William punched the keyboard in frustration. 

“That sentence sucks,” he said, pushing the backspace furiously. 

William Tucker, the bestselling author seven times over, hadn’t written a novel in three years. Novel? Forget that. He hadn’t written a worthy sentence in nearly three years. Much less a novel.

He turned in exasperation to the novels on his shelf. He let out a sigh. Why couldn’t he put anything to paper -- or, more properly, to computer -- worth reading? It was a long bout of writer’s block he couldn’t seem to escape. 

So he stared at the white screen, the blinking cursor seeming to mock him. 

“Empty, empty, empty,” the cursor said, over and over as William stared at the white screen.

“Oh, shut up,” William muttered to the cursor grumpily. 

Of course, he then muttered an expletive at himself for talking to a word processor. 

He sighed, and leaned back in his office chair. He turned around to look at the bookshelf with all his bestsellers, arranged by year. Even though most of his sales were on ebook now, he still liked the look of hardcover. Something about seeing his name on the spine of a book -- and knowing he didn’t have to go through a vanity press to make it happen -- brought a smile to his face, even now. 

Editors loved him because he wasn’t easy to peg. He had submitted and published all kinds of novels. Science fiction, romance, historical novels, western settings, a murder mystery and even a thriller or two. He somehow managed to hit bestsellers in all genres.

Not only was he flexible in genre, he could write from any point of view. In “The Gunfire and the Cactus,” he’d been flawless as a sensuous though bitter prostitute in 1870s Nevada. In “Hearts on the Hearth,” he’d flawlessly floated between the unhappy housewife and the German student as a limited third person. In “The Wolves of the Alley” he seamlessly hovered over all the action as a universal third person. And in “The Galaxy Unknown,”  he even perfectly captured the point of view of a malfunctioning but ultimately heroic android. 

For all these reasons, the publishers loved him. But that didn’t mean anything for the past three years. 

Not that his writer’s block was hurting him, financially anyway. All his novels had been picked up by movie studios and turned into successful films. The success enabled him to live comfortably, and he even turned his success into a small teaching opportunity at the local college. 

It didn’t pay much, but the class was always full of eager writers hoping to impress the living legend. He even got unsolicited unpublished books from aspiring writers, hoping to get his praise. He often bragged his best works of fiction were praising many of these would-be writers. 

Occasionally, though, he came across an email that caught his attention. Earlier that day, in fact, he had received an email from an aspiring writer in his fiction class. 

“I’ve got nothing better to do,” he muttered to himself. “I guess I’ll open it.”

He searched his school email account and looked for the name. 

“Ah, yes, Miss Preston. Let’s see what you have for me.”

He clicked open the file and began reading. To his frank surprise, he couldn’t stop reading. 

Five hours later, his red hair a mess, and his eyes bloodshot from staring at the screen, he sat glaring at the screen. He shook his head and sighed grumpily. 

“This is horrible,” he said, anger building with each clause. “This is the best novel I’ve ever read. It’s simply astounding. It’s flawless. And this girl, who just six months ago was at her senior prom, has written it, while I can’t write a darn thing.”

He slammed down his fist on the desk, and closed his eyes. Several deep breaths later, he lay his head on his desk. After a few seconds, he pulled out his phone, and some bleary eyes read 3 a.m.

“I guess I better get to sleep,” he said to himself. “Class is tomorrow.”

With that, he crawled into bed, a restless sleep awaiting him.


William was glad it was an afternoon class the next day, but even yet, he felt like he slept through the class, even as he taught it. All he could think about was the young Miss Preston, Angela Preston, and her infernal novel. 

He tried to avoid eye contact with her throughout the class, and she seemed to be doing the same. The few times he looked toward her, she was sitting in the back, casting her eyes down, furiously taking notes. 

William muttered to himself the irony of Angela Preston taking notes in his class, when she should be teaching him. 

Somehow he endured the class, and he acknowledged the students as they passed out of the class. He kept an eye out for Miss Preston, and he noticed she kept herself back as the other students left. 

Once the classroom emptied, William approached Angela. She brushed back a wave of curly brown hair, and gave a sheepish grin. 

“Did you get my email?” she whispered.

Putting on a forced, if convincing, smile, William nodded toward her.

“Yes, I did. I was quite impressed.”

A smile started in her mouth and spread over her whole face, seemingly raising her height by six inches.

“Really? You liked it?”

“I did. In fact, it’s the best thing I’ve read in a long time.”

“I can’t believe it. I’ve been working on that off and on for years, but I was too scared to let anyone read it.”

William perked up, and he gave her a quizzical look.

“Have you ever shared this story with anyone?”

“Oh, no. I’m too scared to do that.”

“How many copies do you have of it?”

“Just the one on my laptop, and the one you looked at in the email.”

William furrowed his brow.

“I have an idea,” he said. “How would you like to come to my house and let’s discuss the novel?”

Angela’s jaw dropped. 

“Of course. I’d love that,” she shrieked. A few giggles escaped.

“I’m glad to hear it,” William said, putting his hand on her arm, with a gentle shush. “But as you know, the school frowns on students visiting the teachers at their houses. So I’ll need you to keep this between us.”

“Oh, I will. I understand.”

“And bring your laptop. We can make notes and edits directly.”

“Ok, sound good,” she said, still bouncing a bit, despite her efforts to make herself calm. 

William forced one more convincing smile, and patted her shoulder.

“How does Thursday night sound? I’ll email you the address. I never did quite figure out the whole texting thing.”

“I’ll be there,” she said, and skipped out of the room.

William’s brow furrowed, and he also left the classroom. 


 The rest of the week went by quickly, and Thursday night finally came. William stared at the dining room table with a lump in his throat. The sparkling water fizzled in Angela’s glass. A modest dinner was warming in the kitchen still, when William heard the doorbell ring. 

“Coming,” he called out in a chipper voice.

Angela stood at the front door, smiling sheepishly and clutching her laptop in a bag next to her purse. 

“Hello,” Angela said, moving a stray sprig of hair away from her forehead. “I asked the Uber driver to drop me off down the street, like you asked me to.”

“Thank you. I can’t have anyone gossiping about me.”

“I understand,” Angela nodded and stepped through the open door.

William took her coat, and a swift check of her coat pockets went unnoticed as she gazed around the house. No keys or wallet were found, so he hung the coat on the rack.

“Let’s have a seat at the table,” William said, pointing to the dining room. “Dinner is almost ready, so we can look at your novel a bit.”

Angela nodded, and followed his lead. He handed her a glass of water, the bubbles barely noticeable.

“I know you’re too young for wine, so Perrier will have to do,” he smiled.

“Oh, that’s great,” she said, taking the glass from him. 

“Tell me a little about how you came to write this novel.”

Angela paused after a sip of water, and she replied, “Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to write. When I was lonely, or bored in science classes, I would take out my notebook and write.

“Then, a couple years ago, I started writing this novel. It just kind of worked through my brain off and on over a couple years.”

“And you haven’t shared it with anyone beside me?” 

“No, definitely not. I was too scared.”

William smiled, and said he understood.

“Well, it’s excellent. I’m confident it will sell. Let’s open your computer and take a look at it.”

She slid the computer out of her bag, opened it up, and unlocked the screen. She took another sip of water and loosened her blouse by a button. 

“It’s a little warm in here,” she said, before taking another sip, this one a bit longer.

“I’m sorry about that,” William said. “I like my house a bit warm, I suppose.” I should be better at alibis than that.

Angela smiled, then started trying to blink away a sudden drowsiness and smiled awkwardly. 

“I’m not sure why I’m feeling tired all of a sudden,” she said apologetically, then tried to stifle a cough.

“I know,” William said.

Angela gave him a perplexed look, then collapsed onto the floor.

William acted quickly, sliding behind her computer and deleting her email to him. He made sure to delete the trash folder, then searched the computer for the word processing file, then deleted it, too.

Then he went to his own computer and saved his own copy of the novel in a file, and deleted the received email. 

William then put the computer back in the bag, gathered the purse and her coat, and threw them all in a devoted trash can. Then he dragged Angela’s body to the cellar, where he moved a wall of wine to a secret room, where eight homemade caskets lay. Seven were full, and he placed her body in the eighth. 

Before placing the lid on the casket, he clipped a lock of her hair and put it into a glass jar. He screwed on the lid, and placed the jar on the shelf, next to seven other similar jars. Each one bore the name of one of his novels. 

He stared at his trophy case for several minutes, holding a satisfied smile.

He replaced the wine wall, and went back up the stairs. As soon as he sat down, he pulled out his phone.

“Bobby,” he said, when the agent answered on the line. “I finally finished my novel. Yeah, I know it took a while this time. But I know you’ll love it.”

He then hung up the phone, pulled the dinner out of the oven, and sat down to eat.

June 19, 2020 19:44

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Madisson James
05:14 Oct 03, 2020

You have a fascinating mind. I really enjoy your writing. Very intriguing. Nice!


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15:10 Aug 02, 2020

Haha, amazing work! ~Aerin (P. S. would you mind checking out my story ‘Tales of Walmart’? If so, THANK YOU!)


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RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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