“…and sir, I’m telling you, this is it. This is the one.” The triumphant man leaned forward, disheveled hair falling into his face, eyes bright with excitement. “This will be the story that changes the world.”
The well-dressed executive on the other side of the desk folded his arms, tired gaze shifting from the author’s eager face to his inside-out jacket to the mess of papers scattered across a previously tidy workspace.
“Have… we met?”
“Aw, c’mon, man.” A thin paperback was produced from somewhere inside the folds of the jacket and thrust across the desk with an air of desperation. The man took it from the author’s hand like it was something contaminated, flipping lightly through the ending pages with a quiet air of disinterest.
“Oh… it’s you.” A slow glance up from the page, staring over silver-framed glasses, vague recognition in aging eyes. “Didn’t we reject this manuscript?”
“Well, I… well, yes. You did, sir, but see, that wasn’t really me writing… I found myself, man, I write like a whole different person now. It’s me. That…. ”
The author waved one hand at the book with an expression of embarrassed distaste. “That was some… some impostor who wanted to believe that he had something to say. I’ve got nothing to say, and now that I know it, now that I’ve faced my own soul, I can write the truth.”
He stopped talking abruptly, as if realizing the reality of the words even as he spoke them. There was a long, heavy silence as the two men regarded each other, the tension in the room thickening with every motionless second. The author glanced around, heart racing, noticing the dust along the edge of the desk, the family photograph on the wall, the yellow pencil on the carpet.
The nervous man jumped violently as his appraiser stood without warning, slamming the book onto his desk. “It’s been wonderful to meet you, uh…”
An awkward shrug followed the realization that he didn’t know the author’s name. “It’s my lunch break now. Unfortunately, we cannot accept your offer at this time, but we wish you the best of luck in all future endeavors. Good day.”
He straightened his tie and nudged the book towards the half-gaping man, offering a lamely sympathetic smile before turning away and leaving the door to click softly shut behind him.
The author tucked the book back into his jacket, the legs of his chair creaking as he tried to stand and found it to be impossible. Moments ago, that hard little chair had felt like a throne. There he had been, facing the enemy, unafraid, practically tasting his coming victory.
He sat up and grabbed his backpack, shoving the mess of papers inside without bothering to keep them in order, and forced himself to stand. Out the door, across the hallway, down the elevator, through the lobby, into the open air of the sidewalk. Five minutes, at the most. In this stale office it felt impossible to breathe.
He moved for the door, feeling as if he existed outside of himself, watching his own stiff movements from somewhere above the dusty ceiling. Twist the doorknob, step forward. Pause.
The yellow pencil flashed in the edges of his vision. He dove for where it lay alone on the carpet, lifting it gingerly in his palm, inspecting it. The eraser was worn to nothing and the lead was unused, clean, impossibly sharp. He pressed it against his fingertip, watching the bright drop of blood with interest as it traveled down the side of his finger and soaked slowly into the sleeve of his jacket.
He stayed that way for a moment, breathing it in, the dull pain in his finger, the colors, the yellow and the red. He thought of traffic lights, and he grinned to himself, surprised.
Straightening, he tucked the pencil carefully into his pocket. He would write his next story with it, he decided. It was the only thing that had ever felt so perfectly real.