Just Open Your Window

Please enjoy a short work of fantasy. May all writers who read this find their own magic button in 2018!

Once upon a time, there lived a man named Will Wright. He worked in an attic room with one window and a narrow blue patch of sky. When the words stuck, he would stare out the window at the greenery-encased balcony across the way, wondering who lived there.

One morning, he pushed opened his window — and at the very same moment, the balcony door opened out too. A smiling young woman said, “Hello, William. How are you today?” Her painted scarf billowed up, covering her face for just a moment.

“We’re all drowning in words.” He removed his glasses, rubbed at his eyes. “What’s the point of writing more?”

“Your stories are important.”

“But will anyone read my work? Never mind getting paid for it.”

She smiled. “You’re ready for the magic button.”

“What’s that?”

“Push it once, and computers take care of payment, publishing, and distribution.”

“Really?” Will cocked his head. “Sounds way too good to be true.”

“There is one catch. Once you hit the button, you can’t ever get your story back. So before you click, make sure it’s the best thing you’ve ever written.”

He did that anyway. “What’s it–”

She’d already faded back into the room’s shadows. When she reappeared, a dark wooden disk filled her left hand. “Here, catch–” she tossed it through the sliver of open window, and somehow he caught it. The edges were smooth, and the button in its center was carved from a buttery wood with a fine grain. The word “publish” had been engraved so deeply, his fingertips disappeared into the letters.

“From now on, don’t think about anything except the writing. Good luck!” Waving the tail of her scarf, the balcony door clicked closed.

Will sat down and settled the button on the far corner of his desk, just out of reach. The words began to flow. By the time the light faded from the window, he’d finished a rough draft that had eluded him for the past several days.

He spent the next day editing and polishing. Since he didn’t know where the story would be published, he couldn’t adapt word count or style to fit the location. Instead, he imagined a dark-haired boy—his future son, maybe—sitting on his knee, and then cut out anything that seemed like it would start that boy fidgeting. Smiling, even laughing, at witty word combinations: writing was fun again!

When the light began to fade from his window, it was finished. Will poured himself a healthy dose of celebratory whisky and stared at the wooden button. Should he try it? Quite irresponsible to send a story out into the world, without knowing where it was going.

Better sleep on it one more night.

The next morning, Will read over the final draft and couldn’t find one word he wanted to change. It was the best possible story he could write about this topic (though to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t as good as the story he’d written a year ago, about another topic he liked more).

He ran his finger along the grooves of each letter, in order . Tracing the last leg of the “h”, he clicked the center of the button by mistake—

Damn!

A message appeared: “Nice story. Please check your bank account.” The deposit was for a little more than he’d expected.

Wow, was that easy! He could just write.

Maybe he should start work on his dream story, the one everyone said was unpublishable…

Will spent the next week collecting ideas—so many!—and stitching them together. Without worry corroding his excitement, the words came easily.

The night he knew he had a workable rough draft, he treated himself to dinner at his local pub. When he sat down at the bar, a woman at a small table nodded at him, then leaned in to say something to her husband. The husband turned to look at Will, smiled, raised his glass.

They recognized him!

Will turned back to the bar. Ben the bartender was already setting down a frosted beer mug.

“I really liked that ostrich metaphor,” Ben said, wiping a spot of foam off the nearest tap. “The whole heads-in-sand thing—you managed to turn it into something new.”

Ostrich. In the piece published with the wooden button.

“Thanks.” Will sipped at his beer. “Where’d you see it?”

“Can’t remember. Does it matter?”

Will grinned. “Not really, since–”

“Willie!” Arthur Author clapped him on the shoulder, a little harder than necessary. “Great piece you ran a few days ago. Only you could make that whole ostrich thing stick!”

“Thanks, Art. Wait till you read what I’m working on now…”

For the next several days, Will worked late into the night. When he checked his email, there were comments from readers about his last story. Most agreed with him, but one strongly disagreed with his central idea, which sparked a thought for another story… so he wrote it down. One story at a time.

Finally, several agonizing edits later, his masterpiece was ready to go. He reached out, hit the button, and poof!

“Best one yet. Please check your bank account.”

Even though the word count was slightly less than the previous story, the payment was higher. That was a surprise — but a wonderful one.

Will stood up, pressed his hands up against the dusty roof beams, and walked over to the window. Just as he opened it, the woman across the way strolled out onto her balcony.

“William. This new story is fantastic. I figured it was going to be, since you were so excited about it.”

“How’d you know?”

Another scarf billowed around narrow shoulders. “I could see your light on later and later each evening.”

“It’s so great—all I have to do is write!”

She smiled. “That’s the idea — you do what you’re good at, and the button does the rest. Now go write your next best story. And if you have any more doubts — just open your window.”

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