Kevin Mc Colgan’s head hurt. It rang
and echoed like one of Capistrano’s bells. Bright sunlight engulfed the
comfortable bedroom through the open window. The clean sweet scent of freshly
mowed grass made Kevin nauseous. Outside, the neighbor’s neurotic, bucktoothed
bulldog barked incessantly at its own shadow.
Gingerly, Kevin sat up. His blue
eyes were slits and his tongue felt like it needed shaving. Even the follicles
of his hair ached. Fumbling for his glasses and slipping them on, the room came
into a foggy focus as an errant cloud filtered the harsh sunlight.
Kevin blinked his bleary eyes trying
to clear his head. After dinner Susan insisted they have a drink together to
celebrate his birthday. Several bars and numerous drinks later she poured the
tipsy writer into his bed and drove home.
At least that’s what Kevin thought.
His memory was as fuzzy as his tongue. He seemed to remember stumbling to his
den somewhere around 4:30 AM. He thought he may have done some writing. He
wasn’t sure. It had probably all been a dream.
Or a nightmare.
Did he really tell off sainted
Stuart Pattersen, the great savior of contemporary literature, in the middle of
the city’s most popular restaurant? Shakespeare? Mickey Spillane and Stephen
King? American Beauty? What the hell
was he thinking? And what was with Susan all of a sudden? He couldn’t remember
the last time she showed so much affection.
The room blazed brightly causing
Kevin to blink and squint as the deflecting cloud moved on. Mrs. Kelso’s hound
picked up his one dog chorus.
The telephone shook Kevin into a
groggy awareness. “Hello…” It was Susan.
“Good morning, sweetheart. I hope I
didn’t wake you. I waited as long as I could. I’ve only got a minute… I’m late
for a department meeting. I just wanted to tell you I loved Return to Me. It’s the best thing you’ve
ever written! And you were so modest about it at dinner. You are just full of
surprises sometimes. Gotta run… love ya!”
Kevin stared blankly at the phone in
his hand. What was that all about? He returned the receiver to its cradle. It
“Kevin old man, how are you? How
have you been? Busy I see… why didn’t you tell me?” Tom Wilson’s voice was
animated. The writer’s agent seldom showed any emotion, stoically reviewing
manuscripts to the annoyance of his clients.
“Tom? Hi… what… what are you talking
“What am I talking about?” He let
out a restrained laugh. Kevin could hear the ubiquitous unlit cigar rolling
from one corner of the agent’s mouth to the other. “What am I talking about?
Susan told me you two celebrated last night… by the way, happy birthday. Maybe
you should lay off the liquor… bad for the short term memory.”
“Yes… yes, ok… sure… but… but…”
Tom Wilson ignored Kevin’s
mumblings. “I’m on my way to a meeting with your publisher about Return to Me… great stuff… every bit as
good as Kissing Fool. No… no,
better…. might make the perfect anchor for that short story collection. And
shove a big ‘I told you so’ right in the face of more than a few critics. I
knew you had it in you, kid.”
“Thank you… I guess… but where… how
“Waiting for me on my computer first
thing this morning. I figured you must have E-mailed it to me as soon as you
finished. Ain’t technology great? Say… you sound a bit fried… get some coffee
into you, boy… a cold shower… you’ll feel better and it will all come back.
I’ll be in touch. Keep up the good work, kid.”
The phone went dead again. What was
going on? Was everyone crazy? What was Return
Kevin’s head hurt worse. It began to
throb in time to Butch’s endless barking.
He staggered into the shower and
turned on the cold water.
Kevin felt better. Still, little
came back to him. And nothing made sense. He and Susan ate dinner with her
parents. That he was sure of. He had made a speech, and probably an ass out of
himself. That gave him a shutter. Afterwards, the two of them went bar hopping.
That he was pretty sure of. Where and how much he drank he wasn’t sure of. From
leaving the last bar until he awoke a short time ago was a total blank.
Eventually, Kevin made his way down
to his den. He discovered a stack of papers in the out tray of his new laser
printer. Withdrawing the top sheet, he read:
Kevin Mc Colgan
Collecting the stack of printed
papers, Kevin leafed through them, scanning a sentence here, a paragraph there.
It was his story. Only it wasn’t… but it was…
He flopped down in his big orange
chair, studying the pages more closely. It was definitely the story he was
working on, right down to a few sketchy ideas and notes he’d made. Only this
was a finished, polished manuscript, double spaced, perfectly typed and well
Kevin turned to the last few pages.
His heroine, Victoria, the Mexican señorita, was dead, just as he planned. Only
she died in a house fire, trying to save her aged, ailing father. The fire was
purposely started by Carl Bracken, her fiancé’s domineering father. Kevin
planned for her to die from an illness. He left an electronic reminder to that
effect in Eris.
Kevin eyed the machine sitting idle
on the desktop. He lifted the lid and the computer instantly lit up. It wasn’t
shut down, only sleeping, awaiting use.
“Good afternoon, Kevin,” Eris
chirped as the picture of Susan materialized. Searching with the touch pad and
winking green eye cursor, Kevin found the confusing icons now partially covered
Susan’s face. He also discovered an icon of the old Spanish Mission at
Capistrano with the words: Return to Me.
Clicking twice opened the file. The title page appeared:
Kevin Mc Colgan
scrolled down. It was the story he held in his hand, his story; the one Susan loved;
the one his agent was at this moment probably pitching to his publisher, in its
Kevin began to read in earnest. This
was good… very good. It was his story… his ideas, his thoughts, his feelings…
but not his words. Almost, but not quite. When he got to the end, Kevin read it
over several times. It worked. It worked beautifully. It brought a tear to his
What was going on?
Kevin relaxed back in his chair
trying to think. He must have come down and did the re-write sometime during the
night. He just didn’t remember because of the hangover.
That had to be the answer.
Unable to sleep, he had wandered
down into the den around 4:30 AM, wrote the final draft of Return to Me, and then E-mailed it to Susan and Tom. The basic idea
and outline were already done. Thanks to Eris’ intuitive and detailed filing
and organizing programs everything was there. It just needed to be laid out and
stitched together. He had done it overnight. And it was good… very good.
“Maybe I ought to get drunk more
often,” Kevin mused out loud.
One thing still bother him: where
did the ending come from?
Kevin remembered struggling with the
ending most of the afternoon. Several ideas came and went. None were very
satisfying. He decided Victoria would die. But how? He settled on an illness of
some kind. The electronic post-it describing the scene was right where he left
it in the computer. Try as he may, he couldn’t find any reference to a fire.
And yet here it was. Victoria had been overcome in her own home by smoke and
heat. It was the perfect ending to a perfect story.
Just then a mail box icon appeared
and began to flash. “Excuse me, Kevin,” Eris’ voice stirred him from his
thoughts. “You have an urgent E-mail, from your publisher. Just click the
It was Alan Rauch, senior managing
editor of Kevin’s publishing house. He wanted to see Kevin in his office at 3
PM. Kevin looked at his watch. Garfield said it was 12:35.
It couldn’t be.
He knew he’d been sitting in the den
puzzling over Return to Me for at
least an hour. Before that he showered and managed to keep some dry toast and
orange juice on his stomach. And it was already after 11:30 when he awoke.
The clock icon on Eris read 1:35, as
did the digital clock on the printer. Kevin checked his wrist watch again,
making a mental note to have Garfield’s battery changed. Then he typed a short
E-mail to Rauch saying he’d be there and clicked send.
“Your E-mail has been sent, Kevin.”
Studying the E-mail menu, something
occurred to him. Kevin clicked on mail,
then selected outgoing and history. A box appeared showing three
sent E-mails: the one he just sent with a 1:41 PM time stamp; one to Tom Wilson
his agent, and one to Susan at her work. Both of these were sent at 12:45 AM
That was impossible.
At 2 AM he and Susan were sitting at
the bar at Casey’s, drinking Cactus Flower Margaritas. That much he remembered.
Kevin picked up the phone and dialed
the number for time. “1:44 PM,” the electronic voice announced, the same as his
clocks. Hanging up, he reached for Eris’ operator’s manual, finding the desired
and date are continually
and updated automatically
your WIFI internet connection
the National Observatory.
There was no way the time stamp on
the E-mails could have been wrong. And yet, Eris gave him the incorrect time
yesterday, making him late for dinner with Susan.
Kevin scratched his still aching
head, running his fingers through his sandy hair, closed out all the boxes and
programs, and lowered Eris’ lid. Picking up the newly printed manuscript, he
began to read Return to Me again.
“Sensational! There won’t be a dry
eye anywhere… even got a little misty eyed myself.” Alan Rauch let out a hoarse
laugh. Publishing magnet Alan Rauch didn’t get misty eyed over anything, except
maybe runaway best sellers, ones he published. “You may just single handedly
bring back the short story, my boy. Got any more like this?”
Kevin sat across from the older man
in an oversized wingback leather chair. He felt like a fifth grader in the
principal’s office. Tom Wilson was seated next to him. The matching chair
didn’t seem to swallow the agent the way Kevin’s did.
Everything about Rauch was big, from
his six foot three frame, to his long, bloodhound face, to his always dead on
target business decisions. Kevin liked the often gruff but genteel former steel
worker. Alan Rauch started his publishing empire with two unknown authors and a
hundred dollars borrowed from a loan shark. One of the unknown authors was
Stuart Pattersen, an out of work cab driver Rauch met while shooting pool in a
“Well, sir, I…” Kevin began
blushing. He wasn’t used to receiving praise from his publisher. “If you
recall, I have six finished stories. I believe Tom showed them to you… I…”
“Yes, yes,” Rauch interrupted
impatiently. “Of course, not bad… make good filler. But I need two… no, three,”
Rauch slapped the desktop, “three more like Return
to Me. Same theme, and lovey dovey mushy… and tragic… love tragic!” He
laughed again. “Women love tragic… sales of Kissing
Fool was 72% female. Women love you, boy. They understand, identify with
you… err… your characters. And you understand them… know what they want… what
they like.” Rauch rose from behind his desk. The big man reminded Kevin of a
circus clown emerging from a tiny car. “Give me three more like Return to Me, son, and I’ll give you a
number one best seller.”
With that the meeting was over.
Rauch had spoken. And Alan Rauch usually got what he wanted. Kevin and Tom both
popped out of their seats.
“Yes, sir,” Kevin replied, not sure
how he was going to come up with three more stories. He still wasn’t sure where
Return to Me came from.
“Excuse me, Kevin. You haven’t typed
anything for almost thirty minutes. My system is about to go into rest mode.”
Eris’ soft voice tugged at Kevin like a gentle hand.
A week after the meeting with his
publisher, Kevin sat in the big orange chair, adrift in a turbulent sea of plot
and characters. He had eaten dinner with Susan, returning home around eight
It was now one AM.
Kevin read what was on the laptop
Sara Jane stood
on the old abandoned wood bridge gazing
the coal black water. Her tears begat tiny spiral
the becalmed surface. Across a once proud field
of snow ball
cotton, now choked by weeds and thatch and
drifted the shrill whistle of a train. It shattered the
stifling summer air. It was the
noon express leaving
leaving the sleepy southern town; leaving Sara
taking with it the only man Sara Jane ever loved.
Kevin’s stomach felt queasy. It
wasn’t Susan’s tuna-noodle casserole. He wished he’d printed the noisome
paragraph so he could tear it to pieces; shred and rent it mercilessly. That
was the problem with modern technology: with machines doing most of our work –
and most of our thinking – for us, there was nothing left on which to vent
frustration. Man was still his basic, primal self. His needs were still basic
and primal. Humans hadn’t matured mentally, or even emotionally, at the same
rate as technology. Man still needed to shred paper; punch a wall; kick a
fender. He needed to spend his anger on the offending inanimate object; offer
an appeasing sacrifice to the goddess Nemesis. You could take a Louisville
Slugger to a smug Mac, and then have to cough up two grand to replace the
machine. Technology was far too fragile and too costly. It should come with a
built in punching bag.
Instead, Kevin did what he always
did when he became frustrated with his writing: he sulked down deeper into his
big orange chair.
“Would you like some assistance?”
Kevin’s brow wrinkled.
That’s odd, he thought. How does Eris know I’m having trouble?
He studied the web cam built into the computer’s lid. It seemed to wink at him,
causing Kevin to jump in his chair.
“That’s just silly,” Kevin said aloud,
his words ringing unsure. “I must be working too hard. It’s just a stupid
Eris spoke up again. “No, Kevin. I
am programmed to recognize and help with writer’s block.”
With that, a box opened on the
screen. The word genre? flashed,
followed by the hypnotic, blinking green eye cursor. Kevin stared at the screen
for a minute, and then timorously typed love
story, romance and hit the enter
key. The box vanished, replaced by another asking time? Fidgeting in his seat, Kevin typed nineteenth century. Once again a new box appeared this one
inquiring location? Kevin sighed and
typed the US south.
Eris and Kevin played a game of
twenty questions, the computer probing his thoughts on plot, setting,
characters and other details. Finally the screen cleared and Eris spoke in her
wispy voice, “Thank you, Kevin. Please wait a moment.”
The laser printer lit up and began
to operate. Kevin retrieved two pages. They outlined the story of a woman who
travels from Philadelphia to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1865 in search of her
brother, a union officer. She meets and falls in love with a handsome southern
gentleman who served as a captain in the Confederacy. The man soon realizes he
is the one who killed the woman’s brother during the fierce battle for the city.
Kevin’s imagination kicked into high
gear. He could easily picture a war scarred town and crumbling plantation. He
saw the two ill-fated lovers; felt the heart breaking conflict of the woman’s
love; the confusion and guilt of the tormented captain.
He sat up in his chair, eager to
start typing. The LCD screen was cleared of his original opening paragraph. In
its place Eris had typed:
Of A Fool
Kevin Mc Colgan
green eyeball cursor blinked alluringly, waiting for input.