By Bruce Blizard
So, here’s how a miracle changed my life:
I had been staring out the window for a while, but that didn’t help, so I got up and walked from one end of the house to the other. That didn’t help either, so I went outside and sat on the steps. For a long time, I looked out through the trees to where the lake would have been visible if it hadn’t been dark. But that didn’t help, so I got up and went back inside. I sat down at my desk and stared at the computer screen for about 20 minutes. Nothing happened. I pushed the keyboard away and put my forehead down on the edge of the desk. My arms were tired, so I let them swing loosely from my shoulders so that my knuckles dragged on the floor.
I may have fallen asleep, but I’m not certain.
There was a noise in the kitchen, so I got up from the desk and went to see about it. A very skinny man was leaning into the open fridge so that all I could see were baggy jeans and bony hips. He also wore a shaggy tie-dyed tee-shirt and a new-looking pair of leather sandals with no socks. The soles of his sandals had been made of an old tire tread. I hadn’t seen anyone dressed quite like that for 30 years. I remember feeling a little shocked he was in the house, more put off than scared, like his presence was more an inconvenience than a threat. That was a mistake.
“What the hell,” I said. “Who the hell are you? And what the hell are you doing in my house?”
The man stood up and turned toward me. He had nothing in his hand.
“Hell’s got nothing to do with it, mate,” he said. “And I’m here ‘cause you need a wake-up call.”
He pointed back into the next room. I was still sitting with my head on the desk, apparently asleep.
“A wake-up call?”
“Yeah, man. A wake-up call. You’re not even close to being awake lately. You used to be awake, but now you’re snoozin’ big time.”
“Who are you? Am I dead . . . or something?”
“No. You’re just sleeping at your desk as usual. You’re not snoring yet, but you’re going to start drooling if we don’t get this taken care of right quick.”
“If we don’t get what taken care of? And I still don’t know who you are or what you’re doing in my house.”
“Well, son, it’s like this. I’m sort of a messenger, with a reminder. You are a writer, and you’ve been hearing a lot of very appealing voices recently, telling you what to write. At least the part about being a writer is right. That’s what we intended all along. And you used to write some pretty good stuff.”
“Yeah, stuff. You used to tell the truth when you knew it, and when you didn’t know it, you didn’t make it up. We took care of you pretty good for a while too. But lately it seems like you don’t know what the truth is, even though we put it right out there for you to see. All you have to do is get it down in a way that folks aren’t terrified by the enormity of it all. Got to tell the truth a little sideways. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be able to ‘handle it’. You know, like what that Marine colonel in the movie says. ‘You can’t handle the truth!’”
“What are you talking about?”
“Remember that first story we put out? You know, the one about the horses and the old man who went off into the wilderness to save his family.”
“I wrote that book. What do you mean YOU put it out? Who are YOU?”
“Yeah. That story really hit people where they live. That old man would have done anything to save those kids. You could tell he was that kind of person right off, but it was still a surprise when he went off into the wild alone at the end so they could all get on with their lives. That old man took a lot of their trouble away with him. That’s a heavy load, man. I know.”
The skinny man smiled and shook his head thoughtfully.
“That was some really good stuff,” he went on. “You did a good job with that story. We were pleased.”
“Okay . . . I like that book too, but it only sold about a thousand copies. The publishers barely got their advance back. I’m lucky they wanted to print anything I wrote after that.”
“Maybe. You gave up on that first story too easily, too soon. People still need that story. You should have trusted us. We’d have taken care of you. We always have.”
The skinny man leaned back against the door of the fridge. He looked worn out, but for only an instant.
“I’m a little tired,” he said. “Mind if I sit down?”
“Are you staying long?”
“As long as it takes.”
“We can go into the den. There’s a couch and a couple of nice chairs.”
“I know. I’ve been looking around, but no thanks. I’ll just sit down here on the floor.”
He dropped to his haunches and then leaned back heavily against the new fridge. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I joined him. I sat down facing the skinny man with my back against the new dishwasher.
“This is a really nice place you have here,” he said, looking around at the new kitchen. “You sold a lot of books after that first story flopped. Your publisher must have seen something in you. He stayed with you until your books started to sell.”
“How do you know all this?”
“How could I not know? I think there was even some talk of reprinting that first book to see if it might do better the second time around, after someone had actually heard of you.”
“I don’t want that book back on the market. My books are selling, and the first book is nothing like what I’ve got out now. Almost no one even knows I wrote that first book. It just wouldn’t go with the others I’ve got in the stores.”
The man leaned forward and pointed a finger at me.
“Now see, that’s our problem. Your books haven’t done much harm, but they haven’t done a whole lot of good either. We want that first story back out there and you’re the one who is going to make it happen for us. Got it?”
“Who, or what, are you?! You come in here and wake . . . no, I’m not sure what you’ve come in here and done. But you come in here and tell me what I’m going to do with my books. You didn’t write that book. I did! And I guess I’ll say what happens to it. If I don’t want anyone to ever read that book again, then I guess no one’s ever going to read it again.”
“You’re right about that. You do have a choice here. But you don’t have the last word, so to speak. You’re all grown up, child, and responsible for your actions.”
“You better believe it, buddy.”
“Please don’t call me buddy. It’s degrading. And remember we’re in charge of consequences, not you.”
“What consequences. Who are you? You can’t do anything to me.”
“Maybe not, but maybe so.”
“I think you better leave now.”
“Fine. I’ve done what I’ve come to do.”
The skinny man rose quickly and with no apparent effort. I remained seated on the floor.
“See ya,” he said.
“Wait. I’m sorry. You seem like a nice guy. At least a nice guy for someone who’s just broken into my house and . . . what is it you’ve done anyway?”
“I hope I’ve made you wake up and look around like you used to. Look, son, I haven’t been entirely up front with you. What were you doing when I got here?”
“Writing. What else?”
“No, you weren’t. You were wandering from one end of your house to the other. You’ve been staring at your computer screen, trying to write. You haven’t written a worthwhile word in weeks, maybe months, maybe not for years. I haven’t really been paying that much attention. I do have other ‘matters’ to take care of.”
“I believe the trade term is ‘blocked’. You can’t come up with anything to write, and your publisher is on your case, and you’re getting desperate.”
“How do you know this?”
“Am I right?”
I said nothing.
“Am I right? Are you totally blocked, or aren’t you?”
He was standing directly above me now. I had to lean my head back as far as I could, and even then all I could see was the bottom of his chin and his enormous nostrils, flaring softly. I could not even pretend to deny what he had said. Everyone I knew back then knew it was true. I was hopelessly blocked, and I had become desperate.
“It used to pass after a day or two,” I said, lowering my eyes. “All writers hit a dry patch. But it always comes back, and it always feels like it’s going to come back. But not this time.”
He took a step back and leaned forward with both hands on his knees, He reached out and raised my chin with his forefinger so he could look hard into my eyes.
“I can promise you something. If you’ll just believe for a minute.”
“Promise what? Believe what?”
“I can promise that you will become instantly un-blocked, or whatever the technical term is, and that you will write things that will amaze even you, maybe even me, and I’m hard to impress. But there is a price to pay. That’s where the believing comes in.”
“I knew it. You’re the devil. You want my soul. You’ll make me write again if I give you my soul. I knew this had to be something horrible. I knew it. I knew it. Oh, God, I knew it!”
The Thin Man straightened up abruptly and laughed gleefully.
“Whoa! Timeout, pal! I said believing. Believing in something more than that enormous load of an intellect you’ve been dragging around. You artistic types can sure be temperamental. I’m not the devil. I can get your soul easy enough without resorting to cheap magic or flimsy contracts.”
“Then what are you saying about a price to be paid. What do I have to do to write again? Where do I sign?”
The skinny man towered over me now. He seemed very tall from where I was sitting, and he seemed very strong when he took my hand.
“Arise. And hear what I say.”
He pulled me to my feet. I seemed to rise up as he had before, with no apparent effort. I held his hand as hard as I could because if I let go, I knew I would float off into another place, a place I did not wish to be any longer. His gaze had softened, but he held my attention with his eyes.
And I said, “Okay. I’m listening. What do I do?”
“I’ve already told you. Hear what I say and write it down.”
I woke up when I felt the sun shining through the half open blinds warming the top of my head. I sat up slowly and rubbed the crease the edge of my desk had made in my forehead. Of course, the skinny man was gone. I stood up and raised my hands over my head and held them there in a long, satisfying stretch that reached from my toes all the way up and through my fingertips.
Then the miracle: I sat down, placed my fingers deliberately on the keyboard, listened for a moment to the silent house, and, for the first time in many weeks, began to write.
(© Bruce Bizard 2017)