Another mortar shell landed less than twenty feet to my right and exploded like a deafening clap of thunder. I turned around and Count Chocula was there, his army fatigues soaked in dark red blood. I asked him what the hell we were supposed to do now, but when he talked, all that came out of his mouth was a beeping sound. I laughed at the realization that the chocolate vampire’s voice sounded just like my phone’s ringtone.
“You should probably get that checked out,” I said to him. He just stared back at me blankly. There was another explosion of light that blinded me, and I woke up.
The early afternoon sunlight that poured into my bedroom window through my nonexistent curtains pierced my eyes. I looked over at my desk, where a pile of blank papers cascading out of the printer on my desk was fluttering in the light breeze that came in from the opened window, and my old IBM laptop was lying upside down. Two lights on the printer blinked red, indicating that it was both out of ink and out of paper.
I rubbed my eyes and from across the room I could make out a few nonsensical sentences scribbled hastily on a yellow legal pad next to the computer, although I couldn’t remember writing anything.
My cell phone was digging into my kidney. I dug it out from underneath my body and brought the screen to life.
66 MISSED CALLS.
Holy shit, who died?
I mean, this could be the only reason anyone would call me 66 consecutive times. Was it me? Was I dead?
A city bus screeched to a halt just below my window and I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed; I was still alive. Everybody knows there aren’t any buses in hell — only the subway.
My missed calls list looked something like this: JULIETTE, JULIETTE, JULIETTE, JULIETTE, DOMINO’S, JULIETTE, (wait, why was Domino’s calling me? How does that work?) JULIETTE, JULIETTE, and so on.
I dialed Juliette’s number and waited.
She picked up after two rings.
My one good ear that hadn’t been destroyed by standing too close to the speaker stacks at concerts in tiny Manhattan venues was then pierced with the most unnatural pitch of voice that can possibly be produced by a human.
“What the hell happened to you?
Why the fuck was she yelling at me?
“Good morning to you too, sweetheart.”
“It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, asshole.”
She was still yelling. The background noise sounded like she was standing on the middle track in Grand Central Station.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“Grand Central. Why?”
I glanced over at the clock on my nightstand. It blinked 12:00. That obviously wasn’t correct.
“So what the hell happened to you?” She asked again. I was puzzled by this question. I tried to think of everything that had happened to me before I fell asleep, but couldn’t remember anything terribly important.
“I was sleeping. What could I have possibly done in my sleep to make you scream your shrill, shrill mating call of death into my ear this early in the fucking morning?”
“You were sleeping. That’s it. That’s all you’ve done? It’s been four days for Christ’s sake, you mean to tell me that you’ve been sleeping for four days?”
I took the phone from my ear and glanced at the date.
Monday, September 10th, 2012. How is that even possible? I mean, I’d easily pulled off stretches of 24 hours, even 36 hours once or twice maybe, but never four days.
But the truth was that I had been sleeping for the last four days. Could I tell her that and give her the satisfaction though? Of course not.
“No, obviously not, but I’ve been busy with shit. Writing, running errands, meeting some friends, do I need to submit a fucking timesheet or something? Sorry I had better things to do than answer your calls all weekend. Next time I’ll know—”
She cut me off as another train passed by her. Maybe some bum would accidentally shove her onto the tracks.
“Listen, I have to go,” she yelled again, this time in my other ear because I had switched sides with the phone. My right ear was getting sweaty. “But do me a favor, try to get a job today.”
“I have a job, darling.”
“And what exactly would that be? Moping around your apartment all day, watching reruns of Law and Order and eating cold Lo Mein?”
“Close, but not really. I’m a writer, remember?”
She laughed. It was a pitiful, patronizing laugh that I’d come to know all too well.
“You haven’t written a single thing in almost two years.” She said it in a tone that sounded like a kindergarten teacher scolding a kid who just flung paint at the wall.
“Anyway, you should think about sitting down and actually writing something, don’t you want to know what it feels like to get a paycheck again?”
“I’m talking about money. You remember what that is, right?”
“Look, you’re absolutely right, I think I have an idea right now as a matter of fact. It’s about this guy and this girl, and he keeps trying to get things done, but can’t because she won’t shut–” and then she cut me off again.
“Don’t you hang up on me, goddammit.”
“Okay, you enjoy the rest of your day,” I said cheerily as I hung up the phone, pulled on a sweatshirt and headed downstairs to the store across the street for cigarettes.
As I made my way back up the two flights of stairs to my apartment, I noticed that my door was cracked and I prepared myself for a fight. Some kind of appliance was on. It sounded like the dishwasher.
Not bothering to try and figure out why someone would break into my apartment and do my dishes, I picked up the Chinese food menu that lay at my feet and rolled it up into what could very well be the least effective weapon on the face of the earth. I held it in front of me as I slowly pushed through the half-open door, like an FBI agent making a raid.
There, sitting on the couch, was my agent.
“Make yourself at home,” I said to him as I exhaled and set my takeout menu/weapon on the counter.
“This is unbelievable, man,” he said while he waved a thick stack of papers at me. “Best thing you’ve ever written, hands down.”
“Listen, I told you I was in the process of starting something, there’s no need for you to come in here and be a fucking dick about it,” I said. “I get it, I’m lazy, but if you think it’s so easy, I’d like to see you write something. Shit, I’d be content just to see you write a fucking text message with everything spelled correctly.”
“I don’t know what you’re ranting about, but I’m not here to antagonize you. I’m holding your next bestseller right here.”
“So you’re going to hire a ghostwriter to put out my next novel and not even run that idea by me? Fuck it, as long as my name’s on the cover, that’s fine with me.”
“I don’t know if you’re trying to be asshole, but you wrote this. I got the manuscript in the mail yesterday. Sent from your address. With your handwriting on the envelope.”
He handed over the big brown envelope, crumpled at the corners, and I grabbed it from him and stared at the handwriting on the front. It was mine alright. No doubt about it. But how?
He took a long pause, and then continued.
“You know, you even called me when you mailed it out and told me to “expect a package” and that I would be surprised. You sounded really excited.”
“And when was this, exactly?” I must have looked puzzled, but he wasn’t really picking up on it for some reason.
“Two nights ago. I remember it pretty clearly because it was late and the only reason I was still awake was because the Yankees game went into extra innings and I decided to watch Saturday Night Live afterwards.”
“I’m not proud to say this, but this whole scenario here is pretty much impossible given the fact that I’ve been asleep for the last four days.” I realized how weird it actually sounded when I said it out loud. “So unless I wrote it in my sleep….” And then I trailed off, suddenly remembering.
The pile of papers on my desk. The overturned laptop. The weird notes on the legal pad.
“Hey look, I don’t care what you did, how you wrote this, or how much you sleep. Just whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.” And with that, he dropped the manuscript on the table with a thud, opened up the dishwasher and pulled out his empty coffee mug, and then walked out.
When the door closed behind him, I picked up the manuscript from the table and read it. It was mine, every single word of it. I didn’t remember writing it, but it was mine.
The strangest part of it all though, the part that really blew my mind, was the fact that everything that happened this afternoon, from the call with Juliette to the conversation with my agent, to me actually picking up the manuscript and reading through it, was all there on the second to last page. It was written in detail, exactly as it was happening right now.
But what was on the last page? Did I want to ruin the ending?
As it turns out, the ending hadn’t been written yet. Instead, a blank piece of paper stared back at me with two words written at the top: Part Two.
I neatly placed the manuscript back inside of the brown envelope and then put my feet up on the coffee table.
In a few minutes, I was sound asleep again.
For more from Rob…