Letters - pt. II

     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.”


© Tim Mucci, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tim Mucci with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Letters - pt. I

     I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully piece together what happened to my friend, Parabola Finch, last night. I don’t know how to understand it, even after knowing him since we were both teenagers, after reading letter after letter of his. We were the quiet weirdos of our suburban town. The readers. The loners. The seekers after greater mystery; drawn ineluctably to the stories of Tolkien, Heinlein, McIntyre, and Dick. We didn’t go to the same high school, but we knew the same people. We worked the same summer jobs and wove throughout the same slowly disintegrating friend circles. We’d share whispers when we’d encounter each other by chance at a random backyard party. As that final summer wound down, with high school behind us and college, jobs, and the unknown ahead, we lost touch. I’m not convinced that a true understanding of his can be found in our shared past, but must instead lie in our recent epistolary friendship. Years wound by, and we both stumbled separately toward adulthood. We found each other by email and starting chatting. Long chains of digital text gave way to handwritten letters. Letter after letter. Funny that it was a phone call that brought me here, to Finch’s desk. Trying to understand what happened.

 

     Yesterday, at around three a.m., I was awakened by a call from the Nassau County police. The voice on the other end apologized for waking me, but wanted some information concerning my friend, Finch. I didn’t understand why I was being called, and I said as much but the officer on the other end only repeated that mine was the only contact number they had; Finch was dead. I didn’t know how to understand that just then. The sudden death of a young man, a friend, left me stunned. There was silence for a while before the officer suggested that I come down to view Finch’s personal effects, and asked me if I had contact information for anyone else they should call.

 

     Was there anyone else? What did I really know about Finch? How did he die? I assumed suicide, but when I intimated that to the officer he rebuffed the suggestion. I considered murder, but before I could mention it, the cop said that they weren’t quite sure how he died. Some kind of freak electric accident.

 

     I was even more stunned. An accident? Finch had been going through some rough times in the past month or so. He’d just split from his wife—not a divorce, just estrangement. They’d grown apart, he said. He’d moved out of the small, well-decorated apartment they shared on Long Island, and had rented a garret room in an old boarding house near Lloyd Harbor. He’d lately taken on an obsessive need to write, and blamed the demise of his marital relationship on this. As of late he seemed almost to care more about filling up notebooks (which he did readily and with speed. I can see many from where I’m sitting) than about people. The people in his life, his family (what little he had left) and friends, became sources of synthesis for him. Objects he could release into his stories so that he’d always be in control the outcome. We often shared stories back and forth, and I frequently recognized myself and others in his tales.

 

     After I got off the phone with the police I couldn’t sleep, so I started sifting through some letters and emails Finch and I had sent to one another. We had communicated in some fashion at least everyday. We chatted and planned by email, but it was in our letters that we really talked. I empathized with Finch and his desire to write. We would often talk about taking a road trip to the woods, renting a cabin, and writing in solitude. It was a daydream for me, I guess. I enjoyed writing, but I didn’t need to do it with the same self-immolating passion as Finch. My daydream became Finch’s reality as he moved out of his co-op and into this garret room. Once he moved he stopped sending me emails entirely, and only sent handwritten letters. Scrawls of black ink on lined paper. Harsh slashes and gentle curves. It was just this morning, still foggy from sleep and terrible news, before the quiet of dark gave way, that I scanned one of the first letters I received from Finch after he’d moved.

 

“Sam! I know that no one understands why I had to leave. Why I needed to get away from everything. Why I needed to dedicate myself to writing and writing alone. For now at least. I think that you understand, and I know that you’re not going to judge me.  At least I hope you won’t. The pull was just too strong. I didn’t bring much with me. Pens, paper, my books, my notebooks, a portable typewriter, and a laptop. As soon as I moved in and put my stuff down I had the urge to write. The instantaneousness of it, the creative urge blasted out from this perfect solitude. This can’t last forever.”

 

     I wasn’t quite sure what he thought wouldn’t last forever. His estrangement from life? His urge to write? Not wanting to make him feel bad about himself I never pressed. I wrote him back, told him that I was excited that he was making the move to write full-time, but expressed caution about how this might affect his personal relationships. I also asked him to describe his new place to me.


“It’s off. It’s clean and neat, of course, but it’s an attic. There’s a separate entrance on the east side of the house; a rickety zig-zag of stairs that was added to the outside a while back (so the owners told me). The room is basically a large rectangle. The ceiling is a sloped peak, dormered—so that you can only really stand at full height when walking down the center of the room. It’s really pretty nice and roomy. There’s a tiny bathroom to the east; just a toilet, sink and a cramped shower (the bathroom ceiling slopes too!), and a small kitchen area just opposite the bathroom. There’s a little nook that doesn’t slope, an alcove on the north side, this is where I’ve put my writing desk. There’s a window on that wall, but it’s been boarded up. I’ll have to check that out soon.”

 

***


© Tim Mucci, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tim Mucci with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.