He was hunched over his keyboard. All too aware of the time. All too aware of how tired he was. Still, he couldn’t stop. He had to finish writing this damn thing. Well, it was worse than that actually. He had to start it first.
He’d spent the last fortnight unintentionally fashioning posts that expressed what a sensitive little artist he was. They had felt good whilst he was writing them. They had seemed to exorcise a little of the weight from his constantly shrugged shoulders. It was only after the blogs had been released into the world that they had shown their true colours. Their true, whiny colours.
He couldn’t bring himself to write another one like that. He was trying to force himself to write something different. Maybe that was why he was getting nowhere. Maybe that was why he kept starting and restarting ideas, rejecting everything before he got to the end of page one.
He’d been sitting here all day. He had barely eaten. Night had started to fall outside, forcing him to switch on the energy saving bulb, for all the good it did. The only real light source in the room was coming from the screen in front of him. He’d been staring at it for so long now that he was sure he had to be getting some sort of sunless, sickly tan from it. That blank screen was becoming his enemy, along with its little accomplice, the blinking cursor. Everything he had started, that cursor eventually devoured.
The wind was picking up outside. Stirring the growing gloom as it tugged at the sparsely dressed branches of the spring trees. Plucking their fresh blossoms. Did this wind have a name, he wondered. The people in the news loved to name storms these days. It always reminded him of something he’d heard about animals. Only name them if you intended to keep them. Well, the same appeared to also apply to storms. Every storm given a moniker always lingered a little longer. Always did a little more damage, just to lend some further credence to its legend.
It felt like the world was due a storm tonight. Or was that just him? All his growing tensions were finally picking up strength and velocity. They were taking form and flight.
“Getting a bit lost in our own head, I see.”
Chris paused at the keys. That had sounded not too dissimilar from his own voice, but he was certain he hadn’t spoken.
“That’s a shame. Look at the poor, struggling author. Surely you should be working by candlelight.”
No. No, that sounded a little too sharp for his own voice. It a little too clever and honed to a point by age. Not that it was frail. There was a heft to it. A confidence that rolled and growled, that implied not just wisdom but a cynical, time tested lack of patience.
He looked over to the doorway. His fingers twitched over the keys. He was certain he had shut the door to the landing earlier, in an attempt to get rid of any distractions. Now, though, the door was open.
A figure was leaning on the frame. Barely lit by the tepid glow on the cheap bulb.
“Don’t say you don’t recognise me.” The figure sounded hurt. “Although, it would explain why you’ve not written my name in a long time.”
Chris watched them step into the light. His head begin to spin in slow, lurching turns as he saw their face. He knew them all right. He knew them all too well. He had last written about them nearly about two years ago, but he knew who they were. He knew the mind he had put behind those bright blue eyes. He knew they couldn’t be here. They didn’t belong anywhere beyond the glow of his laptop screen.
“Did you miss me?”
Chris couldn’t speak. This couldn’t be happening. He was having some sort of episode. An attack. Yet, there they stood, blocking the door. Large as life. Smartly dressed in a black suit, black shirt and black tie. Shoes and eyes gleaming. Hands tucked into their pockets.
He watched, powerless, as those blue eyes gave his room the once over. The Hopper painting over the desk. The small rack of CDs against the wall. The DVDs which had overflowed from their shelves and started to pile up on the floor. The flat pack unit full of comics and books behind him.
“I won’t lie, it’s a little more childish than I was expecting.”
Chris watched as he picked up one of the old toys that was lining the top of Ikea unit. He turned the little action figure over, blew the dust of it.
“You like to think you were created somewhere with a bit more class. Some wood panelling, maybe. Some more books without pictures. I’d have settled for a bar. Didn’t you used to write in pubs?”
The silence lingered until Chris answered his rogue character.
“That was a long time ago,” he said
The words caught in his throat as he uttered them. He was speaking to a fictional man. It made his head feel worse as he watched the man nod. He looked so real. He looked so real that Chris had to stop himself from reaching out and touching the material of his suit.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
Those blue eyes turned on him.
“Careful. You’ll hurt my feelings.” He turned and headed out onto the dark landing. “There any drink in this place or have you polished it all off? A lot of failing authors do like a drink.”
A well-manicured hand raised.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find it.”
He headed downstairs. For a moment, Chris thought about letting him go. This had to be some fever dream, didn’t it? His mind playing a deeply deceitful trick on him. Some demented glitch brought on by pushing himself too hard today.
He’d look away and look back and the door would be closed. Normality restored.
Downstairs, the lounge door opened. Lights were switched on, Chris quickly left the safety of his desk. He raced downstairs and found fictional man was in his dining room, pulling the cork out of a bottle of spiced rum, taking an experimental sniff.
Chris watched as he retrieved two glasses from a cupboard in the kitchen without having to ask where to find them. He poured two generous helpings. Chris took the one that was offered to him and watched as his character pulled up a chair at the dining table.
When Chris didn’t move straight away, they kicked out a chair for him.
“Take a seat.”
He did as he was told, nursing the drink.
“Aren’t I technically drinking both of these?”
“That’s up to you. You’re the one dabbling in meta-fiction.”
He watched as the man took a testing sip of the rum and then set the glass on the table.
“I still don’t understand what you’re doing here,” he said to break the silence.
“I came to see what you were up to.”
“I’m writing a blog.”
The man smiled. His teeth appeared a perfect white but Chris knew the truth about those teeth. He knew all the secrets this man had to offer. This ancient being always came to your door dressed as a person. He was one of many who were, in their dark heart, a single creature. A single creature with a very singular purpose.
Those teeth were, in fact, crooked and yellow and sharp. They were stained with millennia of blood and vice. Still, it was a smile you would know all too well. Every bad idea you’d ever had came wrapped in a smile like that.
“How very modern of you.”
“I do one a week.”
“Tell me, does the world stopping turning if you take a week off? I remember you starting on Twitter. Oh, the panic if you didn’t tweet at least once a morning.”
He picked up the glass, gave it a gentle swirl. The dark, sweet, sticky liquid inside danced in a tide with a single purpose, following the walls of its cage. Chris took a quick gulp from his own glass. He tasted a sweet sting of fruit, the burnt caramel aftertaste sticking to the sides of his throat.
“You just pop by to laugh at me then?”
“And drink your booze,” his character said as he raised the glass in a salute.
He gulped down the contents in one and set it down on the table, pushing it aside with his neatly clipped nails. In truth, those nails were never so short or gentile. Those hands were never as clean as they appeared to be.
Chris put his own glass down, half full. He could feel the rum the intruder had just drunk coursing through his own head. It was an unusual sensation.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he said, rubbing a hand over his face. “It’s wrong.”
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong, you’ve not written my name in a very long while. Back in the day, I was appearing in a few of your little stories. I was getting to cross over, extend my brand. Spread the old wings, so to speak. Then, before I knew what was happening, you ditched me.”
“I wrote a novel.”
“There was no room for you. It wasn’t that sort of story.”
“It was a horror story, right? Well, I can be a horror.”
A hand shot out and caught Chris’ wrist. His glass fell, spilling the dark rum over the table cloth. It leached slowly into the white material as the touch of that hand burned his skin. It twisted its grip and his bones suddenly felt very fragile.
As Chris tried to free himself from the hand he had technically created, its owner leant closer to him. Those eyes not so blue anymore. That smile twisting into something very different. The perfect skin rippling with age; showing angry, leathery scales and white, cobweb hair.
“You can know what a horror I can be.” Even the voice had changed. Those gruff overtones taking centre stage.
Then he let go and left his creator to pull his arm back. Chris staggered out of his chair, clutching at his wrist. He hovered by doorway to the lounge.
“Jesus,” Chris hissed, nursing the wound.
Breathless, shaken, he was ready to bolt for the front door and the real world if his creation came at him again. Surely this nightmare couldn’t follow him out there.
“You want another drink? Looks like you need it.”
“I want you to leave.”
“And I want some work.”
“Look, I’m working on another novel.”
“Anything for me?”
“I don’t think so. I’m not really linking all my stories together anymore. It was just a vanity thing. I don’t think anyone ever even picked up on you appearing more than once and I named you.”
“You’ve not written my name in a long time.”
“I’ve not needed it. I can try and work something out for you.”
“What, you going to put me in a tweet or a Facebook post?”
“Do you want that?”
He watched as the man stood up, rounded the table, walked right towards him.
“I want people to know my name. Is that too much to ask? And don’t think I’m clueless either. I know what you were writing before. I know it had a devil in it and I know it wasn’t me.”
Chris backed away, still holding his wrist.
“If you knew what it was, then you’d know it wasn’t meant to be anything like that.”
His creation stalked past him into the lounge and look around. He turned on the heel of his new shoes.
“You snuck that solicitors firm into your last Christmas story? Think you got that by me?”
“Do you read everything I write?”
“Just to see if there’s any work in it for me. Besides, I like to see your monsters. They’re so revealing once you’ve spent a little time in your head.”
Chris could feel his strained nerves bristling.
“So, what, you thought you’d come here and threaten me into writing something for you?”
His character jabbed a finger at him.
“I put in some fine work for you over the years. I stole some souls, spilt some blood. I had a little fun. I want to do it again. Is that too much to ask? I know you had plans for me.”
“I did, but I got distracted. You must know that happens.”
“I’ve seen all the rejects and refugees you leave up there.” He pointed at Chris’ head. “I’ve seen the half-finished freaks you set aside for a rainy day.”
Chris’ eyes widened.
“Oh, worry your pretty head. The rest of us take care of them. Besides, I’m not here for them. I’m here for me. How big a scar do I have to leave on your arm in order for you to remember my name?”
Chris backed off, still holding his wrist.
“I remember your name just fine. I just…I just don’t have a story for you.”
“Maybe you need a little inspiration.”
The lounge light flickered and, for just a second, the author saw the truth behind his character. He saw something too old for him to have created all by himself. He saw something hideous, devious. Something forever hungry. Something that had taken up residence in his head without him even realising.
It made a grab for him. This time, the pain was too much. It drove him out of his head. Out of the room. Out of every single margin that was holding him in place, keeping him sane.
Then, suddenly, it was over. The terror, the madness. That impossible face grinning at his agony. He was back at his desk, alone. The door to the landing was closed.
The back door slammed shut downstairs.
Groggy, with a small trace of drool in his scraggy beard, the author sat up and blinked. He heard his wife call hello. He looked at the screen. It wasn’t blank. There was something there. A whole post had been written. He didn’t remember doing that.
“Oh God,” a voice shouted from below him. “What’s this over the table?”
The author went to save the file when he felt pain in his wrist. He pulled back his sleeve and saw the red burn of a hand print. It was stretched, twisted out of shape. The fingers looked too long, too crooked. Too hooked to be human.
He turned his eyes to the screen, to the last two words he had written. Or someone had written. A name. A name he hadn’t written in such a long time. He read them out loud.