THE PRICE OF SUCCESS

September 27, 2009 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

In this ghost story, a writer does not sell his soul to obtain fame. He discovers a source of recognition, but there is a price.
This story was published in Nocturnal Ooze.

THE PRICE OF SUCCESS

So long ago, to gain success and fortune, I accepted help. I had no idea of the cost of my weakness.
* * *
I made West Chester, Pennsylvania my home. It’s a small hamlet forty miles west of Philadelphia. Although construction marched across the landscape, there were still open fields, some farming and a sense of freedom not found in the city. I pursed a writing career turning out short stories and poetry published in small presses. I had not made a cent. Working as a short-order cook and doing seasonal work, I managed to get by.
For years I’ve also been working on a novel of gothic horror. I felt the story line was fine but could not capture the moodiness of the genre, could not complete the book. Every night, after work, I would sit and produce nothing but a pile of crumpled paper. The manuscript lacked a life of its own, remaining far from a finished product.
To boost my spirits, I would sometimes visit one of my favorite haunts in West Chester – Baldwin’s Book Barn. Baldwin’s is a rambling building with shelves upon shelves of old books spread over five ramshackle floors. I would roam the barn for hours, finding treasures on the shelves to ponder in one of the comfortable rocking chairs scattered throughout the barn or, if the price was right, take home.
One day, while visiting Baldwin’s, I wandered past the rare book room. This room was kept locked and special arrangements were needed to gain entry. Although I had wanted to spend some time in that room, I knew my pockets were not deep enough to gain admittance. This day, however, much to my surprise, the door to the room was ajar. I cautiously entered and found the room to be empty. It was a small room. Its walls lined with bookshelves and a solitary table and chair off to one side. The shelves held leather-bound volumes, first editions of some of the most famous authors of the English language. There were books by Hemingway, Hawthorne and Poe. Herman Melville was represented along with H. G. Wells. As I poured over the titles, something caught my eye, a slight movement from the direction of the table. I turned quickly but could find nothing. I continued to wander around the room and again felt a presence, a feeling that I was not alone. I turned slowly to the table to discover that my intuition was correct. For a fleeting moment I was not alone, and in that moment, I knew I must return to the Book Barn that night.
I left the bookstore and drove my car from the small parking lot in front of the barn to one of my part-time jobs. My plan was to return near closing time, sometime before nine o’clock. I would park my car in a nearby development and walk the mile to the bookstore. I was sure that they checked their parking lot at closing time to see if any customers remained in the store and in this way my presence would go unnoticed. The store itself was one huge hiding place. With its haphazard arrangements of shelves, it was full of nooks and crannies where one could easily be concealed.
Entering the store at eight, I nodded to the manager and made my way to the upper levels. I quickly found a hiding place on the second floor, the home of the rare book room. Soon after nine, I heard the store manager climb the rickety stairs and begin turning off the lights, starting at the highest level and working his way down. I made sure I was nowhere near the light switch and my hiding place went undiscovered. The only sounds I heard were the occasional creaking of the old building settling in for the night.
Security lights illuminated the first floor and some of the light filtered up through the spaces between the floorboards. I tried the door to the rare book room and found the door to be locked. I located a comfortable rocking chair and began my surveillance. The excitement of the quest quickly gave way to the weariness of the day and I was soon dozing, then fast asleep.
It was one A. M. when I suddenly awoke. It took me a few moments to remember where I was. I slowly made my way through the darkened passageway of the bookshelves until I stood before the rare book room. An eerie glow emanated from beneath the door. I tried the door and it opened easily. There, sitting before the ghost of a candle was the figure I had glimpsed that afternoon. I recognized him immediately by his manner of dress, the small mustache and the sorrowful eyes – it was Edgar Allen Poe. He sat at the table piled high with papers, his face sad with the knowledge he held. He did not look up but his lips were moving and the words entered my brain.
“I exist in neither heaven nor hell,” he said, “but between these leather-bound volumes. My soul is tied to my thoughts, to my dreams and my fears, and it is mostly the fears that lie between these covers. … The tortured nightmares that pursued me I in life I entrapped on the page, but their number was endless as I dipped into their essence for material. Once a fear was conquered it was replaced by a fiercer, more wicked specter.” Glancing at me, he continued, “You carry demons within you, as we all do,” he said as he slowly shook his head.
It was then he began to write. It was the same story I had written, well, almost the same for the improvements were obvious. He rewrote sections with which I had been having the most trouble, sections that would not come together. His lips moved and I could hear the words he was writing.
“Nothing in life comes easy, there is always a price,” he said. With that he set aside his writing, stood, and was gone. With trembling hands, I retrieved the pages. I accepted the help. I was in need of help even if it came from beyond the grave. I kept all the changes and the story was published. To see my name in print, to have my work recognized was like a drug. I could not get enough. That was some time ago. Fame and fortune are mine, but I now know the price.
It began one night, months after my book was published. I dreamt that a creature was squatting in the corner of my room, a being not of the waking world. He had a narrow face ending in a pointed chin. His eyes glowed red like the fires of hell. I refer to this being as ‘he’ but the more proper term would be it. Its body was covered with gray matted fur and its short thin legs bent backward at the knee. It there is a hell; this creature journeyed from that destination.
Speaking in a hollow – echoing voice it spoke to me of horrors. The horrors I could see as the demon’s form faded to be replaced by the story it told. This visage from hell weaved unspeakable stories, stories to gruesome to use. I took their essence of horror and changed them for no one would believe what was depicted in my dreams. It was after the stories were published that I learned the horrible consequences of my plagiarism.
The first was of a man possessed by demons. His wife had just given birth to their first baby, a son. The demons told the man that the son would grow to be a spiritual leader; the baby must be destroyed, and he was. I could see this in my dream, every detail, along with the shocking outcome. With changes made I wrote the story and it was published. Once in print, the story became reality. A man did kill his son as I had dreamed, and if I had dreamed longer, I would have seen him slaughter his wife and end his own misery.
I thought that surely this was a horrible coincidence, and then my nightmare visitor paid me another visit and revealed another dream.
This scenario played itself out more times than I choose to remember. The demon enters my dream, and then the story begins a movie in my mind. The more I use its stories, the greater becomes my writer’s block, until I have no stories of my own to tell.
My nights grew restless, filled with demonic dreams, dreams that would make your blood curdle. I have no release until the story is written. Once on paper, my stories are readily published and the cycle begins again. The demons hiding in the shadows seek the light of day in my dreams. I fear sleep because I know the stories won’t stop.
It has been some time since I published my first novel. From that time on success came easily, but I did not recognize the price – the horror I have unleashed upon the world. I have gathered every pill I could find, every painkiller and sleeping pill I have accumulated to serve now as my ultimate relief. Will I carry my demons into oblivion or, will they merely return to the shadows and await another while they drag my soul through hell?
THE END

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