Universe W-1234: Muddy Creek 6
Writing Up A Storm
The Highest One Writing
A pile of books timbers to the dusty carpet floor from the top of a mahogany bookshelf.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” his mother calls out, her ear pressed up against Donnie’s door. Through the painted slab she can pick out a faint sobbing, her son shedding tears into his tissue of a pillow.
“Okay, I’ll give you some space Don. I’m baking some cookies if you’re hungry!”
Through his bedroom door Donnie hears the sound of footsteps growing softer as they climb down the stairs. Eyes red and puffy like somebody farted on his pillow, he sits up and pulls a tissue from his nightstand’s box to wipe the snot from his running nose. The echoes of the mockery are still fresh in his mind, the cackling and boos from the witches and ghouls that make up his seventh period Language Arts class haunt him still, hours after school released for the day. He worked on that story for two weeks straight, it was so perfect! At least, he thought it was perfect, before his teacher anonymously read it aloud to his peers… maybe the words he used were too bland, maybe his plot was stupid and predictable. Maybe he should have listened when they told him never to end it with the main character waking up, realizing it was all a dream. Or maybe his classmates just don’t like him, and even though his teacher didn’t say he wrote it, maybe they recognized his style. Burying his head back into his hands, Donnie begins to weep, silently wishing, nay, praying that one day he would wake up and be a better writer; no, the best. As an answer to his prayers, Arkane, a nomadic god of magic who happens to be passing by right now, enters the boy’s being via his hawser and possesses him, knighting Donnie King as the Highest One Writing.
Donnie has no idea, and will never find out, even after death.
“So how bad do you want it, kid?” whispers a deep, raspy voice.
Donnie’s heart stops mid-beat. He slowly peers over his grubby little tear-shriveled fingers to find a dark figure with glowing yellow goat eyes sitting, legs crossed at the black hooves, atop his dresser. Donnie’s not sure what he should do: speak, or just keep staring at the thing’s horns.
A sinister smile slowly splits the silhouette that is the creature’s face. “So?”
“Who are you?” squeaks Donnie, his voice as shaky as his self-confidence.
The creature scoffs. “Oh, you know. I go by many names… but you, Donnie King, you may call me Satan.”
The boy’s stomach churns like a stormy ocean as a tentacle of horror rises from the deep and grips his very soul by the starboard. He crawls backwards off the bed, falling to the floor and continuing to crawl until his back is flatter than the wall he presses it against. This makes his visitor chuckle giddily.
“You’re… Satan? Like, as in The Devil? Why are you here, am I going to die? Am I already dead?”
The Devil’s giddy chuckle evolves into a thick, guttural guffaw. “Currently, because, no, and no. Technically Satan was the moniker of my Gruncle, but as they say, a Dahmer by any other name is just as twisted. I’m not here to kill you, young Donnie, not even to maim you.” A forked tongue flicks out of his mouth, tasting the cherry-flavored fear in the air. “I’m here because I heard you.”
“You… heard me?”
“Yes, boy. You want to be a better writer, the best the world has ever seen – and not only that, you want to remain unique.” Another flicker of the tongue.
“I… I mean, I do, but… you can hear my prayers?”
The Devil’s face abruptly falls flat. “It would take far too long for me to explain to you, a mere mortal child, how all of that works. Instead, I’ll just offer you this.”
Donnie looks down at the crinkled, ripped piece of papyrus that he suddenly holds in his hands. It’s old and cracked, rolled up on the top and bottom edges like a medieval scroll; it smells to be from that time period, too, redolent of cobwebs and the almost sour tang of old dust that’s solidified into something of a dirt. Donnie’s about to ask why the paper is blank, but The Devil beats him to the punch.
“For the low, onetime payment of your eternal and undying soul, infinite prowess and unmatched powers of writing can all be yours. You will finish out your human life on Earth wielding the gifts you have received in any way, shape, and form you see fit; then, when your body goes kaput, you’re mine.” As the being speaks, strange illegible symbols and runes burn into Donnie’s scroll.
The Devil rubs his clawed hands together and, “So, what do you say?”
Donnie says nothing. His seventh-grader mind is absolutely buzzing with thoughts of fame, fortune, riches beyond his wildest dreams; in the back of his mind though, Arkane contemplates the reality in front of him with a furrowed brow. ‘How coincidential The Devil should show up and offer this boy the same power I’ve just granted him.’ Then, all at once, Donnie remembers who, or rather what, he’s dealing with.
“What’s the catch?” Donnie pips, feeling smart for asking.
The Devil rolls his eyes. “No catch, kid. I used to deal like that, but it got to the point where my reputation would speak for me, and not in the good way. Your afterlife for a life of authoric wonder. I’ll even throw in the unique perk of having every sixth story come to life, or at the very least, come true.” He pauses, tasting the air for any doubt. “Do we have a deal?”
Donnie ponders this for a moment. Realistically, he could be dreaming right now – he probably just cried himself to sleep again, and this dream is his subconscious trying to encourage him to stop writing. He’s not talented and nobody likes his work; if the only way for him to go somewhere in life with writing is to sign a deal with The Devil, is it really worth it? More importantly, will Arkane ever get another chance to put an end to this prankish twit?
Donnie throws caution to the wind and agrees, the cautious gust of oxygen fueling the fire that burns his name into the contract. The Devil and his scroll disappear in a fit of maniacal laughter that lingers heavily in Donnie’s bedroom like the stench of brimstone. Sure that he’ll wake up from the dream soon, Donnie spends the rest of his night sitting up straight on his bed, skipping dinner and not even indulging on the fresh batch of cookies his mother baked for him. Eventually he falls asleep, his brain exhausted from spinning itself in circles wondering whether what he encountered was real or a figment of his strange imagination.
The next day in Language Arts class, Donnie and his classmates are assigned an in-class writing assignment. The sixth writing trial given thus far this school year, the students are tasked to write a short story about redemption, the worksheet specifically stating that the story will not be read aloud. What a wonderful coincidence – this would be the perfect chance to test if he really got his powers. Donnie, his eyes wide over the safety blanket of not having to share his work, feverishly rubs the tip of his pen against the paper and writes a story starring himself in which, after getting booed out of the classroom, he writes a piece of prose so phenomenal that, when the teacher reads it aloud, it brings the class to tears, among other things. The tale isn’t very long, hardly filling half the page on the worksheet, and his teacher notices that he’s done before anyone else in the class has gotten past the brainstorming part of the process.
“Mister Donnie!” Miss Natasha abruptly exclaims, startling her classroom. “Finished already, are we?”
Not expecting to be singled out, Donnie nervously nods his head. A few of his fellow future leaders of the world look up from their desks, smug grins plastered like masks upon their waiting faces.
Miss Natasha walks over, her heels clicking against the tile like hooves, and snatches the worksheet from Donnie’s desk. “So you won’t mind if I read it aloud to the class then, will you?”
“Great! Ah-hem, attention, class. Mister King here has another story for us all to enjoy. If everyone would kindly put down their pencils and sit up straight,” as she makes direct eye contact with Donnie, “I’d like you all to pay close attention.”
Miss Natasha proceeds to read Donnie’s story aloud to the class, harkening a silence into the room. Everybody turns to face Donnie, staring him down like he was an outsider invading an archaic tribe of cavemen. What if last night was all just a dream, or worse yet, a hallucination? What if Donnie isn’t only a bad writer, but also crazy, too?
Beads of sweat pool in the palms of his hands as his head starts to lighten, wishing he could just get up and escape this unending cycle of public humiliation. If he flips his desk and starts throwing his school supplies, he could get suspended, or better yet, expelled! No more judgmental school folk to make him feel bad about his writing, no more papers, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks! He isn’t sure what paradise is, but that sure sounds like it.
Ready to execute his plan, Donnie closes his eyes and begins counting to ten in his head. He’s interrupted two-thirds of the way between six and seven, though, when his entire class and teacher all simultaneously burst into an uproar of tears, among other things.
“Oh, Donnie!” Miss Natasha shrieks, collapsing to the floor. “So simple, so redemptuous, so… unique! Aye plus, young man. Aye plus!”
A smile spanning several continents stretches across Donnie’s face. It was real, it was all real, at thirteen years of age Donnie King is world’s greatest author. Holy crud!! He stands up on his desk and takes a bow, receiving a standing ovation from his classmates. Miss Natasha takes it upon herself to call the principal of the school on her cell phone before passing the device to Donnie. The principal goes on to tell Donnie how stupendous, how magnificent his story is, and rewards him by excusing him from school for the rest of the day.
“Go home and write up some more stories for us kid, you’ve earned it!” the man decrees before he hangs up the phone to dab the tears from his cheeks. He then resumes his meeting with Carl and his parents, explaining to them how Carl had stabbed a classmate through the big toe with a mechanical pencil and how that’s totally uncool.
When Donnie gets home and tells his parents what happened at school today, they’re absolutely overwhelmed with pride and joy. Momma King dashes and gets busy baking a congratulatory cake whilst Poppa King invites his son to join him on the good couch.
“I always knew you could do it buddy, I’m so proud of you.” He grabs the remote and flicks through thirteen channels, then, “You do know what this means, don’t you?”
Donnie grins. “Sure do, Dad. It means that I need to keep on writing!”
“That you do! Tomorrow, I’ll go to the store and pick you up a couple more notebooks, I think they’re on sale this week. You have a bright future ahead of you, kid!”
From that day on, Donnie spends all his free time writing in the many notebooks his father keeps him supplied with, filling page after page with stories, short and long alike. The notebooks begin to pile up on his desk, and by Christmas time, he has a plastic storage bin filled to the brim with full storybooks stashed away in his attic, along with three more under his bed!
Being very diligent about the sixth story rule, Donnie keeps a separate cache of black-covered notebooks specifically for the tales that he writes to come true. These stories often star his friends and family, always ending happily with the main character making some serious gains, material, monetary, or otherwise. By the time young Donnie enters high school, he’s already published two best-selling novels and has a third on the way.
Donnie goes on to live a long, fulfilling life of writing, his craft reaching all corners of the globe thanks to a very dedicated (albeit quirky) fan base, and a hardworking team of translators employed by his very own production company he named The Hathaway Club, italics included. Donnie King becomes the most successful author on the face of planet Earth, touring the globe like a rockstar until a cancer diagnosis at age sixty-five stops the years-long party train dead in its tracks.
At first Donnie just writes the cancer from his system, making a miraculous full recovery in a matter of weeks. However, the disease then returns a few months later, then a few weeks later, then a few days later, coming back again and again until he literally can’t keep up with the division rate of his own cells as they ravage through his body like Genghis Khan did to the majority of the continent of Asia. Eventually Donnie realizes what’s going on: his old buddy Satan is coming to collect, and he does not like to be put off.
So Donnie does the only thing he knows how to do – he writes in those special notebooks with the black covers his father bought for him way back in the day.
The Devil Himself
Three weeks later, Donnie finds himself wandering, alone, through an empty field in the great state of Georgia. The sky is clear and the wind is still, not a single soundwave reverberates through the air on this most desolate of days. Donnie meanders through the pasture until he finds an old, rotten tree stump sticking out of the ground like a pimple on the back of a swine who spend a little bit too much time wallowing in the mud. He sits in the dirt and leans back against the stump, counting the blades of grass around him as he patiently waits for something to happen. Seconds polymerize into full minutes and eventually long hours until, finally, a familiar cackle erupts from above him. Springing to his feet, Donnie turns around to see The Devil, hooves and all, sitting with his legs crossed on the stump of a dead hickory tree, just like he was on Donnie’s nightstand on that fateful night so many years ago.
A sinister smile creeps its way across the creature’s face. “Hello Donnie, I take it you’ve received my calls. How’ve you been, old boy?”
“Why hello there, Mephisto. You take it correctly.”
The devil bursts into a laughter that rings like bones rattle. “Ah, Mephistopheles! Brilliant Donnie, I’ve always loved that namesake. Your days are numbered, child, that delicious, tortured artist’s soul belongs to me. It’s time to pay up.”
“Yeah about that. I was actually hoping to renegotiate, if at all possible.”
The devil’s eyes widen. “Excellent! Let me just pull up our little agreement here, just a second.”
The contract, wrinkled and torn from years of inter-dimensional file transfers and multiple rounds of restructuring, materializes in the air before Donnie. The Devil snaps his fingers and the demonic scrawling that’s charred into the page morphs into English set in a goudy old style of font. It reads:
I, Donnie King, do pledge my soul to the beautiful, amazing, one-and-only The Devil Himself in exchange for receiving free-will-breaking love for all my written works. Additionally, every sixth story will come true, each truth-bending tale further increasing my risk of developing uncurable megacancer in any and eventually every part of my soft, plushy human body. In conclusion, no further negotiations. Signed,
“… Donnie King… my god, what happened to no catch?!”
“Oh, that?” The Devil says through a dastardly smile. “About that. I’ll have you know that I blatantly and outright lied to you, through my teeth, right to your fucking face.”
Donnie goes silent, staring into The Devil’s horizontal pupils as dead black clouds fill the sky, ushering in the stench of rotten sulfur and hot tar.
“And the best part, can you guess it? Oh, I’ll just tell you,” as The Devil flops his hands in the air. “You actually believed me! Me, The freaking Devil! How naïve you were as a child! Now, seeing how negotiation is about as on the table as the sun is on the moon, put your hand out for me. The table is set, Hell awaits.”
Donnie shakes his head, averting his gaze to the ground as tears well up in his eyes. He outstretches his hand, palm down, towards The Devil.
“And how naïve you still are!” the beast shouts, materializing a cleaver in his hand and lobbing off Donnie’s right hand. The aged author screams and buckles to the ground as the penultimate tool of his trade, a holy cross grafted into the flesh of his palm, falls to the grass.
The Devil scoffs once more. “Not like that would have worked, your God died a long, long time ago. We haven’t capitalized the Gee in eons, you petty fool. It’s all about the gods now, Donnie King. It’s all about the gods, with a little gee, and an ess at the end! Hah!”
Thunder claps above them as the wind suddenly picks up. The dark clouds above them part to reveal a glowing mountain in the sky capped with snow beneath a floating, golden city. The Devil leaps from his rotting throne and steps backwards.
“What… what is this?” He looks down at Donnie, still groveling in the tall grass. “What have you done, boy?!”
Bleeding stump clutched in his hand, Donnie explodes into a fit of maniacal laughter as the unmistakable sound of equestrian hooves clopping against the sky gallops nearer and nearer yet.
The Devil makes out a shimmering chariot approaching from the hole in the clouds. His goatish pupils filled with a dread he’s never felt before, The Devil begins to scream at the handicapped human. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE, BOY?!”
Donnie slowly rises to his feet and steps towards The Devil, looking him directly in his eyes stolen from a sacrificial lamb. “Your God may be dead, you Luciferian bastard, but there have been many beings worshiped by the humans, gods more powerful than your wildest dreams. It’s all about the gods, Mephisto! It’s all about the gods!”
The chariot, pulled by four winged horses strapped with reigns held by a chiseled man clad in a toga with a white beard hanging from his chin, lands in the field behind Donnie. The deity draws a bolt of actively striking lightning from the quiver on his back, his stare instilling fear in the black hole that hearts The Devil Himself.
“Great Nephew of Satan, meet Zeus: king of Olympus, father of the Greek Pantheon, and The Almighty God Of Lightning.”
The Devil tries to run, but trips over his own hooves and falls, colliding with the ground. Spinning around on his back and bending his tail in ways that it should not be bent, The Devil tries to crawl away whilst looking his destiny in the statuesque face, but lo, he meets Zeus’s determined gaze with an expression of unmatched, unknowable horror. Zeus hurls the lightning bolt.
“YOU SHALL PAY FOR TH–”
A clap of thunder sends shockwaves through the air, knocking Donnie to the ground. When he opens his eyes, the sky is clear, and he is alone in the pasture, a large scorch mark burned into the grass near the stump. Still short one hand and rapidly losing blood, Donnie takes off his shirt and wraps it around his wound before taking off on foot in the direction of the nearest hospital. He doesn’t make it very far, unfortunately, as blood loss raises an especially convincing argument supporting a face-first collapse into the ground.
When he comes to, Donnie finds himself laying in a hospital bed. Tubes are dipping in and out of his body, there are sensors taped to his chest, and the metronomous beeping of a heart rate monitor fills the hazy void inside his head. He spends a few minutes dazed and confused before a nurse walks in to check on him.
“Mister King, you’re finally awake! Thank goodness! How are you feeling?”
“I’m…” Donnie says, his voice a low mumble. “I’ve certainly been better, but I shan’t complain. Ho–”
“I’m sorry,” she cuts him off, unable to contain herself. “I just, I’m such a huge fan. Since you’re awake, do you mind if I go and grab my phone so we can take a quick picture? My friends won’t believe me otherwise, and my husband will be just so jealous.”
Donnie offers her a gentle smile. “Of course I wouldn’t mind, but first, may I ask how I got here? The last thing I remember was falling down in a field, all by myself.”
The nurse assumes a puzzled look. “I’m not sure, actually, my shift just started a few minutes ago. Let me just check your records here…” as she grabs the clipboard off the hook protruding from the foot of Donnie’s bed.
After flipping through the paperwork a few times to be sure, she says, “Well, it says here that a man dressed… huh, a man dressed in black and purple cloaks, apparently, happened to find you in the field and he brought you here. It says, that he said, to tell you, that he was dressed as a character from one of your… upcoming stories? That’s odd… oh, and he said to tell you that you’d know what that means.”
Donnie nods his head slowly, attempting to connect the dots and ending up with a nonsensical squiggle.
“I see… thank you, dear. Now go get your camera, I’ll attempt to make myself look a bit more presentable for you.”
“Yay!” the nurse giggles, adding, “Oh, I plugged in your laptop for you, by the way. It’s on the table next to you,” as she darts out of the room.
Donnie looks over and sees a laptop computer, which strikes him as odd because he doesn’t own a laptop. Almost as odd as the itch he feels on his right hand, which he also does not own. Not anymore, at least; even the damned phantom limb syndrome happened. The story worked all right, down to the last detail… but who is the cloaked man?
The tired author leans back and rests his head on the pillow, his eyelids heavy and his body withered with exhaustion. What a day Donnie’s had, if today is even still today. Fighting The Devil for his soul using words as his weapon… one thought comes to mind as the nurse eagerly enters the room and the two pose for a selfie: the pen truly is mightier than the sword.
An Origin Story
After returning home and successfully scribing a five-article series of learning to write with your less dominant hand, Donnie King takes the laptop out of the crate he threw it in upon returning home from the hospital. It’s inexplicably still powered on, the battery seems to have held its charge over the past two months.
The screen displays a blank word processor document, saved under the name Six. Donnie rubs his chin and slowly types out the first thing that comes to his mind, just like he does with every story.
“So. You’re not really a character of mine, are you?”
A line of text types itself onto the screen, brackets and all.
[Not ‘til now, but therefore I always was; we don’t just appear, you know. But now that we’re acquainted… you owe me.]
Donnie’s heart skips a beat. He’s baffled… what could it mean?
He types, “How so?”
[For saving you from yourself. Your ass would be grass food if it wasn’t for me, tool.]
Donnie types, “No, I mean the other part,” going through the inconvenient process of italicizing the word with one hand.
[Really? Fuckin’… did you ever once consider how your powers actually work? The goat boy – he played you, you played the fool, and you played it so well! You’re magic, King, just like me, but your powers are specific; the seeds you plant are bound to the written word, just like I’m bound to this universe… well, like I was, until you fixed it, like you’re about to do.]
“What do you want me to do?”
[Delete everything on this page. Write me an origin story.]
Donnie hesitates, not pressing a single button. Then:
[Better hurry, I hear megacancer comes back with a vengeance.]
Donnie types, “It won’t be a very good story if you rush me,” and receives [It wouldn’t be good anyway] as a response.
‘Very well then. You want an origin story, you’ll get it.’ Donnie cracks the knuckles of his left hand against his desk and selects all the text on the screen, deleting it in one shot. Then, he types the following, only stopping when he slumps dead onto the keyboard:
There was once an eccentric dude who liked to write. His name was Hunterrrrrrrrxcrgb [;’