Letters - pt. V

“I came upon a veritable wall of dead things. A natural fence of desiccated branches, emaciated saplings and ill-fed ivy vines clung together and blocked my way forward. I kicked at it and found that it broke apart easily. Beyond was the steady upward slope of a ten foot hill comprised solely of black rock. The forest hugged the perimeter of the hill, and the trees bent inward slightly. Peering over the natural fence like overbearing relatives. The saplings that formed the fence grew from dusty soil at the edge of the rock line. The rock looked volcanic. Flat and angular, with a dull luster. On the top of the hill sat the monument I’d been seeking. An obelisk of brown stone towering above me, blocking out the sun. I stood in its shadow. Words aren’t enough.

The black rock looked shattered and uneven. As though the monument had pushed up through the Earth, broke through the surface from below with volcanic force. The brown pitted stone of the obelisk stood stark above the glassy blasted rock. It looked ancient. I needed to be closer, to make certain that this wasn’t a dream or a psychotic break.

I made my way up the black rock. I expected the rock to splinter like shale, but it was firm and so smooth that I lost my footing and slipped a few times during my ascent. I cut my hand bracing my fall, but I couldn’t feel the pain.

Then I was there. Winded, bleeding, exhilarated. I was witness to the impossible. A thing like this could not exist in a place like this. I touched it, rubbing my cut hand across it; a streak of dull purple against red-brown stone. Aged and worn, but not pitted as I’d thought. No, it was graven. On all four sides and stretching up to its speared point were letters. Writing covered it. I did not recognize the letters, they weren’t english, or cyrillic. They didn’t look like logograms, hieroglyphs or pictograms. But they were words. Sentences. Words.

And as I stared at them, at the impossibility of an ancient obelisk sitting in the center of a Long Island state park, the words began to dance upon the stone. They twisted and writhed, sinuous as a flexing muscle. A buzzing, the sound of dying cicadas, rose and fell from the woods around me. Lulling me into a trance aided by the snaking symbols, and as they spiraled skyward and my eyes ran across them I found myself understanding. I still couldn’t read it, but I knew. It was telling me a story.

It’s funny, because throughout this entire thing I’ve had it in the back of my head that I’ve somehow found my way into one of my own stories; a paranoid search for my own humanity. Now I realize that I’m in one of yours, Sam. Unmade by the vastness of the universe.

The plinth spoke to me. I saw images in my mind. I saw a world. A forest with yellow skies, grey clouds, and black leafy trees with bruised pink trunks. Hardscrabble ground leaked volcanic steam. Trekking slowly across it, barefoot, were robed humanoids. The creatures had furry arms and legs. Their legs shook with each step and behind them they left a trail of bloody footprints. They were exhausted, wobbling like newborns, fur matted and oily, tired but determined. The creatures picked their way through that corpse-wood until they came to a hill and obelisk of their own. When they saw it they stopped before it and swayed uselessly. Then they dropped to their knees. I could see the dense rock drive deep, piercing flesh and breaking bones, but they didn’t seem to notice the pain. All they did was fling their arms skyward and scream. And from the screams a chant filled the air. A warbling shriek of words and sounds. Desperate supplication riding waves of fear. And the words on the obelisk crawled along the surface of the rock.

It was hard to tell where I was at this point. I could taste the acrid air of this alien world. I could see the plinth atop the black rock hill surrounded by forest. I could hear the screaming as it tore through both worlds. My eardrums vibrated violently, and just as I was about to vomit and throw myself upon the volcanic rock I felt a pulse of silence disturb the noise. The creatures fell quiet at the base of the object. A steady thrum beat the air, scanning the yellow sky of the alien world, and the iron grey of my own, I looked around to find its source. A slender figure spiraled out of the sour candied sky, breaking through a thick storm cloud. The clouds covered it like a cloak which slowly dissipated as it fell. Then, huge wings unfurled and flapped in a great beat, once, to halt the descent of the thing. Another thrum hit the air as its wings flapped again, and a gust crashed upon me like a wave. Its skin was a deep oxblood. A blunt hammer-head sat atop a slender and muscular neck. It had four limbs; all shaped like arms, and had a long, powerful back that ended in a short, tapered tail.

It wrapped its wings around itself again and dropped from the sky like a stone, then parachuted to a stop by once again opening its wings. It leveled out smoothly and glided downward. Toward the obelisk. Its face was eyeless and lipless. Reptilian teeth grinned in menace. The thing exuded a weird terror akin to looking up at the night sky and watching the stars go out, one by one. Of watching galaxies pulse and then wink out. Leaving you staring upward into a universe of nothingness. My armpits and feet grew damp with sweat, my mouth dried and I could feel my balls shrink up into my body; the true fear response of a species meeting its superior. When the thing got close to the plinth it gracefully sailed around it once, then grabbed hold of it with its prehensile fingers and mounted the tip. It secured its purchase, then folded its wings around behind itself. Two large membranes at the front of its face shivered as it craned its head, first down at the worshippers and then at me. The membranes drummed loudly as it whipped its head back and forth and gnashed its teeth. Then, like a tree frog, it clambered about the plinth to gain a better vantage. To see me. It was huge as it hunched above me and those wide membranes beat out a slow rhythm, but otherwise it stood still. Still as the rock it perched upon.

The words carved into the plinth continued to shiver and sway, and then etch themselves onto the creature’s rough, red hide. They danced up the plinth and spiraled onto the flying monster, and the creature didn’t move. It seemed to focus entirely on me. As if I were expected to do something. To tell it something. And I did. I told it a story, and as I spoke the obelisk continued to pour its language onto the entity. The story of the entity. The description of the entity. A word, a book, a sentence. A symbol that represent a greater idea. What are we but a collection of words? What are we but a story our DNA tells to the universe. The obelisk. The creature. Me. Made of all the same letters. Maybe, though. Maybe that’s the only way I can make sense of it?

When the red thing was covered with language it pushed off and glided away gracefully. The gentle currents of the wind carried it far. With a few deft flaps it gained altitude, and once more, story laden, pierced the storms above.

I couldn’t help myself. I held my hand against the plinth. Desperately. I don’t even remember when I switched fully back to our world and away from those wrong skies. I don’t remember making the choice to reach out my bloodied hand. To place my palm on the cool stone.

When I did I saw it rise. It rose up, not in the world where my hand was. In other times and other places. Smashing up through shale, soil, dirt, sand, water, molten rock. Penetrating the reality of a thousand worlds. The letters slid up my arms and now down through my pen and onto this paper. Then, soon, seen by your eyes and up into your brain. Then you’ll write them, and share them…

The words are what’s important. Not the obelisk. Not the yellow skies, or black lightning, or wailing creatures. The world is made up of words, Sam. Chair, window, desk, God. Syllabic constructs deep with meaning and context. The words are what are important, and now they are part of me. Language is creation. What exists without it? I am it, it is me, it is the creature and the obelisk. It is the stars and the night sky. Now, it is you too.

The storm is getting worse. The skies are black and roiling with clouds. The rain is torrential. The obelisk is obscured, now. Lost in the rain clouds. But yet, even at this remove, I can feel the patter of rain on its surface. I can feel the trees swaying around me, hissing in fear at the electricity in the air. I too fear as the electricity builds and fluxes. As the clouds thunder across the sky, readying their bright and wild swords. This is definitely one of your stories, Sam. A dark pantheism where even the very sky is alive and ravenous.

I suppose the themes that I love are still here, somewhat. Now that I see through the counterfeit of reality. That we are all and ever one thing. All that has ever been is in us. As I breathe, unhindered by rain and wind, I can feel the storm all around me. I can feel the tickle of static as millions of volts of electricity caress the obelisk out in the park. The strikes are getting closer.”

 

     And that was it. Just a dark scrawl on that last page. I can’t believe any of this. I’d always known Finch was out there, but this—this is too much. Too much to believe, and yet. Yet here I am, sitting at his desk, writing with his pen. Writing words and staring at the boarded up window. Puzzling over the blackened wood hidden beneath the fresh boards which barred the window. In my mind’s eye I can almost see through those boards, I can see those treetops that Finch described, I can see a heat-blackened obelisk jutting just over the tree line, a scrawl of words spiraling up its sandstone hide. I want to see that.


     It couldn’t hurt for me to pull the boards down. I think I should, in fact. I’ll tell the officer that I’m leaving, then I’ll sneak back in and stay the night. I can write until morning and pull those boards loose at first light. To see if it was just a story.


© 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. IV

     Upon entering I immediately recognized the layout from Finch’s letters. Bathroom to the left, mini kitchen to the right. Further down on the right was a wicker chair with a ratty papasan sitting in front of an older model television. DVDs were stacked up next to the TV. Across from his living room was his bedroom; a mattress, and a few storage boxes stacked in tiers. His office was a triangular nook cut into the room, and I could see the window that supposedly looked out upon the park and that mysterious monument. The window was boarded up. A crisp, pungent odor hung about the entire apartment, like an old perfume, especially in the area of Finch’s desk by the window.

     Finch’s desk is a raw wooden thing with an uncomfortable wooden chair tucked under it. A laptop lay off to the side, a portable typewriter next to it and a thick stack of graph paper sat in the middle of the desk; a fat blue fountain pen lay atop the paper. On the floor next to the desk were a half dozen shoe boxes, all stacked up. Sheets of paper were sticking out of the topmost shoe box. Endless dark scribbling filled the pages.

     Inside were notes and unsent letters, all handwritten. I thumbed through them, found the one with the most recent date--last Tuesday--and plucked it out of the box. It was addressed to me.

“SAM!  I can’t even describe today! Language fails. I’m not thinking rationally and I thought I could write this down but it’s hard to think. The stone, the words. I can’t. I need to. I need to eat and drink and think. I’ll continue, or start again later.”

     The pages felt stiff, as if they’d been damp very recently and had hardened as they dried. The ink was smudged in places, and entirely scratched out in others, but was otherwise readable.

“I stopped. But then I started again. I’m calmed now but still a little freaked out. It just started raining. Rain and thunder. It’s not helping things. It’s like I can’t stop writing. Even when I can barely comprehend what I’m writing about. Strange landscapes, byzantine plot-lines, weird characters. Like nothing I’ve ever written before. A persistent whispering in my ear. I’m exhausted but I can’t close my eyes to sleep. Because I’m staring out at it. The monument. The orator. Sitting there among the trees. Auditing the discourse of the storm. I need to stop to write.”

     I looked down at the packed shoe boxes, now gaining an inkling of what they contained.

“Okay, my thoughts are a bit more organized now. Maybe it’s because I did some writing, or maybe it’s because of the soothing sound of the rain on the window. This morning I decided to go to the park to see if I could find the obelisk. I was really excited, and an anxious vibrating energy filled me as I stepped out of the house. It was early morning, just before sunrise. The park isn’t that far so I decided to walk and enjoy the break of day and the cool morning air. The sun crested the horizon almost as soon as I left the house. Cool air and the warm sun on my face in the quiet of the morning. These are the things that make me happy.”

     There were many lines scratched out here, and I needed to turn the paper over to get to the next legible sentence. I continued reading.

“I thought I was crazy at first, when I saw the road to the park. I felt like I’d been here before. I didn’t remember until I was standing there, but I knew that my mom brought me here as a kid! The memory is so vague, and just about the only thing I remember was the smell of wet leaves, the old white farmhouse sitting just off the road to the park, and some kind of large bird. As I explored the park further I found that I had no memories of the place.

It was empty. Not a shout or laugh. I wandered the paths for hours trying my best to line up certain landmarks in my head so I’d be able to find that stone. It was taller than the treeline, and I knew that it was beyond the squat grey water tower that I could also make out from my window, but beyond that I didn’t have a clue where it might be. I wasn’t afraid of getting lost, though thinking of it now, I should have been. And I did get lost, but  I never once thought of giving up. If I had to spend the night among the scrub pines and wet trails to find the thing, then so be it.

But that wasn’t necessary. I happened upon one of the park rangers. He came wading out of the bushes with a dazed look on his face. He just sort of stumbled out onto the path, starry-eyed. His skin was sun-browned, his hair a deep orange wool. His eyes were a clear and sparkling green with a wet quality about them. Unblinking. He stared at me for a bit, like he was trying to understand what kind of animal I was. Then he asked if I needed assistance. Was I lost? His voice was accentless, save for a slight flattening of t’s, making them sound like d’s. I asked him if he knew of a the stone obelisk. I told him that I could see it from my window. That I wanted to see it up close. He scrunched up his face and I noticed the creased wrinkles that webbed his skin. He looked twenty years older just then. He shook his head and I thought he was going to run me off. Tell me to get out of the park altogether. But instead he turned and pointed off into the woods, the way he came.

I picked through the woods as the sun rose to its noon apex. There was the barest hint of a path, overgrown with ground ivy twisting among dead leaves. The trees, rotting in the cold, shivered above my head as their leafless fingers scrabbled at the sky, pleading for the sun who sat aloof in the heavens. I felt a kinship with those trees as I stumbled over roots and sodden dirt. I too was searching. Reaching and rooted to one spot. Static yet forever voyaging. In my mind I’ve been far and wide. Distant moons have felt my tread. I’ve seen the wonder and horror that the future holds. And the majesty and tragedy of the past. In my head I’ve walked the streets of Paris and the back alleyways of Rome. In life I’ve only ever been out of the country once. Always searching for life I’ve been missing. But life is all around us and the second you stop searching is the second you start living.

Or dying, maybe, too.”

     There were more crossed out lines, these few scribbled over viciously and completely. I could make nothing out of them, except for the following line floating in a sea of black:

“In any case, I made it to the stone.”


© 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.Photo credit: zeitfaenger.at @ flickr

Letters - pt. III

     Truth be told, I didn’t really believe that he’d seen an ancient obelisk from his studio window. Finch was very interested in themes of false realities, and loved to explore what it was that made us human—often he would send me stories that mixed fantasy and reality, so I’d thought that this was just another one of those. I was intrigued however, and sent him a letter asking him more about the oddity in the park. His next letter came a few days later.

“Got my acceptance letter from F&SF for the newest story today. Feels really good. I had a strange dream last night. Dreamt that I was here in my room, but it was all blue night and shadows like black ink. I was sat at my desk, looking out the window at that monument. It rose above the tree line—which was purple, and still—and the sky was yellow and grey. The clouds were arrayed around the obelisk in disturbing striations, as if the sky were a giant muscle, relaxed but ready to flex at any time. Or like scar tissue up against the vault of heaven, left there as a reminder of some long-forgotten transgression.  A flock of monstrous birds wheeled their way out of the west and began circling the tip of the obelisk. They wheeled lazily and as I watched they began to drop, silently, one by one, into the purple forest beneath them. I looked down at my paper, I guess I was writing, and it was dotted with blobs of black ink, black shapes scattered across a white page. The ink continued to spatter onto the page as I looked at it, and I soon realized where it was coming from. Ink was running out of my eyes and nose, and as it dropped onto the page it formed words. I couldn’t read them, but I tried. I stared and searched my mind trying to find the key to unlock this language. The ink dropped faster onto the page.

I found it.

I breathed out sharply and a great gout of black liquid belched out of my mouth. I saw sinew and bone pouring out of me, and I think my glasses vomiting forth in that black torrent.

SO weird!  Think I can work that into a story?”

     I didn’t know what to think. I was getting worried, but I was also going through a few personal struggles, so I lapsed in my correspondence. But Finch didn’t.

“I think I wrote another story last night. This time I don’t remember writing any of it. I read it this morning. It’s good. It’s about a woman who finds herself in a new life every time she goes to sleep and wakes up. Every morning she’s a new person and she doesn’t know why. As she starts to find the answers, her history and her memories are constantly being changed and reworked. She tries to remember the cause of the constant shifting. Was it something she wanted? A pact with the devil? Caught in some kind of time storm? Is she a prophet of old bristling with primal religious power awakening in the modern era? Or is she merely insane? Again there’s this hanging dread of being controlled by something outer. Of faceless forces granting power or delivering punishments.

Oh yeah, I’m planning on taking a walk around the park today to see if I can’t find that obelisk.”

     That marked the last of the letters that I received from Parabola Finch. This last one, which was sent to me on an index card, arrived about a week ago. It was almost light by the time I finished reading, so I put the letters away, took a shower, then made breakfast and strong coffee. I called out from work—my plan was to rent a car and drive out to Long Island to talk to the police and sort through Finch’s things. I had a strange feeling hovering over me all morning, and my girlfriend warned me against getting too involved.  Do what you must, she said as she headed out to her job, honor your friendship but don’t punish yourself for things beyond your control. I dressed in a dark suit and mulled her words over as I packed some things in a shoulder bag. There were things I needed to know beyond seeing how Finch was living or what he’d left behind. Why was I the only person listed in his contacts? What happened to his life, his friends, his wife?

     These questions stuck with me, unanswered, until I reached the address listed on Finch’s letters. It was a nice house on Harbor Hill Drive. Large and remote overlooking Lloyd Harbor and the island that housed the Caumsett State Park. Yellow police tape formed a perimeter around the house and a squad car sat in the driveway. After a quick conversation with the officer, and a few minutes spent checking my ID, I was allowed to go up into Finch’s room and instructed not to remove anything from the premises.

     My feet were unsteady on the gravel walkway that led up to the house. Its architectural design looked born out of the late 1960’s and consisted of flat perpendicular planes, a dark wood exterior and plenty of windows. It was shaped like a low rectangle, except for the roof, which rose in a  low peak, somewhat defying the squareness of the construction of the house. Like a kind of inverted top, or like an odd UFO. The peaked garrett sat like a cap upon a face of edges and glass. There was no lawn, and I could hear the undulating cry of the surf coming from the harbor clearly in the distance.

     The officer told me that no one was home and that I could go right up using the stairs which led to the separate entrance in the back of the house. She warned me not to linger anywhere but the attic. While the house was modern and seemingly well-kept, it still looked filthy, and had an ancient air to it, which I chalked up to it being so close to the water. As I stood at the foot of those stairs, made of wood and iron, switching back and forth along the side of the house, the whole scene suddenly took on a fearsome aspect. My friend had died up there. Fear pulsed out of my sapien brain as I mounted the stairs, but logic prevailed and I made it to the top, and entered the attic room.


© 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. 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.”

 

***


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