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The Books of Darkness

by Robert N. Stephenson

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Chapter 17

The Sunday Mail ran the headline, ‘Goth Writer Causes Suicide’. Talk had started that I would be charged with contributing to Steven’s death. I hadn’t spoken with the police since the day after his body had been discovered, so the news came as a surprise. Little had been said about Steven’s plagiarism. I immediately hired a lawyer, and in less than a week she had confirmed that no charges were to be laid. Steven had committed suicide.

But I had been found guilty by my peers, and the headlines which appeared around the country made for several terse calls from my publisher. Over the next month my book sales increased tenfold, and the publisher went from angry and wanting to cancel my contract to glowing with new offers. Goth girl might have been cast aside by the literary clique, but the readers were sticking by me and increasing their support.

Who could know what Steven would do once his fraud had been revealed. It was well known he was a troubled man, suffered severe depression, like most writers, including me, and was prone to alcohol abuse and fits of anger. No one really expected he’d take that one step over the line and actually kill himself.

In my gut, I knew he’d take that step, and in a way it was my intention the line would be crossed. I started to believe the feelings of the writers around the country. I did drive Steven to suicide. The woman I loved and hoped to win over drove the rumour mill that had been designed to bring me down. The one I desired became my personal enemy.

I’d only told the truth. But just how much truth can anyone really take? In my interviews with the police I didn’t mention Uri and simply stated the front page of the book had been mailed to me. Uri’s death had frightened me, I had to admit it, and who ever was responsible might come after me looking for the book. The media helped create the distance I needed from the discovery, but by protecting me they also convicted me.

I drove out to Brighton for a walk along the beach. The day was warm, the sky clear and the air the usual Adelaide dry. My light green shirt and baggy white shorts wouldn’t look out of place walking amongst the bathers and screaming children. I used to like going to the beach and wading into the water, but that was a long time ago, in another life.

I parked a few streets from the steps to the sand. The wind, light but blustery, blew my hair about and into my face. I tied it back with an elastic band and tucked what I could under a straw sunhat.

The crashing of waves became a solid background noise, but it wasn’t until I got closer that I heard the light laughter of children. I walked down the access steps, feeling sand, blown by the wind, sting my bare calves. Coloured beach hats and umbrellas were everywhere. By three, this beach would be deserted as the sun grew blazing and the sand too hot to stand on.

I slipped off my sandals and let the early morning coolness of the sand engulf my feet, but soon I was walking on hard sand, it cracking under each step. Small waves broke and washed up on the shore. Wave boards rushed in on the tide, then their riders would run back into the water ready to catch the next wave.

For a time I just stood looking out to the flat horizon, water rushing over my feet and then just as fast rushing back. My feet sunk in the wet sand. A tanker, coming from Outer Harbour sat like a black smudge against the sky where it met the sea. They were going somewhere, I thought; I wish I was going somewhere.

* * *

I read a poem from Steven’s book while I waited for the group to arrive at the Blackwood Recreation centre. Another chance to find the true author of the book, another straw grab to hopefully bring that bastard down.

I’d heard rumours about this group, how it was hard and fast, the participants dedicated to getting work published. All or most of the writers here were accomplished, well published but outside of the circle. Maybe, just maybe one of these writers was who I searched for. They met once a week, every Monday night at seven. Most groups I’d found and attended met once a month, and getting published wasn’t their primary concern. I arrived early, trying to work out how I would approach the subject with them. The car light was dim, but I could read the poem clearly enough.

The Dark One

Overcame the fair one
Terrible incantations
Helped by the herb
She trampled the picture
Evil triumphs
Over innocence

KVT, the letters tiny, were directly underneath. Were these the initials of the poem’s true author? Did anyone in the group have these initials?

The group met in a brightly lit room near the basketball courts and the gym. I walked in at five past seven. Six people sat around two foldout white tables.

“Please, come in,” a rotund man said. He looked like he’d just walked in off the street. Hair a mess, face unshaven in the ‘couldn’t be bothered’ look, and he wore a denim and wool coat. I pulled out a plastic green chair and sat opposite.

There was a definite funk in the air, a combination of a day’s body odour and smelly sand-shoes. The room was cool and the atmosphere relaxed in a jovial manner. The only female member, an English girl, pretty and in her forties I’d guessed, smiled widely. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like in a group of all male writers. How would any of them understand the female point of view?

Once my pad and pen were on the table, the rotund man, Bob, introduced the other members. All welcomed me and commented on how much they enjoyed my books. I thought the night would digress into writer worship, but these writers weren’t easily influenced by fame. They continued in the normal fashion as if I were just another member. It was a good feeling.

Each writer read sections of their works in progress and the others commented, giving advice and direction. The comments were direct, to the point and refreshingly good. I listened and took notes and offered comments where I felt they were appropriate. All their styles were vastly different, but none matched what I was looking for, and none of the personalities in the room hinted at them being willing to allow someone else to use their work.

After the readings I asked if they knew an author with the initials KVT. They all did, he had been a member of the group. Kurt von Trojan had been a client of Bob’s literary agency up until his death a few years back.

“How did he die?” I asked

“Cancer,” Bob said, it was clear he was still upset about it. “A great writer, just unknown most of his life.”

“Is this his work?” I showed them the poem in Steven’s book.

“Certainly is,” another member, Kain Massin said, reading the page.

“I thought it was a nice touch by Steven,” Bob said, also reading the page. “Kurt mentored him when he was younger.”

A connection.

“Does the rest of the book sound like Kurt?” The group looked at each other as if I were a little nuts.

Kain Massin took the book and opened it to the first page. “None of this, but the poem remotely sounds like Kurt, so I don’t think Steven showed too much of his influence here, but...” he read a few lines from the first page. He stopped, closed the book and handed it back to me. “The opening page sounds just like the way my father speaks English. So, I am guessing Steven has some Hungarian influences.”

“I didn’t pick that up,” the English girl said. “I just thought it was a crap book.” Good, not everyone was a fan of Steven’s.

It wasn’t much, but I had something to go on. Sadly I couldn’t talk to Kurt to find out why one of his poems was in the book. I thanked them and we shared a few funny moments from writing life, including the time the group was visited by Elizabeth Moon, and they deconstructed one of her stories she braved reading to them. It was good to know these people weren’t influenced by fame.

On leaving, I invited them to a small get-together I was having for my new book, Black Pizza, a children’s book. They agreed to come, which for some strange reason made me feel happy. It was as though I’d known these writers for many years, especially Bob. He had immediately commented on just how beautiful I was soon after I’d sat down. At first I thought him to be a typical male sexist pig, but during the night I discovered he just wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, and that he really didn’t care much for what people thought about him. Maybe if Steven had been more like him I’d have had some respect for his work. If he wasn’t male I might have asked him out for a drink.

I’d just about exhausted writing groups in Adelaide, and it became clear the book didn’t come from within the industry. The only person I could realistically approach for the truth was Steven Opie, and he wasn’t about to tell me what he’d done. If Samantha knew, I might be able to ease the information out, but when it came down to evidence she wouldn’t do anything to harm her lover. I knew her well enough to understand that much.

I sat in my car, engine running, the smell of petrol and fumes coming through the open driver’s side window. I should just go home, be done with my search for the night, but I felt frustrated, annoyed and more than just a little tense. The Duck Inn would still be open and I could do with a few stiff scotches to settle the mess of thoughts.

More than a few drinks later, and a swerving drive home, I collapsed in front of the TV. An old horror movie was playing on Channel 2; my vision, too bleary, created a grey haze in front of my eyes. The images moved and shuffled, sprayed shadows over the darkened room. Whatever it was, it sent me to sleep.

Copyright © 2009 by Robert N. Stephenson

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