As he walked into the park, Howard Teasdale thought about the gun in his pocket. It was a cheap, small-caliber revolver imported from Eastern Europe. A pistol like that would not be much use in a gunfight, but it was perfectly adequate for suicide.
Howard hated the fact that it was such a beautiful Sunday morning, warm and sunny with a slight breeze carrying the scent of flowers. In the movies, it rained when people died tragically. Maybe he should wait for a rainy day. No, he was just looking for excuses to hide the fact that he was losing his nerve.
He walked down the path from the main gate, through a grove of trees, and into a grassy clearing where a small fountain gushed. This would be as good a place as any. His body would be found quickly, before the ants and other insects had done much to it. Howard stood and took one last look around at the world he was glad to leave.
He had planned his exit carefully. A typed note was tucked into the breast pocket of his shirt, folded inside a plastic sandwich bag, so that no blood would soak it. The note explained why he was doing this. It described his ten years of frustration and failure since leaving college, working at an endless stream of menial jobs while he struggled to write his novels. Despite everything, he managed to finish five of them, only to have his work rejected by publishers again and again. When Donna left, that was the final blow.
“Face it, Howard,” Donna told him. “You’ll never succeed as a writer. I need a man with a decent job and a future.”
The memory of her words still stung him like a lash. Maybe she was right, but he couldn’t face life as a loser. He pulled the gun from his pocket, staring at its gray metal outline as though seeing it for the first time. Cocking the hammer, he raised the pistol to his head.
Howard heard a crackling noise, like the sound a bug zapper makes when moths blunder into it. A ball of light appeared about three meters in front of him. The light shimmered and grew, then a fat man with a gray beard stood there. The stranger wore coveralls made of some kind of silver-colored metal or plastic. Hastily, Howard put the gun back into his pocket. The fat man looked around, then smiled when he saw Howard.
“Dia duit,” the fat man said. “Cad is ainm duit?”
“I don’t understand,” Howard answered. “Do you speak English?”
The fat man laughed and slapped his forehead.
“Of course,” he said. “You still speak Anglish in this era. I must have come far back.”
“Where did you come from?” Howard asked, remembering the light.
“Not ‘where’, Friend, rather ‘when’. Of course, you would not understand. You do not have time travel yet. I hope that my Anglish is good enough. I learned it in school, from historical recordings, but I have not used it much.”
“Are you telling me that you’re from the future?”
The fat man laughed again.
“Your future, certainly,” he said. “My name is Grenfel. What is yours?”
“Howard Teasdale. I’m a writer.”
The bearded man looked at Howard and tugged at the lobe of his right ear, as though trying to remember something.
“Howard Teasdale? A writer? Not the Howard Teasdale. Why, this is a great honor, Sir. I never dreamed that I would be lucky enough to meet you.”
“You mean you’ve heard of me?” Howard asked.
“Heard of you? In my era, every school child memorizes your works. There are city squares named after you. The way that you revolutionized literature was brilliant, just brilliant.”
“But I’ve never been able to get any of my work published,” Howard said.
“Not published? That’s impossible. No, wait. I think that I understand. I have come too far back, that is all. Your genius has not been recognized yet.”
Howard trembled and began to weep.
“You don’t know how much this means to me,” he said when he was able to speak again. “All those years of trying. I’d given up hope. If you hadn’t appeared today, I would have killed myself. Now, I know everything will be all right. My God! I’m going to be famous. Thank you, Mr. Grenfel, thank you so much.”
The crackling sound returned and two more balls of light appeared, morphing into two men. They wore metallic coveralls like Grenfel’s, but theirs were colored dark blue and had badges on them.
“Ce he sin?” said one of the new arrivals, pointing at Howard with one hand as he reached for Grenfel’s arm with the other.
Grenfel pulled away and glared at the man in blue.
“Don’t touch me, Fool,” he shouted. “I am Grenfel, Ruler Of The Universe. And speak Anglish for my friend Harold here. He’s a dancer.”
The second man in blue dropped his hand to the butt of what looked like a weapon clipped to his belt, but his companion gestured for him to relax. The man who had spoken to Grenfel bowed low.
“Pardon, Your Highness,” he said. “Your humble subjects back at the hospital have prepared a feast worthy of your greatness. We all want to pledge our loyalty to you, but we need your royal presence.”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Grenfel asked. “Will they have that yellow pudding that I like?”
“They have mountains of it, Sire,” the guard said, winking at his partner.
“Well, let us go then,” Grenfel said. He turned and waved at Howard. “Goodbye, Henry. Keep trying with your singing. You will be famous some day. I just know it.”
The crackling noise began again. All three men shimmered, then disappeared, leaving Howard standing all alone.
For a moment, there was only the sound of the gushing fountain, then a single gunshot startled a flock of pigeons into panicky flight. When they heard no other loud noises, the pigeons came back to roost in the trees, and two of them fluttered down to peck curiously at the thing that was lying in the grass.
* * *
A month later, Donna was sorting through Howard’s belongings, picking out items to give to The Salvation Army. She found a large cardboard box that contained his five novels, each of them bound up with yellow twine. Donna gave one of the manuscripts to her new boyfriend because he worked for a book publishing house. He read it and was intrigued. His firm printed a limited number of copies of the novel to support their claim that they promoted the work of unknown authors. Everyone was surprised at how well the book moved off the shelves. It became a bestseller within weeks. Howard Teasdale was famous at last. *
About the Author: George J. Condon has been a rolling stone. At different times, he has served in the Canadian Armed Forces, worked in the electronics industry, designed computer software, and specialized in information security. Now retired, George lives in Toronto, Canada, with his Belizean-born wife. In addition to having several short stories published in Planet Magazine and in Aphelion Science Fiction, George has recently completed a mystery novel.
(c) 2006 George J. Condon firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Artist: Andrew G. McCann believes the pen is mightier than the gun, specifically when used for the purpose of writing or drawing.
(c) 2006 Andrew G. McCann email@example.com