I am immortal. As the old joke goes, I read the obituaries in the newspaper every morning and, if my name isn’t there, I get out of bed and start my day.
Well, it wasn’t my name, but the name of Margaret (Maggie) Hayward caught my eye. Not an unusual name, so I didn’t think any more about it.
The next day, however, I saw the name of David (Dave) Wyznicki and that was different enough so I read the obit. Dave Wyznicki was a former private investigator in Los Angeles who had just passed away at the age of 95. The dates matched up. Wyznicki was about 30 when I wrote him into a novel set in 1950s Hollywood.
I recovered the previous day’s paper from the recycling pile and looked at Maggie Hayward’s obit. She had drowned at the age of 37. Maggie had been a character in a story I wrote about 10 years ago, a high school classmate of the protagonist, set 10 years earlier.
The following day, the obits of Malcolm Worrell, Jamar Holden, and Phyllis Dumont were in the paper. They were characters from a play I’d had produced 5 years ago.
Slightly odd, I’d say.
I went online to look at the story Maggie had been in. Instead of the ending I’d written – Maggie moving to another country – she’d fallen off a boat and drowned. I looked at other stories I’d had published. Some of the stories were either garbled or turned into foreign languages I didn’t recognize. I took from my bookshelf magazines I’d been published in. Same thing.
Other of my stories I looked at, still recognizable as being in English, had also changed; characters died in accidents, committed suicide, or just disappeared into the woods.
It’s a good thing I hadn’t written anything autobiographical until now.
I took a copy of my novel off the bookshelf and opened it. All the letters poured out of the pages into a pile on the ground.
I went back to the short story I was in the middle of writing, and it had changed. I’d left my character, Roberta Eden, in a bubble bath contemplating her upcoming trip to Jupiter but instead, she’d wrapped herself in a towel and was sitting on her sofa drinking some very fine scotch.
“I’m dying!” she said to me when she realized I was there. “You have to help me! I’m slowly dying! I can feel it.”
“The story’s not about that,” I said. “I don’t think I can help you.”
Roberta died the following day. There was proof in the paper a few days later.
I tried to write a new story but, every time I took a break and then came back to my computer, the story had been distorted. Heaven knows what happened to those Serbian-Canadian identical twins I was writing about.
Writing stories seems like a pointless endeavor at the best of times but now it really was.
I decided to forget about writing for the time being, and embarked on a clean-up project in my basement that I’d been avoiding for years. I hauled a lot of junk to the curbside, re-planted some possible vegetable life, and went through countless boxes of stuff, mostly old appliance parts that I thought I’d have use for one day.
On a top shelf, I came across a box I recognized from many years ago, full of saved newspaper articles, school report cards, posters from my childhood bedroom, and, at the bottom of the box, a story I’d written when I was fourteen. It’d been thrown into the box because I hadn’t known how to finish it. It was about a boy who was looking after a nest of abandoned baby sparrows living in a maple tree in his backyard.
I read it again, and liked some of it, but I’d clearly had no idea where the story was going, and had just left it.
But on the last page, there was the boy looking up at me. “So, you’re gonna finish this now, right?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I’ve been sitting in this box for who knows how long. I want to get out of here. Now finish it!”
“Have you been—”
“Yes, that was me. I put the obituaries in the paper to get your attention. Now, if you don’t finish this story and get me out of here—”
“But I can’t finish it,” I said. “I don’t remember what I was thinking about at the time, it was a kid’s story, and I can’t imagine what could now possibly happen. I’m sorry, but…” I had nothing to finish that sentence. I’m a writer and I had nothing to say. I’m not a writer.
“So you’re not going to work on it,” the boy said, sounding a little more ominous.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t go back to being fourteen. I just don’t know…”
“All right,” he said. “Just you wait. It’s not just parlor tricks I can do. It’s not just fictional characters I can knock off.”
I closed the box and shoved it back on the shelf, not wanting to touch it any more than I had to.
I’ve given a lot of thought about how to end the sparrow story but I can’t crack it.
Instead, because of the likelihood that anything subsequent I write will get distorted if I leave it alone for even a moment, I wrote the preceding in one long uninterrupted session.
And just in case the boy’s threat against me is possible, I’m going back to the beginning of this account and write the words, “I am immortal.”
William Kitcher’s stories, plays, and comedy sketches have been published and/or produced in Australia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, England, Guernsey, Holland, India, Ireland, South Africa, and the U.S. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in Ariel Chart, Litbreak Magazine, New Contrast, The Bookends Review, SPANK the CARP, Little Old Lady Comedy, Black Petals, Slippage Lit, Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal, The Rockford Review, Once Upon A Crocodile, Close to the Bone, Evening Street Review, and 2 stories (one co-written) in the Horrified Press anthology, Twisted Time.