Author : John Mierau

“Mr. Jerome?”

Pen and thoughts still pressed to the page, the writer looked up: a tall man in an old-fashioned suit weaved his way through the happy hour crowd.

“David Jerome. It’s really you!”

Another fan? God, why can’t people be happy with the books and leave me alone! “Uh, look, I’m right in the middle of…” David gestured down at the page.

“You write the way people think, did you know that? Almost like you read people’s minds.” He reached out a long-fingered hand. “I’m Jack.”

David didn’t take the hand. “Jack, I’m really -“

“Would you like to? Read minds?”

David snorted. “I don’t write that kind of fiction.”

The tall man shook his head. “‘I’m not making fun. I know… how much it hurt when Prudence left, how scared you are. I can fix that.”

David shrank away as the stranger rubbed salt where Pru had left him raw.

I know… your publisher scares you. He yells at you, wants the novel you owe him. Short stories are a waste to him.”

David’s knuckles whitened around the pen. The tip cut, slicing his palm.

Jack smiled at David again. “Sorry. I bet your brain’s about to burst…” The stranger reached across the table, ran two cool fingers across David’s temple. David let it happen, couldn’t think what to say or do to stop it.

“You got into people’s heads better than anyone,” Jack whispered. “It’ll all be clear soon. I wish I could stay, but they’ll be coming…”

David watched Jack rise, unable to speak, divining greater meaning in each word than sound could carry.

“If it wasn’t for you, David, I’d have never known Mystery!” Jack giggled, backing away from the table. “Now all mysteries will be, heh, open books to you.”

David didn’t see Jack leave as the world roared in like exploding bombs, like a lover’s whisper.

David knew…

The bartender didn’t notice the pretty blonde who’d bought her blue dress just for him, after he’d chased off the drunk who spoke ugly words to her and clawed under her skirt.

David knew…

The old man in the corner tried not to be angry. His son hadn’t shown. The boy always sent his mother flowers, and he’d paid to fix the roof last summer. He felt horrible for wondering if the boy remembered today would have been his mother’s birthday.

David knew…

The guy on the stool by the door had slaved six years to pay for the ring in his hand, and the down-payment on the house Shelly loved. He couldn’t wait any longer: he’d pop the question tonight!

The words… David had gotten them almost right. He looked down at the page and his ink-stained fingers; at the words so close to truth and now so empty.

Across the room, the blonde’s insides shook as the bartender noticed her dress.

David dropped the pen. It fell to the floor as the writer put his head in his hands and wept.

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