by Oscar Deadwood
forum: Incantations
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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        If you read these words, then you are cursed.
        You may be blessed, maybe even doubly blessed, but definitely, definitely, you are cursed.
        Now, don't stop reading. Don't stop reading because you're afraid. These words, these observations of a simple and miserable man, won't curse you.
        You were cursed before you got here.

        The writer found himself in front of a junk shop on the periphery of his city's downtown, a mid-sized and decaying city, the decay starting along Main Street and fanning through the shopping districts and neighborhoods like waves of a seismograph.

        The junk shop was along a shabby avenue of two-story storefronts, an avenue lined with dead trees and rusted and ignored parking meters. The window of the junk shop was scratched and foggy, and the cracked and wide sidewalk that ran in front of the shop was littered with bits of blowing trash and rotting leaves.

        The writer entered the junk shop, pushing open the door that was once painted red, but the paint had peeled in chunks and strips, giving the door a mangy and ancient sort of look.

        A cowbell attached to the door rang as the writer entered the shop.

        The shop was moderately famous, as was the shopkeeper.

        The Old Man, the writer was told, go and see the Old Man.

        The writer was one of limited success. He had stories printed here and there, and praise was given him, as one would pat the head of a dog that had performed a trick or obeyed a command.

        The writer wanted more praise, more success. The writer wanted his name to be a household word; he wanted his name mentioned in the same breath as all the dead and great writers. The writer wanted children to be forced to read his words in classrooms.

        He was frustrated by the lack of real fame; his ambition was like a curse that he wore like a chain. He wanted to be famous. He wanted his works to be immortal.

        The writer decided that immortality couldn't be accomplished typing one's words via a computer.
After all, Edgar Allen Poe didn't have a spellchecker.

        So, he set out to buy a typewriter, as if a typewriter would put magic in his words, as if the aesthetic sluggishness of writing with an old and manual typewriter would allow him to reach some sort of spiritual and higher plane, like a Buddhist monk who endures hardships to reach some sort of nirvana.

        The interior of the shop was bleak, very bleak. The writer felt like he stepped inside some old black and white movie as the store was void of almost any color. The floor in front of the black counter was concrete and badly in need of sweeping, and the merchandise was stacked behind the counter, stacked in a way to suggest that all the ancient appliances for sale would come tumbling down if the door was slammed shut.

        The writer took in the shop, took in the pile of ancient appliances behind the counter, a pile ceiling-high with no telling how far back it stretched. And the pile was all aged chrome and black trim. Blenders and toasters and irons and television sets with rotary knobs all were mangled in the haphazard pile.
The only splash of color in the store was a half-empty bottle of Cutty Sark on the counter, the yellow label shining like a canary in a mineshaft.

        The writer nervously sipped his steaming cup of Starbucks and peered around the pile of dusty appliances in search of the shopkeeper.

        In search of the Old Man.

        The writer heard a shuffling of feet and then a phlegmy cough and the sound of spittle hitting the floor. The writer heard a "fuck" and then a "shit" and finally, finally, the sound of slow footsteps approached the counter from the recesses of the shop.

        And the shopkeeper was indeed very, very old. His appearance caused the writer to take a step back, as if a member of the walking dead was approaching him.

        The Old Man was no more than 5'3", and his head was bald and pale and littered with liver spots and moles. His naked eyes were ringed in red and void of any color. He was wearing an untucked flannel shirt and baggy khaki pants and he laughed loudly when he took in the writer with his wire-rimmed glasses, his green sweater, his cup of Starbucks and his long coat with an upturned collar.

        "Ah, I should've fucking known, first customer of the day and I've got a fuckface standing in front of me." The Old Man coughed again and spit onto the floor, and took a long swig out of the bottle of Cutty Sark.

        "Umm," the writer could write verbal jarring in his stories, but in real life he was always short on words.

        "I'm looking for a typewriter, an old Royal, and I heard you were the man to see…"

        "Oh great." The Old Man wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. "I should've fucking known, another goddamn writer, another whiny fuckface writer… Yeah, I've got typewriters, got a shitload of them, but they all either drop the letter G or else the numbers don't work, and you can't find ribbons for them anymore… you piece of shit… but I suppose you want a magic typewriter, don't you?"

        The writer was confused. First off, he wasn't quite sure how to take the verbal abuse the Old Man was giving him, it almost seemed appropriate and deserving—the way the Old Man spoke.

        And how did he know he was a writer?

        "Well, I don't want a magic typewriter, just a typewriter…"

        "Listen, fuckface, I know your kind. You don't get to be my age and not know a thing or two about fools like you. How and where you write and what you write with don't make a damn lick of difference, but I'll sell you a typewriter, sure, no problem…"

        And the Old Man retreated back into some corner of his shop. The writer stood in front of the counter, nervously rocking on his heels and sipping his coffee in furtive gulps.

        The Old Man returned with a black and bulky Royal typewriter, the kind the writer used to pretend to type on at his grandmother's house when he was a child.

        The Old Man slammed the typewriter on the counter and a cloud of dust erupted in protest.

        "Here you go, fuckface, here you fucking go. Try it out and see what happens."

        The writer approached the counter and set his coffee cup down. He pushed up the sleeves of his coat and started typing without any paper. The typewriter was indeed sluggish, he had to wait for the hammer to strike the ribbon before he could type another letter, he would be forced to type at a much slower pace than he would on his computer.

        But the great writers wrote slowly. Kipling would stare out of his of his window for an hour between paragraphs, turning the words over in his mind as he stared at the colonial and humid Indian landscape.

        Yes, the typewriter would help him, the writer decided. The typewriter would make him slow down and think about his words. He would have to type slowly and carefully, as the typewriter had no delete or insert key, no built in thesaurus, no word counter. It would be just him and the keys and his words.

        Magic words, he hoped and assumed.

        "Cool, I'll take it," the writer said as he pushed down his sleeves and sipped from his cup of Starbucks. "How much?"

        "Your dumb fuckface ass would probably give me a hundred bucks for this piece of shit. Your dumb fuckface ass would probably pull out his credit card and let me swipe it for whatever I want… You fucking writers are pathetic, pathetic and selfish. I mean, come on, you assume the words you write are worthy of someone's precious and fleeting time?"

        The writer shrugged, and sipped his coffee and the Old Man was right, he decided. A writer has to be selfish and egotistical to expect people to read his or her words.

        "Tell you what..." The Old Man unscrewed the top off of the bottle of Cutty Sark and took a fast and long swig. He wiped his mouth with a flannel sleeve. "I'll tell you what, I'll sell you this typewriter for twenty bucks, this typewriter that I picked up out of somebody's trash for free about thirty years ago, but I'll tell you how to be a great fucking writer for another fifty, how does that sound? Seventy bucks and you walk out of here as the next O Henry or Raymond Carver or H.P. Lovecraft or whoever the hell you think you oughta be."

        The writer set his cup of coffee back on the counter and reached into the back pocket of his khaki pants. He pulled out his old and faded leather wallet and counted out three twenties and a ten.

        "Sure," the writer said, so willing to throw money in any direction that could help his writing, even from such a crude and dubious source as the shopkeeper.

        "Yeah, I knew you would. You're all fuckfaces and would sell your souls if you had the fucking chance to be on the New York Times bestseller list, but a deal's a deal and you're gonna walk out of here a changed man, a changed man with a busted-up piece of shit typewriter that you're never gonna use," and the Old Man grabbed the writer's coffee cup and poured in a large shot of the Cutty Sark.

        "Scotch and coffee don't mix, but you gotta start somewhere. You gotta live a little and quit hiding behind that fucking cup of coffee."

        The writer drank his coffee and made a face and drank some more, the scotch sending warmth from his stomach and across his face.

        "Okay, what can you tell me?" the writer asked, feeling somewhat emboldened by the scotch.

        "It's easy," and the old man coughed as he reached for a half-smoked cigar from the breast pocket of his flannel shirt. "Ya ever listen to the radio?"

        The writer nodded.

        "And not your fucking wanna-be-an-elitist public radio either, fuckface, but you know, music, Top 40 stuff, ya ever listen to that?"

        The writer shrugged his shoulders and nodded.

        "It sucks, doesn't it?" the Old Man asked with his teeth clenched around the unlit and thick cigar. "The music they play is crap but people eat it up, and you wanna know why?"

        The writer nodded, not sure where the Old Man was going.

        "Cuz those musicians, they know the spell, they have the spell, it's like an incantation in the music, an incantation in the words and music that make people worship those no-talent fools who prance around on stages and on television screens. They know the spell when some kid who can play the hell out of any instrument doesn't, and that kid will become a frustrated fuckface like you, all because he doesn't know the spell."

        The writer was hooked.

        "The same goes for writers. You ever wonder how some hack can type some nonsense drivel and write a novel about nothing, and still sell over a million copies?"

        The writer had wondered about that all the time.

        "It's cuz they know the spell of the worlds, they know how to write with rhythm, they know how to write with magic and rhythm, they know the formula, and for your fifty bucks, I'm gonna give it to you."

        And the antique dealer went into the back end of the shop and returned with a dirty and stained writing tablet. He took a swig of Cutty Sark and lit his cigar and scrawled a paragraph with the nub of an old and eraser-less pencil.

        "Here ya go, fuckface. This is all you need to know."

        The writer read the paragraph, his eyes opening wider and wider with each digested word.

        Startled, the writer looked up at the old man, he looked at the old man as if he were some sort of ancient god that had just dropped out of the sky, or a demon that had risen from the bottom of the earth.

        "How… How do you know all this?"

        The antique dealer laughed, his laughter swirling with the smoke of his exhaled cigar.

        "You ever wonder what my name was?" the shopkeeper asked the writer.

        The writer shrugged his shoulders and nodded.

        The old man uttered his name, the old man uttered his name and his face and body disappeared in a cloud of cigar smoke as he wandered back into the caverns of his shop.

        The writer stood open-mouthed and startled. The old man had the name of a writer he had read in school, a writer long dead but immortal in his words.

        The writer put the piece of paper in his pocket and walked out of the shop without the typewriter, and without the cup of Starbucks.

        He didn't need to hide behind a cup of coffee anymore.


copyright 2006 Oscar Deadwood.

Oscar Deadwood lives in Royal Oak, Michigan. His novel The Perfect Revolution will be published this spring by Silverthought Press.