I’m working my way through Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook, and had fun with this exercise. You’re given the beginning of a story and asked to finish it. The part in gray is the given beginning, the part in black is my ending.
THIS PLACE IS FULL OF MONSTERS
I wrote another story late last night. It’s a tiny little one, and it’s very shy. It fits in the palm of my hand and it’s shaky on its legs. The story has large eyes that can see in the dark. It is covered in green fur. It has really large teeth for something so small… Now I’m thinking maybe I’m wrong and it’s not a story at all.
The story gnawed its way into my belly and then crawled up into my head, and now it’s making me navigate my way down the street, giddy and disoriented, shouting, “Make way for the Story! Make way for the Story!”
The tiny story that turned into a creature and invaded my brain sprouted out of the top of my head in a riot of wildflowers and weeds. It was uncomfortable but somehow it felt right. Even the bumblebees circling my head like a halo.
The field of wildflowers and weeds that had sprouted atop my head… this field that had once been a short story… now gave root to a sapling. I soon realized as I tried to balance despite this latest intrusion that the weight would soon be unsupportable. In the meantime, I would need a shoulder crutch that rose into a trellis lashed to the sapling just to walk around. I contemplated wearing a very tall hat to cover it… and then thought tall hats be damned! Let the neighbors see the full glory of my story!
The story that had sprouted from my head in the form of a sapling was restless. So I took long hikes in the woods so it could be amongst its own kind. Me, the sapling, and the shoulder brace with head-trellis that helped support the sapling. But still it grew, and still it wanted more wilderness. So I….
No, I realized, this is no good. If I continued in this way, what would happen to me? I couldn’t just rush out into the wilderness without a plan. That might be an option for a tree, but it wouldn’t do for a human being. I needed food and water, a place to sleep. Still, by its very existence, my sapling made its own case.
We compromised on a city park. I took my spot on a bench facing the museum, to one side a trash bin and to the other, at a small distance, a public washroom. A place of field trips, a place of pigeon-feeding senior citizens, a place of hastily consumed urban lunches. I found a cardboard box in the trash, scrawled on it the words, “Donations please help,” and set it at the foot of my bench. Hoping, at best, for a life of living off handouts and stretching out every night for a few hours of uncomfortable sleep.
My new life turned out better than I expected. Tourists begged to get their photo taken next to me, and in return showered me with all kinds of gifts: money, subway tokens, cinnamon buns, a small pistol. What was useless to me personally I bartered with the other bums. Homeless and jobless I might be, but I was surviving.
One day a pack of stray editors came around to read my little story. Their chief stood on a ladder and read from the leaves, while the others clustered around the bench in rapturous attention. It was the first time I had heard the whole story myself, and I had to admit it wasn’t bad. Rather literary for my tastes, but still, I felt satisfied. When it was over, the editor-in-chief climbed down and stood beaming, to the wild applause of his minions. A few passers-by had even stopped to listen.
I’d never been prouder in my life. My little tree was, at last, bearing its own kind of fruit. I picked up my donation box, holding it out with trembling hands.
But the editor-in-chief only looked at me sadly, shaking his head, so that his uncut and unwashed hair flopped over one eye. “We regret that we cannot afford to pay contributors at this time. This is an exposure-only market.”
I may have been left penniless, but all the attention went to the little story’s head like sunshine and spring rain. Soon it could no longer be called a “sapling,” and I could no longer fit into the doorway of the public loo. No matter how I knelt and bent and tried to wedge myself in, the doorway was simply too small to encompass all those enthusiastic and self-congratulatory branches.
Now, as the last November leaves drop around me, all I can do is sit in my own filth. For obvious reasons, tourists no longer seek me out. Even the skeletal pensioner who used to come every morning with a bag of day-old bread for the waterfowl, as well as a crust and bit of gossip for me, has found another spot to haunt.
I may be the first amateur writer ever to die from Exposure.