by Patrik Centerwall
"I don't understand why Olof always take the fast train home," Jerry
said as he got up from the bench press.
Stephen nodded and felt the barbell. Eight repetitions would be
tough, but it was worth it. If he had chosen the fast train, he had
certainly been home in fifteen minutes but since he had begun to take
the exercise train from work, he was much more energetic in the
evenings, and that meant he would manage to sit down and write.
"By the way, a bunch of us will go out and take a few beers when
we're back home," said Jerry. "Coming?"
"No, not tonight."
"Damn, you never hang out any more, what are you doing at home
Stephen smiled and lay down on the bench. "Nothing special," he
said. "Watching a movie. Relaxing."
"I've never seen anyone look so happy when he says he's not doing
anything. Have you met a chick or what? "
"No, I'll just take it easy. It's true "
"Well, as you wish. Come on now, eight repetitions! Lift!"
* * *
Stephen had taken expensive night classes for five long years to let
his childhood dream come true: to be a writer. Five long years of
lectures, tests and exercises before he was even allowed to start
writing his first book.
He would never forget the liberating feeling when he first opened
the computer and started to fill the white space on the screen with
"Initially, it was supposed to look like the paper that they once
used in manual typewriters, and it just stayed that way," one of his
teachers had mentioned. At the same time, the teachers had also shown
how to write by hand. Most of the class had not been so interested, but
Stephen had become fascinated and asked if he could try it himself
The teacher had apparently received a reprimand. Pity, because she
was one of Stephen's favorites, but that was not something he gave much
thought about anymore. Nor was he concerned with of how much his social
life had suffered. What was a beer with some friends compared to the
chance to explore the landscapes of his own imagination?
Stephen wanted nothing more than to sit down at the computer and
write when he got home. Several of his teachers had told him that it
was unusual to have a student with such fervor, such a passion to write.
"Take it easy, you do not get published faster just because you are
so eager," he had been told. Stephen was determined to show them wrong.
Even as he stepped off the platform, taking the runway and the
elevator up to the apartment, he had begun thinking about what would
happen next in his story, but when he got home, he first had to eat. If
a meal was not properly recorded as removed from the refrigerator he
could not log on to the computer.
He used to sit and eat in front of the TV, but barely notice what
was on. Instead, his thoughts flew away to the manuscript. What had
happened last and what would happen next?
The hero had just struck down some villains who held the heroine
captive. He was not really that happy with the scene, but knew he
couldn't have written it any other way.
On the living room table lay the thumbed little booklet that The
Publishing House handed out to everyone who had passed a writers'
course. If he didn't wanted to follow the instructions, there were of
course a small chance of being published by one of the small houses,
but then there were almost no readers to recognize.
"If you write well and sell well, there is always a possibility that
you can get to write something more advanced later," his favorite
teacher said. "Maybe even poetry."
"Is there really anyone who still reads poetry?" one of the young
women in the class had asked. The teacher nodded.
"More than you think," she replied.
Stephen would like to try his wings even at poetry, but now he had
to sell, he had to write a bestseller with clear indications for a
movie adaptation. Then his fortune would be made.
He opened page 14 in the booklet. "Blood should be avoided in the
longest. Your hero or heroine may bleed a little after a fight scene to
increase the tension, but in combat, you must not describe any blood
flow, splatter or seeping as this may seem shocking to the reader. Only
villains may fire arms."
Stephen had always thought it was funny that further down it read:
"Guns should be described in detail. Feel free to name arms
manufacturer (but be prepared that you may have to change manufacturers
depending on which company decides to sponsor your book) in the same
way that you should always mention other businesses such as clothing
firms and electronics manufacturers (see page 12). "
He had been very careful in the battle scene he wrote yesterday to
describe all weapons, mention companies several times but did not have
a single shot fired. Still, the hero defeated the bad guys who kept his
beloved imprisoned. Now she would be rescued.
Stephen sat down at the computer and logged in. It was still a great
satisfaction when he heard a beep and he could read "atw" on the
screen, an accepted abbreviation for "authorized to write." He brought
home his document, read through yesterday's sections, and began writing.
* * *
Around Jeff were the three unconscious men. He knew he had to
hurry, for they would soon wake up. He looked around for a rope to tie
them up with, but when he couldn't find anything, he made due with
their Dolce and Gabbana belts and proceeded to secure their hands. He
put down his Smith & Wesson in the holster and ran through the
house. Where could she be? His heart thumped hard when his Eccoboots
echoed through the tiled corridor.
His instincts, and his love for Alice led him straight to a door
down the hall, and sure enough - there she was. She was tied to a
wooden chair in the middle of the room. The thick white ropes stood in
stark contrast to her black leather jacket from Marlboro and her
equally black Calvin Klein boots.
Jeff thought how beautiful she looked and walked up to her. He
took off her gag, a scarf from H & M, and asked if she was OK.
"I'm good. Now that you are here, she said. Release me."
Jeff smiled, and bent down over her. "Sure..." He kissed her
passionately for several minutes.
" So, you are the kind of guy that would take advantage of a
helpless woman? She asked with a breathless smile.
"Only if it's you," he said and kissed her again before he took
out his Bowie knife to cut the ropes and free her.
"If we weren't in such a hurry, I had asked you to wait with
that, she said."
Jeff smiled. She was his kind of woman.
* * *
Nick Marcus's colleagues thought he was a bit strange because he
liked his job. At the usual complaining at the coffee break over all
the nutcases who called in Nick was no longer allowed to speak.
"We know what you're going to say," they said. "But it's not at all
interesting to talk with them. Why must we continue to receive calls?
We have enough to do to respond to all the e-mails."
Nick thought that e-mails were boring. He wanted to talk to people.
He was good at talking to people, and he wasn't afraid to talk to
"Just switch them over to me," he would say. He had two modus
operandi, either he could be educational or he could be hard boiled.
Never vague as most of the other operators.
"Can you take this?" Asked Anne in the next cubicle. "There is
someone who Thinks He Is Right."
"Sure," said Nick. "Just switch it over."
"How many should I be connected between? And before that, I had to
sit for half an hour in line. My lunch break is almost over!" said He
Who Thought He Was Right even before Nick had had a chance to ask what
he could do to help.
"There are many who call in today sir. What can I do to help?"
"Why couldn't I log on to the network yesterday?"
Nick wasn't surprised. A majority of those who called or e-mailed
the international network support department assumed that their
problems were already well known by all at the help desk and did not
have to describe them more than 'Why does it not work?'.
"Could you please be a little more specific?" Nick said as he nodded
to Anne. She didn't need to care about this anymore.
"I was going to sit down and write yesterday when I came home from
work. As I always do, but I could not log on. It just blinked "access
denied" on the screen, and an urging to contact support for more
"Hmm... do you remember if there was an error code also?"
"Yes. Error Code 13."
Error Code 13. It was one of the most common. That he didn't
have to look up. "Then you have written sexually offensive material."
"Are you kidding me?"
"No, that's what the error code 13 stands for."
"But I have not written anything sexually offensive... it's... that
is ridiculous. Some occasionally kiss... and yes, you may hint in the
fifth chapter ..."
"Let's take a closer look. What's your personal code number?"
Nick entered the personal code number in to the search engine. It
blinked and he got up the current file. "Well," he said when he had
skimmed through the first section of the report. "This is serious
"Serious stuff? I don't understand. What do you mean?"
"You have written a violent, pornographic sequence. That's not good."
There was silence on the line. Nick heard a throat clearing.
"Violent? Pornographic? What do you mean? I haven't .. can you
"I can do that... just a moment." Nick quickly read on. "It seems to
me that in a scene a man is kissing a woman who is tied up."
"But it's to show that he loves her--he does not want to wait to
free her before... "
"Sir," Nick interrupted, "I 'm sorry, but I don't write the rules."
"But could you at least explain what I did wrong?"
"Let me see... the 'art of the scene is of inappropriate nature
since it can trigger unwanted behavior in people with immoral sexual
inflections and tendencies'. In plain words, there are perverts out
there who get turned on by things like that and that we can't
"Oh my God... I'll just change it then."
Nick read some more and took a sip from the coffee cup standing in
his cubicle. It was lukewarm and tasteless. "No, it's really not that simple. You
have written several other inconveniences."
"I have? What do you mean?"
"Several people in your book smoke."
"But that's just the bad guys!"
This was apparently a person who was well versed in The Publishing
Company's guidelines, but who didn't understand the nuances. Crooks
were allowed to smoke, but it didn't mean that it was appropriate to
write it. "It cannot be helped... "
"But what can I do?"
"You'll just have to come in with an appeal and an action plan on
how you propose to resolve these inappropriate scenes of yours. If
approved, you can start writing again."
"OK. How long will it take?"
"Well, anything between one to six months."
"Half a year? But how am I supposed to wait that long? I have to
write my story now!"
"Well, you'll just have to write it by hand now, won't you," Nick
said jokingly. There was, after all, no one whom wrote by hand nowadays.
* * *
"I had a strange customer in the shop today," said Josephine Aronsen
when she and her husband sat down at the dinner table.
"Yeah?" Malcolm Aronsen served soy steak to both of them and poured
himself a beer. After fifteen years of marriage with an antiques
dealer, he had begun to be quite tired of the stories of his wife's
'strange customers' and all the 'strange things' they wanted and all
the things she could find for them. The best thing was to drink as many
beers as he could for dinner and think about other things when she
insisted on telling him about her day.
"Can you guess what he was looking for?"
"I have no idea. "
"It was something that no one has asked for before."
"But you, my dear, of course had it in stock? Is there more beer at
"Sit down and I'll get one for you." Josephine did not seem to care
about her husband's surprised face when she got up to fetch him beer.
She filled his glass and sat down with a smile on her face. "He wanted
"He wanted what?"
"Paper? To..." Malcolm made a gesture with his hand behind his back
that got his wife to giggle.
"No, no . Not that. Paper to write on."
"Write on paper? Preposterous, and fishy. What was he going to
"He said something about finishing a book. He was quite manic..."
Malcolm wiped his mouth and put the napkin in his lap. "Tell me
more," he said and took a sip of his beer. He knew that he wouldn't get
away and for once, it actually sounded interesting.
"It was just before closing time. He came rushing into the store.
Thirty something. Quite well dressed, looked like your ordinary office
clerk, but he was so excited. He ran aimlessly around, lifting things,
looked at the shelves. I do have a lot of stuff in the store, you know."
Malcolm nodded. He knew. Nowadays, he always had an excuse in stock
to avoid helping with the quarterly cleaning of the store. His wife was
very good at finding unique antiques and junk that everyone else would
just throw away.
"After some time, I took courage and went up and asked him what he
was searching for. He looked at me before his eyes flickered around
again and he mumbled 'paper, I need paper.' At first I did not
understand what he meant, but he glared at me and said 'paper, for
God's sake. To write on! I have to write! I have to finish my book!'
So, he got me to rush into the stock room. I was in fact completely
convinced that I had some paper somewhere, and sure enough! It
certainly took time, but in the bottom of a box that stood in a corner,
I found a whole bunch. Five hundred sheets. He was absolutely thrilled,
and just when he was paying, he flexed his gaze on me and almost spat
out the words: 'A pen then? Do you have a pen?"'.
"Which you had?"
"Of course. You know that I brag that no one leaves my shop without
having obtained what they want. However impossible it may be."
"But is it even legal to sell pens?"
"I really do not know... why wouldn't it be? "
"You know, the law on the spread of information act..."
Josephine put down the cutlery. She had not eaten a lot of the soy
steak. Her husband on the other hand had had a very good appetite. "Oh,
I never thought about that."
"It's probably best that you check it out... I mean if it actually
is illegal then surely you will also be guilty as an accomplice."
"But then it's probably best not to say anything right?"
Malcolm shook his head. He had after all picked up some things when
he worked as an assistant at a law firm. "If you tell them how it was,
that you sold these things in good faith, it would probably suffice
with a reprimand."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. At least, if you report it as soon as possible. Sooner
or later, they will see the episode in the films from your surveillance
"You're probably right." Josephine Aronsen rose from the dinner
table and dialed the number to the police at once.
* * *
Captain Hagg was bothered by the usual stuff--that he hadn't
received any instruction on how many weapons the person they should
arrest had, how dangerous he was supposed to be or if he had any
accomplices. All he got was an address, a name, and the usual order
code: 'terror code 47'. Which meant someone who was doing something
subversive and might, or might not, be dangerous. Hagg played it safe.
That was how he got the reputation of always caching his guy, and that
was also the reason he still was alive.
Prior to this arrest, he had picked thirty of his best men. Twenty
of them were positioned in and outside the building and ten would storm
the apartment. The neighbors in the apartment building had according to
protocol been informed by a general alert call in the house's speaker
"The guy who came up with the idea that one can make sure that a
selected apartment is blocked and don't hear the alarm ought to get a
prize," said Lieutenant Cook when they took the elevator up.
"That he has. He received the 'Nobell' Prize," said one of the new
Hagg didn't remember her name, but it was not that important. She
was smart, that's for sure.
"What's a 'Nobell' Prize?" asked Cook.
"Focus," said Hagg before the officer had time to begin to explain,
shutting her up. The worst thing that could happen now was losing
focus. If they weren't totally committed to the mission, people got
killed. He wouldn't allow any chatterbox to get them thinking about
other things. The corridor was empty. The neighbors knew that if they
went out of their apartments, they would immediately be arrested as
accomplices. If someone was so stupid that he went out by mistake, he
simply had himself to blame.
The men stood ready outside the door. A battering ram, two tear gas
cartridges, and they were inside. It was a simple operation. The
suspect was alone and did not even react before they dragged him out in
the prison sack. When the gas had subsided, they made a quick scan of
the apartment. "What the hell is this thing?" Said Cook, holding up
some rectangular sheet of paper that was filled with some sort of
"Bring it. It's evidence. Our orders are to get anything different
The new recruit walked up and started to browse the stack of papers.
"That's handwriting." She said, "he has written by hand."
"Written by hand? Are you kidding me?"
"No, no. Most of it seemed to be a longer text, but here's a poem.
When I read
that you can store sleep
I began to sleep
as much as possible
to save up
to one single
night awake with you
"Not bad, or what do you say?"
"Totally sick! Why didn't he write on the computer like everyone
else? Was he some kind of pervert or something?" Said Cook.
"Focus," said Hagg. "It's not our job to speculate or judge. Our job
is to bring in the suspect and all evidence. We have the suspect; now
let us pick up the rest of the evidence, and hurry up, I want to get
home soon. It's been a long day."
Five minutes later, they were out of the apartment and Hagg felt the
satisfaction of another well-executed mission for the public good.
© 2016 Patrik Centerwall
Bio: Mr. Centerwall is a Swedish writer who has been published in
various Swedish magazines and anthologies. His collection of short
stories "Skymningssång" ("The Twilight Song") was released in 2013. He
has also been published in the anthologies Dark Lane volume 2 and Waiting for the Machines to Fall Asleep.
E-mail: Patrik Centerwall
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