Fellow traveller, heed me well. My hair was not always this shocking white. The drool from the corners of my broken mouth and the palsy in my limbs are of recent vintage too, and all bear witness to the warning I will now give to you.
There are some who think writing is a craft, an art which enriches our civilisation. There are others who think it might be a good way to make a fast buck or two. There are those whose working days are behind them and now have the time and opportunity to write that story or poem or novel that was always shouting to be let out. There are perhaps as many reasons for writing as there are writers, and lo, they are legion.
But I wager that few if any aspiring writers aspire to having their wits curdled and their senses scrambled by their pursuit.
There is a tendency for writers and would-be writers to form groups. The general idea is that they can learn from each other, although a cynic might say that what they mainly learn is better excuses for not having done any writing.
One such group is Vale Royal Writers’ Group, of which your humble scribe has the misfortune to be the Treasurer, meaning that I am honour-bound to attend most of the meetings.
Otherwise I might have missed that fateful night in September in the year of our Lord 2017, and would still be in possession of what limited faculties I had prior to then.
The principal blame attaches to a woman we will call Joan, for that is her name. Joan had been to a fancy writing course somewhere (or so she said), and she brought us back an exercise that was supposed to help inspire us. She called it the “What-if?” exercise.
So we what-iffed our way round the table.
My contribution was “What if all glass suddenly disappeared?” which I offer only as an example, but not a very good one. Some comedian came up with “What if Donald Trump became President of the United States?” which I thought was taking things a bit far, personally. So you get the idea. So far, so good.
It may have been the Joan woman who started it, but to be fair to her I don’t suppose she could reasonably have foreseen the full horror of what she had set in motion.
Nor could Debbie have understood the implications of asking “What if two zombies fell in love?”
Because neither she nor Joan, nor indeed anyone else in the room – with perhaps one exception – could know what was about to happen next.
Matthew smiled, and paused. Everyone was wondering what was coming next. He drew out the suspense, and then just when we thought he maybe wasn’t going to say anything at all, out it came…
“What if the characters we created came off the page?”
He smiled again, in a vaguely evil kind of way.
A chill passed through the room but we pressed on, everyone suddenly wanting to get to the end of this exercise even if it meant moving rapidly on to the “News” section where everyone except the swottier types has to come up with a creative way of confessing that they have yet again done no writing whatsoever since the last meeting.
But the damnable exercise had a second part. We now had to write a sort of flash fiction story or map out an idea for something longer based on the “what-if” we had come up with.
I am sure it was not just me, although for the sanity of my colleagues I hope it was thus.
Debbie’s zombies loved each other (in a physical sort of sense) and decomposed in the process as they literally knocked lumps off each other. A grotesque idea at the best of times, and one that personally I think any nice girl should be ashamed of. But then that’s writers for you.
But I digress.
Matthew smiled as he saw the reactions round the table as each person wondered whether he or she was the only one who could now see disembodied zombie body parts lazily floating around our meeting room in a subtle red blood mist and hear the weird background murmur of the characters bemoaning their lot. And then finally what was left of them sat on either side of Debbie and used the one eye they had left between them to follow our proceedings.
Well, by the end of the exercise we had three times as many ‘people’ in the room as we had started with, but the newcomers were an unsavoury lot, dragged up from the depths of the depraved minds that had created them.
But the worst was yet to come.
David announced that he was going to read out a piece he had written in the style of some fellow called HP Lovecraft. I assumed with a name like that it was going to be slightly saucy and would reduce the weirdness and tension pervading the room.
It turns out that HP Lovecraft is not a soft-pornographer but a purveyor of scary horror… and David’s story out-Lovecrafted the man himself as he conjured up a nightmare in words. But of course Matthew’s magic transformed David’s fiction into reality within the room. Even our supernatural visitors seemed to be discomfited by the elemental forces which roiled around the room and pressed on our already hard-pressed temples.
I could hardly breathe by the end, and when the meeting was closed there was not the usual dallying. The room cleared quickly, and with audible sighs of relief as each person cleared the portal.
But as Treasurer I had to stay to do the collecting and counting… just me, and the apparitions, and Matthew.
He dropped his shiny £1 coin into my collecting saucer. “That was a good meeting,” he said. He looked around the room, and smiled happily.
“Please Matthew,” I begged. “Make them go away.”
He nodded. “Yes,” he said. “We can’t leave them here, can we?” He clapped his hands and his body seemed to expand to fill the room. “Begone!” he said. “Go back from whence you came!”
For a moment the room and my legs and my stomach and my brain seemed to be made of squishy-squashy rubber. There was a feeling of abject weakness and nausea but then as soon as I had felt it, it had gone… and there was only me and the meeting room and my saucer of shiny £1 coins and Matthew.
He looked at me anxiously. “Are you feeling alright?” he asked.
“Good,” he said. “I’ll see you next time.”
And then he left me alone in the suddenly normal room, but the damage that you have seen on my features and about the person of my person had already been done and could not be undone.
So heed my warning if you don’t want to end up like me. If you aspire to be a writer, by all means join a writers’ group. But whatever you do, for the sake of your sanity stay well away from Vale Royal Writers’ Group.
I only hope this message reaches you in time.