Short Stories

Free Short Story: Josie & the Golden Goose by Cedrix E. Clarke

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Falling into the Five Senses anthology, we are very pleased to share four, fabulous, free short stories with you!

Written by the Five Senses anthology authors, Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson and Roger Jackson, these short stories focus on the ‘sixth sense’. The sixth sense theme was the brainchild of Roger Jackson (thank you Roger!) and is the result of the ‘five senses’ theme of the anthology’s launch ‘falling’ into the traditionally other-wordly, spooky moods of October!

We’ll be posting one story each week. If you can’t wait, and you’d like to buy the Five Senses anthology right this minute, you can do so here.

The next story up is by the Superb Cedrix E. Clarke! Enjoy!

*****

Josie & the Golden Goose

by Cedrix E. Clarke

Ed Dickel never wanted to be a writer, but one Saturday morning, he woke early, and before he could finish his first cup of coffee, he had an urge to put down on paper an idea he’d had in the night. He turned on his laptop and began typing at an unforgiveable speed, words coming as if being thrown about in a hurricane, and he didn’t stop until he was done. Twenty-eight hours straight. No food. No water. No sleep. Sixty thousand words. When he typed The End, he celebrated by finishing his cup of coffee from the day before and sleeping twelve hours. The next morning, he printed the novel with the title Josie & the Golden Goose in 28-font all-caps across the top of the page, and he wondered what he should do with it. He knew next to nothing about the book industry but understood he’d have an easier time passing through the eye of a needle than publishing a novel. So, he placed it on the corner of his desk and planned when he got home from work that evening to research where to send an unpublished novel.

But Ed never did the research, partly because of his disbelief that he could be so lucky, but mostly from being spooked by the unnatural process in how the words made it to the page. He didn’t write them. It was as if he were possessed and the only way to exorcise the demon from him was to pound the words out at the keyboard. He didn’t want anything to do with the novel. So, it migrated from the corner of his desk into the bottom drawer.

Three years later, he saw the cover of a hardback in an airport bookstore that reminded him of what he’d imagined the cover of his novel might be. A golden egg with a crack starting at the top on a black background, with Josie written above the egg, and & the Golden Goose below the egg, all in neon green lettering.

When he picked up the hardback, hefted it in his hands, he thought about the storm of words that had washed over him that crazy night, but not once did he believe any of those words would be in the book. The title and the cover were a mere coincidence. But Ed still bought the book.

The plane was almost to Vegas, somewhere over the desolation of Arizona before he cracked it open. He read the first ten pages in a rush, beads of sweat gathering across his brow like birds on a fence ready to take flight. These were his words, and he felt sick about it.

The author photo showed a beady-eyed man with a mustache and a grin that made Ed feel uncomfortable. His name was Tony Cooper, but the bio said his friends called him Coop, and that Coop, a native of Los Angeles, now resided in the mountains of Colorado. This was his first novel.

Ed had never been to LA or Colorado, and he doubted Coop had come to Lexington for a novel buried in the bottom of his desk drawer. But he wondered if Coop had hacked Ed’s laptop. It seemed unlikely.

Ed ordered a second and third martini from the flight attendant, and he considered a lawsuit.

But by the time the plane landed in Vegas, Ed had calmed down, and once he was at the Mirage, up by two grand, he’d put all his concern aside. And when he got back to Lexington, twenty thousand dollars on the plus side, he again forgot about the novel.

Six months later, Ed woke up on a Tuesday with an idea, called in sick, and began typing like a madman. The words flowed like the Mississippi, and he had a new novel in thirty-six hours called The Ball Breaker. He left this novel on the kitchen counter before he fell asleep on the couch.

When he woke on Thursday afternoon, eighteen hours had passed, and Ed went in search for his version of Josie & the Golden Goose. He found it still tucked away in the bottom of the desk drawer. His book and Coop’s were the same. Word for word.

Coop hadn’t broken into Ed’s apartment, and Ed didn’t believe Coop had hacked his laptop. It was too random and improbable.

Ed thought about how he’d written the first novel and now the second, and it seemed aberrant, as if he were conduit for the story, but not the writer. The stories weren’t really his ideas, were they? Yes, he had typed them from an idea that occurred to him in the night, but what if the same idea had occurred to Coop a thousand miles away? Ed had written the first novel in twenty-eight-hours. Had Coop? Or was Josie & the Golden Goose a nine-month labor of love for him? Who had finished it first?

Ed rationalized that Coop won the race to publication, only because Ed was afraid of his novel. But that wasn’t going to happen with The Ball Breaker. He’d do the research he hadn’t done before.

In three months, Ed had an agent, and in nine months, a publisher. The Ball Breaker was in hardback in eighteen months, and after six months of good reviews, the novel eased into all the best sellers’ lists.

The entire time, Ed kept looking over his shoulder, as if he expected Coop to jump him, but Coop was a no show. Ed decided the first novel was a fluke. An accident. And the second novel was all his.

But when The Ball Breaker hit number one, Ed’s agent prodded him about a new novel, and Ed tried to find a story, but he wasn’t a writer. He flailed about and deleted every word he wrote. He lied to his agent, of course.
He’d almost given up, but the heavens opened, and he wrote a hundred-and-fifty-thousand-word magnum opus called A Miscarriage of Justice in seventy-three hours. It was as if he were taking dictation from the writing gods. This time, he emailed the novel to his agent before passing out.

When he woke thirty-six hours later, Ed had three voicemails and ten texts from his agent, which had a common theme: You’re an effing genius! The reviews twelve months later expressed similar sentiments, and there was discussion of a movie. Ed bought a little cottage in the rolling country outside of Lexington and met a nice girl from Cincinnati.

Ed had forgotten Coop, and somewhat believed the accolades about himself, even though he still did not consider himself a writer. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. He didn’t have to work for his words. He waited for inspiration, and he knew it would come.

But it didn’t. Three years passed, and his agent and publisher had stopped sending him emails demanding a new novel. His girlfriend left him for a dental hygienist. The sales of A Miscarriage of Justice wilted, and all the world had started the process of forgetting about Ed Dickel.

He couldn’t stand it any longer.

When Ed knocked on Tony Cooper’s cabin door, he wasn’t sure what to expect. Had Coop read The Ball Breaker and A Miscarriage of Justice? Would he even know who Ed was? He’d flown six hours to Denver, rented a car, and drove into the mountains to ask Coop one simple question.

The Coop that answered the door was half the man in the author photo of Josie & the Golden Goose. He looked like he’d aged twenty years and shriveled into himself. He recognized Ed though. “You!” he said.

Ed held his hand out, and Coop stared at it as if the offer of a handshake was a binding contract, but he finally took it and shook. Ed announced his name, and Coop rolled his eyes to the back of his head.

“I know who you are,” he said. “But why are you here?” Before Ed could answer, Coop took a step back and said, “Come on in.”

Ed followed him into the house, and when the door shut behind him, it was all Ed could do to keep himself from shouting his question. But he knew he’d better creep up on it.

They sat across from one another at the kitchen table, Ed with his arms folded across his chest, and Coop refusing to make eye contact.

“I loved Josie & the Golden Goose,” Ed finally said. He didn’t add before you stole it, but he thought it.

Coop arched his eyebrows. “You liked it? But of course, you did. And I liked The Ball Breaker and A Miscarriage of Justice. Fine books. Really, really fine.” As if I had written them myself, Ed heard Coop say in his mind, but Coop hadn’t really said the words.

The discomfort grew, and neither seemed to want to broach the subject of why Ed was here, but after five minutes of both staring away from the other, Ed asked his question. “Why’d you stop writing?”

Coop sat up straight and seemed ready to jump across the table and choke Ed, but he held firm. “You want to know why I stopped writing?” he asked. But Ed already knew what Coop was going to say. He could read it in his eyes, and Ed felt sorry for him. “Because if I had written another novel, you would have stolen it.”

Ed had his denial ready. “I never,” he said.

You never?” Coop said in disbelief. “Two years, I worked on The Ball Breaker, and I was almost done when I read a review in the LA Times about a book that had my working title and a similar story line. But it couldn’t be. I drove into town, found it at the Barnes & Noble, and I read the first five pages in my car and cried. Big, fat, ugly tears. I felt sick. Your writing was better than mine even. I rationalized that it was a coincidence, because you must have finished your novel before I’d written the first chapter. What did it take? Two years from finishing to have it published?”

Ed nodded.

“But then, I’m not even halfway finished with Miscarriage of Justice when I see an announcement on Amazon that your new novel had a publication date, and when I read the summary, I knew it was my novel. Mine! The one I hadn’t finished. How did you do it? What’s your process for writing?”

Tapping his fingers on the table, Ed felt the truth weighing down on him like a thousand hammers. “I don’t steal your words,” he said, “and I know that because I am finished writing before you even start. How could I be a thief of something not even created yet?”

Coop shook his head.

“But,” Ed continued, “how I write is terribly wrong.” He explained his process, and Coop’s eyes narrowed. When he started to accuse Ed of being a thief, Ed held his hands up to stop him. “I told you, I didn’t steal your words,” he whispered.

“But you stopped writing when I did.”

“So, what?” Ed said.

“Don’t you see. I’m necessary to your process. If I’m not having ideas and writing opening lines, you’re impotent. You can’t get it up. I’ve castrated you, and that makes me happy!”

Ed saw that some brightness had returned to Coop’s eyes, and he was fine with his pain giving Coop some pleasure. He was prepared to walk away from this writing career that had brought him fifteen minutes of fame.

But he had another idea, and Coop agreed, not even reluctantly. Ed told Coop he’d see him soon and left the house for Denver. It took three days for Ed to find inspiration, and he opened the new laptop and he almost couldn’t type fast enough, but in twenty-one hours, he had a ninety-thousand-page novel called Josie & the Ink Well.

He didn’t take it to Coop’s cabin as he had promised. He was too tired, so he emailed it, and told Coop to give him a week to get back to Lexington. He shut off the computer and fell asleep.

When he woke the next day, Coop had sent an email saying that the novel was brilliant, of course, and that he’d already emailed it to his agent. He finished the email by saying that he had some ideas percolating in his mind for Ed’s next novel but would wait until Ed had told him he was ready. The last line was a question: “What do you think: One novel a year for each of us? Or two?”

*****

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this gem of a story, you can browse the other free sixth sense short stories below:

Ghost Writer by Maria Carvalho

Light-hearted by Reena Dobson

Free Short Story: Ghost Writer by Maria Carvalho

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Falling into the Five Senses anthology, we are very pleased to share four, fabulous, free short stories with you.

Written by the Five Senses anthology authors, Maria Carvalho, Cedrix E. Clarke, Reena Dobson and Roger Jackson, these short stories focus on the ‘sixth sense’. The sixth sense theme was the brainchild of Roger Jackson (thank you Roger!) and is the result of the ‘five senses’ theme of the anthology’s launch ‘falling’ into the traditionally other-wordly, spooky moods of October!

We’ll be posting one story each week. If you can’t wait, and you’d like to buy the Five Senses anthology right this minute, you can do so here.

First up, the Marvellous Maria Carvalho! Enjoy!

*****

Ghost Writer

By Maria Carvalho

Lydia grinned as she hung her clothes in the expansive walk-in closet. She still couldn’t believe her luck in finding this place: a converted third-floor apartment in a gorgeous Victorian home with a surprisingly affordable rent. She adored everything about it, from the sloping ceilings to the huge bay window overlooking the park across the street. For the first time in what seemed like eons, her heart felt light.

Earlier in the year, she had excitedly moved in with her boyfriend, confident he was The One. But she’d come home unexpectedly early from work one day to discover that her would-be Mr. Right was, in fact, Mr. Cheating Bastard. Devastated, she’d been crashing at her best friend Mary’s tiny condo until she had found her fabulous new apartment. The spacious surroundings felt like a palace by comparison.

As Lydia stood on her tip-toes trying to stuff a long metal box of mementos into one of the closet’s high built-in shelves, it fell forward, bonking her in the forehead. Cursing, she gave it a mighty shove back onto the shelf and then heard a crunch as the box flew from her grip.

“Shit!” she yelled, her voice reverberating off the walls. Taking a step back, she was horrified to discover a sizeable hole in the wall behind the shelf; the box must have punched right through it and fallen behind. Great. She wasn’t even fully unpacked yet and she’d already damaged the place! She could probably kiss her deposit goodbye.

Muttering to herself about what an idiot she was, Lydia grabbed a wooden stool from the kitchenette and carried it into the closet. Climbing atop the stool, she leaned forward and peered through the ragged gash in the wallboard. The outline of the memento box was barely visible a short distance below.

There was no way she was sticking her hands in there without first checking for spiders and other hideous creatures, so she scrambled off the stool to retrieve a small flashlight from her bedroom nightstand. Back atop her perch, she shone the beam down into the alcove, revealing faded flowery wallpaper that must have dated back to the original house. There were no signs of creepy-crawlies, but through the dust swirling in the flashlight beam, she saw that the rogue box was resting on top of something larger. She angled the beam further down, illuminating rows of white keys set in a dark metal base that glinted in the light. A typewriter, Lydia realized.

Reaching in through the torn wall with her right arm, she grabbed hold of the box and pulled it out, then set it down on the closet floor. She wanted to get a proper look at the typewriter, but it was too big to fit through the hole she’d inadvertently made. “Ah, to hell with it,” she said, ripping at the edges of the flimsy wallboard until the opening looked big enough. Clenching the flashlight between her teeth, she reached both arms through the hole and grasped the typewriter’s sides, the metal cool to her touch. It was heavier than she had expected. She awkwardly heaved the device up and navigated it through the space and onto the shelf. Holding it tightly, she slowly eased herself off the stool and carried her discovery into the living room, where she plunked it down on a table in front of the bay window to examine it.

At the top of the black frame, large gold letters that spelled out Remington gleamed in the afternoon light. A bulky roller sat atop a raised platform connected by four legs to the base, which held the keyboard. Long metal rods were visible behind the keys. This was clearly an antique—much larger and more complex than her mother’s compact electric typewriter, which Lydia had played with as a child.

Curious as to whether it still worked, Lydia grabbed a sheet of paper from her printer and pulled a chair over to the table. After some maneuvering, she managed to wind it into the creaky roller. She raised her hands to the keyboard, intending to type a few random words, but—shockingly—her fingers began flying over the keys on their own. What the hell? She yanked her hands away, then gasped as she saw what she had typed:

HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP M

Lydia’s skin turned to gooseflesh as she stared at the words—words she hadn’t intended to type at all. How in the world could that have happened? It was as if her fingers had been moving of their own accord, without her control. But if she wasn’t responsible, who was? She couldn’t seriously think that someone else was behind those words, could she? Someone who was asking for her help? The idea was ludicrous. And yet…

Fear sent her heart into overdrive. Whatever was going on, she should just leave it alone.

But in spite of her uneasiness, she was intensely curious. She wanted to know more. And anyway, it was only a typewriter. If she got too creeped out, she would simply walk away.

She tentatively put her hands back to the keyboard, waiting, but this time her fingers remained still. Feeling rather foolish, she typed:

Who are you?

Lydia kept her fingers resting lightly atop the white keys, her pulse pounding in her ears. A moment later, she found herself typing:

MARGO. I THINK I

The typing stopped. Lydia held her breath. Then she watched herself type:

DIED

Chills rippled along Lydia’s scalp. Oh god. Was this really happening? Could…could she actually be talking to a dead person? Her stomach clenched in fright, and part of her wanted to end the bizarre communication right then and there. But it was so utterly intriguing. Who was this Margo? Was she truly some kind of ghost? She had to find out.

Her hands trembling but back under her control, Lydia typed:

What happened to you?

Without her guidance, Lydia’s fingers again began to move rapidly, and the response appeared:

I GOT TERRIBLY SICK RIGHT AFTER MY SIXTEENTH BIRTHDAY. I REMEMBER THE DOCTOR SAYING SCARLET FEVER AND MY PARENTS CRYING. THEN EVERYTHING WAS GONE AND I WAS HERE BUT NOT HERE FOR SO LONG. I JUST WANT TO BE FREE. PLEASE HELP ME.

As she tried to process the words, Lydia wondered whether all of this could be an elaborate trick. Maybe someone was recording the whole thing so they could post it on YouTube, hoping their prank would go viral. But something deep down made her believe that what was happening was no joke, and her heart went out to Margo.

After taking a few long breaths to steady herself, Lydia typed:

How can I help?

Margo’s answer flowed quickly through Lydia’s fingertips:

I LOVED TO WRITE STORIES. RIGHT BEFORE I GOT SICK I HAD THE MOST AMAZING IDEA FOR A BOOK AND I WAS SO EXCITED TO WRITE IT BUT I NEVER GOT THE CHANCE. I HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT IT ALL THIS TIME. I WROTE IT IN MY MIND AND I KNOW EVERY WORD BY HEART. IF YOU HELP ME TYPE IT MAYBE I CAN FINALLY MOVE ON.

Lydia’s eyes brimmed with tears. Poor Margo. It didn’t seem like all that much to ask. Without hesitating, she replied:

Of course.

She grabbed a sheaf of printer paper and settled back into the chair. As soon as she’d rolled a new sheet into the typewriter, her fingers began dancing across the keys with astonishing speed. Margo hadn’t been kidding about memorizing every word of her story. In no time flat, Lydia had reached the bottom of the first page and was replacing it with another. She wanted to read it as she typed, but it was too difficult at such a fast pace. She’d just have to wait until it was finished.

The rest of the afternoon passed that way, the stack of filled pages growing larger and larger. Lydia’s arms and hands ached from the exertion, and she longed to take a break, but she kept on going. She hoped that once Margo finished her story, her soul would be freed from its limbo, allowing her to be at peace.

Finally, the words “THE END” appeared on the page, and Lydia let out a sigh of relief. Then she found herself typing a few more words:

THANK YOU. I AM SORRY.

Sorry? Lydia thought in confusion.

***

Margo stood up and stretched, savoring the feeling with delight. To have form again! To see, and hear, and breathe! It had been unbearably long since she’d experienced such joys, and every sensation was pure magic. Getting another chance at life was a miracle, and she wasn’t going to waste a single moment of it. She would make up for everything she’d been so unfairly robbed of, including the chance to get her novel published. Perhaps she would even become famous! The possibilities were all so delicious.

Her giddiness, however, was tempered by her guilt, which she angrily tried to push away. She hadn’t planned for this to happen, hadn’t known that the connection she had somehow forged with Lydia through the typewriter would keep intensifying as Lydia typed. Margo had felt herself—her soul, her essence, whatever it was that had been trapped for so many years—gaining strength as she guided Lydia’s fingers across the keyboard, and when the final page was finished, she’d realized what she had to do. Using Lydia’s hands as a conduit, Margo had pushed herself into Lydia’s body. Lydia had been forced out; her body unable to contain two souls at once.

Now, Margo knew, Lydia was a captive in the nowhere place that Margo had been stuck in for so long. And just like Margo, Lydia would have no way to communicate—except, quite possibly, through the typewriter that connected them.

Opening one of the side windows, Margo reverently breathed in the cool evening air for a few moments before pulling out the screen. She wavered briefly, then heaved the typewriter out through the window and watched it smash into pieces on the sidewalk below.

*****

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this gem of a story, you can browse the other free sixth sense short stories below:

Josie & the Golden Goose by Cedrix E. Clarke

Light-hearted by Reena Dobson