The Editor

She loved Shakespeare and Doyle. She had spent a year of her life in Sherlock’s London one summer. She hadn’t explained how that was possible yet. All I knew was she was the nicest, most peculiar person in the class, and I was assigned to give a poetry presentation with her. 

It was a cool fall day and we were walking off campus to her apartment which was nearby. It would be a convenient place to work. She read all the time but didn’t talk much so we walked in silence. I was pretty glad to be working with her since I knew for sure that she had a serious interest in the topic, and therefore brilliant grades. I decided to break the ice by telling her so.

“I’m really glad we get to work together,” I said.

She looked genuinely surprised, wide eyed like a little girl. “You are?” she asked.

“Yes.” I laughed but only briefly in case I’d offend her. “We have a few classes together and you always say the most interesting things, but I never see you outside of class.”

“Yes, well my other interests keep me very busy.”

Her hand was in her pocket and I could hear a faint clicking. I had seen the trinket she was fidgeting with before. It was an odd little metal thing that fit easily in her hand. The top part reminded me of a pocket watch with no face so you could see the gears working within. It had an amber cover she snapped open and shut with her thumb making the clicking noise.

Our conversation had lapsed. The few occasions I remembered talking to her all she did was ask questions and it was more like a census than a conversation. She’d be walking by your desk and see a book or a magazine or a new cd and she’d ask what it was and what was your favorite part about it and what if it were like this instead of that? She’d note it all in a small book that she kept with a larger notebook in a satchel she wore constantly. 

I tried a question to liven up the dead silence that had fallen between us as we walked. “What’s that thing you’re clicking?”

She stopped walking and pulled it out. She looked at it as if she was seeing it for the first time. “It’s called a blotter. My father gave it to me.”

“Oh, that’s cool. Is he an inventor or engineer?” 

“He’s dead.” She stuffed it back in her pocket and resumed walking.

“Oh sorry,” I mumbled.

We reached her red brick apartment building a moment later. I thought it was a very nice place for a college student. It would be impossible on my budget.

“Well, here we go,” she said as if unlocking the door to the building was opening up another world. 

We went in and oddly enough I found I was holding my breath as I looked behind us at the door snapping shut. I reminded myself to breathe normally. I’d turned to follow her up the stairs when a figure suddenly came around the banister making me jump.

“Hi,” a completely normal looking young man said to her. “I was just at your door.”

“Hmmm,” she said as if this required deep thought. 

“Who’s this? A friend?” He sounded optimistic and smiled approvingly.

She pursed her lips as if he ought to know better. “This is Bethany,” she said. “Bethany, this is Lyle.”

He walked with us to her apartment door and pulled off a post-it note. “I wanted to invite you to dinner with a few friends. You should both come. We’re going to Michelangelo’s, my treat.”

“I’d love to,” I said, hoping I didn’t agree too quickly.  I loved the food, but it was slightly out of my budget.

“I don’t think I’m free,” she said, letting us inside. The place was classic and very clean like a model for show rather than living. Eventually I’d see all her rooms had hardwood floors and were painted in pale tones. An open passageway led from the living room to the kitchen and three more rooms in back. 

“You’re not busy,” he said.

“I might be. You know how important it is to me.”

“I know you need a break. You’ve got to start living your life. The one you have here with real people.” He flopped down on the couch, his arms spread out for emphasis.

She glared at him for a moment but didn’t say anything. I stood awkwardly at the door.

She waved at me to follow her. “Come on Bethany. Let’s get started.” 

“I’ll wait,” he said, picking up a book off the coffee table. That was when I realized there was no TV in the room. “Our reservation is in two hours,” he added as she led me through the apartment.

Through the kitchen to the right was the study. I didn’t even ask what kind of person my age would have already invested in a “study.” She had a bookshelf in each room I had seen so far but this one had each wall lined with row after row of books, and not dime store novels either. A table at the center was fairly covered with papers but I didn’t see a computer. 

“Have a seat,” she said as she got to work clearing a space for us. When she had finished she pulled out a chair to take a seat by me, then changed her mind. She went back to the pile of papers at the other end of the table, looked at them frowning but didn’t change anything then went back to sit by me. “Anyway,” she said like we had been mid-conversation, “I think we should start with punctuation.”

“Punctuation?” I repeated. I couldn’t think of any less interesting point about the already painfully dull 18th century poem. 

“Punctuation makes all the difference. ‘Unhappy we the setting sun deplore. So glorious once. Yet ah— it shines no more.’” She dramatically quoted the famous line and I smiled. “Yes, very entertaining,” she agreed, “but will you be thinking about this later. Just before you fall asleep at night and everything’s dark and still as death itself, would that delivery—that punctuation— bring that line to your mind?”

I went to sleep with the sounds of adolescent men roughhousing and music meant to drown out the sound of traffic nearby, but I got her point.

“Now imagine if it were just a comma here instead. Then you’d have just a breath before the next line. Perhaps it’s the last one or perhaps the beginning of a cycle. Or what if you have an exclamation instead of a pause? ‘Yet ah! It shines no more.’ It changes the meaning, because now we have a cry or a plea.”

I furrowed my brow as I was getting into it. “Yeah, I guess that makes a big difference.”

She smiled knowingly. “Literature changes the world.” 

I didn’t know then how well she knew the truth of her words. I reached into my bag and pulled out my tablet so I could look up the poem and take notes. A pencil case was in the way and a newspaper I had picked up early that morning.

“What’s that?” she said reading the title of an article I hadn’t yet read.

I stopped digging around in my oversized sack and read the title out loud. “

“ ‘Double homicide alarms north-side neighborhood’. I haven’t read it.” 

She quickly scanned the article and visibly tensed. “I have to go.”

“But we just got started.”

She wasn’t listening. She had her satchel and jacket and was out of the room. I hurried to follow her. 

“Hey, where is she going?” Lyle asked as she brushed by him.

I shrugged. He shook his head. “Let’s go. Hopefully it won’t take too long.”

I followed them woefully unaware of how deep a rabbit hole I was being sucked into. We were on Cannon street. Cannon street began downtown and the further you traveled down the street it appeared to be less well maintained to put things nicely. Street lamps were burnt out and traffic signs were covered in graffiti. Stores all became convenience and armed with barred windows. I was huddled pretty near Lyle considering I had just met him. We waited on the sidewalk near a dirty narrow alley about a foot away from my poetry buddy while she talked to a woman I was pretty sure was a prostitute…unless the lady just liked tight clothing and killer heels and trying to get the attention of passing motorists was a hobby. Lyle was frowning but made no effort to stop the conversation.

“So does she do this often?” I asked.

He turned as if he had forgotten I was there. Then he tried to smile reassuringly. “Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. It’s all part of her project. No one bothers us.”

“Project? Is that why she’s always asking questions?”

“Uh huh, sort of. Come on, let's see how much longer.”

We moved in closer behind her, but she didn’t acknowledge us. She seemed discontent with the answer to whatever she had been asking about. “So how many of you have been attacked?” she asked.

“Three on our block but I’ve heard stories from the other girls. Only one survived.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

She made a sucking sound on her teeth. “Didn’t know you cared about that stuff. Nobody else does.”

“Hmmm. Anything else you can tell me?” The working girl shook her head. “Can I meet the survivor?”

“I already told you the whole thing. She ain’t gonna want to talk about it. And,” she seemed to look me and Lyle up and down at this point, “she won’t trust you and your friends.”

My new friend meditated on this a moment then reached in her pack and pulled out a sheet of paper. “Tell her I want to talk to her,” she said as she sketched on the paper. “Any setting in which she’s comfortable. Be sure to show her this.” She handed the paper over. “I put my contact info on there too.”

  “What’s this?” the other woman asked about the image.

“She’ll know.” Then she shook hands with the woman, and I thought I saw something slip from hand to hand. “Thank you for your time.”

The restaurant was superb. The friends Lyle had invited were already there and he had told me I could invite a couple of my own as well. Partially as an apology and I think partially in the hopes one of them would catch her interest. They did not. She sat through the entire dinner looking detached. Her gaze wandered and she sat her arms crossed alternatively taking small unenthusiastic bites of spinach lasagna. Her favorite Lyle said. My friend Casey, a literature and history buff, was comparing political banter of the 1812 war with something the president had said in an address two nights before.

“What do you think about that?” Lyle asked, trying to engage her in the conversation.

“I think I should be you know where,” she said, and the arms were crossed again.

He gave a strained smile. “Sweet heart your books will always be there.”

Somehow I didn’t buy that all these pauses and tense looks were about books.

She huffed quietly and sat through the rest of the meal. Eventually she managed to get involved, smiled, commented and enjoyed herself. Or she knew how to put on a good performance. I couldn’t help watching her sometimes when she laughed and joked so differently from the girl I’d known so far. Where was the line between reality and fiction for her? Too bad people don’t come with a dust jacket; I could have really used a hint about her and what she was up to. 

We had an appointment for the next day since our first meeting had been so abruptly halted. I was outside her house at said time but before I could ring the bell she pulled the door open and stepped out.

“Hi,” I said and smiled.

“Oh,” she seemed taken aback. “I’m so sorry Beth. I completely forgot. I hope you don’t fail because of me.”

I doubted that. The things she came up with off the top of her head in the middle of class would be enough for an A.

“We still have time,” I said. “Where are you going?”

She cleared her throat and hesitated to tell me. “Well it’s like this, that young woman that was attacked has agreed to meet me.”

“The prostitute’s friend?”

“Her name’s Tiffany,” she said defensively. “They’re always attacked first, and nobody cares, but eventually it spreads to all of us. I have to go. She might not talk if she reflects on it too long.”

“You can’t go by yourself.”

“Lyle said the same thing. But I can’t wait for him. I gave him the address. I’ll be fine.”

My mouth was open. I stood dazed as she headed to her car. Suddenly I snapped to attention. “I’m going with you.”

“That’s very sweet but I couldn’t ask you to do that.”

“Why, because you know it’s dangerous?” She looked like a chastised child, and I wondered how much of our conversation echoed what Lyle had said. “Okay, you can’t wait.” I went on while I had the upper hand. “But then I’m going with you,” I said firmly as if I would offer much protection.

She sighed and unlocked the car. “Get in.”

There was a book on the passenger seat. I picked it up and glanced at the title, something like Lady Killer, before she grabbed it from me and tossed it in the back.

“Doesn’t seem like your kind of novel.”

“It’s not but it was a classic, so I read it.” She seemed regretful. 

“What’s it about?” I asked to keep the conversation going while she drove.

“An insatiable killer who preyed on the vulnerable in society before releasing his madness on the privileged,” she answered.

“Reminds me of the one in that newspaper article.”

“Yes he’s just like that one… Exactly the same.”

Something about the way she said it made me squirm. “I sure hope the police catch him.”

“They never did. Not in the book anyway.”  

It started to rain but that didn’t slow her down. In less than fifteen minutes we reached a part of town that was not shown during college tours and I wished I never learned existed. The woman’s building was old and in poor repair. The lights in the hallway flickered under the beat of the increasingly heavy rain. She was stony silent, but I heard the clicking of her “blotter” and was sure she was nervous too. I wondered what was so important that she went on.

We reached a door that had the smudged remains of what looked like a label for “4A.” She knocked but there was no answer.

“So do you want to be a reporter or something? Is that what this is about? That explains why you ask those funny questions all the time. I guess reporters have to interview victims in their homes sometimes.” I was talking to hear a human voice not even giving her time to respond. The more I took in this place the less I wanted to be there. “You know I could suggest a great decorator,” I joked. “Think they have a suggestion box?”

“Shh,” she said, leaning her ear close to the door. “I think I hear something.” She straightened then tried the door. It was unlocked. She pushed it open and entered. 

“Hello, Ms. Dean?”

We heard coughing. The sound led us to Ms. Dean’s bedroom which was separated from the general living space of the small apartment by a curtain. She was bedridden and a blanket was pulled up to her chin. Even so some of her wounds showed because a scar ran down half her face cutting through her left eye. I reflexively turned away, but she pulled up a chair near the bed and leaned close to the young woman.  I stood shivering near the curtain while she began to speak.

“Ms. Dean,” she said quietly. “I want to ask you a few things.”

 When Ms. Dean responded it was barely a whisper and she leaned in close to hear. The interview was conducted this way. I wandered the small room gradually moving closer. I stood near the window, behind my mysterious friend and about a foot from Ms. Dean’s sickbed.

“Can you describe him?” she was asking. I lifted the window’s frail curtain a sliver and looked out on the rainy afternoon. Anything to keep from staring at the poor woman in the bed. No one was crazy enough to be out in this weather or in this neighborhood I thought. Then as I was letting the curtain close I thought I saw a figure separate itself from the shadow of the building across the street, but when I lifted it again there was nothing there.

“She didn’t see him.” My new friend’s voice made me jump. She was standing next to me now with a perplexed expression on her face. “But his smell was distinct,” she said. “Also, she has something she’s sure he left behind. She told me it is in the drawer here.” She went over to the dresser and opened the bottom drawer. She took a plastic baggie from her messenger bag and used it to slowly lift out a handkerchief.

“How does that help?” I asked. She sniffed it and frowned.

“It doesn't matter if the police don’t believe her. It’s not the item itself but when it was left—after the attack.” She sealed the baggie and placed it in her messenger bag, then went over to the woman’s bed again. 

My blood ran cold. “You mean… You mean she thinks the killer came back here?”

She was listening to the woman and not my concerns. “Get her a glass of water will you.”


“Her sister won’t be back for an hour and she’s thirsty.”

I went to the kitchen section of the small place and found a cup. I tried to ignore the bugs that scattered in my presence. I kind of envied them, at least they could run. The glass shook a little in my hand as I rinsed it out then filled it up. I took a deep steadying breath before I left the sink and passed by the door still unlocked on my way back to the bedroom.

“She says thank you.” She said as I handed over the glass. “And thank you Ms. Dean.” She stood and I could have hugged her when she said we were leaving. 

“Should we lock the door?” I asked as we left.

“Hmmm,” she said as she closed it behind us. She let go of the handle and continued down the hall. “I’m afraid it would make little difference,” she explained in a troubled voice as I followed her. “You see she’s given up.”

   We walked slowly toward her car which I was relieved to see was still there. The rain had let up to barely a sprinkle, another good sign, and I was almost feeling optimistic about the rest of the day.

“I guess Lyle couldn’t make it,” I said. 

“I guess not. Could I use your phone? I’ll tell him we’re leaving.” 

I handed her my cell. I wish I had waited until we got to the car. She was looking all around anxiously I thought, I heard the clicking start again. And then something strange like a shudder went through the place. I don’t mean I shuddered because it was a cold and creepy day. I mean it was like thinking you were looking at a real image and suddenly a ripple goes through the whole scene letting you know it’s not real, just a reflection in a pool of water.

She turned and bolted back to the apartment. I shouted her name and ran after her. All the while wondering what that ripple was. I slipped and scraped my hands catching my fall. When I caught up she was already in the apartment. I don’t know what it was, but I slowed down before reaching the door of Ms. Dean’s apartment. It felt wrong and I had broken out into a cold sweat. I didn’t want to go in. Then I heard something break and her shout. I stopped thinking and rushed in. I grabbed the first thing I saw, an unplugged table lamp on the floor, and went to the bedroom. She and a man were struggling over the bed where a large dark stain was spreading over Ms. Dean’s blanket. I took all this in, in a second. They glanced over when I came in. He was a stocky man or average height, but she was fighting hard. He was having a hard enough time with her and was suddenly ready to leave. With a sudden burst of strength while she was still slightly distracted by my presence, he shoved her down on the bed and went out the window.  I ran over and threw the lamp out after him, but he was moving fast, and I missed. I would have chased him in my unthinking adrenaline driven state, but she called me.

“Be—Beth…” I saw she was holding her abdomen in pain.

“Oh, okay hold on.” I moved her hand and wanted to puke. “It’s not that bad.”

“Liar,” she grinned or grimaced with a red smile. 

 He’d sliced her across the abdomen. It was very bad. I didn’t think she’d make it. Especially since the way I was shaking I couldn’t even pull out my phone to call for help. Where was the darn thing, I thought while I pulled at my pockets.

“My bag,” she said, and I remembered she had borrowed the phone. But when I pulled it out she shook her head. “Need my notebook.”

“You need 911.”

“No, " she said, forcefully slapping the phone out of my hand. “Page 46.” I had to obey. I took out the larger hardcover one she always carried. It was thin and surprisingly heavy. “Read,” she said.

The pages of the notebook looked normal enough but had a strange almost fluid feel. It seemed that each page had a title and author as a heading.  The top of page 46 I recalled was a story about a brilliant but troubled surgeon. One like a doctor she could certainly use now. However, I couldn’t recall the passage on the page being in the story. I started to read it out loud as she snapped open the blotter and moved the gears around. Everything shuddered again.

This time the room melted away. We were outside. Just as the page described the night was clear, but lighting flashed overhead. The page said a storm was coming but first the ambulance would arrive. I stopped reading. 

We were in rural darkness beside a single lane road. Headlights lit a path to us.

“It’s an ambulance,” I noted. She nodded and then lost consciousness. 

They stopped right beside us and loaded her in the back. I was so worried. The question of whether or not she would survive pushed out all the others.  When we made it to the hospital a surgeon met us. He was young, dark and weary with compassion written over his face. Just the description I remembered from the book written at the top of the page. 

“Oh no,” he said gently, looking her over. “Get her to the operating room immediately.” 

They wheeled her away and  made me wait alone. I was left standing in a stupor. I glanced around and everything seemed real enough. I sat down and gripped the sturdy arms of the chair. Nothing changed, nothing melted away. What the heck was going on? 

I must have eventually fallen into a stressed induced sleep because the surgeon woke me. I was groggy and tense.

 “Don’t worry she’ll be fine,” he assured me. “She is sleeping but 

you can see her now.” He took me to her room and closed the door behind me. 

When I  entered she sat up. “How do you feel?” I asked. She struggled to get out of the bed, and I went to help her. She looked weak with dark shadows under her eyes. “Should you really be doing that?”

“I need the blotter. It’s… with my clothes,” her speech seemed pained. She pointed to where her clothes were folded on a bedside table. I found the little device and handed it to her. 

“Hand me my book, please,” she said. I still had her messenger bag. So I pulled the notebook out and gave it to her. She flipped it open expertly. “Doctor says I’ll be fine in about a month. Time is different in a book isn’t it?” She maneuvered the blotter with one hand and followed a line.

“I guess,” I said, not sure I got her meaning. “I mean years can pass with the turn of a page.” 

She made eye contact with me and agreed, “Exactly.” Then she turned her attention back to her notebook and began to read under her breath as she moved the gears of the blotter. 

The room began to slip away, and I felt dizzy. It gave one last shudder and we had new scenery. Summertime outside a café. She was sitting in a chair at one of the little round café tables. She looked refreshed.

 “What just happened?” I asked.

She pushed the other chair out from the table with her foot. “Let’s sit, have a drink and talk about it.”

“I thought I was sitting,” I said sitting down. “Could I have a chair then?”

“You’re sitting now.”

“Oh, right.” 

“Here,” she said pushing a cup over to me, “have some tea. It’s good. I’m sorry to surprise you this way but I figured I’d be dead before the doctors could say ‘There’s nothing we can do’.” She smiled but I didn’t find it funny.

 I struggled to pick up my cup, my hands were shaking. I knew I wasn’t dreaming, or hallucinating and it was freaking me out. 

“I know it can be unsettling to change scenes like the turn of a page if you’re not used to it,” she continued.

“I’ll say. You mind not doing that anymore.”

“Sorry. I’ve never been able to share this with anyone from real life before,” she said with a hint of a smile.

“Not even Lyle?” I asked. “You two seem close.”

“Oh, yes Lyle knows.”

“So were we like in a book? Are we in one right now?”

“Sort of...”

“I remember reading the book that the surgeon was in, but I don’t remember a scene like what we went through.” 

“No, I wrote it. It’s just mine. I have some like that in case of emergencies.”

“How is this possible? It’s because of that notebook right?”

She held it to her chest. “I got it from my father... You know Ms. Dean’s room reminded me of my childhood. Before my father died, he was very sick for a long time. Everyone said he was talking crazy by the end, but you tell a little girl something as she’s watching you die, and she’ll believe it’s true no matter what.” She held up the notebook. “I could show you.”

I shook my head, “No thanks.” Hearing it was painful enough I didn’t want to see the confused little girl at her father’s sickbed.

She shrugged. “Well he couldn’t get out of bed or hardly move. All we could do was read, and one day he told me that if I wanted it hard enough I could make the stories real. Well I tried. I wanted us to be able to walk around in them together, but it never worked. Not until after the funeral, when I got his memoires, his books, the blotter, the notebook and everything. There was a note stuck to it, ‘Write anything you wish.’ He had already planted the idea. I wished so hard to be in the stories where you knew how they were going to end. We’d read the happy ones, where even when they went through hard times you knew if they were good and honest and loving enough it’d all work out in the end.”

She had to stop and clear her throat. My tea was an afterthought now. It sat motionless in my hands. I wanted to tell her she didn’t have to go on, but I really wanted to know what happened next. So instead I prodded. “And then?”

 “I learned how to join myself to the stories. It’s hard to explain how it works. I don’t completely understand it myself. But you don’t have to understand technology to send an email. It was my father who was brilliant. 

“One day someone figured out how to record a sound and send it across the air to someone else. One day my father figured out something pretty special and gave me the tools to use it. I’d copy a page then it’d be there playing out around me. But I didn’t want to just watch. I had to talk to them and travel around. I realized I was really there.”

She’d spent a year one summer with Sherlock in London. She’d lose track of time. She’d eat and sleep there. She spent the whole summer that way, a year in the book. 

“I wrote myself into the plot. I’d start with the original text and add how it played out with me in the story. I didn’t even have to finish it, just write a page or two making sure I wrote that I had my notebook and the blotter. Then I’d stay there and live it out until I remembered I had to go home. I’d write in the notebook that I’d go back home, set the blotter and there I’d be.” She laughed, “But time had still gone on. They used to think I’d run away all the time until I figured out how to use the blotter properly. Didn’t know how I did it.” 

“That’s incredible,” I said, “but…”

“But what?”

“It’s just that if you could write anything and live it out, I would have thought you’d spend the whole time with your father.”

A long sad expression fell over her face. “That is how I started out, but do you know how difficult it is to write all the details we take in through all senses in a few seconds. In others stories we can fill in the blanks and when I go in it I can ignore the little blanks because you’re used to having what the author has provided. But if you really knew the person it’s always a pale reflection in a dirty mirror and never good enough. I was with Sherlock so much because my father used to read it to me. He became sort of a surrogate. It was the happiest time of my life. We’d surprise Watson with botany experiments gone awry or by testing our latest camouflage. Eventually, I told him the truth about the experiment my father had left me. Sherlock handled discovering he was fiction very well. He even encouraged me to try more with it. But when I had my grand idea I didn’t share with him or anyone but Lye…I got the impression they wouldn’t approve. And now I suppose they would have been right.”

“What idea?” I asked.

She bit her lip but finally spoke. “The blotter can do many things. By accident one day I realized an edit I’d made stayed in the book. Everyone knew the story the way I had changed it.” 

“Well could you change it back to the original?”

“Yes. But haven’t you ever read a novel for class and learned the whole history of negative consequences? Consequences the author even regretted, and wished you could just edit it a little?”

“I don’t know…” I thought it sounded like playing with fire. A situation could easily get out of control.  

Her expression turned somber. “Words are powerful things. It’s hard to predict how a change of phrase even with the best of intentions will impact the millions who read it over the years. My idea was good,” she said with conviction but then she looked down as if ashamed. She opened the notebook and ran her fingers across a page. “I just didn’t know everything the blotter could do. I thought it could only make changes in fiction.”

“What do you mean?”

She shook her head. I heard the blotter click open. “I was naïve and perhaps overly ambitious.”

 “What happened? What else changed?” I asked urgently but our scenery was changing again. The conversation was over.

We were back at the entryway of her apartment building. It was dark but things looked normal. 

“I have this page written already to take me back home. I’ll have to get my car later,” she said as she led me to the door. “I’m really sorry about all this. I hope you get some sleep.” She opened the door and I choked back a frightened scream.

“Lyle,” she said. 

He’d surprised me. He’d been waiting in the growing darkness, leaning on a wall by the door and he looked upset.

 “What are you doing here?” she asked.

“Waiting for you, what else? When they only recovered one body at the woman’s apartment I came back here.” He turned on the light then went to the living room and sat on the couch. “Where have you been?”

She looked irritated. “None of your business, I should think.”

“Isn’t it though? Have you explained it all to her?” he asked.

She glanced sheepishly at me, then went to sit down on the other end of the couch. “Mostly,” she whispered, hanging her head as if she were ashamed.

“You better have a seat,” he said. “You could have died. I think you deserve an explanation.”

 I closed the door behind me then took a seat between them. 

 “Go ahead,” he told her.

“Well, it’s like I was saying. I had this grand idea. There are so many books that have made an incredible impression on the world. They’ve started movements that swept multiple nations. They’ve begun and ended war. Sometimes they had a good effect that lasted for generations. Then there are those books that capture the cruel imagination. There are cults still in existence today designed after trying things dreamed up two centuries ago. Things that were horrible enough to read, but just sickening to see in real life…I just wanted to make things better.” She looked over at Lyle, but he was staring at the wall. “I found I could change the stories and when I got back to the real world my version was the one people remembered. So I decided to change more of them to have a good influence. The cruel were always punished. Right was never sacrificed for selfish desires and…And it worked. I noticed a measurable change after only 5 novels.”

“That’s why you’d always ask those questions,” I said.

She nodded, “I was noting the changes in media and popular response after my edits. I felt good about it. Then there was that night. I felt something was wrong. It was a very small change. I thought I might have been imagining things, but when we went back—”


“Lyle and me. He always went with me to help. Anyway, this—villain character, must have noticed us and my notebook and figured out how to follow us back.”

“A character!” I exclaimed, shocked. “How is that even possible? They’re not real. How can they come to the real world?”

“What do you mean by real?” She asked. Her expression was serious, almost pleading. I didn’t have an answer, so she looked away and went on.  “I try to be very careful about my edits. We’ll spend week after week in the story to make a proper change. But when you add something the author never intended everything else has to adapt. Of course people are born and die every day and the world goes on accordingly. That’s why I could add myself to a story and see how it developed without writing it out. After I make a change it’s like the story goes on autopilot. 

“Each place fills itself in based on what was written before just like we automatically fill in those little things the author doesn’t bother to describe. What’s the weather like, what color is the coffee table…what’s that character thinking… I didn’t know what he was thinking, I didn’t know he was watching us and now I’ve let in an evil that could undo all my work.”

“No he won't,” Lyle said, finally looking at her. “We’ll stop him.”

  When I woke up the next day I didn’t know if it was a dream or if I was going crazy. There was a history of schizophrenia in my family, but I wasn’t hearing voices. What did it feel like to suddenly go over the edge? The first clue it was real was that I was in a strange bed. I remembered staying over at her place. Notes on monogrammed stationery greeted me and led me to a prepared breakfast in the kitchen.  A newspaper was on the table open to a brief article that helped confirm at least some of what happened was true. Ms. Leandra Dean had been found dead. 

They were already gone. They referred to their suspect as the Earl. His position had helped him evade arrest in his world. Now he went by the name John Russell. They were watching his house but lost him on the drive. They went to his job and waited, hoping that was where he was headed. They sneaked past security. Lyle acted as a lookout while she searched his desk. She found the paper with a drawing of his family crest as carved or branded on victims and on the other side her contact information.  

He probably got it from Ms. Dean’s room. About the time Lyle said something like ‘If he has your address and he’s not here…’ I was discovering what Lyle was guessing. I’d hardly registered an unfamiliar presence when it knocked me out. 

When I woke up she was tied beside me and poking me with her foot. 

“Hey, hey, are you awake?” she was whispering.

“What happened?” I asked sitting up. It was awkward because my hands and feet were tied too.

“Don’t worry I have a plan.”

I tried to process what was going on. We were in a closet. The door had slits in it and light was coming in from the room outside. “Is Lyle coming?” I asked.

“No, it's too dangerous for him.” As my eyes adjusted I saw she had cut through the rope on her wrists, but she held them behind her like she was still bound. “Don’t worry he’s listening in case we need help.”

Was she kidding? “I think we need it.”

“I’ve got to get to the blotter out there.”

My head hurt and I was getting frustrated. I didn’t see how that would help.

Then she started yelling. “Hey, hey you! Don’t touch my things you second rate hand me down, no account minor character.”

I could see the stocky man through the slits in the door. He looked up from the table where he was pouring over her notebooks. He came angrily over and yanked open the door. “Get up,” he said, pulling her out of the closet by her shirt collar then slamming it shut again. “Tell me where that notebook is and the other trinket.”

“You wouldn’t know what to do with them if I did.” 

He shoved her down and turned his back to get something from the table. She tried to go for the blotter, but he turned and caught her with a kick to the ribs. She moaned and he picked her up by the hair. 

“Hey!” I shouted. I scooted forward and kicked at the door, but he ignored me. He took out a knife, ran it along the side of her face and watched pleased as she started to bleed.

“Have to get some more rope,” he said. “I want to take my time.”

“Stop!” Lyle had come in.

I sighed with relief. 

“What are you going to do?” the man asked scornfully. “I’ll slit her throat before you even come up with an idea.”

Lyle glanced at his hand. I shifted to see better. 

“What’s that?” The murderer asked. It was the blotter.

“Lyle no!” she shouted.

The murderer squinted his eyes. “Is that how she got us here?” He asked. He seemed to realize it was more important for him than the life he was threatening. He shoved her to the floor and came at Lyle.

There was no time left. Lyle mouthed something…I think it was, ‘I love you’ at her. With that he squeezed a button on the blotter. Then the killer and Lyle disappeared. The blotter fell through the air and hit the floor with a clang. The knife dropped the same way. She screamed. She went to the spot he was and fell to the ground and hit it a few times with her fist before she started crying. I swallowed hard but couldn’t think of anything to say. Soon we could hear sirens in the distance. That snapped her back to attention. She grabbed all evidence we were there: blotter, knife, her bag and notebooks. Then she pulled me out the closet and cut off the ropes. 

“Grab those ropes,” she instructed. She led me out a back door and down an alley.

“Couldn’t we just...” I began but I was out of breath. “I mean we didn’t do anything wrong…” but she wasn’t paying me any attention. She finally led us back to the main street and stopped outside a convenience store. The sirens were far in the distance and she let me catch my breath. I sat down on the curb, but she stayed standing and looking all around. Once I was rested it was another couple of streets over to get to her car. We sat down inside and suddenly her strength was gone. She gripped the wheel shaking and leaned her head against it.

“Do you want me to drive,” I asked.

No answer.

After a moment I finally had to ask “What happened? I mean wasn’t he real?”

“He was real.”

“I mean he was from a book, wasn’t he?”

It was a while before she answered me. A few years ago she wrote herself on the last page of a favorite novel. He wasn’t even the main character. Maybe that was why he seemed different. Maybe she had already filled in so much of him that wasn’t written out. She told him everything and since he didn’t have a story anymore she asked him if he wanted to come with her. 

“Maybe you can go back again,” I suggested.

“It won’t be the same. Starting over again even if it is possible,” she shook her head. “I can’t duplicate the past three years. And I’d always know…”

She drove me home, and I didn’t see her again. I don’t know if she decided to finish her plan. Maybe the world is better or maybe it’s just the same. That’s the funny thing about those edits. Once the change is made you’ll never know it was any different—unless of course she writes it in.