Every story has a price.
Mike Raymond was born and raised in the subs. A young, lovable guy who now has a family of his own and a future blotched with possibilities. His life so far, ain’t exactly what you’d call spectacular. Oh, he has money but, it’s inherited from the wifey side of the family. Otherwise, they’d be living up shit creek with the meager income his short stories fetch. He’d tried his hands on novel writing but the two he’d coughed out so far are, according to his agent, not saleable. Not commercial is how a music studio would have coined it.
Mike still had dreams of writing a saleable book. While driving around town, one day, he discovered this old fashioned and beat up laptop, his curiosity perked up, he decided to do a little research into the origin of the machine. The laptop was seated on a stack of soda crates at a yard sale at the end of the street and just around the corner. It looked like something that would take millennia to boot and the keyboards ain’t exactly what you’d call soft touch.
“That used to be my father’s,” A lady spotting rank jungle vegetation on her head which probably passed for hair in whatever galaxy she came from, said.
“He used to write . . .” she closed her eyes as she tries to recall what her dad used to write. “Fiction, I think he called it.”
Mike felt goosebumps all over his body. “What was he called?”
“His name you mean? Oh, he referred to himself as Allan Poe but it wasn’t his real name, though.”
“Edgar Allan Poe.” Now, it was Mike’s turn to go into deep thought. “Even though this thing could have come from the Ice Age by its looks, I don’t suppose Poe ever used a computer in his lifetime.”
“I told you it was just, what’s it called? A pseudonym. It wasn’t his real name, at all.”
Out of curiosity Mike asked, “What’s his real name?”
“What?!” Mike almost dropped the antic machine.
“Mike Ray. Is anything wrong mister? You look like you’ve seen one of the monsters Papa always talked about in his stories.”
“Nothing. Just thought . . . never mind.”
As Mike studies the machine he realizes there are initials crafted on the space just above the screen. M. R. “Mabel won’t believe this. This is like something out of a classic shock and shiver tale.”
The sales lady who’d gone to attend to some other customer returned. As she approached Mike she spoke up. “Mister, are you a writer?” Mike hesitated. “Cause Papa always wanted for that thing to go to another writer. I can’t sell it to you if you ain’t one.”
Mike who had almost denied his profession to conceal his identity had to admit he was a writer just for a chance to purchase the antic machine. “Yeah, I write fiction.” Then, as an afterthought, “Does this thing work?”
“Do trains run on rails? You have nothing to worry about in that department. But the stories are going to bring nightmares. Papa didn’t put that up on the machine for nothing, you know? Every story has a price. If he only knew earlier maybe he would have quit the thing sooner.”
“Quit the stories, you mean?”
“The machine, the story, this whole damn business of make-believe. It was his undoing.”
“What do you mean his undoing.”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” She waved her hand at Mike, dismissively.
Mike paid the lady for the laptop and returned home to test it out. The first time he powered it on, where there should have been an HP logo was a silhouette of a raven. The internet connection icon on the laptop was already blue-connected. Mike couldn’t remember connecting to the internet. He had just booted the thing. Nevertheless, he opened the browser which looked like a cross between a Chrome browser and an Apple Safari.
There’s a search engine with the g logo but instead of google.com it’s gargoyle.cro. He typed the words, out of curiosity and nothing else, Sylvia Plath into the search box and pressed Enter.
Mike wasn’t prepared for the search results and the impact almost knocked him off his seat. The gargoyle search engine came complete with audio-visual display. What would have been its own version of you tube built directly into the search results. There was no alternative, you either love the text with the video (and audio) or you lump it. That’s just the way it was.
In the creators of gargoyle’s opinion, Sylvia Plath didn’t commit suicide. She was murdered. By her muse. And someone or something had been there to record it. The video was playing right in front of Mike’s eyes.
“This has got to be someone’s idea of a sick visual joke and it’s not funny. Not funny at all.”
The video claimed the muse is who Plath made reference to in her poem, Daddy. She called her Achoo. And it was the muse who made her write the words,
Jealousy can open the blood,
It can make black roses.
That one was in her poem, The Swarm. Her muse had warned her of turning but she had not listened and she had paid dearly for it-with her life.
Mike sat back in his seat and wondered what to make of this new and weird piece of information he had stumbled upon. Then, a thought, not quite from his mind but seemingly floating over his head said, you write fiction. So, write fiction. He didn’t have to be told a second time. He got the message. He opened the office application and typed all day into the late hours of the night. He wasn’t surprised when the machine filled in some of the lines for him he knew he had found his muse. He had stepped across this realm into the zone.
Before Mike turned in for the night, he powered off the laptop and as he closed the lid his eyes skimmed over the sign again. It seemed to glow faintly.
Every story has a price.
What was the price of this story? Mike thought, indifferently. You’ll find out soon enough. The voice of the woman at the yard sale said.
The Plath Option was published nine months later to critical acclaim. Mike didn’t much care about the acclaim he was glad the fans loved it. And to him, that was the greatest acclaim a writer could ever achieve.
Gargoyle.cro (Mike had come to believe cro was a glorified way of writing crow.) had more offers for Mike than he bargained for. After his first search about Sylvia Plath, which led his first published novel and bestseller, Mike tried the words, H. P. Lovecraft. Having received his right hand of fellowship with the god in this machine, Mike steeled himself for the shocker and he was right to have done that. The result of his search was a knockout. A total killer. Here’s what gargoyle.cro had to say about one of the greatest writers of all time:
Lovecraft had discovered the Necronomicon inside one of the rarely visited pyramids during one of his numerous visits to Memphis. He hinted on it once in a veiled remark as the secrets of Memphis in one of his discussions about the ancient text. Lovecraft studied the book and having discovered its secrets disappeared from public life by feigning his own death in April, 1937.
“I thought Lovecraft died in March, 1937!” Mike said.
According to gargoyle.cro, Lovecraft lived on for a longer period than is on record and had a permanent residence in Memphis. His life fed off the power of the Necronomicon. He even wrote a couple of bestsellers under a pseudonym. He died in March, 2001. Got tired of living and signed himself off was more like it.
Mike couldn’t believe his luck. He had found the mystical vulgate. How could all the great writers claim it never existed? “With this machine I can keep churning out bestsellers all my life.” Secrets of Memphis was Mike’s next bestseller. A bigger better deal than his first novel and both author and publisher went home smiling. Of course, he published his discoveries as fiction and people for having a great imagination. Mike knew something these people didn’t know.
In ten years, he’d published ten novels and two short story collections. He moved his family to a mansion and had his writing life on track.
“Mike?” Richie, Mike’s agent had called his personal phone one evening.
“Yeah, Richie. I’m here.” Mike had just arrived from a visit to the Cornrow Central Park with his family.
Mike knew Richie would never call in if all Tonia had was a case of fever or a slight headache. He pulled out the dining chair and slumped into it. Tonia was Richie’s girlfriend, they’ve been going out for a while now and Mike was suspecting they’d finally get married and settle down. And now this. “What did the doctor say?”
“That’s the problem. They don’t know what’s wrong with her. The MRI and CT scans showed zilch. They say that’s strange-impossible. And yet, they tell me her condition defies diagnosis.”
Mabel saw Mike’s face creased in worry. She walked up and took the seat beside him. “Mike is Richie okay?”
“Yeah, hon. It’s Tonia, actually. She caught some bug or something.”
Something struck Mike like thunderbolt out of the blue and he bolted for his study. But not before hanging up on Richie with the words, “I’ll call you back, buddy.”
Mike rushed his study and powered up his laptop. The one he purchased from the yard sale. The one that had a sign that read, Every story has a price. He punched the words, Tonia Dexter (that was Richie’s girl’s full name) in the gargoyle.cro search box and waited. This time the search took like forever to display the results. Mike didn’t know what he expected to see. Maybe, something of a prediction but he waited all the same.
When the result finally showed up, it only took about 120 seconds but to Mike it seemed like hours, Mike couldn’t stop the tears. Tonia would die and Richie would end up a drunk and finally commit suicide. It was too much for Mike to bear. Then, a thought occurred to him and once again he punched the keyboard.
What Mike had tried to see was how life would be without Richie his long time agent. What he saw was his wife under white sheets. Dead. For several moments, he could do nothing but stare at the screen of his magic gadget. Then, he cried aloud, “Where the hell did I go wrong?”
As if in reply the lid of the laptop slammed into place and for the first after his first story, the sign on the cover of the computer came alive and glowed.
Every story has a price.
Then, he heard distinctly, a voice speaking to him. It was the voice of the lady he’d met at the yard sale ten years ago. You took something that belonged at the other side and we are taking something from your side to replace it. Nature abhors a vacuum. It’s the price you pay for the stories we gave you.
“But, I never asked for the stories.” Mike pleaded.
“And we ain’t exactly asking, are we? You took what’s ours, we take what’s yours.”
“Take me,” Mike said, without hesitation. Leave my family and friends and take me, instead. Please.”
And so they took him and let his family be.
✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍ ✍
“Hey lady, what are you selling?” The young man asked.
“Anything you want. But it comes at a price.”
The young man’s name was Michael Rayne and he was a teacher at the local high school. Recently, he’d started writing short stories. He was just returning from the local library and something about the beat up laptop on the stack of crates had grabbed his attention.
“Is this for sale, too?” He asked running his fingers across the odd looking HP laptop.
“Sugar, everything your eyes see is for sale.”
“I don’t carry cash; you got a POS or something?”
“Take it. It’s free.”
“Really?” Michael didn’t know what he was so excited about. The computer after all, was some used up piece of shit. He had a new iPad right there in his backpack. He raised the lid and saw the initials carved on it just above the screen. “M.R., who’d this belong to?” He inquired.
“Mike Ray. My dad, he was a writer, too.”
He dropped the lid and then, he saw the sign on the back of the cover. “This,” he said, pointing to the line of words. “What do these mean?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” The lady with the rank jungle vegetation on her head said and cackled shrilly.
Michael placed the computer in his backpack, thanked the lady and went home to test his new toy. What Michael Rayne had inquired of the lady who wasn’t a lady, was a sign that read,
Every story has a price.