Finch and I wrote back and forth a few more times. Short letters, story ideas and plot summaries mostly. We had wanted to collaborate on something, but our collaborations very rarely made it past the outline stage. It wasn’t long after he moved that he had his first short story published in the Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy. It was a strange story about a man who commits a crime in the present, but is sentenced for his transgressions in the future—an alternate future. The punishment is to live imprisoned within the mind of a man who is fated to murder. Throughout the course of the story, the prisoner realizes that he’s merely a passenger in another’s life, and in a cascade of emotions ranging from paranoia to outright delusion, goes insane. His madness drives his host insane and together they decide to kill an innocent man. Before they act on their terrible impulse they speak as if they are being guided by some unknown force. As if they’re both being controlled from afar. It was brutal, and screamed of loneliness and uncertainty. I wrote to Parabola as soon as I’d read it, to congratulate him on his success.
“Thanks, SAM! I didn’t mention submitting to SF&F because I knew you subscribed and that you’d see the story if it got published. I just found out which issue it was going to be in a week ago! What a surprise. People seem to really like it. It’s weird because, I don’t really remember writing it. Not all of it anyway. I definitely outlined it, and I found some of my older drafts, but I must have gone into one of those writing trances—like we used to talk about, that place of pure creation…in the “zone.” Ha ha ha. I’m still giddy at seeing my name in print. Have a great idea for the next one.”
His next letter didn’t come for another three weeks. I’d tried sending him a few emails just to see how his writing progress was going, but they all bounced back. Before I could worry, his next few letters arrived. At the time I remember being alarmed by how strange they were. Reading them again that morning, after learning of his death, was shocking. The details, as I read them flashed vivid in my memory. I remembered reading these, but it was a distant and disconnected memory. On the whole it was as if I were reading them for the first time.
“SAM! I submitted another story to SF&F. I probably won’t hear back about it for a while, I just wanted to let you know beforehand this time. This one is about a writer who is able to transform his world through his writing. First just in little ways, then in profound reality warping ways. After a while he becomes unsure about which world he’s living in; the real world, or the world of his own fictions. He even begins to doubt that he’s the primary author of either world. I have a good feeling about this one too. Oh! Also, I pulled those boards away from the wall—there’s a window behind it! The glass is filthy and covered with tar, or black paint. I’m going to scrape it clean one day this week. Since it faces north I might have a good view of the park from here. I’ll let you know if the story gets accepted.”
Attached to this letter was another, dated the same day, but sent separately—I must have paper clipped the two together when I received them.
“Sam! It’s weird. I just re-read the story I was planning on writing to you about, and it’s really good—but there were whole passages that are just wholly unfamiliar! I think we’ve both probably been in the “zone” while we were writing. Where it feels as if something else, our higher consciousness or whatever, is guiding our writing. The Zone. This feels different, though. When I read it—I mean, most of it is clearly me, but the parts where Atrid Zenn (the protagonist), is writing his book-in-a-book, are just weird. Odd staccato sentences, not really the kind of writing I like to do. I don’t know, it’s good though. I’ll send it to you! I’d love your take on it.”
I put the letter aside and sifted through the box of Finch stuff I’d collected, which was mostly handwritten letters, but included a few email print-outs. I put the bulk of his letters aside and lifted the stained and dog-eared manuscript he’d sent me. I’d read most of it, but held off finishing it because I really wanted to wait and read it in print. He was right though, there were parts that were unlike anything he’d ever written before. I’d simply chalked it up to the progression of his artistic talents. I read the next letter.
“I finally got around to cleaning off that window. It’s pretty amazing what I’ve found; a great view of Caumsett State Park. Imagine this: a peninsula strewn liberally in fall colors, its surface comprised of a loose accumulation of hills, with sparse clusters of trees rising and falling across it. I can see some houses, fields, a few cars weaving through the forests, and out in the distance, almost due north is a—well, at first I thought it was a church steeple, or some kind of water tower but it was much too tall. It’s an obelisk. A large stone obelisk, brown and pitted with age. So old that it must have stood amongst those trees for more ages than mankind has walked upright. When the glass was clean enough I just sat there on the floor in front of the window looking at it. Watching the trees undulate like an organism straining for breath, wounded by the thick stone spike sticking out of it. I’d never heard of anything like this existing on Long Island. I’ll need to do some research, maybe even walk to the park and see if I can find it.”
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