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datatime: 2022-09-30 18:26:29 Author:elwRatrd

The man was one of the Crazy Folks, of course; that was now proven in brass if any further proof had been needed. As to how it had made him feel, finding that the similarity actually existed ...

It was the telephone which woke him an hour and a quarter later. He struggled out of a terrible dream-someone had been chasing him, that was all he could clearly remember-to a sitting position on the couch. He was horribly hot; every inch of his skin seemed to be running with sweat. The sun had crept around to this side of the house while he was sleeping and had shone in on him through the window-wall for God knew how long.

He peered inside the pack. He saw three little coffin nails, all in a row.

Mort walked slowly toward the telephone table in the front hall, plodding like a man in a diver's suit walking in the bed of a river against the current, his head thumping slowly, his mouth tasting like old dead gopher-shit. For every step he took forward, the entrance to the hall seemed to retreat a step, and it occurred to Mort, not for the first time, that hell was probably like the way you felt after sleeping too long and too hard on a hot afternoon. The worst of it wasn't physical. The worst was that dismaying, disorienting sense of being outside yourself, somehow-just an observer looking through dual TV cameras with blurry lenses.

He felt guilty, and that was absurd. Infuriating. He had not stolen John Shooter's story, and he knew he hadn't-if there had been stealing (and there must have been; for the two stories to be that close without prior knowledge on the part of one of the two players was impossible for Mort to believe), then it had been Shooter who had stolen from him.

Yeah, it'll be him, all right-the one person in the whole wide world I shouldn't be talking to with my guard down and one half of my mind feeling unbuttoned from the other half. Sure tell be him-who else?

The most obvious thing, of course, was that it had made him feel like he needed a cigarette. This wasn't the first time he'd felt that way in the last four years; there had been times when just seeing someone puffing away behind the wheel of a car next to his at a stoplight could set off a raging momentary lust for tobacco. But the key word there, of course, was 'momentary.' Those feelings passed in a hurry, like fierce rainsqualls-five minutes after a blinding silver curtain of rain has dropped out of the sky, the sun is shining again. He'd never felt the need to turn in to the next convenience store on his way for a deck of smokes ... or go rummaging through his glove compartment for a stray or two as he was now rummaging through his desk.

Yet he still felt upset, unsettled, guilty ... he felt at a loss in a way for which there was perhaps no word. And why? Well ... because...

Well, a story was a thing, a real thing-you could think of it like that, anyway, especially if someone had paid you for it-but in another, more important, way, it wasn't a thing at all. It wasn't like a vase, or a chair, or an automobile. It was ink on paper, but it wasn't the ink and it wasn't the paper. People sometimes asked him where he got his ideas, and although he scoffed at the question, it always made him feel vaguely ashamed, vaguely spurious. They seemed to feel there was a Central Idea Dump somewhere (just as there was supposed to be an elephant graveyard somewhere, and a fabled lost city of gold somewhere else), and he must have a secret map which allowed him to get there and back, but Mort knew better. He could remember where he had been when certain ideas came to him, and he knew that the idea was often the result of seeing or sensing some odd connection between objects or events or people which had never seemed to have the slightest connection before, but that was the best he could do. As to why he should see these connections or want to make stories out of them after he had ... to that he hadn't a clue.

Time-travellers from another age, Mort thought. He stuck one of the cigarettes in his mouth, then went out into the kitchen to get a match from the box by the stove. Time-travellers from another age, riding up through the years, patient cylindrical voyagers, their mission to wait, to persevere, to bide until the proper moment to start me on the road to lung cancer again finally arrives. And it seems the time has finally come.

Yet he still felt upset, unsettled, guilty ... he felt at a loss in a way for which there was perhaps no word. And why? Well ... because...

He dreamed he was lost in a vast cornfield. He blundered from one row to the next, and the sun glinted off the watches he was wearing-half a dozen on each forearm, and each watch set to a different time.

It was as plain as the nose on his face ... or the round black hat on John Shooter's head.

Ahead of him, the corn on both sides of the row shook and rustled. Amy stepped out from one side. John Shooter stepped out from the other. Both of them held knives.

He dreamed he was lost in a vast cornfield. He blundered from one row to the next, and the sun glinted off the watches he was wearing-half a dozen on each forearm, and each watch set to a different time.

I am confident I can take care of this business, Shooter said as they advanced on him with their knives raised. I'm sure that, in time, your death will be a mystery even to us.

At that moment Mort lifted up a Xerox of The Organ-Grinder's Boy manuscript, and there, beneath it, was a package of L & M cigarettes. Did they make L & M's anymore? He didn't know. The pack was old, crumpled, but definitely not flat. He took it out and looked at it. He reflected that he must have bought this particular pack in 1985, according to the informal science of stratification one might call-for want of a better word-Deskology.

Well, a story was a thing, a real thing-you could think of it like that, anyway, especially if someone had paid you for it-but in another, more important, way, it wasn't a thing at all. It wasn't like a vase, or a chair, or an automobile. It was ink on paper, but it wasn't the ink and it wasn't the paper. People sometimes asked him where he got his ideas, and although he scoffed at the question, it always made him feel vaguely ashamed, vaguely spurious. They seemed to feel there was a Central Idea Dump somewhere (just as there was supposed to be an elephant graveyard somewhere, and a fabled lost city of gold somewhere else), and he must have a secret map which allowed him to get there and back, but Mort knew better. He could remember where he had been when certain ideas came to him, and he knew that the idea was often the result of seeing or sensing some odd connection between objects or events or people which had never seemed to have the slightest connection before, but that was the best he could do. As to why he should see these connections or want to make stories out of them after he had ... to that he hadn't a clue.

He picked up the phone thinking it would be Shooter.

Yeah, it'll be him, all right-the one person in the whole wide world I shouldn't be talking to with my guard down and one half of my mind feeling unbuttoned from the other half. Sure tell be him-who else?

It was the telephone which woke him an hour and a quarter later. He struggled out of a terrible dream-someone had been chasing him, that was all he could clearly remember-to a sitting position on the couch. He was horribly hot; every inch of his skin seemed to be running with sweat. The sun had crept around to this side of the house while he was sleeping and had shone in on him through the window-wall for God knew how long.

'It'll probably taste like shit,' he said aloud to the empty house (Mrs Gavin had long since gone home), and set fire to the tip of the cigarette. It didn't taste like shit, though. It tasted pretty good. He wandered back toward his study, puffing away and feeling pleasantly lightheaded. Ah, the dreadful patient persistence of addiction, he thought. What had Hemingway said? Not this August, nor this September-this year you have to do what you like. But the time comes around again. It always does. Sooner or later you stick something back in your big dumb old mouth again. A drink, a smoke, maybe the barrel of a shotgun. Not this August, nor this September ...

His last thought before drifting off was a repeat: He's not done with me yet. Oh no, not this guy. He's a repeater.

Mort walked slowly toward the telephone table in the front hall, plodding like a man in a diver's suit walking in the bed of a river against the current, his head thumping slowly, his mouth tasting like old dead gopher-shit. For every step he took forward, the entrance to the hall seemed to retreat a step, and it occurred to Mort, not for the first time, that hell was probably like the way you felt after sleeping too long and too hard on a hot afternoon. The worst of it wasn't physical. The worst was that dismaying, disorienting sense of being outside yourself, somehow-just an observer looking through dual TV cameras with blurry lenses.

He dreamed he was lost in a vast cornfield. He blundered from one row to the next, and the sun glinted off the watches he was wearing-half a dozen on each forearm, and each watch set to a different time.

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