You saw the title? Yes, this is a parcel prompt, a first. A short story, in 1280 words.
I took the photo of a parcel sent to me all the way from California, by my blogging friend, John Rieber.
He decided to go one better than a photo, and this was sent including a polystyrene box, to protect the contents.
There was a time when things were good. ‘Demon of The Marsh’ was a huge hit, and smashed into the fantasy market. Top seller on Amazon, and in the front windows of the bookshops that still existed. I was interviewed on the radio, then even a short telly spot on the BBC local news. The Guardian columnist called it ‘A fresh new take on the Demon genre’. Naturally, I was excited. And when it had sold over six thousand copies in hardback, then many, many more in paperback, I was approached by the very keen publisher with a deal for a second book.
I admit it, I was excited. I gave up my job without talking to Stella about it. She thought it was premature, but when the royalties started to roll in she stopped talking about that job, and began to spend the cash. Then ‘Demon’ went onto Kindle, and sold like hot cakes. In less than a year, I had an agent, and he arranged publicity too. Conor Farley wasn’t even a pen name, and it was on a lot of lips, I tell you.
There was a problem though. The first book had a definite conclusion. A good one, if I say so myself, but no scope for a sequel. And for the life of me, I couldn’t think up anything nearly that good for my next novel. I wasted hours on drafts, eventually settling on one idea and sending the first six chapters off for consideration. My agent thought it was crap, and the publisher said there was no way they would put it out. I bet they were relieved they hadn’t paid me the advance.
Eighteen months later, it was all going wrong. The money was draining away, and Stella went with it. The old house had to go, exchanged for a run-down one-bed flat above the local Indian Restaurant. At least I didn’t have to go far to buy something to eat. I had a great new story, but only the title and page one so far. What saddened me most was that the fans of ‘Demon’ were clamouring for more. One even started a Facebook page called ‘Where’s Conor?’.
To be honest, I was seriously thinking about going back to work. My old job had gone of course, but they were recruiting at the call-centre, and I was desperate enough to consider their no-hours contract. I really was. Then one day, Mr Patel from the restaurant downstairs stopped me as I was going to the corner shop. “Mister Conor, I took this parcel for you. You must have not heard the driver knocking”. I went back in, intrigued to examine the parcel.
The first thing I noticed was that it was from America. I didn’t know anyone over there, and certainly not the person who had put their name and address as the sender. It was also very light, easily lifted in one hand. I went up to the kitchen with it and got a sharp knife, to open it carefully. Inside, was a polystyrene box. That contained a box of small cakes, called ‘Twinkies’. I confess I was flummoxed. Who would send a box of presumably cheap cakes all the way from America, to someone they didn’t know? The postage alone must have cost considerably more than the box of cakes. It freaked me out a bit, I have to say.
The cake box was sealed, and the cakes inside individually sealed too. I unwrapped one and held it to my nose. It smelled fine. I gave the cake a lick. Tasted alright. I went for broke, and bit the end off. It was sweet and creamy, the sort of thing you instinctively know isn’t good for you. But what the Hell? So I ate it all. Then I went to the corner shop to get the tea and milk I needed.
Waking up in the middle of the night was very unusual for me. But that’s what happened. The bedside alarm read three-fourteen, and I was wide awake. What’s more, I was buzzing with thoughts and ideas. Without getting dressed, I was soon sitting at my computer churning out pages. I didn’t even stop for tea, coffee, or a pee. By the time the morning light was coming through the window overlooking the street, I had over sixty pages written and no sign of flagging. When the men came to get the rubbish piled on the pavement outside, I was up to eighty-eight pages. Then when I heard Mr Patel’s chef opening up to do his lunchtime prep, I was on page one hundred.
Tea was needed, and I felt myself trembling as I made it. I would have to go back over what I had written, but my gut told me it was bloody good. Better than ‘Demon’, I could already tell that. The re-read confirmed what I suspected. it was great. better than great, and tons better than ‘Demon’. I treated myself to another of those Twinkie cakes with a second cup of tea, and got back to writing. I had started to really like them, and it wasn’t long before I had eaten two more. It saved bothering with lunch, and then the rest of the box was gone by dinnertime. I was buzzing though. The book was looking superb, and I was already on page two hundred and six. Another hundred and fifty pages would be long enough, and I already had the ending open for a sequel. Lots of sequels in fact.
Then the tiredness hit me, after that early start. I decided to have a bath and get to bed. That book would be finished by tomorrow afternoon, at this rate.
When I got up the next morning, it was past nine, and very sunny. I made tea first, then sat in front of the computer, raring to go. But as I stared at the page, I suddenly didn’t have a clue. I couldn’t remember that magnificent open ending I had in mind last night, and two of the characters started to seem underdeveloped, even unnecessary. The doubt crept in, and I couldn’t type a word. I decided to get dressed, and go and buy some more of those cakes. They might help me focus.
Mr Allen in the corner shop hadn’t heard of them. He suggested I try one of the big supermarkets on the edge of town. That meant a bus ride, and a long walk around the trading estate. Still, something told me I did need those cakes, strange as that seemed. So I got the bus. The big Morrisons didn’t stock them, and neither did Tesco. The man in Asda told ne he had heard of them, but they didn’t carry that line. He suggested I try to order them online. I thanked him, but couldn’t admit that I no longer had a credit card, and my bank account was almost empty. And I didn’t mention that I could no longer afford to be connected to the Internet, either.
Four smaller shops I went in on the long walk home didn’t have any, and I arrived back at my flat exhausted.
Six weeks later, and I have literally run out of money. I am still on page two hundred and six, and waiting hopefully for another parcel to arrive from California.
Meanwhile, I have posted the application off to the call centre.