a breakfast with fear

“Hello, Fear.”

“Hello, Paige.”

Paige strode across the sunny terrace to a bistro table set for two. Wisps of gauzy fabric whispered about her bare feet. She threw herself into a shaded chair with the petulance of a teenager whose been called a child. “What’s on the menu today? A cup of discouragement? A plate a self-loathing?”

Fear smiled, revealing his fangs. “Both, actually.” He served these dishes to her cold. “Enjoy your breakfast.”

She sipped at her cup in cheeky rebellion. It was all she had left and she refused to fight with him. “I must say, I couldn’t help but admire your work in the United States this week.”

Fear sat down in the chair opposite hers, crossing his legs and taking a nibble from her plate. “It’s almost too easy. The threat of nuclear war makes everything so deliciously tense.”

“Hmmm.”

Fear leaned forward, licking his lips. “What about you? How’s the writing going? Received any rejections of late?”

Paige shook her finger at him. “Naughty Fear. I haven’t even finished my breakfast yet.”

“Ah, then allow me to offer another dish: a bowl of ‘my accomplishments are all worthless’ stew. Full of all the things that eat you up on sleepless full moon nights.”

“How generous of you, darling Fear!” She watched him cringe at her ‘darling’.

“Now, Paige, be careful. You wouldn’t want to piss me off.” He snarled, his eyes flashing.

She leaned across the table, sweeping her cup of discouragement, her plate of self-loathing, and the stew to the hard-tiled terrace ground. They shattered with a satisfying smash. “Do your worst. You were always going to anyway.”

Drool began to ooze from his fangs. He always loved his victims best after they moved past the simpering, tearful stage. Paige held his gaze. She was growing stronger. He would make a writer of her yet.

 

a sketch of Harold

Harold’s ears pointed upwards, sharp enough to skewer a falling leaf. His skin had grown sallow and green-hued from shunning the outdoors in daylight and too many hours in front of his computer. A hard, bloated belly bulged at the buttons of his vest and poked over his belt. A permanent slump had begun to form in the painful spot where the vertebrae of his neck met his shoulders but he paid it little mind.

It hurt his feelings when people pointed and laughed at his appearance. He read blog after blog of people suggesting he not let it bother him, but no one ever seemed to offer any advice as to how to make this happen. He began to feel nothing but contempt for these self-proclaimed experts, these gurus of the internet.

Harold spent his days in the cramped quarters of his cubicle, typing at a frantic pace to keep up with the four to five live chat conversations his employer expected him to follow all at once. Each conservation represented a disgruntled customer he didn’t have the authority to assist. One out of twenty would thank him in the end, while the rest would swear and curse his very life.

By the end of most days Harold hated people, every single one of them.

The only time Harold spoke aloud to a human being was when he ordered a tea from the local cafe after his shift. If the girl with the charming smile worked that day, he would remove himself from line and go into the bathroom to test out his voice, hacking out the hoarseness that came from his lonesome, silent life.

When he could squeak out his order without an adolescent’s cracking voice, he returned to the line. His heart beat too fast for ordering tea and his eyes hunted the coffee shop for the chance to meet hers. Some days he lived for the moment when she brought him his tea, as if there was no one else in the whole world but her, and him.

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Until her eyes flicked over to the next customer and the spell fell to pieces.

The days she didn’t work grew dangerous for the innocent users of internet comments everywhere. His eyes grew sharper, his skin sallower, as he unleashed buckets of pent-up rage and bitterest hate on everything he saw. No one was safe, not the woman seeking advice for her toddler’s diaper rash – no, she was a terrible mother and he needed to rake her over the coals. Not the liberal commenter on the news site, nor the conservative one, how dare they have opinions! He would squash them into nothingness while cackling menacingly to the ceiling and finally, finally feeling alive and listened to and important and someone!

Harold is an internet troll.

story’s end

“How do you know when a story is finished, mum?”

I take a deep breath. “That’s a loaded question, pumpkin. Every writer has a different way of knowing, and I can only tell you my way.”

She looks frustrated. “But how do you know?”

“I know a story is done when I can read it out loud without tripping over any lines or feeling self-conscious.”

She stares at me, a perplexed look on her face. I struggle to explain myself. “It might sound simple, but it takes a lot of work to get there. First I revise it a few times on paper, then I start reading it out loud, pen in hand to mark the spots that need work. Sometimes I’ve gotten my plot tangled in my first revisions, so I have to do undo all of that.”

She continues to stare, the furrow in her brow growing deeper.

I start to sweat. “Sometimes I’m so embarrassed I want to burn it, so I put it away for the rest of the day. By the next morning I’m ready to tackle the broken spots and sculpt my story into what I want it to be.”

I chuckle. “These days this involves pen, paper, and a clipboard resting on the baby’s bottom while she contentedly suckles. When I’m done I’ll feel happy and exhilarated.”

“Exhilarated?”

“That means happy and alive. When I wake up the next day, I might read it again and realize how much work is left. One day I’ll read it and everything will fall into place, a story that flows as smooth as the baby’s bottom it was edited on, and then, at last, I’ll know it is done. At least until my critique group tells me otherwise, but that’s another thing altogether.”

She shakes her head. “No, mum, I mean, how do you know when its finished?”

I stare, drawing a blank. “I don’t understand.”

She stamps her foot. “How do you know when to stop reading?”

“Oh.”

She waits.

“Well, it usually says ‘the end’.”

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writer at work, baby’s bottom not shown

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