"I'm sure you've been asked this question many times before, Simon, but I'm afraid I shall have to ask you again - where do you get your ideas?"
"You're right, Michael, I have been asked that many times before."
Simon sat back and smiled innocently at the interviewer, with a glint of mischief in his eyes. Michael shifted in his seat and sighed, shaking his head in mock frustration and rolling his eyes toward the ceiling.
"Oh, you mean you want me to answer it!" Simon said, feigning surprise. Laughter came from the studio audience. Michael relaxed. It had all been prearranged of course, like any good comedy routine, but it had an air of spontaneity about it that made it seem natural to the cameras.
"This may be hard to believe," Simon continued, "But most of my ideas I get from real life."
"I do find that hard to believe. Simon, you've built your career on the fantastic, the horrific. Your stories talk about other dimensions, other times, other planets. Aliens, vampires, assorted ghoulies - hardly things that crop up everyday."
"Well, I suppose you could call it a reaction to the everyday nature of life. Life is so ordinary sometimes, don't you think? So I sit back and try to think of things that make it a bit more interesting."
Simon grinned again, "No, but it makes an interesting answer, doesn't it?"
"Interesting isn't the word. You've written seven books in the last three years, every single one of them a best-seller. Some say you've single-handedly created the Singaporean modern fantasy. Certainly you've opened the market up for more budding fantasy and sci-fi writers. And now you've got a new book, due to be released soon."
"Yes, at the end of the week, actually. It's called As One United People, and it's about an alternate Singapore that didn't fall to the Japanese in 1942 and is still under British rule in the 1970s. I use a lot of real-life people in it as characters, especially politicians, so it's been giving my publisher's lawyers Hell..."
Simon laughed, "I'm just glad my firm doesn't have to handle it. But anyway, it's been cleared and we should see it by the 30th."
"We're looking forward to it. Tell us something, with seven books - eight now, sorry - in less than four years, can you keep this pace up? Have you ever been stuck for ideas?"
Simon laughed nervously, like a child caught stealing sweets.
"All the time," he said, "If I wasn't, I'd be producing seven books every month. Lately it's been getting easier, but sometimes, I get too many ideas."
"What do you mean?"
"There's a stack of papers in my room this tall," he indicated an exaggerated height with his hands, "It's full of all the false starts, the ideas that didn't quite emerge as stories, fragments of dialogue that hit me in the middle of the night that have no connection with anything. My nightmare is, after I'm dead and gone, some amateur is going to stumble upon these papers and produce whole books out of them. I'll have to leave instructions to have them destroyed after I die."
"Which we hope won't be for a long time yet. Thank you for joining us tonight. Simon Wee, ladies and gentlemen!"
Applause. Simon rose to his feet, shook Michael's hand. Waving, he moved off the sound-stage as the show's theme music signaled a commercial break. The producer of the show stood ready to receive him at the wings.
"If you'd like to stay, we've got cocktails later for all the guests," she said.
"That sounds tempting, but I've got dinner waiting for me back home, and my wife is going to kill me if I don't show up. By the way, did your office receive those preview copies?"
"Oh yes. Thank you for autographing them - it was very generous of you."
"My pleasure. It'll save you the trouble of waiting in line," he chuckled, "And thank you for inviting me on the show. A little publicity never hurt."
"I'm only glad you had the time."
Simon glanced at his watch.
"Well, I'd better be going. I hope we can do this again soon. Please give my apologies to Michael and the other guests. Goodbye."
He made his way past the backstage crew and out the studio doors into the cool air of the carpark. Unlocking the car door, he paused, gazing momentarily at the overcast sky.
...full of all the false starts, the ideas that didn't quite emerge as stories, fragments of dialogue that hit me in the middle of the night...
Even as he drove his Alfa home along the PIE, his mind began to work, only half-concentrating on the road and on his driving. Yet another idea, another concept forming in the back of his head, but at this point still nebulous, like a half-forgotten shadow. It had been getting easier, lately. Getting the ideas, at least. But the execution...
...nightmare is, after I'm dead and gone, some amateur is going to stumble upon these papers and produce whole books...
As he pulled into the driveway of his terrace house, the idea of a novice writer grappling with the fragments of a long-dead author began to take firmer shape. He walked up the path to the front door, searching for his keys.
...sometimes, I get too many ideas...
He sighed. It didn't look like he was going to get much sleep tonight.
Simon felt her hands alight on his shoulders from behind, then slip downward, her arms cradling his neck. Still seated, he stopped long enough to raise her hand to his lips and kiss the fair skin of his wife's palm. Virginia Wee rested her chin on the top of his head.
"Coming to bed yet?" she whispered, "You've got an early conference tomorrow with the firm, remember? And Puay Heng called. He wants you to go over the promotion schedule for the new book and tell him if any changes need to be made."
"I'll be in soon," he said, turning his attention back to the computer screen, examining the passages he had typed in, "You go on ahead."
"I don't suppose it'll do any good to say you've been working too hard?"
"None at all," he smiled wryly.
"Just thought I'd check," she shrugged, turning to leave the study, "I'll keep the sheets warm."
"Promises, promises. Goodnight, sweetheart."
His hands hovered over the keyboard, hesitant, as he read the words one more time. It wasn't quite right. Nothing seemed quite right nowadays. His books still sold, and the new one looked all set to hit number three at least, but he found it lacked the intensity, the power of his earlier works. Maybe he was judging himself too harshly, but it used to be much easier.
He still had ideas, but the ideas were disconnected, disjointed, just scenes that didn't seem to go anywhere, pieces of larger wholes that eluded him. He felt like a man who was constantly receiving pieces of wildly different jigsaw puzzles, or someone who could only see the edges of a huge diamond.
Even As One United People had been cobbled together from stuff that had been lingering in his drawers. It wasn't really new work - he had worked out the basic concepts and storyline years ago. Producing new work, original work. He hadn't done that in over a year.
It wasn't that he had nothing left to say. He could feel the words in him, somehow, but they refused to come out. Or if they came out, they came out watered down, diluted from the purity of what he had envisioned. That was the frustrating part. If he had been wholly blocked, if his mind had been an absolute blank, perhaps it would have been better. Relative poverty is always much worse than absolute poverty because what you could have is just out of reach.
He continued to stare at the words for some time, then with a disgusted snort, he switched the computer off. It had been the only light in the room, and Simon found himself suddenly plunged into darkness, except for the moonlight streaming in through the garden doors.
As his eyes adjusted to the dark, his gaze fell on the filing cabinet where he kept the papers he had told Michael and his audience about earlier that evening. Maybe he needed some new stimulus. Maybe somewhere in there he could find something to use. He walked to the cabinet to retrieve the papers, switching on the desk light as he did so. He lifted a page at random from the pile and began to read the typewritten pages from long ago:
It is cold. It has been cold so long that Jonathan and the rest of the children know nothing else. But I remember when the days were bright and the sun could be seen, when the warmth of the morning sun was welcome, and shone across the grass. But now it is cold. And the sun is no longer that friendly.
The other side of the bed still seems so empty. I suppose I should have gotten used to it, now, but the pain never completely fades. And the way her eyes glazed over as she gripped my gloved hand in her green-blotched one, as the bald head fell backward and she slipped away from me forever, into the dark - that I shall always remember.
That while we loved each other as we lived, I could not even touch her as she died.
Yes, he remembered this one. Standard post-holocaust story, about a community that abandons its mutated children to die in the wild but they come back later as the only hope for that community's survival. He never could do the linking sequences properly.
He pulled another sheet. It was a longer passage this time.
Donald gazed at the thing before him, that was losing its substance by the very second. It was as if someone had drawn a sponge across a painting - the features were blurred, distorted into a flowing mask of the grotesque. The melting form did not move forward with steps. It slid, what was its head lifted high, revealing a single aperture which mocked a mouth, that cried for help from the one it had hated most.
He leaped backward, running for the storeroom door, flinging it open with insane strength and locking himself in. His mind was filled with only one vision, that he had been exposed to the lump as well, that radiation suits had not worked, that whatever that energy field was it was not radiation, but something old, older than perhaps the stars themselves.
The pounding on the door began. Donald shrieked. He closed his eyes, blocked his ears. He moved toward the far end of the storeroom.
Oh god oh Jesus oh please make the noise make it make it stop stop stop stop...
"For GOD'S SAKE, DONALD!!"
The hammering on the door grew steadily weaker, the blows less intense, less solid. Donald was backed up against the furthest wall from the door, brooms and sundry equipment clattering to the floor as he scrambled at the brick surface, eyes wide with terror. The sounds continued, tapering off, till they were no longer a series of single knocks - instead, a sliding, liquid sound - the cries becoming a soft gurgling in the throat, no longer intelligible. And the cold... that damned, accursed cold... encroaching from without, emanating, eating from within - all the icy cruelty of the human heart given tangible form, made manifest. Merciless, and also unstoppable.
In the heat of the sun rising on the Antarctic wilds...
It began to slide beneath the door.
He had called this one A Hazy Shade Of Winter. The penciled title was scrawled at the top of the sheet. The descriptions were a little over the top, but it was supposed to be a homage to the gothic horror style of H.P. Lovecraft. Still, he had left it there.
Simon sifted through more of the unfinished tales, the half-constructed scenes. Characters he had envisioned and left aside, over the years. He felt a pang of nostalgia, remembering the charge he had felt when he had first begun writing, the feeling of creative power. Each story then had felt like an individual child, each character lovingly crafted, nurtured.
This wasn't helping. He put the left the papers on his desk. He would clear it up in the morning. Simon reached over to turn off the desk light. He paused to consider for a moment the story he had been writing on the computer. The character of the author was dying, having been stabbed in the stomach by a petty criminal. A couple of paragraphs describing the pain had been put down - pretty intense stuff, he reflected, perhaps not entirely realistic, but dramatic anyway. What next? The usual merciful blackout?
He shook his head and depressed the switch. Later.
As he left the room, the pile of papers shifted slightly. If Simon had seen it, he would have dismissed it as just the wind.
He had been taking a nap at his desk in the afternoon when the phone rang. Simon tried to work at home as much as he could. It was his publisher, asking about the lecture schedule.
"We'll be doing the usual circuit of school talks, starting with NJC on the 12th, RJC on the 19th, ACJC on the 26th, and so on from there. It's all in the sheet I faxed you yesterday. The usual time, between three and four in the afternoon, and maybe a half hour autographing afterwards - if that's okay with you, I can call up the colleges tomorrow to confirm."
Simon murmured a note of agreement over the phone, looking down the list of dates and circling his desk calendar. He could smell Ginny's cooking from the study, and his stomach rumbled expectantly in response. Puay Heng continued to speak.
"I've also arranged for radio coverage. Florence tells me she's read the preview copy and thinks it's fabulous. She's looking forward to the interview."
"Great," he said, doubtfully.
"What's wrong?' Puay Heng asked, "If you don't want Florence I can get someone else."
"No," Simon said, hurriedly, "No, it's not that. It's just that everybody's telling me As One United People is great. It's fabulous. Both you and I know it's just old stuff."
"Old stuff whose time has come. You're not having those self-confidence problems again, are you? I've been telling you this since we were in college - your writing is good. You are good. People don't put you on the bestseller list out of politeness. They do it because they buy your stuff."
"You know my problems lately," he said, defensively.
"So you're blocked. It happens to everybody. What you need is a change of scene, forget about writing for a while. The sales from your last three books alone will keep you and me going for some time. You can afford to let yourself take a break, if you can tear yourself away from your lawyerly duties."
"Ever wonder why so many writers are lawyers?"
"Because they can't shut themselves up. Save it. Take a break, Simon. You need it. Give me a call sometime. It's been ages since Jamila and I had you two over for dinner."
He pushed the pile of contracts aside, and looked at the dates he had circled. One a week. He had few new cases for this next month or so, just the usual commercial disputes. If he doubled up, did two a week, say, he could get over all of it by the middle of next month. And then, he could take a holiday. He'd call up Puay Heng later, after he dealt with these contracts. Get the school talks over with.
That's right, he thought, Get the school talks over with. It used to be you liked them, Simon. It used to be that those kids were your biggest audience, because their minds were open enough to take in what you were offering. They still are, and you're treating them like a dentist's appointment.
It was because he was older now, he submitted to himself, and less of an exhibitionist, but that sounded unconvincing. It had never been exhibitionism. His writing had always been personal, and he had always wanted to share a personal relationship with his readers. Those talks had been one way to cement that link, to get to know them better and in turn allow them to gain new insight into himself, and his work. He used to care what they thought.
The thrill was gone. That was it. Not that he had run out things to say, but just that he had lost the adrenaline rush that went into saying it. Perhaps it was time to take a break, but for good. Stop writing, concentrate more on his practice, on Ginny. Maybe even real children, instead of siring substitutes made of recycled paper and printer's ink.
He was about to rise for dinner when he noticed the pile of his old stuff still next to the computer, which was now on. He didn't remember turning it on, and took a closer look. It was the story he had been writing last night, displayed on the screen, right where he had left it, with the dying character. But there were new words there, beyond that last line.
Simon knew he had to continue writing.
He had not written those words, that much he was sure of. Or at least, if he did, he did not remember it. It was totally incongruous, and the wrong name in any case. He was about to reach for the erase button, when he felt a tugging at his wrists, forcing his hands towards the keyboard.
There was no one else in the room. There was nothing visible doing it, but his hands were moving anyway. He tried to pull back, and a brief, quiet struggle ensued. But eventually his hands fell onto the keys, and began to move of their own accord. Someone else pulling the strings. Another line, a repeat of the first, with a difference on emphasis.
Simon knew he had to continue writing.
I tried, he thought, Sweet Jesus I tried... but I know, even at the end, that you can't quit the game.
Even at the end.
Even if you don't know the rules, even if you don't make the moves, even if all else fails. You can't quit. Just have to plod on relentlessly, hopelessly, helplessly, with the horror in your path, with the darkness at your back. Onward, onward.
His eyes widened in fear. He tried pulling back again, but the fingers did not seem like a part of him anymore. They went on, insistent.
YOU HAVE TO CONTINUE.
He gave a yell and yanked his arms backward at the same time. His seat tipped over, and he fell to the carpeted floor with a flat thud. Half in panic, he clawed wildly at the plug, his fingers finally closing on it, pulling it out of the multi-socket. Then, slowly, he rose to his knees, peeking over the edge of the desk at the now blank screen. He was breathing hard, and sweating. He stared at his hands, as if demanding some sort of explanation from them.
Now what the Hell was that?
"Simon, you've been under a lot of strain lately. You've been tired, working on tying up your caseload, then editing the book. You even fell asleep at the desk this afternoon..."
He put down the rice bowl and laid the chopsticks beside it.
"What are you saying? That I imagined the whole thing? That I'm going crazy, is that it?"
"You're not going crazy," said Ginny, glaring at him, "I'm saying that there's a perfectly rational explana..."
"Perfectly rational?" Simon nearly exploded, "That sounds like something out of my stories! It's what they all say just before some demented fiend pops out of the bushes, or before all Hell breaks loose around them."
"I am not a character out of your stories! I'm your wife!"
A silence fell across the table.
"I'm sorry," Simon said.
"This isn't one of your stories either," she continued, gently, "Simon, can you listen to yourself for a moment, listen to what you're saying?"
Simon thought for a moment. It did sound ludicrous. And he had been tired. He wanted to believe that there was an logical explanation for what happened. He didn't believe in these things, damn it, he wrote about them. And maybe that was the problem.
"You're right," he said quietly, starting again on his rice, "Maybe I have been writing too much of this kind of stuff, thinking too much about weird things. Can Cindy take over at the office for you for the next few weeks?"
"I suppose so," Ginny said, puzzled, "Why?"
"I'm calling Warren tonight. He can finish up those cases for me. I'll call the travel agency tomorrow and book for that holiday we've been discussing. How does the Mediterranean sound?"
"It sounds wonderful," she beamed, "When?"
"Whenever you want. This weekend, probably. It's been years since I've been to the Greek islands. I might even look up a few old friends in Cyprus."
"And no work."
"No work," he confirmed, "And especially no writing. After what happened just now, I'll be damned if I touch that keyboard. I'm not suffering any more hallucinations from overwork. You want me to wash the dishes tonight?"
Ginny was gathering up the plates. He reached for them but she slapped his hand away.
"Stay out of my kitchen, you. The last time you washed up, I had to mop the floor after you were finished. Never again."
"I'm really stopping it this time, Ginny. No more juggling between the firm and writing books. It'll be just the daily work, and you. This house could do with a little filling up, don't you think?"
She stopped, then a smile spread across her face as she realised what he meant.
"We'll discuss that in Athens," she said meaningfully, and left the dining room.
He went back to the study, to sort out some documents. Warren would need the contracts that were made prior to the dispute, the shipping manifestoes, copies of the accounts relating to the cargo, as well as transcripts of what had already been heard before the courts.
He turned on the desk light, and opened the drawer, taking out the necessary folders. A loud bang from behind made him jump. He turned and saw the study door had slammed itself shut.
The wind, he thought automatically, glancing at the garden doors. But they were closed, as were the windows. He shrugged, and continued his work.
The light went out.
"Shit!" he swore, trying the switch. He pressed it a few times, and it didn't work. He bend down beneath the desk, fumbling with the plugs. He grabbed for what felt like a loose connection and slammed it home.
Outside, through the windows, he heard cracks of lightning. He did not see the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet begin to slide open, the papers in it beginning to tremble, to shake. He stood up, and reached for the switch again, and froze.
He had put in the wrong plug. The computer was on, glowing eerily in the half-light.
The middle drawer of the cabinet flew open, the metal banging as it reached its limit. Startled, Simon took a step backward. The top drawer shot outward, breaking free of its catches, flew straight for his head. Simon ducked, the drawer impacting against the far wall, near the door, scattering more paper on the floor. The lightning continued to crackle, increasing in frequency, until the light was an ongoing flicker, like a strobe light.
The chair slid out from under the desk, beckoning.
"No," he said, under his breath, "This can't be happening."
A bright flash illuminated the room, forcing him to shield his eyes. A strong wind blew out of nowhere, whipping the papers around in a swirling confetti maelstrom. More and more paper from the other drawers joined those already on the floor, the pieces coming together in clumps that gathered at the centre of the storm, growing in size.
Lightning stabbed through the glass, entering the room, sending sparks across the furniture. Simon felt his skin begin to tingle. Bolts converged on the piles of paper, crackling around it as it spun wildly around in a lunatic's fandango, a sphere growing even bigger as he watched.
He was backed up at the wall, away from it now. The lightning filled the room, and he could barely make out what was going on except as a silhouette against the pulsating bursts of light. The sphere was moving, throbbing somehow... things were beginning to emerge from it.
It all stopped, suddenly. The wind. The lightning. All that was left was this steaming mountain of paper in the centre of the room. Simon took a cautious step towards it. It began to move, to rise, its arms stretching upward, standing first on one foot, then the other. Its face was a mass of paper fragments - in fact, so was every inch of it. The mouth gaped open. It roared with life.
Very old legend, his mind reeled off automatically the facts as he remembered them, Something about the Jews being persecuted in Central Europe during medieval times. Rabbi builds an artificial man made of clay and brings it to life to avenge the wrongs inflicted on the Jews. Typical Frankenstein ending, the golem goes out of control and has to be destroyed by rubbing out the magic word on its forehead that animated it to begin with.
Even if his rationality refused to accept what he was seeing, the part of his mind that dwelled on such matters had made the connection, however tenuous. This creature was made of paper, not clay. There was no magic word he could see, none he could rub out. But Simon had already dubbed it the golem. There seemed no other word.
"What are you?" he said. His voice seemed to come from far away, and didn't really sound like him. He felt disconnected, separated from the events, as if this were happening to someone else, or in a dream.
"Abandoned..." the golem said.
"I don't understand. Abandoned?"
It extended its arms, palms open, its two fingers spread, pleading.
"Children..." came the voice from the abyss.
"Children?" Simon's eyes suddenly came into focus, seeing what the golem was made of. The paper fragments. The unfinished stories. His children. His abandonment of them.
He looked into the dark pits that were its eyes and he knew. No other explanation needed to be made, nothing need to be said. If it was in one of his stories the realisation would be too sudden, too convenient, but this time he knew it. He knew it the way one knew instinctively that one was on Earth, or at home. He knew it the way a father knows that the baby that lies in its cradle is his.
There were so many questions he wanted answered. How did this happen? How was it animated? Were the stories alive? Did the characters in them exist and had he somehow tapped into them? Did his ideas come from somewhere... where?
"How?" was all he could say. Then he felt the tugging at his wrists as he was pulled across the room to the computer. The fingers moved, the words appeared. As they did so, the room shifted, changed into a brightly lit office. Shelves filled with books, a blackboard spanning one wall. A balding man in long-sleeved shirt and tie looked at him from behind the desk. The man's own desk. In the centre of the transformed room, Simon's desk was still there, and he was still seated at it, typing. Simon glanced at the rapidly appearing words. He saw that he was typing the exact description of the room, and the man. As the first lines of dialogue were written, the man spoke the same words. He found himself replying as well.
"You should know about the Schroedinger's Cat paradox," Dr. Aw said, "Where an experiment is set up with a cat in a box. Inside is an apparatus which will emit a lethal gas if a particle is emitted by a piece of radioactive material also in the box. There is a fifty-fifty chance of this happening. So we have two possible outcomes, two possible universes, if you will. One where the cat is dead, and one where the cat is alive. Before we open the box, we are uncertain whether the cat is dead or alive - according to quantum mechanics, we exist in a universe where the cat is neither dead nor alive, but a cloud of probabilities. Only when we open the box do we collapse that cloud into one or other of the possible realities, say that of a dead cat."
"I see. And what happens to that other universe?" asked Simon.
"Some say it vanishes. Some say it also exists, with another version of the observer who sees the cat alive. But do you understand what it implies?"
"Events are not real unless they are observed?"
"The universe - the multiverse - is a cooperative venture, Mr. Wee. We create multiple universes every time we make a choice. We may even create universes whenever we imagine concepts. Consider places that may cease to exist, or stop functioning when we stop thinking about them. As a writer, how many universes have you created? And how many have you abandoned? How many boxes have you left unopened?"
"A heavy responsibility."
The room shifted again. The golem stood in front of him once more. Simon tried to move but he could not. Nothing else in his body seemed to be functioning except his fingers. A sheen of sweat appeared on his brow, flowing into his eyes, stinging them, but he could not even blink.
His vision blurred. No, not his vision. It was the room. It was transforming again.
Just the desk, him, and the golem. Underneath a black sky on a barren plain. He recognised it. It was one of the unfinished tales. This was an asteroid on the rim of the Frontier...
And the figure before him was no longer the golem, but a human being in a grey jumpsuit uniform in patches, his body covered with severe burns. As he began to speak, the words appeared simultaneously. The voice was bitter, accusatory.
The base is gone now - a fused mess of melted metal and twisted glass. And they're there. Thomas. Spencer. Wong. Chandra. Blackened bodies among broken ruins, burned beyond recognition and preserved forever in the vacuum. God, it's cold.
And dark. If only there were stars in the sky, I would feel less lonely. If there was light, I could see. If they were still alive, we could fight. If. If. But there are no stars. There is no light. There is no life.
Trapped here, caught in a temporal plug-hole. Forever.
He heard a roaring above him, and looked up into a purple sky. He was no longer on the asteroid, but in the middle of an empty city, the buildings, dark monoliths, looking down on him.
I pulled back on the reins and her leathery pinions moved back with the grace of a thousand years. She exhaled, the yellow smoke darting between ivory teeth and the clouds lit with dragon fire for a brief, marvelous moment. The sky was a muted purple as the moon began its upward rise, and we descended among the clouds, toward the lighted streets and silent corridors of the City that lay below.
The dragon hung there, suspended in freeze frame. Then the world around Simon faded once more. More worlds appeared and vanished, came and went in rapid succession, until he was not sure whether he had ever conceived them or not in the first place. People motionless, mannequins forever, waiting for the next move they cannot make because it was never written.
"You never wrote anything further. So they're stuck there, caught between chronons."
"They have no face."
"You never described their faces. You never really had an idea of what people's faces in your stories look like - you're an idea man, and you never thought about your characters in full detail."
People with blurred faces, cardboard personalities. Bad writing - impossibilities of anatomy, of function. Psychologically disturbed characters. Madmen. Stereotypes. Reusable personalities. Just use different names. Multiple characters. Schizoid Men.
An old man beaten to a pulp by a sadistic guard. Left there suspended, eternally dying but never dead because he never described his death. Endless tableaus of half-formed ideas. A man standing in front of an old wooden house, frozen in time, hand poised to knock. Another faceless, nameless one, bent over a basin, trying to turn a faucet that will forever remain insensitive to his touch because Simon declared once that the Universe had forgotten that the man existed. That earlier one again, half-burnt to death on a desolate planetoid amid smoking ruins of a research station. Still burning, still alive, still feeling the most exquisite reams of pain. Infinities of possibilities, that had floated through his mind at one time or another paraded before him now, a neverending series of his darkest nightmares, his imagined universes. Half-born, quarter-formed. Suffering forever.
An incredible sadness welled up within him, but the tears would not come.
More and more. The Idea Vortex. A kaleidoscope of dreams. The British perfected faster-than-light travel during the reign of Queen Victoria. Albert Einstein is the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. Krakatoa preceding an invasion from the Hollow Earth. Cats are harbingers of the return of the Egyptian Gods. When serial killers die they get trapped in movies. Hell looks exactly like Earth with the lights out. The possibilities...
Stop, Simon pleaded inwardly, Please stop...
The Major Arcana as real entities. Teddy Bear and Jack-In-The-Box leading a Raggedy Regiment of old toys against the modern forces of G.I. Joe. A love affair over a radio. Exploring fractal geometries via virtual reality. Running through alternate universes to combat entropy. A werewolf on a planet where the full moon never sets. My God, the possibilities!
Eyes of a clairvoyant transferred to a blind man. A bullet that travels through time. Dinosaurs traveling in trains at Mach One through the Earth's core...
He was back in his study, and he had found his voice at last. His hands fell by his side, exhausted. The tears came this time, and he sobbed freely, not bothering to wipe away the tears that fell. He looked up, eyes filled with a mixture of pain, sorrow and horror.
Lumbering out of that cauldron, that vortex, made up of words. The skeleton images, the flesh dialogue, the cells characters, flaking off, bleeding phrases, conceptualised skin tearing as it dragged itself along. A creature that refused to die, raising itself out of the pit, insinuating itself into his brain, their brains, the heads and minds and souls of all creators, all artists, all men who presumed to dream their own dreams. Screaming, roaring, demanding life, demanding that he give it form. Pleading, whispering softly, crying in pain and needing more pain to feed it.
"I can't," moaned Simon, as the enormity of the task that was before him, to give all these concepts flesh, presented itself, "I'm not good enough - I can't give any more. Please."
But he knew it would not listen. He knew. It would drive him to the brink, and torment him when he could not continue, because by not continuing, it would live in torment also.
"What about me?" he tried to say, "What about my life?"
Ginny, he thought, and began to sob once more. What would she find tomorrow? Would she find him gone? Or the door simply locked? Or an empty shell?
More possibilities. Always possibilities.
His hands reached, irresistibly, once more, for the keyboard. His fingertips touched the letters, falling into familiar patterns. The ideas were coming faster than he could imagine them, now, an inexorable path towards overload.
He felt like his skull were about to blow apart. His fingers began to move. Faster, and faster still. The printer began to whirr, spewing sheet after sheet of the printed word, spilling on the floor, piling up. No more time for tears. No more time for anything else anymore. Faster, and faster still.
It was the first night of the rest of his life.
It was going to last forever.
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