DOUG MICHAELS DIES AT 35
Tragedy has struck the literary world as Doug Michaels was found dead this morning at his lavish New York Penthouse hung by the neck from the balcony.
The author had begun his writing career over five years ago with his debut novel The Madness of Ink and had since risen to superstardom with over twenty-three novels which has won the hearts of critics, fans, and many other authors across various genres. He has also been the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for In The Depths.
Towards the end of his life, Michaels had exhibited strange behavior such as shutting himself up in his penthouse and never leaving for months at a time. There was also the famous incident where Michaels had attacked a fan at a Seattle book signing.
Fans from around the country and possibly even around the globe have gathered in New York to mourn the untimely passing of the author who was taken in the prime of his life and his craft.
“Poor soul,” Paul Linden said shaking his head as he thought back to that day.
He set down the paper and sipped his tea when the phone rang.
“Hello? This is Paul Linden.”
“Mister Linden, my name is George Bachman. I’m the attorney representing the estate of the late Doug Michaels.”
“Oh yes, I just read about his death in the paper.”
“Mister Michaels has left specific instructions in the event of his death. Would you mind if we met?”
“Of course not. Please, come to my home. The address is-“
“No need to tell me, Mister Linden, my client had left that address in his instructions.”
“Very well. I shall see you around one o’clock?”
“One o’clock is fine.”
Linden hung up the phone knowing of what was to arrive.
* * *
The attorney, George Bachman, was just as Linden had imagined him: very cold, exacting, and well dressed. The two gave no introductions to each other but instead headed into the library where they sat down for business.
“My client,” Bachman began, “asked for this to be delivered to you in the event of his death.”
He reached into his case and pulled out a simple envelope. Across its front was “To Paul Linden” written in black marker with a long bulge at its bottom corner.
“If I may ask, how did you know my client?”
Linden held the envelope and looked at it.
“He came to me five years ago.” Linden began his story.
* * *
“I know why you’ve come here.” Linden said and poured tea for two.
“Do you?” The man said while he stepped into the library.
Linden sipped the tea and looked up at his hungry and desperate guest.
“Yes, I do.” Linden set down the cup. “You’ve come for the pen.”
“I’ll pay whatever you want for it.”
“Money is not the issue. Please sit.”
The man sat down in the chair across from Linden. He sat forward with his arms lying across his thighs with one leg was jittering up and down.
“What do you want for it?” The man asked.
“What’s your name?” Linden responded.
“How did you hear about the pen, Mr. Michaels?”
“Why is that important?”
“Humor me, please.”
Michaels ran his hand over the beard stubble.
“I heard about it from a man who owned a bookshop in Dunwich Falls where I grew up.” Michaels explained.
“What did he tell you?” Linden asked
“He told me that the pen would help me become a published writer.”
“Is that all he told you?”
Linden looked Michaels over. His clothes were filthy; his white shirt already gray from grime, his pants had tears at the knees, and his brown coat was frayed at the cuffs. There were pens in his breast pocket and a folded up notebook at the side-pocket. His face that had grown into a very light beard, the eyes large and sunken, and his lips chapped and cracked. Linden felt such a great swell of pity for this poor soul who seems to have gone through hell to come this far.
“How big is your pile?” He asked.
“My what?” Michael’s responded.
“Your pile of rejection letters.” Linden explained. “If you’ve come this far, you must have quite a pile.”
Michael’s paused and looked down at the elegant coffee table that divided them.
“Yeah, I do have a large…stack…of rejection letters. Publishers. Agents. Magazines. All of them said ‘no’.”
“Do you really think that the pen will solve your problem?”
“I’ve done everything!” His voice cracked and then he began to cry. “I’ve done creative writing classes. Writers’ colonies. Workshops. Every-fuckin-thing! Nothing’s worked! They all still say no to my work! I’ve spent years developing my craft. And working low-level jobs just makes me realize more and more that I’ll always be nothing!”
He used the sleeve of his ratty coat to wipe away the tears.
“I know the pain that you’re suffering, Mister Michaels.” Linden said. “Many other writers have gone through the same pain as you. And dozens of others have come here hoping that the pen would be their salvation.”
“Then why won’t you give it to me!?”
“Because the bookstore owner didn’t tell you about what the pen does.” Linden explained. He leaned over to the side of his chair where there was Kleenex housed inside an elegant box. After giving it to Michaels he got up and went to one of the many bookshelves surrounding them. He pulled out a thickly bound red book and brought it to the coffee table. After turning a few pages he presented it to Michaels where there was a faded photograph of Paul Linden with another man at his side. In the picture, Linden looked so much younger but still had those rectangular lens glasses. The other man in the picture was wearing a red flannel shirt with the sleeves pushed up, a receding hairline that was turning into a soft widows’ peak and peppered with grey. Michaels face lit up in his recognition of the one who was standing next to Paul Linden.
“The pen has had many different users.” Linden explained. “All of whom met with very…horrid…endings. One of them was a very dear friend of mine. His name was Sean Branney. He wasn’t just a writer. He was also an actor who performed a lot of monologues at the Performing Garage here in New York City. There were times he took roles in major films but they were very small parts. In the early eighties he was struggling with his first novel but he took time off of it to do a small role in a movie that was being filmed in Thailand.”
Linden reached out for the photo album and pulled a small sheet of paper from the back pages.
“During his time in Thailand,” He unfolded the small sheet of paper, “He found something and he wrote a letter to me about….Paul, I have found something here in this beautiful land. I know it sounds crazy but after getting this pen I have been writing non-stop on my novel. Sometimes I have to put the pen down to give my hand a rest because of the swelling pain in my knuckle but I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. I know that this novel is going to make me and I know that it’s thanks to this pen. I’m certain of it.
“He once told me that the pen seemed to open up a great window of the mind and allowed the ideas and words to perfectly flow from his mind and through his hand. Each time he used it there was not a single word that was misspelled and not a sentence in need of revision. The pen just seemed to make everything perfect but he came back from Thailand a very different man, you see, because he had the pen. He finished the novel just as he said he would and became famous because of it…but then I saw something else happen to him.”
Linden paused as he folded up the paper, set it back into the photo album, and then took off his glasses to wipe his eyes. Clearing his throat and putting back on his glasses he continued the story.
“It was as if something was eating away at him. Before he went to Thailand he was a wonderful and happy man. A little neurotic maybe but still a happy man. After he obtained the pen he grew darker, morose, cynical, and depraved.”
“What does this have to do with anything?!” Michaels snapped.
“I’m trying to save you from it, Mister Michaels. At first I didn’t want to believe that it was the pen that did all these things to my friend but it was the way he talked about it. He would never part with it. He had it with him everywhere. His wife told me that he slept with the pen on a chain around his neck and that he would fall asleep while twiddling with it in his hand.”
“It wasn’t just that. Even when people would ask to borrow a pen he would become violent. There was an incident in January of 97 when one fan at a book signing asked to borrow his pen and he attacked him. You have to understand that he wasn’t a violent man. He was the kind of man who could stand being yelled at by anyone and he would simply smile. To see him attack a fan of his just because they wanted to borrow his pen was…just too much.”
“Did he call the pen his ‘precious’?”
Linden shook his head, “No. He called it his ‘love’. The final straw came in 2001 when his wife tried to throw the pen away. He caught her before she even threw it out the window.”
“What would you expect? He killed her. Stabbed her to death because no one was going to separate him from his ‘love’. Not even his wife. I think at the end even he realized that it had gone too far. He gave the pen to me. He told me never to use it. He told me to keep it away from anyone else who would want it.”
Linden took another sip of his tea.
“Where is your friend now?” Michaels asked.
“Where else would he be?” Linden responded. “After murdering his wife threw himself into New York’s East River and his body was found several days later.”
Michaels said nothing.
“Now you understand why I can’t give you the pen?”
“Yes.” Michaels said and he reached into his coat and brought out a small handgun. “But I’m still going to take the pen. I’d rather die famous than die as nobody.”
Linden shook his head and set down his teacup. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”
He pulled the trigger.
The bullet pierced Linden’s shoulder. He grasped at it and let out a great howl of pain. Michaels dashed and grabbed him by the shirt.
“Where is the pen?”
Linden said nothing only continued to cry out in pain.
“Where’s the fucking pen!?”
“Wall safe…” Linden grunted.
“What’s the combination!?” Michaels demanded.
Michaels ransacked Linden’s Library looking for the safe. All the while he kept repeating the combination to himself over and over again. He threw books off of the shelves not caring if some were first editions or hard to find copies of old books.
In a bookcase near the fireplace he found a wall safe that had a keypad combination lock. He punched in the combination that he kept repeating to himself over and over in his head.
“9…” he said as he punched in the number, “19…23.”
The green LED above the keypad flashed on and the safe unlocked. Inside there was a stack of papers and a small box at the back. Reaching in, he pulled out a simple wooden box, and inside he found the pen sitting at the bottom as unimportant as a piece of artist charcoal. It was such a simple looking object with its slim and silver body. It looked like any other metal casing pen. The kind that is a little above the plastic pens but wasn’t too expensive in looks or style.
He picked it up and something unexpected happened.
The pen began to change.
In his hand, the pen began to grow thicker in its body and its body shifted from its silver sheen to a dark red but still had that high gloss to its surface. The end changed from its ballpoint tip to the nib of a fountain pen. At its opposite end a cap grew from the thickened body.
“It’s true.” Michaels thought, “That son-of-a-bitch at the bookstore said that the pen changes shape from user to user.”
He brought the pen to his lips and kissed it.
“You and me, my love.” He thought as he rubbed the pen against his face. “We’re gonna be great!”
He took the cap off of the end and slipped the nib tip into it. He clipped it onto the edge of his chest pocket and left Mister Linden’s home.
* * *
“That’s quite the story.” Bachman responded. “It almost sounds like someone made it up.”
“If only it were.” Linden shook his head.
“Why didn’t you call the police after you were shot?”
“The police did come after I checked myself into a hospital. I told them I was shot by an unknown assailant.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Because even if I did get the police involved I doubt that they would have taken me seriously if I told them that only a single pen was stolen. To an onlooker who doesn’t even known the history of it would have been seen as trivial as taking someone’s gum wrapper.”
“Why haven’t you used the pen?”
“I’d like to think that I’m strong enough to resist the temptation and that it is now my responsibility to be its guardian but the truth is…I’m frightened of it.”
A silence came between Linden and Bachman but the lawyer looked at his watch.
“Thank you for your time, Mister Linden. No need to show me out. I know the way.” Bachman said as he headed out the front door.
Linden went to the envelope. Opening it and shaking out its contents he saw a deep red fountain pen fall into his hand. Following the pen was a handwritten note:
You were right, Linden.
You tried to warn me but I didn’t listen. I just wanted so badly to be a published writer. I wanted fame. I didn’t want to consider the risk. At that time the risk was only a small price to pay but now I’m seeing the price with my own eyes. I can feel the pen eating away at my mind. It’s making me write things that I don’t want to write. It’s as if the thing is working through me instead of me working through it.
I wanted to keep it away from anyone else so no one would have to suffer what I’ve suffered. I tried burning it but nothing worked. Not even a foundry could melt it. I tried breaking it but that didn’t work. The damn thing is indestructible, Linden.
Now I see what I have to do both with it and myself.
I wanted to let you know that I’m sorry for this.
- Doug Michaels