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The Book I Will Write #68: Continuation of the Previous Secretary’s Narrative…

flemingTHE 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 is living at the library following a kidnapping episode with The Zeppelin Society. He’s recently joined a memoir group that meets in the library. Someone seems to be trying to lure Fleming out of the library to kill him, and the memoir group has agreed to confront the threat with him.

#68  CONTINUATION OF THE PREVIOUS SECRETARY’S NARRATIVE OF THE RECENT CODE GREEN EVENTS

TO: Grandmoirs Distribution List #7

FROM: Margene Harris, New Secretary

SUBJECT: Continuation of the Previous Secretary’s Narrative of the Recent Code Green Events

As our previous secretary was voted out of office for Biased Presentation (see Minutes), it falls to me to resume the narrative, correcting for the fact that at no time in the previous narrative did my perfume smell like methane.

The Grandmoirs (those on this distribution list) followed Mr. John Henry Fleming through the back door of the abandoned shop. Inside stood the thin man in the Zombie Man t-shirt and two others, a man and a woman, the woman a redhead, both Germanic and leather-clad.

The room was empty except for the aforementioned people, two motorcycle helmets, and a moldering hardback book. Two of our members immediately grew incapacitated because of dust allergies. I later slipped each a Claritin.

To call the thin man “thin” is to pay him a false compliment. “Malnourished” is more like it. And “pasty.” I have approval to refer to him in this way. The man’s crooked smile would be charming on Harrison Ford or George Clooney but had the opposite effect on me. He slid his hands into the pockets of his black jeans and struck the pose of a sulky teen.

“So you have brought friends,” spake the German. His pants squeaked when he shifted his weight. His face was not unkind. Strong jaw!

“Are you going to kidnap all of us?” Fleming replied.

“That was only a misunderstanding.”

“I understood completely. And now you’ve teamed up with a killer.”

“No!” cried the woman. “I won’t allow the killing! This is for negotiation only!”

“She is correct,” the German said. “We still want you to write for us. Every writer wants to be published. We want to publish your work in the form of a letter to the FAA.”

The eyes of the Malnourished One darted from person to person, spreading chills like a nasty cold. The allergy-afflicted backed to the open door, trying to get air.

“We’ll give you the book you want,” said the redhead. “Just do what he asks!”

“Is that the one?” Fleming asked, noticing the book on the floor.

The Thin One opened his anti-Clooney smile and laughed. When he spoke, his voice was as malnourished as the man himself. A hard-edged whisper. “No one wants that book,” he said. “That book is forgotten. It deserves to burn.”

And then the Thin One pulled a sleek red gun out of his pocket that on closer inspection appeared to be one of those long lighters for barbecue grills.

Our own Bill, sensing the importance of the moment, reached for the book, but age and a bad back slowed his lunge and the Anti-Clooney reacted faster than his malnourished state might imply. He clicked the lighter with one finger, turned the flame all the way up with the other, and jabbed it at Bill’s face. Several of us screamed.

“Everyone back off,” Bill said.

“That’s an excellent idea,” said the Anti-Clooney.

All of us stepped back except Fleming. The Anti-Clooney laughed again. He waved his lighted wand at Fleming’s face, almost lit his nose. “Ooo,” he said. “Ooo, ooo.” He giggled. “OMG, how I loooove burning things. Especially books!”

“Don’t do it,” Fleming said.

“Oh, I will. I will because I hate books. I want to burn them all. I hate the people who write them, and I hate the people who read them. Why would anyone waste time on books? There’s so many better things to do. Like burning books!” His strained and high-pitched laugh gave us shivers. “I know, I know. You’re thinking, Hey, if nobody made books, I wouldn’t have anything to burn, right? Ha ha! Listen. If all the books went bye-bye, I’d just write them myself!” Still waving the lighter, he doubled over like he’d told a great joke. “So funny, so funny. But wait, you say, if you wrote the books then you’d have to hate yourself! Ha ha! So true, so true! You’ve got a point! But here’s the kicker! I already do!” He cracked himself up. “So it all works out, see? I give myself a good reason to hate myself, and then I get revenge at myself for destroying the fruit of my labors! It’s a perfect closed system! Meanwhile, I can settle for burning someone else’s books. Like, oh hey, my father’s!”

Still holding the flaming wand out, he crouched and picked up the book. A chunk of the cover fell off in a little cloud of dust. Those of us with allergies sneezed, even from the back of the room.

The Anti-Clooney held the hardcover between his thumb and forefinger and waved the flame beneath it.

“Stop!” said Fleming. “You don’t even know what you’re doing.”

“Don’t I?”

Fleming reached into his pocket and pulled out a large hunting knife. A surprise to all of us. He didn’t seem the type. He unfolded it and pointed it at Mr. Anti-Clooney.

“No. You don’t,” he said.

“My knife!” yelled the German.

“And why’s that?” asked Anti-Clooney.

“Because your father didn’t write it.”

The Anti-Clooney stared. He lost his sense of humor, and his face lost what color it had. The rest of us tried to comprehend. Some of us fainted. I’m on the verge of fainting even now as I write about it, so I have to stop and get a pill. I get emotional about parent-child revelations. Read my memoir.

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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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