Last month’s flash fiction contest at SFF World gave us the option to bravely venture forth without a theme, or to write about writing. Once that second part was mentioned, this idea immediately popped into my head, given an extra push by Brandon Sanderson’s announcement that the last book in The Wheel of Time was finished some 22 years after the first book was released. The tone of this story should make obvious my opinion on series that go on for that amount of time…
Jordan Pierce clicked the “Save” icon and sat back in his chair with a contented sigh. He took a long sip from his glass, letting the pleasant warmth of the brandy swirl around his mouth. He’d wait a bit to call his publisher and let her know he’d finished. He wanted to savor this moment, like every time before over the last twenty years. Finishing a novel always filled him with such tremendous satisfaction. It was a good steak, a fine wine, and great sex all rolled into one, and Bonnie could damn well wait for the manuscript until he’d enjoyed himself a little. He set down the glass and brought the cigar to his lips, his traditional victory lap. Closing his eyes, he struck a match.
The match head flared brighter than seemed possible, the sudden flame arcing across the room with the sound of a parachute opening. It landed with a crimson flash on the brick work in front of the fireplace, then shot upward. The column of fire began to spin, growing taller and taking shape, until a vague outline appeared, wreathed in flame. The fire rose like a curtain, revealing a man in a sharply-tailored suit all in black, leaning with both hands on a walking stick and glaring at Jordan through narrowed eyes.
“This is completely ridiculous,” the man said tersely, stepping forward.
“I was wondering when you’d show up,” Jordan said casually, picking up another match.
“I’m beginning to wonder why I bother.” He flicked a few stray ashes from the sleeves of his suit.
Jordan puffed as he lit his cigar. “We’ve been over this a dozen times. What I’m doing is perfectly within the letter of our agreement.”
The man dropped into a thickly upholstered chair next to Jordan’s writing desk. “But not the spirit!”
“I thought you of all people would be appreciative of that.”
“I was appreciative after Book Two. What’s this one now, Fifteen?”
“Sixteen,” Jordan said, grinning.
“Sixteen,” the man repeated. He helped himself to a cigar from the box on Jordan’s desk. He put it to his lips without lighting a match, and the tip glowed red and began to smoke. “Still no end in sight, I suppose?”
“You wound me,” Jordan said with mock hurt. “I have the entire story planned out, right up here,” he added with a tap to his temple.
“To be finished by the children of the characters you introduced in your first book, I presume.”
“Oh, we’re well on to the grandchildren now. On their way to the tombs of their ancestors to recover the lost artifacts.”
The man sat up, gripping the arms of his chair until his knuckles whitened. “The same ones their grandparents spent three books looking for?”
“It’s called symmetry.”
“It’s called recycling, Jordan.” He sat back with a sigh. “I suppose you’ll manage to wring another trilogy out of this?”
“What can I say?” Jordan said. “The story simply grew too big.”
“Again,” the man said with a short, humorless laugh.
Jordan took another puff from his cigar. “Our deal was that I be given the talent to write a massively successful story. We never came to any agreement with regards to the length of that story.”
“I’m well aware of that,” the man said coldly, his cigar flaring briefly. “As I’m sure you’re aware that the only reason your readers have tolerated this for the last twenty years is because of that deal. All I have to do is snap my fingers and your books are in the bargain bin.”
“Thereby no longer being successful, thereby voiding our deal.” Jordan watched the man grit his teeth in wordless anger. The evening was turning out to be doubly satisfying. He raised a glass to his companion. “Looks like I’ll be writing for a long, long time.” The brandy mixed with the cigar smoke in a delightful flavor.
The man took a long pull from his cigar, staring intently into the flames. Then he sighed. “Yes, Jordan. Yes we will.” He stood, extinguishing his cigar in an ashtray on the desk. “I should be going. You’ve got work to do.” He strolled towards the fireplace.
“Work? I just finished.”
The man turned and smiled, an icy grin that held no humor. “Have you?”
The fireplace roared, and he was gone.
“Jordan, your first draft was due a month ago.” Bonnie’s voice strained with frustration and too many cigarettes. “You told me you were nearly finished.”
Jordan held the phone to his ear with a shrugged shoulder and a tilted head, his neck cramping. His fingers flew over the keyboard, filling the computer screen with narrowly-spaced lines. “It’s getting there,” he said.
“Where exactly is ‘there,’ Jordan?” Bonnie said.
“1700 pages and counting,” he muttered.
“Jesus Christ, Jordan! We’re not publishing phone books, you know.”
He rubbed his face, the stubble rasping against his hand. “I know, I know. But … I just haven’t found the ending yet, that’s all.”
“Well slap ‘To Be Continued’ on it and give me what you’ve got! We’re going to miss Christmas as this rate.”
He couldn’t tell her the truth. About how his finger wavered every time he went to click “Save.” How some new idea would come to him whenever he thought he’d finished. How he’d write and write, until he’d fall asleep on his keyboard, a waffled outline pressed into his face. And how he’d wake and start typing before he’d fully opened his eyes again.
“Jordan, this is already as long as your last five books combined. What the hell’s going on?”
Jordan looked wearily over to the fireplace, to the black mark on the floor in front of it that wouldn’t come up no matter how hard he scrubbed. His fingers never left the keyboard, never stopped typing. He swallowed.
“The story simply grew too big.”