My entry into Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: “Brand New Monster”
With all the technology of the generation available to him, he still preferred his pen. Typing was too cold and mechanical. Oral dictation always felt absurd. He had made friends with that pen a long time ago, and their friendship was not easily replaced.
It was the old kind you could refill, and even after years and years of resting in the crook of his hand its black luster hadn’t lost a bit of shine. That pen had travelled the world with him; Tokyo, Stockholm, Leipzig, Athens. All of his great works had begun with the blood and tears of his tiny coworker, and he knew he owed it some measure of gratitude.
He had noticed a slow rhythmic pulsing before. He always just assumed the pen was absorbing and amplifying his own heartbeat, as anything so used and comfortable would. He blamed its random color changing ink on his inability to refill it with any consistency. Figuratively, the pen was his friend and companion, but at the end of the day it just a way to get his words onto paper.
Then one day the pen would no longer write. Despite fresh ink, dis- and re-assembly, and kind words of encouragement, its black ichor would not flow. He uncharacteristically took a day off from writing. A clean white Bic felt virgin and powerless between his fingers. Pencils felt like hippie granola garbage. His ideas fell flat, and the imagination that normally spilled, overflowing, dried to a cakey residue at the bottom of his mental cup.
He couldn’t sleep. His dreams were invaded by swirls of unwelcome color and motion, beasts with no form, mysterious and terrifying. He was haunted by a faded memory of himself as a boy, standing before an inferno. But a memory of a dream is still a dream.
A month passed and his beard grew thick. His eyes sank deep into his head, the red in them betraying his unrelenting insomnia. Not a word had been written since the day his pen had ceased to function. He had tried and tried, but he felt empty, his words hollow.
In his attempt to replace the pen, he came upon some startling realizations. He had no idea where he had gotten then pen, or when. Had it been a gift from another writer, his lover, his family? Had he purchased it on a foreign sojourn, perhaps in a drunken haze? No stretching of his memory could pull up any information about the origins of the pen.
As he tossed in half-sleep, another dream came to him. The now familiar colors swirled with terrible motion, congealing into a wall of flame that danced with all the animation of a sentient being. It spoke to him without words, its message piercing his sanity.
“Write. Write or perish.”
“I can’t. I’ve lost it. Without my pen, I’m nothing.”
“You are it, it is you. You know what it needs.”
The wall of flame burst upwards, displaying images of indescribable horror, death, and despair. He could not turn his gaze. The images washed over his mind like potent opiates, and he passed from one consciousness to another. He slept well that night.
The next morning he found a plane ticket to Johannesburg sitting on his desk, booked and paid for by his hands sometime during the night.
It had been years since he’d left the country, as his work schedule had kept him too occupied to travel. He sat in the airport as he had done a thousand times before. He had no reason to travel, but when the wanderlust set in, he could do nothing but heed the call.
He stepped off the plane into the South African air. Each continent had its own distinct smell. He liked Africa; it was all dirt and strength and primal fury. He checked into his hotel and spent the rest of the day trying to nap, and trying to fight his mounting fatigue.
When he woke up, the sun was gone. His room was awash in unfiltered moonlight. While his mind raced, his eyes struggled to make sense of the shadowy shapes that filled the room. Before he could recognize it fully, his eyes came to focus on a small black cylinder lying on the desk across from the bed.
Without a thought, he made for the street. He patted his breast pocket every few minutes to make sure his precious companion was still present and intact. He avoided any main thoroughfares, stayed away from any odd soul that would be prowling at this hour. He saw a lone, drunken man move towards and alley.
The time was right.
Either then pen changed its shape, or something gave him strength as he effortlessly drove the shaft into the stranger’s neck. The pen would not release its hold, as if suctioning itself in place like a tiny viscera vacuum. There was surprisingly little mess. The little black dagger did not waste a drop.
When he finally dislodged it from the man’s skin, his eyesight failed and his mind spun into dizzying confusion. Flames and colors burned his frontal lobe, like an acid trip gone very wrong. When he finally awoke, he was back home in his own bed, in his own room.
The sun was rising, and the curtains cut a sliver of light that glanced off his desk. There was the little pen, shiny and black, as benign as a writing tool could be. He shook his dreams of horror and death, sitting up, wondering what he had eaten to incite such weird dreams.
Casually, he picked up his old friend, turning it between his fingers. He removed the cap and pressed the tip to a blank sheet. The ink came pouring from the tip like blood from a fresh wound. As he wrote, and wrote, and wrote, all his pain and bad memories slipped away.
His pen was fixed, and he couldn’t help but smile.