A weary ghost drifts into the factory before dawn and drifts out again past dusk. Survival is hard with long hours and low pay, but the job can sustain the system of money and food for him and his wife. As such, the day the factory closes is a hungry day. There is a notice posted on the doors, and suddenly John is jobless. His hands quake and his jaw sets, a wildfire burns behind his gaze and the ghost is resurrected.
“You’ve known me a long time, Jane. I’ve always managed to get us by.” He reassures his wife on a secret night outside what had been their home.
“Getting by on scraps and trash isn’t getting by.”
“I’ll get a better job, alright? Something a little closer to home that pays enough for both of us.”
“Better! We need an income first. Times are changing, and we need to change too.”
“Alight, alright. I’ll try something different. I’ll figure something out— it’ll come to me.”
On a cold, rainy day with an empty stomach and howling winds snapping at his heels to hurry him to his brother’s couch, he sees a gray lump in a nearby alley. For a moment, it catches the light from the streetlight, and John stoops to pick up the small coin.
It turns out not to be a coin. An old fountain pen, which in its glory days it might have been worth a fortune, is now little more than a gray and brown stick. Half of its ink is gone and its clip is broken. It was as if the pen had been overlooked some time ago, like a butterfly not stepped on. He picks up the pen, and the future is changed.
John writes. The pen dances across the page and spins out a poor orphan, and soon a gang of them. The gang of unruly boys skip across his pages, stealing food to eat and books to read. The little imps are fast and uncontrollable, slippery from the law and littering angry shopkeepers across their trail. John writes, and they devise sticks as swords and scrap clothing as capes to play their games as noble knights. They plunder with no regard for property or respect, until the leader meets a girl… this ending has already been read.
The story is complete.
John makes a publication, sets up a small stand by the streetside, and charges a dollar for each copy. A dollar will buy him and his wife a meal, if spent correctly. A couple more will pay the rent for his old house. Abandoning all comforts in life, John and Jane manage to scrape by.
One day, a little boy streaks past and grabs a copy of his novel. With a shout of alarm and sudden anger, John grabs at the imp, but only snags the edge of the same novel. He twists, and the sidewalk is spinning around him as he and the wild creature tumbles.
“You don’t… understand! … need it… !” The imp cries in the scramble.
“Get off, thief!”
“Listen! Listen. Please, I got a girl that likes reading and I don’t have a dollar. I need—”
“As if I’m going to let you—”
The spine shreds in half, and the pages spill onto the ground. The words run together into a massive, garbled ball, running down the page and soaking in the earth. They turn and stare in horror as the words vanish before them, with only smudged traces of ash as proof it had ever existed at all. The words themselves bleed, but the blood is not any liquid. Nonexistence floods from the pages’ dying words into the sky.
Both John and the gang are rubbed away. Their limbs deform into streaks. Their faces are blurred into small pools of gray. The eyes are blinded. Then the characters are wiped clean, and the page is white once more.
The writer puts down the pen and rests. Tomorrow, he will write another piece to sell in another magazine. Tomorrow, another boy will steal a magazine. Tomorrow, the boy will escape, the writer will yell, and a greater creator’s words will spin the world.