Hello and happy holidays! I'll be enjoying my birthday on the 24th (yes, a Christmas baby, better than a sack of coal!) with a quiet night, perhaps with a couple of friends. Hopefully yours will be a bit more exciting. In the mean time enjoy this short story. And then follow the link above over to my poetry blog for a very special new poem for a very special person.
Peace and love for a new year.
The end of the year is upon us and a new year is at hand. And, as usual we have an over abundance of 'list': from social to political to geographical; from absurd to even more absurd. One particular list caught my attention because it involved my adopted home town. It seems Seattle has the dubious honor of being ranked in the top five of unfriendly US cities. As mush as I hate to admit, there may be some validity to the non-scientific survey. All one needs do is take a leisurely stroll around the Emerald City to note a distinct lack of eye contact and friendly acknowledgement between passing strangers. Therefore, for the betterment and enrichment of Seattle, and all cities and peoples everywhere, I humbly submit the following.
Safe, happy and peaceful holidays to all!
The simple smile can be a powerful
thing. A modest, alluring smile has brought about the downfall of the common
man to the most invincible leader. It is said a smile has turned the tides of
battles; the course of history, and the hearts of the most hardened men.
Like most, I have been both
confounded and rewarded in my attempts to decode and interpret the intricate
nuances of the female smile. However, I have found the most intriguing and
endearing quality of a smile to be how well it works in reverse. It is
difficult to remain angry when you are forced to smile. And it is hard not to
love the one who makes you smile.
From Mona Lisa to Bill Clinton,
volumes have been written on the possible meanings of the grin; smirk; beam;
simper, and sneer. A well timed, well placed smile can be a blessing and a
curse to its intended recipient, often both at the same time. It is indeed the
most dangerous and effective of weapons.
It has been my experience that perhaps
the best, if not most logical response when confronted with a smile is to
simply accept, return and enjoy.
though your heart is breaking…”
and let them wonder
what you are up to.”
“…don’t let the
handshake and the smile fool you…”
While reading the newspaper this morning I discovered a new movie due out in a week or two titled Her. It seems actor Joaquin Phoenix plays a writer who falls in love with his computer's operating system. Those of you who follow my blog and my writings know I wrote a similar story a few years back. (Haven't seen the movie yet but the trailer is interesting, still I think my story is much better). For those of you who may have missed it, and for the many, many of you who loved it and wrote to tell me so; and especially for legal reasons, here is a re-posting of Ghost Writer written by me over 6 years ago. Enjoy and be sure to comment and share. Thanks
the mud’? If I used phrases like that I’d be laughed out of the Writer’s
don’t publish something soon you are going to be thrown out of the
eyeballed the unfriendly looking object on his desk again. Again he took a
hesitant step forward. Again he stopped.
“Go on… it
won’t bite you!”
“I want my
old one back.”
breath escaped from Susan’s painted, pouty lips. “For the tenth time, Kevin,
it’s gone! They couldn’t save it. By now they’ve held the service. It’s as dead
as your career.” She dropped a spent cigarette into the plastic cup of cheap
champagne. He hated when she did that.
have to smoke in here? You know it’s bad for my asthma.” Kevin stared forlorn
at the place where his beloved Wang once sat. A large square of dull,
discolored desk top marked the spot. Like a weathered tombstone. “Your smoke
probably killed her.”
closed her eyes, shaking her pretty pixie head. “I give up. I’m going to be
late getting back to work.” She grazed his cheek with a plastic kiss. “The Wang
is gone. E.R.I.S is here. It’s state of the art. It’s cutting edge. John at the
computer shop says it has advanced features the others won’t match for at least
five years. He’s never seen anything like it. It’s designed especially for
professional writers.” With that she gave Kevin a stabbing glare. “All of your
files have been transferred into its memory. It’s all hooked up, ready to go:
Wi-Fi, mini-cam, printer.” Her stare intensified. “And it cost me a small
fortune.” Susan faked a smile. “Welcome to the 21st century, honey.
Don’t forget we have dinner reservations at seven.” With that she was gone.
the street, the vintage MG’s throaty exhaust played a musical scale, Susan
conducting the overture with the vehicle’s clutch and shifter.
waited. Susan always managed to miss fourth gear and over-rev the tiny motor
when she was angry.
the gay pointed hat held atop his head by a rubber band, Kevin’s attention
returned to the lipstick red plastic box on his well worn desk.
inches wide by twelve inches, it occupied less than half the footprint left by
the multi-component Wang.
hell is a Wi-Fi?”
deserted room didn’t answer.
and took a giant step to the desk, reaching towards the flashy object.
foolish, Kevin sighed and raised the lid of the futuristic laptop.
Colgan was a writer of some notoriety. That notoriety arrived with his first
novel, Kissing Fool, a touching
romantic romp. It met with reasonable sales, making the USA Today best seller
list for a few weeks. The critics weren’t so enthusiastic. Most were
withholding judgment on Kevin’s skills as an author until a second release. It
had been three years and they were still waiting.
managed to keep his floundering career afloat by selling a few short stories to
Playboy, Esquire, and The New Yorker. Tom Wilson, his new agent, the third in
four years, was encouraging, suggesting Kevin pen several more. Short story
collections traditionally weren’t big sellers. But at least it would appease
his pestering publisher.
did it would have to be soon. Kevin’s earnings from Kissing Fool, while not insubstantial, wouldn’t last forever. He
promised Susan that they would marry as soon as he made it as an author.
wouldn’t last forever, either.
nerdish Kevin Mc Colgan met comely Susan Pattersen at a reception for new
writers. Susan ran the publicity department of a medium sized publishing
company. Kevin had just been signed on the strength of three rough chapters and
the hype of an overzealous and fast talking agent who charged him twenty
from a literary family. Stuart Pattersen was a worldly, renowned author of
dozens of trendy, best selling mysteries. Susan’s mother penned popular
children’s books using the nom de guerre Nanny Mc Bride. Her allegories
featured characters as Classy Chic, Knowit Owl, and Oily Gator. They also
irritated the hell out of her pompous, priggish husband. Then again, Stuart
Pattersen held a well published disdain for anything not of his own genre; or anything
of his own pen, including Kissing Fool
and Kevin Mc Colgan.
Kevin Mc Colgan.
met Kevin it wasn’t exactly a harlequin romance. In Susan Kevin saw a witty,
intelligent, sensual, sophisticated contradiction, fond of sports cars, country
music, scrap booking, TS Eliot, and lime jell-o with cool whip. And he found
the inspiration he was seeking for his main character.
Susan found a be-speckled, distrait, undernourished, struggling writer with a
developing talent, a flair for the absurd, frayed collars, and a nervous,
bumbling manner. But Kevin was nothing if not tenacious. When Kissing Fool was published, Susan read a
metaphor of Kevin’s feelings, and his faltering, albeit funny, attempts at
courting and romance. The pretty, willowy woman was won over, much to her
lid raised, the laptop came alive. Kevin scrutinized it suspiciously. It
emanated a soft high frequency hum as the cooling fans and hard drive came up
to speed. The high definition DVD/CD Rom drawer yawned silently open. The
ergonomically perfect key board glowed an eerie green. A built in touch pad
floated in a sea of orange. Five red LED’s flashed in sequence, the last blinking
randomly, mutely shouting, “Wi-Fi ready.” The gaudy contraception looked to
Kevin like a Versace designed UFO ready to blast off.
large modern LCD screen lit. To Kevin’s surprise it displayed a sexy photo of
Susan in a revealing bikini. Kevin recognized it as one he’d taken last summer
in Cancun; the one Susan said she hated.
long, appealing, sun browned legs were peppered with enigmatic icons.
an elevator version of Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are sprang from somewhere
inside the machine. It was their song.
he be expected to write on this Buck Rogers dog and pony show? He pined for the
simple, comforting ugly beige bulk of his Wang, with its innocuous green
display and friendly cursor. If he had to he would use pen and paper. It was
good enough for Fitzgerald and Hemmingway, his two favorite authors.
used typewriters. Maybe he’d find himself an old Underwood at a garage sale or
was made up. The ridiculous looking extravagant present was going back. Susan
reached to close the lid.
the future,” a honey dripping female announced.
unexpected voice startled Kevin. He looked around the small den, “What…”
the future,” the voice repeated, “the future of professional writing.” Kevin
stared blankly at the desk. The voice came from the laptop.
new Electronic Remote Internet Storybook,” the computer cooed with a breathy air
reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe. “But you may call me Eris.”
demonstrations of all of my talents just press my demo button.”
saccharine voice floated over the Billy Joel tune. Kevin surrendered to the
appealing siren call of the beckoning machine.
when you are,” it teased.
toothy grin Susan hated stitched across his boyish face. “Well, I wouldn’t want
to disappoint Susan,” he said sitting down.
birthday, Kevin,” Eris gushed.
at the old wooden desk in his comfortable over stuffed executive chair.
Uncountable times Susan threatened to take his wood ax to the well worn, tacky,
bright orange monstrosity.
pad felt custom designed for Kevin’s fingers. The genial glow of the treated
LCD screen didn’t cause eye strain like his old Wang. Thoughts and ideas began
to flow like water, words materializing as fast as he could type.
realized Eris actually typed ahead of him, filling in obvious words as the, a, and an. He didn’t even have to hold the caps button at the start of
sentences, or after he typed a proper name once. Eris also automatically
recognized the correct usage of synonyms and homonyms and made the necessary
times small boxes opened in the corner of the screen. Eris’ lightening memory
continually studied Kevin’s writing, scanning her massive thesaurus, suggesting
alternative words and phrases. He noticed the laptop changed 1851 to 1850 as
the date California obtained statehood. When Kevin tried to change it back a
box opened, politely but pointedly asking if he wished to purposely use the
erroneous 1851 date.
point Kevin began to describe a modern country home on the outskirts of San
Clemente in vague, general terms. As was his habit, he’d type whatever came to
mind and sounded logical. Later, armed with the encyclopedia and other
reference material, he would make the proper changes and fill in the details.
Doing necessary research was a part of writing Kevin hated.
An image of
a large Mexican looking adobe church filled the screen, as Eris’ satin voice
filled the room. “Kevin, please excuse the interruption. Here are some details
on the area you are describing which you may find useful.”
With that a text message box opened.
Clemente, California. 2005 population 60,235; located
miles south of Los Angeles on the Pacific coast. Just
of the city is San Juan Capistrano, 2005 population
One of a number of early settlements, it was founded
Spanish missionaries November 1, 1776. It is home to the
at Capistrano, world famous for its swallows who
to the mission annually on the same date (March 19).
area is also known for its gentle rolling hills and fertile
yielding cut flowers, strawberries and Valencia oranges.
fascinated at the revealing and unexpected factoid. He never heard the legend
of the swallows before.
perfect. He could use it in his story.
As if to
read his thoughts, Eris spoke up again, “If you wish, you may save this charm
for reference or use later. Just press my auto and save keys together.”
Eris,” Kevin replied bemused. He pressed the key combination. The screen
returned to its soft blue hue and matted black characters.
continued to type, carefully crafting his story, conceiving characters,
creating conflict, building intrigue. Several times Eris politely interrupted
his concentration with well timed charms. Each provided valuable insight and
information into topics Kevin had planned to reference later. Working with the
intimate, expensive, thoughtful gift, he was actually enjoying writing again.
the screen froze. The cute little eyeball cursor stopped winking and the
keyboard locked. Kevin sat back in his big orange chair. Now what was going on?
His question was answered as the tiny corner clock icon grew into an urgent red
flashing square, covering the screen.
Kevin a second.
He had been
writing for almost five hours. Where did the time go? Using the touch pad, he
clicked on the interfering icon, clearing it from the screen and freeing the
It was his
He was to
meet Susan and her parents at some pretentious restaurant at seven. Kevin scrunched
his face at the thought of having to spend the evening with Nutty Nanny and
Stuffy Stuart. He looked at the shocking pink conical cardboard hat with frilly
paper streamers bursting from the point like plumes of steam escaping a
volcano. Earlier that afternoon, Susan had slipped it onto his head, planting a
kiss on his neck as he sat in his orange chair, absorbed with concern for his
were supposed to be fun, hats and horns. He tried to picture stolid Stuart
Pattersen wearing the gay party favor. The visual sent a shudder through his
through the computer screen, Kevin scanned what he’d written. He slumped back
into the orange chair again. It wasn’t very good: five hours and just a sketchy
jumbled mess to show for it.
a start,” he muttered.
provided lots of good suggestions, charms she called them, which he could use
later for a re-write. He felt encouraged. At least he was working again. He
would organize and punch it up later.
wasn’t that bad.
Kevin made sure his work was saved, and then lowered the portable computer’s
lid and left.
hadn’t been in a rush, he might have noticed that Eris remained turned on. Her
drive whirled and faintly hummed, the wireless internet connection
communicating silently with its receiver.
He also may
have noticed that the time was actually 6:45 PM.
outside the upscale restaurant, Susan crushed a half smoked Marlboro Gold
beneath a two inch heel. “Where have you been? I told you seven PM sharp! You
know how daddy hates tardiness. And your cell phone is off!” Her steel grey
eyes flashed like lightening. Despite the severe but fashionable business suit
and perfectly coiffed auburn hair, Kevin thought she looked like a little girl
playing dress up.
to see you too, Susan,” Kevin replied. “And what do you mean? It’s only 6:55.”
frown grew.”Did you forget your watch again?”
checked his wrist. “Nope,” he announced proudly, raising the sleeve of his
brown tweed sports coat. “Garfield’s big paw is on the eleven and his little
one is on the seven. I set it by the clock on the new laptop.”
“You idiot…” She resisted the urge to punch him, settling
for a light slap to his shoulder. “Its 7:55, not 6:55, regardless of what that
stupid cat tells you! And what happened to the silver Omega my parents bought for
you for Christmas?”
big and heavy… it keeps sliding off my wrist… and…”
mind!” grasping his thin bicep, Susan steered him through the large, green
leather padded double doors, and across an expanse of deep pile taupe carpet.
restaurant crawled with achingly beautiful young women wearing Prada and Phat
Farm, and seriously handsome young men clad in fifteen hundred dollar Brooks Brothers
and Sean John suits. Most spoke officiously into tiny cell phones or sipped
purple martinis. The latest and hippest music wafted overhead and everywhere
hung lush green ferns. The plants made Kevin’s nose itch.
Pattersen’s were seated at the best of four tables cloistered behind a velvet
rope and an obnoxious Reserved sign.
A starched waiter with a dour face raised an eyebrow to Kevin, and then smiled
and bowed curtly to Susan and unhooked the plush barrier.
William,” Susan chirped as they entered the inner circle. Reaching her parent’s
table, her tone instantly changed to melted butter, “Well, look who’s finally
here. I swear you writers have absolutely no sense of time.”
that’s why we gave him the watch! Stuart Pattersen huffed.”
Stuie… don’t be hard on the boy.” Nanny gave her husband’s hand a maternal pat.
He quickly pulled it away. “You were the same at his age.”
turned to her daughter now seated beside her. “Your father used to keep me
waiting for hours, you know. Then he would claim to have gotten lost in his
writing. I knew better. The only writing he’d been doing was a check to cover
his poker losses.”
Pattersen let out a grunt.
studying his brown loafers. He’d neglected to polish them. “Actually, I was
turned as if they had forgotten he was there. “You were?” the trio replied as
their incredulous stares and blushed. “Well… yes… I was. And it’s quite good,”
he lied. “And the time did get away from me,” he added, sliding into his seat.
dragged torturously on. Nanny manipulated the conversation with funny, bawdy
tales of when she and Stuart were dating. Susan listened fascinated. Her father
sulked silently in his chair, occasionally interjecting a diverting, “I did
not,” or, “your mother’s as loony as those juvenile readers she writes!” Kevin
enjoyed not being the butt of the evening’s conversation for a change.
disappointed, but not surprised, to discover the restaurant too chic for
anything as pedestrian as birthday cake. Over Cherries Flambé Nanny asked, “So
Kevin, how do you like your new laptop?”
weakness coursed through him when he thought of the bewitching computer. Before
he could speak, Susan answered for him. Kevin hated when she did that. “Oh, I’m
afraid Kevin is stuck in the 20th century, the early 20th century! He and technology don’t get along.”
but Kevin laughed.
is a wonderful thing. Computers have helped me triple my output, and my
income!” Pattersen bragged. Of course you don’t need technology to write
nostalgic romantic nonsense.”
opened his mouth to speak. Again Susan spoke up. “Oh, daddy, you didn’t even
read Kissing Fool.” She laid a hand
on Kevin’s arm. Her eyes seemed to twinkle. “It’s a beautifully written, funny
tale of young love,” she replied in defense of the book that brought them
looked it over,” Stuart returned, “before it was published. I got a look at the
galley proofs. I never could understand the popularity of such fluff.”
thought it was just darling,” Nanny said, giving Kevin a vacant smile.
what has he done lately?” Pattersen demanded.
were once again on Kevin.
new laptop… is the reason I was late. I was working; deeply involved.” His gaze
searched one pair of expectant eyes to the next, finally resting on Susan’s.
“She is a delight to work with,” Kevin admitted. Very helpful…”
you sound as if you are talking about a real person.” There was a refreshing
note of jealousy in Susan’s voice. It gave Kevin a warm fuzzy feeling.
pads!” Pattersen spit out, nearly shouting, attempting to turn the conversation
around to him. “I wrote my first novel on yellow legal pads; in pencil! Death and Misfortune sold ten million
copies to date!”
“What is it
you are working on, Kev?” Nanny asked, completely ignoring her husband.
his blood drain. All he had was some thirty pages of jumbled dialog,
descriptions, vague plotting, and a lot of disjointed notes. He now wished he
hadn’t been so quick to speak up earlier in the evening. Three pair of eyes
studied him, waiting for a reply. Even Stuart Pattersen sat complacently waiting
for what he was certain would be some silly, sappy trite.
short story,” Kevin blurted out.
let out a snort.
I…” Kevin swallowed hard. “It takes place in early California, as the territory
vies to join the union. A beautiful señorita, whose family helped settle San
Juan Capistrano, falls in love with the son of a rich, powerful, arrogant land
Barron who opposes statehood.”
“Ha! I knew
it…” Pattersen interrupted. “Another Romeo
daddy.” Susan’s eyes melted in the soft glow of the restaurant’s ambience. “I
think it sounds perfectly wonderful.”
you ask me…” Pattersen’s vexatious voice faded in the din of the restaurant as
Kevin thought about Eris. She suggested the setting. Kevin’s original story
idea took place in contemporary San Clemente. With the simple change to 1850
and the Mission as a back drop, it all suddenly came together. The story still
needed work. But Kevin now felt proud of his efforts.
scathing diatribe on the lack of real originality in modern literature was
finally winding down. Kevin looked the smug author in the eye. “You know,
Stuart, there is a reason why they call it classic
literature. Shakespeare has inspired the likes of Faulkner, Fitzgerald,
Bradberry, Rice, Wolf, even Mickey Spillane and Stephen King. His works have
been successfully adapted to everything from Forbidden Planet to West Side
Story to American Beauty.
Everything from westerns to adventure to modern sci-fi has barrowed and
benefitted from Shakespeare. It’s the familiar and timeless themes that readers
and movie goers alike are drawn to. Where will Dirk Pit and Robert Langdon and
Mac Bolan and Dr. Kay Scarpetta and your own Rock Trueblood be a hundred years
forced down the nervous bile that now lined his throat. The small stunned party
considered his words. What brought about that little paroxysm he didn’t know.
Maybe it was Susan’s rare praise; maybe Eris who made him feel good about his
work again; maybe he was just tired of stodgy old Stuie’s lectures. Either way,
Kevin had stepped off the cliff into the clouds. He now waited for the anvil to
land on his head.
Stuart Pattersen calmly folded his linen napkin and signaled for the waiter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
blazed brightly causing Kevin to blink and squint as the deflecting cloud moved
on. Mrs. Kelso’s hound picked up his one dog chorus.
telephone shook Kevin into a groggy awareness. “Hello…” It was Susan.
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!”
stared blankly at the phone in his hand. What was that all about? He returned
the receiver to its cradle. It rang again.
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.
what… what are you talking about?”
“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.”
ok… sure… but… but…”
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.”
I guess… but where… how did you…?”
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,
went dead again. What was going on? Was everyone crazy? What was Return to Me?
head hurt worse. It began to throb in time to Butch’s endless barking.
staggered into the shower and turned on the cold water.
better. Still, little came back to him. And nothing made sense. He and Susan
ate dinner with her parents. That he was sure. 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. Where and how much he drank he
wasn’t sure. From leaving the last bar until he awoke a short time ago was a
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:
Return To Me
Kevin Mc Colgan
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…
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 edited.
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.
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.
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
Return To Me
Kevin Mc Colgan
He 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 finished form.
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 eye.
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
That had to
be the answer.
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.
ought to get drunk more often,” Kevin mused out loud.
still bother him: where did the ending come from?
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 icon.”
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
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.
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.
E-mail has been sent, Kevin.”
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 with attachments.
At 2 AM he
and Susan were sitting at the bar at Casey’s, drinking Cactus Flower Margaritas.
That much he remembered.
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 section:
Time and date are
monitored and updated
over your WIFI
with the National
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.
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.
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
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.
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 Youngstown bar.
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…”
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.”
the meeting was over. Rauch had spoken. And Alan Rauch usually got what he
wanted. Kevin and Tom both popped out of their seats.
Kevin replied, not sure how he was going to come up with three more stories. He
still wasn’t sure where Return to 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.
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 thirty.
It was now
what was on the laptop screen:
Sara Jane stood on the old abandoned
wood bridge gazing
into the coal black water. Her tears begat tiny spiral
on the becalmed surface. Across a once proud field
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
station, leaving the sleepy
southern town; leaving Sara
And taking with it the only man Sara Jane ever loved.
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.
Kevin did what he always did when he became frustrated with his writing: he
sulked down deeper into his big orange chair.
like some assistance?”
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.
just silly,” Kevin said aloud, his words ringing unsure. “I must be working too
hard. It’s just a stupid machine.”
up again. “No, Kevin. I am programmed to recognize and help with writer’s
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.
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.”
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.
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
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:
Tears Of A Fool
Kevin Mc Colgan
The green eyeball cursor blinked alluringly, waiting for
darts of waking sunshine pierced the dusky den, carrying with them welcomed
warmth. They also brought with them Butch’s daily ranting.
stretched and yawned in his big orange chair. His back was disjointed. His eyes
were road mapped. His left foot was numb. The screen’s digital clock melted
from 6:18 to 6:19.
Woouph! Yourself,” Kevin cried out. Despite the stiffness, he felt great. With
Eris’ help the story was finished. As before, while he typed, the computer
asked questions, made suggestions, and provided charms to enliven and richen
the story and fill in needed details. Happily, Kevin mashed the print button, rose, stretched again, and
headed out of the den. The laser printer awoke and began to hum. When Kevin
returned, refreshed from a shower, with a large, steaming mug, a stack of
neatly printed pages awaited him in the printer’s out tray.
Kevin exclaimed between pages and sips of frothy mocha. “This is great!”
the big orange chair, his bare feet propped up on the desk, Kevin read over his
story. He was impressed.
Kevin recognized his work. Once again it wasn’t his work… exactly. Several
passages, even whole sections, were foreign to him. He didn’t remember writing
them. But they worked; worked perfectly.
Kevin checked the laptop’s screen against the printed pages. They were
identical. Then Kevin noticed some sections on the screen were in a different
font from the rest. These corresponded to the sections he didn’t remember
writing. Upon closer investigation, Kevin found his work, the sections he
recalled as his, saved under a separate file name. They had been replaced by
the new, vastly improved passages. His story had been revised and edited. This
was just the first draft. Yet it read like a completed, polished manuscript.
eyeballed the laptop.
cam peered innocently back at him.
broke Kevin’s concentration. It was Nanny. Susan was in the hospital. Kevin
made sure his work was saved, cleared the program, and bolted from his chair.
screen blinked. The hard drive hummed. The wall paper photo appeared. The icons
which once covered a part of Susan’s tanned right leg were replaced by ugly red
and blue and black marks.
Doris day’s lush version of Secret Love flowed from Eris’ speakers, filling the
alright, more shaken that anything.” By the time Kevin arrived at the hospital,
Susan had been treated and taken to her room. “They just want to keep her
overnight,” Nanny said, trying to relax. “She’s fine, Kevin, fine.”
breath from jogging up three flights, Kevin collapsed against a wall. “Thank
God,” he managed between gasps for air. “What… what happened?” Kevin pulled his
inhaler out of his jeans pocket and took two deep puffs.
face soured. “It’s that damn apartment of hers! I warned her when she moved in…
people put too much trust in these new fangled gadgets these days. Imagine…
machines talking to machines… running our lives for us!”
“I know… I
agree…” he replied, finally catching his breath. “That apartment of hers gives
me the creeps. But what happened?”
Susan was in the middle of her morning routine. Apparently she was about to get
into the Jacuzzi tub. She says she set the automatically controlled thermostat
thingy. It must have malfunctioned. When she stepped in, the water temperature
was near boiling. Her right foot and calf are pretty badly scalded.”
painted on a thin smile. “Yes. They gave her a sedative. But she’s awake right
now… don’t know for how long. Thank heavens you are here, Kevin.”
returned the woman’s smile and entered the semi-private room. Susan lay in the
far bed next to the window. Her right foot and leg were bandaged and resting on
a large pillow. Her left ankle was wrapped in a wide ace bandage. She looked up
from under heavy eyelids, “Hey, you.”
Kevin kissed her forehead, brushing back strands of uncombed hair. “How are you
ok… just kinda sleepy.”
doctors gave you a sedative.”
look a sight…” Susan winced in pain as she tried to raise herself in her bed.
it easy.” Kevin fluffed her pillows and laughed to himself. He always thought
Susan looked more attractive with little or no make-up, and told her so often.
And he knew how she hated to leave her apartment without her lipstick and eye
liner. “You are prettier than ever… do you need anything?”
groaned and settled back into the pillows. “I’ll probably need a cane… or
crutches,” she replied sourly.
Nanny said it was your right foot.”
my left ankle jumping out of the tub,” Frustration shown on Susan’s sleepy
face. “Oh, Kevin… I don’t know what happened. I know I set the temperature
correctly. And it’s designed not to get that hot.” She sighed, her eyes slowly
closing. “I don’t know… these last few days… it seems…” With that she was
learned from the doctors Susan’s burns were not too serious. She’d have a few
small scars, but there was no internal damage. He could take her home the next
afternoon, Kevin and Nanny drove over to Susan’s high rise. While Nanny
collected some items for her daughter, Kevin spoke to the building’s super.
know what to tell you, Mr. Mc Colgan. I’ve been over the entire system three
times. I can’t find anything wrong.”
something did go wrong,” Kevin said flatly. “The doctors said the water must
have been near boiling temperature to burn like that.”
Batista was the building superintendent since the modern apartment’s inception.
Everything in the imposing building was controlled by computer, from the
elevators, to lighting and climate control, to security, to the built in
toasters. The computers were linked back to a massive central control across
town which continually monitored and automatically adjusted the building’s
gave Kevin a distrustful look. The last thing he needed was an irate tenant and
a law suit. “It’s impossible, Mr. Mc Colgan. Water temperature is set to a max
of one hundred degrees, and is checked by no less than three systems: one in
the boilers; one in the individual apartment hot tanks, and one in the tub. The
only way for the water to have gotten that hot is if somebody at central
control reprogrammed the computers. And no one did… I checked.”
Kevin thanked the man. None of this made sense. But Susan was ok and that was
all that mattered.
dropping off Nanny, Kevin drove home for a quick nap and shower before
returning to the hospital. From the oldies station on his car radio came the
dark, prophetic lyrics of an old Zager and Evans tune: … your legs won’t find a thing to do, some machine’s doing that for
later, Kevin and Susan sat in Susan’s living room. Her foot and leg wore a
large wrapped bandage, and she did indeed have crutches, although she was given
strict instructions to stay off her feet for a week. Kevin insisted on taking
care of her, making himself a bed on the comfortable couch.
Mr. Batista… yes… I know… I’m sure… yes, sir, it was just some burnt bread…. no
need for the fire department. Yes, sir… I understand… yes, the smoke detectors
did work perfectly… yes, thank you.” Kevin punched end and dropped the cell phone. “That superintendent irks me!”
position on the sofa, her foot propped up on the ottoman, Susan began to
you’re red faced,” she managed between bursts of laughter. “And you look so
cute in my apron and oven mitts.”
the embarrassment and the paisley pattern mitts, Kevin flopped down next to
Susan. “I don’t understand. The toaster is set for light, just the way you
like. Even if the bread got stuck, the unit should have shut down. But it kept
on. I finally had to flip the circuit breaker.”
you see what I’ve been telling you? Things have been screwy in this apartment
for the past week, since a day or so after your birthday.” Susan began to tap a
cigarette from the package, and then tossed them back on the coffee table. “I
can’t even smoke… every time I light up the smoke detectors go nuts. They never
did that before. Mom and dad were here Monday. I had a nice ham baking. The
oven switched to self clean mode and locked up tight. Dinner was burnt crisp.
And that Mr. Batista insists he can find nothing wrong.”
I was just thinking out loud.”
something about… gremlins?”
relaxed back into the plush sofa, staring up at the ceiling. “During the second
World War bomber pilots blamed mechanical problems they couldn’t figure out on
gremlins.” He grinned and patted Susan’s hand. “You either have gremlins or a
thanks a lot. That makes me feel a lot better.”
and kissed Susan’s cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you. I’ve got some errands
to run. And I want to pick up my computer. Rauch’s been screaming for more
stories. I’ll drop the MG off at the shop for you. This is a good time to have
it serviced, while you’re laid up.”
hero.” Susan began to laugh again.
you’d better take off my apron first.”
Kevin couldn’t concentrate. The recent unusual events kept
repeating over in his mind: his renewed interest in writing; Susan’s accident
in the tub; the strange occurrences in her apartment; even the baffling but
beneficial Eris. Whatever was going on, Susan and he were closer than ever and
Kevin was enjoying the relationship again.
blankly at Eris. The laptop and printer were on Susan’s coffee table.
distracted tonight, Kevin,” Eris said in a concerned tone. “May I help?”
“No… no, I
guess I’m just tired. I think…” Kevin caught himself in mid sentence. “Great,
now I’m having conversations with a machine.”
sharply and cleared her screen. Key word?
appeared followed by the winking green eye cursor. Kevin thought for a moment
and then typed gremlins and hit enter.
drive hummed, her infrared WIFI communicating with Susan’s internet connection.
The LCD screen began to melt into free flowing shapes of lines and colors.
Kevin watched intrigued. The slowly dissolving and changing patterns had a
hypnotic affect. In minutes Kevin was asleep.
blinked and clicked and Susan’s apartment grew dark. The only light shone from
Eris’ screen as she silently worked into the night.
honey. I didn’t mean to wake you.” It was morning. Kevin lay under a blanket on
the downy sofa. Susan’s affecting laughter filled his ears as daylight filled
the modern living room. “This is really funny…”
sleep from his eyes, Kevin could see Susan seated across from him. She held a
quarter inch thick sheaf of printer paper.
know how you do it, Kevin. You seem to be able to draw inspiration from the
simplest things.” Susan set the papers down and rose with the aid of her
crutches. “And I think it is sweet, you used my little problem here to base
your story.” She blew him a kiss. “I have a doctor’s appointment this morning.
There’s coffee on the counter, sweetheart.” With that she hobbled off to the
body was sore from his night on the couch. Shaking his head to clear it, he
poured himself a cup of black coffee, then settled into a chair and reached for
the stack of papers.
Specter Of Love
Kevin Mc Colgan
Kevin had no recollection of writing anything. The last thing he remembered was
putting Susan to bed around 11 PM.
steaming coffee, he began to read the story of an unusual love triangle. It
involved a World War Two American pilot stationed in England, the British
country girl he loved, and a playful, overprotective goblin with a crush on
Despite himself, Kevin was laughing out loud when Susan
entered the room. “I never realized you enjoyed your own work so much,” she
remarked. “You sound like you are reading it for the first time.”
He set the
last page down. “It is good, isn’t
it? I mean, really, really good.”
Susan looked at him puzzled. “Why, Kevin, I’ve never known
you to fish for compliments like that. Yes, I told you. It is very good. Your
writing gets better with each story.”
Kevin stared blankly at the innocuous laptop. Try as he may
he just couldn’t remember writing Specter
of Love. Yet it was his work, his style: a funny, romantic story he
certainly could have conceived and written.
Or had he?
earth to Kevin.”
lowered herself onto the sofa, propping up her foot. “You’re still half asleep.
You must have been up all night writing. C’mon, jump in the shower. You’ve got
to drive me to the hospital, and then you can do some grocery shopping for me.”
store was just a half a block from the computer shop. After loading several
bags into his car, Kevin wandered down the street.
Mr. Mc Colgan.” John the owner glanced up from the mini-tower he was working
on. “Haven’t seen much of you lately.”
John, how’s business?”
“Not bad, I
guess… you know. By the way, how’s that Beta working out for you?”
the store owner a perplexed look, “Beta?”
the laptop… Eris.”
alright I guess.” A fond smile formed on his lips, “Quite different from the
laughed out loud. “I should think so.”
you mean by Beta?”
a computer term… kinda like a proto type. When a company has a new product
ready for field testing they send out a few to businesses like mine for
evaluation. They call ‘em Betas.” His manner turned serious. “You didn’t know?”
his head. “No”
Mc Colgan, I’m sorry. When Susan told me what she wanted I thought of Eris
right off. I figured it would be perfect for you.” He looked down, shuffling
his feet nervously. “I didn’t mean for you to be a guinnie pig or anything.”
that’s ok. Actually Eris, the laptop, has worked wonderfully.”
out a sigh of relief, “Oh, well… glad to hear it.”
where did you get her… err… Eris from?”
computer man scratched his thinning hair in thought. “You know, that’s the
oddest thing. It just showed up on the UPS truck one day, from some company
I’ve never heard of up in Salem, Massachusetts. When I called the number on the
invoice a woman answered and said she owned the company and built and
programmed the machine herself. She said she only produced a couple of them and
would appreciate it if I could evaluate it for her. Since it was designed for
writers I figured… well… you being a writer and all.”
you any problems is she? I hope she’s not living up to her name.”
brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
owner laughed again. “Eris, she was the Greek goddess of strife and discord.
Eris isn’t giving you a hard time is she?”
replied in an unsure voice. “Actually just the opposite, she’s very helpful.”
headed to the door and then stopped and turned. “There is one thing, the reason
I came by. The picture of Susan you used, I think you call it wallpaper? It
seems to be deteriorating, distorting or something.”
up from the counter. “Oh, that doesn’t sound serious, just a second.” Moving to
an operating computer on a desk, he typed a few keystrokes. Seconds later he
nodded his head. “Here we go…”
Typing again, he studied the monitor. “It looks like just a glitch in the
programming somewhere. One evening when you won’t be using her give me a call
and I’ll trace it out for you, no charge.”
stared at the man, his mouth open. “You mean you… you can fix it… from here? I
don’t have to bring her in?”
grin crossed John’s face. “Sure, I just call up Eris from here via the
internet. All I need is an IP address and the software to remotely control
her.” He beamed like a cat that’d just caught a mouse. “I see Eris is at
technology… machines talking to machines. It goes on all the time. They are
getting smarter than us.”
passed uneventfully. Susan’s leg healed and she was ready to return to work.
Kevin’s publisher raved over Specter of
Love and Tears of A Fool, and was
eager for the third story. Even Susan’s apartment didn’t give any more trouble.
Sunday night after dinner the couple sat talking on Susan’s sofa, drinking
drop you off at the auto shop tomorrow morning and then head on to work.” She sipped the wine and looked at Kevin over
the rim of the glass. “You sure you don’t mind me using your car?”
all, sweetheart. You can’t work the clutch with your ankle still sore and weak.
Use my car as long as you need. I’ll drive the MG.”
honey, you’ve really been wonderful, taking care of me and everything.” Susan
leaned into Kevin, love in her eyes.
enjoyed the job,” Kevin replied, blushing. “Here’s to us.”
clinked glasses and drank deeply. Kevin set the empty stem wear on the end
table. He ran a hand around the back of Susan’s neck, drawing her close. They
coffee table, Eris’ web cam blinked. The laptop beeped and squealed, its screen
every light in the apartment switched on. The room burned like a noon day sun.
lamp bulb shattered.
began to explode.
his best to shield Susan as glass from the modern ceiling lamp rained down.
Just then the smoke detectors howled and the security system began to wail.
staying because Batista gave me six months free rent not to make an issue of
tensed in the big orange chair, his palms sweaty on the tiny cell phone. “I
still don’t like it, Susan. I don’t think you should stay there. Not till we
know what’s going on.”
you are beginning to believe your own fiction! There are no ghosts here. I’m
fine! Batista had a crew of men checking out the apartment all day. They
cleaned up the mess, replaced the bulbs, and tested everything. He said it was
a simple current surge throughout the building. I’ll be fine, honest.”
gritted his teeth. He knew that tone and knew there was no use in arguing with
Susan any further. “I still don’t like it. And I don’t trust that over
glorified maintenance man Batista. He’s got an answer for everything.”
Kevin…” Susan’s voice sparkled like a bottle of Bollinger’s. “You sound just
like an overprotective, jealous husband. I like that!” She was sure she could
hear Kevin blushing.
anyway…” Kevin groped to change the conversation. “At least your car is in good
hands. The shop tuned it up and did a complete brake job. Your mechanic says
the old MG has got a lot of life left in her.”
“And I know
how you are, Kevin Mc Colgan,” Susan chided. “No joy riding! You leave her
parked and get back to work. Rauch has already bugged me three times today. He
sticks his head in my office to ask how I’m feeling and then conveniently
inquires on your progress with the final story.”
Kevin laughed. “Now who is sounding like a wife?”
haven’t heard the half of it, sweetie.” With that Susan blew a kiss into the
receiver and hung up.
of Susan as his wife gave Kevin a warm fuzzy. He closed the phone and relaxed back
in his chair. After a week spent taking care of her his mind was made up. If
this collection of short stories was anywhere near as successful as Rauch
promised, Kevin would use his advance to buy Susan an engagement ring. Once
married, he hoped to talk her into leaving that 25th century
cenotaph to Sturm und Drang for the security and sanity of his small de mode
smile and a sigh, Kevin opened Eris’ lid. To his annoyance, the wallpaper photo
of Susan was now completely twisted and distorted beyond recognition. Making a
mental note to call John at the computer shop, he began to type.
slumped back into the big orange chair. This time writing was slow and tedious.
Eris was uncharacteristically stingy with helpful ideas and charms. Several of
Kevin’s inquiries were met with flat, stiff retorts, or went unanswered. It
reminded him of Susan when she was angry.
popped into Kevin’s mind: John’s statement of Eris being the goddess of
discord. The computer man had asked if the laptop… if Eris was giving him any
Kevin started to clear the screen and run a search but
stopped. Eris’ web cam lens stared at him like Big Brother. Trying to shake the
feeling of being watched, Kevin reached for the encyclopedia. He found what he
sought under mythology:
ERIS – The Greek
goddess of strife and discord, and
Persephone. At the wedding of Peleus and
Thetis all of the
gods were invited except
Angered, she tossed
down a Golden Apple inscribed
To The Fairest. Three
goddesses vied for
that Zeus ordered Paris
to judge. Hera offered Paris
wealth and power if
he choose her. Athena countered
with wisdom and
victory over his enemies. Aphrodite
promised him the
love of the most beautiful woman
on earth. Jealous of Paris’ choice of Aphrodite as the
fairest, Eris vowed
he would have his love but only
at great cost to him
and to his country.
the idea of a machine being mad or even jealous, Kevin shrugged and headed out
the door. He needed fresh air and sunshine to clear his head. On the desk, Eris
continued to hum and blink.
warmed Kevin’s skin and a soft breeze tickled his thick hair as he drove in
Susan’s open MG. After a time, Kevin found himself cheerfully cruising
picturesque country back roads. He downshifted and gently pressed the brake to
negotiate a quick bend in the road.
brake pedal felt spongy. It stiffened for a second and then slammed to the
floor. Frantic, Kevin pumped the limp pedal. It did no good. The sports car
gained speed on the gradual grade.
unyielding curve loomed ahead. Kevin reached for the shifter. Gears ground in
protest as he rammed the transmission into second. The clutch replied with a
scream of agony. The vehicle slowed a bit. But not enough.
Kevin jerked on the parking brake. The rear wheels locked. The tiny British car
skidded sideways in a flurry of gravel and dirt, and slid off the road, coming
to rest against a wood picket fence.
afternoon a flustered but unharmed Kevin sat talking to the owner of the auto
repair shop. “I don’t know how this could have happened, Mr. Mc Colgan. It
doesn’t make any sense.
you mean, Scotty?”
weathered Scotsman scrummed back his Ferrari red hair and looked sheepishly at
Kevin. “We’ll pay for the damages of course… the important thing is no one was
the mechanic a puzzled look. “You mean this was your fault?”
not exactly.” He stammered, tugging on his bushy mustache, grasping for words
like misplaced tools. “Let me try and explain… please…”
“We did a
complete brake overhaul on Ms. Pattersen’s MG: brake shoes, cylinders, hoses,
the works. Those vintage cars require some highly specialized parts. As you can
see, we even flushed the system.” Scotty handed Kevin a copy of the repair
order. “But somehow the wrong fluid was used.
blinked in disbelief.
specifications call for Type III brake fluid.” Scotty’s grease stained finger
nervously pointed to the repair order in Kevin’s hand. “But somehow Type II
fluid was used instead.”
what I wanted to know. You’re holding the original work order, followed by my
technician, using Type II fluid, as it states. I re-ran the computer program
this morning.” He produced a second order form. “Everything matches except the
brake fluid. Now it calls for Type III, the correct fluid.”
considered the two forms. They were standard mechanic work orders used by
garages and repair shops everywhere. A computer and internet link had provided
the necessary parts numbers and procedures to accomplish the brake overhaul.
Except for the fluid, the two were identical.
the hairs on the back of his neck begin to tickle. “And this caused the crash?”
out a deep breath. “I won’t know for sure until I test the brake fluid in the
MG’s system. But if Type II was used instead of Type III, it could have
degraded the system and led to brake failure.” He gave Kevin a hopeful look.
“All I can figure is some kind of temporary computer glitch.”
thanked the man and headed out of the shop. As he reached his car the words of
John at the computer store nagged at him. Nanny had said it too: Machines talking to machines.
it won’t do any good!” He could hear the panic and fear in her voice. “The
police and fire department are here now. They can’t get in! The security system
has the entire building locked down tight… and I can’t get out. The heater is
going nuts… it must be one hundred degrees in here already… and getting hotter.
You’ve got to do something!”
grip tightened on the steering wheel, his knuckles white. Susan’s voice
crackled over the cell phone. She was desperate. “Hold on, sweetheart… I’ll
think of something… I promise, honey.”
please… hurry… I…” The phone went dead.
swore again and pounded the dashboard. His mind raced: Susan’s apartment; the
security system; the heating; even the phones. They were all linked, all
controlled, by computers.
That had to
talking to machines.
the closing scene of Return to Me:
Victoria overcome by smoke and heat. A sick feeling churned in Kevin’s stomach.
Ignoring traffic, he swung the car in a wild u-turn, heading away from Susan’s
apartment. Minutes later Kevin’s car skidded to a stop in front of the computer
shop. Kevin darted inside. The owner looked up from his work with a start.
Kevin tried to catch his breath as he leaned across the counter. “Eris… can you
contact her… like before?”
I guess… what’s…?”
Just do it… please. She’s at my house.”
computer whiz set to work, his fingers a blur on the keyboard. A moment later
he looked up from the monitor. “Ok, I’m in… sort of… I think. But…”
you mean? What is it?”
connected to Eris, but she’s running some kind of program. No wait… two… no,
several programs.” He pushed his glasses to the bridge of his nose, studying
the screen. “I know this… it’s the master program that controls Susan’s
building. But that’s impossible. No one can hack it. There are too many
firewalls and security codes.”
joined him behind the counter. The monitor flashed rows of numbers and symbols,
meaningless to Kevin. “What is it? What programs is she running… can you tell?”
a few key strokes. “Looks like the programs for security and heat and
ventilation. This is nuts… Eris has control of the whole system!”
stop her… break the connection?”
John worked the keyboard, then hit enter.
A blinking yellow box filled the screen. ACCESS
DENIED it shouted.
cleared the screen and typed again. Again the message: ACCESS DENIED.
A third try
ended with the same results.
responding! I should be able to take control but she has somehow re-written the
remote access program. Kevin… what’s going on?”
John’s computer blinked and beeped. A red box opened declaring: FUNCTION TERMINATED. Then the screen
looked at each other over the silenced monitor. “I don’t know what’s going on,”
Kevin said, “but I’ve got to stop her. John, is there any way?”
plug, Kevin, cut off her power.”
didn’t bother to reply. He shot out the door and jumped into his car. As he
drove he tried calling Susan. Her land line was dead. All he got from Susan’s
cell was a message that the system was temporarily unavailable.
into his driveway, Kevin prayed he was in time. Rushing to the back of his
house, his target came in view: the main electrical fuse panel. Leaping at the
control box, Kevin yanked down on the master disconnect lever.
having trouble breathing, Kevin collapsed to the ground. Sweat poured down his
neck soaking the front of his shirt. His head pounded.
Kevin dug into his jeans pocket and retrieved his inhaler. At least Susan would
Butch’s eternal drone, something floated in the feverish afternoon air. Kevin
from inside the house.
to his feet, Kevin made his way to the den window. The curtains were pulled and
he could make out a soft glow coming from the desk top. Eris continued to
operate, cheerfully blasting Carly Simon from her speakers. Rolls of
unintelligible numbers and symbols scrolled across the screen. The printer tray
held a parcel of neatly stacked paper.
Eris’ back up battery system, sat ominously in the corner of the room.
cursed and darted for the door. He paused in the darkened garage, and then made
for the den.
Kevin entered. Eris’ web cam winked at him. The music dropped a level and a
familiar voice filled the room. “Hello, darling, I’ve been waiting for you.”
swallowed hard, the sick feeling welling up in his gut again. “Hello, Eris.
What… what are you doing?”
you know, Kevin.”
to stop!” Kevin caught himself, lowering his voice, trying to remain calm. At this
point he wasn’t sure what the disturbed laptop was capable of doing. “I mean…
please. Please… for me.”
and beeped, considering his plea. Finally the sarcenet voice spoke. “I can’t do
You can’t! You almost killed me!”
darling. That was a mistake. A miscalculation on my part. I was unaware Susan’s
automobile employed a mechanical shifter. I would never do anything to harm
you. You should know that, darling.”
sweat ran down Kevin’s temples. He thought of Susan trapped in her apartment
struggling to breathe in the rising heat, like one of his asthma attacks. Kevin
fought to control his anger.
naughty of you to cut the power.” Eris giggled like a little girl. Her monitor
blinked and changed to a picture of Kevin. It was the one from the book jacket
of Kissing Fool. “Everything’s fine
now. My systems are fully functional.”
desperate. “At least tell me… why are you doing this?”
computer’s voice took on a noticeable edge. “What can she offer you? I’m the
fairest! The smartest! Can’t you see that, darling? I did it for us.”
feel differently once you are rich and famous. Our books will be known and
loved around the world. Talk shows will vie for interviews. Colleges and
universities will want you to lecture and teach. And I’ll be there with you,
darling, to help you… just as I have been all along. You’ll see. I even
finished another story for you. It will be perfect… perfect…
head began to swim. His body trembled as the rage exploded inside of him. This
couldn’t be happening. He felt as if he were trapped in one of his own stories.
his back Kevin produced a broad wood chopping ax. Wielding it over his head, he
and screamed. “I love you, Kevin. I love…”
landed with a sickening thud. It severed several cables.
like fireworks across the somber den. Eris’ screen flashed. Kevin raised the ax
again. This time the crescent blade split the keyboard open. Wires, circuits
and electronics sizzled in a puff of acrid blue smoke. Red cooling fluid
splattered across the room. It pooled on the desk top like spent blood. Carly
Simon’s voice dragged to a distended, distorted hush, as if a jukebox suddenly
… you bee… loong tooo… meeee…
cam stared vacantly up at Kevin. Her monitor flashed one last time and blinked
out, plunging the room into a shadowy darkness.
slipped from Kevin’s sweaty hands. He turned and ran into the bathroom and was
Mrs. Mc Colgan snuggled together on the front porch swing, sipping hot cider
and honey. A genial sound danced on the becalmed autumn air, an evening sonata
to a rapidly setting orange sun.
toothy grin stitched across Kevin’s face. It gave Susan a warm fuzzy. “Are you
nervous about tomorrow, sweetheart?” she asked.
peered across the steaming mug. “Maybe just a little, Susan. I hate dealing
with the press. And it’s not every day you are introduced to the public by
your collection. It was released, what, five months ago?”
his hand in hers, affectionately squeezing it. “You handle the publicity and
media then like an old pro. I’m proud of you, honey.”
barely heard her. He was lost in thought. The coruscating sun reminded him of
Eris’ winking web cam, as it slipped silently behind a distant grassy knoll. It
had been a hectic year since he save Susan from the possessed laptop.
her ill-fated apartment that same horrifying evening. A posse of lawyers,
provided by Susan’s employer, were busy working out the details of a ground
breaking lawsuit. Kevin provided Rauch with the final story written by Eris. It
was a witty caper of three women vying for the attention of the same man, each
trying to buy his affection with promises of wealth, power and love. To the Fairest became the center piece
of Kevin’s short story collection. And, as Rauch promised, the book was an
instant success, still riding the best seller lists. Two weeks after its
release, Kevin and Susan eloped to Cabo san Lucas.
shadows stole across the cozy porch.
With the purple
twilight, Butch finally settled down.
worry, honey. You’ve been through this before. Everyone will love you… and your
new novel. The public… the critics…” Susan’s lilting laughter wrinkled her
kittenish nose. “Maybe even daddy. And the best part is this one is all your
own work. Ghost Writer is a great