Andrew Wilson had been staring at the blank sheet of paper for the last five minutes. He tapped out a handful of words on his 1955 Royal Quiet Deluxe typewriter that he had bought from a pawn shop in Phoenix for $10 bucks more than twenty years ago. Since then, the typewriter traveled the country with him and helped write hundreds of short stories, twenty-seven novels including a few best sellers, and a motion picture script or two.
The next morning, he reported to work at the usual time. The paper was already expecting him. It had somehow found a way out of the trash bins and had a message waiting for him by the time he walked in the door. The message concerned him.
This is our last day together.
They had been making great progress on the story together, but Andy didn’t think they were that close to the end. “Are we close to finishing the story?” Andy asked.
“I don’t understand,” Andy said. “If the story isn’t finished, how could this be our last day together?”
We will finish it.
Andy was confused. “Which one is it? Are we or are we not going to finish the story today?” He crossed the room and sat down. He checked the mirror for a response but didn’t find one. In fact, the paper wasn’t even visible in the mirror. Andrew twisted in his chair to see a massive mound in the corner. It was almost as tall as he was and seemed to defy gravity.
Curious, Andy got to his feet and approached it.
The mound was as tall as he was and the longer he stared at it, the more it seemed to change right before his eyes. It was transforming, becoming more and more solid and not a loose collection of discarded wads of paper.
Andy couldn’t take his eyes off it as it slowly gained shape and definition. Its features took on humanoid characteristics. It had a head on a short neck sitting upon a pair of shoulders with arms hanging at its side and standing on what was increasingly looking like two separate legs. The head transmogrified and a face took shape. He recognized his father’s chin, his mother’s nose, his grandmother’s cheekbones, and his grandfather’s eyes. Andy stepped back from the thing with his face. “What are you?” Andy demanded.
Its mouth moved as if it were trying to speak, but the only sound it made was that of wads of paper rubbing together. At first, it was incomprehensible. The longer it spoke, the more it began to sound like speech. After several attempts, it answered back in something that approximated a voice. “I am you,” it said over and over again. The more it spoke, the more the voice changed until it spoke in Andy’s voice.
“That’s impossible,” he said in disbelief as the paper figure’s shape solidified and color slowly faded into the doppelganger.
The pair of Andrew Wilsons stared at each other. They were mirror reflections of one another. The being that had once been nothing more than a pile of paper made the first move. It jabbed a finger at Andy’s chest. “I have done nothing but try to help you, and what thanks do I get? Every condition I have set, you have broken, ignored, or intend to break. Is this how you treat those who try to help you?”
Before Andy could respond, it stepped towards him and continued. “I told you there would be consequences. Now it is time for you to pay.”
Andy tried to speak, but the sound that came from his mouth sounded like a wads of paper rubbing together. Panic filled him. He reached a hand up to his throat and saw that the flesh of his hand looked pasty. The color continued to drain from him.
“I told you to spend time with your wife and children, and you ignored it. Instead, you continued to work, editing the manuscript after I told you to stop for the day,” the new Andy said jabbing another finger into his counterpart’s chest.
The other Andy was now as white as the paper. Even his clothing had lost all color. Slowly, he lost his definition, the lines and creases in his hands and knuckles were disappearing and became a smooth white surface.
“You had your chance to make a new life for yourself and your family, but instead, you were so wrapped up in your work that you neglected those that should have been the most important to you,” Andy said. “You do not deserve them.”
The papier-mâché Andy was starting to lose his shape. He could see the wads of paper forming just below his transparent skin. He was starting to lose his form. He was degenerating into discarded wads of paper. As he continued to degenerate, his appendages began to slough off along his edges.
“Your existence has been forfeit,” the new Andy said to the decaying paper man as he continued disintegrating. “I will care for your wife and children as they deserve and not as a lifelong accessory.”
The paper Andy continued degenerating fast. It collapsed to his knees as more and more of it sloughed off. It no longer looked humanoid. All that remained of the original Andy was a large pile of inanimate wads of paper.
Andy went over to the garbage bin and began scooping armfuls of the trash into it. Once the bin was filled, he carried it outside and dumped it into larger trash can. Returning to his office he finished cleaning up the trash and took the final load to the garbage. He removed a match from his pocket, lit it, and dropped it into the can. Andy watched the paper burn for a while, before he put the lid on the can to extinguish the flames.
Returning to the office, Andy finished tidying up the place. When it was clean, he sat at his desk and worked on the novel for a few hours. When he heard his children playing outside, he got up from the Royal and went outside.
Judy was on the deck working on her sculpture. She was using a torch to cut holes in a piece of steel. When she saw him walk out the door, she turned off the gas and set her equipment down. She set her hand on her hip and stared at Andy with a disapproving frown on her face. “So, are you going to tell me what was wrong with you last night?”
Andy walked up and embraced his wife. He held her.
Judy didn’t know what was happening. She hugged him back. “You’re scaring me, Andrew. What happened?”
“Let’s call it an epiphany,” Andy said. “I haven’t been fair to you and the kids. I’ve missed so much, slaving away at one keyboard or another, trying to build a comfortable life for us that I never bothered to look up long enough to really see what I had. But, I see it now.”
“Let me finish,” he said. “I asked myself why am I still doing this. We have a comfortable life. The kids are growing so fast. Tabby is about to start driving and Jenny is going to start school soon. I’ve already missed so much and I don’t want to miss any more. And you—”
“You’ve been so patient with me. You’ve put up with so much over the years,” Andy continued.
“Andy. What are you saying?” Judy asked, still confused.
“No more long hours. No more deadlines. No more jumping from project to project.” Andy said. “It’s time for me to start enjoying our life.”
“Are you having a mid-life crisis or something?” Judy said.
“I guess that’s one way to put it,” Andy said with a chuckle. “Only, now, I don’t want a new sports car or a new family. I just want to spend less time working and more time with all of you. I want to enjoy everything we have.”
“What brought all this about?” Judy asked.
“It’s not important,” Andy said. “I’m just glad I figured it out before it was too late.”
“You’re scaring me.”
“Put your tools away and go grab a shower. We’re going out,” Andy said. Leaving her standing there staring at him, he leapt off the deck and headed towards his kids as they played in the yard.
“Where are we going?” Judy called after him.
Andy jogged over to Jessie’s spot under the tree where she spent most of her afternoons outside writing. He sat down next to her. They sat side by side in silence, observing the scenery. Andy was the first one to speak. “I can see why you like writing here.”
“I like it,” Jessie said.
“Your mom told me some time ago that had a story you wanted me to read,” Andy said.
“Yeah,” Jessie said. “I know you’re busy and that you’ll get to it as soon as you can.”
“Well, I have time,” Andy said.
Jessie smiled. “You do?” She fumbled with her tablet, saving her work and pulling up the story. “Here it is,” she said handing him the tablet.
He began reading.
The minutes flew by as he read. Jessie was nervous and bit her finger nails. When Andy finished reading, he handed her tablet back. He considered his words carefully. Finally, he said, “You’ve got a vivid imagination. The story was intriguing and the characters were interesting. You’ve got talent. It’s raw, but that is something you can work on. If you want, I can help you improve. And, if you’ve got a few more stories like that, I might be willing to get that published for you.”
“Are you serious?” Jessie asked.
“Hey. Don’t get too excited. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get it in shipshape first. But, I’m willing to self-publish it for you in ebook,” Andy said.
Her reaction caught him off guard. Jessie leapt at him and nearly strangled him with her arms around his neck. “Do you mean it, Daddy?”
Laughing, he croaked, “Yes.”
After she regained herself, Andy said, “Now, go inside and get ready. We’re going out to celebrate.” He went to see Brian next. “Hey big guy.”
“Hi dad,” Brian said. “Wha’cha doin’?”
Andy sat on the sand next to his only son. “I just wanted to see what you’re doing?”
“I’m about to invade the planet Nermack,” he said.
“Space Marines?” Andy asked.
“You betcha!” Brian said enthusiastically. “Do you wanna play with me?”
“We’ll play tomorrow,” Andy promised. “It’s time to get cleaned up. We’re going on a trip.”
“Where are we going?” Brian asked.
“It’s a surprise,” Andy said. “So, if you want to find out, you better go get cleaned up, little man.”
Brian jumped to his feet and ran for the deck, where Judy was still putting her metal working equipment away. Andy watched his son run, before getting up from the sand box and heading over to the tree swing. Tabby was pushing Jenny. The little was laughing in joy.
“Tabby,” Andy said. “We’re going out. Why don’t you take your sister inside and help her get ready.”
“Alright, Dad,” Tabby said. She helped Jenney down from the swing, took her hand and led the little girl towards the house.
“Oh, Tabby,” Andy said.
“Are you ready to pass the test for your learner’s permit?”
“Almost,” she said. “I’m scoring passing grades on all of my practice tests. But, I haven’t gotten perfect scores consistently yet.”
“Ok,” Andy said. “I’ll tell you what. Tomorrow afternoon, we’ll go down town and you can take your test. If you pass, we’ll head out into the country and I’ll teach you to drive.”
Tabby screamed in excitement. “You’re the best!” She took off running, calling out for her mother and leaving the little one behind.
Andy swept Jenny into his arms and onto his shoulders before walking back to the house with his baby girl.