Wally sat at his desk this Monday morning just as he had so many Monday mornings for twelve years. Today was no different than yesterday. Nor the day before. Wally sure didn’t feel as if today was going to be the type of day that would change his life. But Wally had lost feeling. Oh it didn’t happen all at once, but just like a frog in the hot water, over time his sense of feeling ebbed away. An emotional leprosy had consumed him. Wally wasn’t unhappy, but then he wasn’t happy either. Interestingly this actually affected the way one felt around Wally. When anyone had to deal with him, which was rare, you could tell they felt edgy. Wally’s condition was probably a necessity for Wally. Wally’s job, his life really, was focused on taking other peoples dreams away. Wally worked at a rather large publisher, and had been very successful in his career. Wally’s department was in new authors. His mentor had instructed him to be harsh. “The only way these people will become real authors is to work. And trust me, writers will only work when they are rejected.” Like a sponge Wally had soaked this in. What was amazing was that Wally did in fact read all the manuscripts sent to him. He did, in his own mind at least, try to give them a fair shake. Strange that not a single manuscript that came through Wally’s office was ever accepted. Until today. Just another Monday. Just another day.
So at his desk, manuscript perfectly squared with the dimensions of his blotter, and the company’s rejection form letter already on his computer screen, Wally turned the first page. And as usual, his critique started. Vapid. Listless opening, surely will go nowhere but down hill. The air conditioning unit came on and a gentle whoosh filled the room. A sigh that an observer would have noticed was in tune with the air conditioner escaped Wally’s lips. Wally’s reading style was like a focused skimming. He assured himself that he in deed did try to feel the story. To consume the plot as the author intended. Wally believed intently that he was genre agnostic, but sci-fi was not a subject he would accept. By page thirty-seven, Wally was certain he had yet another candidate for his rejection list. A list that he could justify with his own evidence that he meticulously logged in case anyone ever challenged him. Feeling confident, Wally decided it was time for a mid-morning coffee break. In the break room, Wally felt vulnerable. Especially since this publisher had the single cup coffee makers that took forever to brew. Those minutes where he would have to listen to the mindless drivel that passed for intelligent conversation. The other employees were of course necessary, but in his mind he could certainly do without them. His coffee finally brewed and fixed to his liking, Wally walked briskly back to his office. As he approached his desk, Wally noticed a piece of paper on the floor. Leaning over to pick up the paper, and attempting to set his coffee cup on his blotter at the same time was an acrobatic feat that apparently challenged Wally today. In doing this, he spilled coffee on the manuscript. The next few minutes were filled with paper towels and frustrated blotting. Wally was a tidy creature, and the now brown and curly pages of this manuscript was unsettling. Flattening the paper on the desk Wally saw something. Now what caused him to finally see this is uncertain. The brown stain of the coffee mixed with the toner of the laser printed page perhaps. Or maybe it was the contrast of the different hues that caused Wally’s eyes to focus not only on the text, but what was in the text. Suddenly Wally’s whole manner changed, from muddled disdain to piqued interest. Wally’s eyes scanned the page much more intently than he had before not believing what he thought he was seeing. The coffee forgotten, Wally rushed around the desk and started rereading the manuscript with a more fervent eye and a racing heart. Each sentence he read brought him closer to the conclusion that this story was describing him. As unthinkable as it was this was his life, and not just his current life, but his dreams too. How can this be? Wally thought. With a display of emotion that was totally unbecoming of Wally, he quickly opened the desk drawer that had the envelope that this writer – Wally loathed calling them “authors” – had sent. Wally poured the contents of the envelope out onto his desk, searching for the bio of the writer. Finding the information Wally quickly read through it. “Norma Mae Winters. I certainly don’t recognize that name,” Wally blurted out, being easily half the words that he would speak in a normal day of work. He had never been to the town she lived in, and a review of the information gave no inclination that she would have been anywhere Wally had been. Also, this was her first submission, so surely she didn’t know Wally, although she could easily have heard of him. All of these thoughts raced in his still elevated state of mind. “I do think I need that cup of coffee now.” Wally spoke to no one in particular. Well no one at all really. This trip to the break room was lost to Wally as he pondered this disconcerting series of events that had just occurred. Wally didn’t even notice the spirited debate between two forty-something women over the “team” each was on. Coffee in hand, and back at his desk Wally continued reading, not for work this time, not for entertainment, but rather out of complete emotional commitment. Each page peeled back another layer of the onion that was Wally’s soul. As sure as an oil company drills for more pockets of crude, it appeared that Norma had drilled and probed the very core of Wally’s existence. As strong as the wave of fascination, and even consternation Wally had felt, another wave roiled into his consciousness, and this wave was one of fear. A strong sense of fear permeated Wally as he realized that the person in this story was someone that he, personally, did not like. Why would I not like myself? thought Wally. A curious glint of light lanced into Wally’s eyes as he was finishing a chapter. The setting sun was piercing through the window shade slats like a malevolent intruder. Five o’clock Wally thought as he listened to his grumbling stomach. I’ve had nothing to eat today. Haphazardly pushing the manuscript into his brief case, Wally considered his options for dinner. Settling on a quiet well-lit cafe where he could eat and continue to read this amazing interruption in his life, Wally proceeded out his door and down the hallway. The surprise on the face of the receptionist when Wally mentioned “good night” was a sight not unlike a Conquistador stumbling onto Eldorado. “G- g- good night Mr. Walters.” She stammered back. Wally walked into the silky night, not realizing it would be his cocoon.
The inky blackness receded, revealing more than had ever been revealed before. Macabre images eerily pieced together raced through Wally’s mind. The floodgates had been opened, and Wally was not enjoying what he was seeing. Many people create a facade to show others thus concealing what truly lies within, but Wally had also created a facade within himself. This facade had dissolved when he finished the manuscript while lying in bed. Reading in bed was something Wally’s father would not allow, and he had not spared the rod on this among so many other topics as well. The last word leapt from the page onto Wally’s retinas accompanied by an almost audible toll of a bell signaling a death knell to what was. Wally was changed forever. For bad or for good was yet to be seen. Many people when confronted with the full truth of all that lies deep within loose connections with reality, but Wally never really had a conscious grip on reality anyway. Sleep had overtaken Wally quickly as the events of the day had shaken him so, and now the dream had shaken him to his very roots. Sweat issued from every pore as Wally slept fitfully. The dream it seems had taken the essence of Wally and put him on display. Naked and strapped to some sort of board, Wally was being paraded through the main street of town. Some sort of perverted parade, with Wally the pinata thrown in. Everyone he had ever known was there, gawking, pointing, laughing. It was the laughing that stung the most, even more than the beads swung at him like whips. Even his mother was in this lurid throng. At one point Wally was able to look down and see the driver, wearing a top hat and idling through the crowd was a faceless woman. At the end of the parade, the revelers tore him down from the board, laughing with glee they pulled his eyelids wide open to ensure he could see them laughing at him. Making sure all the women he had ever fantasized about, all here in the crowd, could see his most private parts. The humiliation mounting to a crescendo. All culminating to this final point. Wally sensed the crowd parting, felt more than saw a figure being led toward him, sure it was some sort of demon being led to him for a sadistic ritual. As the figure came closer, Wally saw the obese woman sagging breasts swaying through her silk top, leading the figure with a dog leash. Finally brought face to face, Wally realized who the figure was. It was himself. Or rather the facade that Wally had created for himself and all others. But the facade was no more, the obese woman and many others forced them together. Sickened Wally squeezed his eyes shut. But he could still feel the warmth of the other coming closer. The crowd was reaching the apogee of excitement as Wally felt the other’s lips touch his. Felt the tenseness of the other melt as the facade dissolved. Felt the head turn as the lips pawed at his. As the tongue slipped into his mouth, Wally felt himself let go, the warmth spreading in both figures as the other melted onto him, covered him with a revolting slime. Wally cried out with a wail of bestial proportions. He felt his sanity slipping just as the tide of the physical release consumed him. The throbbing began to ebb as the other washed over him, slipping off him, the tendrils of it caressing him as it slid down and off onto the crowd. The obese woman licked her disgusting fingers after rubbing her hands over her body. Tasting all that was Wally. As the crowd pulled him into their midst, intent on devouring him, Wally saw the driver turn to him, open her mouth and say “enough.”
Wally awoke with a start, feeling the disgusting stickiness of the sheets. Never had he realized something as banal as this. What has this woman done to me he thought. How could a bunch of damned words on a page do this to me. Wally peeled the covers back and let the air wash over him. the coolness causing his skin to contract in a decidedly cleansing way. The insanity of the dream ebbed from his memory allowing his reason to come back to the forefront. I have to get to the bottom of this, Wally thought. Climbing out of bed, Wally lapsed into his routine. Feet into the slippers, across the bedroom to the bathroom. Turn the shower on to let the water warm. A rinsed glass of water, and down with his vitamins and herbs, to hell with the FDA. A nice refreshing brushing of the teeth, and then into the hot shower. Steam rising in the shower, the glass door fogging, Wally luxuriated in the expurgating heat of the water. The conditioner was soaking into his hair as Wally washed his body. Eyes closed, he let himself go into the heat of the shower. Scrubbing his body, Wally paid attention to every region. Within moments, the dream had crept into his mind. The woman driving him in the parade turned and smiled at him. the cooling water brought his mind racing back to the moment, and he realized that he was enjoying this shower too much. Something that he had never done. Truly a time of firsts for Wally. Finishing his hygiene tasks, Wally stopped the shower, stepped out and dried himself off. His time in the shower had done more than just clean, Wally had decided what he was going to do. He was going to talk to Ms. Norma Mae Winters. He was going to find out how this unknown woman, aspiring writer, had managed to reach inside him so.
Working for a publishing company surely had many pluses when it came to finding the details of a submitted writer. Pensively Wally dialed the listed home number. Two rings and her voice came through the electronic ether. “Hello Ms. Winters?” “This is Norma Winters,” came her reply. “Ms. Winters, my name is Wally Walters. I am a new submissions editor for the publishing company you submitted your manuscript to.” Dead silence on the other end of the line. “Ms. Winters?” Wally queried. Click came the indication that the call had been ended. Now this is very odd indeed Wally thought. Now Wally really wasn’t sure what to do. He tried calling again, but the phone just rang endlessly. Wally’s semi-insulated life had ill prepared him for moments like this. He didn’t even like the ridiculous mystery novels that he had read, and of course ultimately rejected. Well, the events of the previous day and night could not be allowed to repeat. So really Wally’s only course of action was to go and pay a visit to Ms. Norma Mae Winters. Never missing a day of work made taking some time off very easy for Wally. He didn’t even mind the oddly quizzical looks he got from everyone up the approval chain.
Wally’s heart sank as he saw the flashing lights of the ambulance and police vehicles. The rookie officer running the tape around the front porch of the house ineptly dropped the roll and it rolled right to Wally’s feet. Police Scene DO NOT CROSS. Wally Walked up the steps and approached the door, and was intercepted by a disheveled man in a terribly wrinkled sport coat that had seen too many cheeseburgers and pints of ale. “I’m sorry sir. You can’t go in there. You don’t WANT to go in there,” wrinkled coat muttered.
“What happened here” Wally gasped.
“Somebody got tired of living. And decided to send that message loud and clear to whomever found her. Now. How did you know the deceased?” Wally paused, eyeing the house. Not a sad looking house. Well cared for, obviously not the house of someone who was tired of living. No, something else had happened.
“Well, it’s my understanding that this is the house of a Ms. Norma Mae Winters. She has recently submitted a manuscript to the publishing company that I represent, and I was impressed with her work and had came here to see her.”
“Well, I’m sorry sir, but Ms. Winters is dead.” And with those words, Wally realized he would never find out how she had come to know him so well. Would never know.
“It should really be raining today.” Wally muttered under his breath. The crowd of mourners around the grave site probably wouldn’t agree. Wally had purposefully avoided eye contact with everyone here. Norma was the only person I would want to speak with. The preacher droned on incessantly about how the gift of life is sacred, but that God’s ways are not our ways, and who can know the mind of God. The grave was a gaping wound in the earth, a ravenous maw that consumed what was offered up to it. Norma’s coffin, a deluxe model Wally was sure, resisted the unending pull of gravity held in check by straps of nylon. Finally, the service was over. Wally had seen this adventure to the end. His only questions were what to do next. Wally was a changed man, there was no doubt about that. But he knew one thing. In this particular case, his mentor was terribly wrong. This first time writer WAS an author. Anyone who could have penetrated Wally’s shell was an author indeed. This is one manuscript that would leave Wally’s office as a first. With that Wally smiled. As he moved toward the exit, his eyes strayed quickly over the crowd, and he was startled to see a young woman intently gazing at him. As Wally increased his stride, She moved quickly to intercept him. One word that brought the rest of Wally’s world crashing down. His stomach lurched and he wanted to leap into the chasm and follow Norma.