I wrote this for a prompt exercise where the theme was horror. This is my first attempt at a scare-story. Tell me what you think. Too obscure? Not chilling enough? In today’s A to Z Challenge we look at a writer’s worst fear, W is for Writer’s Block.
W is for Writer’s Block
I had woken up that night. The cigarette ashes near my bed should have been indication enough. I remember it clearly. But the memory is behind my eyes. You’re going to need to see the evidence in the form of those ashy streaks. What’s the point? You aren’t even listening, anyway. You don’t know how to. You can’t. Did I awaken in a cold sweat? A dull feeling in the pit of my stomach? No, no. I just opened my eyes and there the world was, and I was awake. It happens often enough.
I used to lie awake for nights on end. I’ve spent hours watching fragile, wispy thoughts dance about. It’s an ugly thing they do, solidify into words. Nasty buggers they become then, rattling about inside your head. I used to wonder how coin slot machines felt. You know the ones that have a zillion, hard colourful balls inside them that whir around when you put in the coin? And if you’re lucky, one drops into the slot. You pop it into your mouth and stroll away, never even knowing how glad the machine is to see you go, how it envies your nonchalance. You’re ingesting, masticating, devouring what it struggles to vomit, shit, eject out.
Listen to me. (Nobody does, of course, but me). I’m so verbose. Perhaps I should start taking care of my words, even if I’m the only listening. But it’s so hard, so hard to. HRMPH. Say it again. It’s hard. I feel like there’s…I have diarrhea and I can’t shit it out. It’s clogged inside my entire body, this diarrhea of words. Better. Time to go out. Get some cigs.
I don’t even think about what to carry anymore. The notebook in my pocket is as good as a bankroll. I pat it to check it’s still got enough pages. I step out, and as usual, the memory of that first morning floods me. It’s always first morning now, no matter how many I’ve had since then. It’s gotten so I notice things I should have but didn’t, on the first morning. Infinite rewind.
No scrawls on the walls. Paan stains galore and something that always looks like shit smeared on the second last step. The signboard at the gate is missing. No scratches in the paint, either; only peeling in broad strips. There is a pile of sacks of cement near the wall, where it’s broken. They’re covered in the uniform grey that creeps out of tears in the sack fabric. But no names, no penmarks visible. How did I never catch that? Because I automatically avoid construction sites and materials, that’s why. They make me sneeze. This pile is about ten feet away and I could have read the black or red letters that usually mark such sacks. But I never noticed. My mind wears a breathing mask to thoughts my body does not like.
The road is busy as always. But the sounds never fail to shock me. The machine noises are all there – cars moving, road repair machines whirring. And there’s a steady hum underlying it all – human breathing. Human beings breathe real loudly, did you know? But no voices. Well, there is an occasional gasp and plenty of sneezes. They don’t know the word ‘pollution’ but they suffer it anyway.
I’m nearly at the cigarette shop at the end of the road now. The smokers mill around near it. A lady steps up through a gap. The shopkeeper hands her a loaf of packed bread. She puts down a lemon on the tiny counter. He catches it just before it rolls off and drops it into a jar behind him. I can see it also has a bunch of leaves, spinach maybe and a green chilli or two. It bounces off the top of a tomato and settles on the leaves. He shuts the jar and turns back.
I step up to him and he already knows which brand I want. He holds out the packet. The cigarette pack shows a badly scanned image of a bare-chested man superimposed by a picture of blackened lungs. No face. No name. No mandatory ‘Cigarette sniffing makes your eyes water’ message. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. ‘Cigarette sniffing is injurious to hair’? ‘Cigarette sniffing is halibut to injury?’.
I give up just as I note the frown on the shopkeeper’s face. The other smokers are edging away from me. Just because a man takes a minute to think. Bloody amoeba. What would they know? What was that saying my grandmother used to parrot? Bandar kya jaane ice-cream ki sugandh?
I reach for my notebook and I tear out two pages from it. The shopkeeper reaches out and I swear he does this gingerly with the tips of his fingers. He plucks just one sheet off and sets it down on a looseleaf pile to his right. I watch the first page of the sixth chapter of my next novel settle in with toiletpaper remains, slightly dusty tissues, a sheaf of oil-stained brown paper and a cardboard square. I know he uses that pile to wrap unpackaged things. Maybe he’ll use my worded page to giftwrap somebody’s special purchase.
I slide two cigarettes out of the pack and put it back on the counter. He frowns again, this time even more troubled and looks around his tiny shop. Then he turns and takes out the tomato, lemon and a few leaves from the jar behind him. He packs them deftly in the oily brown paper and hands it to me.
Well, so my noted paper is worth more than a couple of cigarettes. Not that I know what to do with a lemon, a tomato and some leaves. But what the hell, eh? In a world that doesn’t value your currency, you’ve to learn to value their’s.
Back at home, I drop the vegetables on my table and survey the cupboard. I’m a rich man then. I think I’ll start with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first. It might even buy me a car. But perhaps I should invest it instead. Charcoal, first. I’ll have to figure out something to write on. Leaves? Tissue paper, I decide. Cover them with words and letters. Look at me, I’m a money mint! It’s not counterfeiting if it’s the original. Call me an artist.
I wake up, this time in a cold sweat. Hot sweat, actually. My eyes start watering the minute I open them. The smoke is so thick, I can’t even see the door. I drop to the floor and ease my way out. By the time the fire engines arrive, I’m crying so hard, my face is streaked with snot down to my throat. The books are gone, all gone. Our world has truly lost every last word now.
*Image via thaikrit on FreeDigitalPhotos.net
What do you call a couple of conversationalists who’re afraid to speak?
“Lost in translation.”
I grieve for the words we’ve lost.
Piano, sweet piano
that make even words
with bad associations
The power to alter sensations
left by memory
is given to a few.
Fewer still that do it
with gentleness rather than force.
I run with my words
Racing my thoughts
Getting ahead of my emotions
Because I’m scared you’ll turn away before I’m done
But then I pause
To catch my breath
And realise you’re still listening
And also that I’ve forgotten what I was saying
Then you hold me close
In a way I’ve never known
But, which makes me forget
How life was before it began
When, at length,
We move apart,
You look just as you always do
Gruff and gentle
You consider my frantic
“What? What? What?”s
And tell me I have a lot of fears, many I need not,
And then you hug me again
I giggle and thank you
When you ask, “For what?”
I reply, “For being the man in gentleman”
“Also the gentle in gentleman”, I add afterthought
You feel like home. You feel like mine. My very own. Home.
..for a writer
are like people
not just tools of the trade
Sometimes you flirt with them, tease your way with them and remember why you love them.
Othertimes you seduce them, are made messy love to, by them. A virtual orgy, a mind-burning feast of inspiration that results in an unforgettable story being born.
And then there are times when you just want to take them out to coffee*, no strings attached. And who knows what may happen next?
* Yes, this was written at one such time. Always carry a notepad and a pen.