Harry’s shoe scraped against the coarse sidewalk as he shuffled towards the front door. He sighed with a slight quiver, and took a moment to compose himself. He slowly pressed his finger into the doorbell, producing a barely audible ring. Harry glanced at the window to his right, and through the shades he could see a figure approach. The doorknob jiggled a little, and the door swung backwards.

“Harry… I didn’t know you were coming. I, uh... come in.”

Harry stepped inside, the warmth of the house fighting back the chill of the dreary day. “I know I didn’t call or anything. I’m sorry Mark, I should’ve. But, you know, it’s been-”

Mark put his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Harry. It’s been hard on us both. I just appreciate the fact that you came. It’s times like these where I regret how we have been with each other. But to see you here, it reminds me that we’re still blood. Here, let’s sit at the table, catch up a little.”

The two brothers walked past the stairway and into the dining room. The bright light bounced off of the lime green walls, and highlighted the countless scrapes and nicks on the table. Mark grabbed the chair at the head of the table, while Harry slid into the spot to Mark’s left. The two sat in silence for a little bit, looking into each other’s puffy eyes.

“Did you… get a chance to say goodbye?” Harry asked.

“No, no I didn’t. They passed at the scene, along with the man who hit them. The guy was going sixty in a forty. All three basically died on impact, from what the police said,” Mark said. Before continuing his thought, he swallowed the lump in his throat. “I, of course, first thought it was Dad’s driving. I’m sure they told you he passed out a couple months ago walking up the stairs. I thought it was that when I first got the call. I felt so guilty for letting them go out. But no, it wasn’t their fault. Just someone not paying attention. They were on their way to grab dinner for all of us. I didn’t eat that night.”

Harry nodded solemnly at his brother. “Yeah, Ma mentioned that you guys were having dinner to celebrate your novel. Congratulations, by the way. Big deal to be published, Dad and Ma sounded really proud.”

They both glanced at each other for a moment, an awkward silence hanging in the air. Harry started to continue, somewhat painstakingly, “You know, I thought Charlotte would be where I broke out. With writing. I thought as long as I could make ends meet, grind out a little every evening and on the weekends, then I would eventually hit my stride and take off. And here you are. Been successful since college, making six figures. To top it off you got a book published. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous, but I’m also happy. For you, and for Dad and Ma, because I know how excited they were.”

Mark glanced to his left. “Well, Harry, it takes a lot to say what you’ve said. I appreciate that immensely. We’ve always had an issue with competition, but now’s not the time. Don’t even worry about the novel… it’s honestly not that good, and I don’t think it’s your taste anyway. Besides, we both have a lot going on and a lot to do.”

Harry cracked his fingers, and looked at a picture on the wall. He and Mark were just kids in it, forced to stand next to each other and smile for the photo. “I’m sorry. I have one more thing. I was just curious if I could stay here for a little bit. I know you’ve already been very gracious letting Dad and Ma move in after the fire. I don’t know if they told you, but I got laid off last month. I have some money, I could’ve lasted a couple more months there, but with everything else on top of this...I’m moving back around here. I won’t be here long, I’ll get back on track, get a job, get an apartment. I hate to intrude, I just don’t know where else to go.”

Mark seemed a little taken aback, and seemed to ponder things for a moment. “Yeah. Yes of course. It’s the least I can do. Be good to have someone in the house right now anyway. I have most of their stuff in their room, but the guest bedroom in the basement is empty. Feel free to use that for now. Nobody uses the basement bathroom anyway, so you can pretty much take it over. You have your bags?”

Harry stood up slowly. “Yeah, they’re in my car,” he said softly. He approached Mark, and opened his arms. Without a word, Mark rose, and the two embraced. “Alright Harry. I can grab your stuff for you, if you want to take a look upstairs. I have most of their boxes out on their bed, but there are a few things on the floor and in the closet too. A lot was lost in the fire, I’m sure you could figure, but there’s certainly some things I’m sure you wanna see.”

With that, Mark led Harry to the staircase, gesturing towards the right. Harry began up the stairs, handing Mark his keys. Soon he found himself at the top. An ajar door was directly to his side. Peeking inside, he could see scores of boxes with various labels in permanent marker. He took a step towards it, but not before glancing to his left. There, at the end of the hall, illuminated barely by the hallway light, were a set of lone double doors. They too were slightly open, and Harry could barely make out what appeared to be a desk laden with papers and electronics. He figured that was Mark’s office. He shrugged and went for the bedroom door handle, but stopped himself as his hand grasped the metal. An urge bubbled within his soul, begging to see the office. It was where all of Mark’s magic happened, apparently not just in his business dealings, but also his newfound authorship. Harry just had to see that special space; whether a vain attempt to find some secret to success, or just to help reconcile his inferiority, he wasn’t entirely sure.

Within moments, he found himself in the office. The room had a dim lamp light to light it. The shelves behind the desk were dark and filled to the brim with knick knacks and books. On the corner of the desk lay a novel titled The Sparks of Clockwork. Harry found that very interesting, as his novel was tentatively titled Machinations of Clockwork. Perhaps he and Mark had more similar minds than he thought. 

“Hey Harry, your bags are at the top of the basement stair! I’m going to make some food for us, you take your time up there!” Mark shouted. Taken out of his focus a little, Harry remembered Mark telling him not to worry about the book with everything going on. Mark is right, Harry thought; their parents are recently deceased, and there is so much both emotionally and practically to handle there. He knew that’s  what he should be doing right now. Yet, now he had a near irresistible urge to read at least the first few pages of the book. He had to know. He wasn’t sure exactly what he was looking for, but he just had to know.

Harry sat in the padded swivel chair and scooped the novel off the corner. A small crate of identical copies at his feet, probably meant for friends and such. He studied the cover of the book, which showed an array of cogs and gears, alight from the sparks flying off the title. A fairly clever and eye-catching display, certainly indicative of Mark’s graphic design proficiencies. Harry flipped open the first few pages, looking for the first chapter. As he read through the opening sequence, he started coming around to a realization. Mark’s main character was an untenured professor, and so was Harry’s. Mark’s story was set in Manhattan, just like Harry’s. Harry then made a prediction: if, in the next few pages, the character receives some news of his family being kidnapped and held for ransom, then it will undeniably be the same story Harry was writing and abandoned while in Charlotte. Sure enough, it happened. The only difference between Mark’s novel and Harry’s draft was that in Mark’s novel the kidnappers spoke with a Ukranian accent, while Harry had them as Russians. 

Harry tossed the book on the desk, trembling. He thought of all those nights in Charlotte, on the phone with his parents, spilling details about his story. He had practically told them everything; every character, every change, every plot point. He even had sent them a few old drafts, though as he thought the story wasn’t working out and the project was going to be unsuccessful he had talked about it to them less and less. Of course they said it was great, but that was their job as parents. Harry thought his work on this novel was subpar at best. Apparently, though, it was publishable. He figured that Dad and Ma must’ve shared with Mark everything Harry told and sent to them. Mark essentially took Harry’s entire novel, and now it was being sold in bookstores and web stores with his name instead of Harry’s. 

Harry sat in silence, a nauseous feeling growing in his stomach. He was frozen, his body and mind in a state of shock. He didn’t even hear Mark come up the stairs, asking for him. It took a little while for Mark to realize Harry was in the study, and Mark walked in. By the mixed look of guilt and anger plastered on his face, it was clear Mark knew Harry had discovered the truth. 

“I told you not to worry about the book, Harry. We’re both not in a place to deal with this right now.”

Harry ignored Mark, not even lifting his gaze to meet Mark’s face, instead staring blankly at the book’s cover. “You stole my book, Mark. You stole everything. You took my one gift, and acted like it was yours too. It wasn’t enough that you were the diploma-carrying breadwinner of the family. It wasn’t enough that you had the better social skills, the better looks. It wasn’t enough for you. You had to take the one thing I had going for me you didn’t.”

Mark stood rigidly, and attempted to respond. “It wasn’t like that, Harry. I didn’t steal, really, I just took inspiration and-”

“No!” Harry suddenly stood up and leveled his face to Mark’s, while slamming his palms on the desk. “You couldn’t stand that I was better at something! You just had to win at everything, didn’t you? All those late nights I spent in my one bedroom apartment, typing until my fingers went numb a passage I’d rewrite the next day, all for you to take the credit. I can’t believe you would do this, but you know what? Part of me can. I don’t even… I just can’t even stand to look at you right now.”

Mark moved forward and pointed at Harry’s face. “Now you listen to me, alright? Life hasn’t been all peaches and cream for me either. My girlfriend denied my proposal and left me. Dad and Ma had to move into my house, where I had to take care of them alone. My business is starting to fail, I’m in debt. And let’s be honest about something. If you were actually going to get something done, get that out in the world, you would’ve. It was going to sit in your harddrive, collecting digital dust like all the rest of your half-baked projects. I can’t write like you can. I don’t have that kind of mind, I admit it. But I know how to market things. I have contacts. And I have follow through. I actually had the capacity to make something out of your ideas. Why let that all go to waste?”

Harry walked out from behind the desk, behind Mark, looking down the hall. “You’re right about that. I didn’t have the guts or confidence to get it published, really. But that’s not an excuse. You know what you could’ve done? You could’ve reached out to me. We could’ve worked together. I may have been guarded about it, but at the end of the day we could have both benefitted. You had the gall to listen to our parents talk about my novel and copy it all down. You had the balls to peruse the documents I sent to Dad’s email and save them for yourself. And you had the stomach to do all this while you knew I was suffering paycheck to paycheck in a moldy piece of shit place. But you were too prideful, too ashamed, too much of a fucking prick to reach out to your brother. Most of all, you were too stupid to think I wouldn’t find out. Maybe not too stupid. Just didn’t care enough, because you knew I would find out when it was too late and you could deal with the consequences then.”

Mark shook his head and sat down at one of the chairs in the room. “Look, I know I fucked up bad. I don’t and never did feel good about this. I just, Dad and Ma were showing and telling me all these great things. And you weren’t doing anything with it. I needed an opportunity. We haven’t spoken in so long, we were already on such bad terms, I felt justified not involving you. But we have to move forward. Look, I mean I’m giving you a place to stay. I’ll give you cuts from the novel, more than half even. Just… what do you want from me? To make things okay, at least?”

Mark placed his hand on Harry’s shoulder, who promptly shrugged it off and turned to face Mark. “I want you to retract your publication, admit the work isn’t yours, and republish the novel with my name. I don’t know how that process would work, but that’s all I’m accepting.”

Mark’s voice started to shake, and his energy seemed to get a little desperate. “You know I can’t do that. My reputation would be ruined. Not even talking about my authorship, but no business firm in the state will deal with me either after that. I might even get into legal trouble! Please, there’s got to be something else! I know I fucked up but I’m your brother, you’ve got to let me make it up some way else!”

Harry remained stone cold. “Should’ve thought of that before you plagarized my fucking novel. And if you don’t retract it, I’ll find a way to bring the truth out.”

The two stared at each other. Mark’s pleading energy faded, turning instead to a sort of ruthless, malicious aura. “Well, Harry, I didn’t want you to find out so soon. I didn’t expect to see you until at least the funeral. When you arrived, I was a little scared, but it made me feel like I could make things up as long as I kept the secret. But I guess part of me knew you’d find out. Since I figured you’d never look at this project again, I took the liberty of clearing all related files from your laptop. Password on your sticky note. Replaced them with some bullshit copy-and-paste from the web. It seems we both went behind each other’s backs in the past half an hour. My tracks are covered though; you don’t have the resources to prove anything. So if you’re going to be hung up on it, you can get out of my house.”

Mark pointed towards the door. Harry shook his head, lip trembling. “Or we can cut a deal, forget about it, and move on. The choice is yours,” Mark continued. It didn’t matter though, Harry had already started for the staircase. Mark walked to the top of the railing, arms crossed, watching Harry haul his bags through the door. “I thought we were blood,” Harry spat at Mark as he exited the house, door wide open. The cold from the night seeped into the house, surrounding Mark and filling him with a dark frost of the spirit.

February 06, 2021 02:26

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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