This story filled my every waking moment. It was as if my muse had reached out through time and tapped the very spirit of the Master. When I typed this work I felt as if I were Strapon Thing himself, on the far side of the Turbulation, writing of those marvels that have been forever lost to us. I felt as if I had discovered a well of greatness in myself, from which I had risen up to join the immortals. Father agreed with my judgment, pronouncing every new page of the book to be an installment of genius, world-shaking in its beauty. He declined to parade the novel piecemeal, but once it was complete he intended to sell the publication rights to the highest bidder. He expected it to make our fortune, and he began to run up expenses accordingly, indulging in rich meals, cloth finery, and the company of women with expensive tastes.
I had only to finish the book.
Often he pressed me to introduce him to my mysterious benefactor. He was convinced that the original owner of the purported manuscripts must be a descendant of Strapon Thing. I explained that the fellow was exceedingly shy and had ceased coming to Dorky’s shop altogether for fear of attracting attention. Now, I said, we met in a secret spot outside the town, which necessitated my night-long absences from home. (I had invented this scenario to put off any of Dorky’s own questions, though he had never taken any interest in my father or his fortune.) My father begged to be invited to one of these meetings but I was forced to put him off. In fact I warned my father that his insistence had affected the gentleman in a most unwelcome manner and that the supply of manuscript pages had been accordingly cut back. This gave me a chance to catch up with my sleep, but my father descended into a panic. Now he wished only to offer his apologies to the gentleman, to make amends somehow. I prayed for the opportunity to finish my greatest novel.
And then, one fortunate day, Dorky Coxset’s sister succumbed to the languish and he was called out of town for a full week. I retired immediately to the repair shop, pulled the shades, and brewed pot after pot of my father’s stimulating weed tea. For four days and nights I typed almost without cease, amassing a huge stack of pages, sleeping only fitfully. Even in my dreams, my fingers twitched out the tale of Good ‘n’ Evil. It overwhelmed me. I imagined I was visited by spirits of prophecy who described the events of Earth’s history in those final days before the Turbulation. It was this tale which I transcribed.
At last the book was finished. I dragged myself home, handed the manuscript to my father, and fell into my sack. After a draught of sleeping tonic, I plummeted into dreamless slumber and did not awake for three full days.
The first thing I saw upon awakening was a huge bound volume on the floor beside my bed. My father stood above it, grinning down on me. On the cover of the book was the title I had coined, Good ‘n’ Evil, and below that the name of the Master, Strapon Thing.
“I was desperate for money,” my father said. “We’re a bit overspent, you know. But the publisher was no less desperate for the book. Audiences have been calling for it! It’s on the market already. The printers went to work on it an hour after you handed it to me.”
I opened the book and gazed in amazement at the words I had written, the story I had invented. Yes, it did seem marvellous, the work of a genius. Only fear stopped me from confessing everything to my father at that moment. I wished with all my
heart that he could have known the true author of the tale. And yet I was sure that the knowledge would ruin him.
At that moment there was a knock on the downstairs door. My father disappeared and returned a moment later rubbing his hands together, grinning, followed by a rotund man in much-worn clothing whose reddish hair sprang from his balding head in twisted sprigs.
“Maven,” he said, “we are honored with a most esteemed guest. This is Castor Donothex.”
Castor Donothex, the world’s most honored living author, himself an emulator of Strapon Thing. I sprang from my bedding, but he had no interest in me. All his attention went to the bound copy of Good ‘n’ Evil that my father thrust into his hands.
Mr. Donothex was speechless, but not for long. He opened the book and began to read aloud in a high-pitched oratorical style. After a few minutes of this he gave forth a great sob and clutched the book to his chest. There were tears in his eyes.
My father gave me a look of tremendous satisfaction and a fond wink. Then he produced the original typescript of Good ‘n’ Evil and put it into the great author’s hands.
Castor Donothex gasped for breath. My father quickly retrieved the manuscript and bade the great man sit in his comfortable reading chair.
“Might I have a drop of absinthe?” he begged.
“Maven! Be quick with the bottle! You know where it is.”
I uncorked one of the violet bottles full of my father’s distillate, splashed several inches into a snifter, and gave it to my father, who set the glass in Mr. Donothex’s trembling hands. He drank greedily and required another splash of absinthe, although this time diluted with a few drops of sterile water.
Then he climbed down from the chair, directly onto his knees, and reached out for the manuscript. Closing his eyes, he put his lips to the fat packet. I was faintly repulsed by the sight, for there was a sheen of sweat on his lips; I hoped he would not stain the fruit of my labor.
“Now I may die in bliss,” he intoned in a sepulchral voice. “To have touched the actual manuscript of the Master’s greatest work….”
His greatest work! I nearly collapsed at the statement.
The book’s reputation had preceded it into the corners of the literary world. Strapon Thing’s masterpiece—and I had written it!
I hardly noticed Donothex’s exit. The rest of the day passed in an ecstatic haze. I did not truly surface from my thoughts until the next morning, when I knew that Dorky Coxset would be waiting for me in the dingy, prisonlike confines of the typewriter repair shop. I thought of handing in my resignation, for now our fortune was assured. No other pages need issue from the Underwood. I intended to tell my father that the mysterious gentleman’s archives were exhausted.
As I let myself out of the house, I was surprised to see a party of men and women in striped frocks hurrying up the avenue in my direction. I looked behind me, seeking a route of escape, for there was something in their attitude and bearing that impressed me with the thought of danger. However, a similar party was in progress at the other end of the street, this comprised of scholars from the College.
I wondered if I should rouse my father from his absinthine slumbers, but my panic was too great. Ducking my head, I crossed the street and sank into the shadows of an alley. From this safe vantage I observed the meeting of the two parties. They were decidedly hostile and I half expected them to meet like opponents in battle. Instead they joined forces at the door, and in the manner of allies called for my father’s immediate appearance. His head, still decked in a nightcap, soon emerged from the window above. He looked completely confused by the manifestation.
“We’ve been had!” someone shouted up at him.
“Duped!” said another.
“Confound you—we’ll have back the monies we paid, or else we’ll have your hide!”
My father looked from one face to the other. I could see he was at the verge of a trembling fit.
“What—what do you mean?” he asked. “What is this nonsense?”
“‘Strapon Thing,’ bah!” shouted a curator of the Museum. “A cursory reading of your ludicrous forgery shows a thousand inconsistencies, including outright lies about the cause of the Turbulation! Had you bothered to check your histories, you might have avoided some of the more obvious errors—but many are secrets of Prior History in any case, reserved in the confidential comparative archives to protect society from exactly such hoaxes as this. Your little game is up. Now come down from there this minute!”
“A forgery, you say?” my father cried, his astonishment not quite as thorough as he pretended.
“But—but I had a gentleman’s word!”
“There is no gentleman, I’m sure,” said Professor Lickman. “It’s all the product of your fevered imagination, wrought by absinthe and uncontrolled greed.”
“No,” my father said. “You must be mistaken.”
“I assure you, we are not. You have cast unforgivable stains on the name of Strapon Thing. Had your facts not given you away, the dreadful clumsiness of the prose would have considerably degraded our appreciation of all his true masterworks!”
My father looked wildly about the street now, as if seeking some means of escape. By chance, he noticed me. My trembling must have betrayed me, even in the shadows. His arm shot out; his finger pinned me to my place.
“There!” he cried. “You can see plain enough how the truth affects him. There’s your forger, there’s the boy who duped you—just as he duped me! I’ll disown you for this, Maven! I’ll disown you, do you hear?”
Two dozen heads turned toward me; black coats and striped frocks grew flurried with the agitated motions of the historians. For a moment I was frozen but then they made their charge. I stumbled backward with a shout and fled for my life down the narrow alley.
Fortunately, I was well acquainted with the byways of the neighborhood, and I soon left the houndlike sound of their pursuit behind me. But I was desolate, with nowhere to go, no home to call my own, no confidant, no friend in the world. I had not even the money for a ticket that might carry me far from the scene of my crimes. Already I regretted the day that I had ever learned to type.
As I wandered in a sulking mood, a face sprang up from my memory. I thought of one man who might understand me, who might hear me out without passing judgment. Surely Professor Tadmonicker, I thought, would appreciate the truth.
I hastily made my way to the College. Avoiding the departments of History and Literature, I went on to the Science wing, the Department of Artifactual Analysis.
I found the Professor in his office, reading from a huge volume spread open on the desk before him. He was laughing aloud with all his might, but when he saw me he shut the book with a thud and was all seriousness again, as he had been on our first encounter.
“I’ve just been reading Good ‘n’ Evil,” he said. “I believe at last my colleagues will be exposed for the fools I’ve known them to be all along.”
I nodded, still speechless.
“And what brings you here, my friend? You must have read the manuscript. Even you must realize that it is a clumsy bundle of lies and fabrications. Or has your gentleman friend fooled even you?”
I found my voice at last. “No, Professor Tadmonicker. I was never fooled. Of course it is nothing but lies. No one knows it better than I.”
“So,” he said, his mood lightening. “You’ve come to confess then, have you? I think that would be wise. Why don’t you have a seat?”
I accepted his offer gratefully. “I’ll tell you everything I know,” I said, “if only you will promise not to betray me. I need a friend. I need your advice.”
“Betray you? But what do you have to fear, Maven?”
And so I told him everything.
Father, dear Father, now you know that I did it all for you. What the public believes is of little importance to me. It is your opinion alone that matters. Look kindly upon your son; find forgiveness in your heart, if you can. I had hoped that my actions would bring us closer, but I was cruelly disappointed. Even so, can you not see how I was motivated by filial affection?
I will deliver a copy of this confession to your cell in the Debtor’s Prison, and another to the news printers who have agreed to lay the whole story before the world. Perhaps then your reputation will be restored, and the judges will mercifully see fit to free you, so that we might be reunited. Our house, I realize, has been taken by creditors; but surely we do not need a mansion to keep us warm. As long as we understand each other, and speak only truth from now on, will not our affections sustain us?
Your loving son,
* * *
“Good ‘n’ Evil, or, The Once and Future Thing” copyright 2016 by Marc Laidlaw. This is its first appearance.
If you are unfamiliar with the story of William Henry Ireland, I highly recommend you track down Bernard Grebanier’s hilarious and poignant, The Great Shakespeare Forgery (1965). Of course, if you do that, you might be moved to write a post-apocalyptic pastiche, as I was, sometime back around 1985 when I wrote this thing. It’s another story that I have so far only circulated to a few friends in manuscript form. I also lent my copy of Grebanier’s book around at the time. Would that it were still in print!