The day it all began clocked in long ago. October 5, 1940. The screams inside the small home echoed and resounded outside to where Jonathon Wheeler sat in a nearby woods hiding. The evil man would not hurt him, not this time. He would run away. Jonathan knew the only way to survive pointed away from home. It was not a real home, not really, just a place to live. The screams echoed again. He could not take it. His sister mattered too much to him. She and he were the only ones left, other than ma and pa. He ran back quickly to the only place he knew. He heard yelling, and the screams continued.
Jonathon awoke. Years had passed and he had run. The hands on the clock ticked. Sweat slowly ran down Jonathon’s face. He paced about the room in his worn out shoes and hole-infested t-shirt and jeans. With his dirty body that smelled of the wilderness, he hardly qualified as a professional writer. Most publishers would not talk to applicants personally, but something about this man intrigued those around him. Another author working with the publisher recommended Jonathon to the publisher; that got Jonathon the meeting. Jonathon walked into that office with a tired face. He placed his transcript on the publisher’s desk and quietly waited for an answer.
“I understand that you show potential as a writer,” said Charles, the publisher. “However, Janet did not warn me you would come in such style,” he chuckled.
“You must forgive my appearance, sir, but I do the best I can,” came the answer.
“Normally I would not take a new writer like you. If Janet had not insisted I meet with you I never would have considered you. The look you have chosen to sport does not match my expectations. I expect any writer to dress professionally.”
“Sir, if you would just read my manuscript,” Jonathon interrupted. His nerves began to reach their peak. Fidgeting with his fingers, Jonathon looked at the floor in embarrassment.
“Look. I do not judge based on looks. Certainly you could sue me for that. Give me a day and I’ll see what I can do for you. You may go. Come back the same time tomorrow.”
With simple resignation, Jonathon left the room. Closing the door behind him, he went to the reception desk and made an appointment for the next day.
“Jonathon,” a pure voice rang out.
“Janet, what are you doing here?” Jonathon asked.
“I have a story to pitch to the company. How did your meeting go?”
“He did not care much for the way I looked, but said he would read my stuff.”
“Oh, you’ll get used to it. He’s rough on the outside, but once you get to know him you’ll see how sweet he is.”
“And sour,” Jonathon laughed.
“Well, you seem in pretty good humor for coming out of your first meeting with him. You’ll do fine.”
“It barely lasted. I’m almost tempted not to come back tomorrow.”
“Oh, come on. You’re better than that, Jonathon. You have a story to tell. Don’t let anything keep you from telling it.”
They both paused for a moment. Janet grinned wide and Jonathon’s frown soon turned to an awkward smile. They stood staring at each other in silence. Eyes locked, a long lost connection seemed to reignite. Jonathon broke the silence.
“Anyway, thanks for recommending me, Janet. It means a lot to me.”
“No problem,” she quickly replied, coming out of the short trance the two had held. “Listen,” Janet paused, “if you ever need anything, just let me know. If this does not work out or something bad happens, you need to tell me.”
“I’m fine, Janet. I can take care of myself.”
“Do you need a place to stay tonight?”
“I’m fine,” he repeated.
With that, Jonathon moved away from her and headed for the exit. At the exit he stopped to look back, but she had already gone in to talk to the publisher.
“Great writer you sent me,” Charles told Janet as she entered his office. “Where did you find this cowboy of yours?”
“Oh, out of the middle of nowhere. Not some place you would know of,” she replied.
“Who is this guy anyway? His manuscript has no name on it.”
“He likes to go by the name of John to strangers.”
“Are you a stranger?”
“I know his real name if that’s what you mean, but I can’t betray his confidence. Once you’ve earned his trust, he’ll tell you who he is.”
“You really think he has talent, huh?”
“I know he does. Have you read his stuff yet?”
“Only the first page. It’s the most depressing thing I have ever read.”
“Depressing? In the times I remember he had the best fairy tales and happy stories to tell.”
“So he’s a story teller, not a writer. The point is, he’s not publishing material.”
“I think you’ll find he’s both. I know there’s a good story deep down within him. He’s not so depressing at heart.”
“Well, he does not seem so happy go lucky to me. He looked so sad in here when he came in. He had deep hurt in his eyes.”
“Don’t we all?” Janet questioned.
“He mentioned you hated the way he looked.”
“Oh, so you ran into him in the waiting room, I guess?”
“He looked like he came from a swim in a trash dump.”
“He’s mysterious that way,” Janet looked into the sky through the window.
“I don’t call it mysterious when a man enters a rich man’s office smelling like rotten eggs and looking like a homeless man.” He noted the dreamy look on Janet’s face. “Our own little love birds! How cute! No matter, I can’t publish this guy just because you say he’s good. The readers have to like him. He has to sell!”
“And he will!”
“Does this sound like something that will sell?”
Charles handed Jonathon’s manuscript to Janet. She read,
“I can still hear their screams at night. I toss and turn at the thought. If only I had been there, if only I had died with them that night. I do not know why it happened or how, I did not even see it happen, not even the last second of it. Still, my mind imagines every moment of it.
My name is John, and I have no middle or last name, at least not true ones known to the people of this world. As soon as I found out, I changed my name, only keeping my first. I tell no one who I am, and work in secret, writing novels under the name of Wicker.
I aspire to be a great novelist whose identity is a mystery. As for now, although I manage, I doubt many people read my books, which are my only way of showing others my life.
I am here to tell you my story. I must tell you of the screams that echoed the small house in the woods that night. I must tell you of what I witnessed. My brothers and sisters are dead. Only I am left. Perhaps I shall tell you of dark things that haunt this world. Perhaps I shall tell you the gruesome details of the blood that was shed that night. I saw the blood and I fled. Before I can tell you any more, however, I must start at the very beginning, where these terrible things all began.”
A tear dropped down from Janet’s left eye.
“Depressing?” Charles asked.
“He’s shared all this with me before,” Janet said as she began to bite her finger nails, “but I never thought he would open up this much.”
“You look like you need to recover a bit,” Charles remarked.
“No, I’m fine.”
“Your friend shows promise, Janet. I can see it in his eyes. He’s proud and has lots to discover, but it’s not enough. You only cry because you know where the inspiration for this dark work comes from, but our readers are not guaranteed tears.”
“They’ll want to know the background of his story.”
“So it’s a mystery novel, then? I suppose it might work. I’ll need good editors for this, though. It needs a lot of work. Before anything is decided I need to finish reading his manuscript. At the way things are going in this office, I’ll never get to it.”
“I have faith in you.”
“You always do. Now, what’s this pitch of yours that you so desperately needed to tell me?”
“Charles,” Janet began.
“I know, you shall write a story about us.”
“I see. You only made this appointment to make sure I considered this mysterious man! You must care very much for him.”
“Not as much as I care for you,” Janet replied as she left the office.
Charles chuckled to himself. How long had it been since he last wrote something.
“Maybe I’ll write something about a mysterious young author,” he thought to himself.
Work beckoned Charles back to reality and he started reading Jonathon’s manuscript.
“Charles,” an employee interrupted his reading about thirty minutes later, “your next appointment has arrived.”
Reluctantly, Charles pushed Jonathon’s writing aside. The rest of the work day he went back to the novel whenever he got a chance. The more he read, the better it got. Jonathon’s story became darker and darker, but kept Charles’ attention. It was not your typical horror story. It took on more serious subjects that meant something to the world. Charles’ wanted to know if justice would conquer all the evils served up in this platter of sad circumstances. The story drew him in and he could not let go. He felt emotionally attached to Jonathon. It all seemed so real. Charles did not go home that night. As the clock hands moved on, a light sweat broke out on his brow. Around four in the morning he came to the end, but found it unfinished.
“How could he leave the reader hanging like that?” he thought to himself.
Charles would have to publish this novel, but on one condition, Jonathon must tell him how it ends and agree to write a sequel to tie up the loose ends of the cliffhanger in this book.