It’s not that I didn’t know how to write, or want to write—I did. It’s just that I didn’t know what to write. I had too many ideas, you know. It was all written in my head, but my fingers had refused to put it in ink.
Of course, I really didn’t have much of a choice, since I was paid by the word. And when I didn’t get my words out on paper, I was in trouble—lots of trouble. But trouble not in the same sense that you’d think. They worshipped me, and when they didn’t get their daily dose of my diction, they went a little crazy, a little cuckoo. “Fatta cuckoo,” to be more specific, as one of them described their own condition the other day. And I really couldn’t handle them when they went “fatta cuckoo.”
But I guess I can’t blame them. After all, I was the only one remaining, the only writer who was willing to write anymore. I write everything for them. Stories, essays, articles, songs and some recipes once in a while—everything they are incapable of putting on paper. The Writers left ten years ago. Some left when they started getting rid of all the newspapers and magazines, others when they began throwing out the textbooks in the schools, and my family was gone by the time they demolished all the libraries. The night she left, my mother warned me, “You’re going to lose your mind if you’re really planning to stay.”
But, before I could lose my mind, they did. The Corp. Chip implants they have in their brains updates every few minutes, with live streaming on events and Cloud software to upload everything you’ve worked on for the day, future schedules, and even emotions and memories you can tap into whenever you’d like. It helps retain everything we should know; math, science, economics, some history, it’s all there. Except everything we would want to know—that’s not there. The aesthetics don’t exist. Music, literature, art—none of that. “Too emotional, too focused on human connections and not enough on what governs these connections—science,” they said at the time. “The liberal arts,” they condemned, “is the faculty of useless knowledge.”
So when the corporations began making the chips affordable, everyone started using them, and people slowly stopped reading. Then they stopped writing, and later they stopped talking. It ran pretty smoothly. They didn’t need to grab a paper in the morning, or check something out from the library. Everything was done for them. The Writers knew things were going to get bad, so they began to pack every manuscript they had or anything they had published before it started getting sent to the dump. I never quite understood the need to throw everything out. But, that’s just human nature—sometimes we feel the only way we can move forward is by erasing our roots.
It didn’t work though. Not for long. Soon, the bugs in the implants started moving quicker than the clean-ups; there were less updates, less memory, and an overload. Their desires for something else began to kick in as the science began to depreciate. Instead of moving forward, they’ve moved back. Everything before the implants has been erased and now as the implants get rusty, they are slowly returning to a historic state. My writing reminds them of desires—the written word fuels them.
I made many attempts to move past this inconvenience of literary block. I took a walk, smoked a cigarette, ate, finished a bottle or two of Merlot, got high, read a book, had sex, listened to music, slept, showered—but nothing got the creative juices flowing—nothing and no one at all.
I had an e-mail waiting for me from YesterYear, reminding me to update my payment information for the monthly subscription. I’d been paying the subscriptions for over two years now and I still had never tried the thing out. So, I shot them an e-mail, saying I’m interested in traveling tonight, preferably in the next hour. I walked around the room, thinking where I should go, or who I should meet. My inability to make quick decisions was about to get the best of me until the craft arrived outside my door five minutes later.
I opened the door and told the guy to give me a few, I had to freshen up, and he smiled back. Most of them don’t really talk, they can’t hold a conversation too well; they get confused on what they should do with all these words. I’ve become quite used to it, and so have they. They’ve grown up thinking that words have no use anymore, everything that can and should be expressed can easily be seen, talked about, or felt through their technologically advanced brains. The need to write is nonexistent. Sometimes, when you decide that you don’t need something in your life, you get rid of it completely—every particle of it—thinking even its residue would hinder your newly attained perception.
I could go back wherever I wanted. YesterYear let you do that, go somewhere a few centuries ago, or a couple hours ago. I suppose I should have gone back to when they first started inventing these things, before everything got so messed up, before all the pressure was on me. But, I guess I had gotten used to it too. I was used to being the only one who still remembered how to write. I had gotten used to being the only writer that mattered. And I liked it.
I got into the craft and the driver smiled, waiting for me to tell him where to go. “Just give me a minute, sir, I’ll tell you in just a minute.” He smiled back. I guess he sort of knew himself that I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. After all, everyone in town knew me, I was the one who provided them with some natural relief on the weekends. Their entire week is computerized—there’s no room for natural. There’s nothing organic left, except for my writing. But, they’ve been rubbing off on me, you know, I’m losing steam.
“I want to go to the Bronx, 1846” I said. He was just about to fly when I remembered. “Wait! I’ve forgotten something in there, can you give me a minute?” I ran back into the house and grabbed a chilled bottle of Amontillado from the fridge.
We got to the Bronx in five full minutes. It was a smooth ride. I grabbed my notepad, a pack of cigarettes, and my bottle of Amontillado as I said “Thanks” to the flyer. He smiled back.
It was a little chilly as I stood outside the white cottage. I walked up the dusty stairs and looked around for a bell to ring but the door was open instead. I knocked quietly as the door creaked open.
“Yes, who are you?” said a soft voice from the corridor.
“I’m looking for Allan,” I replied in a low voice.
“And you are?” she repeated.
“He has an interview with me,” I lied.
“Oh, for what literary magazine?” she asked with a curiosity that I was not used to.
“Gentlemen’s Quarterly. I really need to get started, is he here?” I lied again.
Before she could question my intentions more, a figure dressed in black and grey walked slowly down the stairs. He walked closer and I saw his pale skin shining under the white light as he put his hand out to greet me.
“Oh yes, come in,” he said. “Let’s proceed to the library, shall we?”
I followed him into the corridor and what lead into a massive library. He was a man of his late 30s, with dark hair and dark eyes. His face was an oval shape, with a large forehead and a narrow chin. His features and expressions were not cheery nor angry, neither rude nor hospitable.
“Would you like a glass of cognac?” he asked.
“Actually, I’ve brought some Amontillado with me, if you wouldn’t mind,” I replied. His eyes lit up with a sense of recognition.
“Of course! Please, let me pour you a cup. I know you are not from around here, so what exactly are you looking for? Are you a Bostonian? Because then I’d rather you leave right away.”
“I’ve forgotten how to write,” I lied.
“Oh. That’s awfully unusual. What do you mean you’ve forgotten how to write? How does one forget how to write?”
“I can no longer formulate what I think onto paper. It’s quite common where I come from.”
“Well, what are you trying to write? Fact, fiction, criticism?”
“I’m trying to write anything. It can be anything—I just have to write something, do you understand me, Sir?”
“I’m not sure what you want from me,” he said as his tone began to turn uneasy.
“I heard you’re a writer. I just need some advice, some help from one writer to another.”
“I’m sure you are just suffering from some sort of block, why don’t you have a few glasses of Amontillado? You know, I’ve written a story about all about Amontillado.”
“Oh. How could one write a story about all about sherry?”
“Well, it was not all about the sherry. It was more about the people who were drinking the sherry, and where they were drinking it.”
“Well, why don’t you explain it to me? I just cannot fathom how one can write a story all about sherry.”
“It was not all about sherry! It was about a man, Montresor, and his friend, who he chains into the wall and entombs.”
“Well, yes, murder. It’s about death. It’s a natural phenomenon—death.”
“Yes, I’ve heard. But does his friend not have any guilt? He’s not a friend, after all then is he?”
“No, he is taking revenge from his friend for insulting and embarrassing him on several occasions,” he said as he stood up and poured another glass from the bottle of Amontillado.
“It is quite a comical coincidence that you, a stranger, has brought a bottle of Amontillado to my house. I feel as I am Fortunato tonight—fortunate, yet unfortunate.”
“Was he the murderer or the victim?”
“Victim,” he hissed as his dark, pale eyes glanced right into me. “What are you here for again?”
“How does one not feel guilt from murdering a friend? I mean, after all, it is a friend, if it was a stranger then perhaps, it would be easier.”
“It is not easier. A stranger would be much more difficult—a neighbor even more challenging.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” I amusingly replied as I pulled out a cigarette.
“Someone you do not too well, you cannot become too emotionally enraged or offended by them, therefore, the guilt would be much larger and much more intense because you had no reason to murder them except for perhaps a moment of intense rage or ecstasy.”
“Well, I don’t believe it,” I contended purposely. “I don’t believe one can feel guilt even if they killed a stranger and buried them in their lawn.”
“But, I wrote about a man who did that. He killed an old man who he put away under the floorboards of his home. And the man lost his mind, he heard noises from the guilt of the murder. He even admitted to the crime after being cleared of it. It’s much more possible than you’d imagine.”
“Maybe he was just fatta cuckoo to begin with.”
“I beg your pardon? What are you here for again?”
“Those are simply hallucinations—the man was crazy to begin with. It’s as ridiculous as saying the dead return. Or that animals can speak to you,” I replied as I ignored his question for the second time.
“All three of those ideas are possible. Hallucinations, the dead returning, animals attempting to communicate with human beings—It’s possible. I’ve written about it.”
“I beg your pardon? How can hallucinations be real? When have the dead returned? And animals!” I barked loudly. “Animals!”
The dark-haired man peered into my face, staring at the middle of my forehead and moving down to my eyes, “When one dies unjustly before their time, and the living do not do anything about it—the dead return for their revenge. But they do not return right away, they take time.”
“Perhaps,” I said nonchalantly. “Perhaps, Fortunato will return,” I chuckled. “Perhaps, he will return in the form of a bird.”
“It’s possible—I once wrote about a bird who visited a man and kept repeating only one word—it continued to haunted the man.”
“What was the word?” I asked.
“I cannot remember,” he said as he rose from his chair and poured himself a glass of cognac. His skin began to look paler as he drank more.
“You cannot remember your own work?” I questioned.
“I just cannot recall right now! What did you say your name was?”
“Perhaps, you never wrote about it. Perhaps it was a dream,” I replied.
“Perhaps. But I do recall writing it. Would you care for some cognac?”
“No thank you, I think I should get going. It’s been a pleasure,” I said as I pulled my hand out for a departing gesture.
“Well, will you be taking your Amontillado?”
“Please keep it as a gift for your help,” I replied as YesterYear’s craft arrived at the white cottage. The pale-skinned man sat in his chair, finishing his cognac and pouring himself another glass of my sherry.
YesterYear’s ride was just as smooth on the way back. I had a lot of writing to do and I did it well. They loved all of it. I was a sensation to begin with, but I had turned into something much more than that in the next few weeks. I was not sure which one was the one that made the deal. Perhaps, it was the horror story about luring a friend into his death over some sherry. Or perhaps, it was the story about the overbearing noise of a heart beating under floorboards. It could have been the story about a dead sister returning to avenge her living twin brother for allowing her to be buried alive decades ago. However, I believe they may have been attached to the poem about a raven who sat on a windowsill, screeching just the word “Nevermore!” at the end of every expressed thought. I’ve written many essays as well as more poetry, since I published my most recent stories. They’ve loved it. They pay me triple per word and have all kinds of titles for me and my writing. I’d rather not get into that though—I don’t want to flatter myself.
But, I’ve grown tired of the mystery and macabre. YesterYear’s craft is on its way now. I’m waiting for my flyer and I am going to London, 1603. I think it’s about time I started writing some tragic romance, maybe star-crossed lovers, or something of that sorts.
To be quite honest, I’m surprised no one has thought of it before. But, why would they? They don’t know what to do with language. They don’t know what to do with words. They’re all—what’s that one thing they know how to say?—Fatta cuckoo!
April 2012, Science Fiction, Technology, & Society
Professor Bruce Franklin
Rutgers University, Newark
Photo Credit: Fatta Cuckoo