of how to move now like he had just woken out of a coma or had just been born. He ambled over to his phone, the manager’s text feeling like a lifetime ago. He picked up his phone, thinking about the phone call he was about to make.

           He started to call his editor Mr. Kaplan. Not his family. Why was he feeling out of it? Jesse tried to remember to be excited, he was about to share the great news that he finished, not a second too soon either. He had to share it with Mr. Kaplan, all his hard work paid off, the nightmare was finally over and-

           “Jesse? Hey, uh, Merry Christmas. You okay?” In the background of the call, Jesse could hear kids running around, plates shuffling, adults laughing.

           “Um, yeah, I, uh,” Jesse muttered, completely lost in the silence that surrounded him.

           Mr. Kaplan laughed awkwardly. “Writer’s block on the phone call huh? Well, no need to rush, I just need an update after New Year’s, alright? We should go back to celebrating with-“

           “Did you have a good day?” Jesse quickly said, the words fumbling over his tongue, completely unsure of where he was going with this conversation anymore. “Like, um, did your grandkids get good gifts or…?”

           “Yes Jesse, I’m sure they’re happy with their little gadgets and gizmos. Thanks for asking, and enjoy the holidays, alright? Remember, take your time.”

           “Yeah, I will,” Jesse automatically responded, not even realizing that he lied. “Bye.”

           He ended the phone call and sat next to his laptop. Darkness draped over him now that Christmas Day was almost over. He thought he was free of the nightmare of his thirteenth Christmas, but removing it just made him realize the truth he was running from. His family may have pushed him away each Christmas, but he was the one terrorizing them with his anger and frustrations the rest of the year. Every year he didn’t finish his novel was another year of outbursts and avoiding them.

           The familiar pain returned to his heart as Jesse gripped his chest and sat alone in his apartment. Each falling snowflake under the full moon now a word that went unwritten and unspoken.

December 19, 2023 00:28

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3 comments

Domika Stewart
21:22 Dec 27, 2023

Hi, great story! I liked your writing style. I'm still learning hopefully, I can reach out to you for some ideas.

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Mary Bendickson
01:06 Dec 19, 2023

But now he can let go of it.

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18:03 Jan 01, 2024

Sorry I stopped reading your stories, I can't remember why I did! This was really good. Finally he can let go, hopefully he's learnt. (The twist to his novel was a good one, would've really worked, I think. Wonder if it'll ever make it out there - I'll back it the whole way!)

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