Simon couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed so hard.
His sides were bursting at the seams with the red hot, penetrating needle-like force of spontaneously retracting stomach muscles-he felt his whole torso shaking so violently that it tossed his sitting chair about, which irritated his bookshelf, which, in turn, sent tendrils of movement up and into his rustic reading light so that it's streams of faded white slipped off and onto the letter. He threw his head back, let his mouth open wide-from the dark hole of his belly came a hysterical crescendo of a noise most would mistake for a sob.
His good friend really was a deliciously comedic writer.
He held the letter up close to his squinting eyes with now trembling hands-trembling from laugher, of course-and it all started up again. Why, it took Simon a good half an hour to finish the letter, delivered all the way from Brazil, which he had been greatly anticipating for over two weeks now.
...Oh, the sights to see in Brazil, Simon! The luscious greenery speckled up and down the side of the city streets-it acts as thought it wishes to reach past the pavement and take hold of our little world for itself! Ridiculous, isn't it, how different out cultures are? Back in Boston we sometimes find mice in the gutters-here, they have curious monkeys pacing the streets as if they were human!...
This really got Simon going. As if they were human! He let the tears that had already began their race down his cheeks go ahead and drop into the looming shadows cast about his poorly lit reading room, littered with inadequately treated books of all kinds and sorts-oh, and letters, the hundreds of letters-from his good friend, all the way across the world. He had letters from India, letters from Australia, letters from France. Letters written in the cold, letters written in complete darkness (which were quite difficult to analyze), letters coated with spilt coffee, letters of all shapes and sizes and postages and widths and heights-oh, the place a good letter could take you! There was something unique about receiving a letter, something exhilarating about the process of paper exchange that just simply seemed to die away when one turned his attention to that of a telephone or radio transmission.
And it all started with that one letter.
Simon ran his withered old hand through his tangled cluster of darkened facial hair, which had grown very long recently, and his gaze became abducted and lost in another world as it fell across his faithful old bookshelf, and then onto that silly little leather-bound book, between those lovely little wrinkled pages.
He turned his stare away, pulled free, and let himself become engrossed once more in the daring, adventurous, far away land of Brazil. For his good friend, it was off to Cuba next, where he would sample hundreds of delicious local foods and bathe in the warm lavender winds and sprawl his tanned self out along the faded yellow beaches.
Quivering with uncontainable excitement, he opened the drawer on his desk, which led to his letter writing materials, grunting with effort to pull free the rusted hinge but altogether being too ridiculously happy to pay attention to it.
"As if they were human," he quirked aloud to himself, and chuckled. "As if they were human!"
He fetched his best paper, a ready-made stamp, and his favorite ink pen.
Simon tapped the blank letter, pondering how little old him could possibly respond to such a magnificent letter? Why, Simon was a very good writer himself. He knew how to grip attention, take a reader to another world, make you laugh, make you cry, and more. He was fairly sure, if he tried hard enough, that he could even make a pretty girl fall head over heels in love with him, using only a single word. He wasn't entirely positive how, but he knew it was possible.
Everyone who read would say so, though Simon, mother said so.
He began his letter, cleverly, by addressing his good friend as though he were a married man, or a business man, to give the manuscript the feeling of false formality-that was sure to get a kick out of the old fellow!
My good sir, the letter read,
You must realize indeed how lucky a soul like yourself is in a time of financial crisis such as this, to have enough wealth stored away to travel the world, with not a single care. A week in Brazil, a few days in Peru, and then it's off to the Caribbean islands, I hear? I really do envy you. I must say, I not only desire your vast fortune, but your undeniable skill with which you were able to come about the fortune! Such a fine writer you are, my dear friend, such a very fine writer. The agencies were right to publish your work-you're an international instant hit success! I hear word of your wonderful work on the radio constantly.
Please, tell me more of your travels. I want very much to hear of the luxuries, the fame, the world of a careless man, a careless lucky man. Oh, and don't forget the women either, you sly dog. Just remember your old friend Simon Richards back in Boston, before you let those warm beaches consume all of your conscious thought.
With a good amount of envy and respect,
Simon clapped with satisfaction, and accidentally let the ink pen cut into his hand-he had been so preoccupied with his fantastic letter that he had forgotten to remove it before applauding himself.
He stared at the blood for a moment.
Then back to the bookshelf, to that silly little leather-bound book, between those lovely wrinkled pages.
After an elongated silence of intensely staring, waiting, into the little blank area next to the address portion of the envelope, he wrote, very slowly, with a faint smile that flickered dangerously:
Simon licked the envelope, his tongue cold and wet, and with a very anemic, fragile arm, reached high into the air and slipped it into the outbox mailing slot on his porch through his front door. This movement tired him, and he sank deeper into his writing chair, which had been long since toppled onto its side-its back pressed to the door.
He strained his neck and looked about the heaps of crumpled papers strewn across the dark place all about him. It was night outside.
He felt his trembling hand-trembling from recent laughter, of course-reaching mindlessly for more paper, for any paper, he had to write, he had to know, he had to find out where the world would take his successful friend Simon next. He had to know now.
It really was unfair, how his good friend had been so lucky.
So damn lucky.
It was every writer's dream to be an international hit success author-and his good friend had achieved the title with merely his first submission to a publishing agency. Now, everyone talked of him-children played pretend using characters in his novel, scholars analyzed its every word and phrase, probably much more than they needed to-you couldn't walk ten paces down a crowded city street without hearing of it.
Simon gripped his pen so tightly his knuckled flashed white-so white you could see them in the pitch black of the room.
Creatures of the night howled outside, in the shadows.
He began the reply,
My good friend Simon,
How kind of you to compliment me so on my delightfully successful novel-I have to say, even I was very surprised to hear of its immediate appetence into publication. Did you know that you were the original inspiration for it all-your wit, your cunning, your true passion for the literary world-for the vivid adventures portrayed within it? Why, at first I thought to name it ‘Simon's Travels,' but after awhile I thought ‘Lonesome Travels,' would be a much more appropriate title. Because it is all rather lonely, you know?
Anyhow, the trip is going splendidly-
The letter stopped here-Simon's hand was shaking violently. His eyes widened and he threw his hand again and again into the cold, stone floor-he had to know what happened to Simon, what happened to his travels, what kind of creatures he encountered, he had to hear of the riches and fame and fortune and luxury and-
Who are you kidding, Simon?, the letter read.
You think you have what it takes? You think you're writing is that good? You're the only one who likes it, you're the only one who it transports to far away lands; who allows it to capture their heart and soul-your words are hollow; your sentence structure is offset, your punctuation is outdated-it doesn't flow, it doesn't mix. Your words are thrown together into a stew of lies, Simon.
Simon laughed aloud, at a much higher pitch, and it all sounded a tad forced. He reached for fresh paper, his heart pounding.
That silly good friend of his, such a comedian! So a little friendly critical analysis was the game, was it? What a funny, gripping way to open a letter; to snag the reader's attention.
He began to write in return.
My good friend Simon,
You always know just how to tickle me when I really do need it the most, old friend! I appreciate the feedback-especially from a fabled author, such as yourself-perhaps when you get back to Boston, you can teach me a thing or two!
Simon was crying with laughter again. What a witty, clever, intelligent friend he had, all to himself! He reached for more paper, crumpling it hard beneath his trembling fist as he drew it near-trembling with laughter of course.
Dear Simon, it read,
You know what I say is true. You know where the proof lies. You can't hide it away on that little bookshelf, inside that silly leather-bound case, between those lovely wrinkled pages. You've read the proof ten thousand times over, who says it needs to be in your clutch to be deciphered? It holds the truth Simon, a truth that you can't hide forever. It will consume you, Simon. It's burned into your eyes.
Simon reached for another sheet again, another fresh, white, clean, pure sheet of paper eager to be drenched in thick decrepit ink-but his laughter had grown too strong, and his weakened arm merely dropped onto the cool stone floor, followed by the faint trickle and patter of warm tears.
"Ten thousand times over," he cackled to himself, his old chest heaving with uncontrollable humor, "ten thousand times over!"
What ever do you mean, Simon, about the bookshelf? He wrote, to his famous friend.
You know what I mean. You can't push the truth away Simon. It's waiting for you.
My, how quickly letter exchanges could take place these days-it was starting to put even the lightening-quick telephone to shame!, Simon thought.
Please elaborate, old friend! Simon scrawled frantically, wheezing between fiercely clenched teeth-teeth held so tightly that fresh, putrid droplets of crimson stained the paper beneath them, tumbling down one after another, almost rhythmically.
He hurled the response into the darkness of the room and snatched up a fresh letter,
The bookshelf Simon. Inside the bookshelf. You're no writer-you're a bitter, lonely failure. Failure, failure, lonely failure.
Simon shrieked with laughter, clambered to his feet, raced for the bookshelf, and once he reached it, threw it to the floor. The massive frame split and cracked and burst wide open, and a great landslide of withered old pages and books and tales to be told slid out and into the darkness of the room.
A single beam of light-a ray of the moon-fell through a dusty window and landed lazily upon the churning, swirling mess of literature being hysterically hurled this way and that, in search of that book, the book-
And then Simon's glossy eye fell upon it, upon the silly little leather cover.
He tore it open, flipped through ragged pages, searching for the truth.
He was still laughing when he landed upon it, upon the truth-truth in the form of an old envelope, beaten and crumpled and slightly burned.
Simon destroyed the ruined seal, shredded the paper through with long, penetrating black fingernails.
The truth, the truth, the truth, the truth.
Simon pulled free the letter, flattened it out, and his heart stopped as the familiar image of the letter, the damned letter, that he had passed over so many thousands of times, again and again, sank into the pattern that was etched into the back of his mind, in the most mocking form of plain type, and it read:
Dear Mister Simon Richardson,
Our staff here at Boston Publications have received your manuscript, "Simon's Travels," and upon reading, regret to inform you that we will not be selecting it for further publication opportunities. Thank you for your submission, we apologize for the inconvenience. Please feel free to submit your work again in November of next year, when we begin accepting applications once more.