The trip to the barn was more incredible then Mike could have anticipated. When he slid open the old barn door, he was slightly disappointed in the plainness of the four visible walls. They were simple whitewashed wood planks that were flaking from age. Where was the magic his author senses told him was here? He sat down his laptop bag and replica sword to look through the yard and garden tools that were placed neatly along the walls and tinkered with the antique tools that were strewed over an old beat up workbench. A giant uneven stone slab created the middle of the barn. It was so large, Mike was sure he could park the SUV in here at night to prevent anyone from messing with it. The author leaned up against the back of the barn, scratching his head at the small size of the interior. He noticed a small latch carefully hidden on the wall to his right.
After several minutes of fiddling with the old metal latch that was painted white with the walls, Mike opened the door to a decent sized seating area. A wood stove sat in front of a rich wine colored overstuffed couch with more pillows then Anna insisted on keeping on their bed. There was a large cherry colored wooden box sitting perfectly in between the couch and two French-designed chairs that faced each other. Mike knew this was the area he was drawn to. He had found his writing spot for the next few months. Fingers crossed, he could get some words down on paper in that time.
Retrieving his author’s survival kit, he set himself up on the couch. As he scattered his notes on the table, Mike propped up the sword against the couch then opened his laptop. The screen was dull as Mike realized his computer battery was dangerously low. Looking around, he noticed an outlet on the far wall of the barn. He knew his cord wouldn’t stretch that far, so he exited the secret door once more in search of an extension cord. For being such an experienced writer, Mike was disappointed he never thought to pack one.
Laptop plugged in, notes from the original book spread out, and the feeling of excitement on starting a new novel, Mike was ready. He elevated his laptop up on his legs with the use of a few of the extra pillows then rubbed his hands together eager to recreate his first love. Bitterline was Mike’s debut novel as a sci-fi author and he poured his heart and soul into carefully creating the characters. Putting his fingers on the keys, the words evaded him once more. He growled in frustration at the book 2 curse.
“Maybe you’re going about it the wrong way,” Derek, the main scientist in Bitterline, said from one of the chairs. He was sitting straight backed with a cup of coffee in his hand. Mike shook his head at him.
“I could agree with you,” SHALI, a secondary character from the book, added with her feet thrown across the arm of the chair. She bounced her right foot in rhythm to a song she must have been playing in her head.
Mike ran his fingers through his hair. “I’m getting enough pressure from everyone else. I don’t need it from you two. Get out of my head, please.”
Derek straightened his white lab coat then sat down his coffee cup on the table. “Here’s the deal, Mike. We just do not want to come out of retirement. Our story has been told and we both are just too old to go on another adventure.”
SHALI, the time traveling artificial intelligence nodded her head. “You can not write this book. We will not allow it, old friend.” With the words from the sweet robot voice, Mike placed the pillows with his laptop off to the side then hung his head in defeat.
“What are you going to do?” Derek asked.
“Can we compromise? I have a lot riding on this story. Tell me what it would take to get your cooperation. Do I need to kill both of you in the end? No more stories could be written?”
Both figures of Mike’s imagination looked at each other. They gestured back and forth as if they were communicating through their heads. They remained quiet for several moments.
“We will agree for you to write our story if you can beat SHALI in a sword fight,” Derek said, interrupting the silence.
“What? No way, come on. How is that even fair? She’s a robot trained in all sorts of battle formations and weaponry. I can’t possibly beat her.”
“No? I thought you were the author that gave her all her knowledge? SHALI only knows what you know. If I remember correctly, most of us had to wait around for weeks to get to our next scene while you researched attack strategies and lethal weapons for her.” Derek reached for his coffee cup and took a sip.
At this moment Mike saw no other hope. He had to write this book and needed the character’s help in doing it. Standing up from his seat, Mike picked up his Bitterline replica sword. SHALI smiled up at him. He didn’t even see her get up before he realized she was behind him, sword in hand. Closing his eyes, he took one last deep breath before turning to face his creation. He ran at her, swinging his sword wildly. She stood still in a defensive position until he was inches away from her. She ducked and rolled out of the way.
Mike realized his mistake before he crashed into the wall. The old wood shattered in pieces on impact. He rolled out of the wall, holding his right shoulder. His wife called for him from the back door of the cabin. “Son of a..” Mike looked around the room, realizing he was alone. Getting up from the ground, he looked back at the wall trying to assess the damage he had caused. In the hole created by his body sat a bundle of white cloth tied up with meatpacking string. Curious, he picked it up with his good arm and went back to the couch.
The sense of adventure filled Mike again at the thought of this hidden treasure he discovered. He pulled at the knots in the string until they untwisted. Clumsily unwrapping the cloth, he discovered a scratched brown leather diary with a brass lock keeping it closed.
Mike tried several times to cancel this trip. The thought of the long car ride from California to the east coast was intimidating for him; but ever since the attacks on the twin towers, he refused to take a plane anywhere. This was an obligation he finally decided. To prove his dedication to the project not only to his agent but also to the publisher, who gave him a pretty hefty advancement on the book, he knew he had to do whatever they asked. If nothing else, Anna will have a nice getaway, despite the 3-day car ride. Three days he could have been writing at home.
As they pulled into the stone driveway of their 1850’s farmhouse on the river, Mike was impressed with the dulled barn red color of the old wooden house. This house had character, which surprised the author. Maybe after all these years, his agent did understand him. The front of the house was lined with 4 large picture windows and a light green wooden door, perfectly spaced in the middle. An old stone chimney ran up the left side of his new home for the next few months and the matching stone foundation was just beautiful.
“I love it,” Anna said, opening the passenger’s side door causing the car radio to turn off. She pulled her black framed glasses from atop her head down to her face, tilting her face up to look through her bifocals. Mike reached out for her hand that she had wrapped around the leather handle of her old brown purse.
“I’m sure we are going to have a great time here.” Mike carefully looked around the property at all the color changing leaves on the trees. He felt the jolt of inspiration from this picturesque homestead. There was an old barn sitting in the back of the property line, with a stack of firewood next to it under a tin roof. Being drawn to the greying colored wood, he knew the barn was going to be the first place he investigated. He wondered what treasures or antiques could be found behind the sliding wooden door. An uneven stone walkway trailed off into the woods on the right side of the house. Mike assumed this path led to the river.
“Oh no, Mister Sharpe,” Anna said, pulling her hand away. “I see that adventurous look in your eye. You’re here to work, remember that.”
“Don’t be silly. They can’t expect me to work on the first day of arriving. We have to get to know our cabin and the town.” He opened his car door and pushed himself out. Mike’s legs were stiff and tingling, so he rubbed and shook them, hoping life would come back. Taking a deep breath, Mike finally agreed that this was a good idea. He stretched his arms to the sides, letting out a big bear growl to help awaken his muscles. A devilish feeling of adventure filled the middle-aged man.
“Let’s get the car unloaded quickly. My stomach is reminding me that it’s dinner time.” He smiled at his wife as he opened the over packed trunk to their belongings. Anna pulled out the 2 travel cases and carried them to the front door with the keys. Leaning over to watch her open the front door, Mike juggled the rest of the luggage to ensure he only had to make one trip.
Leaning back in his black leather office chair, Mike folded his left arm around his midsection in support of his right arm he used to pinch the corners of his eyes. His eyelids were heavy from staring at the ominous blank white page on his laptop. Rubbing his hand down the right side of his face, Mike let out a frustrated sigh. The author leaned forward to pick up his favorite coffee mug, a black mug in the shape of Darth Vader when he realized that he had finished his coffee hours ago.
Spinning his legs from underneath his desk, Mike got up from his expensive office chair to walk to the window behind him. He needed some sort of inspiration and he needed it quickly. The sun was starting to set, providing a beautiful orange backdrop sky to his flower-filled backyard. Mike noticed a wheelbarrow was left out of his shed by the bed of wildflowers his wife loved. He made a mental note to speak to his groundskeeper in the morning.
Mike pulled out his cellphone from his pocket, scrolling through to see what he had missed during his unproductive writing session. He texted his wife, Anna, requesting she sends more coffee as soon as possible. He knew he really couldn’t afford the distraction, but in the few hours they were apart he missed seeing her smile.
His cell phone rang as his office door was opened by Anna. She walked in, tiptoeing quietly. Anna kept her curly brown hair short which suited her soft face. Mike looked down at his phone, the caller ID displayed the name Tony Urbal. He hung his head, realizing he had to take the call from his agent. He turned his back to his wife as she picked up his coffee mug to face the window again and answered the call.
“Miiiiike, it’s Tony,” the annoying voice came through the cell phone speaker. “What’s the news on Bitterline 2.0? Your fans are anxiously waiting for the release date on this. I would love to give them an update. And I’m not going to lie, the publisher also is inquiring the status of their investment. They are hoping to be able to release this sequel on the twentieth anniversary of the original book launch. Gosh, has it been 20 years?”
Mike closed his eyes before speaking. “Tony, it’s not going so well. I’ve been staring at a blank screen for a month now. I haven’t written a damn word of it.” He turned back around, walking back to his desk. Sitting back down in his chair, he turned again to look at the glowing white page. “I can’t even write the stupid title. I feel as if Bitterline’s characters are refusing to come out of retirement.”
“You’re an extremely talented and successful author,” he heard Tony lecturing. “I’m sure this isn’t anything to be worried about. We can figure this out together.”
Together, Mike thought to himself. Other than taking a percentage of the profits made on his hard work, he couldn’t think of one thing Tony has done to help him write his novels. Anger rolled up from his stomach to display redness on his cheeks. “How can you help?” The usual soft-spoken author regretted the sharpness in his tone instantly. A fresh cup of coffee was set down on his desk. Mike looked up to see Anna retreating to the door without a word. “This is more than just writer’s block.”
“Sounds to me like you just need a change of scenery. I’ll have Rebecca book you a cabin in Vermont for a few months.”
“What’s that going to do for me? I’m just fine writing from home. It’s worked for me for 20 years now. Why would I need to change?” Mike ran his fingers down the round handle of his coffee mug.
“Trust me, Mike. I’m the expert here,” Tony said through the phone. Mike couldn’t help but roll his eyes. “I’ll have all the arrangements sent over to you by tomorrow afternoon. So, start packing your bags. You leave by Friday.”
Mike hung up his cellphone without another word. He slid it on the top of his glossy oak desk. Looking back at his laptop screen, he leaned over with a smile.
“The End,” he typed before closing the laptop. He got up from his chair, walking to his opened office door. “Honey, we’re going to Vermont,” he called out.