Friday, January 27, 2012

A Day In The Life Of Writer Maureen Johnson

(Thanks to a suggestion by my friend Joanna.)

It's quiet in the New York apartment, too quiet. Once upon a time, this was a charming little walk up, three rooms that might make good closets in more sensible cities, but are considered stunningly spacious by the standards of the Big Apple - with a price to match. Nowadays, though, it's a churning jungle - so many plants packed so closely together that the walls and even the ceiling can barely be seen through their leafy fronds. It's sweltering in here, the heavy oppressive weight of thousands of living things crammed into so tight a space, helped along by pots of water kept ever boiling on little hot plates in the corners; what the landlord might say of this tropical paradise will never be known, for he vanished into the green the last time he did an apartment inspection, never to be seen again. This is the domain of the Maurcat, a fierce and solitary jungle predator. As footsteps echo through the foliage, the heavy plodding tread of one full of foreboding, the solitary inhabitant of the jungle stirs, slits open her eyes. Prey approaches; in response to the sound, her stomach growls softly, echoed by a low rumbling purr deep in her throat. Like Pavlov's dog, she begins to drool, letting her jaw unhinge and fall open, spilling ropy strands out onto the thick loam that covers the remains of the shag carpet. She slides out from under the giant, prehistoric fern that shields her from the morning light streaming through the high, slightly fogged windows that look out on a busy New York street, ignoring the glare that threatens to penetrate her skull with stabbing spears of radiance. There's no time to flinch from the sun when there's food in the offering. She low crawls through the undergrowth, moving in time with the plodding footsteps that bring her meal ever closer to her, silent as the grave. The steps grow louder as they draw nearer, but slower; their owner dreading the ordeal he knows is coming. She continues to slink along the undergrowth, peering through the tangles of wild hair that hide her face; at long last, she sits in front of the door, ears perked, jaw still hanging loose in blissful anticipation. She knows he stands on the other side of the thick door, hand raised to knock, frozen in terror; she knows she can outwait him, even though her stomach is twisted in knots and the hunger courses through her veins like a living thing, urging her to pounce, urging her to spring.

At long last, after a lifetime of waiting, comes the soft, hesitant tap at the door. She lunges, whipping free the chain and the locks in a single, practiced motion, flinging open the heavy door. Despite knowing it's coming and anticipating, the delivery man still flinches as the wild eyed monster tears the bag from his hands, snarling and snapping. The door slams shut again before he can step back, leaving his hands empty and trembling. The call to this apartment comes perhaps once a week; it's always paid in advance by credit card, usually with a healthy tip. The corporate account of some publishing company across town; the boss didn't ask questions. He was starting to wonder if the tip was really worth going through this ordeal once a week. Sooner or later, someone was going to forget an egg roll or the dumplings were going to be cold, and then he could kiss his life goodbye.

A terrible growl came from behind the door, and he almost fell over himself scrambling backwards and away. Busy stuffing her mouth with vegetables and tofu chunks, styrofoam containers and all, Maureen Johnson - infamous young adult author - smiles as she hears the footsteps pounding away down the hall, much faster than they had arrived.

Fast food and terror. Breakfast of champions.

Hunger momentarily sated, she pushes aside a clump of poisonous brambles to expose the low, hulking form of a computer - if it were developed by Nikola Tesla on one of his notorious beer and opium binges. The case is made of brass and copper, green with verdigris in the humid air of the apartment, the monitor case is wood - decorated with various colorful fungi - while the screen is an uncut crystal that buzzes with the hum of ten thousand killer bees. The computer only has two purposes; to assist her in producing the novels that are an almost unwilling side effect of her demented genius, and trolling Twitter. She types as her eyes scan the screen, back and forth, as fast as a dreamer rapt in sleep; taking in everything, feeding as surely from the words on the screen as she had from the delivered food, sating deeper and darker hungers in the wellsprings of information. Her fingers dance across the keyboard, deftly stroking the carved knucklebones; they wail softly as she taps them, as though pained by her touch, and each tweet enters the world with a sob like a newborn ripped from its warm, comforting womb. Soon, she will turn from the nest of social media and begin stalking another story, her mind already feeling its way through the labyrinthine patterns, testing its twisted, intricate skeins. First, though... her ears twitch lightly as she recognizes the sound of something rustling through the underbrush, the skittery, chitinous sound so sweetly familiar... she leaps from her computer as Four Questions burst out of the foliage, their claws clip-clapping menacingly. They thought they had her at bay; more fools, they. She lands full on the back of the first one, crushing it under her despite its heavy, gnarled shell. "What crayon would you be, if you were trapped in a box of Crayolas?" it moans as it expires. "Cerulean orange, with polka dot stripes." She replies absently, ducking under the slashing talons of the next. Rather than the lobster claws of the first, this one has twin blades like an oversized praying mantis, mounted on the legs of a spider. She does a backflip, kicking its mandibles off, and following it up with a crushing axe kick that smashes its abdomen. The mandibles chitter, "where do my socks keep disappearing off to?" as they fly into the underbrush.

"The sock gnomes emerge from their hiding places beneath the cupboards and eat them, a cannibalistic sacrifice to Bhaal-Ahriman," she spits. The third wraps its centipede body around her, trying to crush her like an anaconda would; she flexes her arms, and it tears into gossamer shreds, shrieking "Do you know where your towel is?" Maureen stands on its tattered carcass and raises her arms triumphantly to the sky.

"It sent me a postcard after it conquered Gaul, but I haven't heard from it since."

The last Question rolls itself up into a tight ball, as if hoping to hide from her - or, worst to worst, keep her at bay with its armored carapace. She leaped forward and punted it, reliving her glory days as the lead kicker for the Denver Broncos, before Tim Tebow broke the gem of worlds and rewrote reality. She liked things better this day, but sometimes she missed the smell of the locker rooms. The Question smashes into one of the apartment walls, and slowly slides to the ground, now mostly flat. It whispers, "Was it always like this?" before it expires.

"Only on Tuesdays," Maureen says, and sits down at her computer to spend the rest of the day writing.


Bethany the Martian said...

This. Is. Amazing. I think you just won the status of being her official biographer.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That's literally the only response I can think of.

Allie said...


Jim said...

Well done Jeremy. That was very fun to read.

Jay-wa said...

The writing alone is magnificent but the story is incredible....and seems weirdly accurate.