Thursday, March 10, 2016

Story: "Net Maski"

James Hopkins was the sort of writer Hollywood loves. You know the type. Starving artist, typing away at night in a dingy little one-room apartment while he worked a bland data-entry job for minimum wage. Unfortunately for Jim, Hollywood wasn't directing his life, so neither a tragic death and posthumous recognition nor a loving spouse and fulfilling career lay in his future. Instead he worked at data entry. At lunch he wrote one-act plays centered around themes of ennui and disillusionment. In other words, he had a Bachelor's in English.

Like Mozart, Jim maintained a rivalry with another practitioner of the craft. In this case, though, Jim was Saliere, deficient in both talent and recognition next to Chase "Dubra" Dubrovsky. Dubra wrote comedies where supervillains monologued about laundry. Audiences ate it up. Rather unwisely, Dubra sublet half of his apartment to Jim.

Some nights they sat and drank cheap beer and discussed playwriting. Other nights they sat and drank cheap beer and wrote. Jim paid his rent on time and quietly hated Dubra as he hated anyone who called the process of writing a satirical trilogy about the Conquistadores "a little side project."

Dubra's prolific and acclaimed writing rankled at Jim. That anyone could pitch an idea one week and deliver it the next seemed an injustice of cosmic proportion. At times Jim wondered if Dubra owed his soul to the Devil.

Jim's hometown--let it remain unnamed--hosted a yearly film and theater convention. Auteurs and amateurs from across the country flocked to submit their entries--one-act plays, indie films, rock operas, scripts. A victor in any category was assured international attention and Hollywood interest. Last year, Dubra won. Jim didn't even garner honorable mention for his best work yet, a meditation on man's inhumanity to man that Dubra described as "Interesting. A novel take on the genre."

Oh, how it festered inside him. Jim wanted, no, needed, revenge. Fate--or something like Fate--provided.

Jim toiled away at data entry. Specifically, cataloging collections of rare and ancient books. And in the tumbled shelves of a decript antiquarian, he found his poison. It was a play. An antiquated Russian play, but the name hung familiarly in his mind. The embossed cover, a simple image of a yellow snake, captivated him. Against all sense, he took the slim volume home.

Page by page, line by line, sometimes word by word, he translated archaic Russian. There were two acts, and three characters: Cassilda, Camilla, and The Stranger, who wore a mask.

One week before the deadline, Jim completed the translation. He had no time to proofread, only to submit. As a show of good-will, he offered a copy to Dubra, who was finishing his own work and promised to read it as soon as he could.

That night, Dubra stayed awake, drinking and relaxing from his own exertions. Jim retired early.

The scream woke him from dreams of Cyrillic characters. He found Dubra catatonic, mouthing the words "No mask... No mask..." Even when the lights blazed, causing Jim to shield his eyes, Dubra did not flinch. The playwright's eyes were milky white.

Smiling, Jim bent and collected the pages of his master work, brushing a loving hand over the title page: "The King in Yellow."