Walter sat at his computer, staring at his novel in progress. It was nearly 300 pages long so far and all of it was crap. He’d always had problems writing. At first, he’d thought his problems might have something to do with genre, but everything he wrote ended up being in the same genre: crap. He’d considered that his problems might be related to length, that maybe he could sustain quality in shorter bursts. He’d switched from novels to novellas to short stories to poetry and the results were always the same: crap. Eventually, he’d done the only reasonable thing he could think of to do and quit. For seven years, he had abandoned his one seemingly feasible dream. You didn’t have to be physically fit or attractive or talented to write. All you had to do was to keep writing and editing, fixing your errors and improving your ideas. It was like wish fulfillment. You could revisit the parts of your life that you were unhappy with and say and do all of the clever things you had failed to in the moment, you could appear to be smarter and more polished than you actually were. All it took was time and a little bit of effort and maybe a little bit of something else, too, because despite the time and the effort, Walter just couldn’t do it.
He had grown even fatter and uglier over his seven year sabbatical, but he had also grown more confident. All the years of watching television and playing video games and really living, you know?, had taught him a lot about life and writing and storytelling in general. He shrugged off the dismal works of his past. They were the works of a child. Like an eagle chick (wasn’t there a word for an eagle chick? Like a fledgling, see? He wouldn’t have known that word or thought to look it up seven years ago). Like a fledgling who had left the nest too early, he had been doomed to fail. But now he was ready, he was ready to spread his fat wings and soar. So he would give it one last chance (but really, he knew that he would succeed this time), and write his masterpiece. Not just his masterpiece, but a real, honest to God masterpiece. This time, nothing could stop him. Or so he had thought.
As the months ticked by, he’d realized the word “masterpiece” might be a bit strong. After all, what the hell is a masterpiece anyway? Doesn’t it imply other pieces as the basis for comparison? And what was the plural for “basis”? Was it just “basis”? He would have to look it up, but later. What was important now was to write a good book. Maybe not a masterpiece, maybe not even his masterpiece, but at least a decent book. He reflected that he had changed adjectives in his mind without even thinking about it, from “good” to “decent.” Maybe he was getting somewhere after all.
By the time a year rolled by, the charade was over. He hadn’t completely given up yet, but he knew that he was just going through the motions. 300 pages of crap. Of complete horseshit. How do you fix 300 pages of anything? It would be easier to just quit and start over but he couldn’t imagine putting himself through this again. Maybe a novella or a short story or a poem, maybe a haiku.
The fat man swallows
But it is not food he eats
It is his despair
He minimized his novel and went back to xxxvideo, to his fuck fights, ball busting, white shit, and “staged” rape. His heartburn was terrible, but he forced himself to masterbate. After 10 or so minutes, he had a deeply unsatisfying orgasm. He hadn’t even been fully erect yet when it had happened. Now he was sweating and his heartburn was even worse. He thought back to the two times he had had sex in his life. Both had been disappointing, humiliating fiascoes. He felt the biological drive to have sex and he could imagine enjoying it, but it was physically exhausting and stressful in reality. The girl had been nice enough, especially after the first time. She’d told him that it was normal to be nervous and have problems the first time, that everybody knew that. After the second time she’d told him that he’d been much better, that he had been good, really. He saw her from time to time afterward, but she was never more than dismissively civil to him ever again.
He used to dream of wild success, of fame, fortune, and fucking, but he realized now that maybe he was better off this way. He would never be rich, he would never be famous, and he would never have to have sex again. He felt a brief urge to sob pass quickly. He had sobbed a lot when we was younger, when he was a little older he had still felt like sobbing a lot. The feeling was still intense, but he barely had time to acknowledge it. He was old and indifferent now. He would live a mundane life and die broke and unhappy just like almost everybody else.
Sitting in his bathtub, electric toaster perched on the ledge (is that part of a bathtub called a ledge? What is it called?), a new voice seemed to take over the narrative in his mind. It told him that this was his masterpiece, that he was finally about to finish something for once, and he couldn’t even think of an original way to do it. If there was an afterlife, he was going to hell, and he’d be mocked and laughed at in hell just like he was here on earth. A toaster in the bathtub. Was that really the limit of his imagination, of his despair? Maybe it was, and he should count himself lucky. What does a fat, lazy slob know of real despair? That isn’t despair, it’s tedium. The lazy coward’s version of despair.
“But I can help you.”
A man in a dark suit sat on the ledge (ledge?) of his bathtub.
“I can give you all the fame and fortune you want. You want a million? A hundred million? Let’s make it a billion. You want a masterpiece? Let’s make it a timeless classic. So what do you say, bub? You want to get back into the game, or do you want to die right here right now in your fucking bathtub?”
Walter looked up at the man.
“What’s the catch?”
“Jesus Christ you really do need my help. And believe it or not, it’s called a bathtub ledge. Just a fucking ledge. And even if it wasn’t, what does it matter? You really make me sick. I have half a mind to leave you here. You won’t kill yourself. You don’t have the guts.”
Walter saw himself as an old man, maybe 70 or 80, slouched down in front of a computer screen, masterbating to the most repulsive pornography on earth. He reached for the toaster on the bathtub ledge.
“Okay bub, maybe I underestimated you. But either way, shouldn’t you at least listen to what I have to say? Especially if you’re ready to cash out anyway?”
Walter paused for a moment dramatically.
“I guess I’ve got nothing to lose.”
“That right there is your problem. You don’t get out enough. People don’t act like that or talk like that except for on TV, or if they watch too much TV. And somewhere inside of yourself, you know it. You don’t know who the hell you are or what people are really like or anything, and you hate yourself for it. For living as much of your life as possible in a fucking cocoon. So here’s what I’ll do for you. First, I’ll fix your fucking book. Yeah, that one. 300 pages of pure shit, but I’ll make it fly. Don’t believe me? Dry off, tubby.”
The man sat at his computer. Walter sat in a second chair just behind him and to the side.
“So the crippled guy, the main character you obviously have no idea what the fuck to do with? Look at this crap, page after page of garbage. He sits around feeling sorry for himself, wishing he had a dog, masterbating. Sounds familiar, eh? 400 years in the future, all this amazing technology supposedly all around him, and there’s no way to expedite a fucking dog? Or maybe even fix his legs? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. No, don’t talk. You shut up and listen.”
The man explained to him that the future world had to seem like a real world with its own rules and limitations. Of course they can fix cripples and provide dogs, but maybe these are privileges, see? Just for people who work or otherwise contribute to society. Human beings survive another 400 years, there are going to be a helluva lot of them scattered everywhere, Mars, the moons of Neptune, wherever. Anyway, resources will be scarce. So this is what you do. Energy is currency, or in other words, calories. You understand what that means, fat boy? Every person gets a basic allotment of calories, enough to feed, clothe, and house themselves. You want more calories, you have to earn ’em. So how does a crippled guy earn more calories so he can afford a dog? Easy. He cuts off his fucking legs. He can’t use ’em, doesn’t need ’em, all they’re doing is costing him calories, so fuck ’em. But his legs only buy him a little pooch. One of those ratty looking fuckers no one really likes. So he talks to the doctor, administrator, whoever, and as they’re always looking to increase the efficiency of society, they offer him a deal. We go step by step. First, he goes into stasis for 10 months out of the year and gets to dream of all the fucking dogs he wants, but the dreams aren’t quite lifelike enough, see? For more lifelike dreams, or fantasies, he becomes a frozen head in a jar. To make the dreams or fantasies seem as real as possible, he eventually trades in his ability to communicate with the real world. It costs too many calories, and what the hell does he need it for anyway? All it does is remind him he’s a fucking head in a jar.”
The man typed as he talked. In about five minutes the book was complete, and in Walter’s mind, it was a masterpiece. The end was mind-blowing.
“Mind-blowing? You obviously haven’t learned a fucking thing. Maybe I should just get the fuck out of here.”
“No, wait!” said Walter as the man selected all the text and was about to hit delete, “what do I have to do? What’s the catch? I mean, please tell me.”
The man appraised him.
“Don’t cry, fatty, I’ll tell you. And I don’t think you’ll even mind. Here’s what’s going to happen. The book is yours, your name, your fame, your fortune. And all you have to do is not do something you hate doing and probably can’t even do anymore anyway.”
“No more fucking. Or in your case, just no fucking. No fucking, no handjobs, no blowjobs, no rimjobs. No anal, no fucking armpits, no fucking animals, no fucking behind the kneecap, no fucking inside elbows, get it? You can still jerk off and stick your dick into inanimate objects if you want to, though I can’t see why you would, but no fucking. You fuck, and you’re fucked. Your soul is mine.”
“I’ll do it!”
“Of course you will, fatso.”
And the man in the dark suit vanished.
Walter was extremely successful. His breakthrough novel became a series, and then a movie franchise. With the money and fame came personal appearances, and with them came publicists, trainers, nutritionists, and all the other symbiotic parasites, including the gold diggers. Walter had never seen women like this before in real life, up close and personal, and he was trimmer and healthier now. His heartburn and general exhaustion were long forgotten. He got aroused easily, he was aroused all the time, and all the jerking off in the world wasn’t helping him. Almost as bad as not fucking, people were beginning to wonder about his not fucking, and the women, the long, well formed arms and legs, the light scents of healthy sweat and lilac or rosewater, a bared back, a long, supple neck. He could relate to vampires, cannibals, animals devouring their young. And these women were always trying to get him alone, they were relentless, and when they did, it took every ounce of his will and then some to resist them. He’d actually had to call in servants or assistants or even strangers to help him. Women were real, bodies were real. What the hell was a soul? He couldn’t picture a soul in his head. At best he saw something close to a child’s drawing of a ghost. And what was a ghost or a devil? They were figments of the imagination. Perhaps in his case, as is often the case, his creative outburst had been accompanied by a moment of delusional frenzy. He had hallucinated the entire thing, it had just been a way for him to get past himself, his own feelings of inadequacy and fears of failure, and there was one step left on that road. The imaginary monster that had helped him up until this point was now standing in his way. He would conquer his final fears and neuroses and see how silly he had been, and then he’d write another masterpiece about that. All he had to do was let it happen, so he did. It was with a woman named Monica, a friend of his publicist. She wasn’t quite as beautiful as some of the actresses or models who had been hounding him, but there would be plenty of time for them later. As she took off her skirt and panties the sight and the smell reduced him to idiocy, the last time had been so long ago, probably as close to never as a person can get. He had fantasized about this moment, he had spent countless hours watching it on screens and replaying different versions of it back to himself in his head, and now, it was finally happening, and it was better than any fantasy because it was real. As she put him inside of her he gasped. He felt her warmth surround him, for an instant he was blissfully unaware of himself and the world, of his entire life. All he felt was warmth and safety. And then the warmth grew into an inferno that engulfed him. He looked to Monica for help but her face was gone, replaced by the face of the man in the suit. The face grinned and laughed at him as he ejaculated.