The Price of Inspiration
By Nick Marone
Fillip-2 stared at the many-eyed creature above him, waiting for it to move. It crawled downwards and stopped, forcing him to take a step back. It crawled back up. Then he took a step forward, and it came back down. Yielding way to duty and honour, he charged and flattened it on the wall with his shoe.
“It’s done,” he called out to his wife, Ruby.
Her voice carried from the kitchen. “Did you make a mess?”
He stared at the blood and guts on the wall. “No.”
Fillip-2 stared at what used to be a spider, wishing it would clean itself, before grabbing a rag and obeying higher authority.
“Can you come here for a minute?” Ruby asked. “I need you to get me something.”
The kitchen was a busy place when he entered, with bowls of food and Ruby’s plethora of much-loved knives all over the benches.
“Can you get that jar up there for me, please?”
Fillip-2 walked over to the high kitchen cupboard and pointed to the only jar. “That one?”
“Yes, that one.” He stood there looking at the jar for a moment before Ruby’s patient word/command of encouragement hit his ears. “Now.”
“Okay.” He reached up, grabbed it with his left hand, pulled it off the shelf, dropped it, brushing it with his right fingertips, spinning it around mid-air, and finally caught it upside down with his left hand. Then he gave it to his wife as a worshipper gives a gift to a goddess for appeasement—both hands outstretched, head bowed to hide his eyes.
Ruby sniffed a laugh and grinned before taking the jar. “Butterfingers.”
“You’re welcome,” he mumbled, then trudged back to his den.
The laptop sits menacingly on his desk, a blank page waiting for him. He stood in the doorway with a grumpy frown as he contemplated another wasted day. Writing a bestseller is hard, especially in this day and age when so much had already been written about nearly everything. But writing this particular book was not his choice—that decision rested on someone else’s shoulders. So he entered the den and swung the door shut behind him, looking the laptop up and down as he approached the desk.
“Now, I don’t like you and you don’t like me,” he said to it. If he wasn’t half-sane he would’ve sworn he heard the laptop reply, “Damn right!”
Right … write—I need to write, or at least pretend to.
So Fillip-2 slumped down in his office chair and resumed working, still stressing to meet a deadline that wasn’t his in the first place. He let out a long, hard sigh and poised his hands over the keys, not knowing what to write, and knowing full-well that whatever he did write would be deleted the moment Fillip-1 returned. But he needed to pretend he was doing some work, just to keep the facade going.
For the next ten minutes or so, Fillip-2 hammered away at the keys—not hitting them in any particular order, but being sure to catch the spacebar and return key every so often—until he had two full pages of absolute gibberish. He leaned back in the office chair, put his hands behind his head, and nodded approvingly at the mess he’d just created before deciding it was time for a break.
On one wall of the den was a full-length mirror with a carved timber frame of intricate design. Fillip-1 had bought it about a year ago in an antique shop. Fillip-2 would often stand in front of it, gazing at his features and cursing whatever family gene had given him his big nose. He let his eyes study every curve of the face staring back at him, wondering which unmet relative was responsible for such a thing.
His brain was just a millisecond too slow to notice that the eyes in the mirror were not moving as his own were. The reflection in the mirror jumped forward and gasped suddenly. Fillip-2 jolted at the surprise as Fillip-1 stepped through the mirror into the room, chuckling at the childish joke.
“How many times have I got you with that?” Fillip-1 asked, exiting the portal. He carried a thick roll of parchment.
“Too many,” Fillip-2 replied. “And just when I was thinking what an ugly bastard I am.”
“Well, at least we agree on that,” Fillip-1 said, turning to look at himself in the mirror and rubbing his nose. He wore the same clothes as his clone, and his light brown hair was cut the same length and styled with the same boring middle part.
“You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through in there,” Fillip-1 continued, pointing at the mirror excitedly. “We’ve marched against Emperor Vondur and won our first victory at Two-River Fortress. And to make things even sweeter, King Feydan has given us his daughter’s hand in marriage. Our kingdoms are now allied forever!”
“I don’t like Lady Matila,” Fillip-2 replied.
“Oh, come on, just run with it.” Fillip-1 lifted the parchment. “I’ve got all my notes on here and I need to add them to the manuscript while all the memories are fresh. I was in there for longer this time.” He pushed past Fillip-2.
Fillip-2 turned and watched his original sit at the laptop and raise his hands in exasperation at the two pages of gibberish.
“What—” Fillip-1 shook his head and started deleting. “Is it just these two pages?”
“Yes. That’s all I managed today.” He flashed a sarcastic smile at Fillip-1’s back.
Fillip-1 grunted. “Yeah, I know what it’s like to do only two pages’ work in one day. But I really wish you’d stop doing this. I need this manuscript in good condition at the end of the first draft, and what you’ve written aren’t even words.”
Fillip-2 sat on the leather armchair next to the drinks cabinet and watched his original hunched over the laptop, typing furiously. Why can’t I type like that? How come he gets all this inspiration to write and then it just flows out of him? He looked at the mirror, knowing the answer was the same as it had always been.
The typing stopped and Fillip-1 turned his head ever so slightly. “Yes, Fillip? Ha! That never gets old.” The typing continued.
“Do you remember the day we met? I mean, the day you stepped into that mirror and I was created on the other side?”
Still typing, Fillip-1 answered, “Of course I remember. It was the greatest thing ever to happen to me. Got me out of writer’s block, it did. Come to think of it, it’s a good thing there isn’t a new carbon copy of me made every time I go through that portal. I don’t know what I’d do with all those Fillips running around.” He stopped typing. “Unless … no, scratch that. Anyway, what’s on your mind?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
Fillip-1 swivelled the chair around to face his clone. “What’s wrong? You don’t like it here?”
“No, it’s not that.” Why can’t I write a book, too?
“Well, what’s wrong, then? Come on, I hate to see myself upset.”
Fillip-2 took a breath, searching for the right words. “It’s just that … well … I was thinking while you were away. I mean, you were gone for ages this time.”
“Yeah, a lot happened while I was in there. You’ll love it when you go back.”
“Well, that’s just it. I don’t want to go back.”
All humour vanished from Fillip-1’s face. “What?”
“I want to stay here. And I want to write a book, too.”
Fillip-1 stood, looking down at the clone. “You can’t write a book. You’re not me. I’m Fillip Larsson, bestselling fantasy author. You’re not me, and you’re not anybody else, because you technically aren’t from this world. So you can’t write a book.”
But I am Fillip Larsson. I live here. This is my life, too! Fillip-2 stood, anger growing within. “I can write a book if I want to. I’m an exact copy of you. That means I have the writer’s desire within me. While you’re gallivanting around the Eastern Kingdoms and marrying Lady Matila and waging war against Emperor Vondur, I’m here doing nothing. Literally nothing. I could be writing a book while you’re away, and then you can publish it under your name because you wrote it through me. There are two of you in this world!” He entreated his original with open arms.
For a moment, it seemed Fillip-1 was considering the option. From Fillip-2’s perspective, it was a win-win situation. Fillip-1 could have double the output of novels for the market, and Fillip-2 would finally have some purpose in his life.
But Fillip-1 shook his head. “No, no, it just wouldn’t be my own work. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.” He rubbed his nose and moved over to the mirror. “Look, the best thing for you to do is hold the fort while I’m away living the story. You don’t have to stay at home all the time. Go out, do something—” he lifted a finger “—just don’t do anything crazy. Let’s be sensible.”
“I’m not going back in there,” Fillip-2 said, pointing to the mirror. “You can’t make me.”
“Excuse me? Yes, I can. I made you. And I need you to cover for me in that world while I’m bringing the manuscript up to date in this world.”
“I did not ask to be created, and I don’t have to do everything you say!” Fillip-2 roared, jumping to his feet.
“Honey?” Both Fillips snapped their heads to the door at the sound of Ruby’s. “Honey, are you all right?”
“Fine, babe,” Fillip-1 called to her. Then his eyes bored into his clone and he spoke in a hushed voice. “You didn’t tell her about this, did you?”
“Of course not!”
“Get back in there,” Fillip-1 ordered.
A second later, both Fillips launched at each other. The two became entangled as arms gripped and tugged for supremacy. Fillip-2 thought it looked so strange to be fighting with a double of himself, and his original, no less. Of course, they were an even match for each other. No sooner had one made a move to gain the advantage, the other moved to successfully defend. It went on like this for a short while until they were truly at an impasse.
Then there were footsteps in the hallway. “Honey?”
In the brief moment of silence that followed, Fillip-2 felt the other man’s grip relax on his shoulders. He made a snap decision and pushed Fillip-1 through the mirror. Fillip-1 disappeared as his body passed through and then reappeared as he approached the portal from the other side, apparently about to return to the den.
Fillip-2 grabbed the first heavy object he could find—a quartz pen holder from the desk—and threw it at the mirror, shattering it and severing the portal before Fillip-1 could re-emerge. Glass crashed to the carpet below, piercing his ears as each shard smashed and broke against another.
Ruby burst into the den. “Oh, honey, what happened?”
Fillip-2 pointed at the carnage, not sure exactly how to explain what had transpired. “I dropped my pen holder.”
“I see.” Ruby nodded slowly and stood next to Fillip-2, reaching an arm tentatively around his waist. “And which one are you?”
A grin stretched across Fillip-2’s face as he regarded her.
She giggled and pecked him on the cheek. “Good. I always liked you more.”
About the Author:
Nick Marone is a science fiction author based in Australia. His novella, Fire Over Troubled Water, was released in 2019 as part of the eight-author, eight-part Drowned Earth Series, published by Deadset Press.
He has published short fiction in Aurealis, Journeys: Aussie Speculative Fiction: Volume 2, Space and Time Magazine, and on his own website. His humorous science fiction short novel, Space Trip, will be published in 2021, and Space Trip II will follow soon after.