Gerard lay back, content at last, as the final word of his latest story dried on the paper. Complete at last. Already his head stormed with new ideas and fresh enthusiasm. No matter how many novels, or how many short stories, each began like first steps - brimming with new life and possibility. His contentment was with many things besides a job well done. Once again there was the anticipation for praise for the completed product that sat at his desk. Since his first publication the critics couldn’t get enough.*
Gerard stepped out into a dreary autumn day. In the heart of Neovia every day hung heavy with fog, conjuring mysterious and dangerous figures aplenty in the short stroll he made downtown. Truth be told, Gerard had no love for this gloomy place. Being a writer of ghost stories and dastardly plots, this setting was somewhat expected of him. It was this or the Haunted Woods, and try as he might, he could not develop a taste for Haunted Woods cuisine. Besides, true haunts got in the way of his vivid imagination and clouded the world with pointless facts.
Pausing to straighten his crimson cravat, Gerard swanned up to the shopfront of dignified decay. He swept back the hair-like spines atop his head and composed a mournful expression, should a fan spot him. Grey by colour but not by nature, Gerard was determined to be everything his devoted followers most desired. Styling himself as a sophisticated Krawk of means, from head to toe he intended to portray the epitome of the genius writer.
A bell affixed to the doorframe gave a solemn clang. The worker inside, a rather gruff young Mynci who gave no name and answered to no name directly, gave barely a glance as he shuffled through a sheaf of densely worded papers. The writing on them was so thick the paper was nearly soaked black, but somehow the Mynci was endeavouring the arrange them in order.
“My usual,” Gerard said with casual authority, “and I shall send a copy of my latest in for you in the next few weeks.”
The Mynci finished his sorting before replying. The papers came together suddenly. It was as though the writing had formed a Magic Eye (such as used to be printed in the back pages of the newspapers), and with eyes crossed for just long enough an image would spring out and suddenly make sense. The writing was disquieting, and Gerard was glad when the Mynci placed them under the desk.
“You know we can make copies for your publishers, you needn’t be so paranoid.”
Gerard bristled. True he’d been visiting the Blots printers for the last few years, but this didn’t make him bound to them in any official sense – to rely upon their workers, their formatting or least of all their spelling. He resented the idea that he could trust his work to some nobody in a back room to make copies, perhaps even some struggling writer looking for a breakthrough into world renown…
“No,” Gerard said, “I shall continue to prepare my initial copies on my own, thank you. I need no one else.”
“Suit yourself,” the Mynci said smoothly, and stepped into the back room to retrieve Gerard’s usual bundle of supplies.
Gerard stood stiffly while awaiting his fresh reams and quills, thinking hard on this unexpected attack on his person. No one questioned his work or his methods. Paranoid? It wasn’t paranoid to shield a great work of art from prying eyes; it was common sense! Gerard was used to people accepting all of his decisions with the excitement of being let in on a trade secret, or at the very least a nod of professional respect.
It was only now that he thought about it that he realised - it had been a while since someone had been intrigued by his decisions to forego an editor, and inspired by his days meditating in peace at home. At most recent events when he spoke of his methods to perfect his writing, covert glances and small smiles had begun to appear. When had that started? He couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
Two schoolgirls entered the shop to browse amongst the stationary, and their covert glances and muffled giggles were put into an uncomfortable new light. Gerard felt a little vulnerable, as he stood hovering by the main counter. He felt like a celebrity impersonator. He had an overwhelming desire to start discussing his latest sales very loudly.
The novels, the short stories, even the occasional essay he penned still received good reviews, he knew that. He had long ago stopped collecting them, but was aware of the general public feeling. The reviews were positive, but perhaps growing briefer. They tended to refer to his other works more than they used to, perhaps, but comparing new writing with an old favourite was favourable…wasn’t it?
A sudden panic gripped Gerard, of criticism left unchallenged and somehow gone unnoticed, a slowly building horror that he was being made to look foolish.
The shop bell tolled again. Gerard did not notice, as his internal worrying was occupying all of his attention, as well as twisting his expression into one of constipation. A pale turquoise Kyrii spotted Gerard in his contemplative daze, and elegantly stepped up to engage him.
“You look lost. Forgotten something?” She asked, eyes on a display of inks. She carefully pulled off one white lace glove and lifted a bottle for closer examination.
“You do remember what these are for?” She said, turning to Gerard while proffering the bottle and smiling sweetly.
Gerard felt his hackles rise, metaphorically. The pompous faux-royal had an impressive pile of fur herself, perfectly coifed. Gerard detested Ms. Prixum immensely. Whenever he ran into her at a writer’s event, he always imagined her perfect outline as a glass shell for containing her swamp-gas heart. Ms. Prixum had risen through the ranks of melodramatic fright-fest writers doing one-page tales for the Neopian Times. Somehow she got published, and most disturbingly, was growing in popularity every year. In person her character was smooth and regal, while her written characters were giggling maniacs clothed in rags. He had first met her only two years ago, at the Grand Writer’s Ball and had been underwhelmed by her. She had seemed too young. Just recently however, she had some airs and graces. She pumped out dollar store stuff as quick and unstoppable as a steam train hurtling off a cliff, but as far as Gerard was concerned, it only just kept her name in the papers.
“How long has it been, since you’ve been in here?” Swamp Heart asked, still smiling, “A while now, surely? Months? I didn’t even see you at the Ghoul Writing Workshop.”
“Those ‘teaching experiences’ are tiresome, and distracting. I have real work to do.” Gerard replied coldly, straightening his spine slightly so that their miniscule height difference allowed him to use a downward scowl.
Prixum was unperturbed, and grinned wickedly.
Tutting, she said “Now, you know those up-and-comer writers are the future.” She feigned a sigh, “Just as well you didn’t show up. That would have been awkward…them asking who you were.”
Gerard fumed, instantly losing his cool, and spat back at her, “I am iconic! I built the contemporary ghost-mystery!”
Prixum made no sign of hearing him as she paid for her inks and walked to the door. Holding on to the doorframe, she gave her parting shot, as she idly swung her bag.
“Was it a ghost butler this time too?”*
Another balled up piece of paper hit the office wall. With a series of soft scrunching sounds it bounced away. The mental derailment of the last few days had set Gerard’s newest work completely off course. Was he in a rut? This is what spiralled around his head with every move he made. It was awful to think about, but, had he lost his way? He could imagine the critics reading over his shoulder, nodding with mild politeness. He snarled at his newest attempt and balled that up as well, viciously punching it into submission.
He hadn’t, couldn’t have, lost his way. Maybe…Maybe he just needed a shakeup. Something new, a fresh influence.
But Gerard was reluctant to leave his comfortable little world. His routine was effective, it worked, it kept him writing. What would he do, go on holiday? Ridiculous! He could get inspired right here.
Another abandoned plotline was scrunched up and propelled towards the wall. It hit the windowsill, and bounced into the alley outside, coming to a stop in a rare clear patch of foggy old Neovia Town. A trick of the wind rolled it a few more feet and flattened the once balled paper.*
Gerard was, for once, truly grey. Head on his desk, with cookie crumbs and split Borovan on his dressing gown, he stewed in a funk of indecision and nowhere questioning. Every thought seemed derivative, every breath a cliché. He had written many, many words in the past week. Every single one was worthless. He stared into a fresh cup of tea from inches away and wondered what the Times would say about him. He wondered when they’d start calling him washed up. That was better than becoming a caricature of himself, writing yet another same old story. Probably.
Something white fluttered just at the edge of his sight, reminding him of papers, endless papers, discarded. A crash and sounds of breaking glass shot Gerard up out of his seat. Rushing to investigate the bench below his office window, Gerard was met with chaos; shattered glass, dust and paper scraps were blowing around. Sitting in the midst of this madness - looking surprised but otherwise unhurt - sat a white Weewoo. Gerard stared at it, dumbfounded. It made a soft ‘wee’, and rustled its feathers slightly. As the papers settled to the ground, a solitary white feather drifted slowly down, as though the sunlight it was caught in was made of honey. It gently, oh so gently, came to rest in a miraculously upright inkpot - a readymade quill.
“My muse!” Gerard blurted, smiling widely at the petpet. Whooping loudly, he scooped up the small bundle.
“A white Weewoo. Mascot of the Times, destiny in print, nothing could be better!”
The little creature chirruped happily as he swung it in his arms.*
“Argh! My hands!” Gerard winced as he massaged his stiff, aching joints. He had been practising attempts at ambidextrous writing, to help maximise his output. The results varied greatly in words per page, and his left hand would often skid away and instead mark his desk during exciting passages. He leaned back and regarded his Weewoo companion, now on a custom-made perch and dubbed Woopert.
“You should have seen me in the early days,” he told the inquisitive little bird, “I’d write for so long even my calluses were callused.” He laughed. Woopert stared silently back, head tipped to one side. Suddenly the bird darted forward into a pile of papers that exploded outwards with the beating of his wings.
“Hey! Look out!” Gerard cried as he rushed to restore order. The papers continued to stream everywhere as more were beaten into a whirlwind by Woopert’s furious wingbeats. Finally, the petpet stopped, and nestled amongst a pile of old ideas, sitting beneath the latest momentous writing session. One toe gripped a flimsy paper corner.
“You silly thing…” Gerard sighed, and then paused, as he looked closer at the paper Woopert was so proudly gripping.
“Where did this come from, my muse…an alien story? That’s not really my sort of thing.”
Even as he said it, the idea of something different felt very right. The flimsy flyer must have come in with some other mail. It was creased, and in one corner the paper had gotten wet enough that the ink had run. ‘Flee: The BodySnatchers!!! It read with grammatical inaccuracy.
“I do ghosts, things that go bump in the night.” But the idea fizzled in the back of his head.
The flyer was for a party or music gig or some such thing. The screams to attend were all garishly coloured and stylised to drip and ooze. “I just don’t know.”
A book Gerard had been referencing – a large and archaic-looking printing of a larger and even more archaic original – overbalanced where he had rested it and it fell, going ‘bump’ in the night.
His muse just stared at him.
“Oh alright, let’s see what comes of it.” Gerard said, smiling.*
The informally titled Tale of the Body Snatchers was turning out to be hard work. Alien stories would be the least rooted in truth, Gerard had thought. Ghosts you could meet at the local shops, and every one had a story about it. Nobody knew the strange rules kept out there beyond the stars. Even the Grundos didn’t venture far from home nowadays. Somehow piles of books of obscure alien knowledge and theories kept turning up. Although he tried to ignore some of the more difficult suggestions, he could never seem to lose the reference books. Usually if an idea was too tricky to fit, he could guiltily hide it beneath piles of papers to safely ignore it, but these wretched ones kept re-emerging.
At one time, when he was especially tired, a few pages of notes written in his own shorthand had appeared at his desk when he went to pour a fresh Borovan in the kitchen. The notes were written in his style, but he had no recollection of their content. Not one memory of writing them. He’d been deep into research before, but never to the point of forgetting like this. It worried him, but he soldiered on with Woopert at his side, faithful as ever, who watched his scrawls intently.*
The Body Snatchers was becoming an ordeal. Trial by Novel. Gerard had gone beyond tired, further than drained and into the numbness of exhaustion from the time he woke to the time he collapsed asleep still at his writing desk. It was his everything. With every passing day it felt like more of his life-essence was poured into the pages, and the story grew stronger. It would be his masterpiece – a true classic of a spooky story, the kind to make his name live on. It was a strange blend between his usual style and some new influence. His muse and himself, a genuine Gerard tale. He gave Woopert a treat, and cooed at him, “It’s you, my muse, you’ve given me new life. It’s a hard life, but it will be beautiful.” Softly and happily, Woopert sung “Wee…Woo”.*
On to the third draft, that glorious and terrible time when the creeping thoughts whisper ‘I could add this, subtract that, shake things up a little’. That tempting little voice that insists it could be even better. It was a thrill to even entertain such a massive overhaul in a thought. In reality, it would be a nightmare. In this strange sort of mood, Gerard swept into his office, breakfast in hand, to discover Woopert sitting at his notebook.
As he watched, a page turned before Woopert looked up and saw him.
“Get away from that!” Gerard shouted, flapping his hands. The notebook was part of a haphazard collection of loose papers, folders and scraps on napkins. All of this was flimsily held in place by a cardboard cover, which looked ready to burst at the barest touch. Trying to reassemble the monstrous thing would take hours, so Gerard was determined to rescue it from the petpet. Gerard went to flip the pages back, and the heavy papers thumped, crushing the tip of his index finger.
“I don’t know how you even lifted this.” He grumbled to Woopert, who had perched on the light fitting above his head. Glancing at the page Woopert had sitting on, Gerard was dismayed to find more notes he didn’t recall writing. The words sprang from the page, dense and wildly written. A storm had raged as these ideas were pulled forth, and Gerard knew that not one word was familiar to him. He scooped up the notebook and sat heavily in his armchair, sighing deeply. Entertaining a rewrite and facing one were two different things. Woopert fluttered down from his perch and jumped up to sit upon the chair by Gerard’s head. The Weewoo ‘wooed’ happily as Gerard raised a hand to stroke the soft white feathers.
“I feel like I’m losing myself. It’s so close to completion, and it’s wonderful. But this – this haze I’m working under, it’s blurring reality. I keep feeling like someone is watching me. I saw papers move on their own yesterday, just flip and shuffle from across the room.”
Gerard abruptly barked a laugh and rubbed his eyes.
“Almost done, maybe. Then I think I will take a holiday. Why not? I’ll really disappear for a while.”
After a quiet moment Gerard stood with a groan and a crick in his back, and slowly made his way upstairs. In the darkened office, Woopert wee-wooed happily to himself.*
The very last amendments, it had to be. Gerard was relieved, and spent a short time sitting perfectly still at his desk with his eyes closed. It was…yes. Done.
The next project didn’t jump at him. Instead Gerard’s mind settled comfortably onto the ordinary world. For the first time in weeks he saw the collection of half-filled and slightly mouldy mugs decorating the desk. Dust and crumbs coated every flat surface. A dried patch of something sticky he’d eaten had pooled beneath a chair leg. Closing his eyes, Gerard reclined a little. Work would need to start soon to revitalise the house, but not just yet.
A scritchy scratchy sound broke into Gerard’s tranquillity. He may have tuned it out, but the sound was too similar to the noise of a quill on paper. Scritch-scratch. Somewhere close.
Gerard was peeved to be disturbed from his well-earned break, and went to investigate. Poking his head from room to room, he realised how unusually still the house was. Over the months of Body Snatchers, Gerard had grown used to the constant shuffling of paper, the calls of Woopert, and the sometimes noisy drafts of wind around the house as if someone had just walked past.
In the littlest room off the back of the house he found Woopert perched on a desk, illuminated by candlelight and struggling with a large quill gripped tightly in one foot.
“What are you doing back here? Oh, you’ve seen me with those…hey! That’s my best one! I use it for signing at all my events, give that back!”
Gerard snatched at the fine silver-white quill, but Woopert had already fluttered off. While grabbing at the barely hovering petpet, Gerard got close enough to see the jagged markings Woopert had been making, littered all over the table. There was a pattern, growing clearer over time. It started out barely legible and turned into:
Mesmerised, he gave up his motions towards the Weewoo and reached instead towards his name.
“He’s not very good, but that’s because of the feet.” Came a hiss in Gerard’s ear, followed by a resounding thump across the side of his head. Crying out in pain and surprise, Gerard fell to the floor. He tried to sit up and saw in front of him, Woopert, perched in mid-air. His wings were tightly tucked by his sides as he sat perfectly suspended on nothing.
Gerard’s head pounded, and this strange sight only seemed to make it worse.
“He’ll get better,” a voice said, the same one as before, but with less hiss and more sneer.
“He’ll be his old self soon. Even better actually, and any differences in handwriting between you two will just be ignored. Months cooped up with nothing but writing, if your signature hadn’t changed with all the hand strain that would have been weirder.”
“What – where are you? What are you?” Gerard was cold right down to his toes, frightened by how little he understood of what was happening, and how suddenly the night had turned menacing.
The inkpot on the table splashed, ink fountaining upwards in a stream. It drifted away from the table, and as it neared the still floating Woopert, Gerard saw the outline of a hand in the patch of flying ink.
The hand reached thin air and dragged downwards. In the wake of the hand’s path, with streaks and thickly running rivulets of ink, a dreadful mask appeared. The ink clung to something, leaving space that may have been eyes, and a mouth. The ink ran around the edges of these as if it was trying to escape the face while exposing it. The eyes, which were reminiscent of an Aisha, narrowed as the mouth smiled. Gerard thumped his back against a wall, surprising himself. He hadn’t realised he was crawling backwards, away from this monstrosity.
The inky hand rose, and Gerard flinched as it passed over him, to reach up to the floating Woopert.
“No! Leave him!” Gerard bellowed, but even as it escaped his lips, Woopert stepped into the dripping hand.
“Get out of my house!” Gerard screamed.
“Our house. Gerard and I. We’ll need to renovate…revitalise it. But once the Body Snatchers has taken off, I don’t see what’s stopping us. Maybe a vegetable garden.”
“That’s my book! And it’s my house! There’s no space for a garden!” Gerard shrieked, growing angrier and a little less afraid.
Woopert ‘wooed’ softly at the noise, and the ink-monster snarled at him. Gerard couldn’t stand to see the bird flinch.
“Stop that! Give him to me! He’s mine, my muse!” Gerard reached his hands out to the huddled bird.
“Your ‘Woopert’?” The Aisha face said mockingly, and hurled the little bird at him. As the Weewoo tumbled through the air, a white-blue light crackled around the small body. With a sudden whoosh of wind, the white Weewoo vanished and in its place was a small, grey, scaly body. It fell into Gerard’s lap, where it uncurled to fix one pink eye upon him. The krawk petpet quickly jumped up and scuttled back to the Ink-Aisha, which chuckled.
“He was always mine. Now I suppose he has to be his own, unattached. He’ll be grown up soon. He has a new body to step into.
I took a big risk zapping him. He’s worth a lot, you know. But it’s nothing compared to your worth.”
The face hovered closer, glared down at Gerard where he lay on the floor.
“A white Weewoo, a perfect ‘muse’. A fast learner. He and I will enjoy your life. He, a famous writer, and I, his beautiful muse. Once we both take our final forms, we’ll be unstoppable. Reputation, glory, wealth, a masterpiece.
Now there is just the last little detail, of you.”