Chapter One: The Rejection Letter
Present Day - South Perdition, Florida
The grandfather clock chimed then struck seven times. Thin beams of morning light entered the dark room through a small window. A layer of dust covered furniture and floated in the air. Junior had been sitting in his recliner all night. Staring—unblinking— through the dust particles at his television set, the morning’s depressing news blurred before unfocused twitching eyes. The reporter’s voice sounded a million miles away. The last shower and shave he had was five days ago. Unemployed for over three years now. Feeling numb, worthless. Watching the clock’s pendulum sway back and forth. Thinking about hanging himself.
Junior had written a novel, a masterpiece. It had consumed the last three years of his life. Thinking it was genius, over one hundred literary agents thought it was a flop (or at least his query package was a flop, no literary agent had ever requested to read his entire manuscript). They just didn’t get it, it came from a real place they could never relate to. Each rejection letter pushed him closer to the edge. At first he took them personally, they were painful. Then, the letters just stopped coming, but the pain they caused continued. Months later, out of nowhere, “The Rejection Letter” arrived, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back—making his mind snap. That book was his last hope . . . and it floated away like dust. That was the last of the old man, his last dream, he was now hollow. Junior was dead inside.
“Susannah!” he called for his wife, shattering the silence into static.
The grandfather clock chimed then struck eight times. An hour had passed by and he was still staring at the television set without seeing it. The beams of light and floating dust disappeared as the black shadows began to climb across the pale walls with time. Staring at the vodka bottles under the wall shelf of creepy bier steins. Sober for over five years now. The pendulum seemed to swing faster, keeping pace with his panicked heartbeat. Thinking about drinking himself to death.
Three faint but long beeps echoed inside of the kitchen. The coffee was brewed and waiting to sober up his thoughts. The clothes he was wearing were soaked with sweat. His ass itched and he stunk. Feeling unhealthy. Starting to get very, very fat. The house was so quiet it was loud, a ringing in his ears, static like a million buzzing insects driving him mad.
“Susannah!” he called for his wife. There was still no answer, just the terrible insect static. She had left this cruel world a year ago today.
The grandfather clock chimed then struck nine times. Another hour behind him. The television set still a jumbled blur of colors. The black shadows were a little higher and stretched a little further across the pale walls—time altering them. The pendulum swung in slow motion. Dozed off. Had a dream—his only dream (his latest novel had been published and had made the New York Times Bestsellers list while he was simultaneously being awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the Nobel Peace Prize for only God knows what).
Three faint but long beeps echoed inside of the kitchen. The coffee maker was shutting down and waking him up. Too depressed to stand up and walk the “Twelve Steps” to get a cup. Thoughts of his masterpiece being critiqued by literary agents who laughed as they thought up clever rejection letters had drained all of his physical, mental, and spiritual energy.
“Susannah!” he called for his wife. Again, no answer, only the incessant insect static haunting his eardrums. Her body’s mutilated pieces had been buried in their backyard a year ago today.
The grandfather clock chimed then struck ten times. Lightning flashed outside. It was raining, when it had started, he could not remember. The satellite dish had lost reception, the television screen now a solid blue, he was still staring at it unaware of the change. The black shadows on the pale walls disappeared as the light was drawn out of the dusty house and into the electric storm. The pendulum swung as lightning reflected from it. Junior knew he would soon commit suicide, he just didn’t know how yet.
Junior recalled the pile of “Smart-Ass Rejection Letters” and shuttered humiliated. They just didn’t get it, how could they? They were from New York City and California, rich and out of touch, all looking for some profitable book to conform to their cookie-cutter business formula and to become an imaginary reflection of themselves as if they had actually written the damn thing. Today’s literary agents are today’s literary censors, all unable to think outside of a typical kiddy novel. Too “important” and too busy playing the superstar agent at writers’ conferences to take the time to read, to appreciate art, to even consider a piece of dark experimental fiction. They were simple, thinking with their pocketbooks and egos, not their hearts and souls. They were dead inside.
“Susannah!” he called for his wife. No answer, only the acid rain rhythmically pelting the tattered roof.
The grandfather clock chimed then struck eleven times. The rain had stopped and the black shadows were crawling across the pale walls again. The television screen resumed its colorful blur and still sounded a million miles away . . . reception restored. The pendulum hung unmoving—stuck in time. Still sitting in his recliner, still staring at the television set through a floating veil of dust, still thinking about killing himself. A continuous thunder rolled across the still stormy sky.
The smart-ass rejection letters, long removed from the rusty mailbox in his front yard and long deleted from the electronic mailbox inside of his outdated computer, were all filed away forever inside of his fragile schizophrenic mind. Each rejection letter seemed to be screaming: DO IT! DO IT! KILL YOURSELF!
“Susannah!—Susannah!” No answer, just the terrible insect static.
The grandfather clock chimed then began to strike. Junior slowly stood up, his stiff body hunched over like an arthritic old man’s. Pushing the tall German clock over, it smashed broken onto the floor before it struck the seventh time. Sounds of wood, glass, metal, and kaput gears assaulted his ears. Time continued unbroken.
Shuffling down the hallway, pushing through stale air full of dust formed from his pile of old rejection letters, he went into the hall bathroom. The old man urinated, and without flushing or washing his hands stood in front of the dirty mirror staring at himself. His twitching eyes burned and were watery and bloodshot. His thinning hair stood up in a tall mess—Einstein-like. Needed to shave, but too depressed, the energy just wasn’t there. So unclean, he was uncomfortable in his own skin, yet he couldn’t shower. Junior did not recognize himself.
“Susannah!” he screamed at the unfamiliar reflection.
The grandfather clock still chimed and struck, but it was only echoes in his mind. From behind dusty curtains his twitching eyes peeked out of the small window, looking left then right, always paranoid someone might see him. When no one was around, he scurried outside to his mailbox, quickly grabbed the mail, then scurried back inside the house . . . hopefully unseen. Sorting through his mail, all past due bills, not one letter from a curious agent requesting to read his masterpiece. Then, at the bottom of the pile, a summons for jury duty.
Where the hell is Susannah? he thought confused.
Stressed out because of the summons, he nodded off in his recliner until the following morning.
His twitching eyes slowly opened, the depression was waiting for him like it did every morning, another “typical day” started to unfold.
Rays of light revealed floating dust.
The black shadows began to climb across the pale walls with time.
The grandfather clock chimed and struck—in his memory.
Three faint but long beeps echoed inside of the kitchen—or was it in his mind?
The coffee was brewed and waiting—maybe.
Shuffling into the hall bathroom, he urinated, and without flushing or washing his hands stood in front of the dirty mirror. The old man staring at himself, inches away from his unfamiliar reflection, for how long he did not know.
The last shower and shave he had was six days ago.
Unemployed for over three years now.
Feeling numb, worthless.
Peeking out of the small living room window, paranoid twitching eyes looking left then right.
Junior scurried to the mailbox—then scurried back inside, terrified someone might have seen him. His reward for such daring? Only past due bills and being exposed to the awful sunlight.
Junior knew he would soon commit suicide, he just didn’t know how yet.
“Susannah!” he cried out. Still no answer. Having forgot that he had murdered her and buried her mutilated pieces in their backyard a year and a day ago. Forgot “The Rejection Letter” made them scream, made him snap. Forgot he did it, forgot he killed her.
His thoughts were becoming scattered, disconnected, like static, like these sentences. His actions, words, thoughts, memories, and dreams had all become one muddled blur.
Junior knew he would soon kill “The Literary Agent,” the one who sent him “The Scathing Rejection Letter E-mail,” he just didn’t know how yet. Somewhere deep in his subconscious, he knew “She” had been the last straw, “She” was the one that pushed him over the edge and made him snap, made him kill his wife.
Back in his recliner, he dozed off while staring at the television set’s colorful blur. Forgetting to fill up his little dog’s food and water bowls—again.
Junior startled awake, a rooster was crowing outside the small window, the insect static being pecked at like invisible grub. The recliner was hurting his sweaty back. The grandfather clock was down, broken.
What time is it? What day is it? What year is it? Where is Susannah? he thought.
Where is my Susannah?
Thumping sounds on the roof, like someone running back and forth, then clawing sounds on worn shingles.
“Susannah, is that you? Come down from there you crazy old bitch!” he blurted wearily. No answer, only more clawing sounds. Junior had forgotten that the giant turkey vultures have been landing on his roof every morning for over a year now.
There were empty vodka bottles on the floor beside his recliner, he couldn’t remember when he started drinking again.
Then, just for a second, the memory of “The Hurtful Rejection Letter” from that vile literary agent flashed through his deranged mind. Followed by that feeling, that cold chill he felt the first time he read “The Rejection Letter E-mail.” Never wanting to feel that cold chill again, believing the only way to make it go away would be to kill its source, kill its author.
Looking over at the massive pile of rejection letters. Having saved every letter and printed every e-mail. Junior focused on only ONE.
That bitch! he thought enraged. Beginning to remember . . .
Junior knew he would soon kill that literary agent, he just didn’t know how yet.