Jack had a secret, something he had never told anyone. Ever since he could remember he fantasized about killing anyone he met. As a child he had assumed everyone was spending their time plotting means for the extermination of their fellow human beings. The planning started out very simple, a brick over the head, a knife in the back, but over time it became more and more complex and the culprit always remained undetected.
When Jack was old enough to realize others didn’t share his inclinations toward premeditated murder he did all he could to modify his way of thinking. As a young boy, he established what he aptly named ‘a course of purification’ through a series of mental exercises that ultimately proved futile. The more he tried and the more gruesome were the fates of his victims. Unable to eradicate the evil, he learned to coexist with his mental habit vowing to never let another soul discover it.
A few schoolyard confrontations had proven to him beyond a doubt that he was a coward. After getting past the initial shame he welcomed this discovery that would most likely prevent him from ever acting upon his secret impulses. From then on he busied himself in becoming the man his cowardly ancestors would have wanted him to be, an invisible man.
Politics was the primary topic of conversation in the household, at the dinner table, on the veranda and almost incessantly when Jack’s uncles came to visit his father. Whenever the subject was approached, the other children made their escape the moment mother granted permission to leave the room and resume their games. To Jack, this form of unintelligible adult-speak, provided the background noise for his homicidal fantasies and he never felt the need to leave the room. The young boy’s ability to endure these long conversations on ‘the future of this here country’ was mistaken by his father for a miraculous fascination for the affairs of the state. From time to time, the old man would bring the attentions of those present to his son with outlandish claims on the order of ‘the boy likes to listen to what’s going on in the world’, ‘Jack never gets tired of hearing about politics’ and Jack’s personal favorite, ‘this country would be doing much better if children were as fascinated by politics as my boy is’. Jack would force a timid smile as he set quietly in his corner decapitating, strangulating or setting fire to dad’s guests.
The other children who lived or gravitated around the family estate suspected Jack of being a spy for the adults and never truly allow him access to their circles. As a result of the perpetual mistrust, Jack’s childhood was a lonesome one spent mostly in the company of his thoughts. Things improved considerably on a Sunday morning when a mild fever confined him to his bed as the rest of the family visited the house of the lord. Jack was left in the expert care of his mother’s chambermaid, who he promptly set ablaze and threw off the balcony, strangled, drowned and fed to the pigs. She was a thin woman who kept her distance from the outside world by always keeping her head slightly tilted backwards. Jack despised her and wished she’d get ran over by a train already, however the rest of the family was very fond of her so he went along with the act. She was taking care of him by exchanging scandalous revelations with the neighbor over a low fence at the other end of the property. Jack seized the opportunity to slip out of bed and explore the house. Being a little lightheaded from time to time wasn’t enough to prevent the excitement of having the whole place to himself. Entering all the rooms was merely a formality, a prelude to the one and only room he couldn’t wait to violate. At last, there it stood, the sanctum sanctorum, the forbidden room, his father’s study. The perfect mahogany door he had never dared to enter was shining right in front of his young eyes. What if it was locked? Panic took a hold of Jack. He rushed up to the door and tried it, it gave.
At first he was blinded by a celestial light but slowly he adjusted his eyes to the sun shining through the large window. Right in the center was the biggest desk he had ever seen, covered with all sorts of wonderful objects. A golden tube supported by three legs was pointed at the sky. He was sure it was a viewing tube but he wasn’t tall enough to test his theory. He wondered what his father saw through that tube. There was a miniature version of the entire world that turned when pushed. A giant animal was trying to get out of the wall but only its head made it through. Its eyes were open but it looked like it was asleep. Jack had seen the whole animal once in a field near the mountains. There was a black wooden mask laughing at him when he turned to inspect the rest of the room and wondered what it is it was doing in his father’s office today. Next to it was a wall made of books. One in particular caught his attention. It was bright red with golden writing on it. Without realizing it he pulled it out and opened it. The first word he recognized in the text was ‘murder’ then he saw the world ‘blood’ and ‘death’ and ‘fear’. Further inspection was prevented by the sound of the gate closing, signaling the return of his loved ones. Jack hurried out of the room closing the door behind. He moved stealthily down the hall, up the stairs like a cat and straight into his little bed. He was panting when he heard the front door open and the loud invaders enter his domain. It was alright, they would never suspect anything. He was too clever for them. He was already in the safety of his own bed and then tragedy struck. He looked down and realized he was still holding the red book in his hand. Quickly he hid it under his blanket right before his mother opened the door. They exchanged pleasantries and she left as he was about to decapitate her with a shovel. What to do with the book now? He decided to hold on to it until it was safe to return it , surely his father would not notice its disappearance right away.
When Jack heard the sounds of plates and forks he knew it was safe to take the book out. It was about some English fellow investigating a murder. It was a strange book full of guilty people and dead people. Jack loved it. The outside world disappeared and death stopped dancing in his head. He hadn’t mastered reading yet but he knew he had to try hard to understand what the pages were trying to tell him. Slowly it all started to make sense and the more he read the more his mind stood still. From that moment forward Jack knew what it was God wanted him to do. God wanted him to be a writer!
The day he left for college, his father gave him a long speech about justice and the people and taxes and rivers at which Jack smiled and nodded and pretended to be very interested in everything he heard. His father was satisfied and Jack left the study noticing for the last time the vacant space left by the red book some fifteen years earlier. His father had never noticed it and Jack never returned it. As far as Jack was concerned, the old man did not deserve to have it back.
His father’s influence secured him a ticket to the most prestigious school in the country, an honor Jack didn’t much care for. The old man had insisted he ‘went into law’ and since Jack hated all other subjects just the same, he decided against wasting his energy to contradict him. What Jack had failed to foresee was that he was going to be surrounded by the insane characters who would chose to study the subject voluntarily. He quickly realized that the best strategy to be left alone was to be himself, people would eventually grow to hate him. The second problem he faced was to be able to keep his grades high enough to keep his family away and low enough not to be singled out by the faculty. Hatred by his peers was obtained almost instantly and without much effort, with the sole exception of the insignificant boy who was unlucky enough to inhabit in his same room. His name was John, just as ordinary a name as his own, that was the boy’s only saving grace. John held the distinct honor of being hated by others as much as Jack was, but he was stupid enough to be the best student the school had ever seen. This placed him in the position of constantly being called upon to participate in all sorts of extracurricular activities. Sucker! Jack on the other hand practiced the highly refined art of ‘just getting by’. It took him nearly six months to perfect his act but when he did, he had it down to a tee. Once he had accomplished invisibility he was able to spend most of his time reading, writing and taking long walks in the nearby town. Life was good.
It was during one of his long walks that Jack made a startling discovery, something that compared in magnitude with the revelation brought on by the red book. He was strolling down main street, politely smiling and hating all the nice faces he encountered, when something caught his attention. Amongst the useless things on display in the shop’s windows was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He stood there staring at the glorious object of yesteryears. Its glory was no longer shiny black but opaque almost-grey. Jack had seen many typewriters but never one that looked as consumed by mediocrity as this one. He wondered how many marketing letters had been written using its decrepit keys. It was an ugly little thing and he loved it. At the risk of being found out he stood there hypnotized by its ugliness. He wanted it but he couldn’t have it, revealing to his family he was a writer would have destroyed him. Jack was raised by people who looked upon creativity as a disease brought on by a lack of morality. As he busied himself hating his family and everything they stood for, something dawned on him, their watchful eyes were half a country away from him! He couldn’t believe he had not realized this sooner, the monsters were too far to see or say anything. Jack rushed inside the shop and inside of five minutes was the proud owner of the ugliest typewriter anyone had ever seen. Life was great.
His roommates inquiries on the new object occupying their communal desk were dismissed by lies about papers and assignments and law of the land and Christmas cards. Jack was cryptic enough to divert his enemy’s attention on the coming weather. The moment the snooping bastard stepped out the sweet sound of mechanical keys would always fill the air. Jack worked his fingers to the bone, at first without any particular direction and often for the sole purpose of making the machine sing, but once the bloodbath started there was no stopping it. Concealing the product of his sins was easy, it would all end up in the incinerator just like everything he had ever written. The joy of completing a story was only second to the joy of seeing it burn and remain forever uncontaminated by the mediocrity of this world. John’s extracurricular enslavement gave Jack all the time he needed to write and burn the whole of his mind; then one day the unexpected took place. It was the day spring had erased all traces of winter from the scenery outside of Jack’s window. Back home it marked the yearly tradition which saw the mutation of the children from captive beasts to fleeting figures, climbing trees and chasing each other around. It gave Jack the much needed respite from his peers, who in close quarters had a tendency to notice him, but when released into the wild ignored him. Every year it never came a moment too soon but when it did it was worth the wait. He observed the grass pushing upwards toward a blue cloudless sky and realized he had been free all along, ever since he left home. Even thinking about such a dreadful place as his childhood home did not take away his good mood. It had only been a year since he had left, and yet it felt as if it was an ancient place as far away from him as the moon was. He felt so distant from it that he realized he could write about it. He could let the black magic keys play the final requiem for his childhood’s funeral procession.
The story wrote itself. He pulled the last page out of the machine and stacked it behind the others on his way to the all-purifying fire. Once the flames roared in his eyes he discovered something strange, he could not bring himself to throw the pages in. Unable to understand or to come to terms with this new feeling Jack decided to hide the pages under his mattress hoping to find a cure for this unnatural affection toward his words. Soon the entire length of his mattress concealed page after page of stories about the place where creativity went to die. Attempting to change the subject proved futile. The place that had caused him so much misery was the only stage his characters would play on. The day he found himself writing about one of the many hunting trips his father had subjected him to, was the day he realized his disease was incurable. The more Jack wrote, the happier he felt and when the rest of the boys on campus went home for the summer he managed to volunteer for an excruciating, military-like, state-sponsored summer program that kept him away from the subjects of his prose. It was a very patriotic affair and his father expressed his enthusiasm in a letter Jack couldn’t burn fast enough but had high hopes of forever forgetting.
The stories kept coming and after stashing all he could under his vacationing companion’s bed he decided he needed a permanent solution. The idea came to him while walking the long deserted halls on his way to some menial assignment he had no intention of completing. He stumbled upon an obscure bulletin board with a list of publications accepting submissions of prose and poetry. The list had been there long enough to have been forgotten, a week or so. It stated expressly on it that it belonged to some writing workshop organized by so and so and urged the students to copy the addresses down but to be courteous enough to live it there for others to use. Jack folded it and stuffed it in his pocket. That very night he started stuffing as many pages as would fit in a single envelope and addressing it to one of the publications at random using a false name and no return address. He truly relished the art of making up names which reminded him of people he hated or of people he hadn’t met yet but was sure to hate based solely on their name. By the end of the night he had come up with over fifty names for as many envelopes. He spent the next week slowly spreading his hatred through carefully selected post office pick up locations.
The end of summer saw the return of John with his round spectacles and thin face which was red as a bell pepper as a result of demented sun exposure. He told Jack all about his summer and all about the big great things happening around the country and how he was glad to know him. He talked almost incessantly for a week and Jack didn’t hear any of it. When silence was restored Jack returned to his typewriter and to the skillful art of academic mediocrity. However, the return of the additional occupant had put Jack in a state of mild depression, winter was coming and with it many hours spent in the company of fellow human beings he hated more than ever. Something awful was happening around him. People started noticing him and inviting him to join clubs and fraternities and lynch mobs. All his energies were spent making up excuses not to do this or that thing and so the writing suffered. Amongst all the undesired attention, during one of his walks he had noticed the piercing glance of a hellish creature. She never came near him but he saw her constantly crossing the street or walking away from him or spying on him from the safety of a crowd of other girls. She even invaded his dreams on a few occasions. Jack never gave the fair sex much thought but reluctantly he had to admit to himself that if he ever decided to care he would definitely care for someone as repugnant as the girl with the piercing black eyes, alabaster skin and black hair. Avoiding people had become harder and harder and even relegating himself to his room proved problematic. John, the bastard, had the audacity of inviting chaps back to the room on a regular basis, chaps who were eager to make Jack part of the conversation. He was sure now he would finally murder his roommate in his sleep but night came and so did morning and without incident. For the first time Jack despised his cowardice.
His writing was sporadic and ineffective as a cure for his murdering mind so the whole world looked almost as it did before finding the red book. To add insult to injury his grades kept steadily improving. On the day he had decided to take his own life by jumping from the clock tower to avoid having to talk to John or his friends he made a life-saving discovery. The second floor of the library was undergoing some type of renovation, but a small section dedicated to the archives had been left open and for whatever reason the sign informing the avid reader it was open had vanished. Jack discovered it while escaping someone pressing him to sign a petition to reinstate slavery. It was deserted, the light was dim and the windows were too high to make much of a difference. It was perfect. Jack’s newfound haven brought back his sanity and his cure. The only unfortunate condition was the impossibility of using his typewriter in a place such as this so he was forced to return to pen and paper.
The days had gotten shorter and Jack spent as much time in his sanctuary as it was permissible by faculty bylaws. By the time he got back to his room the other occupant was either sleeping during the week or out on the weekend, Jack always slid into his bed without making a sound. Before he fell asleep, he often wondered how strange it was that all those years spent in the cradle of mediocrity had proven to be a neverending fountain of inspiration. Those hollow characters had acquired so much depth in his pages and he hoped one day he could stop hating them long enough to thank them. His religiously obsessed mother and his superstition-filled pragmatist father were the central characters in most of the stories. He was certain love had played no part in their thirty-year relationship, it was respect and hatred that kept them together. It was all so respectable he felt like puking. Life was good once again. But things got even better.
Jack made it a habit to exchange pleasantries with the librarian on his way in and out of his sanctuary or as he deposited and withdrew books he didn’t much care for. She looked as old as the earth itself and had most likely died a long time ago but no one had bothered to inform her so she kept showing up for work. Her contempt for everything made her the only person Jack could stand for as much as five minutes at a time. She complained about everything under the sun and Jack agreed with her on absolutely everything. A routine exchange of hatred for the world was taking place when Jack nonchalantly glanced over to the magazine rack, saw the name Wilfordson Stonesmith printed on a cover and didn’t think much about it. Soon thereafter he exhausted his pleasantries and made his way around the construction tarp and up the narrow stairway. The room was as he had left it. He sat down at his usual place, finished exsanguinating the librarian in his mind and pulled out his pen and paper from his satchel. Before he could pour himself onto the page something hit him like a ton of bricks, Wilfordson Stonesmith! Could it be? Had he imagined it or did he really see it? That name was his creation and seeing it in a foreign place gave him the feeling of having been robbed. He tried to keep his composure but curiosity was burning his insides. He knew he had to have the magazine to find out what had happened or who was this man who had the arrogance to have been born with a name he created. What Jack feared most was letting anyone know there was something out there he was actually interested in and getting that magazine most certainly would compromise his invisibility. The librarian was bound to spread the news throughout all forms of communications available to her. He sat there a whole five minutes pondering the risk and then looked down to find he had written the name Wilfordson Stonesmith on the page without realizing it. He ripped the section of the page and ate it. Before he knew it he was rushing back to his room magazine in hand.
John the spy wasn’t there. Jack sat on his bed breathing heavily. In a few moments he had gained his composure and inspected the object he held in his hands. It was one of the country’s most prestigious literary magazines and what he had seen was not the result of a trick played on him by his mind. Amongst a long list of authors featured in the issue was the name Wilfordson Stonesmith. Could it be a mistake? or could someone really have that majestic and insane name? After a few dozens hypotheses he snapped out of a trance and flipped through the pages and located the story in question. At last, stood in front of his very own eyes, proof positive that the world had gone mad. It took him three words to realize the story was his. The walls dissolved and he was one with the cosmos.
It wasn’t one of his best stories but he read it as if it was the only piece of literature ever written. It told of his father preaching to his uncle about the merit of a just war in the midst of condemnations to hell from him mother. It was a regular circus, with the servants getting drunk and setting the house ablaze with everyone in it when realizing it would be them who would have to fight the just war. It concluded with a note from the editor pleading with his readers to assist him in locating the elusive writer. Jack closed the magazine and experienced the first and only moment of joy he had ever known. He thought of all the people who, through his words, would get to sojourn inside his mind for a little while. He carefully placed the magazine under his pillow and laid on his bed staring into the future. Everything looked brighter. It was the best day of his life.
The hours melted away, at last his mind was truly silent.
It was already dark outside when the door swung open and John stormed the room. He rushed up to Jack and started jabbering unintelligibly patting his shoulder and shaking his hand. It was a congratulatory speech and it frightened Jack. How could John the traitor have known? Jack struggled to his feet in a panic fearing the worst. As soon as he was able to make sense of what the messenger of death was trying to say he realized it had nothing to do with Wilfordson Stonesmith. It was much worse, it was the untimely death of Mr. Stonesmith, all his companions and most likely Jack himself. The young man who kept complimenting him profusely came bearing the one news Jack had hoped he would never have to hear. Jack had hoped any of a series of natural disasters could have prevented this, but now it was too late. There were no frogs raining from the sky nor locusts sweeping the nation, the gods had refused to listen to him. His father had just been elected president of the country. It was the worst day of his life.
(Jack’s World is a short story by Matias Masucci)