The Novel

by Abel C. Ramirez Jr.

 

I’m just sitting here. I’m sitting alone, staring. My computer is evolving. It’s developed the human characteristics of spite. It’s staring back at me with a blank page and blinking cursor—I think it’s laughing at me. An evolving computer—what would it evolve into? Where would it evol… Aagh! Stop. Christ! What am I doing? What’s going to happen? It’s hot in here. I’ll bet it wouldn’t be so hot if I lost a little weight. If I lost weight, would it reduce my electric bill? Dammit! Focus here. What do science fiction novels have? They have space (for the most part), weird creatures (for the most part), aliens (for the most part)—yes, they have aliens, and robots, of course the damned evil robot that eventually kills everything and has to be destroyed. Like my computer.

My phone’s ringing. It must be Elliot… What does he want? I’m writing.

“Hello.”

“Hey. What are you doing?”

“Getting some writing done.”

“Anything yet?”

“Yes. A… uh, a little bit of development so far, but a good start.”

“You can just say no—I’m not going to judge you. Let’s get a drink. I’m sure it’s what you need.”

“Why are you so sure?”

“I’m always inspired by creativity and genius when I drink. Don’t you always feel smarter when you have a few?”

This bar is too crowded. I can’t breathe, let alone think. God, is everyone smoking but me?

“So, tell me what you’ve thought of so far.”

I told him I hadn’t written anything yet. Actually, I haven’t told him that.

“I’m thinking of a love story. Guy likes girl, she’s from across the galaxy, guy does a lot of something to fight for her, he realizes, I don’t know, maybe she’ll be a robot.”

“How’s that going to work?”

“I haven’t written it yet, I don’t know. Maybe she’ll have robotic breasts.”

“So then she would have to have children. That’s not good for a story.”

“What?”

“If her boobs are robotic, they have a purpose—they work to make synthetic (or robotic) milk. Robots have moving parts and stuff like that. And what does a love story have to do with a science fiction novel?”

“I’ll find a way for it to fit. Every good story worth telling is about love.”

“Then why the hell write sci-fi?”

“It’s a challenge. I think that if I can actually take a step in that direction, I can make it worth reading, and possibly even exceptional.”

“Robotic breasts?”

“It was simply an idea.”

“What a great science fiction novel needs is action or a technological mystery. But, since we’re on the subject of love, I guess you haven’t seen what’s behind me. Of course you have.”

What was sitting behind Elliott, which actually I could see, (I simply didn’t want to indulge in his ridicule of me), was the prettiest woman I’d never met. I’m sure that she was in fact not the prettiest woman, but she had a charm about her I couldn’t resist—or maybe I could for the sake of embarrassing myself. I’ve come to accept that I’m physically repulsive to women, but tonight she was reading and writing—two wonderful qualities, a common ground. Maybe I can impress her with my skills. It’s thoughts like that, moron, that don’t let you talk to women. Uh, I can tell her that she looks…

“I saw her glance over here a few times, go say something.”

Goddamn Elliott, now I have the added pressure of his desire for me to fail miserably for his amusement.

“No. I’ll just embarrass myself.”

“You’re embarrassing yourself now by looking away and smiling at the floor every time she tries to make eye contact with you.”

“She’s out of my league.”

“Sure she is, but she looks to have sympathy.” Not much for support, but more loyal than a canine. “Tell you what.” As he guzzles his beer. “I’ll leave right now so that you don’t feel like I’m pressuring you into having sex.”

“Thanks.”

She’s sitting across from me, buried in her writing, wait, did she glance up to see if I was looking at her? Great, get out before she thinks you’re a weirdo. No, don’t press your luck, you’ve seen her in here before, what if this is the last time? I have seen her before, I’m sure that she’ll be here next time I come. Is she watching me right now, as I must appear to be visually stuttering? Dammit, just say something.

“What, uh, are you writing?” She looked at me. Holy shit she’s smiling.

“A novel.” She’s barely speaking. I try to oblige her whispers.

“What is it about?”

“It’s about the future.”

“Why are you whispering?” I’ve had enough—I can barely hear her two booths away.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Finally a normal tone.

“I just kind of escape into my writing sometimes.”

A writer—impressive.

“May I ask, if… if you don’t mind telling me—what is it about?”

“It’s strange. Don’t think I’m weird—I’m not.”

“No, of course not… I write.” She doesn’t seem amused—I hope she laughs. Ask for her name.

“Well, it’s about the future. There’s this society that’s always filming everyone in the world, and they take over the government. They start telling people that they were always around and every historical story was based on them. And then one guy doesn’t like it, he tries to rebel… and there’s a love story in it.” I’m motioning to bring my bag and my beer over to her booth. Hey, alright, she’s welcoming me. Ask for her name.

“That is 1984.”

“What?” A slight grin of confusion. Ask for her name.

1984. It’s a book by Orwell. The government is called Big Brother, it’s a pretty famous novel.” Ask for her name.

“Oh. I like that, instead of being the future, we come out of the past.”

“No, it’s written about the future.”

“How’s that if it is in the past.”

“It was the future when it was written, a long time ago.”

“Well.” I hope she doesn’t think that I’ve insulted her. She ripped up all of her papers. What is her name?

“Hey. What the hell are you doing?”

“You said that it’s already been done. I need something original—something to stand out.”

“Yeah. I understand, but that’s your writing—that’s art you’ve just destroyed.” Great, I haven’t even gotten her name and she’s packing up to leave.

“I didn’t mean to upset you… My name’s Stanley.”

“It was nice to meet you Stanley, but I have to go.”

“Let me buy you a drink.” She isn’t even looking at me. I leave my bags and favorite book behind on the table to run after her.

“I’m sure your writing is very good.” Maybe I shouldn’t have tried to attempt at having a chance of being persistent—it never works for me with women. If I follow her out, I’m really going to look stupid. Coming back to sit at my table, I realize that someone decided to take the one thing that I was enjoying, my favorite book—The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

I’ve now taken to writing notes of any ideas I have on my walls with a thick black marker. I figure that this method will constantly remind me of any plan or plot theme I may forget or not fully recall in the course of a day. It also helps me to filter out what my ideas are and what are simply replicated from my inspirations. I realized after doing this that I was relying on used plot themes to elaborate my own story, particularly from my copy of Hemingway: a great battle with a single man and a ferocious beast in solitude—like space. A blasphemous reconstruction of a great piece of literature. As I look outside, I see a distant, radiating flash of light. It’s getting bigger, and is beginning to take a shape. It’s a giant disk of light traveling through the air. It’s getting so much closer. There’s no way that it could be what I think it is. It is. A giant flying saucer headed for Earth—headed for my back yard. It looks like it’s on fire. What do I do? It’s getting closer. Forget it, even if it was really going to happen, I don’t think that even that would inspire me to write a good sci-fi novel.

I want my book back. I’m staring at three sentences of notes on one wall of my bedroom—none of them make sense. I’m going to go and buy the book again. I don’t even want my story to be anything like it now, but I still want it back.

The bookstore that I frequently visit has now become a merchandising cliché—it’s such a shame. A world of the great written works from the most fascinating minds occupied by a section for teenagers to indulge in whatever the non-alcoholic drink fad comes into fashion. A place for attractive and wealthy yuppies to view their blank screened laptops in a desperate attempt to indulge in their repressed creativity hoping that the imagination they are surrounded by will osmotically inspire them. I wonder if it actually works—it could probably help me with my writing.

“No way.” She is here. The girl with no name from the bar—possibly searching for books to eliminate her already-thought-out plans for novels. Apologize. At least say something to her. I’m no good at thinking up words for a living, I’m especially horrible at thinking up something to say to someone that is only different from me by a simple genital difference.

“Hey.” I wave as if she can’t see me two feet away.

“Wow. Stanley, right?” Is she going to be nice to me?

“Yeah.” Say something else dumbass.

“What… uh, are you looking to get here?” She asks with a very uncomfortable tone. Great. Just leave. “Oh. Wait a second… I accidentally took your copy of The Old Man and the Sea. That’s what it was called, right?”

“Yeah.” She has my book. That inconsiderate bitch.

“I’m so sorry. I just kind of got upset and left. I know it wasn’t your fault, but I really thought I had something.”

“Yeah…” She’s staring at me. I swear to Christ there’s no excuse to be quiet, she is talking to me. “I wish I could have read it—I’m sure it was great.”

“That’s nice of you. By the way, I’m Laura.”

“Laura!” Why did I repeat it to her? Why did I act like I was laughing when I did it? It’s quiet again, say something. “So, do you have my book on you… or with you somewhere?” Say something at least partially intelligent next time.

“No. I’m sorry I don’t.” She does look genuinely sorry, just buy another one and leave her alone. “I wish I did, I didn’t mean to take it.” Well, at least she didn’t mean to. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”

“Are you a writer?”

“Yeah. Well, I suppose I am anyway. I haven’t really written anything, but I’m trying at the moment.” She’s still searching for a book.

“What are you writing?”

“Sci-fi… science fiction.”

“Really. Tell me about it.”

“I don’t actually know what it’s about yet.” I sound like an idiot.

“Do you really enjoy science fiction?” An odd question.

“No, uh, I guess I really don’t. Although I think the genre has evolved incredibly and produces some of the best stories.” Stop laughing Stanley, why don’t you just shut up.

“I think so too.” Keep on talking Stanley. “Are you planning on seeing that new movie about… it’s something about a guy on some planet that…”

“Yeah. Its called Retribution!”

“That’s it. I don’t think I really know anything about it.”

“I’ve been waiting for a while to see that movie. I know all about it actually, you see, it’s about this guy who was a prince on a planet when the kingdom was destroyed and conquered by these weird looking sub-human creatures. He has to live as a slave until he starts a rebellion that overtakes the planet, and he goes back to where he was prince. He then finds out that his father, the king, was alive the whole time back on the planet, he just thought that his son was dead the whole time. So, he’s forced to become a prince again, which he totally hates because he thinks he’s better than that. Turns out, the kingdom was never conquered… he was actually created to believe that… and he starts a war.” Did I really just explain the whole damn movie to her? Well, she’s still here, no thanks to me—IDIOT! She’s giving me a strange look, I think I know what she’s about to say.

“Would you like to see it with me?” There is no way she just asked me to go out with her. Am I still staring at the floor?

“Sure. I was actually planning on seeing it in about an hour.”

“Oh. Well if you already have plans on seeing it with someone else, I wouldn’t want to…”

“No, no. I was going to see it alone.”

Here at the movie theater, I find myself getting enraged. Just the movie poster alone pisses me off. This should have been my story. This movie should have my name on the credits. After seeing it though, maybe it’s best that it wasn’t my story. It was good, but nothing that would win an award. We decided to take our own cars, I don’t blame her. Somehow she appeared to be enjoying herself; she must be faking it to spare my feelings, the bitch. I won’t complain, I love the company.

“Would you maybe, want to get a cup of coffee?” she asks.

“Sure I would!” Did that sound anxious? “Yeah, that would be great.” That definitely did.

There in the parking lot of the theater she asks me to go have coffee with her. In the middle of my response she glanced over to make eye contact with some guy walking toward the opposite street. She nodded, he nodded—he must’ve been an old friend.

At the coffee shop, our conversation was typical getting-to-know someone chitchat. We talked about writing, films, and our favorite things to do on weekend afternoons. She was really trying to break through with a good novel; we had that in common. She was great to talk to, even more fascinating to listen to. She enjoyed fine books, history and films, but oddly enough, wasn’t very educated in any of the things that she claimed to love. She was in the process of learning more about these things, so late in life to start, it seemed a bit unusual, but I made no mention of it, I wouldn’t dare risk offending her again.

The end of the night was coming to a close. We both were realizing that we would have to go soon. We walked together out to our cars and proceeded to conclude the evening with one last discussion outside.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” she asks.

“What is tomorrow? Sunday?” As if I really don’t know.

“Do you have church or anywhere to be?”

“No.” I’m pointlessly laughing again. “I’m really not very religious.” Is she? Does this mean she won’t like me?

“Would you like to go out with me tomorrow?”

“Sure. I’d love to. What is it, church?” She’s trailing off again to look at someone. She knows quite a few people in this city.

“No. Not really, just a place to meet some good people, and you seem to have an open mind.”

I’m back in my bedroom after a great night. I can’t believe I’m going out with Laura again tomorrow, too bad it’s for some church deal. I’m sure it’ll be fine.

I’ve made a few more notes on my wall. The love story in my novel must happen by chance—like meeting the girl in a bookstore, or any place to heighten education. It will show that they’re both smart, but one of them has to be a little unrefined—for the sake of the character.

We meet again, but this time it’s completely consensual. We’ve decided to meet at the bookstore again—our now neutral ground. I was hoping she would ask to meet at my place. It’s too bad she didn’t. Anyway, she’s a special girl, no need in screwing it up quickly.

Today the bookstore is filled with its normal crowd of teenagers, yuppies, and the socially inept quasi-intellectuals. Where do I fit in with these categories? There she is, she’s looking pretty good—long crimson hair—I’ll have to use that in my book, bright blue eyes and thin face—all perfect qualities for a great heroine.

“We’re running late, would you mind if we just take one car? I’ll drive?”

“Sure.” Any excuse to be alone with you.

I try not to ask too many questions on the way. I just try to have normal conversation, although I realize that I’m no expert at it. It did seem odd to me to have a church service only at night. She said that it wasn’t “really” church, just a function that happens every so often. The ride is long; the sky is getting darker. We finally pull up to a house at the center of the industrial center of our city. The stench of smoke, and a view as if God himself vomited on this side of the world. It definitely seemed odd, but a man trying to score with a woman will ask very few questions.

“C’mon inside.”

“This is a strange neighborhood for a house.” I say with a fear that tickles my throat as I view the dilapidated and age-burdened two-story house—perfect for a horror novel.

“You are just so open-minded—one of the few people I know—I just thought that I had to share this with you.”

“Share what with me?” I feel cold.

“Come inside.”

“I think I’d rather know first.”

“I’d rather not just tell you.” I would tell her to get out and walk home by this point if we were in my car.

“Alright. This is getting a little strange, maybe we should just go.”

“We will, but come inside first.”

“C’mon,” I say, attempting to keep my composure. “What’s really going on here?” My gaze shifts from her on my left to the seemingly abandoned home on my right, when a single light turns on in the second story window. It couldn’t possibly be Elliott. I turn back to her demanding that she tell me what the hell is going on, but I realize that she isn’t seated next to me anymore—no one is. I don’t know what to do.

“Oh… this isn’t good.”

I step out of the car with the slightest ease, turning my head incessantly to look over my shoulders, I can’t help it—I am now intrigued. What is going on in that disgusting house? The trees in front make the sound that is refreshing on a bright morning, but terrifying on a dark night illuminated only by distant lights and a now blank second-story window.

I take four steps to the door. Should I just start running to the nearest phone? Who would I even call? What is in that house?

“Stanley.” A voice from behind me calls. It’s Laura’s voice. “I had to show you.”

“Show me… what?” This will definitely have to go in the book.

“Look in the window again.” This time I was there.

“We can do whatever we want—you already know this.”

“What?” I am not going along with this anymore. “This isn’t real. Who the hell are you?”

“You know who we are.”

“No, I don’t.” Just start running.

“Stanley, you’re one of us.”

“I don’t know…” I think I’m crying.

“It will come to you… it’s been a long time.”

“Oh. God.” Being paralyzed with fear is actually quite painful.

“They are all waiting for you inside. We won’t go without you.” I have just eliminated all possibility of a practical joke.

“I don’t know what you are talking about!”

At that moment, I couldn’t believe my eyes; the most beautiful light came down in a spinning saucer of redemption. Staring at the sky it came right above Laura and I, encompassing the entire sky above me. I still have no idea what is going on.

“Do you remember now?” she says. I can’t think of very much, but I do remember. I am one of them. I don’t know what they are, or why I have to go with them. Are they aliens, or maybe a cult of people that were actually correct in their assumptions that they would be rescued by another planet’s creatures?

Am I a prince forced to live on another planet to return to my kingdom?

Why was Elliott in the house?

How could I have been in the window? Was I traveling through time?

Who was Laura?

Who was in the house?

It’s still hot. I am sitting in my chair—staring. My white walls nearly completely darkened by the bold black marks of my notes that span across them, my naked body, and my computer. I sit and stare at my blinking cursor—mocking me. I want my book back—I have no inspiration.

 

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