Written by James McCann
‘Where do you get your ideas?’ The one question every writer has been asked, and if they’ve heard it once they’ve heard it a million times. It is not a good question to ask. Not only will it infuriate the writer, but it also presumes that there is one answer. There isn’t. This is something that most people will never understand
William Clemmons was a first-time novelist and a man not really cut out for the lime-light of the Big Time. He was thirty-three years old, had spent most of his twenties having short stories published and his attempts at novels rejected. Rejected, that is, until he wrote a novel called The Swarm, at which point he became if not-quite the darling of the literary world then something approximate. He had a chip on his shoulder about the many years that he was over-looked, most of his previous work he considered to be of superior quality to The Swarm, and so once in a while a little venom would seep out in his interviews, thus earning him a reputation as the bad-boy of the literary world, as bad as that could actually be. His agent had hired a PR man to make the most out of it, which rubbed William the wrong way, resulting in his being surlier than ever in interviews, which naturally led to the bad-boy rep growing.
The badder the boy, the more the chat shows will clamour for him.
It was backstage at a taping of The Richard Jarvis Show that the incident began. It was not the most normal of settings for a conversation that would lead to a bloody and horrific crime, but when someone’s on edge, the slightest thing can set them of. Richard Jarvis was a failed stand-up whose lanky and boyish look and attitude made him completely non-threatening and personable, and as a result had led him to one of the highest-rated Friday night chat shows, the landscape of the guest sofa usually littered with actors and musicians. As far as anyone could remember, William was the first novelist to be a guest.
Also appearing on the show that night was a pretty-dark-haired Dutch singer named Buse Rutten (William didn’t care for her type of music, but it wasn’t the way she sounded that had grabbed his attention) and an actor named Bart Hodgkin, a likeable enough chap who had been in the industry since he was a child of eight, and now promoting the first film he’d made in his fiftieth decade. William had seen most of Bart’s films (his favourites being a very good Western and a handful of Sci-Fi comedies), and was actually quite pleased to be on the same show as him. Everything during the filming of the show went well. It was when everyone was gathered in the green room later that things took a nasty turn.
The green room was full of show guests and their management people, the show’s crew and, of course, Richard Jarvis himself. Everyone was commending everyone else on a show well done, and more than a few glasses of wine were downed. William hated the falseness of the whole thing, all the handshakes and claps on the back made without eye contact counted for less than zero in his world. He was anxiously waiting for the opportunity to chat with Buse; finally a chance to use his writing to get close to a good-looking brunette, when Bart stepped out right in front of him, a huge Happy-as-Shit-to-be-Here-Buddy grin on his face.
‘Hey,’ Bart said, the smile was also in his eyes and his voice. ‘Didn’t get a chance to ask you earlier-‘
William knew what was coming. It was the same question that always came up if the writer hung around long enough, which was usually more than ten seconds. It was the question.
Bart continued, blissfully unaware how annoying the question was going to be, ‘I’m a big reader myself, man, how the hell you have the discipline and all those ideas to get all the all way to end of a book, sheesh.’ Bart gave out a little chuckle and a little shake of the head, punctuating his disbelief. ‘Hey, where do you get your ideas from?’
Ah, the magic question spilled out over his lips at last. Richard Jarvis had managed a full fifteen minute interview without asking that question, whether he’d been tipped off beforehand not to mention it or he just knew better, William couldn’t say, but hey, either way, Bart Hodgkin hadn’t been privy to the same information.
‘Well,’ William began, his focus over Bart’ shoulder to the far side of the room where Buse was chatting and laughing and looking amazing. ‘I have a shoebox at home, full of these scraps of paper. On each scarp is a story idea. When I feel like writing something, I just reach in blindly and pluck something out. Would you excuse me?’
William clapped Bart on the shoulder without making eye contact and walked away to Buse. Bart had a knowing smile on his face and gave a polite nod, obviously the answer he’d been given was a joke; the Almighty Author was taking the Almighty Piss. Well, that was just fine and damn dandy with Bart, yessir! It wasn’t the first time in his life some younger, arrogant prick had tried to get cute and clever with him, and it probably wasn’t going to be the last, but it sure as shit from a goose was going to be the last time this clever little dick got cute.
William had crashed and burned with Buse in both epic fashion and epic time (she said she had a child she wanted to get back to, but he didn’t believe her), and had subsequently struck out with some random bar skanks before calling it a night and heading home. His home was a nice, small and, for the most part, secluded bungalow with amazing views of the coast but it was dark and empty and by that point William was too drunk to enjoy the late-night porn. He entered the living room, all wooden floors and glass walls and sparse furniture. He hadn’t lived here long, and the small amount of belongings that had over-filled his apartment now came nowhere near filling even one room of the new home that he didn’t even want. It had been a marketing ploy, if he was such a womanising, hard-drinking street-fighting bad-boy why would he be still be living in a one-room apartment? So the machine had gone to work and bought his a fashionable bungalow on the coast that William knew he’d need to sell a lot more copies to ever pay off.
We feed the machine, he thought then, looking out at the night sea and trying to not to catch his own reflection in the floor-to-ceiling window that made-up the entire wall of the bungalow. We fall into it, we bleed to it, and all the while it only ever wants us to say thank you for the privilege of being raped.
The place had an odd feel to it, it always did. William didn’t really think of it as home, he didn’t think he ever would, but on that night it was something more. William had always thought the problem with the bungalow was the sense of something missing, now he thought the problem was something was there that shouldn’t be.
He just had time to notice the slightest of flickers in the corner of his eye.
‘Hello, William,’ Bart said, stepping out from the shadows behind William. ‘Have a seat, please.’
‘Bart?’ William asked, turning to face the shadowy figure standing by the interior wall. William had sobered up considerably on the lonely walk home, and what little drunk was left in him had completely cleared out. ‘What are-‘
‘Sit.’ Bart interrupted. He took a step forward into the half-light, something reflective and gleaming in his hand. ‘I wont ask again.’
William sat, for the first time in his life feeling the real of fear of having a gun pointed at him. He didn’t know what was going on, or why Bart was here, or so many other things whizzing around his head without an answer, but he knew for certain that the gun was loaded and that Bart meant to shoot him. Whether or not Bart would shoot to kill was still up for debate.
‘Why are you in my house?’ William asked, sat in the chair looking up at Bart who still had not emerged fully from the shadows.
‘You’re the clever dick,’ Bart said, the barrel of the gun trained on William’s chest. ‘You tell me.’
‘My first thought is that you’re crazy,’ William responded with what he knew was probably the dumbest thing he could have said. ‘Maybe an entire life on the fame treadmill has made you loopy? Hell, I’ve been on it less than a year and I’m ready for the nut-house.’
‘Is that what you think? You think I’m run-of-the-mill whack-job? Really? You really think I’m crazy?’
‘Well you’ve broken into my house and you’re pointing a gun at me-‘
Bart pulled the trigger. The bullet went high because the trigger had been pulled, not squeezed. The round flew over William’s shoulder and exploded a chunk of the supporting beam behind him. It was white, but here in the darkness it looked a deep, soothing blue. William had crouched down and pulled both arms up over his head, sweat had broken out all over his body. He wasn’t sure if it was perspiration or piss that had soaked his crotch.
‘You really don’t know when to keep your smart-ass mouth shut, do you? I’m not crazy, Billy-boy, no, just pissed off. You think you can just talk down to anyone you want, don’t you?’
In the half-shadow, the gun and Bart’s eyes shone as brightly as beacons, and William knew that he could say anything at all and it would have zero affect on the out-come, because Bart was clearly bat-shit, rat-shit, cat-shit, gnat-shit crazy. The man had demons inside his head, and none of them were willing to listen to reason or logic.
‘I have no clue what the fuck you’re talking about,’ William spat.
‘You make your little jokes,’ Bart said. ‘You make your witticisms, and you think that’s okay. You get all this without actually having to do any work, the world at your feet. Well not this guy, not me right here! I wont bow down to you, I demand the respect I deserve, you little shit, you little piece of… shit.’
Bart took three steps forward then into the light coming in through the window-wall. His hair was a mess, as though someone had been pulling at it all night. His eyes were larger than they should have been and his lips were thin slithers of pink, pulled back over expensively fixed and whitened teeth. There was a trail of silver-looking saliva hanging from one corner of his mouth. His shoulders seemed to be shaking, but shaking wasn’t the right word, no, they were vibrating. That was the word that William thought described Bart; Vibrating. Yet the gun hand remained perfectly flat and steady.
‘Once again,’ William said as calmly as he could, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘Really? Well, William Clemmons, author of The Swarm, let me ask you a question. Would that be okay?’
‘Was that the question?’
Another blam! from the gun, this time the bullet pushed its way into William’s right thigh, sending a pulse of pain through his body. William yelled in agony and fell off the chair as the entry wound burned and throbbed out great waves of blood. He clutched at the weeping hole in his leg with both hands, but didn’t think it would do any good. Not in the long run.
‘No,’ Bart said with the inflection of a robot. With no emotion in his voice whatsoever, he continued, ‘That was not the question, but this is; where, oh where, pray-tell, do you get your ideas?’
William took a few deep breaths waiting for the pain in his leg, in his entire being, to subside (which it didn’t; it felt like fire coursing through his body and burning nerve endings), and looked up at the mad man stood above him holding a gun.
William, ol’ friend, he thought. You are about to die.
Bart squeezed the trigger, keeping total control over the gun, and fired the bullet directly between the shitting-little-bastard author’s eyes. The back of William’s head exploded, showering the wooden floors and glass walls (reflective even in the darkness) with red and pink pulp, large shards of fragmented skull, thin strips of scalp with bloodied hair, chunks of brain so big you could scoop them up with your hand. Blood oozed out and puddled around the half-obliterated bowl that William’s head now was. A decent quantity of blood had already sprayed against the glass wall-window, looking like Jackson Pollock’s most violent work.
The mad man-gun-man-actor took a step forward and kicked at William’s lifeless foot.
‘Good. Good,’ Bart muttered to himself. He placed the gun carefully in the shoulder holster beneath his jacket (wouldn’t do to accidentally shoot himself in the lung at this late stage of the game, no indeed) and walked slowly from the premises. It would be a good long while, he knew, before that clever-dick author took the piss out of anyone again.