The midwinter rain was light as it struck the moving car, pushed aside on the windshield by the rhythmic march of the wipers, while on the side window that Alan stared out of each drop of rain appeared to be a shivering diamond that, apparently on a whim, might decide to travel across the glass towards the back of the car, leaving behind a slug-like trail. He changed his focus and looked out upon the moving scenery beyond the window to see rolling hills and bare, leafless trees, stark black shapes twisted and criss crossing against a backdrop of cold grey sky. Despite the warmth of the car's heater, Alan gave a brief shiver at the cold, bleak atmosphere outside, and yet he felt warm, dry and cozy. There was something pleasant about the weather, comforting, and Alan almost pitied the people who reveled in sunshine but saw only gloom and boredom in grey, rainy days. Everything had its own beauty, or so Alan believed, and one thing in particular he found himself looking forward to was fog. It almost never manifested in the city. He missed the mysterious manifestation of his childhood on the farm, raised by his grandparents. When he looked out from the porch of his grandparents' house at the rolling hills and valleys and saw those glens filled with a milk white sea of fog Alan used to run out, into one of them to play. There he would be, surrounded by a thick mist that hid everything so that he could only see a few feet ahead of him in any direction, and even that only dimly. He loved it. Often he would imagine a monster of prehistoric porportions unexpectedly appearing. Overhead a pterodactyle would glide above the fog on great leathery wings sight unseen, its loud cry piercing the mist, while suddenly the head of a tyrannosaurus rex would come down at him from seemingly nowhere, its smallest sharp fangs, gleaming white stalagmites in its cavernous mouth, larger than his leg. Saliva dripping from its great teeth, the imaginary beast would look at the small boy with huge, menacing eyes, but before it could reach down with its great jaws and snap him up, Alan would draw from an imaginary sheath his gleaming magical sword and slash at the creature's scaly snout. Sometimes, not an ancient warrior but a futuristic explorer or soldier, young Alan's weapon, a stick transformed by imagination, would be a deadly ray gun, but still the only effect it would have upon the monster before him would be minimal. The tyrannosaurus rex would straighten up and rear back with a scream of pain and that is when he would strike out at the soft underbelly--once, twice, several times rapidly--until the thing cried out again, falling to the ground, forcing Alan to leap and roll out of the way of the dying beast.
Alan noticed just the hint of mist clinging to the dull green and brown winter grass and he longed for fog. He wanted to wake early and stand on a porch looking out over a landscape of trees and hills, fields and mountains, not a single sign of humanity before him, and watch the fog start rolling in, curling around trunk of tree and creeping along grassy fields. There was something both myseriously menacing about it and romantically comforting. Until that ride with Morgan to see the house, Alan never actually realized how much he missed such simple things as fog and trees and hills.
"So how does it sound?"
"Huh?" Alan broke his trance realizing that Morgan had been speaking to him while he had simply zoned out.
"Did you hear anything I said?"
"I guess not," Alan said with an apologetic smile.
"Writers," Cantrell remarked. "How much time do you actually spend in the real world anyway?"
"You know, Morg, even as well as you know me, you don't really know me."
Alan regarded Morgan Cantrell for a moment before speaking. He was a decent looking guy with sandy, dark blond hair, a neat matching mustache, his medium blue eyes sometimes surrounded by glasses, although at that moment he had his contacts in place. Morgan had been married once, was now divorced, and was raising his only teenage son by himself, his ex-wife Jane busy now with husband number two and a child from that marriage with another on the way. He was not quite sure why they were best friends and had been for, well, years. Alan was a writer interested in many things from the wild and woolly Old West to the ooky pooky side of nature, the so-called supernatural, while Morgan only had a vague passing interest in such things. Cantrell, on the other hand, was extremely interested in automobiles, especially the classics, as well as stock cars and racing, things Alan had only a passing interest in. The only thing the two men really seemed to have in common was that they understood one another most of the time. However, as Alan looked at his friend and hard working literary agent he realized that there were some things about one another that would forever elude them.
"A lot of people seem to think that writers are dreamers sort of lost in their dream worlds," Alan pointed out, "when in fact many of us are deeply interested and involved in the real world all around us. You glance at the surface of the events in your life, or at least those events around you, Morg, while we dissect things and peer into the guts, reach in and grasp the living, beating heart of the matter and feel the warmth of its life running through our fingers, learning just what makes it all happen. Then, you see, we don't just make up stories, we comment upon what we have discovered, we give something of our experiences and observations to others, not just to entertain but to share our insight, perhaps help others to see things a little more clearly. Maybe even encourage people to think about things that they take for granted and if we are good at our craft even change a mind or two, alter someone's perspective, inspire them to be more tolerant, more understanding, more loving.
"The way I see it, Morg, it's not the writer who is lost in a dream world of fantasy, it's the average person. The writer is deeply involved in life while the...non-writer...merely skims the surface of life, often seeing things not as they are but rather as he wishes them to be, or is forced by fears and frustration to view life from a darker point of view."
Morgan glanced to his right at Alan sitting on the passenger's side of the seat and gave him a half smile.
"That's not bad," he remarked. "Hope you're going to put that in your next book. We could use another book deal."
"Now who's not really listening?"
"Yeah, yeah. I know. But in my business the bottom line is always money and Sean just started college. You want to experience the real world? Get married, have children, experience divorce, and deal with the bills it all incurs."
"Point well taken," Alan said. "But if you want to earn your twenty percent just find a good publisher for my western."
Morgan sighed. They had been down that road a few times.
"I'm trying, Alan, but I just can't find an interested publisher. Seems most of them, while claiming that they want substance, enjoy most the violence and bloodshed in the book but what they want more than anything else is sex, sex and more sex."
"The protagonist has sex in the book. There's nudity in it."
"One scene briefly describing a shirtless Indian woman..."
"Two. And in one chapter I describe a summer day in which many of the women are walking about in loincloths only, like the men."
"Yeah," Morgan smirked, "and when I read those chapters I find myself imagining a National Geographic."
"Okay. I didn't write it to be...titillating."
"I know. That's the problem."
"Okay," Alan conceded, "but there is a sex scene in the book."
"Uh huh." Morgan smoothly veered to the left to avoid a great water filled pothole in the simple asphalt road without missing a beat in the conversation. "The guy cups the woman's now unseen breast in one hand, they kiss, the implication is that they are going to make love, then you fade out and leap into the next chapter."
"Buddy, readers want details. F___ imagination and gentility! People today want to know things like cup size, the colour of the woman's nipples, is the man's johnson small, medium or large, circumcised or uncut? They want every moan and groan, every Kama Sutra position described to them in excruciatingly frustrating detail."
"They want to pick up a book, read it and feel mentally f_____."
"Now you got the picture, my friend!"
"Well that sucks," Alan said.
"Exactly! Today's readers are afraid to date, to go out and have sex. It's dangerous. They can die if they are not careful, and for what? A goddamn one night stand with someone they really don't even want to wake up with in the morning. So they call nine hundred and nine-seven-six numbers, enjoy a little aural sex, or..."
"They read a book," Alan, disgusted, continued, "and have their brains sucked off."
"There. You see. You do understand." Morgan again deftly avoided yet another virtual crater in the highway. "I knew you weren't a prude."
"Oh, I'm not a prude," Alan agreed. "Not at all. And I have nothing against sex--having it, writing about it, reading it, whatever--but when I write I want it to be more, much more, than, well, pornography."
"Don't call it pornography. Pornography has pictures and is sold in the sleazy back rooms of 'adult' bookstores. It's erotica, Alan, or romance, and there's a big market for it in society."
"Yeah. But after a while it's boring. I mean, how many times can you describe human body parts and their sexual interaction before it starts to sound all the same?"
"I suppose," Morgan observed, "it all depends upon how creative you are."
"Well, I don't think I am that creative. Besides, what about plot and character development? What about a story?"
"Sure. And what about social commentary? So you tell a story about two people falling in love...or lust, it really doesn't matter...and f______ one another. You dress it all up with a plot, spend a little time telling the reader what kind of a person he is, what kind of a person she is, throw in a few remarks about love, responsibility, whatever people are talking about that month, put it all under a title and call it literature! What's so tough about that?"
"Morgan, what can I say? You have such an incredible grasp of the business of writing you ought to write yourself."
Cantrell glanced over at Alan, but the expression on the writer's face was unreadable and he could not decide if Alan was pulling his leg or being sincere.
"Okay. Okay," Morgan conceded. "I understand. Artistic values. But I'm telling you, pal, you need more sex in your next novel, and if you want to sell that western you've got to sex it up some."
"Do I look like Sidney Sheldon or Jackie Collins?"
Morgan regarded his friend with a smile.
"Maybe with another decade or two you might look like the former, but you haven't the boobs to even slightly resemble Jackie."
Alan just shook his head and laughed. If it was not cars or money the only other thing on his friend's mind seemed to be boobs or butts or some other part of the female anatomy. Actually, Morgan thought of women as more than a collection of sexually appealing body parts, yet he was still often blinded by this part or that and failed to see the whole woman beneath the flesh--until well into a relationship.
After a moment of silence Alan asked, "So what had you been saying to me before I zoned out?"
"Oh. Now you're interested?"
"Now I'm interested."
"I was just saying that we can get a good deal on this house. It seems that the place has somehow passed into the hands of an insurance company..."
"You're kidding? That's who Annie works for."
"Then before we sign anything why don't you have her nose about some and see if she can find out anything the representative wouldn't tell me."
"You think he was hiding something?"
Morgan glanced to his right at Alan, lowering his head in a habitual manner as if to peer over the tops of his glasses, which he was not at the moment wearing.
"When you are offered a place like this for a price as low as Berkley-Collins is asking something's wrong."
"Structural problems? Plumbing? Sewage? Electricity?"
"I went over it with my cousin John, you know, Mr. Fix-It, and aside from some minor carpentry, a good scraping and painting, he couldn't find a damn thing wrong with it. Said the place is as solid as if it had been built last week."
"No neighbours at all. Man, the place is so isolated you and Annie can f___ your brains out in the front yard and except for the mailman there's not likely to be another soul about to see what you're up to."
"The place even has its own generator shed for backup in case of a power outage." Morgan turned off the paved road and started up an ascent, the narrow road covered only by cinders. "We're almost there now. The rep told me that sometimes, in the winter, this road can become snowbound--the county doesn't maintain it--but I figure if you put a freezer or two in the basement, stock it up, what with the generator and all, you'd probably like that. Give you a chance to write your ass off without the worry of being distrubed by unwanted visitors."
Alan thought of the heavy snowfalls on the farm when he was a kid and how they were often cut off from the outside world except for the few neighbours not too far from them, other farmers who would trade their canned goods, frozen vegetables and homemade jellies for just a little more variety in their lives on cold winter days.
"Actually, Morg, you're right. I'd like that."
"Well," Cantrell said, decelerating, "there it is, just up ahead."
Alan Carver stared at the large Victorian house as the car approached its rather charming edifice. The windows did not seem to stare back, the front door did not gape open like the fanged jaws of a tyrannosaurus rex and there was nothing particularly menacing about it. Still, a heavy chill ran up and down Alan's spine.
"That's the house," Alan said in obvious awe. "That's the house in my dream."
"You sure?" Morgan remembered the dream Alan had told him about. "I mean, come on, if you've seen one Victorian house you've pretty much seen them all."
Morgan took his foot off the gas, pressed the brake to the floor, shifted the car into park, then turned the engine off. As both men got out of the automobile Alan looked up at the front door, his eyes climbing to the second floor and fixating upon the small attic window above.
"This is definitely the house."
"Ah, pardon me if I seem just a little literary here, but isn't that a cliche?"
"You know," Morgan shrugged, "you dream about a spooky old house..."
"It's not really spooky."
"Says you. And then, surprise surprise, the very house you look at with the intent of buying turns out to be just that house you dreamed about. A house you've never seen before in your entire life. This is the first time you've seen this house, isn't it?"
"Never been anywhere near this place before in my life."
Alan was distracted, his emotions a mixture of awe, surprise, longing--and a touch of fear.
"Well, don't you think it's just a bit too much of a chiche to be for real? I mean, come on, Alan, if you put this in a book I'd suggest a rewrite."
"And I'd probably tell you to go to hell." Alan stepped up to the porch of the house then looked down. It had been a long time since the boards had been painted. They needed a good sanding. They were somewhat splintery. "The fact is, this is the house I saw in my dream."
"Okay. This is the house." Morgan rested his arms before him on the roof of the car as he spoke, studying his friend and the house. "That probably means you are going to take it. This is something a writer simply cannot ignore. Don't forget about the asking price. If it's too good to be true..."
"It probably isn't. Yeah, yeah. I know. But you said that John could not find anything seriously wrong with the house, and the little bit of work that it needs, well, that's just fine. Therapy. A hobby to occupy my time when I need a break from writing."
"Uh huh. So why is the price so reasonable in today's market?"
"Oh, I don't know," Alan said, peeking through a window, feeling the wood of the window frame and wondering if they should be painted white or perhaps a nice blue-grey. "Maybe Berkley-Collins have just been stuck with the place for so long they want to unload it to make up for some financial loss incurred by the last owner and be done with it."
"Or maybe," Alan smiled, giving Morgan a wide-eyed mock frightened look, "maybe it's haunted!"
Cantrell rolled his eyes.
"Wonderful. Another cliche."
A chilly breeze swept across the porch and for the briefest possible moment Alan thought that the house had sighed.