(Written 2016, features in my book of short stories: “Misplaced”)
Luci stared at the blank Word document; she had been staring at it for hours it seemed. She went into the kitchen and got the pot from the filter machine. When she got back to her room, she poured some coffee into a mug.
She opened up Firefox and navigated to Amazon Prime. Then she looked for a playlist. Classical for writing, that will do, she thought. The music came on and she sat there for another hour, drinking coffee and staring at the blank document.
With the pot dry and feeling wired with all the caffeine, she pulled up the browser again. She typed F into the address bar; the first entry to show was Facebook.
“Bored, can’t think of anything to write,” she typed into her status update.
With her, near five thousand friends, it wasn’t long before people liked it, but no one said anything.
She sat there for a little longer and looked at her bitten nails. Facebook stayed open. Then came a notification.
“Lol,” someone in Indonesia had written.
Luci liked it for something to do. Chopin rattled away on his piano through the ages at her. She contemplated brewing some more coffee.
“Luci Laverne, a great writer,” she thought, and even considered doing a status update of the same, then decided against it.
Then she checked her Facebook messages just for the hell of it.
Nothing. No wait, there was a message request.
She went into the requests section. The profile picture was blank, but next to that, the message said: “I can help.”
She navigated to the profile. It was locked down to maximum security and she learned nothing but the name: “Rattle Ghost”. She accepted the message. Instantly they started to type.
“Need some help?”
“Who are you?”
“That doesn’t matter. What are you trying to write?”
“A short story for my degree.”
“Ok, want I do that for you?”
Luci wondered who an earth this idiot was.
“Go on then.”
“Ok. Tomorrow morning I’ll send you it.”
Luci woke early and picked up her tablet. There was a message notification. She opened it up. Rattle Ghost had sent a Word document via messenger. She read the story. It was short, but one of the most amazing she had ever read. She navigated to Rattle Ghost’s profile and clicked: “add as friend”. Instantly it was accepted.
“Hi. You’re really going to give me this story as mine?”
“What do you want?”
Luci looked at the profile again. It was still locked down, but now there was a picture. It showed a hideous man.
“Oh, that doesn’t matter, I’ll let you know. Do you want it?”
Straight away she put her student number on the document, and sent it to her tutor via email.
She got up and went through to the kitchen. Here she made a filter coffee and went through to her room with the cup and pot. The light on her tablet was blinking. She checked the email message it indicated.
Her tutor had emailed back: “Wow! Luci, this is the best story ever! I’m going to send it to an agent friend of mine.”
An hour later Luci was sitting at her computer looking at a blank Word document when an email came in.
Tutor: “Luci. You need to write me a novella by tomorrow. You are going to be the biggest writer ever! The agent said they will make you a star!”
Monday evening: late
Luci sat looking at a blank Word document. She was going squiffy with so much coffee and was contemplating some more. She opened up the short story and read it over. Surely she could do as well as this? How hard can it be? If that funny man can do it so can I, she thought.
It was nearly midnight when her tablet popped as a message came in.
“Good evening Luci.”
“How is the novella going?”
“How do you know about that?”
“Nevermind. I can do it for you.”
“Really? By tomorrow?”
“What am I going to owe you for that?”
“I’ll let you know.”
“Look, I’m not that sort of girl.”
“I’m not that sort of man.”
“Don’t worry, now do want it or not?”
“What do you think?”
“Leave it with me, get some rest.”
Luci had a bad night’s sleep. The caffeine kept her awake, and also, the worry about what Rattle Ghost was going to demand of her. At six a.m. she got up, giving up sleep as a bad job. She went and got some more strong coffee. There was nothing from him.
“So, he’s bullshit after all,” she thought.
Right then her tablet popped. There was a message from him. She opened it quickly. Nothing but the Word doc attached. The tablet opened it slowly. Then the novella popped up.
An hour later she hurriedly sent it to her tutor. She was excited, as she had just read the best thing of her life. With the coffee, and excitement, she was almost flying and it seemed like minutes when she got a reply.
Her tutor wrote: “Luci, you are a genius!! Stand by, I’m phoning the agent and forwarding this on.”
Lucy didn’t know what to do with herself. She fired up some music and poured more coffee down her neck. Finally, all that she was owed was coming her way!
In what seemed like minutes her phone rang.
“Hi Luci,” said her tutor.
“Wow, I know your style was coming on, but I see all that you have done before has come together here!”
“Yes,” said Luci, realising that Rattle Ghost had indeed made the writing in her style and voice. “It all worked out on Sunday night, it was like a bolt from the blue!”
“Ok Luci, hold on to your desk, but, the agent said yes. They are going to forward you and advance of ten million pounds. All you need to do is have a novel ready by tomorrow and they will make it into a film.”
“Oh my God!” screamed Luci, “seriously?”
“For sure. And, you’ll be guaranteed an advance for the film of fifty million.”
Luci nearly fainted, but came round quickly.
“You need it by tomorrow?” she said, reality taking hold.
“Yes. Now get to work, catch you later.”
Tuesday evening: very late.
Luci lay back, slumped in her chair. The Word document burned into her eyes. She felt like she was going to be sick and the sick would be pure coffee. Finally, resigned to giving her body to the horrible man, she turned to Facebook and sent him a message.
He replied instantly: “I wondered when I’d hear from you.”
“Oh my God, what are you going to do to me?”
“Don’t worry. I don’t want your physical body.”
“Thank fuck, you’re old enough to be my grandad.”
“Do you want a novel?”
“Can’t say no huh?”
“You know you’ve got me.”
Despite the coffee and excitement, Luci slept until ten, after the lack of sleep before. She grabbed the tablet and saw the message. From the first words of the novel she was hooked. Without reading more than a page she attached it to an email and sent it to her tutor.
Almost instantly her phone rang.
“Oh my God, Luci!” came her tutors voice, “I’m reading it now; you’re going to be huge!”
Luci looked at her online banking again. It was addictive. There it was: sixty million and twenty six pounds two pence.
Her tutor told her this was just the start, once the film rolled out, and the sequels, she would probably be a billionaire.
Wednesday evening: late.
She looked at the message from Rattle Ghost with fear.
“What is it?”
“You’re going to be rich then?”
“Now, my payment.”
“I want your identity. Facebook, your friends, your life. I will be Luci Laverne to the world and not Rattle Ghost the old man. You will be rich but you won’t be able to be anything else.”
“That is so unfair.”
“Live with it.”
“How can I get out of this?”
“You can’t. You made your bed…”
“And I have to lie in it.”
“Ok. I’ll give you one chance.”
“You find out my real name and I’ll let you off.”
“But that is impossible, you could be anyone.”
“Yeah, tough isn’t it?”
Wednesday evening: very late.
Luci spent the whole evening online trying to search for clues as to the name of the man. She tried Google searches. She looked at every app she could think of. Then she scoured forums and social media. Nothing: Rattle Ghost did not exist.
The Facebook profile gave no clues. There was a picture; she hated to look at it. There was nothing else on there, only the name and a picture.
Then she had an idea. She picked up her tablet and called up Tinder. She set her upper age search requirements to the limit and bought the lower one right up. She started swiping through the old men. After an hour she’d found nothing. Then she widened the search area. Another hour of old men went by and she was getting creeped out. Just as she was deciding to give up she did one more swipe, and then another. There he was.
It was the very same picture. She tapped it and his profile came up.
30 miles away
Nice bloke looking for nice lady.
“Yea right,” she thought. “So I have a first name.”
There was another photo. She swiped over to it.
Instantly she recognised the backdrop of where he was in the photo and it looked like the foreground was where he lived.
Wednesday evening: later still.
Luci managed to get across London before the tube and the Docklands Light Railway stopped. She turned out of the station towards the Royal Docks. At the far end was a small marina. Close by the marina was a small piece of land with a small caravan on it. By the caravan burnt a small fire. Nearby on a deck chair warming his hands was Septimus, so called Rattle Ghost.
She stood some distance away and watched him. Shortly he went to the caravan and rooted around. Through the window she could see his laptop with the screen lip up.
Presently he came out with a few sausages on a skewer and attempted to cook them. After he had them cooked, he gobbled them down and he sat with a four pack of Special Brew. By the look of it, he’d had a couple already, and was mumbling to himself as he ate and drank.
“Got her I have. I’ll be Luci Laverne I will. She’ll never get my name she won’t. No more being Rattle Ghost, that’s what she’ll be. No more Septimus Phrogg!!”
Luci walked forward and stood before him.
“Nooo!” squealed Septimus Phrogg.
“I know your name Septimus Phrogg. Got you!”
Septimus Phrogg jumped up and ran to his caravan. As he ran he knocked over the gas bottle connected to the van. Once inside he slammed the door. The gas bottle was in the fire. Luci ran for her life. Just as she reached the edge of the marina there was on almighty explosion. A great waft of hot air hit her and was gone.
She span round to look. There was nothing left of the caravan and a great black sooty mark covered his pocket of land.
“Well, that’s that then,” she said to herself.
She laughed out loud and rubbed her hands together delightedly as she made her way to the night bus.