Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Core is Gone

His agony started from a misprint. Devon Jensen observed the copy of his new release Art Tragedy with a glow that only an author can feel when finally seeing the book in hand after 12 months of creating and an additional period of unfathomable edits and marketing preparation. Then his eyes fell upon the typo—a flaw in his perfect, beautiful child. To most, the error would hide behind the context. It screamed at Devon, however, like a lamb being slaughtered.


            The name his parents gave him, botched right on the cover. His homage to Mom and Dad—look at what I did folks!—was defiled.

            How did this blunder pass through all the edits, so many eyes checking it? Devon nearly dropped his coffee cup. He steadied himself by grabbing hold of his desk. Rain pounded the window to his home office. With a vicious urge to slam his mug into the wall, he instead placed the beverage calmly on a coaster. The throbbing in his fingers seemed to be the least of his problems.

            A call to his mentor made him feel only slightly better. Jane, an eternal optimist, and successful author of fiction and non-fiction assured, “The publication process is rarely smooth, Dev. Just take a walk, cool down, drop the editor a note and ask them to change it.”

            “But what about the copies that have already been printed?”

            “They’ll become collector’s items when you’re famous.”

            A smile attempted to break his frown, but came out only half-assed. With the smart phone pressed against his ear, he heard Jane, nonetheless, persevere, “I can tell you’re grinning from that one.”

            Devon paced. “It’s just such a kick in the crotch.”

“You knew this wasn’t going to be easy. So far, you’ve had a sweet ride: Talks of the novel being optioned for film, praise from critics, connections out the wazoo. Not to minimize your disappointment, but later, you’ll see this as a tiny bump in the road.”

            “Okay. I’ll do what you said. Love you. Talk next week.”

            Then, Devon dialed his best friend Rob, a studio musician who’d seen his ups and downs. “Hey dude, you won’t believe this.” He described the fiasco.

            Rob said, “Maybe you should just be happy they didn’t spell your name D-E-V-I-L.”

            Very funny.


            I better have a doctor check this out. With each peck on the keyboard, white-hot pain thrashed up through the fingers on his right hand. It felt like a filthy infection caused by a grubby fishing hook, but his digits looked normal.

He accessed his email. The messages he’d sent to the reporter illuminated the screen. Three memos over five weeks sat unanswered, jolting the fire in his fingertips. The only reply was the first contact from Brian Sloan of Westerly Magazine that read: I’d love to feature your book in my column! When would be a good time?

Excited beyond belief, Devon had answered back immediately with a very open schedule. Days had turned to weeks with lack of response; sent emails became cruel reminders of groveling.

Devon switched the computer off and swore he heard a faint crackling sound in his hand. 


The lumps on the end of his fingers appeared when Devon tried to call the film producer. He’d tried several times over the previous week to get a hold of Joe Scott with Moonlight Pictures and kept getting the recorded message. Now, a different greeting played. This one came from the wireless network. “The person you are trying to reach is unavailable to you. Please remove this number from your contacts.”

Realizing that Scott had blocked him, Devon felt appalled only enough time for the recording to repeat. When the blisters rose on his fingers, he dropped the phone.


Waiting in the emergency room, Devon managed his tablet with his left hand. To his right, a pale child drooled in the arms of his mother. She rocked the kid back and forth. The boy looked to be about six and watched Devon with keen interest. Across the room, an elderly man with thick glasses patted a bandage around his leg. Blood stained the gauze. The two other patients were ahead of Devon in waiting and he was good with that. Yeah, his fingers felt like they were going to explode and every time he sat down to clack out some prose, not only did the pain deter him, the words just didn’t flow either, but he could be worse off. He wanted the boy to get attention pronto. He winked at the kiddo. The little dude scratched through his blond hair and waved back.

Devon clumsily logged into the Good Books website, to track the giveaway of Art Tragedy. Four hundred and two readers had signed up for a chance of a free copy. Probably because of the nausea he’d been feeling, he’d lost track of time and didn’t realize that a winner had been crowned. The recipient only had the book for one day, but offered a review. One star. In the remarks, this gracious winner, Sylvia McGrath wrote: I didn’t really want it. I just sign up for all the giveaways. The cover looks kind of cheesy, so I evaluated it on that.

If augers were to have drilled out of his fingers, it couldn’t have hurt worse. Fighting the urge to throw up, Devon swiped the Good Books window to the side and tapped his email. A message at the top from his agent read: Royalty Check. He opened the message, expecting a shot in the arm.


He reread it.

Sure enough, three months of ‘the new exciting release’ yielded only enough for a fast food meal.

It sounded like someone eating with their mouth open. Devon felt a new pain at the same time. Right hand lifted to his inspection, he watched the skin caving in on his fingers. As excruciating as it was, he could only remain frozen in horror. Little beady eyed things like mosquito-sized porcupines chewed out holes where his prints used to be.

The boy who had been looking as well might have had his eyes bulge out of their sockets had his mother not fled to the other side of the room with him. She shrieked.

The porcupine things retreated back into his fingers and darkened by shadows, peeped at him like curious neighbors. No bone could be seen to speak of. Just pink chambers framed with walls of chunky white flesh and critters smirking at him. All Devon could think was: I understand now. He stood. Zero strength remained in his arm, so it fell to his side like the blob of skin that it now was. He allowed the tablet to fall and kicked it away. Then, making eye contact with the old man and the boy, he said, “I hope they get you two fixed up.” Out the door Devon strolled.


Other business contacts shunned Devon over the next few weeks which came as no surprise. He’d received the message loud and clear when the creatures made their presence known. It didn’t bother him so much that he’d been cursed not to write anymore. He’d accepted as much like one who comes to terms with having a disease. But as he regarded his rotting, flaccid arm and teased the prose-stealing gremlins in their burrows which were once his typing pokers, the torture was knowing he wouldn’t ever be able to explain articulately how he’d lost the ability.
And he sure the hell couldn’t write it.

By Gusto Dave Jackson
My thanks to the anonymous creator of that photo. I've scoured the internet to find out who it was with no luck. Whoever you are, at a time when I felt much pain, your picture inspired even more fiction which I didn't think was going to be possible.
Also by Gusto Dave: On a Dark Desert Highway.

"Eerie like The Shining with the allure of Fantasy Island. The novel packs a curve that will both impress and shock the reader."  -- Julie Luek, author in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Multitasking Mom’s Survival Guide
"Great premise!" -- Esri Allbritten, author of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles


Sisters of the Quill said...

Ah! So you published On a Dark Desert Highway! I remember you telling me about it. Cool. Now I think you need to do a food channel farce called On a Dark Dessert Highway!
That story was oh so wrong.. and the photo! Ugh! Happy Oct. our favorite time to dress up and dance! The costume box has come out and the thinking caps are on.

Chiseled in Rock said...

Dessert! LOL!

You mean your fingers never get sore? ;)

Patricia Stoltey said...

It actually sounded as if you were telling a real story, the names, of course, changed to protect the guilty. :D

Cardinal said...

Ohhhh, Gusto, the highest praise I can give you is, "That is VERY Harlan Ellison." I absolutely love it.

I'll be seeing those little critters in my dreams for a long time. You have done a fantastic job here, my friend. Congratulations!

You've left me craving more.

Anonymous said...

Ummm, my fingers hurt now, and I'm really afraid to look at them....

Chiseled in Rock said...

Damn my techy awkwardness that prevents me from getting on the blog all the time! But thank you, Cardinal, Frank, and Pat. :)