The Writer

What is it that drives a man to write? Does he touch other worlds, or do they touch him? Where will his story take him?

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1. The Writer

The paper sat in the typewriter, waiting for him to press the first key, aware of the thousands of crumpled, failed attempts that had come before. Countless flashes of inspiration that had been ended too soon, before their words could hold meaning, before their worlds could be explored. They almost outnumbered the books in the room, piled from floor to ceiling, overflowing from the bookcases, dating across decades of publication. Magazines containing rare stories from the minds of obscure authors, like himself, dotted the room, some torn, some creased, others meticulously cared for. Notes were pinned to the walls, hanging loosely, some torn in the corner or bearing a multitude of stabbings from the pins that held them before.

Billions of words had found a home in his study, a study that appeared more like a library now, the smell of books, new and old, permeating the room and dominating that of the woodwork, reaching into his nose, caressing his senses, attempting to awaken his mind. An infinite number of universes begged him to explore them, to step into their histories and tell their tales, yet all he could do was battle tired eyes, frustration making his head ache. He reached for the keys, hovered over a letter, but then put his head in his hands, hopeless, defeated. It took all his strength not to take the unblemished paper and tear it up, scattering it on the floor with those that had come before. Instead he pushed the chair back, got to his feet and left the room.

There was only silence, as there had been even when he sat there. The sound of the typewriter had not been heard for hours, perhaps the only absence now the steady cadence of his breath. The paper remained unmarked, the books undisturbed. As the lamps were shut off from elsewhere in the house, and the moonlight crept in through a gap in the curtains, a thin layer of dust glowed upon the jackets of the books. It sat thickly atop the bookcases and unevenly upon the desks, marks showing where the man had sat, where he had rested his arms or placed cups, pens and sheaves of unmarked paper.

Light settled upon the untouched typewriter, filtering through the fibres of the paper that still awaited a story; the keys shone, slight stains from lost days of feverish typing doing nothing to dull their sheen. Where had the man’s imagination gone, that had once explored, or perhaps created, so many other worlds, and brought tales of other universes to his own? So many histories told through the pressing of the typewriter’s keys, their messages reaching across an infinity of realities. Perhaps in one of those realities he was still sitting at the typewriter. In another the typewriter sat on the ground, broken, forgotten, long-abandoned. In yet another there had never been a typewriter, never been a man. Even this room may not exist.

Light returned to the room with the man, shuffling across the now worn carpet, a candle in his hand. He slumped into the chair, his nightclothes hanging loosely on a frail, exhausted form, yet in his eyes flickered a flash of conviction. Though his body craved sleep his mind had finally fixated on a tale worth telling. It took a moment; his fingers were stiff so he cracked them one by one, exercised them, brushed them over the keys without committing to any letters, and then, a smirk breaking the lines of his face, he began typing. It was slow at first, punching the letters methodically, brow creased as he conjured up the words, but in time he found his rhythm. Words spilled out of him like water from a broken dam, filling the paper, the clicking of the typewriter continuous, broken only as he moved the carriage back.

As the night wore on the paper began to pile up beside him, sheets and sheets of words in a stack fit to topple. He was oblivious to its height, to the fragility of the tower, and just kept typing, his eyes wide, perhaps mad with his need to persevere. The candle had long since burnt to nothing but if he noticed he made no sign of it as the words continued to flow forth, even as his fingers grew red from the labour they had undertaken. By the time the sunlight filtered through the curtains he had fallen asleep mid-sentence, the remains of his candle fallen to the floor, two stacks of paper around him, the skin of his fingers hard and cracked; in his dream perhaps still he typed, or perhaps he was in another world, discovering yet more mysteries to put to paper.

When the light landed on his face he opened sore, tired eyes to face the dawn, and observed the piles of writing around him; he considered continuing, reading over the last of his words and plunging back into his exploration of the world he had discovered, but his body and mind were in agreement for once and sent him from the room and to his bed.

Had he looked upon his words what satisfaction he felt may have been for naught; much of what had escaped from his mind was chaotic, without definite form or telling any story. Whatever world he had seen, or created, had not taken full form in his mind. The stacks of writing were, one might consider, little more than feverish notes summoned forth by a tired mind that had only touched upon this other world.

Another version of him may have become completely lost in this place they had discovered and produced a tome telling a comprehensive, complete history of a universe no other man had seen. One might have fallen to madness, longing to step fully into this other realm of possibility and finding himself unable. Others shied away from it entirely, visiting instead other worlds, telling other stories. There was one, or perhaps more, who after writing all night looked upon their pages and, in disgust, set it all aflame, condemning their study and, possibly, themselves for tricking them so cruelly.

When the man returned that evening, rested, fed and content, he sat down again in his seat and read through the words he had conjured in his last moments before falling to slumber. At first he was confused, and flicked through other pages seeking answers. Then he grew frustrated that so little of what he had written made sense and his head began to ache. What kind of world, he wondered, had he so feverishly created? At last came a realisation; he scattered the papers across his floor, obscuring that faded, treaded-on carpet, and grabbed a pen from his desk’s top-left drawer. With renewed fervour he scanned the writing, circling passages and words, scribbling notes in the margins. Fresh, clean sheets became home to hurried thoughts as he pieced together the universe his mind had touched, organising last night’s chaos until he grew tired again.

Exhausted but not defeated he left again to sleep, ready to tackle this delirium again on the morrow. The paper sat on the floor, much of it now home to creases and untidy handwriting, piled up in stacks that made sense only to the man. Some had been discarded and joined the other balls of crumpled ideas at the edges of the room, yet more parts of lost universes to be explored by another writer in a time still to come. In one of these universes someone may tell the story of this man, or perhaps his story is already being told, but such concerns are far from his mind as he dreams.

Away from the study, wrapped in blankets beside the supportive, if sometimes impatient, form of his loving wife the man thinks of the world he has discovered. Discovered, he wonders, or perhaps created? As the images roll through his mind he can’t quite decide if he is playing the role of observer or God; as with the chicken and the egg he asks what came first: the story or the writer? And can one exist without the other? He is quite settled as he sleeps, though, content in his role, eager to continue his work when morning comes. The words beckon to him already, and when morning eventually rouses him he kisses his wife upon her head, rises from bed, dresses and heads directly for his study.

Sat upon the floor, surrounded by words formed in a feverish half-dreaming state, he feels fulfilment. The maid brings him food and coffee, but he is oblivious to her presence; she leaves without recognition, for the man is lost in his universe. He does not stop to wonder if he is the only man in his reality to have touched it, to consider that it may not only be his universe; the notion that another writer could be nearing the end of their exploration as he begins does not enter his mind even for a second. There are too many questions to be asked about this world he is viewing from afar. Too many stories and characters to understand. His notes do not ask whether another version of him has already written about this universe; that is not important whilst there is still more to explore.

Finally he completes his notes. He has explored every line he has written, discarded what he deems unnecessary, and further explored what burned in his mind the most. Upon the smallest of his stacks there is a rough outline of his findings, fragments of the story he is ready to tell. Fragments of a story he has either viewed in this other universe, or has influenced as he created it. His legs complain as he pushes himself up from the floor; in another universe, perhaps, this moment is his last. A blood clot released by his movement stopping his heart, or a sudden head rush causing him to topple and smack his head on the desk. In these other realities his life is ended, the story untold, but in his own he moves to sit at his desk, notes in hand, ready to write.

His mind is collected, focused, and he writes, filling empty paper with calculated words. He does not type as fast as he did on that night – his fingers, despite their break, remain sore – but it allows him to formulate his phrases with increased care. The story takes shape, the typewriter’s clicking rhythmic and soothing; he is almost meditative as he writes, pausing only to look over his notes and stay on course. From time to time a new flash of inspiration floods his mind, and he quickly scribbles it down before it is washed away, but never is he distracted. The story continues on the paper, a new stack growing beside him, until at last the sun goes down and the moonlight mixes with the glow of his lamp; he rubs his eyes, quickly notes down his latest thoughts, and departs from his study.

One might consider that all his efforts are futile. If, indeed, there are infinite realities, has not his story already been written? Has it not already been explored? But perhaps he is its creator, and unless it is written here it can never be explored by another mind. Such questions run through the mind of other incarnations of the man, many universes apart from him. Some cease their writing; some end their lives; others, like the man of this reality, endeavour to continue.

Days turn into weeks, and weeks become months, but finally the man completes his work. The story he formed from fragments of a world explored one feverish night is, at last, ready. His wife, who feared him lost to this other universe, breathes a sigh of relief as the pile of papers are bound and dispatched to the publisher. She embraces him with pride, but it is also the first time she has held him without fear of him running to continue his writing; it is a calming moment for them both.

Far across the infinite folds of reality, however, another version of the man stands alone in his study, surrounded by books telling the stories of countless other universes, a piece of paper sat in his typewriter. It waits for him expectantly, ready to tell a story of its own, yet in front of it sits a book, marked with the man’s name. He does not know where it came from, for he did not write it, yet atop it, written in his handwriting, lies a note:

This is the work of a million lifetimes. Of all the outcomes, this one is yours. If you tell no other story, tell this one…

He lifts the book tentatively, unsure of it, feels the weight of it in his hands. Reading over the pages he feels as though the words are his own though he knows they can’t be. A cold chill runs down his spine, yet in his heart he feels an unexplainable warmth, a conviction. Sitting in his chair he continues to scan the pages until, finally, he puts the book aside and begins his work, typing the first letters onto the paper, ready to tell a story of his own.

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