Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ghostwriter - Chapter 1

Ghostwriter

FaithWords (May 28, 2009)


Chapter 1











November 2008

On his knees, Dennis Shore cries out.
But it does no good, and it never will.
“Say something.”
But nothing is said.
The wind beats at him, the fi eld fl at and endless, the ground
lifeless. The dark heart of the sun fades, and with it, so does hope.
A curse tears out of his mouth.
He shakes and tightens his body and glares at the sky. The words bleed in his mouth, fi ery and tingling.
He curses again, louder, as if his words are not heard.
And then he takes the lighter and fl icks it. Once. Twice.
Again and again until it finally ignites.
He watches the photograph burn, wrinkling and glowing until it slowly wisps away to nothingness.
Just like Lucy did.
And just like he will.

The Warning

(Ten Months Later)

1.

Terror should start in the dead of night, with rain trickling off the rooftops and thunder bellowing in the sky. But for Dennis Shore, it began with the simple ringing of his doorbell.

It was midmorning, already warm and looking to be clear and hot all day. Two weeks ago, he had gotten back from driving his daughter cross-country to college in California. Despite having the house all to himself now, the old routine remained the same: getting up, taking a walk along the river, coming home to the aroma of coffee, and heading up to his offi ce on the second fl oor of the hundred-year-old Victorian mansion. Yet even though the routine was the same, nothing about it felt as it had in his former life. His life when Lucy was around, when she could take the walk with him and make the coffee for him and interrupt his writing when she needed to. When she was alive. The anniversary of her passing approached, and Dennis found that nothing was the same without her. Including his writing.

His morning commute consisted of climbing the stairs to the room two doors down from their bedroom, overlooking the lawn and the Fox River below. For many years now, he had spent his mornings in this room, facing the computer screen, clacking away at the keyboard, staring through the blinds at the trees and the river, letting his imagination roam free. That imagination had been very good to him. It had been very good to his family. But ever since learning about Lucy’s cancer, it had virtually disappeared.

Now he found himself going through the motions, like a businessman shuffl ing papers all day long without ever really doing any work. Instead of arriving at his desk a little after eight each morning, Dennis found himself dropping into his expensive leather chair around nine or nine thirty. He might surf the Internet and check out the national news and see what movies were coming up and spend a thousand other minutes wandering in a thousand other spaces. He spent a lot of time on e-mail, something he had neglected when Lucy and Audrey were around. At least there was some pleasure in knowing how surprised his fans were to receive a personal e-mail from their favorite author.

On this particular morning, the Tuesday after Labor Day, he was watching yet another political satire on YouTube when the doorbell rang. The ring always sounded wrong to him, like it was ringing in an old church rather than a suburban home. Certain things about this house would always be old, even if he replaced them. Maybe it was the acoustics or just his imagination (the small bit that remained), but the doorbell seemed to echo a bit too long.

Dennis used to hate interruptions during his writing, especially when he was in midthought or midsentence. But now these interruptions were almost welcomed. Climbing down the creaking wooden stairs, Dennis opened the door.

And for the fi rst few seconds as he stood at the entryway, he was sure his eyes were playing a trick on him. Or he was dreaming. That’s right. He was dreaming, and he would wake up soon.

But he knew that wasn’t right. He felt the sunlight on his bare arms and smelled autumn in the air, and he knew he wasn’t dreaming because he hadn’t dreamt since Lucy passed.

Dennis stood at the door, staring at a tall skinny girl who was white as a ghost. Her black eyes and raven hair were the two things that stood out: eyes that didn’t blink, that didn’t move, that looked dead; and long, stringy hair that fell all the way to her waist.

As he noticed the hair, he noticed something else.

Both of her hands shook. And on each of her arms, just below the sleeves of her short-sleeved shirt, brownish-purple bruises stood out like grotesque tattoos.

Before Dennis could say anything, she made a simple declaration: “The book cannot come out.”

But even though he stood there startled and speechless, Dennis knew exactly what she was talking about.

He had wondered when this day might come.

2.

Dennis wanted to say something—what exactly, he wasn’t sure—as he glanced out toward the lawn, freshly cut from yesterday. Nobody was around—no television crew or joking friends or anybody capable of explaining what was going on. Finally he reached out and touched the girl’s shoulder.

She winced in pain, her pale ghostly face grimacing. He stared once again at the bruises evenly placed along her arms. He wondered how they got there.

“Are you okay?” he asked as his eyes watched her trembling body. “What’re you doing here?”

“You’re Dennis Shore, right?” Her voice sounded hoarse, as though from screaming.

He hesitated to answer the question, thinking back to the incident with the fan a few years ago. “What do you want?”

“Answer the question. Are you Dennis Shore?”

“Yes.”

The eyes remained lifeless, unmoved.

“You’re in a lot of trouble.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about someone who wants to hurt you the way he hurt me. And I don’t think he’ll be as gentle with you as he was with me.”

Something in her voice was off. Her angry eyes and almost fearful trembling body contradicted each other.

“Who are you talking about?”

“I was hoping you’d tell me. I was hoping you could tell me who did this to me.”

“Who did what?”

She dropped to her knees and began crying. Crying and cursing. Dennis knelt over and touched her back. She pulled away at his touch.

“Can I get someone—”

“Don’t you call a soul. Don’t call anybody. I swear on my life—don’t call anybody.”

“What’s your name? Are you cold?”

“Of course I’m not cold,” she said.

“You’re shivering.”

“I’ve come to warn you, Dennis.”

“Warn me about what?”

“Are you going to let me in or make me stay on your doorstep so the neighbors can watch?”

Dennis couldn’t help looking around again, knowing nobody else was there. Then he stepped away and let the gaunt girl walk past and into the house.

She didn’t ask whether she could sit on the couch in his living room. She sat at the edge, her arms still trembling. Dennis noticed her bony ankles, so frail they looked like they could snap any second.

“Do you need help?”

“You’re a writer, right?” she asked him.

“Yes.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not a deranged fan. I haven’t read any of your books. But he has.”

“Who?”

“The guy who did this. The guy who did this to me. The guy I can’t get out of me.”

She wrapped her arms around her legs as though trying to make herself into a ball, as though she was trying to hide.

“He just kept saying the same thing over and over.”

“What’s your name?” Dennis asked. “Please—are you okay?”

“If it starts it will be impossible to stop,” she said, her voice throaty, grainy.

“If what starts?”

“That’s what he kept saying to me over and over again. If it starts it will be impossible to stop.”

His eyes found the purple bruises.

“That’s nothing. You should’ve seen what else he did. You should see my back. And my stomach.”

“Who did this to you?”

“I haven’t even read anything by you. I just lied and told him I had. Not even to be cool, you know. Just to say I had. I think I saw a movie or two. I don’t know.”

“I’m sorry but I don’t understand—”

“Yeah well, I don’t understand either, Mr. Shore. I go to a bar the other night and meet this interesting guy who buys me all these drinks, and one thing leads to another and then the guy starts beating me. Not in the face. But in other places. And he does other things. And he’s angry. This guy is the angriest guy I’ve ever met. But he’s also just—I don’t know. Crazy. And he keeps talking about you. About Dennis Shore this and that. All while he’s hurting me.”

“Look, we need to call the police.”

“No.”

“If you’ll just settle down for a moment, I’ll—”

“You settle down. You don’t get it. You have to stop it now. The book can’t be published.”

“What book?”

“Empty Spaces.”

“It’s not out yet.”

“I know that. I’m trying to tell you it can’t be published because if it is you’ll suffer.”

Her words made sense, but the way she was speaking them and this entire scene made none at all.

“Just listen—okay? Just tell me your name, and I’ll make sure—”

Suddenly a scream tore from the girl, startling Dennis so that he stepped back and almost tripped over an armchair.

“I know why I am here, Dennis. Do you?”

A vein lined her forehead, her lips pouty and full.

“I live here. And it’s okay, I’m going to get you some help—”

Once again she howled. “Do not mock me.”

“I’m not mocking you.”

“I know all about you.”

He nodded.

“I know all about you, Dennis, and you need to stop that book from being published.”

“Okay, sure. Why don’t we just settle down and talk about this?”

“There is nothing to talk about. Not anymore. Not now. Not after what you’ve done.”

“What’s your name?” Dennis asked, inches away from her but not touching her.

“It’s Samantha. And I know.”

“Good. You know. That’s good.”

She shook her head, her eyes narrowing. “Don’t patronize me, Dennis. I know things. This guy—this monster. He told me. He told me right before . . .”

“Right before what?”

“Right before he took from me. Right before he took something that didn’t belong to him. Right before he hurt me.”

Dennis looked into her dark, probing eyes.

“The same way you took from him.”

He didn’t breathe. He didn’t move. He just stared at her, the white skin and the dark eyes and the twitching body.

Samantha rubbed her hands as though she were cold even though the room was warm. With a glance that didn’t waver, eyes that didn’t blink, she spoke clearly.

“You’ve done something, and I don’t know if he wanted me to warn you or not. You need to understand—you’ve done something and you need to be careful.”

“Careful about what?”

“This man wants to hurt you. And it’s all because . . . Plain and simple, the book cannot come out. It can’t be released. Ever.”

3.

Dennis wanted to back up and retrace the moments from waking up. Was it something in the coffee? Perhaps a full moon approaching? Was he still in bed having a long, drawnout nightmare that he would from?

Nothing explained the girl sitting across from him.

Yet even though he had a hundred questions, Dennis didn’t want to talk about his next book.

He wanted to change the subject.

Permanently.

“Where are you from?”

“Does it matter?” she asked.

“I just—if you have family—”

“My family’s all from downstate. I’ve been living in Chicago since college. For the last few years.”

Dennis couldn’t help sighing, feeling uncomfortable and unsure what to do.

“I’m not mad.”

“Excuse me?” Dennis asked.

“I’m not crazy. I know—I heard about it just like everybody else. The girl who broke into your house a few years ago. Said she was your biggest fan. Went all Kathy Bates on you? I know. I’m not that person. Like I said, I’ve never read anything by you.”

“Okay.”

“Plus, I even rang the doorbell.”

“And you came here to warn me?”

She licked her dry, cracking lips. “How many times do I need to tell you?”

“But I don’t understand.”

“I hoped you could give me a little more information on the guy who raped me.”

He stared at her as her eyes bored into his soul.

“That’s right. I said it. And as much as I’ve tried, I can’t get the stench of him off me.”

“When did this happen?”

“A couple weeks ago.”

“Did you report it?”

“Of course not. I don’t even know who the guy is. What his name is. Nothing. I was hoping you could tell me.”

“I don’t know who you’re talking about.”

He felt something inside of him ache. He guessed her to be around the same age as his daughter. He wanted to put an arm around her, to call the authorities, to rush her to the hospital, to do something. But he doubted she would let him do a thing.

“You don’t have any crazy relatives? Any crazed fans that have been terrorizing you lately? Nothing?”

Dennis shook his head.

“He acted like—when he was hurting me, he kept saying your name over and over again.”

“Are you—do you need anything?”

“Oh sure. Maybe the last fi ve years of my life back. Then I wouldn’t be at the wrong place with the wrong people, and I wouldn’t happen to meet the wrong guy. I always meet the wrong guy but this—this was different. He was different.”

“Samantha—look . . .”

“No no no,” she said. “I didn’t come here for sympathy. I came here to tell you. Some crazy guy has a thing for you. And he said the next book couldn’t come out. So there, I told you. And that’s it.”

She stood to leave.

“Don’t—hey, let me just call one of my friends. I have a buddy who’s a cop.”

“No thanks. I’ve dealt with them enough in my life.”

“Can I get you anything?”

“Yeah. You can give me the name of the guy who did this to me.”

“So you can report him?”

She laughed, a low, maniacal laugh that made Dennis’s skin crawl.

“I don’t want to report him,” she said. “I want to kill him.”

Dennis watched as she opened the front door and glanced back at him. A wave of prickles washed over his skin as he noticed her smile.

It was the kind people wore when they were dressed in their Sunday best, lying on their backs in a casket as mourners passed by.

4.

“I couldn’t get her to stay.”

“Did you want her to stay?” Ryan Cummings asked as he sipped from the cup of coffee Dennis gave him.

“Not exactly. But I didn’t want her to go either.”

“She drive here?”

“She walked down my driveway toward the road and disappeared. I didn’t hear an engine start.”

Ryan gave a wry smile. “Maybe she was a ghost.”

“That’s funny,” Dennis told the deputy.

Ryan had been a friend since years ago when he professed to be a big fan. Ever since Breathe broke out and became a bestseller, Dennis discovered more and more self-professed fans everywhere, from the grocery store to his dentist’s offi ce. Ryan was a nice guy, the sort of cop who probably wouldn’t write you a ticket if he pulled you over for speeding.

Dennis met the affable young man after the garage incident— the second since Dennis’s launch into fame. The fi rst and more harmless incident, the one the media found out about and reported, involved a high school girl who showed up at his house in the middle of the night to get an autograph. He had laughed it off, but it had shaken Lucy up pretty badly.

The garage incident happened months later, and the only people who knew about it were the local authorities. Dennis hadn’t even told his wife or daughter.

“You don’t think she’s talking about Sonny, do you?” “Sonny Jacobs? No way. That guy’s still in a nuthouse over in Tinley Park. He was harmless. Sonny would never hurt a girl. And a girl would never talk to Sonny.”

Sonny Jacobs was the bipolar, alcoholic fan Dennis found in his garage one afternoon, holding a loaded gun, talking about cowriting a book with Dennis. The gun turned out to be empty, but nevertheless it was a scary experience. Dennis had called the cops and a host of them had swarmed his house.

It had luckily been when Lucy and Audrey were spending a weekend in downtown Chicago.

“What do you think I should do?” Dennis asked.

Ryan wasn’t dressed in his uniform since he was off today. It wasn’t unusual for Dennis to see the deputy when he was off. Dennis used Ryan as a resource for his novels. The young guy with the crew-cut hair and boyish looks enjoyed assisting Dennis in his writing projects.

But there hadn’t been a writing project in some time now.

“You wanna report it?”

“I’m not sure what I’d report.”

Dennis had told Ryan everything. Well, almost everything. Everything except the girl’s accusation that he had stolen something.

Dennis kept that comment to himself.

“She didn’t take anything, did she? Did you threaten you?”

“No.”

“Then there’s nothing to do.”

“What if she really was raped? What if the story is true?”

“Then she needs to report it. You said she lives in Chicago, right?”

“That’s what she said.”

They were in the same room that Dennis and the girl had been sitting in, a separate room right off the entry to the old mansion. The house had been built in 1895 and renovated several times since, the most recent right after Dennis and Lucy moved in seven years ago. The rooms had high ceilings and intricate woodwork, especially around the fi replace in the living room.

“She didn’t look like she was lying,” Dennis said.

“Think she’s on anything?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t act like it. But I’m not a good judge of that.”

“Want to fi le a report?”

Dennis shook his head. “No. The last thing I want is press. I got enough of that last time. I think it only breeds more intruders and craziness.”

Dennis went to the kitchen to get a bottled water. Ryan followed him and took in the view of the backyard. The deputy stared out at the sunlight beaming off the river behind the house.

“You have quite a view.”

“That’s what sold us on the place. Lucy always wanted a house by the river.”

Ryan looked back at him, a sad smile on his face. “Last time I saw you was at the funeral.”

“Yeah. Saw a lot of people that day.”

“Sorry.”

“Me too.”

“Where’s Audrey?”

“Took her to college a few weeks ago. All the way in southern California.”

“Where’s she going?”

“Biola. She got a scholarship there.”

“Never heard of Biola.”

“It’s a Christian college.” Dennis rolled his eyes. “That’s something she takes after her mom.”

“How’s that going?”

“Her being at college or me being here alone?”

“Both.”

“Well, Audrey’s loving it. And as for me, despite the visit from Little Miss Spooky, things are normal.” Dennis shrugged.

“Ask me in a month.”

“Okay.”

Dennis scanned the lawn and its crisscross pattern. He peered through a window that could use cleaning, looking out toward the river that never stopped and never died.

The deputy patted his back. “Don’t look so worried, buddy. Maybe she’ll get some help.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

But for some strange reason, Dennis didn’t think so. And all he could hear were the words she had said in that frightening, unnatural tone: “The book cannot come out. It can’t be released. Ever.”

Dennis did his best to make small talk with Ryan about his books and writing and the fact that Ryan’s aunt so-and-so just read all of his books and eagerly awaited the new one.

The new one that must not be published.

Dennis soon found himself telling the deputy good-bye, wondering if he had imagined the whole thing.

Things like that only happened in the pages of books and on the movie screen. This was real life, which consisted only of living, breathing human beings you could see and touch. That’s all.

Just because he wrote bestselling novels about the supernatural didn’t mean he believed in them.

5.

At four that afternoon, the doorbell rang again.

Dennis was half asleep, watching ESPN. He bolted off the couch toward the door, hesitating as he grasped the handle. He knew it was the girl again. It had to be her.

He wondered if he should call the cops.

Finally he opened the door, surprised to see a tall man in a brown uniform.

“Hello, sir,” the UPS driver said, asking him to sign for a package.

He didn’t need to open the box to know what was inside. For a long time he just stood there, staring at the package.

Eventually he opened it.

The new book had arrived.

1 comment:

Carmen7351 said...

Oh, this is a 'gotta read' story! Plagiarizing can get people into a lot of trouble, but this one seems worse that anyone could expect! Wowzer!