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Donald D. Shore
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ym_76_oct19_royalcurse.jpg
Art by A. F. Knott 2019

Royal Curse

By Donald D. Shore

 

They say to be a writer is easy. Just sit down in front of your typewriter and bleed.

I always passed it off as something a writer says to sound cool and edgy. And besides, I’ve never even owned a typewriter. That is, until a short while ago, when Jolene gave me one for my birthday.

A dull black, dust stained relic, with the word ROYAL embossed in gold letters atop the carriage. We found it in a thrift store one day as we were roaming around town, inside a little place we had never noticed before. Jolene was off down one of the limitless aisles of clothing racks inside the musty old building searching for vintage t-shirts she could sell online, and I was bored, looking through items stored inside a glass cigar case. My eyes stopped on it, old and battered, surrounded on either side by junk jewelry like a mountain of black volcanic rock jutting up from an ocean of fake glitz.

“Neat.” Jolene was behind me. I hadn’t noticed her until she spoke, my eyes transfixed on the laminated keys.

“Yeah,” I agreed, but it was more than ‘neat’ to me. Something about those glass keys, the yellowed sheet of paper rolled into the tumbler, fascinated me. Pulled me.

I didn’t even see the clerk until he said, “Would you like to look at it?”

I pulled my eyes off the typewriter and saw him standing behind the counter, rolls of jelly crammed into a tight fitting XXL shirt, wisps of thin curly hair spiraling out from the sides of his head, and eyes magnified by the Coke-bottle lenses in his glasses.

“It’s vintage,” he said. “Antique.”

“Does it work?” Jolene asked, always the sensible one, always quick to the point.

“Of course, it works.”

The clerk slid the back of the case open and grunted as he stooped down to lift the typewriter out of the case with both of his chubby hands. He set it gently on the glass counter.

“Comes with its original case, too,” he said, looking at me instead of Jolene.

I stared at it, enraptured, and let my fingers taste the smooth coolness of the keys. I applied the slightest pressure, barely a touch, and the stamper snapped like the jaws of a fearsome beast, engraving an ‘a’ on the yellowed sheet of paper.

“You like it?” Jolene whispered close to my ear, though she sounded a thousand miles away.

“Yeah,” I said, sweat forming on my upper lip. A tag hung off the side of the carriage, and my heart sank into depression. “It’s neat,” I said, putting strength into my words that wasn’t really there, “but not two-hundred dollars neat.”

That was the end of it, or so I thought, as we left the thrift store. Jolene hadn’t been able to find anything to sell, and after the disappointment of losing out on my first typewriter, I was ready to go, to forget all about it.

I saw the typewriter again on my twenty-third birthday. Jolene took me out to eat at my favorite restaurant, Rosie’s Mexican Cantina. It’s not the most expensive place in town, but for two struggling college students, it’s like the Ritz. We had our favorites, hers the Mexican lasagna, me, the enchiladas, and of course several rounds of margaritas.

Jolene. I don’t think she ever looked prettier than that night. I don’t think I ever loved her more than I did beneath those red-tinted lights of the cantina.

“I’ve got something else for you,” she said, as we made our way drunkenly back into the apartment we shared.

I saw it right away. Sitting on my desk like some ancient idol, shining dully beneath the lamp, was the typewriter from the thrift store. The ROYAL.

“How could you?” I said, turning to her. I couldn’t imagine how she had saved up two-hundred dollars.

Jolene smiled. She put her arms around me. I still remember the soft odor of strawberry margarita on her breath.

“You like it?” she said.

I nodded. “I love it.”

“Good.”

She kissed me. Her soft lips enveloping everything I had ever dreamed about.

“I have one more gift for you.”

I couldn’t imagine what she could do to top the typewriter. Then she smiled, and I knew.

#

 “What are you going to write about?” she asked me, as we lay in bed together, the soft light of the moon seeping in through the window blinds like longswords pressed against us.

I stared at the ceiling, her soft hair against my cheek, my arm wrapped around her, my hand against her smooth skin. It was one of those perfect moments, so few and far between in life, where you have everything you want or need. My girl by my side, my love…

It was then I knew life would never be the same. Those moments can’t last. They never do. I turned to her, our eyes close together, and kissed her.

“You’re not going to tell me?”

“If I told you,” I said, “I’d have to kill you.”

#

The clatter of the keys pounded through the night. The clack of metal smacking against paper is a foreign and forgotten sound to those of us brought up in the age of technology. The soft patter of fingertips against plastic is but a whisper compared to the physical presence of a typewriter.

The neighbors hated it. Hated me. As I worked, my mind racing for the perfect word, the perfect phrase to express the rush of feelings I was putting down for posterity, a loud crash came from upstairs, shaking the ceiling and throwing off my concentration. I ignored it, shook it off, and it came again a few minutes later.

BAM! BAM! BAM!

Sweat dripped from my nose, wetting the keys beneath my fingers. I typed on, clack clack clack, a ka-ching! when I reached the margin, a ratchet, clack clack clack ka-ching!

BAM! BAM! BAM!

There is nothing more frustrating to a writer, holding on to each word with broken fingernails, than to be interrupted as the words flowed. To block the currents of inspiration with a heavy foot stomping overhead is the act of insanity.

My first real night of working, my first taste of true inspiration, and it was being obliterated by a cranky old man who wouldn’t know art from a paint-by-numbers hobby set.

I tore the page from the carriage. Glistening beneath the light of my desk lamp, those gold embossed letters spoke to me, and I knew what I had to do. I knew how the chapter would end.

I stood up, the weight of the ROYAL in my hands, and carried it to the upstairs apartment.

The door swung open after I knocked, and the short, wrinkled excuse for a human being stared back at me through crooked glasses.

“What do you want?”

I smiled. “Do you know what this is?” I said, lifting the ROYAL so he could see it through his cataract filled eyes.

He looked down, his mouth a thin wavering line beneath a large bulbous nose.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s what’s been keeping me up all hours of the night.”

“This,” I said, lifting it higher, raising it above my head, “is my art!”

I brought the typewriter down, dropping its full weight against the old man’s head. He fell backward, his glasses gone, blood streaming into his eyes from a cut on his forehead. He crumpled to the floor in his living room, his arms raised as I came forward, the typewriter in my hands.

“Oh, god, please…”

“God doesn’t pity the destructors of art,” I told him, my voice calm, relaxed, as blood dripped from the bottom edge of the typewriter planting red blossoms on his carpet. “God is a purveyor of the arts. The giver of inspiration. Look at history. The Sistine Chapel. The Last Supper…I mean, you have to be a fool not to see it.”

His mouth cracked open, his leathery skin soiled with the blood streaming from his head, as he reached for me.

“Please…”

I shook my head. The weight of the typewriter pulled my arms down, demanding I finish what I had begun, demanding the work be finished.

“Please,” he cried.

I silenced him as I brought the ROYAL down once more on his head. His body shook with convulsions, then lay still, the look on his face hidden by the bloodstained typewriter wedged into his face.

I looked down, knowing I had my first chapter. Knowing it would be a masterpiece, no matter the sacrifice.

#

Sometimes Jolene would watch me from the doorway of our bedroom, arms crossed beneath the soft nubs of her breasts, dressed only in the over-sized vintage t-shirt she wore as a nightgown. If she suspected anything, she did well to hide it. No one knew about the old man upstairs. No one would know, until his rent check was due. And then, the ROYAL told me, the masterpiece would be finished.

But she watched me, a jealous look in her dark eyes as my fingers caressed the blood-flecked keys of my new lover, the way a budding musician works the keys of grand piano.

Slow at first, little rhythm. Fingers finding their way. Building. Working in time. An ecstasy in the staccato pounding of the notes.

Clack clack clack ka-ching! Clack clack clack ka-ching!

Page after page rolled through the carriage. In those dark lonesome hours of the night, I was oblivious to everything around me except for the words pouring out of me, running through my fevered mind, stamped onto the blank page with a sharp clack, each letter like a knife to the chest.

“You coming to bed soon?” Jolene asked. Every night it was the same.

Reluctantly, I would answer, “Yes.” An automatic response, her shadow hovering over the page as it scrolled through the carriage.

I turned to her. “Just let me—” but looking into her eyes, those soft glimpses of infinity, could still catch my breath, and she would lead me to the bedroom.

But those days were numbered. Even within the confines of our bedroom, I felt it call to me. My new passion, growing, unearthed, simmering to a boil inside me.

Soon, not even Jolene, with all her beauty, all the love we shared, could come between me and my new love. I was writing my masterpiece. I knew this. It came to me from those keys. The ink stains on my fingertips was the blood of my soul giving birth to stories untold.

School was forgotten. Silence followed my name after it was called at roll. The job I worked at the carwash abandoned. Their calls unanswered. And Jolene made her rounds to the thrift stores alone.

I had to concentrate. Alone, pounding the keys of the typewriter, ignoring the growing stench emanating from upstairs. It was a sacrifice. All the great writers made sacrifices for their art. It would be the same for my novel. My great work of art. My ode to life and love and the human condition, explained as

 no one else had ever been able to explain it before. Sweat poured from my brow every night, until faint sunlight cut through the window blinds like razor blades.

“What is this?”

I had fallen asleep at my desk and woke dazed and weakened, to find Jolene hovering over me, my manuscript in her hands. Had I bothered to look in the mirror, I would have seen a face unfamiliar to me, gaunt and thin from a great loss of weight. I had poured it all into my work, with the help of the typewriter.

As if in a dream, I watched Jolene flip through the pages, her radiant brown eyes gone flat as she picked a line or paragraph, read it, and then flashed to another.

“This is what you’ve been working on?”

Her voice was hard, accusing. Her eyes flashed toward me like whips. I stood up from the chair, my heart thudding against my chest like a ballpeen hammer. I tore the manuscript from her hands.

“You know I don’t like for you to read my work until its finished,” I said, holding onto the pages as if the stack of papers were a child in need of protection.

“Your work?” she demanded. “You call that your work? You dropped out of school, quit your job – quit me – for this?”

She snatched at the pages, tearing several sheets out of the manuscript, and held them up like an actor reading for an audition.

“He gripped her throat – felt the soft throbbing vein in her neck.”

I reached for the page and she pulled away.

“The blade slid between her ribs like soft butter – the sweet blood flowed down her pail—”

I snatched the page away.

She started on the next.

“Her eyes popped like over-ripe grapes—”

“Stop it,” I said. “Stop! You don’t understand!”

She threw the rest of the manuscript at me. The pages scattered like paper airplanes drifting across our small apartment.

“You’re right,” she said. “I don’t understand. I don’t understand what’s happened to you. You’ve thrown away everything,” she pointed at the manuscript scattered about the floor, “for this? It reads like a psychopath’s manifesto. There’s no story – just random scenes of girls being murdered!”

“You just don’t understand it, Jolene!” I protested. “You never have!”

“Because there’s nothing to understand.” Her eyes watered and her breath caught in her throat. “I wish I had never given you that thing.” She was crying. The little crumbs of eyeliner soaked up her tears. “Either the typewriter goes, or I go.  This place is beginning to stink and it’s all because of that…that thing!”

Her words stunned me. My eyes shifted from her to the typewriter. I felt my insides rip apart.

Then she reached for it, her fingers splayed out like claws. I beat her to it. I grabbed the typewriter with both hands. I raised it above my head. She looked at me, her face blank, terror making its way down her spine. I brought the weight of the typewriter down on Jolene’s head. There was a heavy crunch as the metal cracked her skull. Warm blood splattered against my face, my chest, and my fingers, and she fell, her arms splayed out to her sides, another sacrifice to the Gods of inspiration.

I don’t know how long she lay there. A couple of days. Maybe a week. I had to finish my book. My great work of art. The clack clack clack of the keys absorbed me, the typewriter pulling the story out of my very soul.

I hear them coming now, even as I stamp out these last few words. They’re coming to take me away, to separate me from her, my lover, my typewriter, my ROYAL. But they’re too late. I’ve finished. I’ve bled over the keys, and now, as the door comes crashing in –

clack clack clack ka-ching!

The End


Donald D. Shore lives in Huntsville, Alabama. He has had short stories published in the Western Online, eFiction Magazine, and Freedom Fiction.com.


You can follow him at Donalddshore@facebook.com

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