Maybe it’s time to climb out of the story for a while.

lo

HE WAS TIRED and didn’t want to go on.

He had written his last sentence:

Charlie stared down at the old .45 caliber pistol he held in an unsteady hand and waited for the midnight hour that would begin a new day of a new year.

And now it was over.

He was a hundred-and thirty-seven pages into his next novel.

A mystery, it was.

It could be a thriller.

What was the difference?

A thriller is set in Paris, an editor had once told him.

A mystery is set Peoria.

So what?

He didn’t care anymore.

He shut down his computer and unplugged his printer.

He sat for a moment and stared at a black and blank screen.

He sighed. It was such a relief. He didn’t have to worry about the words anymore.

He had been dealing with them for thirty years or more.

First, newspaper.

Then, magazines.

And finally, books – mostly novels.

The words came easily enough.

He loved to tell stories.

But it was the same old grind.

Day after day, nothing ever changed.

And now, nothing would ever be the same again.

He had written his last book eight months ago.

The next one would never see the light of day.

He grinned, leaned back in his chair, and rummaged that last sentence over in his mind.

Charlie stared down at the old .45 caliber pistol he held in an unsteady hand and waited for the midnight hour that would begin a new day of a new year.

To hell with Charlie, he thought.

To hell with the pistol.

To hell with either a new day or a new year.

He had climbed back out of the novel.

He had climbed back out of Charlie’s head.

There had been a beginning, but there would never be an ending, and he was fine with that.

He had his life back, and Charlie, God bless him, was on his own.

For years, people at those mindless cocktail parties had wandered up to him at the wine bar and asked, “What do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” he would say.

“What do you write?”

“Novels.”

He could just as easily have said, “Garbage.”

No one really cared.

They acted as though they did.

They didn’t, and he wouldn’t have to say that anymore.

He had quit.

No more books.

No more articles.

No more scenes.

No more characters.

No more points of view.

Nothing.

It was over.

He was through.

When night came and darkness descended upon the world around him, he lay in bed and tried to sleep.

His eyes were shut.

His mind wasn’t.

He thought about Charlie.

Poor old Charlie.

Charlie had lost everything he ever loved.

His job.

His career.

His wife.

And all he had left was a .45 caliber pistol.

He was staring at it. What would he do with it?

Shoot the boss who fired him?

Shoot the wife who deserted him?

Shoot himself for being a loser?

Rob the bank?

Pawn the pistol?”

He couldn’t sleep.

Charlie was worried, and he was worried about Charlie.

They had lived together through three novels.

He couldn’t just leave a good man hanging.

You don’t do that to a friend.

At daybreak, he turned on his computer and plugged in his printer.

The phone rang.

“What you doing today?” a friend asked.

“Writing,” he answered.

“I thought you quit.”

“I did.” He paused a moment, then added, “I quit, but Charlie didn’t.”

“Charlie’s not real,” the friend said.

“He is to me.”

The friend laughed. “Next thing I know, you two will be taking a vacation together.”

“Plane leaves at two-thirty,” he said.

“Where are you going?”

“Don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Charlie has the tickets,” he said.

He hung up the phone and felt as good as he had in a long time.

A little trip out of town might do him and Charlie both some good.

My latest novel, Night Side of Dark: Maybe I’ve spent too much with Ambrose Lincoln this year.

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