by Dexter F. I. Joseph

She walked into the office. He was seated down waiting for her. She made way for her seat, sat and pulled her glasses down. She watched his face to see if she’d notice any anxiety on him. He was just sixteen, and as she thought, he had a lot of it.

She’d met him two weeks earlier through an agent, and wanted her publishing company to take publishing rights over his manuscript. He’d been very eager, then excited when she’d told him she’d review his story. Indeed, he had never been so excited. Now, she was done with it, half of it anyway. He was not aware of what she had in store for him but he was there to hear the fate of his book.

“Well, for someone who is sixteen, your writing prowess is like that of a forty-year-old,” she said, watching his face brightened, and a weak smile replacing his usual timid and withdrawn face. Too bad, she thought, and then continued:

“Nze, your story might be promising but to be honest, your main character is unlikable, annoying, egocentric, and so not relatable.”

She watched his demeanour changed. He squinted, and even his rising shook mood was all over the room. This was her job, to break hearts with the truth.

“This book, ‘Incomplete’, is nothing like the genre you said it was. It’s so dark, and not anything close to a young adult novel. It’s too voluminous, has so many senseless kills and bloodshed… And like the name implies, it’s incomplete. It looks complete, maybe. Yet has some vacuums I can’t explain. To be frank with you, stuff like this shouldn’t be on a shelf.” She ended.

His head fell, fixed on his fingers. He muttered, “That was harsh.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. This, to her, was typical of young writers. They wanted everything all easy and smooth. All with tender hearts, constantly fleeing from reality, from the undiluted truth, the perfect criticism meant to shape them into what they aspired to be: prolific and renowned writers. Soft skins had always been one thing she found repulsive about young writers like this one in front of her.

“Piece of advice? This might come off as harsh, but if you can’t put your work in order, then maybe this… writing might not be your thing.”

She watched him exhale and slid his eyes close for a second. When he opened them, his gaze moved back to her. Broken was the least feeling on his face. Sad, maybe, but it didn’t go that deep in him as she’d thought it would. Either that or he was adept at keeping his emotions bottled up good. For someone his age, that would be impressive. But then again she had seen his work, and while she disliked and had just rejected it, she admitted his pen was near perfect for his age. Of course, she was not going to let him know that part.

He sniffed. “Ma, I never said that character was written in there to be likeable. He moves the story along. Leave him and focus on the story. It was not exactly meant to appeal to your butterfly emotions.

“And you didn’t finish the story. It’s obvious,” he pouted, on reflex. “I never said he was my main character either, neither did the manuscript imply it. Having the POV doesn’t make him my main character. For all it’s worth, he could die anytime, if I want him to. Lastly, that character died at the end. He, however, was inspired by the last publisher whom I’d met. Maybe you’re right, it’s not complete. It’s incomplete.”

She was stunned for a second, her words choked into the surprise which rode the lines of her lungs. What insolence! Had he really just said that, she thought.

“What did you just say?” She said, her voice raised, still laced in surprise, but brewing anger.

“Sorry.” He muttered.

The depressed look rose into his face as he stood to his feet. His eyes avoided hers, to hide the sadness which then had made a haven on his young smoothed face, like he had issues with a steady emotion. He picked his backpack and made a walk through the door.

She grumbled gallingly. Who was he to explain anything to her? She opened the laptop, located his manuscript, clicked on the delete button. He was useless anyway.

* * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** *

He got home, locked his doors and wrapped himself into a depressed wallow. He didn’t want to cry, and it never came. And once the time clocked nine by night, he put on the lamp, sat over the table, his book before him. On its cover, with his name written on it, was the title: Incomplete. He flipped open to the last page, where he had earlier marked ‘The End’ with his pencil, wiped it off with an eraser, and started a new paragraph on it:

“She wiped her hands clean at the sink, turned the faucet off and headed back out of the bathroom, all the way down the stairs, moving back to her office. Walking down elegantly, her phone buzzed, she reached for it, flipped the lock open and read through her SMS. It was from the bank. Her eyes widened with instant shock and her mouth ajar at what she’d read. Frank, her fiancé, had just withdrawn two million in cash from her account, and she’d been debited. Shock ridden, she hastened her step down the stairs, gasped as she missed a step and toppled over. The fall was short, but she laid a second later at the foot of the stair, blood in her mouth, eyes wide open, her phone lying by the side, her neck broken.”

He marked ‘The End’ below the last line, closed the book, yawned, turned the lights off and crawled to his bed, going back to sleep. At least the story was complete now.

* * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** * ** *

Nine o’clock in the morning, at the Narva Publishing Firm, two police cars and an ambulance stood outside. On the inside, murmurs from employees hung abound. A dead body has been found some minutes earlier and the spot of the incident now taped. Two officers squatted next to the body, one taking notes, the other reading through a file he had on him. A third officer stood outside the taped scene, taking pictures of the body.

“That must have been some fall,” the female officer nodded, stretching her gloved hand over to touch the dead body’s neck. “Neck seems broken.”

“The stair isn’t even that high,” the male officer sighed, then read through the log clip on his hand. “Name is Matilda Harrison, aged thirty-six, owns this publishing house. What the hell is taking the ambulance long to get here?” He grumbled.

The third officer turned, watched two litter-bearers hurry towards the scene with a stretcher. He turned to the officer, “They’re here.”

“Has her people been contacted by anyone yet?” The female cop asked, rising to her feet as the litter-bearers got in and pulled the body into the stretcher.

The second cop shrugged, handed the log clip to the third officer, “A few, all living far off. Closest here in town is her fiancé. They got engaged three weeks ago. Name is Frank Ituma or something.”

“That is a shame,” the female officer said, shaking her head as they watched the litter-bearers push the stretcher away, “A terrible shame.”

The second officer exhaled. “Tell me about it.”

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