Read This Again Please by Ron J. Cruz

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Read This Again Please by Ron J. Cruz
Illustration by Sue Babcock

“I don’t know where the ideas come from,” Victor Stevens said quietly before wildly changing his demeanor, roughly opening the covers of his latest bestselling novel, and pressing it to his chest while contorting his face violently. “I slice my heart open, bleed plots, hemorrhage irony, and hollow out my soul until the pages are no longer thirsty, or my agent tells me I’m done.  Then I am done.”  He hunched lifelessly over his book for a moment before suddenly reanimating, flipping to the inside cover and scribbling his name with a pen.  “Then after a three-day resurrection and a bottle or two of scotch, I do it all over again.”

There was a round of polite laughter as he returned the book to a pair of outstretched hands.

“Well, whatever you do, it seems to work,” his agent, Marty, smiled.  He raised a glass of blushed wine and toasted, “to the greatest author of horror to ever cue a page.”

The circle of people raised their glasses, smiled warmly, and slowly closed in on the writer, hungry for autographs, quick photos, or hugs and handshakes.  Some hoped to needle into their own chance at fictional fame, wanting to talk about their own writing, perhaps get a referral to his agent, anything to capture the elusive spotlight of celebrity for themselves.

Victor Stevens didn’t care.  He had grown used to success a long time ago and knew what these people wanted.  Ten novels, three movies, and one made for television series that ran two seasons had legitimized him as a successful writer.  Creating the horrible and melancholy, nightmare productions incorporated, that was his calling.

He finished his second glass of wine and looked blankly at his watch.  The desire to pull away from the tired gathering of publishing execs, faux-friends, and privileged fans increased with his boredom by the second.  He strategically shook the few hands that mattered professionally and planned his escape, but before departing, he moved in on the smoldering young woman, would-be-writer, who had briefly talked to him earlier that evening.

“I’m ready to get out of here,” he said to her as he approached her from behind, speaking in a low growl of a voice.  “If you’re interested in coming with me, we can thicken the plot, talk about writing, and see where tonight’s narrative takes our characters.”

“I’d love for you to write my evening,” her lips parted into a slow smile that continued to expand.  She bit slightly at her lower lip.  “Maybe we can take turns and I can write you for a bit.  I have some fun things to do to you, uhm, I mean your character.”

“I like the sound of that,” Stevens’s eyes grew wide.  As many times as he had used this rouse in the past, he never found a woman to swallow the bait and swim with it as hard as she had.  “I will definitely let you write some action for my character tonight, if it’s in the right genre.”

“Oh, it’s the right genre.”  She gripped his hand seductively and pulled him around; her big eyes gleamed.  “Let’s dip the quill in ink and see what I can put you through.”

They moved to the door and as Stevens helped her into her jacket, he admired her tanned skin and hard lines.  He loved the fullness of her hips, her tapered waist, and the roundness of her breast.  He couldn’t wait to kiss her, but knew even then that he would do absolutely nothing to help this aspiring writer get published.

“I really enjoyed talking with your agent.  Marty, isn’t it?” she said as they brushed though the front door, into the blustery gusts of winter.  “He gave me his card and said we could talk about my work some time.”

“That’s great!  Marty is the best,” Stevens said, though he fought a smile knowing Marty had probably given her a bogus card with bad numbers.  The frail, thin agent may have made empty promises and taken her home a few years ago, but that was a few years ago.  Marty wasn’t looking for new clients, and even if he was, he no longer mixed business into his social life.  Stevens didn’t mind; he wouldn’t get laid otherwise.  This thought actually made him laugh.

The snow crunched beneath their feet as they walked towards his car.  Her long hair flew freely in the wind as flurries of snow fell weakly like ash; she seemed so familiar, as if Stevens had intimately known her in the past.  The thought occurred to him earlier as well, the way her pouty lips kissed the edge of the glass as she sipped wine, or the way she tossed her thick hair around so naturally when she laughed.  He chased her identity through the shadows of his mind, but every time he got close enough start forming a name, it slipped into the ether of his thoughts and became even more distant.  He surrendered to his faulty memory as he opened the car door and simply asked her.

“What’s your name again?” he smiled, trying to make his eyes twinkle.  He clarified to avoid sounding like a total stranger.  “I mean your full name.  Does it sound like an author’s name?”

“Victoria,” she smiled.  “Victoria Johnston.  That sounds like an author, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, absolutely,” he nodded as he repeated the name in his head several times to keep it from slipping.  “It definitely does.”

He shut the passenger door and nearly caught his overcoat flowing like the cape behind him, the cape of a mighty superhero:  writer man, ink pulsing through his veins, here with another story of gloom and death, rich with dangling modifiers, torqueing readers’ thoughts with malice, dressing up minds up like Christmas, and raping them like presents.

The night chill bit at Stevens’s neck as he raced to the driver’s side of his sporty vehicle.  He slipped once on the wet pavement, caught himself on the fender, pulled the door open, and fell into the cockpit of the plush interior.

“And we are off,” he grinned as the engine roared to life and he pulled into the wet darkness.  “Turn on the radio if you like.  I have satellite or terrestrial.”

Victoria started to fidget with the stereo and heater as if they were the same unit.  It was quickly apparent that she wasn’t sure what anything did.  Enthralled by the flickering lights and levers the dashboard had to offer, she trapped her tongue between her lips, gazed with a vacant stare, and fiddled away like a child.  The heat went on, the stereo turned off.  The stereo was on, then off, seat warmers on, and then the air conditioning on.

Stevens smiled and wondered what kind of talent she could possible have when it came to writing, or anything else for that matter.  She was simultaneously beautiful, ridiculous, and completely familiar and intimate, as if he had touched and tasted her before.  There was a tangible feel, a memory familiar to his senses, yet it escaped recollection:  her arched back, clawing hands, sweet breath, soft hair, but damn if he could remember.

He turned the radio on, to his favorite station, and relaxed as he continued to drive.  The mild sounds of saxophone filled the air and jazzed through the evening.  Stevens’s mood softened and his eyes hollowed as his mind receded into a peaceful pattern as he pushed on through the soft snowfall.  The reflected lights on the street rolled by and his thoughts continued to tumble.  He was hypnotized by the road, driving automatically home, and thinking about nothing and everything at once.  Then, a few blocks from his house, his trance was suddenly broken.

“How do you write women?” Victoria asked flatly.

“What do you mean?”  Stevens broke from his cyclone of thought.

“They are so sexy,” he could see her warm up, her bright smile illuminated by the various lights of the dash and the soft glow of residual light from the sporadic cars and street lamps.  “So hot.  So sexual!”

“Do you like the way women are depicted in my writing?  Really?  Well, believe it or not,” he looked over to gauge her reaction, “some people actually think I go too far and make them too sexy, unrealistically sexy.  I mean, I guess it’s a matter of taste and experience.”

“Well, I like it,” she said judiciously, disarming any opinion to the contrary as unnecessary.  “Get me home and write me.  Get me home and I will write you!  We can write it sexual!”  Her jacket came open as she leaned towards him, the shadowy valley between her breasts became tantalizingly visible down the top of her dress and he could feel the stir of arousal as she continued to speak.  “And the writer pulled his car into his driveway and tried to think of something clever to fill the silence, something witty to invite her into his house, but the master of words fell silent.”

He did fall silent as the charming words to move her from the car to the bedroom eluded him, but he was also shocked that she knew what driveway he was going to pull into.  It could just be a lucky guess, perhaps.  She meant nothing by it; the girl who couldn’t adjust the radio could just be talking nonsense.

“And as he sat in his car, thinking of a way to get the young lady up to his room, he realized that for at least one night,” she paused dramatically.  “He wasn’t going to be lonely.”

“Lonely?” he laughed as he repeated the word.  He wasn’t sure if she was actually saying the words as he thought them, or whether he was thinking the words as she said them.  Where were his thoughts coming from, he wondered.  “What are you talking about?”

“I’m narrating you,” she giggled and pulled on his arm, reached over and kissed his neck.  “I’m practicing to be a writer.  That’s what writers do, right?  They write and they narrate!  I am good.  See!”

“Yeah, you may be the best narrator I have ever heard or read,” he laughed as he waited for the garage door to open.  “Although, you couldn’t be further from the truth.  I am definitely not lonely!”

But he definitely was, and it confused him.  He was a successful man with money, but where did he go wrong?  Many people described him as a friend, yet they didn’t know anything about him.  There were many people in his life, so many, yet they were full of platitudes and greed.  They all needed or wanted something from him!  There were so many whom he knew little more than their name.  Like Victoria!

What was he going do with her?  Build a friendship?  Talk about the future?  Start a family?  No!  They would have sex until sweaty and then repeat until she fell asleep or he simply gave up.  Victoria wanted something from him.  She sacrificed flesh in the hopes of a connection, in the hopes of becoming a writer, and he would greedily ravage her and dismiss her when he was done.

Even as Stevens slid the long, wet car into the warm garage, even as he clutched her flesh to his own as they fell back onto his bed, and even as he let the snakes loose into her garden, he was dreaming of living a meaningful existence where barns burned and bells tolled.  The snowy tempest outside beat the windows, wax pooled at the base of thick candles, and Victor Stevens was once again alive, if only for a moment.

He felt every soft inch, and kissed every hard curve of her body.  She was warmth and beauty with hot breath and tight skin.  After a couple hours of erotic entanglement, miniature death sent him into comfortable slumber, adrift in his lover’s arms.

In the middle of the night, the storm grew restless and a fierce gust of wind seized a branch and loudly smacked the side of the house.  Stevens woke up to see dancing shadows on the ceiling above the bed.  The breeze outside whistled and the house creaked and shifted.  He felt Victoria’s warm body and relaxed.  It was a nice reality.  He got up, donned thin flannel robe, moved to the overstuffed chair next to the window, and felt around on the small table for his pipe, lighter, and tobacco pouch.

The surges of wind sustained, pulling branches and limbs across the house and windows, screeching like a rusty rake across the surface.  Snowy nights were not usually so violent or loud.  It was peculiar weather that he had experienced before, the night Stevens had finished his first book.  He used an old typewriter, as the power had gone out; he typed by candlelight as the smothering snow asphyxiated the earth and the angry wind battered the house.

As the memories of his first novel flowed through his conscious, Stevens looked at Victoria’s sleeping body.  He puffed from his pipe and admired her simplicity.  She wasn’t the most beautiful woman, but damn she was sensuous.  Could he delude himself, pretend he had found the soul of Emily Dickinson or Jane Austen?  Had he sipped from the river of genius, waded in it for just one night?  Who was to say she wasn’t talented?  He hadn’t actually looked at her work.

“I loved the death of the rail worker in your first book,” her voice cut through the darkness as she remained motionless on the bed.

“I didn’t know you were awake,” Stevens said as he rocked back and forth in his chair, continuing to smoke.  “Do you need another blanket?  Want me to start a fire?”

“He died slowly, crumbling to the ground generating the flow of a crimson river, screams rolling like thunder and blood leaking like wine from a cracked cask, to be cherished and enjoyed.  Isn’t that how you had said it?  To be cherished and enjoyed?”  Her voice grew deep, gravely, almost demonic.  “Wine from a cracked cask,” the voice was dark and terrible, “to be cherished and enjoyed.”

Stevens’s eyes grew wide, astonished at the coarse, grumbling sounds rising from the still form on the bed.  The words “cherished and enjoyed,” continued to echo through the room, growing in speed, raising and lowering in pitch, and then flattening out.  “Cherished and enjoyed,” screeched and then swirled.  He could almost see the words flying wickedly through the room like phantasms, ghostly white spirits.  “Cherished and enjoyed.”

Suddenly Victoria’s form began to glow and change.  She stretched and twisted.  The voice continued to echo through the room, gaining a mucky reverberation from the thick, frosty feel of the cavernous walls that expanded and contracted like a diaphragm muscle as she spoke.

“Dying so slow,” her voice boomed.  “Blood to be cherished and enjoyed.  Precious life blood.”

Did she stand?  Was she moving?  Stevens remained motionless in the chair, staring into the darkness, trying to distinguish the reality of the shadows from the trickery in his mind.  It was all in his mind, he told himself.  His fractured mind had slipped a couple of times before. This was just an episode, the thought.

But Victoria rose and twisted, floated above the bed.  Her limbs snapped violently back and forth; they jerked and shook.  She glowed like a phoenix and screamed like a hawk, then flashed into a large dark cloud and shot three points of lightening; the form was briefly a dragon and then transformed into a giant gorilla that pounded its chest and did flips on the bed.  He wanted it to be his imagination, but the reality of his creaking bed and the thunderous noise of the beast before him was undeniable.  The fiery red eyes of the creature before him glared through him.

“Are you okay?” his voice cracked.  He assumed he was hallucinating and tried to regain self-control.  “Victoria?”

She didn’t reply, but the sporadic movements slowed and the form on the bed shrunk, went horizontal, and settled back to its original form.  It was once again just Victoria, lying in bed sweetly smiling, but Stevens’s heart was beating uncontrollably.  He breathed in slowly and tried to calm.  The pipe he had smoked was on the ground beneath his outstretched hand; the smoldering contents tumbled out and were dangerously close to the rug.

“The rail worker died,” her voice was back to the seductive sensuousness he had previously enjoyed.  It was back to soothing, but he was far from soothed.  “His wife died too.”

“Yeah,” he felt heavy and tired.  “They both died.”

“The rail worker’s wife had drowned in the well just hours before.”

“I know the story!” Stevens grew frustrated and tried to stand, but could not.  “I know the story because I wrote it!”

“The wife could keep her nose above the water if she stretched on the tips of her toes, but she got tired and began to slip.  She dug her nails into the sides, but they slid down the slick, slimy walls.  She choked and gasped.  She looked up through the porthole of life to see a sliver of moon shimmering softly.  It blurred as she submerged.  The moon, which she had seen reflecting on the surface of the water from above, had once been beautiful.  Now she would see the moon playing upon the surface of the water, but this time from below.”

“Look Victoria, I’m not in the mood to play anymore.  I’m not feeling right.  Stop it.” Stevens said angrily.  “I think it’s time you left.  I can call you a cab.”

“Thoughts flooded her mind as water seeped into her lungs:  her three children, her loving husband, her dying mother!  But wait!  The last thought was about the freezing water numbing her thighs, tickling her stomach, licking her pubic mound.  Her last thought was about how the icy water making her nipples hard and erect.  She was drowning in the bottom of a well and she was aroused?  Who put that thought in her head?”

“I’m calling a cab!  Please leave.” Stevens repeated, still unable to stand.  “Victoria, go!  You need to leave!”

“Who put that stupid, fucking thought in her head?” she screamed.  The sound was absorbed into the shallow hilt of the walls.  Stevens shuddered as the chill of her voice shot through the air, tore through his skin like glass.  He suddenly felt as cold as a girl in a well.

It’s a dream, he thought, just a dream.

“It’s not a dream,” she said calmly as she stood in front of him.  “Those aren’t natural thoughts, Victor!  It’s stupid.  It’s sex to sell your books.  It’s sex to sell your soul.  Worst of all, how many copies of that filth did you sell?”

“I don’t know?  Leave.  Who cares?”  His mind sputtered.

“How many copies did you sell?” she repeated the question.

“I don’t know,” he replied, frozen.

“Millions of copies.  Mil-lions,” she pronounced slowly.  She moved across the floor and Stevens’s stomach dropped.  She transformed once more and was now unmistakably distinct.  Her hair was now blonde, and bound over her shoulders in long curly spirals.  Her eyes were brown and her mouth was small.  She had become the exact manifestation of the rail worker’s wife as he had imagined it.  Victoria was her, and she oozed of sex – space between her front teeth, perceptible gap at the top of her thighs, and heavy breasts defying gravity above her smooth stomach.

“Millions of people bought and read that book; millions of people passed them onto a million friends so that they could enjoy your filth.  I died every time someone read your vile pages of shit.  Every single time they read it, I felt the dank liquid slip down my throat as I coughed the air out of my lungs, and breathed in the thick murk of the well!  My chest exploded every single time I died, as you had written, yet there I was, aroused and thinking about my hard nipples!”

Her voice got louder with each word.  Stevens gaped helplessly at the terrible form he had conjured into existence.  His mouth was ajar and mind reeling for words, but the author found none as he prayed to awaken from this dream.

She suddenly fell silent, and the world swam away.  The shadow of the bed, nightstand, and bureau on the wall evaporated.  They disappeared in an evil flash of turquoise light and gave way to darkness.  From that darkness came a small desk with a computer and monitor.  Eerie green light poured from the screen and the computer hummed softly.  Thick white smoke rolled from the vents on the side, and blew from the fan in the back.  The rail worker’s wife danced before the computer, in the shadow of the petrified author in the chair.  She erotically moved in small circles before him.

Victor Stevens had once created her from the folds of his own creativity.  He had brought her to life, a new living soul.  Before he thought of her, she was nothing.  He had conjured her into the world.  Now she was here.

Within the flickers of her mind, she made a creation of her own.  She invented a new character, with words and an imagination, and she brought him into life.  It was a new form, one that had not been before, and it was a writer.

He sat at the computer she created, with his coffee stained teeth and penchant for words.  He sat to write the story that she wanted told.  It was the writer that began the story with an arrogant man saying, “I don’t know where the ideas come from…I slice my heart open, bleed plots, hemorrhage irony…”

The writer hammered it out, and the woman prayed for you to read; read Stevens finding himself now tied to the chair he enjoyed just moments before.  He is plunged into an obscured world of harsh reality; his glasses are gone and she viciously slaps his face repeatedly.  The blurred lines of her passionate body, flourishing with hate, twisting into a whirlwind of elbows and extended hands raining continuously down on his face.

Then there is a respite, a moment of sweet relief as she stops, but without his glasses he can’t discern the slow, tickling invasion rolling over his feet, swarming up his legs and across his body is a massive colony of fire ants.  They are fiercely red, fantastically fiery, and angrily marching.  They crawl and they gnaw, breaking his body open in small, painful bites.  Simultaneously they light him up the flames of a thousand fires, and he screams, he convulses and pulls at his binds, but they continue to ravage.

They open a thousand tiny sores across his naked flesh.  The rail worker’s wife stands before him and smiles, savors the moment.  She is beautiful and sexy, swaying before his personal purgatory, and she touches her breast and though Stevens realizes, for the first time that night, that he was going to die a painfully slow death, he was aroused for the final time in his life.  And the ants lit him up there too.

They enjoyed a long evening that night; well, at least she did.  When she realized his lights were about to go out, right as he was numbing to the pain, she drained a couple bottles of scotch into a large pitcher and held it over her head before him.

“You like to practice resurrection when you’re done,” she laughed and shifted weight from foot to foot, shifting her hips.  “Couple bottles of scotch and three days in hell?  I hope you enjoy!”

She anointed him with the alcohol, pouring it over his head, across his shoulders, and draining it out across his torso and legs, ensuring that it graced all of his open wounds and washed the ants away.  He screeched, but it came out sluggishly, the pain magnified, and the rotation of the planet began to slow.  Time dragged on.

When the seconds dripped like honey, Victoria dropped a match that took ten minutes to land on his skin before gradually igniting.  In a reversal of photosynthesis, the flames grew like plants and pulled the oxygen from his face, converting it to smoke, stifling his breath and peeling away his flesh.  In this time-lapsed reality, he dies at a glacial pace –twisting in jolts of violent convulsions.

For Victoria, the rail worker’s wife, who represents every woman Stevens ever molested in his fiction, the happiness is entirely hers, but short lived, until another reader opens his book and draws her back to the abysmal well, liquid seeping into her lungs, and she dies once more, slightly aroused.

On behalf of her, read this again please.


BIO:  Ron Cruz breathes and pens fiction in the shadow of the Sierra Mountains in the foothills of California. He teaches English Composition at Folsom Lake College, takes pictures of things that amuse him, competitively throws darts erratically at a board, and snootily sips wine while doing two of the aforementioned three activities. While not writing short stories, Ron enumerates lists of things that will hopefully remain forever unseen (and undone). For more information on Ron J. Cruz, check out