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Fiction Crime Contemporary

Have a cup of chamomile tea. Listen to a song on loop. Take a vitamin pill. Walk two miles. Remember a tidy desk is a tidy mind. Writing routines are meant to squeeze out your creative juices, but whatever I'm doing—whether it's fit to be a routine or not—has accomplished nothing but the complete opposite. Ideas are as elusive as creases on a perfectly-ironed shirt. Everytime I shut my eyes, I see the brilliant hues of a dreamscape I'm currently unable to capture in coherent words. When I open them, my paper remains blank and my pencils unsharpened as they've been for three months. Perhaps it all boils down to escapism; I've become so sick of the freezer harmonising with the fridge during power cuts it might be messing with my flow. A change of environment might be the solution. The library down the street.

. . .

The mammoth book cases loom over me on both sides, imposing, like the halves of a mahogany ocean that could swallow me any minute because of the plethora of heavenly hardbacks gathering dust on its shelves.

"Can I get the key?" I ask a plump woman who seems to be made of lemonade and strained muscle. She is obviously committed to warming her throat with a Davidoff—and could be the librarian—but from her economic name tag, she might be just that, a janitor, security guard or much more.

"At your own risk, Sir. Don't say I didn't warn ya. No one goes visiting there, and for good reason. But you might just be different, who knows?" She stumps the cigarette and throws me the key.

I can't be more grateful. I fling the grimy arched windows to let in the delicious scent of Spring weaken this musty marriage of mildew and mothballs. With that, I'm just fine, so I scan several spines and decide I shouldn't waste my time on the self-help aisle. Fiction is more my thing. I can't believe this place was locked up. What were they thinking? Despite the tortuous mass of literature before me, I can't find something I haven't read or would have an interest in. I should have come here with a hanky. With even the smallest contact, I disrupt clouds of decade-old dust that tickle my airways and provoke sneeze after sneeze. Finally, I conclude on a laminated booklet (on which MANUSCRIPT was written with a Sharpie) whose folder I had to zip open. A curious sight in a library. Why this never got published doesn't matter, but whether I should waste my four hours on such a book does. I do so anyway, and the hours spent fly past like with kids dashing through a meadow with clear streams and blooming bromeliads. I've never read a more sweeping tale—one of a young detective and his wife searching for their relative who's disappeared from a small town.

I'm sure Cigarette Lady's surprised I'm still alive; I believe she must've been on some sort of high that made her imagine things. I'm finishing the penultimate chapter when I realise there's no final one. Could it have been ripped out? Surely, an adult—I don't expect a child to devour such a voluminous book unless they're a Matilda which is rare—wouldn't be so immature or reactionary to do such, will they? I nestle the book under my sweaty armpit of my checked H&M shirt and head home because I've found the perfect task—to complete it. If only it could be so easy. What shocking twist can I include?

The missing person is the detective's brother, who, along with his wife, is responsible for the disappearance—because they murdered him. They were only trying to be hands-on with the investigation to avert suspicion. Wow. Seems like I've still got it after all.

However, the fact that no one bothers about me taking the book and not saying how I intend to return it is quite unsettling. It could be what I was cautioned about. A library that doesn't lend books but leaves them there?

I trot past the Obelisk Square, trying to keep the stench of rotting waste out of my nostrils though it's the norm. The graffitied wall that's held the artistic highlights of my childhood stretches out before me and my eyes halt at the greyscale poster that disrupts the continuity of the predominantly primary coloured wall.

Is my idea coming alive?

MISSING PERSON. I'm the young man in that picture. That face is mine. My face is his. The name underneath the photo is mine too. And the reward? $50,000 for the successful location and physical recovery of Arnold Phishwhite. Email and phone, my brother's. My brother Ethan, the detective. My brother is married, just like I'd read. Wasn't the missing person somehow related to the detective in the manuscript? Disturbingly, I am in the clothes the notice says I was last seen in and still, possibly, in: athletic shorts, a rumpled shirt and a pair of khaki running shoes. But if I am really missing, why did Cigarette Lady act so normal around me? She looks like she really needs the cash, but she's as unfazed as a satiated mouse lured with a cut of cheese. I scribble down some notes. I can use it for the last chapter although I've got enough self-awareness to know I would spend the whole time trying to make sense of all this. I rip the sheet of paper but the horror remains. There is no point in completing. Only eluding it—if I can.

I struggle to quell the fright that ripples throughout my frame, that adorns it with festoons of goose pimples. But whatever attempt I make is like trying to stay nice and dry in the rain without a coat or umbrella—futile. Adrenaline courses through me.

"Any problem?" Cigarette Lady calls from the end of the close where the library sags under the weight of age and despair. Sometimes, I feel it sighs when there's someone, anyone, within its walls or premises to listen.

"Not really, er, yes. Yes, actually. Have you seen this?" I turn toward the wall, hoping to gesture at the poster.

But it's gone.

"What?" She pauses to let out yet another puff of black smoke.

"I think you were right."

"The library. I told ya so, although I'm not sure why you look this pale."

. . .

Even my bed seems foreign-familiar, but Teddy doesn't. I bury my head in his bosom and hit it several times as some great form of catharsis. The self-deception.

I decide to pull out my phone, and when I enable notifications, a swarm of missed calls invades my screen. All from Ethan and his wife Laura. Why don't they just—? I can't think of anything reasonable. Why am I missing? How am I missing? When I take out the trash, I see the same weeds Chapter 18 mentioned the missing person had in their garden peeping at the other side of the world. I sprint to the library, clutching the manuscript and ignoring how worn out my soles would become even after two minutes of exertion. The chilly wind seems to gently snatch something from me (possibly my footing and what's left of my sanity) as it howls with plain suggestions of things only it knows. The absence of the last chapter is more of an enigma than it is a turn-off, and a frightening one indeed. Enough of trying to figure out and construe conclusions and resolutions. Enough of finding the last chapter. It is obvious it represents the very last days, weeks, months of my life, with all the parallels. A black sedan, Ethan and Laura's wedding gift from me, pulls into the driveway, and I can almost promise you I see a wrapped corpse in their back seat. I could be killed very soon, and then what would I blame? But I just stand there, my feet lead-heavy, and wallow in the incredible array of fearsome feelings I grapple with so late at night. When I take my miraculous first step, I slide the manuscript into the neglected area of the bookshelf I coaxed it from. And flee while I have the chance.

Some messages are best left unpublished, no, unarchived. I'm at angry-peace with whoever decided to rip out (a huge but tempting favour) the last chapter; I would've been gone if I didn't desist.

At least, while I'm unsure how that manuscript achieves its purposes…

February 21, 2024 22:03

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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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