I did an experiment the other day. I wanted to see if two writers who have never met each other could write a good short story together. I did this experiment on a site called omegle.com, where you can chat anonymously with random people from all over the world. I put “writing” as my interest and got linked with some person who also put “writing” in their interests list. We didn’t plan a plot line or anything. We just alternated writing back and forth, and what emerged was this strangely good piece of prose. A few spelling adjustments were made, but otherwise I haven’t altered the story.
It wasn’t the prettiest of days and the early morning commute was the same monotonous drag as always.
He had been staring across the street. A crow was standing unusually tall on a naked tree. He didn’t notice the bus coming from the distance like he usually does and was surprised when it slowed down in front of him and opened its door. He stumbled into it and scrambled in his back pocket to get out his transit pass. The grey-haired driver gave a tedious nod, oblivious to the post-expiration date.
The man shuffled to the middle of the bus and found an empty seat next to a seemingly nervous woman who appeared to have pulled two different socks out of her drawer earlier this morning. He raised his vision to see what was in her hands: a black book with no front or back cover.
He knew the hour was too young to strike up small talk with a stranger, but, an avid reader himself, he couldn’t contain his curiosity. He leaned a bit towards the old woman, causing her to idly move her arms trying to find a more comfortable position. He caught the title from the corner of his eyes in its usual resting place, the top of the left page.
“The Dark Collector”
Fitting title, he thought.
He tried not to think much of it, but the woman’s nervous fumbling, her mismatching socks, and the black book all had a distant sense of eeriness about it. He looked out the window on his right and spotted another crow sitting smugly on a wire. It was just a moment’s glance before the bus passed by it, but he felt the crow staring right back at him. He looked back to his left, but the woman had closed her book and now had her hands resting on their respective knees.
Maybe just an odd start, he mused. Considering the fact that he had burnt his toast and had spent a good five minutes looking for his keys before having left his apartment, he instinctively knew the day could only get better from now on. He glanced at his Swiss-made wrist watch, not fully having registered the time, and then back out the window.
Suddenly he heard a soft voice.
“Excuse me, sir?”
It was the lady sitting next to him.
He let out a nervous cough while turning his head towards the woman, and squeezed out a reply.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said, barely audible over the rumbling of the diesel motor, “but aren’t you Thomas Harten? The chief editor at TIMES Magazine?”
Why would Thomas Harten, chief editor at TIMES Magazine, be taking the bus in the morning? he thought. Nonetheless he wanted to know what she had to say.
“I’m surprised you recognized me, ma’am.”
“I’m a fan of your work,” she said with a forced smile. “Elisabeth Parre.” Her outstretched hand was met with a firm handshake.
“Pleasure, Miss Parre,” he said. So this is what it’s like to be famous? he mused.
The woman cleared her throat and opened her black book. The pages looked worn out and the print was sloppy. “I was wondering if you might have some room for a quote for your next issue.”
Just as he was about to blurt out a yes, he thought there’d be no way TIMES had any room left on their next issue. She’d see right through it – they always work several issues ahead.
“No, I’m sorry,” he said, with a saddened voice out of small smile – perfect for a chief editor, he thought – “although we may be able to squeeze a quote from a fan of ours in the following one.”
The woman’s face lit up, but, looking closely, he could tell that she was acting. He didn’t know why – she’s talking to the chief editor of TIMES Magazine after all.
“Brilliant,” she exclaimed. Pointing to a sentence in her book, she said, “This is the one I had in mind. I think it’s beautiful.”
He squinted at the smudgy script and managed to decipher it. What he read wasn’t a quote. It was a name. “Thomas Harten.” A moment of shock gripped him. The bus slowed to a stop, and the woman immediately shut the book and swiftly stepped off the bus. Before he could say a word, the doors closed behind her and the bus kept moving.
He tried to open up a window to get some air, but the damn thing wouldn’t budge. He looked up from the mechanism and made out a shadow on lamp post far ahead, another one of those odd crows. This was too much, he had to get out of the bus. He ran past the other passengers, pushing a few of them along the way, and got to the driver.
“I’m feeling sick”, he said. “I need to get off. I think I might throw up.”
The bus driver irritatedly sighed, stopped the bus at the nearest intersection, and opened up the door.
He stumbled out of the bus and grabbed onto the bus sign post.
“What the hell,” he exhaled heavily. He shook his head trying to clear his mind. “What the hell was that?” he said, louder than he intended. Breathless, he scrambled for his phone in his pocket.
He scrolled past his contacts, made out the entry for his work place, and dialed it.
“Hello?” he paused, waiting for a reply and heard a warm, “Yessir!” He thought it was strange but made nothing of it.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to make it today, I feel horrible.” He waited and added, “I think I’ve been cursed.”
He heard a nervous laughter on the other end, “No problem, I’ll make sure to inform everyone,” said the man on the line. He was about to say thank you and hang up when he heard, “Anything else I can help you with, Mr. Harten?”