The Deadline


  • Your story must include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions (describing whatever you want):
  • One of these six descriptions MUST appear in the first sentence of your story. (The rest, wherever you like.)

The Author closed his manuscript, running ink-stained fingers over the scratched and weather-worn leather sleeve. The pages came together with a slight huffing sound, a sighed communion of secrets. The Author painfully straightened his hunched shoulders, feeling the bones crack as they shifted into an unfamiliar position. The Author’s ageing dog fixed him with a baleful stare as he stood and edged around the enormous grandfather clock that was currently taking up most of his small one-bedroom house. “Don’t give me that look, Scribe” he grumbled, as he squeezed himself into the kitchen and started to make himself a peanut butter and jam sandwich. “Sustenance is required if I’m to save the world”. Scribe, unimpressed, turned his stare to the uncurtained window which rose over the Author’s desk.

Outside, the world was in turmoil. Clouds boiled an angry red in the sky, accompanied by ominous snarls of thunder and illuminated with spider veins of quicksilver lightning. People were running about haphazardly in the streets, breaking shop windows and looting with abandon and without purpose. Others stood, mouths open, taking photographs on their phones and uploading them onto social media #endoftheworld (currently trending). Yet others were attempting to make every moment count: cradling babies, hugging grandmothers, falling into vats of previously off-limits ice cream, feverishly copulating, or whatever else people who had only minutes to live, did. Every now and then, police and ambulance sirens emitted shrill, piercing whines and it was to this soundtrack that the Author resumed his seat and re-opened his manuscript.

The wooden floors of his house groaned under the weight of their unexpected guest. The enormous clock had appeared out of the blue, in tandem with all hell breaking loose outside. Just another augury of the end of the world, albeit one seemingly just for the Author alone. The oddest thing about the clock apart from its presence in the first place was that it was going backwards. The time on its clock face was utterly inaccurate – it had started with both hands on 12 (even though it was 9 am on Sunday morning) and since then the hands had steadily moved backwards. The clock’s shiny, silver pendulum swung ponderously to and fro and boomed out chimes counting down the hours. The Author wouldn’t have had any idea how much time he had unless someone hadn’t helpfully stuck a post-it note on the pendulum with the number “72” written on it in thick black marker. He’d taken that to assume he had 72 hours to… do something. And he had decided that thing was to finish his book, because it was the one thing the Author had failed to do in his long and literary life. A bestseller multiple times over, he had retired in a funk of gloom because he knew that he had one final book inside of him, but, like a stubborn tooth, it refused to budge. Instead of pouring out onto the page like all his other books had, this one had stayed resolutely inside of him, clogging him up like a blocked drain.

Ever since the beginning of the end of the world, the air had been filled with a sweet and pungent smell, cloying like rotted fruit. The Author had never thought the end of the world would have a smell. But there you go. Scribe struggled to his feet and padded over to the Author, using one of his paws to prod his owner’s leg. “Ok ok”, said the Author, patting Scribe’s furry head. It felt cold and greasy to the touch – he needed a wash, both of them did. But showers tend to plummet down the list of priorities when the world’s ending. The Author took up his pen, smoothed the page, and started to write. There’s nothing like having the whole of existence depend on you to aid even a lifetime of writer’s block. He now had one hour left to write the last few paragraphs of his book: which wouldn’t seem like a tall order to someone outside of the profession but oh, – the ending is everything. It is the climax, the orgasm, the difference between feeling like it’s Christmas versus a Monday.

The Author could almost feel the minutes ticking away, down to the last half-hour, fifteen minutes, ten and then five. His pages looked awful, pockmarked with ink blotces and whole sentences that had been messily scratched out. But slowly, out of the chaos, something beautiful was emerging. Scribe had taken to swivelling his head between the clock and the Author, and in the last minutes, his whining had reached a fever pitch of urgency. The Author didn’t have the heart or the energy to tell him to shut up. He only had minutes, perhaps now seconds, left, and he wasn’t quite there yet. His pen flew across the page, his scrawl barely legible, but the ending finally had shape, and it was bloody spectacular. He barely heard the clock’s final round of chimes – he only had ears for the words gushing out of him, finally, blissfully unclogged. With the final chime, he wrote his final, hurried, word and collapsed onto his desk in a fit of hysterical, sobbing laughter. Scribe was on his feet, barking his head off and the Author didn’t have to look behind him to know the clock had vanished. After a few minutes, he wiped his tears, not caring that the ink on his fingers was now smeared all over his face, and looked up and out of the window.

Outside, the sun shone brilliant and hot, and people went about their daily tasks, grocery shopping and dropping kids off at school and kissing lovers good morning. Those who happened to be passing by his house tried not to stare too openly at the man whooping with delight at his window, dancing his around with his old dog. “He used to be a famous author, you know”, one whispered to another. “Bit of a crackpot now”.

Inside his house, the Author, fell onto his couch, exhausted. Scribe leapt up with him and they settled into a comfortable reverie. “We did it old boy”, said the Author happily, scratching Scribe’s ears. “We saved the world”.

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The real truth is, I probably don't want to be too happy or content. Because, then what? I actually like the quest, the search. That's the fun. The more lost you are, the more you have to look forward to. What do you know? I'm having a great time and I don't even know it. - Ally McBeal

One thought on “The Deadline”

  1. Nice juxtapositioning of the seeming end of the writer’s block or one’s inability to break out with the end of the world.
    Superb capture of the drama ….well done bg

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