By Ty Russell
It was very late at night.
So late, in fact, that it was actually early and yet I was sitting at my desk, perched over the old family computer, wondering if I could ever get a tan from monitor glow. I think it’s important to note that I was simply “perched.” I wasn’t “deafened by the clacking sound of keys,” or “punching holes in a wired alphabet,” or even just “typing.” I was just sitting there, waiting for the Muses should they decide to come and possess me, to exorcise themselves through my twitching fingers.
When I say wait, think Godot-like. I was Estragon, but I was ready, poised like a praying mantis.
I wrote a sentence. Read it. Reread it. Deleted it.
A cardboard lid lay on the floor next to my desk, half filled with the pages of a novel I thought would never get done. I got up and opened a window because I thought I had heard some new and profound idea tapping on the pane, something that would win me the Nobel Prize for Literature.
There were crickets outside. Nothing else.
I had just started to press a key, when I heard Dickens open on my cluttered desk, screaming, “Look, look how easy it is. Just count the hairs on his nose and describe them, great! Now do 400 pages and you’ve got yourself a book, easy.”
From my night stand, Hemingway shook his head, “Charles, you moron. Your readers aren’t stupid, let them figure it out for themselves.”
Oscar Wilde was more relaxed, lounging on the bottom shelf in between Walt Whitman and Virginia Woolf. He took a long puff from his cigarette holder and murmured lazily, “All forms of art are inherently simple; it is only the flawed perspective of the flawed observer that creates complications of interpretation.”
“What? What kind of mumbo-jumbo is that, inherently flawed and simple observers,” Robert Louis Stevenson shouted, adopting as snooty of a tone as he could possibly muster. “Write about pirates. Everyone loves pirates.”
I wrote about pirates.
“Oh, I love pirates,” Ray Bradbury yelled, clapping his hands. He was almost 90 now, but he spoke with all the excitement of an eight year old. “Make it simple though. Something extraordinary and everyday. I’d like to read that.”
Somehow, Dave Barry felt out of place.
I started to type, slowly at first, the sentences forming and marinating in my brain for a few moments before I set them into the computer.
“Make it dark,” Edgar Allen cooed, playing with the ends of his mustache. “Make their skin curdle.”
“Must you always be so serious, Poe? And for heaven’s sake, let the sun meet your skin!” The Bard himself looked gently at me and spoke in quiet tones. “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.”
“Yes, well…” Herman Melville, his beard like a living thing on his neck, jostled his shoulders and shimmied for space on the cramped shelf. “Now why does Shakespeare get two copies of his plays here? There’s hardly any room for the rest of us!”
Jane Austen called down from the top of the bookcase. “Is that the weighty one himself, complaining of space? When one volume of his takes up more weight in words than five of dear William’s?” It was obvious, to me at least, that as soon as Miss Austen had heard of Mr. Shakespeare’s sonnets, she had developed quite a bit of a crush. “He gets the space, Herman, because he gets the readers!”
I was typing furiously now, wildly, like a man on fire. My brain worked faster than my fingers could dance.
Sylvia Plath wailed something melancholic. I refused to listen.
“If you create a world and believe in it, so will all of your readers,” Tolkien said, blowing rings from the end of a long wooden pipe.
“Yes, yes. And make it bold, make it audacious! Nothing great was ever done without large amounts of courage.” J.K. Rowling was floating on a black broomstick, just a child amongst a thousand elders. “And have fun!”
The great ones all murmured in agreement.
I got up and started shutting their covers, one by one, kissing them goodnight like dear children. Slowly, slowly, their voices began to fade to mumblings as they fell asleep. I smiled, five new pages still hot in my hands. As the clock rolled on into morning, as the voices of all the ghosts who had gone before me echoed into eternity, I added the pages to a pile of two hundred I hoped the world would one day see.
Ty Russell’s work has been published in Apiary Magazine, The Pennsylvania Gazette, Phantom Kangaroo, Peregrine, Silver Blade, RelevantMagazine.com, and is a nominee for the 2011 Rhysling Award. He lives in north central Pennsylvania with his wife and their children.