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Only the Third Story in this Forsaken Fandom Whose Title Does Not Begin with If

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You are about to start writing If On A Winter's Night a Traveler fanfic. Panic. Well, it's not as if you'll be the first person in the fandom or anything, so at least you don't have the anxiety about setting the tone for the whole fandom. Last year's Yuletide fanfic exchange yielded a half dozen fics, all of them dazzling and twisty and adequately tone-setting. You're following in good footsteps.

The monitor stands in front of you. It's a good one, a 21" LCD with a sickeningly high resolution. It's the monitor that spoiled you for bootleg torrents. You'd better have DVD quality on this screen or it's not worth bothering with. Of course, you don't need a screen this good to write, but it doesn't hurt. You've set up your text editor with a clear, monospace font to reduce eyestrain. You fiddle with the colors a few times, but you decide that Matrix or not, green on black just doesn't work for you. Black on white it is. You move your hands to the keyboard. You pause.

Something isn't right. Is it your chair? To be perfectly honest with yourself, you've never paid attention to your chair's height before, but now it seems to be a hair too high.You fumble around for the adjustment lever, which you think is on the right side of the chair, but it doesn't seem to want to budge. After fifteen seconds of this, you give up and try to write anyway. Thoreau wrote in a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere. His chair was way more uncomfortable than yours, you think you've read. Or at least, you imagine he was uncomfortable in his cabin on Walden Pond, getting by on the barest minimum a human requires. You haven't read Walden since high school. Maybe it's not the chair, though.

Why did you want to write If On A Winter's Night a Traveler fanfic? Whose brilliant idea was that? You've written plenty of stories in your life, and you've told countless others to yourself and to friends who seem to love the way you mix up the raw elements of life into new shapes. You're a good writer, damnit. You don't have anything to prove. Writing highbrow stories inspired by an obscure Italian Post-Modern novel isn't going to make you look smart, any more than those costume glasses you sometimes wear.

That wasn't why you wanted to write If On A Winter's Night a Traveler fanfic, though. No, it was the book that sang its own siren song. Ludmilla and Lotaria and Ermes Marana seemed somehow realer to you than you felt comfortable with. It was like they'd invaded your head, presented themselves to you like the six characters to the Stage Manager. You had to write their stories. You had to become their Author.

In your dreams, you were The Reader. But you were more than the Reader. You were also Ludmilla, somehow, at the same time and not at the same time. You could do better than Calvino, fix his sexism, neuter his racism, disentangle his classism. You could take characters in places Calvino had never dreamed.

And isn't it true that you also resented Calvino? You hated the way he held you in his power. When he said 'you' did something, you didn't have any choice. It was like a Choose Your Own Adventure without the choices. You raged for agency, swore that if only you could jump out of the pages of his book, you'd show him who was boss. And secretly, you craved his job. You wanted to be the one telling other people what 'you' were doing. By writing fanfic, you could become Calvino. Or you could even make Calvino a character! You pause.

Something still isn't right here. It's not the damned chair, though. You had all of those ideas about how to write this story. You had all of these directions you wanted to push in. You had these characters perched on top of your head, screaming at you to tell their stories. And now you sit in front of your monitor, hands on the ratty Dell keyboard with the jammed left shift but the oh-so-important tactile keys, and. And what? It's simple. You don't know where to begin.

Calvino and several of the Yuletide fic writers began with a train leaving a station. It's a good place to start, a resonant, generative image. It has a feeling of commencement, but is obviously not sui-generis. Trains don't just start in train stations. They pull into the station from somewhere else, stop for a moment, exchange some passengers for new ones, and then they pull out. But that pulling out is a beginning of sorts, anyway. That's what Calvino is going for, a beginning that isn't quite a beginning. Maybe you should do the same. If you deviate from canon too much, it won't be fanfic anymore.

But you realize the problem with beginning with the train is exactly the reason it was so appealing to Calvino: It's not a beginning at all. Unlike a train, whose departure from the station is just another chapter in an infinite saga, a book or a story has to have a clear opening. At the least, it has to have a first line. You want your story to come from somewhere. You want it to have an arc. Beginning. Middle. End. You're not trying to emulate Calvino, after all. You're going to fix his missteps. That kind of heroic endeavor can't just come out of nowhere.

And anyway, the train wasn't really where If On A Winter's Night a Traveler began. That might be where it began for The Reader, but for you, the story begins with The Reader sitting on his couch, about to read If On A Winter's Night A Traveler. A book, unlike a train, has a clear beginning. And characters. You need to start with characters.

You have such ideas in store for Ludmilla! She's going to be a real hero, not just a sidekick. She's not going to be a love interest for the Reader. Okay, she and the Reader are still your OTP, but she's not going to just be a love interest. She's going to have adventures, travel the world on her own, and then, when she knows herself, she'll be able to enter into a partnership with the Reader on equal terms.

Or maybe she won't end up with the Reader after all. The If On a Winter's Night a Traveler fandom is pretty academically-oriented. You don't want to be called a misogynist perpetuator of the patriarchical status quo. You can slash her with someone else... Lotaria, perhaps! No, you're not the kind of writer who gets off on incest, not as a general rule. It's just not your kink. So Ludmilla will have to end up with someone else, except there aren't really any other characters in the story you want her to end up with. So she'll have to adventure on her own, at least to start. Maybe along the way she'll meet someone. Your great adventure is still unwritten, after all.

So relax. Take a breath. Put your fingers on the keyboard, index fingers on the f and j the way they taught you, left pinky slightly askew on the z key in that strange tic you could never train yourself out of. Take another deep breath and start to write.

 

Chapter 1

The story begins in a university library, with a book open to page one. It's late and the lighting is dimmed, except for a few carrels that have their own lighting. The night librarian, a severe sort of Slavic man, middle aged and pale-cheeked and very hairy, moves back behind his desk after a brief walk-around. Everything is the sort of spectral quiet that a room with too many books carries this time of night. The librarian grabs the cup of tea he'd brewed before the walk-around, now pleasingly lukewarm, and sits down.

There aren't many people here, even for a mid-semester night. Students have mostly passed through their midterms already and are working their way toward their next set of exams, but the panicked feeling that courses through these halls at finals time is not yet here. The students here tonight have special projects on their mind. Obsessions, you might call them, if you were less sympathetic, but the night librarian has been subject to his own academic passions in the past. As a young man at the University of Prague, he once spent three weeks wrestling his way through the work of Benno von Archimboldi, of all people, that peculiar German writer with the Italian name. The lure of sleep or handsome young Czech men hadn't been enough to lure him away from the midnight oil until he'd reached the end of Lethaea and felt himself to be at a crossroads. He could continue his tour of Archimboldi, suffering viscerally the slights that come from reading an uneven and unpredictable writing talent. He could give up, go out to the discos the way he'd used to, see if he could untangle himself from the lure of the German and become himself as he had been again. Or he could remain in limbo, spend the rest of his life trying to preserve the passion of that moment. The night librarian had chosen the third option. He had become a librarian.

Every night on his walk-around he passes the Archimboldi section and pauses, longingly, to contemplate what could have been. It makes him tremble with a form of uncontrollable ecstasy. Every night he walks past students who are locked on the same quest he had once walked. It's not Archimboldi they search for, but the difference is impossible to see. They have the same narrowed eyes and the same pursed mouth. Their fingers quiver with the same anxiety. They pause in their reading, every couple of hours, to pace with the same triumphant confusion he had once felt, that he could still feel at times if he could capture the right set of stimuli: the chilly autumn air; the nostalgic Viennese waltz; the call to bed from a man he isn't sure he's in love with. Then, and only then, he feels he is like one of these students he watches over, night after night, ever changing but always the same to him.

The librarian takes another sip of his tea and sighs quietly. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a young woman. She is blonde and Scandinavian and her eyes are older than the rest of her. Her eyes remind him of his old professor of German literature, the one who first introduced him to Archimboldi seventeen years ago. She was a medievalist, oddly enough, but she had a private fondness for modern German literature. She had spoken of Archimboldi's peculiar love for the Ring of the Nibelung, a love she said she was the only one who could detect. The night librarian had never heard of Archimboldi, but in his favorite bookstore he'd found a copy of a Serbian translation of The Leather Mask. He'd read it and gone home to his lover of the moment, an English exchange student in Microbiology, and told him sadly that it had to be over. The librarian had no time for love, now that he'd discovered passion.

But this is not a story about the night librarian. It's a story about Ludmilla, over in carrel 59, poring over an antique map of the West Indies. She is about to make a discovery that will change her life.

 

You're not sure why you wrote that, those last three lines. Somehow, the story got away from you, and Ludmilla's search for Columbus's lost gold mine became a sideplot instead of the headlining adventure you'd intended it to be. Some part of you must have rebelled against that evolution, demanded that you regain your focus and forget about this sad Slavic librarian and his entanglements with the fictional hero of Roberto Bolaño's 2666.

Mostly you were just excited to have words, any words, come out of your head and onto the page. And okay, yes, you'd originally intended the library to be a brief detour before Ludmilla sets out on her real journey. But if that wasn't the story your subconscious wanted to write, it wasn't like there was very much you could do about it. You can only tell the stories you have in you. And the night librarian, he didn't even have a name! What kind of story can you tell about him? And if If On A Winter's Night a Traveler is a tiny fandom, 2666 is even smaller. If you don't write about Ludmilla, nobody will ever read your story.

Aha! You do care about having readers. That's your weakness, though it could also be your strength. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be more than a voice calling out helplessly in the wilderness. You know your audience. You know what they want to read, what will make them stop reading, what will squick them out, what will make them scream in excitement. What they want is Ludmilla, but right now your muse doesn't want to give it to them.

Perhaps you should just take a break for a while. You step away from the keyboard and walk over to the teakettle in your apartment's small kitchen. In ten minutes, the water will be boiling and you can have a little tea. That should settle yourself a little bit. It might give you more control over the direction of your story. As if you ever had control of any of your stories.

You sit down to your tea and try to think of other things to clear your head, such as the laundry pile that's a little too high. You should have done your laundry yesterday, when you had the time, as opposed to today, when your writer's group is meeting in ten minutes. You'd forgotten that your writing group was meeting in ten minutes until you thought about the laundry. No matter what, you're going to be late now. You race back to your computer, tap out a quick ctrl-P, and grab whatever stack of pages comes out of the printer.

At the group, everyone sits around the short, round table as usual. You hand your new story draft to your friend Saul, trying to mask your uncertainty.

"This one kind of got away from me," you say. "I hope there's something you can save in it anyway."

He smiles. "I'm sure you're not a total fuckup. Give it to me and I'll see what we can do with it." You let the pages slip out of your hand and into his and watch as he starts to read.

 

Chapter 1

A thick diaphonous vapor rises up from the floor as she enters the room. Dry ice, she can tell from a practiced glance. Solid carbon dioxide, flash-sublimated to gas form by sudden exposure to room temperature air. No Student Physicists' Union party would forgo it. It creates an air of intrigue and mystery. It cloaks the unattractive features of the Union's most bookish members from prospective female friends. But Ludmilla knows that's not why the SPU would claim it uses dry ice. Rather, they declare, it's to highlight the beauty of the natural order. A simple, nigh elemental compound, carbon and oxygen being biological life's basic building blocks, harnessed with the power of modern physics into something that surprises, defies intuition. Ludmilla thinks they even believe their claim, half of the time.

The party fills a large, high-ceilinged room which, filled with chairs most of the year, serves as a lecture hall. Its lights have been dimmed, but not extinguished. Their damp glow makes the room feel candlelit. A metallic bass beat bursts from speakers situated around the room. They are old and slightly undersized for the purpose they're now serving. With every beat, they tremble with the force. Her mouth crinkles in wry amusement.

In a random flash of light coming from some unseen strobe, Ludmilla catches a glimpse of her object. She's over by the bar, looking boozy and dangerous. Lotaria in mad scientist mode is not to be trifled with. Ludmilla dances her way over, sinking comfortably into the room's techno vibe.

"Yo," she says so softly that the only reason her sister can understand her over the music is by lip-reading. "I heard the Recrystallizer didn't work as well as planned?"

"What?" Lotaria shouts, disoriented and a little sloshmuffled.

She tries again, grabbing Lotaria by the elbow and guiding her further away from the speakers and the bar. "I heard the Recrystallizer didn't work as well as you hoped it would?"

"Who told you?" Suddenly Lotaria tightens up, losing the carefree posture she'd summoned up with drink.

"Nobody. I could tell by looking at you."

"Oh." She looks deflated now. "It wasn't as bad as you think! We got some results. 45% recrystallization. It just needs... calibration."

"You can't recalibrate the laws of nature, Lotaria. If matter doesn't want to behave in some way, we can't wish it differently. And pounding down margaritas won't make it better."

"They were daiquiris."

"Oh. In that case, pounding down daiquiris won't make it better." The speakers start beating out a new song, a slightly more ambient house track. Ludmilla and Lotaria are gently rocking to the music, Ludmilla so she won't look out of place, Lotaria because she's here to dance and drink daiquiris and forget about today's failure.

"Shut up, Lud. I'm your big sister. You can't tell me what to do."

"No, I can't tell your dumb ass what to do. And you can't tell those fermions to dance on command."

A giggle blurts out of Lotaria's mouth. A sly look appears on her face, the face Ludmilla has learned to recognize signals Lotaria has a scheme. Plastered as she is, it's not particularly concealed. Lotaria's eyes are partially closed and a little bit glassy, her chin is tilted upward, her mouth is tight and focused. "No," she says. "But I don't have to, if I can get a demon to do it for me."

"What? No, Lotaria! Stay away from Ermes."

 

Saul looks up from the page after a tense five minutes,. You look him in the eyes carefully to try to guess what he's about to say. He's pretty blank. You wonder if the Slavic undertones in your librarian character posed a problem for Saul, whose Ashkenazi ancestors fled from Cossack pogroms before making it to America. The moment stretches out as he glances at you, then glances back at the page for a second to recheck some detail. His finger grazes a word, then he shakes his head affirmatively, looks back at you, and you can see his eyes light up.

"This is fantastic!" he tells you. "I didn't know you had a story like this in you. It's clearly unfinished, and we can talk about where you're going from here, but the characters are so vivid. You convey so much with so little. Ludmilla's great!"

You're a little flabbergasted. Ludmilla only had three lines, and you didn't think you'd really established her character in that final paragraph. But the praise feels nice, and you try to accept it graciously. "Thanks," you say. "I felt like it was slipping away from me at times. I tried to focus on Ludmilla, but the other characters were so insistent. I wasn't sure I had enough of Ludmilla."

"Oh, but you did! I can't wait to see more, but the sexy, intellectual power you capture really stands out. The way she talks to her sister is very compelling."

"Wait... her sister?" You didn't write anything about a sister, did you? You grab the pages out of Saul's hand and skim them quickly. Your Slavic librarian and his sad, pathetic obsession with Archimboldi is nowhere to be seen. Saul's been reading a story about Ludmilla and Lotaria, apparently a duo of mad scientists in training. The language is hipper than your story, with dialogue that jumps with exuberant slanginess (and maybe even a hint of incestuous passion?).

"I didn't write this," you say, your tone falling in puzzlement as you finish the sentence. You can't remember ever writing these characters, let alone this scene. This Ludmilla on the page has nothing to do with the one in your head. You were going to transform her from the two-dimensional object of Calvino's story into a lively, dangerous modern woman, true, but not like this. Your Ludmilla is always in control of the situation. She wouldn't have let Lotaria unsettle her with the threat of the demon Ermes, whoever he is. She wouldn't have gone to that party at all unless she was certain she could get Lotaria to do what she wanted.

Saul shrugs. "I don't care who wrote it. I just know that it's exciting and I want to know what happens next. It doesn't matter who wrote it. You're going to write more, right?"

You feel uncomfortable making any promises when you're not even sure where the story came from. You fidget nervously with the paper for a few seconds, then try to distract him attention away from Saul's question by roping in the rest of the room, who have stopped their individual conversations to follow your exchange with Saul.

"Hey guys," you say, passing the paper over to Kelly on your left. "Does this story fragment belong to any of you? It seems to have gotten mixed up with the story I meant to bring." It circles the room, each writer in turn skimming it briefly and passing it along, but nobody claims it. Maybe you did write the story. It could be a scrap you wrote years ago and forgot about. There is something about it that speaks of a younger voice.

Now Saul is not the only one clamoring for you to continue the story, no matter how its beginning came to you. Your group's resident cyberpunk Pauline makes a point, as you leave the room, to pull you aside for a moment and tell you how intrigued she is.

The next free night you have, you put the pages down in front of your keyboard, read them over a few times, and see what comes next.

 

Chapter 1

Ding dong.

A twentyish Canadian man walks over to his door, little suspecting what lies on the other side. He slowly opens the door and his jaw drops.

"I wasn't expecting to see you," he says, deadpan. "I thought there was no way out of Portland."

Standing on the doorstep is a tallish Hispanic man, perhaps the same age. His hair is floppy and a little messy. "You told us we'd have to invoke demons to get out of P-town, but it turns out all you have to do is get on a plane and bam, you're in Toronto. This new world you've put us in has a lot broader horizons than the old one."

"Back then you'd step off the Teddy Bear and you were in no man's land. Well, the house is a bit of a mess, but step in, Manny. I'll get you something to drink." He takes a step back to let his guest in and sees that hiding behind him is a short woman with dark brown hair. "Oh," he says. "I didn't see you there. Please come in, too."

Her cheeks dimple as she smiles. "Thank you. I'm Maria. I've heard a lot about you... Tailsteak."

[Good] says The Writer. [Now you all have names, so I can stop using vague epithets]

"Uh..." Maria says, chattering her teeth in discomfort. "Who said that?"

"Oh, that's just The Writer. You get used to it after a while." A self-deprecating chuckle. "It's my curse, I suppose, for letting my creations break the fourth wall separating them from me. Eventually the fourth wall between me and my author also dissolved. It can be frustrating at times, as I'm sure Manny can attest."

"Oooh my, yes it can. To be constantly confronted with a force that seems to deny our free will. It took a while to realize that even though you were our author, you didn't have control of us." He furrows his brow in frustration. "But wait a minute. This isn't a comic strip we're in."

"How can you tell?" Maria asks.

"Look around. Can you see any panel walls?"

"No, I guess not."

"So we're not in a comic strip. What kind of author is The Writer, Tailsteak?"

"The Writer writes fanfiction."

"You poor bastard."

[Hey!] Outside, a stormcloud starts to darken.

"Sorry. No offense intended. I appear to be a fanfic character myself."

[Apology accepted.] The stormcloud fades away.

"Tailsteak, Manny and I had a reason for coming today..." She takes a sip from her lemonade and looks over at Manny expectantly. He sighs.

"Yes, Manny?"

"You're going to think it's silly, but sometimes habits can be hard to break. Maria and I have been together for two years, and we want to get married, but..."

"But what?"

"But you remember that old rule about how none of us could have a girlfriend until you did?"

"Vaguely. That was a pretty silly rule. I'm sorry about that, if I haven't already apologized."

"Well, sometimes it kind of feels like the rule is still in effect. Before we got married, I wanted reassurance that if you broke up with your wife, it wouldn't ruin things for me and Maria."

A pause, lingering and uncomfortable, ensues.

"Uh... I don't think I have control of that anymore."

[You don't. I do, now.]

"Well, then. What can you promise, O Writer?"

 

Ring Ring Ring!

Well? What can you promise, o writer? You know now that you can't deliver on chapter two of that mad scientist story, whose chapter one you may or may not have written to begin with. Before you can figure out what you're going to write, you need to figure out who you are.

Ring Ring Ring!

The confusion sets in for real when you get a call from Saul. He sounds friendly, and he jokes with you for a couple of minutes about some celebrity gossip you're not really interested in, but he drops his voice a little lower when he gets down to the real reason for his call.

"Look, I didn't want to be the one to tell you this. I'm your friend, and I trust you, but there are some people in the writer's group who think you couldn't have possibly written that story about Ludmilla and Lotaria. They're saying you must have stolen it from someone. Some other author you plagiarized from. Tina was saying she knew a guy who had the original source for your story."

"Then how did it get on my computer? Saul, I swear, I hit print on the story I wrote about a Serbian librarian and out came those pages. I have no clue what's going on, but I haven't been able to write the story I set out to write for days." It all comes out of your mouth in a desperate burst. You grab a tissue off the side table and wipe away the sweat that's suddenly trickling down your arms. What the hell is happening to you? Who have you become?

You are Nicholas Cage as Charlie Kaufman trying to adapt Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief for the screen, but failing to find the narrative. You're Nicholas Cage's twin brother as Donald Kaufman, flailing around unaware that even your attempt doesn't matter. You are Harold Bloom's anxiety. You are Leopold Bloom's incautiousness. You are all the rules Calvino didn't dare to break, shattering like Stephen Glass's journalistic integrity. You'd be called the Death of the Author, if Barthes were alive to identify you. You're a worn out writer who really needs a fucking drink. This minute.

You all but sprint to the refrigerator and look to see what you have available. A--a couple of Bud Lights from that party a few months ago. They're certainly stale, and you don't like Budweiser in the best of circumstances. You've got a single bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade, which might be refreshing. But then your eye drifts to the back of the refrigerator, where your half-empty bottle of Polish vodka stares back. It seems to be promising you relief. You grab it and close the refrigerator behind you with a dignified ka-tunk.

You never understood the appeal of drinking alone before now. Oh, sure, you've written characters who drank alone, but it was all hypothesis and conjecture (not that any writer's characterizations are ever more than conjecture.) You supposed it had to do with fortification against the loneliness, but right now you're not drinking because you're tired, just scared.

After a few unadultered shots hit your system, you're ready to write again. Or not so much ready as obliged. Something's gone terribly wrong. You're losing control, and every time you write you're trying to regain control of the world around you, trying to be an author, as in an authority. It doesn't seem to be working.

 

Chapter 1

You are about to start writing If On A Winter's Night a Traveler fanfic. Turn away now! You should take my fucking word for it. It'll start out okay. You'll write some cute meta, play around with the new freedoms and constraints of the second person, make a joke or two that your Reader will find funny. And then you'll get lost. You'll get lost in the blurry line between the Writer and the Reader and the writer and the reader. You'll get lost in the metanarratives and metametanarratives and metametametanarratives and soon it'll start to look like those godforsaken Taylor Series you could never grasp in calculus class. You'll forget who you are. You'll find texts you didn't write, but that everyone says you wrote. You'll find texts you say you wrote and everyone else thinks you plagiarized. You'll go out of your fucking mind.

You'll start reflexively spitting out vulgarities just to relieve the stress. Alcohol will be your only refuge, and a temporary one at that. Writing is about controlling destiny. When you write, you can create the world ex nihilo, and it can be and do whatever you want it to. Except in this story, your characters will have agency. They'll try to write the story for you. The minute you let them, you're fucked. You'll no longer have any certainty. Give up, before it's too late. Go write Snarry fic, for god's sake! Or Kirk/Spock. Something popular, with literary conventions that make sense. Not something that twists reality into a pretzel for fun. It'll just twist your brain along with it.

The thing you don't understand, Writer, is that If on a winter's night a traveler fanfic is a journey into the parts of your psyche you've been trying to avoid. The nasty stuff, the disturbing stuff, the freaky stuff. The stuff you locked away in a box and marked do not touch. The real secret reasons you became a writer, not the witty bon mots you actually tell people. The stuff your paranoid fears tell you are transparently clear underneath every sentence you write. That night when you were fourteen and your mother came into your room and...

Oh, you didn't think I knew about that, did you? Well, you might be trying to write If on a winter's night a traveler fanfic, but I've been there already, and I've seen all the sights. And maybe there's more than a little bit of me in you, to be honest.

You are freaking out now because it's one thing for the story to tell you what you're doing. It's a narrative trick, an unusual, gimmicky perspective that pulls the reader a little closer to the protagonist. But the author addressing you directly through the words on the page is too much for you. I should know. I created you. You try to close the book, but you can't. It's as if your hand was stuck in place. Your eyes keep reading despite yourself. You can feel yourself losing control.

"No way," you say, gritting your teeth and fighting back. Your hand starts (not) moving at a crawl. You try to scream out in pain, but the room remains silent. Your mouth is open wide, your vocal chords ululate, but no audible sounds are produced. Physics has gone deeply weird. You give in and snarl, "Okay, fine. You win. I have to do whatever you tell me to do. What do you want?" All I want is to stop writ

 

You push your hands away from the keyboard with satisfaction. You know writers speak of the way writing can be therapeutic. You've even made the claim yourself. You talk about how writing is a way of putting a part of you outside your body and exorcising demons you sometimes weren't even aware of. But never has writing given you as good a therapy session as that one. Your sweating armpits are raising an uncomfortable stink. Your brain feels clear and focused, not jammed down with distracting thoughts or worries.

The clock on the office wall says 2:43AM. As best you can remember, you started writing sometime around 9 PM last night. You can't remember where the time went. Your word processor tells you you've only committed 585 words to the page, so there must have been stretches of inaction somewhere, but all you can remember now is a blur of fury and passion driving your unconscious fingers.

When you read back what you wrote now, you realize with relief that you have finally managed to write If on a winter's night a traveler fanfic. You are, however, profoundly disturbed by the content of that fic. Surely there's not a remotely publishable word in the whole thing. This isn't the story you set out to write, a story of adventure and self-discovery and old-fashioned romance that takes Calvino's lyricism to new heights. You've pieced together another pile of post-modern crap, too self-conscious for its own good. Witty instead of insightful, deconstructive instead of constructive. Well, at least it felt good.

You really do feel good, you realize. It's 2:47 AM and you don't feel the least bit tired. You stand up, bouncing a couple of times on the tips of your toes as you do to stretch out muscles that are surprisingly unstiff after five hours in your improperly adjusted chair. You look around the room, eyeing the embarrassing quarter-full bottle of Sobieska next to your cellphone with a blush.

You walk over and reclaim your phone. Six new text messages, increasingly worried, from Saul. You ignore them and go to sleep. Who the fuck is Saul to you, anyway?