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Drama Contemporary Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

What lengths would you go to make your dreams a reality? I had grappled with this question for some time. But not anymore, because I now know the answer: I would do whatever it takes. I had done what was required so that tonight, I can bask in a surge of pride, my fingers tracing the glimmering award next to me, tangible evidence of my hard-won achievement. As I was listening to the speeches ramble on, I thought back to how different my state of mind had been just a few months prior… 

Every time I received an email from my publisher, a sense of dread washed over me, causing my palms to moisten with anxiety. She wanted to know how my second novel was going, when she could see a first draft. Bitch. The truth was, I hadn’t even started. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’d started and stopped many times already – I just couldn’t get it right. My first novel had done okay, I mean it was nothing special, but also not a complete failure, and it was good enough to get an advance payment for a second. But I had lost inspiration and I didn’t know what to do. Every attempt to write felt like I was grasping at smoke, my once-vibrant ideas slipping through my fingers. Of course I didn’t tell her that. It’s going great! I would write. Just making some final tweaks; I’ll send you a copy soon! But in reality I was terrified; what could I do? 

When I was penning my first novel, writing was my refuge. Everything flowed effortlessly on the page. After I finished my first piece of work, I knew I had written something decent, something that deserved to be published, although it wasn't so easy to convince others. I didn’t give up though, and Nicole’s unwavering support was pivotal. She was always there for me, and her belief in me and my talent had been steadfast. With her bubbly personality, she always managed to brighten my day. Looking back now, I don’t fully understand why she put up with me and all of my moods and quirks, but she did, so I guess there must have been something in it for her too. The allure of a successful author, perhaps? 

Before my current success, in the period between my first and second novels, I spent countless hours staring at the blinking cursor. I still shudder when I think of it. I would write something, read it, then immediately delete it again. I would browse the internet for some inspiration, but end up just wasting time, and ultimately I had to face the blank page again. Eventually I got an idea for how to get inspiration, the scheme that got me where I am today. But I dismissed it initially, deeming it wrong. Although, even then, did I really think I had a choice? 

I tried other ways of getting inspiration. I remember one day in particular. Even though nothing special happened, it has become a core memory, I think because as I sat on the beach, I had made my decision, without even realising it fully. I had decided to go outside, thinking that perhaps a change of scenery will provide some inspiration. It was a warm December afternoon, and I decided to walk from our house to Lyall Bay beach. Wellington’s sunny embrace was a stark contrast to the darkness brewing within me, a darkness that whispered a disturbing truth. 

There were many surfers in the sea despite the relative lack of waves – they were mainly just lying there, hoping and wishing for something to happen. Much like me at the time, before I took charge, took a risk, created my own wave. I sat on the beach for a while, watching the people walking by, the dogs playing with their balls and sticks, and the planes taking off and landing. Surely, I thought at the time, somewhere here I must be able to get some inspiration? Like that old lady walking with the poodle – what can her backstory be? She must have had an interesting life, seen some things. But nothing came to me then. 

I wondered whether I was trying too hard. They say that boredom is crucial for creativity. Had I been filling my days with too many things, reading too much, watching too much? And so I tried to make my mind blank. Surely then the creativity would flow. I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the waves, the barking dogs, and the snippets of conversations of the people going by. I tried not to think of anything, not to force anything. I was just there

Still nothing happened, except that my dark idea seemed to be taking hold. I thought that maybe later that night I would be able to write something, but wasn’t hopeful. 

Later that day, I stepped inside our house, bringing the savoury scent of fish and chips with me. Clutching the oily white paper wrapping, still warm from the shop in my left hand while Nicole, always attuned to my arrival, stood by the door, ready to envelope me in her warm embrace. Her arms wrapped around me, pulling me close, and her lips met mine in a lingering kiss, her mouth tasting like rooibos tea. 

“I missed you,” she murmured against my lips, a suggestive twinkle in her eyes. 

“Missed you too,” I replied, my fingers brushing against her cheek. “Did you have a good day at work?” I asked while getting some plates from the cupboard, which clinked softly as I took them out.

“Lia, you won’t believe the ideas we’re considering for the conference. It’s going to be a game-changer for me, a real step up…”

She launched into an animated discussion of the conference she was planning, but I tuned out, offering only the occasional nod or grunt – I had heard it all before. It had been her dream to move from a team assistant role to an event planning one, so this was a big deal for her. I was happy for her, sure, but it’s so difficult to get excited by such mundane things, such small dreams, especially when I had so many important things to think about. I needed more time and space to further consider the idea I had been pondering – whether I should pursue it or not. Nicole had never been very ambitious; she put more value on her personal relationships than her professional achievements. Growing up as a middle child in a bustling family of 10 siblings, they remained tightly knit, frequently gathering for meals and casual get-togethers. Her circle of friends was equally extensive. I, on the other hand, often found myself preoccupied with my writing, unable to indulge in such familial and social commitments. But, as they say, to each their own. 

“Hello, earth to Lia,” she said, pulling me out of my reverie. “I asked, how’s the writing going?”

“Oh, that. Yeah, all good. Right on track,” I said and smiled. 

“I can’t wait to read it,” she said. 

“Yeah, soon. Let’s eat!” I suggested, eager to shift the conversation away from my writing. I recommended that we watch something while eating – giving me the excuse to let my thoughts wander again. 

After dinner I had gone back to the study to face the blank page once more, hoping that my earlier beach excursion would pay off. I started writing a backstory for the old poodle lady. At first I was hopeful – I had written 500 words in no time. But when I read it over I realised it was absolute drivel and deleted it, bringing the blinking cursor on the empty page back to haunt me. Blink. Blink. Blink. Like a leaking tap that just wouldn’t stop. 

The next day I caught the bus to the city. I had a coffee catch-up with a writer friend, or rather acquaintance, at a French bakery. I wasn’t really feeling up to seeing people then, but reckoned it was another opportunity to do some people watching and get inspired. I decided to start on the bus. 

I noticed a father and son, of Asian descent, who I regularly saw on the bus. The boy was around eight years old, always carrying a SpongeBob backpack. Every day they got on the bus at the same time, probably to go to school. The boy always got off earlier than his dad, never failing to wave, even when his father was sitting on the opposite side of the bus and couldn't possibly see his gesture. Whether he could see him or not, the father never acknowledged the wave, yet the boy persisted, offering his farewell without fail. 

I scribbled some notes in my notebook, hoping they would come in handy later, and lead to some interesting characters in my yet-to-be-written novel. At least it helped to pass the time. Before I even noticed, my stop arrived. I made my way to the coffee shop, easily outpacing the sluggish traffic and passing a sea of faces. Some were familiar – though I had never personally met any of the people I passed, living in a small city has a way of making everyone look like a neighbour. You start recognising people everywhere, pondering the depths of your connection, only to eventually realise that you don’t know them at all; you’ve merely crossed paths countless times. 

As I entered the coffee shop, Mark was already there, perched at a corner table with an inviting flat white before him, his gaze fixed on the smartphone in his hand, thumb gliding across the screen. I placed my order before joining him. 

“Good morning,” he sang out cheerfully. 

“How are you, Mark?” I enquired. 

He proceeded to tell me that he was very well indeed. Of course he was: his fourth novel was selling like hotcakes and he was doing book tours all over the country, and in Australia as well. I was so jealous. 

“I just feel so… grateful, you know? After everything I’ve been through, this is a nice distraction.” His husband had died two years ago in a horrific car accident. And he’s been milking it ever since. 

“Yes, I can imagine. Are you coping okay?”

“The pain – it never goes away. I still miss him terribly, and it was all so gruesome. I cannot get it out of my head. But writing helps me to escape.”

“That’s nice.” I never knew what to say in situations like these. Probably not that though. 

“Anyway, enough about me. What about you – how’s your second novel going?” he asked with a kind of mock enthusiasm, or so it seemed to me at least. I had trouble understanding subtext. 

“It’s coming along very nicely,” I said, and take a long sip of my coffee. 

We spent the rest of the time talking about other things, including some mutual writer acquaintances. But seeing Mark had further cemented the dark idea in me. It was becoming ever clearer what my problem was. With my first novel, I had relied a lot on my own life, but I had basically now used all of that up. I had no material left for a second novel, nothing more to draw on. Observing other people just wasn’t providing me with anything worth writing about. I needed what Mark had. I needed my own trauma. Why should he be the only lucky one? 

After the meeting with Mark,  I didn’t immediately forge ahead; it was only the first trigger. It was an important decision, after all, and I did not take it lightly. I knew that some people would think it was wrong, immoral, even evil. But what does that even mean? Who decides what is right and what is wrong? I don’t believe in a god, and not all laws make sense. Just look at all the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation across the world. Even so, I decided to put it out of my mind. 

A few days after my meeting with Mark I got more emails and had a number of missed calls from my publisher. She just wouldn’t leave me alone. She threatened to cancel my book deal, which meant that I would have to repay them the advance. This ongoing pressure was the second trigger. 

And then came the third, and I had no defences left, no choice. I was browsing social media when I came across a post from an old school friend, celebrating the successful publication of her first book. Anna had absolutely zero talent, she was just milking her supposedly difficult childhood. Her parents kicked her out of the house when she was 17 and came out to them. So what? How can she be successful and yet I am not? That was the last straw. It was out of my hands; I had to act. 

And act I did. The awards dinner has now drawn to a close, and I breathe out a big sigh. A number of people come up to congratulate me and I shine in all of the attention. Mark spots me from across the room and walks over. 

“Lia, congratulations on your award,” he said. He looked at me intently and paused, as if choosing his next words carefully. “I was so sorry to hear about Nicole. Are you holding up okay?”

“Thank you, Mark. I’m heartbroken, of course. That awful day will be etched in my memory forever. Nicole was such a lovely person; she inspired me every day, and continues to do so even now.” Much more now, I think to myself. 

“You poor thing. It must have been terrible. You were… there when it happened, right?”

“Yes, uh… we were hiking and she wanted her picture taken on the cliff. There was a really strong wind, and…” My voice cracked as I continued, “she slipped.” Tears began falling down my cheeks, and Mark patted my arm. 

“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to bring up all these awful memories. Especially not on tonight of all nights. You deserve to feel very proud. If Nicole were here tonight, she would have been so proud of you.”

I smile and nod, wiping away the tears, but I know that if Nicole was still alive, I would not be where I am today. I made the choice to sacrifice our relationship – and yes, her life – for the greater good. Without my sacrifice, the world would not have had my incredible masterpiece, and I’m sure she would have approved. 

Of course I was upset at first, that was the point after all. Devastation consumed me as I sat in our empty home. I was crying constantly and couldn’t bring myself to eat or sleep. Her absence echoed in every corner – her favourite chair sat empty, her scent lingered on the pillows, and the sound of her laughter still haunted the rooms. In addition, all the arrangements I had to make weren’t exactly fun. And navigating the torrent of grief that poured from Nicole’s parents and siblings? Lord, save me. Their anguish was a palpable force, a sorrowful symphony that echoed through our conversations, leaving me feeling helpless in the face of their profound loss. 

But one night I sat down at my desk, and as the words started flowing, my guilt began to leave me, and I was free. 

And now, tonight, I feel an immense sense of peace. The weight of writer’s block had finally been lifted, and my words were flowing effortlessly onto the pages. There was no limit to what I can achieve. The darkness that had consumed me had given birth to a literary masterpiece, and the world was taking notice. My newfound success brought fame and fortune beyond my wildest dreams, and I relished every moment of it. 

But it was the quiet moments when I would sit alone and reflect on my journey that I found true contentment. I had made a choice that defied all conventional morality, but it had led me to the heights of my career and a profound understanding of the depths of human emotions. In the end, I had found my inspiration, and for the first time in ages, I was truly happy with the path I had chosen. And I knew that Nicole would have been, too. 

September 15, 2023 23:37

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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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