Winner: Literary Fiction
Evil Editor's unpaid assistant had been reading slush sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, ever since college had let out for Christmas vacation. "I want to go home," she said. "It's Sunday, it's New Year's Eve, and it's freezing in here."
"I told you before," Evil Editor told her again, "if you get cold, shovel some manuscripts into the furnace. Heating fuel is expensive. Manuscripts are a dime a dozen. And not my dime.""But I worked Christmas. And I have a date. Have a heart, Master."
"All right, already," EE told her. "Anything's better than listening to your whining. Be back by five A.M., or you can forget about that job recommendation."
Five minutes passed. There came a knock on the door. "Now who could that be at eleven o'clock New Year's Eve?" Evil Editor grumbled.
He opened a spy-hole, glaring out with his good eye at a dark night in a city that doesn’t care. A cheap fedora wearing a dirty trench coat stood on the stoop, head down, hands upraised in supplication.
“Go away, I’m poor; I tithed away half my house a week ago at Christmas when your three cousins visited,” he said, slamming peephole. But the visitor persisted, annoying EE into opening the door. He stood framed by the dull glow of a bare light bulb. The streetlamp glinted off his glass eye as it swiveled from side-to-side, high-to-low, blinking blue, then white, blue, white. The stranger watched it spin in abject despair.
“Three times you knocked," EE shrieked. "Three times, you disturbed me. Now by the power of three, I shall send you to the oblivion you deserve.” The stranger shrank back momentarily, then screwed up his courage to his hitching post. (Note, in Manhattan they’re called parking meters.)
“You’ve been watching too many repeats of Charmed, old man. Is that what you do behind closed doors, when you let your hair hang down? I need a signed contract by midnight and you’re the only editor working in all of Manhattan . . . I’m here with a query, a proposal and a manuscript,” he said, forcing a sheaf of grime-covered pages into EE’s hands. EE scanned the pages one by one, throwing them into the air when finished, forcing the man to grab each one, reassembling the pathetically short manuscript on the fly.
A Retrospective of True Stories I Broke in 2006, EE read off the cover. “There’s barely a half-dozen pieces here. These wouldn’t even make a good leaflet. It’s a handbill of frippery and flummery, a pantheon of puerility.” EE made extravagant gestures as he slowly shredded the title page. The stranger wailed, falling to the ground, weeping profusely, watering EE’s slippers, kissing the hem of his tattered smoking jacket, hugging his knees. EE kicked the man into the gutter.
“Only my pet labradoodle is allowed to lick my feet,” he growled.
“Oh please sir, if you don’t sign my contract, I’ll be damned to a loveless marriage and sold into sexual slavery. I can bring you fame, wealth, fortune and glory . . . fortune and glory,” the stranger pleaded from his knees, his coat open and his tear-stained undergarments asunder.
“HAH! The Indiana plot! It’s all lies; there’s never fortune and glory in these things. Author’s only get poverty, criticism and subjugation as footstools. Considering the divorce rate, a loveless marriage is a blessing. How bad could it be? Marriage to Hillary of York?” The stranger fell backwards as if struck by a mighty blow from a sledgehammer.
“No, no, it’s worse. I’m fated for an execrable abomination, an imprecation beyond all imagining.” EE’s eye opened in wonder. Could it be?
“I’ve heard a rumor of ambitious MFA’s selling their souls, never thought I’d meet one. A fate worse than Hillary, you say. The only fate worse is marriage to Ann of Coulter Street.” The stranger’s face distorted. Fear beyond any human reasoning crossed his visage and gripped his body as he prepared to say the words describing his doom.
“No, my fate is worse, much worse than mere marriage to a harpy, a desiccated harbinger of doom. At midnight I am forsworn to become the fluffer on Rosie O’Donnell’s new DVD – Lesbians in Black Leather Gone Wild and become her eunuch courtesan.” The stranger flopped forward on his knees, fawning and sniveling at EE’s feet. EE reached out a wizened, skeletal claw of a hand, pulling the contract from the headband of the stranger’s fedora.
“Not even a Drudge like you deserves that fate," EE said. "Wait here on your knees, keep wiggling like the worm you are,” He disappeared inside and returned, signed contract in hand. The crowd in the nearby square began to cheer the stroke of midnight on the clock. Without a word, he threw the contract into the man’s grateful hands and slammed the door. The peephole opened and EE’s lone good eye appeared.
“Now begone, errant author-scum and never darken my doorway until you bring me a Pulitzer-winning manuscript.” He closed the peephole. One author crushed in the gutter, thousands to go, he thought. This is starting out as a very good year.
Continuation by Dave Fragments