I didn't mean to be sneaky but the grounds around the shed by the lake were lush with grass and my feet sank quietly into the soft soil, concealing the sound of my footstep. I was going to knock on the door, but knowing how irritating it can be to be broken out of focussed writing, I decided I would check in on Ali through the window and if he was sleeping, as I hoped, I would open the door and help him to bed. So I had walked around the window and had taken a peek through the window to see a sight I will never forget.
Ali was working all right. Well, maybe not. It was more like his fingers were working because Ali himself was fast asleep in that chair, propped in an upright position by a force that I could not see while his fingers continued to type feverishly on that typewriter. Yes, he sat upright but his head was bowed and even in the dimness of the room, I could see that his eyes were closed. I had never heard of sleep-typing before. Sleep walking, maybe, but this was entirely new to me. I kept staring at the fingers moving quickly over the keys almost hypnotised by the motion and craziness of it all. But that was not all.
From time to time, the fingers would go to a letter opener that was on the side of the typewriter, and in that hypnotic state, the tip of each of his ten fingers would be cut open, blood from the cut would be spread all over the ribbon and then, the typing would continue. I must have watched this in horror for about twenty minutes and in that space of time, the cut had happened about three times and yet Ali never woke up from his dreams. The typing just continued as the bloody typewriter churned out yet another manuscript that was going to be a bestseller. It was horrific.
And a bestseller it was. I watched the crowd thronging around Ali four months from that horrific night, but I did not really want to be part of this anymore. The desire to be a successful author was still strong, no matter, but what I had seen that night was burnt indelibly into my mind. As the cameras flashed and as Ali smiled, signed autographs and waved at the cheering crowd, his groupies, fans and fanatics, I saw other details. Saw how his cough was almost becoming a signature, how his eyes had become sallow, how emaciated he had become, how he hardly walked tall anymore, how thin his hairline was, how, slowly but surely, my friend was slowly becoming a living corpse. I knew he probably had a bucket somewhere where he would cough out freely. Knew when I looked at his handkerchiefs, it would be dried blood festooned with hairy living worm-like creatures that were giving him scripts and fame in exchange for his blood. And in the end, his life.
Again, that night, as he sat with me coughing more freely now since it was just the two of us, I asked if he wanted a doctor, but he was too weak to answer now. He simply smiled at me and shook his head weakly.
“No…” he looked at me wearily now, and I almost burst into tears. “No, Peter.”
“Okay, Ali” I said, grief crushing me.
“Thank you. Thank you, Peter”
“It’s fine, Ali. I should than…”
“No. Not that. Thank you for not saying anything about this.”
And then he raised his scarred fingertips towards me, and it was at that moment that I knew that he knew. He had known about the other night. I opened my mouth to say something, but the words did not just come out.
“It is fine, Peter. I...saw… We saw you. It is alive. The typewriter. The Royal Sprite.”
He paused, looking at me and I could see he was willing himself to go on. I wanted to know more, but if it was going to exact a heavy toll, then I was content to not know anymore.
“It’s fine, Ali…”
“Listen, man,” Ali chided softly. “Time is short. If you realise how short time is, you will waste no time at all, Peter.”
“Okay, Ali…” Now I knew we were at the final run.
“She belonged to Ed. Ed Blythe. He wasn’t so lucky, you see. When she comes into your life, the first title you churn out will have a number. Always. Always a number, Peter. And that number is the number for your “run”. And then you’re done. Remember, “The Five Swordsmen of Illuman”?”
That was Ed Blythe’s big hit in a series of short fiction novels that had taken the literary world by storm. “Yeah, I do”
“That told him he had five years, Peter”
“Oh, I see. “The Roses of 7 Parklane”, your first bestseller, was basically saying your run was going to be seven years, right?”
“Smart man.” He gave me that weak smile again.
“But, Ali, where did you get the damn thing?” I asked.
“Oh, the typewriter, yeah? I actually got it off a guy who was auctioning off Ed’s items. He gave it to me for really cheap.” He paused and chuckled ruefully. “But in the end, what a heavy price to pay, Peter. What a heavy price to pay. But I do have no regrets because we’re all dying anyway. Fact is, if you realise how short time is, you will waste no time at all...”
I just watched on in silence, watching my friend dying right before my eyes. But though it was short, a part of me thought, it was a decent run. And Ali had helped me. Bless him. I stood up and walked over to him, knelt next to him and held him in a tight embrace. His sickly emaciated form held on to me like a grandfather giving his grandchild a final hug.
“Thank you for everything, Ali. Thank you so much.”
“No. Thank you, Peter. Thank you…” and he began to weep softly and I just held him and rocked him slowly. A tear broke free from my stoic face and slowly made its way to my cheek. “Please take me to the lake, Peter.”
And so I took him to the lake and held Ali in my arms like a lover. Truth was I loved him, not in any sort of romantic way, but he was a great friend in school, had lifted me out of the dumps and now, lay dying in my arms. The night had a full moon and the breeze blew softly in the trees that morning. I have never been a man of faith, but Ali and I said a prayer together, mumbling something for forgiveness and when the clock struck midnight, Ali breathed his last and died in my arms. His seven years were up, I guess.
Well, the story is pretty much over. The rest of the days after that were a blur. As they disposed of his property, there was only one objective in my mind. I was going to burn that damn machine. Yet, every time I walked into that shed to set it on fire, it would hit me that it was the last memento of my friend and of the great author and icon, Ed Blythe. And every time, I would close the door of that infernal shed. After a while, I gave up entirely and decided to distance myself from Ali and his cursed estate - though, I found out, he willed almost all of his property to me. He was an only child and was never married. The date on the will was shortly after the night when I had seen the blood-sucking machine creating art at the expense of my friend’s life.
And so ends my tale of the Mysterious Sprite. In my own life, I have achieved some acclaim of my own shortly after Ali died. What I felt compelled to do was maximise my focus to churn out novels of quality and these days, writing comes easily as I find myself churning out novel and novel, each doing well in their own right. My fingers really hurt and my back aches from time to time because of all that writing, but I guess achieving and attaining success can exact a heavy toll, a toll that the public may not see or really understand.
I guess fate has smiled on me a bit because the novel I wrote that changed it all was “Nine is the Number”, written seven years ago. People sometimes tell me I work too hard and I should relax in my string of successes, but if only they understood. The thing is my cough is not yet as bad as Ali’s, but one thing I know for sure is that if you realise how short time is, you will waste no time at all.
By J.C. Nova. Enjoyed this post? Like and SHARE!