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The Book I Will Write #34

The Book I Will Write by John Henry Fleming is a serial novel-in-emails about a would-be writer named John Henry Fleming who is desperate to publish a book. The Book I Will Write is a work in progress; readers are invited to make comments and influence the outcome. Fleming has been exchanging emails with an editorial assistant and a senior editor at Knopf, as well as with an agent. He’s been kicked out of his apartment, and was recently living at the library. Now he’s been kidnapped by an organization known as The Zeppelin Society, who needs Fleming to write a letter to the FAA requesting permission to conduct a test flight of their experimental zeppelin. Here’s the latest email from Fleming.

FLAMES, MORE OR LESS

Mary Ann “Annie” Lankowski
Editorial Assistant
Knopf Publishing

Dear Annie,

I’m being fired upon! The bullets are flying outside, and some of them are finding their way into the Zeppelin Society headquarters. One of the high windows just shattered. Another one cracked. The broken glass shines like stardust under the banks of fluorescent lights.

Angry shouts. Hurried footsteps in the alley between buildings.

Now there’s smoke rising up and leaking in through the broken windows. I want to go climb the ladder and take a look but I fear for my life. The smoke is sulfurous and bites at my lungs. My breathing comes in shallow and reluctant sips.

I just found a surgical mask in the drawer. It mutes the sulfur but not the stink of the old computer. I have to keep backspacing because my fingertips stick to the keyboard. I worry that I’m not going to get this out to you. I may die before I click Send, and my last words will forever be lost when the building burns or explodes and the blinking cursor that is my life blinks no more.

I’ve been waiting for Viktoria Luise to bring Hans back so we can discuss the zeppelin test-flight request. I feel as if I’m the verge of knowing the right tone for the letter. At that point, it’s as good as written. And not a moment too soon. The quicker I can get back to the library, find the missing copy of The Devil’s Good Graces, and return to my apartment to work on my novel, the better. Now everything’s in doubt, including my life.

More gunshots! Was that an explosion, or someone kicking the aluminum wall?

Annie, I have reason to believe a copy of Reid Markham’s novel was once in this building. Left alone, I’ve been searching through the Zeppelin Society computer files.

Whoa! Someone’s either rattling on the aluminum siding of this warehouse or spraying it with machine gun fire! More angry shouts. A yell for help. A woman’s voice. More rattling against the aluminum. Several minor explosions! I see nothing outside but yellow-gray smoke. It fingers through the broken windows, pours onto the floor, and sweeps toward me like a slow-mo tsunami.

A break now. An eerie quiet. If I can’t get out of here soon, I may suffocate. Already, I’m dizzy. The computer screen blurs, though that may be the result of the aging graphics card.

What I’m trying to tell you is, I’ve found a number of cryptic references to “RM book” among the electronic documents—things like “alternative approach using RM book” or “design adaptation based on RM book specs,” most of which I couldn’t decipher, except it makes me think The Devil’s Good Graces really does feature zeppelins. Do you know? Will you check with Ms. Hollymore when she’s out of jail? I’d write to her myself, but I’m afraid there’s no time.

And then just an hour ago I found a note dated three months back: “RM book overdue. Pay fine to avoid detection?”

So it was here. The very book I sought at the library. The key to my own novel, and to representation with Mr. Shill, and ultimately to a contract with Ms. Hollymore.

When the battle began outside, I was searching the warehouse. Reid Markham’s book is nowhere in the Zeppelin Museum. Did Viktoria and Hans return it? Did they pay their fine? Did they hide it somewhere else?

Only one thing’s for certain: I have to get out of here.

Someone’s gunning an engine just outside the door. More rattling. Another explosion.

No, not an explosion! It’s a vehicle ramming the wall of the building! The metal twists and screams—the sound is horrible, a thousand cries for help! The wall’s going to collapse! The building may follow!

More shots are fired! No, it’s someone gunning an engine again!

I’m still alive, Annie!

And there’s Viktoria’s motorcycle with the sidecar! The cycle knocked down a piece of the wall, crushing every one of the zeppelin displays and smashing the artifacts. Destruction everywhere. Smoke. Flames, more or less.

But it’s not Viktoria driving! It’s an old man, and I think I recognize him! He lifts his arm and points a handgun at the Z3000 zeppelin bobbing in the smoky heights of the warehouse. He pumps it full of bullets.

Now he’s waving to me! He’s telling me to quit typing and climb into the sidecar.

I know it’s dangerous, but this may be my only chance to escape. I still hear banging and minor explosions outside. Is there a war going on, Annie?  I haven’t checked the news in months.

The man’s getting impatient. Wish me luck, Annie. Should I take the knife Hans left on the table? I will.

I’ve got to go!

John Henry Fleming

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About John Henry Fleming

John Fleming's stories have appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, The North American Review, Mississippi Review, Fourteen Hills, and Carve, among others. He is the author of The Legend of the Barefoot Mailman, a novel, and Fearsome Creatures of Florida, a literary bestiary. He teaches creative writing at the University of South Florida and is the founder and advisory editor for Saw Palm: florida literature and art. He blogs at johnhenryfleming.com.

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