LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
A Short Story
By The Kid In The Front Row
Tom Hooper arrived at Leonard & Stone Publishing four minutes before his appointment. Any later wouldn’t qualify as early, and any earlier would mean sitting awkwardly in the waiting room at one of the biggest publishing houses in the country. Although Tom was an expert at sitting awkwardly, he did his best to avoid it. This time, he was comforted by the fact that four minutes from now Richard Leonard would be giving the go ahead to publish Hooper’s masterpiece.
Fifty six minutes later, Tom was invited into Leonard’s office, which was almost as big as Grand Central Station. ‘I like your writing,’ said Leonard, with about as much enthusiasm as someone with very little enthusiasm, ‘but the violent mugging scene isn’t believable, and the rest of the book depends on it.’ Tom knew he was right. His only experience of a mugging was when his sister’s best friend, Paula, stole his Hanson CD twelve years ago and only gave it back after a steep ransom.
‘It needs energy, it needs realism. It needs pain. This is a moment that changes his life,’ said Leonard.
‘That’s why I used the words torment and agony,’ offered Tom.
‘I don’t buy it. You need to fix it.’
‘What are you doing tonight?’
‘You don’t have any friends.’
‘I’ll start tonight.’
‘You’ll finish tonight. I’m showing it to Stone tomorrow afternoon.’
Tom knew instantly that this was impossible, which is precisely why he agreed to do it and promised to have a new draft with him by the morning. Richard Leonard was famous for pulling shit like this, and Tom was famous for nothing, which is why he decided to do as he was told.
He sat in front of his typewriter for two hours without doing a thing. Probably because the typewriter was broken and had been for eight years. Tom liked sitting in front of it because it made him feel like a writer whereas his laptop made him feel like an underachiever, as did most things. How the hell was he going to write a realistic mugging?
Braggard lurched awkwardly against the wall, as the mugger swiped the documents from under Braggard’s nose. The mugger turned back towards him and smashed him in the face with a hefty punch, which was painful.
A book published by Leonard & Stone was the key to all his dreams, but it could disappear in a matter of hours. Maybe the mugger could be carrying a gun and shoot Braggard, he thought. Tom went with this idea for a while, before realizing it would compromise the next chapter, where Braggard wins an Olympic gold medal. It’s time to give up, he figured; everything I write is pathetic. Maybe the kids who live on the Fretton Estate should write the story, they’re great at robbing people of their belongings.
Tom was suddenly inspired. He closed his laptop and immediately reached for his coat. Four minutes later he was entering Fretton Estate and flashing his expensive wristwatch which was a gift from his ex-girlfriend, Sally Wiseberg. He turned and headed immediately down Fretton Lane, better known as Death Lane to the locals. He looked around, determined to be robbed at knifepoint. This was the key to getting his creative juices flowing. He looked around – nobody was there. A good sign, he figured, something is definitely going to go down.
He heard footsteps behind him. YES! This is it. A young guy who can’t have been older than fifteen stopped him in his tracks and said, ‘do you realize you’re walking down Death Lane at eleven at night?’
‘Yes. I fancied a walk,’ said Tom.
‘Give me your money.’
Tom thought about it. To just hand over the money would be the end of the ordeal, which wouldn’t exactly bring out his inner-Shakespeare. ‘I need the money to buy my girlfriend a present,’ said Tom.
‘Shut the fuck up and give me your money.’
Tom was only fractionally frightened, but it was an improvement. Things were bound to get worse when a giant-of-a-man stepped out suddenly from behind a van.
The man looked at the little teenager and then looked at Tom. He was holding a knife. ‘Allow him,’ said the giant-of-a-man, ‘He didn’t mean to come down here and he needs the money for his girlfriend,’
‘Wow, that’s very kind of you,’ said Tom.
‘If we ever see you down here again, this knife here is going right through your fucking body.’
Tom was petrified, which in turn made him absolutely delighted, which confused the two men as Tom had a beaming smile on his face.
‘Did you hear what I said?’ asked the not so friendly giant, which snapped Tom back into reality.
‘I did. Thank you.’
‘Get the fuck out of here,’ said the little one. And Tom was gone.
Braggard came to the sudden realization that his life was at risk. Two masked gunmen held their weapons to his face. His head began to sweat, his hands began to shake, and it dawned on him that he may never see his children again.
Braggard took his wallet out of his pocket and handed it to the men, and then made his way to Olympic archery training.
It was an improvement. But the second paragraph was pathetic. Tom glanced at his bookshelf, wondering if there was anything he could steal. Nothing came to mind. The writing was still not good enough and there was no way Richard Leonard would publish something with such a weak middle section. Tom stared out of the window, bitterly disappointed with his limitations as a writer. He could only nail it perfectly when it was something he had been through – which is why his short stories had been published seventeen times on guyswhocantgetgirls.com. He sat down with a small coffee and came to the sad but true realization: he would not be able to write something he did not have any experience of.
Tom stepped out into the night again and strode valiantly into Death Lane. He had a confident posture and a gleam in his eyes that said I am going to write the best book you’ve ever seen! He gasped for air desperately as a blade suddenly ripped through his clothes and plummeted into his back. His life hurtled through his mind as he found himself spinning and falling and suffocating. His head smacked down on the ground as the giant-man and little teenager sprinted off into the distance.
Some time later, his eyes gradually opened – he made out the blurry figure of a streetlight. A pain ripped through his entire body. He could barely move, but barely was enough to move his left leg and push himself up onto the curb. For the first time in his life, he was conscious of his breathing, probably because it wasn’t happening. He desperately swerved his breath around the painful parts of his body; it was like a magical dance that allowed breath by only using four percent of his lungs. A crazy thought popped into his head: I can make my way home. I can use this in my novel.
He gulped down a glass of water the second he got home. An insight, true or not, had come to his awareness; I am not going to die. He knew that if a writer is not dead, then they must continue their work. He sat down by his laptop and took a large, and painful breath.
The masked gunman stepped towards Braggard, who turned around, startled. The gunman smacked him in the chest with the corner of his gun. Braggard thumped down on the floor and felt a jolt of death ripple painfully through his body. He thought of Mandy, his High School sweetheart, with her golden blonde hair and mild disdain for his personality. The gunman continued to beat him, leaving Braggard for dead, but still with an outside chance of making the Olympics.
Tom was delighted with the paragraph. It had pain, it had truth, it even had emotion and a glint of the character’s romantic past. Tom smiled to himself, and continued writing.
The gunman then reached into Braggard’s pocket and took his phone, wallet, and documents. This was bad news for Braggard, who needed the documents for the Olympic committee.
Tom sat there despondently. Partly because of the awful writing, and partly because the right side of his body was numb and the left side of his body was leaking blood quicker than Usain Bolt can run the hundred metres. Tom had two options. One was to phone an ambulance and save his life, the other was to keep typing away at the keyboard in the hopes of finishing what could end up being his one-book-legacy, given how quickly his body was giving up on him. Should he call for an ambulance? Or should he remain in the warmth of his own home and finish his work?
He stood at the end of Death Lane – staring down the street. He’d always been a believer in positive thinking and visualization. He felt a sense of calmness, ease, and joy due to his inner belief that the giant man and teen would definitely steal his belongings this time. That was all he needed to finish his story.
They couldn’t believe their eyes. ‘Is that really him, back for more?’ asked the unusually large one.
‘Let’s finish him off,’ said the nervous teen.
‘You’re so violent.’
‘He might call the police,’
‘Let’s talk to him,’ said the giant.
Tom stumbled forward, gripping on to a nearby lamppost – it was the only thing that was going to keep him standing.
“Why are you back?” asked the giant-man.
“Am I meant to be afraid of you?” said Tom,
“You’re not looking very good. You should go home.”
“I think you’re scared of me.”
“Scared of you? We nearly killed you.”
“For no reason. You didn’t take my wallet or anything.”
The giant brutally hit Tom in the skull faster than a wine cork flying into the kitchen ceiling. Tom was out cold.
He came around, eventually. He was surprised to be alive, but more than anything; he was concerned that he didn’t have enough material for his novel. He reached with his right arm to feel for his wallet. Actually, his arm didn’t move, it was broken. Instead he began screaming, due to the dull pang of horror that shuddered through the underside of his arm. The pain was too much to bear – but he fought on, and managed to figure out where his left arm was and how to use it. The wallet was gone. The watch was gone.
As the documents were ripped from Braggard’s hands – the sensation of scorching pain screamed through his body and soul. The last thing he expected to feel at this moment was loneliness, but that’s what he felt. Laying there in the middle of the dark alleyway, he felt the same loneliness as when Mandy left for University, and the same loneliness as when his Father disowned him all those years ago. When someone takes your possessions in the dark of night --- you are one thing, alone. But you are comforted by the fact that it’s something you know extremely well.
Richard Leonard stepped out into the foyer and looked at the pretty receptionist. “Have you seen Hooper?” he asked. She pointed to the sofa, where a man, somewhat similar to Tom Hooper, was sitting there in a daze; looking like he’d just escaped a large explosion.
“Everything okay, Tom?” asked Leonard.
“I’ve written the pages.”
“Are you OK?”
“I’ve done the fucking pages,” whispered Tom.
They were in his office. Tom didn’t even remember walking in there. Maybe he’d blanked out for a bit. “I have good news Tom,” said Leonard, “we’re going to publish this baby. We love it.”
“We really do,” said a woman who appeared from nowhere and looked exactly like Catherine Zeta-Jones, “it’s a masterpiece.”
Somehow, from somewhere, Tom managed a smile. He’d made it. This was his moment.
“One thing though,” explained Leonard, “We’re going to go with the original version after-all. Thanks for trying, but the new draft is a little too realistic for our liking.”
Tom sat there in silence. There was a buzzing in his ears and the vague chance that he hadn’t heard what Richard Leonard had just said. Either way – he was now a published author.