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Image by Jeannette Woitzik

The page falls in a glorious arc from the table top to the floor where the stark black letters stare up at me from the crisp white expanse, daring me. Double dog daring me, in fact, to follow them. I turn back to center, forcing myself to face the typewriter once again. I grab the next clean sheet of paper and wind it into place, and release the guide. I can feel the words on that last page as if they have become corporeal and now stand watching over my shoulder breathing lightly upon my neck. The need to read them is so intense that my heart palpitations have become a countable thing, and the shaking of my hands is only steadied by griping the arms of my chair till my fingers go white and my nails bite crescents into the old oiled wood. I take a deep breath, count back from ten, and close my eyes.

You can do this Doug.

The mental encouragement helps, as much as the ritual. Disappointing as always. Still, I find a way to loosen my grip. I flex my fingers over the keys and crack my neck, careful not to let my eyes wonder from the blank page before me. I find comfort in the clean white rectangle of paper. It does not mock me in its emptiness, it beckons. Do your worst, it says, or even your best just…begin.

I’m nothing if not obedient.

I give voice to the page in a barrage of keystrokes loving the meticulous clack of each letter, and delighting in the ding which punctuates each line. There is no thought, only flying fingers. The story is reduced to the deadly dance playing out before me as darting letters wing back and forth mere milliseconds from disastrous tangles. I do not allow myself to reread lines, or to doubt the words I have chosen. The page flows through me, complete and whole, and blossoms before my transfixed, though unfocused, eyes like a lurid bruise.

I hate it. Absolutely and without regret, I loath it. The second it is finished I tare it from the roller and cast it aside. Do not look I tell myself let it just exist… there is no need to interact with it. My hand reaches automatically for the next pure page, an empty vessel, just waiting to be filled. Perhaps… I am wrong. Perhaps, I do not long to fill the void in this most pristine canvas, because the blank paper was never actually blank. That clean, crisp, virginal slice of paper was actually full to brimming with possibility. Which means instead that I long to destroy rather than create. I gorge on that hopeful promise of what could be one heavily inked character at a time. I am a thing addicted, consumed by the notion that if enough possibility is devoured something of worth must result. So I binge and purge, binge and purge. However, the result is filth, surely, no more than literary graffiti.

The insight in no way slows my progress.

I burn through the stack of possibility at my side as if it were water and I a desert wanderer, with no regard or appreciation. I hold the last page between my thumb and forefinger with so much force it starts to wrinkle. So ends my story I think with such sorrow that I almost laugh. But you never typed The End. Why would you have done that I wonder. I start collecting the scattered pages, and as my pile grows curiosity wars with anger. Why should I even bother reading this it’s guaranteed to be fire fodder? Though as I grab the final sheet off the ground a line catches my attention.

“The page fell in a glorious arc from the table top to the floor where the stark black letters stare up at Doug from the crisp white expanse, daring him. Double dog daring him, in fact, to follow them.”

Why not? Aren’t you already down the rabbit hole?

I walk back to my old wooden chair make myself comfortable, feet up chair tilted onto its back two legs, and give in to the curiosity.

“He knew of course that he shouldn’t allow the narrative to wash over him, as he was so likely to lose himself in the words, but for Doug every story was an adventure. Adventure which when stumbled onto could not be denied, for posterity sake he liked to think. This was slightly different though. This page, which had fallen so gracefully, was not from a leather bound ancient tome, or even from some dime store romance, it was just a page, filled from top to bottom and margin to margin. He was not even sure it contained a story either in its entirety or at all. Doug looked around the old study, hoping to find a folder or even a stack of papers, but there was no evidence to suggest that the page was a part of a larger whole. Intrigued he carried the page over to the desk chair, made himself comfortable, and began his journey into the unknown.”

The chair falling was as much of a surprise as realizing that my story was literally becoming my story. You never write about yourself I reason internally. You must really be out of ideas if you wrote a pseudo biographical story… but it isn’t… is it? Because, this never happened. The thought is a disturbing one. Suddenly the stack of papers in my hand feel heavy, contaminated even, and the need to throw them across the room is building. Be reasonable. Yes, logic is the only course of action available, other than the fire that is. Let’s call that plan B I tell myself. I can hear my own laughter softly in the recesses of my mind, and for the first time I pause.

I knew my methods were unusual, most people do not sit for days on end unable to stop the torrent of words till the story is truly spent only to quickly seal the typed pages in a box, but it had never really bothered me before. My shelves are filled with neatly organized cardboard boxes each complete with a date, not published books or articles, and I prefer it that way. I write as a form of catharsis, a way to force the poison from my soul, and I lock that muck away where no one will see it on purpose. I watch the pages in my hand as if they are alive and waiting for their chance to spring into action. Logic dictates that I have only to place this mess in a labeled box to be rid of it, but the piece of me I try to leach away with each written story isn’t listening. Already I’m righting the chair and straightening the pages so they are square. If you start this you might not be able to stop I warn myself, but its useless. I am drawn to these typed pages as a moth to the flame, and I fear the same sticky end.

“Doug read the page quickly as if afraid someone might appear at any instant to demand his purpose and deny him rights to the paper. By the end of the first paragraph his paranoia had intensified. His eyes, often, came off the page to dart back and forth or to glance over his shoulder. Paragraph three left him visibly sweaty, and resulted in a tick like motion where in every 30 seconds, or so, he would rub his palm down the thigh of his trousers in triplicate. At some point Doug vacated his chair to pace angrily up and down the room while making sounds of derision.

“Humph…” stomp stomp stomp turn. “Well I never…” thud thud thud pivot. “The nerve!”

As his level of agitation rose his rate of reading slowed, and he began reading snippets aloud.

“Only logical course of action…same sticky end…”

Then he stopped. Doug, mid pace and mid sentence, stopped and sank down to the previously plush carpet now heavy with dust. There he remained as he finished off the page. When the last word had been read he let the slightly damp slice of paper slip from his grasp. The second the page hit the carpet his head shot up and his hand came up before him as if to ward something off.

“No, its…its not possible,” Doug said in tones that suggested his statement was actually more of a question. “It’s…No!”

Immediately he sprang into action. The chain on the door was latched, the sunny if dingy windows were shuttered, and the fireplace damper closed. Then he began searching the study. Every corner was investigated, each curtain panel pulled back, and all furniture was moved from the perimeter to the center of the room. Still not satisfied Doug even looked behind the framed paintings and photographs, however there was nothing to be found. Doug was alone with himself in the unused study as he had always been, but the story had put him ill at ease and even now he could not shake the feeling.

All he could see of the offending scrap was its top most edge, the rest was obscured by a bunch in the rug he had caused while moving the furniture. He walked over to the page and stood staring down at it with wide eyes.

“I don’t believe you. What devil’s trick is this? Who could’ve? I don’t believe you!”

Amazingly the page took Doug’s insults and questions in stride. Snatching it up from the floor and shaking it menacingly in the air he might have initially thought to force a response, but good sense won out and Doug realized that the page was just a page, with an author.

“Who wrote this,” he asked the door, then the windows, and finally the broken typewriter which sat dead center on the large wooden desk, but no one came forward to take the credit. Defeated, Doug slumped into the moth eaten leather desk chair and ran his free hand through his hair. He shook his head, eyes closed, and wondered why he was so disappointed so surprised. The likelihood that some ne’re do well would slip from the shadows and admit to playing the loathsome prank was both slim and nil. Still, he had wanted something. A response of any kind, while shocking, was warranted given what the page had said. Instantly, he remembered the crumpled thing clutched in his balled fist.

The look in Doug’s eyes spoke of destruction and rage, and fire, as he stared at the badly wrinkled piece of paper. “This is not true,” he said to no one in particular. “Its a pack of lies and scare tactics, and I wont stand for it!” Emboldened he sat a little straighter. No he thought to himself its something all together different, its a story. Just one of his little adventures which had gone a bit off course and was now running away with him Doug reasoned with himself. The problem with this theory, however, was that the page did not read like any story Doug had ever read. The character had not been introduced or explained, the story line, if one could call it that, bounced around, a lot, though it only seemed to cover a single day’s worth of time, and the ending was so sudden it could hardly be absorbed. Additionally, while the writer had included plenty of obstacles there was little to no resolution or thematic plot to be found.

Doug cocked his head to the side as if a different vantage point would bring a serge of clarity. He was wrong. The page remained as mysterious as it had always been and he, he remained perplexed. If this was indeed not a story, it would mean that Doug was going to have to consider the possibility that the words on the page were real in more than just the tangible sense and that was an eventuality he was not prepared for.

With an unexpected amount of calm Doug smoothed the paper flat against the desk top, mahogany he thought though through the grime there was no way to be sure, and took a deep and shaky breath. Certain he was alone and would remain undisturbed, this time, he carefully, painfully, thoroughly reread the page. The result was the same. As Doug finished the last word of the last line he felt nothing less than… aghast.

There were very few ways the page could be interpreted, and none of them particularly positive. He, Doug, was either the butt of a joke being played, in what he considered very poor taste, caught in a unique moment of coincidence, which while preferable was less than plausible, or insane. Unfortunately, the later was the most likely, at least he was sure that would be the popular opinion, if he started telling people he had stumbled onto a story about himself in an unfamiliar study which hadn’t been used in at least a decade.

Leaning forward onto his elbows Doug considered each possibility. He had mentioned to Bob and Jack, back at the office, that he might rummage through the house as it was slated for demolition at the end of the week, but he could not remember if he had said where it was located. Even if he had told them it was on Laurel Lane he wasn’t sure they could have thought the prank up and put it into motion so quickly. Besides he was sure there was no way they could know he would visit the study as he had never shared his bibliophile tendencies with them. With a quick jerk of an imaginary pen Doug crossed bad joke off his list. Now Doug was not as good with sums as he was with words, but he really didn’t think the probability of a man named Doug who walked into a dilapidated house and happened to stumble onto a story about a man named Doug was even worth calculating. Which just left insane. Angrily he punctuated the air with his finger before throwing his hands up in despair. “But I’m not crazy,” he said to the paper, “so what other option is there?”

Doug sat very still with his head cradled in his right hand palm. His eyes were locked on a smudge of soot just to the left of the destitute mantel which suggested that the last person who worked the fireplace had then stood there, leaning against the wall, as lost in thought as he was currently. Somehow the empathy he shared with the unknown person was comforting nearly as comforting as… “Lists!”

No longer aware that he was doing it Doug once more allowed his internal dialogue to take voice as he riffled the desk drawers for paper. “I’ll make a list. I’ll write out each of the major tidbits from the… the… thing, and then I can prove once and for all what it is, and what it means, and… that I’m not crazy.” Doug, however, was not in luck. There were no extra sheets of paper, ink pens, or even pencil stubs to be found in the old desk which aside from the dust was immaculately clear of office debris. Unwilling to admit defeat in this his best, and only, plan of action Doug’s eyes fell on the offending page. Hesitating ever so slightly Doug flipped the paper and wound it onto the forgotten typewriter. His hands shook as he stretched them over the keys, and punched the number 1 experimentally. The clack of the 1 as it was pressed into existence was thunderous. Doug peered closely at the only mark on his otherwise blank side of the paper. It was a bit faded, but it had worked.

Since the need to reread the page in order to find the first point of his list was as repellent as it was tempting Doug opted to go from memory. He decided to start simply typing the line His name is Doug. He continued on with He is being watched, He is in trouble, and He is stuck/trapped. Doug paused for a moment before switching tactics.

The Doug in this ‘story’ is sure that he is being watched. He is depicted as a selfish man who interacts poorly with others. He is shown to be greedy, dishonest, and morally reprehensible as he continuously chooses to help himself at the cost of others. This ‘story’ is told in the first person while Doug sits alone in a room.

Doug laughed at the absurdity of it all. His summary, in true primary school fashion, said nothing of the ‘story’s’ climax as if he the only reader didn’t want the ending spoiled. Finally he typed Doug is locked in an asylum.

“No!”

Come on Doug, don’t you want to know what happens next?

I look around the office, blinking, trying to ignore my quarrelsome internal voice as well as my written words. Everything looks exactly as it should nothing has changed inexplicably. My desk still overflows with stale coffee and assorted writing accessories, my furniture though well worn is not dusty, and my boxes line the shelves like they always have. The boxes… they sit like obedient school children, silently and in neat rows, though somehow… different.

The boxes now have an ominous presence as if I can feel all the pieces of myself, that I locked away in typed pages and organized by numerical dates, watching me, judging me, waiting. The heart palpitations are back along with all my other psychosomatic symptoms of fear and paranoia, but still a part of me wants to open the boxes at random and see what stories they tell, what nightmares.

My hand starts to ache, cramped fingers and a burning palm, but I prefer it to the hell reading these pages could unleash. Again I consider shutting the pages into a neatly labeled box. What’s another pair of staring eyes? How much could it add to the itchy sensation between my shoulder blades?

What about plan B?

“Yes, fire cleanses all things,” I tell myself aloud hoping to strengthen my resolve, but still I don’t move. Because curiosity always wins… because I have to know… because I cannot stop myself.

I dare you, I double dog dare you.

I flip to the last page and turn it over. There are five lines of text.

My name is Doug.

No one can help me.

There is no way out.

They are always watching me.

I choose the story.

The sounds of a metal chair scraping along cement is accompanied by the howling of a man, a broken man, who tears at his hair in frustration, gnashes his teeth in anger, but is blind to reality. The guard sighs and shakes his head as he hollers into an intercom, “Better get the Doc… Doug read the page again.”

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