This short story’s challenge prompts are posted over here on the Writing Hallow.
Darryl checked his mailbox for yesterday’s mail and to get the morning newspaper. None of the other tenants in the building got up this early so he came at this time to avoid the awkward obligatory greetings. The mess of envelopes inside his box consisted of junk mail except for one letter. A floral pink envelope bearing the return address of Old Lace Press trembled in his hand. He knew he was getting old but he didn’t think he was senile too. Scratching his ivory beard, he tried to recall the last time he submitted a manuscript to their magazine. It’s been years and he was sure of it. He checked the address to be sure it was for him. Yes, his name was Darryl Sheppard and he lived in the pleasant regions of the miserable. Shrugging in his brown terrycloth bathrobe, he shuffled down the lobby and entered into his apartment to read the contents of the letter in a more private setting.
He shut and locked the door before dropping the junk mail in the trash can. Sitting down at his polished wood desk, he set the newspaper down and opened the letter. The letter informed him of a short romantic fiction contest. Winners would be included in a published anthology. His old time friend and content editor, Autumn Dean, encouraged him to enter. His memoir detailing his lost love had been received well and she looked forward to working with him again. Darryl sighed as he slid the letter to the side of his desk. Studying the framed photo of a curvy, dark-skinned woman with wavy amber hair he contemplated the contest. He hadn’t loved anyone since the day he lost Sheri Chapman. She married someone else while he busied himself wheeling and dealing in the casinos. His investments now gave him no comfort in his modest life. Cleaning up the stack of rejection letters from this month so far, he dropped them into the trash can as well.
Getting up to take a shower, Darryl walked past the pair of black easy chairs facing a small table with a chess game in progress. He paid no attention to his unusual guest studying the board. The guest’s black cloak draped the back of the chair as he used his large, elegant wings to balance his very short masculine build to perch in the chair. He narrowed his lemon-yellow eyes as he considered each piece. His thick red hair was straight other than the two cowlicks on each side of his small spiraled horn on his forehead. The cowlicks forced two forelocks to curl forward around his scaly gray iguana-like face. His whip-like tail, tipped with a bony club, curled at his feet in the chair. On each side of his head, bony plates twitched as he listened to Darryl shower. Gingerly, he moved a black knight to threaten the white queen with his clawed hand. Satisfied, the demon relaxed a bit in the chair and waited for Darryl.
Darryl returned from the bathroom wearing a dress shirt and slacks over his slender frame. His freshly buzzed hair and beard encircled his pale, high cheekbones. The delicate mustache fringed his thin lips while his turquoise eyes appeared refreshed. Walking over to the chess table, he examined the board.
“Clever move Korg,” Darryl said, “but I got your number.”
He moved the white queen to claim the black rook before returning to his desk. Korg smiled slightly and leaned over the board to ponder his next move. Pulling out a small notepad and pen, Darryl began to write. Hours drifted by as crumbled sheets of paper added themselves to a pile next to the typewriter. Scribbled notes, broken outlines, and rough descriptions all led to the same tired thing. His memoir was published. He didn’t need to rehash it, yet Sheri haunted his thoughts. He knew of no other love. The world doesn’t want to keep reading the same lonely tale. Readers want to taste triumph as well but how to you pen those victories in a month’s time to meet a deadline when life failed to be that kind to you? Doubting himself, he tossed his pen onto the desk and rubbed his forehead. Korg moved the black bishop to put the white king in check. Then he quietly stood up and wrapped his cloak around him, concealing his wings.
Pulling the hood up over his head he said, “You should take a break.”
Darryl got up and put on his dark green suit jacket. He slid his notepad and pen into the inner pocket. It was always a comfort to have them on hand. He paused to study the chessboard for a moment. He claimed the black bishop with his white knight before leaving the apartment. Striding through the empty lobby, he left the apartment building. The stone steps led directly to the sidewalk to greet a small blue pickup parked in front. A few boxes and luggage sat on the cement near the rear wheel. Afternoon traffic flowed in the lazy heat beneath the clear sky just beyond the parking lane. Darryl assumed these were for the new tenant that moved into apartment 102 across from him. The name on the mailbox said Donna Young and she seemed like a nice young girl.
He watched the tall, dark-skinned girl built with all the right curves come around the back of the truck. Her loose blue frock ended at the knees of her tight denim jeans. Her low forehead and thin eyebrows were set with a determination over those wide bronze eyes of hers that Darryl was all too familiar with. A light breeze ruffled her pixie cut charcoal hair as she yanked the luggage off the sidewalk. The driver’s side window rolled down and a young man’s head peered out.
“Come on Donna, give me another chance,” he said.
“I’m done with this shit,” she said.
She didn’t even look at him. She walked past Darryl into the lobby with the luggage. Before long she came back out to claim the boxes. The young man got out of the truck and tried to stop her.
“Listen,” he said, “think of all the good times we had.”
“We’re done,” she said. “You need to leave. Now.”
Darryl took the rest of the steps down and stopped on the sidewalk. “You heard the lady,” he said. “Leave now or I call the cops.”
“I’m gone,” he said. “Just don’t come crying back to me.”
“No one’s crying here,” Donna said.
The young man got in his truck and peeled out. Once his truck was lost to the traffic, Donna turned to Darryl. She faked a brave smile that Darryl had also become familiar with over the years.
“It’s been one hell of a Sunday,” she said. “Thanks for helping.”
“Need a hand with the boxes too?”
“They’re not heavy.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
“I let you carry this one and I’ll get the other.”
They brought the boxes to her apartment and set them on her kitchen table. From the looks of things, she still had a lot of unpacking to do. Easels and paint supplies already cluttered the living room.
“Would you like some coffee?”
“Yes please,” he said. “That would be nice.”
While she made the coffee, Darryl felt that there might be a story here to tell. He pulled out his notebook and jotted down a few notes. As she brought in the coffee, he tucked it back into his pocket.
“Are you a writer?”
“Yes, are you a painter?”
“Yes, but I also work in a coffee shop to pay the bills.”
“Why a coffee shop?”
“Why not?” she said. “I like to paint people and working in a coffee shop I see a lot of people. It is difficult to have your craft reflect life if you aren’t out there living it, you know?”
Darryl paused a moment with his cup to his lips. “What’s that?”
“Well you’re a writer,” she said. “You write about people, places, things, events – all sorts of stuff. How can you do all that if you never go out there and live life and see or experience any of it?”
“I suppose you’re right,” he said, “I never thought of it like that.”
He sipped the coffee thinking about how he had spent too much time alone in his apartment. Given what she said, it shouldn’t be a surprise he had writer’s block. Darryl didn’t lack skill, time, or Fate’s good graces. He lacked raw material that couldn’t be gained from living the way he had since losing Sheri. He had rejected life to mourn and paid the price for it with his creativity. Sheri not only got married and had children, but she passed away three years ago. The time for chances with her ran out long ago. He just didn’t want to accept it, but he could still turn this around and reclaim this piece of his life. It was not too late to live life again.
“So what’s the deal with the guy in the truck?”
Donna rolled her eyes over her cup of coffee. “He’s an asshole,” she said. “Enough said.”
“He’s a lying cheat that tried to control her money to support his habits,” Korg said, leaning idly against the kitchen counter.
Darryl drained his cup and quietly set it down on the table. “Thank you for the coffee.”
“Thanks again for your help,” Donna said.
“I should head out for a slice of life today,” he said.
“Sounds like a good idea,” she said. “Too bad I have to unpack or I’d ask to join you.”
They shared a smile before Darryl left Donna’s apartment. Once again he made his way through the empty lobby out onto the street. This time he walked down the sidewalk to the park. He found an empty bench and pulled out his notebook. Korg hunched down beneath a nearby tree. Scribbling down a few more notes, the idea of a woman as the main character formed. She would leave a controlling man that she loved, but to drive her to leave she needed a catalyst. He scanned the park to watch the people there for inspiration. A happy couple with a baby stroller walked by him.
“The husband is having an affair,” Korg said, “and neither woman knows.”
Darryl added a few more notes. The woman would leave this man because she discovered the affair. Desiring a victorious ending for this woman, he slid the notebook and pen back into his pocket. He resumed walking. Stopping at a bakery for lunch, he decided this woman would launch a bakery after she left her man. His walk ends at the library and he felt that having a bookshop across the street from the bakery would be a good idea. The library was cool and quiet. He welcomed the orderly shelves of books as he sat down at the table in the far back to write more notes. Korg’s legs dangled from the top of a bookcase as he sat there. Darryl watched a middle-aged man diligently shelf the books from his cart.
“He’s a kind and hard working man,” Korg said.
In his notebook, Darryl wrote down this woman would fall in love with the bookshop owner. Satisfied, Darryl began to write and flesh out his outline. He planned a few plot twists here and there. He even made sure to include a showdown between the spurned ex-lover and the new flame. As the ideas flowed, he began to realize this was no longer meant for a short story but for a whole new book. Korg smile softly as he observed the transformation of a lonely hermit.