Joe had never really considered himself a writer, even after he became responsible for the lives of thousands. And now he wanted nothing to do with it.
Clutching his resignation letter firmly in hand, he took a deep breath as he knocked on the door.
“Come in Joe.”
Joe stepped softly into the office. The walls were lined with monitors, each of them displaying the work-in-progress of a different writer, along with a running tally of their daily word count and words per minute. Larry sat behind a large oak desk, his brow furrowed as he flicked his attention between each screen.
“How did you know it was me?”
Larry sighed as he took off his glasses and rubbed his face with his palms. He gestured with one hand and the monitors went blank for a moment before flashing back to life, displaying the work of a single writer. Joe winced as he saw the empty screen and read the stats on the bottom.
Writer #2471, Daily Word Count: 0, Average WPM: 0
“You haven’t written a thing all day. I figured it was about time.”
Joe tried not to blush as he gingerly slid the resignation letter into his back pocket. How closely had Larry been watching him?
“It’s writer’s block or something.”
“You do realize what’s at stake here.”
“I know,” said Joe as he clenched his fists. “That’s why I can’t do it!”
“You didn’t have any trouble before.”
“I was writing for extra rations Larry, chocolate bars and steak dinners. But this?” Joe thrust a finger towards the windows, which offered half of an excellent view of the city. The other half was obscured by the metallic black flying saucer hovering ominously outside. “You seriously expect me to believe these aliens feed on stories?”
“I didn’t ask for them to be here Joe. I didn’t ask for you to be here either. The Literati liked what you wrote. I’m just here to make sure you give them more of the same.”
Joe buried his head in his hands. “A thousand dead every time I write something they don’t like. A thousand, Larry. Living, breathing, actual people, with families and-”
“So that’s it then? You just want to go back to your little tent in the districts, trading stories for scraps?”
“You saw what I wrote yesterday. I knew it wasn’t good enough.” Joe grabbed the letter from his pocket and slammed it on the desk. “A thousand people dead because I couldn’t figure out how to fix a damn plot hole. I can’t do it!”
Larry looked down at the letter, then stared silently at Joe, who started squirming in his seat.
“Look, I know there’s probably procedures I have to-”
“Okay,” Larry interrupted.
Joe blinked. “Really? Just like that?”
“I’ll inform them of your resignation,” said Larry, picking up the letter. “You’ll be back in your tent by tonight.”
“Well… I’m glad you understand,” said Joe, rising from his seat. “I’m sure you’ll find someone better, someone who can handle the pressure.” He made his way quickly towards the door.
“You know, they’re just going to find someone else.”
Joe turned back towards Larry. “Yes, that’s the idea.”
“And whoever that is, well I’m sure they’re going to be mighty grateful to have what you’re giving up here. Three squares a day. Your own room. An actual shower.”
“Good for them. If they can take care of a thousand lives a day, they deserve a little reward.”
“But that’s the thing Joe. They don’t have to.”
Joe frowned. “Of course they have to. Every writer has to give in a story at the end of the day.”
“Oh they have to write a story,” said Larry, turning back towards Joe. “But they don’t have to care. They’ll write what they think is good enough to keep their little room with a view. They’ll write what they think the Literati want them to write.”
“But isn’t that what the Literati want?”
“No, Joe, it isn’t. You see, those people are writing to survive. They’re writing from their heads. And the kinds of stories the Literati are looking for, the ones that hold the energy they need, those are the kinds of stories that come from the heart.”
“Well then they’ll just find a suitable replacement.”
“Of course. After a few weeks, tens of thousands of people will have died and the Literati will send them back and bring in someone new. And maybe that new writer, maybe he cares. But maybe he doesn’t. Maybe a million more people will die before the Literati find the right person.”
“I didn’t realize…”
“So go ahead. I’m not going to stop you. But ask yourself this. When you hear the announcements in the morning news, will you be able to live with yourself knowing all those people died because you,” said Larry as he pointed a finger at the screen, “decided you had ‘writer’s block’?”
Joe looked up at the blank screen. “I don’t think I can do it.”
“I know you can.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Because you’re still here Joe. Because you care. About what you write, and the people you’re writing for. And people who care, if they get out of their own way, they can’t help but write from their hearts.”
The sun was setting on the city, its golden rays reflecting gently off the few skyscrapers the Literati had left standing. Only a few hours left until the deadline.
“Now, Writer #2471,” said Larry, tearing up the letter, “I believe you have work to do.”
Joe smiled and punched Larry’s shoulder as he rushed out of the office.
Joe had never really considered himself a writer. In fact, he still didn’t. But there were thousands of lives depending on him tonight.
He sat down at his workstation and looked at the timer. Three hours and forty two minutes remaining.
Joe started pecking furiously away at the keyboard.
Tonight he would become a writer.