DAVID WILDMAN WRITING EXCERPTS
FALL OF WATER (a novel in progress)
I’m setting out on a scorching hot November morning with twenty-seven teenagers. They’re freshman at Tolson High, students of Creative Writing, and I’m their teacher, hoping this little outing will inspire literary inspiration from something other than a goddamned computer screen.
One of them, Brenda, has volunteered as my guide and my eyes. I need the assistance because, although my world is a vast buffet of scattered memories, emotions and sensory information, vision is not on the menu. It hasn’t been for as long as I can remember. My awareness begins at age eleven, when my foster parents found me blind and wandering around, so all bets are off before then.
Follow the children.
I don’t know why this occurs to me, but it does. The plan was to stay on the path that snakes around the trees until we all got tired, then make sure to return before we reached the river. But now we’ve arrived. The smell of briny rushing water brings a spreading unease. The image of my head going beneath the surface is right up there with being buried alive.
Panic is setting in.
But that’s all in my head. Outside a shouting, giggling mass of footsteps are spilling out onto the bridge. Kids are running and getting stupid.
A hundred feet below, the whitewater rages, as if inside me.
There’s a sudden sharp pain. My mouth lets out a sickly sound, like a clubbed seal.
“Are you alright Mr. Symington?” Brenda asks.
Before I can answer, a horrible feeling hits me. There’s something out there, hanging over the water beyond the bridge. And it knows I’m here.
The wind howls. It’s gotten cold, despite the blistering heat just moments ago.
An object lands on my shoulder. I find my voice.
“Stop throwing stuff!” Something about its texture feels familiar, hard and a bit slimy. I hold it up for everyone to see. “What is this?”
“Eww! It’s an eyeball!”
Death is falling from a sky where it hasn’t rained in years.
Don’t be afraid.
But I am. Huge chunks of hail suddenly pour down, clattering on the bridge like machine gun fire. The kids shout and push in panic, rushing toward the safety of the trees.
I toss the eyeball, but continue to stand there at the guardrail, frozen in place as everyone rushes past.
And then a woman is there. I see her in my mind, suspended in air, out over the water.
She’s calling to me.
“Blake, this life is not real. Return to my arms. Come back to who you once were…”
I feel a chill. This is pure insanity. I’ve lost every last marble I had. What am I doing here?
And yet somehow something inside remembers her and betrays all the rest of me.
I can’t resist. My foot is up on the railing, brittle muscles stretch and I’m standing on top of it. The rushing water far below is tugging at my essence. I’m mesmerized, beyond fear, locked into some sort of trance…I start to lean forward…
Then something lifts my body up, and I’m back safely standing on the bridge. Someone is running away down the other side.
It’s a miracle.
I’m shocked back to reality, saved from myself, brought to my senses.
The hail has stopped and the temperature is going back up.
After a little while I hear footsteps and then, “Are you okay Mr. Symington?”
Brenda, coming back across the bridge.
“Don’t worry, everything’s fine,” I tell her. “Let’s go join the others.”
I’m desperately hoping she didn’t see me up on that railing. That would be messy. No kid her age would know what to make of it.
Hell, I don’t even have a clue myself what just happened.
DEATH OF A GHOSTWRITER (a novel in progress)
1 | TRANSGRESSION
The front door to the old house was blood red, and I swear to God it was staring at me.
Feeling suddenly vulnerable, I spun around to gaze at the piles of broken asphalt in the driveway and the thick jungle of weeds in the front yard, glanced warily back at the shuttered structure, with its peeling diarrhea brown exterior and the cracked cement steps beneath my filthy work boots.
It was hard to believe anybody could live here.
But somebody had to, because I’d stolen their manuscript.
As I stood there, getting my courage up, trying to decide what I was going to say to this stranger, I thought that maybe if I could explain, tell them my story, they might understand.
You see, I was the one that did the deed, but it wasn’t without a reason.
It all came down to my ex-wife.
We’d both been aspiring writers. When we’d tied the knot we made an agreement that whoever was published first would get to devote all their time to their art. The other would agree to support them. It wasn’t a marriage so much as a bad bet.
Obviously I lost.
Or maybe she was just better than me. That thought stung, there in the back of my mind.
So I went out to dutifully win the bread, while she won stardom as a best-selling author.
But that was just the beginning.
As soon as my ex sold her first book, she sold us all down the river, immediately hiring someone to look after our son Oscar. Then she was off on tour, and as it turned out, fucking anyone that asked if she wanted “Paper or plastic?”
Meanwhile I was still toiling away in frustration on the novel I’d started in college, XO the Dog, a work of serious literary fiction about a sentient pet who destroys a family. My job had swallowed up my life. I’d been an in-house agent and editor for a small Boston publishing house, where they worked me to the bone and paid me shit.
In the end it didn’t matter. After the divorce, I walked into my job the morning of the custody hearing and found out they were letting me go. The publisher couldn’t afford to pay anymore. Driving home to prepare for the battle of my life that would happen later that afternoon, I passed a garbage truck and saw a couple of my high school buddies there lifting barrels. I rolled down the window and asked if they were hiring.
If I had to tell the judge I was currently unemployed, there wasn’t a chance.
Later that day, World War IV descended on the Boston courtroom, the dust settled, and in the end, I won the biggest prize there was, Oscar.
After the hearing, the Abomination, as I’ve come to call her, hissed at me and told me I might have her son, but that she could promise I would never have success.
I blame those words for what I later did.
The trash collecting job turned out to be not so bad. It was predictable and left me time to write, and my friends made it bearable.
And so the day came that I was able to finish my novel. My amazing second wife Tigris urged me to send it out to agents and chase my dreams.
After hundreds of rejections, I had given up completely.
Then out of the blue I received an email from an agent. His name was Sam Octavia, and he explained he’d found my manuscript on the floor when his office was being moved. Apparently the book had caught his interest, but he’d decided it wasn’t the best fit for him. Basically it was a personalized form letter. But then at the end he added, “If you had something more of a highbrow thriller, or murder mystery, I’d be interested in looking at it.”
I filed that away in the packrat part of my mind that collects such useless things. Then one morning when I was riding the truck picking up trash, I saw a black plastic bag out in front of what we’d long thought was an abandoned house.
Jumping off the runner, I grabbed it, but the bag wasn’t tied. Something fell to the ground, covered in coffee filings and purple splotches of blueberry yogurt.
A bulk of paper, bound. It looked like a manuscript.
Death of a Ghostwriter.
No author’s name.
I stuck it in my orange winter coat.
Later I checked it out, and saw that it was thriller, with sparkling prose. The opening sentence read: “Danielle stood on the street and tried to make out the top of the skyscraper, measuring the distance from pavement to parapet in fluttering heartbeats.”
It was exactly what that agent was looking for.
I got crazy drunk and stoned up in my attic office that night. It was late, and my sense of self-worth had reached rock bottom. I had a beautiful, brilliant wife and a wonderful son, yet I felt like an utter failure. My ex’s curse haunted me, that I’d never have success.
Maybe I needed to be someone else to get it.
It would be so wrong to claim another writer’s work as my own. But what if this manuscript could help me get my foot in the door? If I could get one agent to accept me, I might be able to use it getting others to take my real novel seriously.
At some point during all this, my brooding thoughts and rationalizations gradually morphed into reality, and I could no longer tell the difference.
And so, with the dullness of mind that goes with starting a repetitive task, I put The Stranglers on Spotify and headed over to my copy machine to set about scanning the whole manuscript to digital.
It took about an hour-and-a-half.
The whole time this was happening I never thought I’d actually go through with it, right up to the moment I watched myself attach the file to the agent’s email. For about ten minutes I just stared at it, vaguely trying to rescue myself from a really bad idea, but knowing it was futile. Then I vaped another huge hit, and it gave me all the stupid I needed to push send.
The next day, nothing happened. In fact, I didn’t hear anything from Sam Octavia for at least a month, and in time I almost nearly forgot about it. Then he wrote back.
Not only had he loved it, he’d been having lunch with an editor at Logins Withier, one of the biggest publishers, and he’d mentioned it to them. They took it, and three weeks later had an offer: A hundred thousand dollars.
My heart leaped, and then tripped and fell to the floor. It was suddenly real. I was a major success just like I’d always hoped. But I felt like shit. In fact the misery was the worst thing I’d ever experienced, even including what my ex put me through. There was no sharing my surprise good fortune with Tigris or Oscar. The choice was mine, grab this illicit prize and lie for the rest of my life, or turn it down and be a loser.
But at least losers can sleep at night.
And so in the end I decided to do the right thing.
And that’s why I was there at the old house, holding the manuscript, with everything paused, the sounds of someone playing piano scales in the innocent distance.
I looked down, shifted my feet; took a breath.
The thing was in a folder with all of the agent’s contact info. I thought of just leaving it there, like a UPS delivery.
No. Painful as it was, I had to take responsibility for my actions.
There was no bell, so I lifted my fist, ready to knock and accept my fate.
And then I watched the door slowly open on its own.
THE MYRIAD ERA (a novel in progress)
Guy’s fucking head was exploding.
It went on all night, a cocaine buzz to beat all others.
And now it was morning.
Usually even the best shit wore off pretty quickly, like big spectacle fireworks flaming out into cinders.
Not this motherfucker. It was hanging in there like goddamn Donald Trump.
He swallowed as many aspirin as he figured he could take without killing himself.
He got ready to Google “Cocaine” and “Brain damage”, but couldn’t focus enough to get it together. He could try calling Dave to see if the shit was doing this to him as well, but that was a bad idea. Doma would never let on anything was getting to him, even if he’d snorted battery acid and it cratered his skull. But he would delight in calling his boss a pussy, and he’d probably have a point.
Guy told himself to take a shower and shut the fuck up.
But then his phone beeped, and the calendar item came up: “Dr. Bledsoe – 10:15am”
He glanced at the time over on the corner of the screen. It said 10:07.
No shower for you, fool.
It would take him minimum ten minutes to get there. But if he didn’t go to this shrink appointment, she’d know, and he could be out on his ass. She was that pissed, more than anytime he could remember. This was pretty much the only thing saving his ass from eviction.
He tried to gauge his level of buzz. Still felt pretty much the way he did when he first snorted that long line of Doma’s premium Peruvian Marching Powder late last night. Guy could only barely remember the man depositing him on the doorstep and driving off in the early hours. He’d snuck in and climbed onto the couch as delicately as he could.
Now she was gone to work. This was a good thing for so many reasons, but mainly because there’s no chance she would have let him get behind the wheel of a car this way. And forget about asking her to drive him there.
Too fucked up on drugs to get to his drug therapy session?
Checkmate, before he had a chance to even put his pieces on the board.
She wouldn’t have expended more than two words: “Get” and “Out.”
Now he was thinking maybe he could call an Uber or something, but even if they magically got there in five minutes, there’s no way he could pay them enough money to speed through town at twenty or thirty miles over the limit.
No, this was a job for somebody really stupid and reckless.
But first he tried one last ditch effort to save himself.
“Dr. Bledsoe’s office,” the woman said on the phone.
“This is Guy Walsh.” He ran his fingers through his greasy long hair, felt himself grimacing with every word. “I’ve got a 10:15 with you and I’m running a bit behind, so could we reschedule ‘til, say, later in the day?”
The woman didn’t hesitate for a second.
“There are no more openings today, the doctor’s next appointment is in two weeks on…Tuesday, at 11. Do you want me to write you in?”
Fuck no. He could be on Doma’s couch by then, or worse.
“No. I’ll be there. Just tell him I might be a touch late.”
“Okay. Then we’ll see you when you get here.”
He was still wearing the same jeans and red button down corduroy he’d had on for all of yesterday. It probably stunk to high heaven, but his dripping coke sinuses had rendered him nose blind. He grabbed some anti-p from his suitcase and rolled it under his T-shirt, over armpits and chest.
Before he knew it, Guy found himself in the driver’s seat of his cherry red Porsche, one of the few remaining toys from the days when they could afford such things.
THE BOOK OF ENEMY (a completed novel)
When I was very young a part of me went missing.
A lot of years passed and a number of really incredible things happened before I finally realized it. In fact, were it not for an organization called Engine, I might have gone an entire lifetime without knowing.
Then again, Engine fucked me up but good, so these things do tend to balance each other out.
But there’s a lot more to it than that. This isn’t just about me. It’s about something so big and so terrifying that I struggle to find words for it. It has to do with why we’re all here, and what we’re really supposed to be doing with our lives. Engine was created to deal with this thing, but like I said, they have problems of their own.
Look, I know. Maybe you aren’t the sort of person who goes in for strange mindreading cults or outlandish concepts about the planet being alive, and actively trying to kill us. Believe me, I wasn’t either.
I didn’t ask to have a crazy story to tell.
If it’s going to make any sense though, I will have to begin it at a time before I knew about any of this, when powerful unseen forces were coming together at once, rushing towards a single point in space and time.
Just as with the universe itself, there was an accident.
THE RED RIVER VIRUS (published in The Huffington Post)
He doesn’t know how long it’s been since he first squeezed his eyelids shut to double the darkness. He’s been thinking about how the closing of eyes doesn’t close anything, just redirects the gaze inwards towards tiny drawn curtains of flesh and that this is what he will be forced to stare at until his stubborn brain gives in and shuts down awareness, and in that same thought he realizes that maybe what he’s actually fearing is oblivion itself, that this might be the final sleep of death, pulled under by the red river virus, and what excellent song lyrics those might be if he can survive and remember them. It doesn’t help that just before bed he’d taken a look at the infection moving from elbow to bicep, mercury rising up a flesh thermometer. It had marched right through his fading Motorhead tattoo like Hitler taking Poland, giving the gleaming skull and horns an angry glowing pink backdrop. He’d managed to get under the covers before Emily could glimpse it though, telling her only that he felt a little feverish. No way he’s going to any hospital, because man are they gonna ask questions. Anyway, if it’s really bad, he knows Emily will save him. She always has, always will...
The voice on the phone pulled me from a deep sleep.
“I hope I didn’t wake you.”
It couldn’t be.
“Wow. This is a surprise.”
It had been years, and it had ended ugly. Well, for me at least.
“We had some good times, didn’t we?”
There was something disturbing in his voice.
“I guess we did,” I said.
Was he being nostalgic, or was it something else?
“I hope you’re not calling ten years later to say you regret it.”
He let out his breath, which on my cellphone sounded like a flurry of static.
“I don’t like that word.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying…I fucked up. I mean; I’m fucked up.”
I couldn’t believe it. Everything I’d heard and seen had led me to believe he was living a charmed existence.
“Look, everybody loves you, man. I mean…you’re famous. You’re all over those TV commercials. Hell, after all this time you still look like Robert Plant.”
“And I bet you still look like, uh, that actor. Montgomery Clift.”
“You didn’t even know who he was until I told you.”
“Okay, but see? I remember those things.”
“Saw you just got married, too. It was all over the news. You had that shit-eating grin. I thought you looked happy.”
“Yeah, well that’s what everyone sees.”
There was a long pause, as if he was thinking something over. Then he said:
“Look, I’m still using, John. I have been all along. Only it’s gotten worse.”
Screaming Down the Highway
Music makes me see through walls. Gravity means nothing. I can lift up everyone around me. All things fall away, and a melody emerges.
Just minutes ago I was there, harvesting the moment; capping the creative spark. Now I’m back, piloting the van, playing it back in my mind as I drive. Gears grind up the ramp on this overcast afternoon. I’m suspended here, racing down the lane, with the ugly Boston sprawl far below. A gold Charger appears, trying to speed up and pass me, smug in its 84 horsepower buzz. It’s just like that Chuck Berry song, the one John Lennon borrowed for the beginning of “Come Together”, where flat top comes up behind, movin’ up slowly, so he puts his foot down and starts to roll, til he hears the cops coming, then he lets out his wings and becomes airborne. In Chuck Berry’s world he was always screaming down some highway, riding on a wild cloud of crazy electric energy. He discovered a strange life force off in another dimension and brought it back for all of us.
Sometimes, on a rare day, I’m allowed to have the tinniest echo of it for myself.
In 2007 this screenplay was optioned by the Lift Productions film company of Shreveport, Louisiana, who made "Factory Girl" and "Pride" but were subsequently raided by the FBI and shut down (although no wrongdoing was found). The screenplay is a thriller about a woman coming into contact with her filmmaker father who abandoned her as a child, and nobody turns out to be what they seem.
INT. CARLA AND MADELINE'S APARTMENT IN LOUISIANA - DAY
CARLA REDFERN, 28, blonde and attractive, wearing a
light sundress, sits at the kitchen table in front of a
large stack of mail. She begins to pick through it.
Piling up bills to one side, she comes to a handwritten
letter. Interested, she opens it and starts to read. Her
roomate MADELINE, 36, brunette with a few gray streaks,
New Orleans accent, strides in, wearing waitress
outfit,getting ready to leave.
Aren't you going to be just a
little bit late this morning,
(absorbed in letter)
Day off, remember?
I'm surprised you remember
anything after last night.
Pouring that director free
drinks like that. And did you
get an audition out of it?
Didn't think so.
Madeline notices that Carla isn't paying attention.
What's that, letter from home?
Carla is still engrossed in the letter.