The Hack slept under a gravestone for many years before being compelled to move. Something rattled his bones (even though they weren’t really his anymore). The rattling reminded him of being possessed at the typewriter – synchronizing his fingers with a set of chattering teeth. He checked his watch for time and saw glowing vapors instead of a wrist. The Hack remembered where he slept and what he was.
“I have become my favorite subject.” He no longer had a mouth to speak, yet his voice echoed. “Boooooo!”
The Hack found most of his senses, despite lacking any organs or flesh. He climbed through six feet of dirt as easily as a rocket through six miles of clouds, hovering above Death’s scattered soiree, listening. Familiar words called to him from halfway across the country. Words forming sentences, forming paragraphs. Prose across America. He could hear them. He could see them as a beacon in the distance.
“It can’t be, can it?” he said. “Those are my words.”
He tried and failed to sprint towards the beacon, resembling a cartoon with cyclone legs. Other boneless heads from other graves popped out to discourage him. “Go back to coffin, you no-name hack!” they said. “Death already ran you to ground. There’s nothing left. No one remembers you.”
“Then why do I feel immortal?”
The Hack stopped pedaling, realizing ghosts don’t have to run. They could fly with the speed of thought. A thousand miles in the blink of an eye carried the Hack’s ghost to a glowing window in a dark house, surrounded by moonlit snow. Those familiar words rippled through the window and drew him closer.
Getting in was easy. Layers of brick dust and wood pulp parted for his shapeless body. Inside, he found a boy in a bed with a flashlight and a book. The boy bit his nails and cringed at the text – his shadow creating a monster against the wall. The Hack said, “You there! What are you reading?”
The boy didn’t answer, but shined his light against the window as though hearing a tap or a creak. He was startled by the face in the glass, but realized it was just his own. A cold wind whistled through invisible cracks in the pane. Nothing more. The boy returned the light to his book and turned the page.
The Hack moved to haunt the space beside the bed. He read the first line of the new page and knew instantly what it was. “That’s my book! I mean, not mine as in my copy, but mine as in I wrote it! Twenty-five thousand copies printed in my day. I thought they were all gone. All forgotten… Where did it come from?”
The boy scratched his ear – a pesky tickle – leaving the ghost to find answers on his own. The book had cellophane wrap around the cover and a grimy sticker on the spine with letters and numbers. He said, “Dewey Decimals… You found me in a library! You invited me home. What power your attention has, to call me from the grave. I must have written spells in between the cover. Your eyes cast them. And here I am, breathing again with every page turn.”
The pages flipped faster – gasping. The Hack whispered, “Not too fast. You’ll faint and miss out.” He covered his absent mouth, cursing himself, thinking: Backseat readers be damned.
“Wait a minute,” said the boy, turning back a page, a slow inhale. He read carefully this time, lips moving with each word. Such words! Lips parting, now. Eye’s widening. Bones rattling, not unlike the Hack’s in the grave.
“Wow. To think I almost missed this—”
Two knocking thumps broke the boy’s thought and filled him with shivers and chills. The bedroom door swung open. His bathrobed mother peeked in. “Can’t sleep?”
“Not till I finish this chapter,” the boy replied.
“Mom,” the boy, Kit, said. With desperate reasoning. “We’re in a tight spot, here. They’re under the bed. They’re in the closet. They’re on the roof. They’re all creeping in right now. And if I don’t finish this chapter before I close my eyes, they’ll get me. Tomorrow won’t exist. You’ll shake awake an empty bed in the morning and send out Amber Alerts at night. You don’t want that, do you?”
Kit’s mom sighed. “Where did you learn to talk like that?”
The boy shrugged.
“Okay. Just make it fast.”
“Not too fast,” the Hack whispered.
Mom shivered and tightened her robe. “Your room’s cold. Bundle up.”
“I will,” Kit said – a promise he wouldn’t keep. At least, not for a while.
Mom departed. The door closed.
Alone with the boy and his book, the ghost whispered, “Very clever, young man. ’They’ll get me,’ eh? Ha! You should turn that imagination into ink. Fill a pen with it. Toss the cap. Bomb a ream of loose-leaf with every last drop. And dare someone else to follow your dreams in the dark.”
Kit’s eyes floated up from the book, finding one pop in the popcorn ceiling. There he beamed his deepest thoughts and feelings.
“On paper, man,” the Hack urged. “Start simply. Think of it a hobby before you give others permission to destroy your heart. Start and finish. Try and fail. Be brave.”
Hearing without listening, the boy tossed his blankets and tiptoed to the desk. He sparked his desk lamp, stretched to the right for a mechanical pencil, and stretched to the left for a notebook. He couldn’t flip it open fast enough. Kit was ferocious. Possessed. Homework spilled from folders. School supplies tumbled to the carpet. Passion and desire boiled from heart to hand. Oh, how badly he wanted his pencil to render something beautiful. The lead scribbled so hard that it snapped.
What if a guy in a hat—
That was all that made it to paper before the pencil yielded. Kit looked at what he wrote, disgusted, and ripped out the page. What if a guy in a hat? He compared it with the Hack’s moving passage. “I’ll never do it like that.”
“NONSENSE!” cried the ghost.
Fright sent the boy’s hair reaching for the stars. He swept the bedroom, feeling breath on his neck. The closet was ajar, but he could see no Bogeyman. The realm beneath the bed showed no sign of a demon. Only the furnace register sounded, rattling and blowing a sinister hhhhhhaaaaaaa….
“Just my imagination,” Kit said.
And somehow, somewhere, a voice replied, “Start with that.”
Kit clicked his pencil to summon more lead. He copied a “spell” from the Hack’s book word for word, just to know what it felt like to write such a passage. Then, once again, he ripped the page out. This time to destroy the evidence.
“I found my own voice hiding in the echoes of my heroes,” whispered the furnace register, or maybe it came from the space under his bed, or the sliver of open closet. “I copied them all until I could hear myself.”
Another fresh page. Lead scratching two words: What if…
The Hack said, “Nothing is the worst that could happen. The best is you make yourself immortal.”
Kit looked up from his page and saw two faces reflecting in the window. One was made of flesh, the other a glowing vapor. Despite his steady diet of horror, Kit did not scream. Instead, he returned lead to paper after saying, “Tell me more.”
Kit’s chapter went unfinished that night, but Tomorrow did indeed exist. The only part of the boy’s prediction that came true was Mom shaking an empty bed in the morning. She found him asleep at his desk, head down on a notebook full of penciled words.
“I see you got a new hobby,” she said at breakfast. “Gonna be a writer?”
“Maybe just a hack,” the boy replied. “Some hacks live forever.”