The Man Who Typed too Fast
by T.H. Davis
read by Jason Warden
Play in this window
Harry Dunphy woke quickly, his eyes springing open and his mind at once awake. He had had another one of his nightmares, and as usual, he had woken just before the inevitable ending. He let out a sigh of relief and stared at the ceiling, reflecting on the nightmare.
It was an end-of-the-world nightmare; not like the usual – no nuclear bombs, or war. His end of the world nightmares were much simpler than war. They were nightmares in which he was alone in the world, wandering around empty streets and looking, in fearful amazement, at his surroundings. In his dreams, everything was intact: there was no looting or burning or craziness. Everything was as it would normally be, with one exception: there were no people.
He would wander around the cities and towns and the countryside looking for people, zooming from one place to another, magically transported by his nightmare. He never found anyone, but they were there, and he knew it. Just … not there, somehow. In the end – and this was the ending that alw
ays woke him, just before the finish – he would take a knife and put it to his own throat. Or it could be a gun in his mouth. Or he could be leaning over the edge of a tall building. It didn’t matter what way it happened, but the outcome was always going to be the same. The world would end, people would simply vanish, and he would kill himself. Unable to live alone forever.
Ordinarily, a horror novelist would find this kind of dream to
be pure gold, and they’d be jumping out of bed each morning to whack out another bunch of brilliant, nightmare inspired ideas. After all, wasn’t that how Paul McCartney came up with Yesterday? But not Harry. He couldn’t just get up and write about it. The dream had existed a long time before his writing career had. It had been there from childhood. It had been there when his first book sold; it was there now. It was always there and he knew it was always going to be there.
He lay in bed, trying not to think about it, but thinking about it anyway. The sun shone beautifully through the open window, and a light breeze pushed the curtains into the room, like two red ghosts. He cocked his head to one side, listening. He was listening for Anne, his wife, and not hearing her. He sat up, pulling his jeans and t-shirt on. For the first time, he looked at the digital clock on the locker beside the bed and groaned when he saw the little red flashing digits.
He stepped into his slippers – the brown ones he had never liked but he wore anyway because Anne had bought them for him their first year together – and left the bedroom, hurrying downstairs. He was late. He always like to start writing at midday on the button, which meant being out of bed by ten in the morning, kissing Anne, having breakfast, having coffee, doing a little housework, and then heading to his study to sit in front of his computer.
Today was no different from any other and he cursed himself as he descended the stairs and entered the kitchen. He looked around but Anne wasn’t there. The kitchen was also the living room and the only other rooms were the bedroom upstairs, with an en suite bathroom; a bedroom downstairs, which had been converted into a study; and a utility room downstairs.
He walked to the front door, thinking she might be out in the garden, but when he opened the door and looked out, he saw no sign of her. He noticed the car was gone though and assumed she must have went to town – they lived two miles outside of Dunshaughlin, on the Navan side.
He closed the door and went back inside, yawning and stretching in the centre of the living room. He walked to the kitchen and found a warm pot of coffee. He poured himself a cup, and as he added milk and sugar, his mind was cast briefly back on the nightmare. The thought left him when he heard the crunching of gravel as a car pulled up outside. He took another cup down out of the press above the sink and filled it with coffee, making faces at the dark liquid (Anne liked hers black and he couldn’t stomach it unless it had plenty of milk).
Opposites attract, he thought happily.
The front door of the house swung open and he turned around. There she was: his love, his life, his Anne. She had a large bag by her side and he noticed it was from an electrical store in town. She held the grocery bag in the other hand. He went over and swapped the coffee for her bags. She pulled away when he tried for the big electrical store bag and smiled mischievously at him.
‘What is it?’ he asked, his eyes narrowing playfully.
‘It’s a present,’ she answered, smiling.
‘But it’s not my birthday, or Christmas or even International Harry Dunphy is so flipping awesome day or anything, so why am I getting presents? What do you want, or what have I already given you?’
She walked towards the living room couch, holding the bag away from him and sipping her coffee. She sat down and ignored him.
‘What’s on TV?’ she asked, trying not to laugh.
‘Yeah, yeah, gimme my present,’ he giggled and she joined in with him, both of them laughing.
‘Okay, okay, here.’ She lifted the bag to him. ‘You needed it, and I’m sick of you saying no.’
‘A laptop,’ he said. ‘Wow . . . this, is, so, awesome.’ His voice had gone robotic. ‘You shouldn’t have, no really, Anne, you really shouldn’t have.’ He smiled and spoke through his teeth.
‘Look,’ she said, ‘that thing you’re using inside needs to go to the museum, where it belongs, okay? I’m surprised you don’t have carpal tunnels just from the stretching you need to do to go from one key to the other. They’re so far apart, those keys. You know, the fifty or so stone slabs you whack everyday with your fingers.’
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Thank you, love.’ He leaned over and kissed her.
‘Sweet! Go set it up, ple-ease! I want to throw that ugly monstrosity you call a computer out.’
‘I can’t keep it?’ he asked, pretending to be upset. ‘It’s a classic.’
‘Yeah, yeah. Go investigate your new toy. Spend as long as you want, I’m planting the new flowers today.’
‘Enjoy yourself,’ he said, taking his coffee and the laptop box into his study.
‘You too, hon.’
Harry opened the door to his study with his foot – the door had no lock, so it was in constant motion, swinging back and forth with the slightest breeze. He walked inside and placed the laptop box on the table and his coffee cup beside it. He stared curiously at the box for a long time, then switched his stare to the ancient computer which sat, like a relic, beside it. He moved the older computer aside a little, puffing at the weight of it, and opened the laptop box.
It was like a magical new toy, and he unwrapped it like Charlie had unwrapped his Wonka Bar, fully expecting to find a golden ticket inside. When he took the laptop out, it wasn’t a golden ticket he found, but a sleek, shiny, black piece of machinery that he fell in love with immediately. He looked back at the study door, torn between going to kiss Anne and staying with his new toy.
He stayed. It took him almost thirty minutes to get it set up.
‘Writing software: check. Internet: check . . .’ He paused, looking excitedly at the screen. ‘I’m going to mark this momentous day, by starting a new novel.’
He sat back for a moment, looking at the flashing cursor on the screen, sifting through his imagination in search of a good story. When he finally had his light bulb flash, he lurched forward and began typing.
He loved the laptop’s keyboard immediately. It was smaller and the keys were smoother; easier to type on. And he found – to his delight – that years of typing on a piece of junk had made him ten times faster on this better model. He soon found himself carried away by the writing and as the ideas flowed out of him – he had found that goldmine of imagination most writers long for – the word count mounted. He noticed the pace at which he was typing and, amazed by it, he occasionally checked the word counter in the software.
One thousand, two thousand, four thousand, six thousand.
He wondered how much time was passing by. He had no watch and there was no clock in his study. He stopped typing and looked out through the small window. The sun was climbing slowly through the sky. He looked at the door to the study and then back at the laptop screen. He needed two things: the time, and a coffee refill.
Finally, he managed to get away from the laptop, saving the file before he left the study. When he went into the livingroom he looked at the clock, surprised to see that it was only 1:30 PM, and happy with the speed he was working at. He looked around, Anne wasn’t there. He refilled his coffee and stood still for a moment, wondering if he should go out and talk to her for a while, then he looked back at his study door and was drawn towards it. He allowed it to draw him in and soon he was back at the laptop, loving the keyboard with his fingertips and clacking away word after word and page after page.
Chapters flew by as the word count grew and his coffee slowly disappeared. The sun rose, like his imagination, and soon he was completely wrapped up in his work. After a while he stopped caring how many words there were. He didn’t take notice of his fingers moving around the keyboard, gradually building up speed to what became a slow blur that most would call supernatural. He didn’t see the page count, nor was he aware that he was punching out almost two pages per minute. He was completely entranced, and the world outside of the laptop screen and his mind faded away into obscurity: melting into virtual non-existence.
He just no longer noticed.
What he also didn’t notice, was that the sun had slowed its movement in the sky. The slowing of its rise was almost imperceptible, but it was there. It grew gradually slower as his fingers moved gradually faster. His eyes were glued to the screen, and he didn’t notice the sun. He didn’t notice that Anne had not been around in what had to be hours. He didn’t notice that the sounds of the seldom passing cars had grown slower and more drawn out until they sounded like huge bumblebees. He didn’t see the study door moving at a depressingly slow crawl back and forth, and then stop completely.
He just didn’t notice.
He typed, and typed, and typed. All he could do was type, and he entered deeper stages of his trance with every word and letter that darted up onto the screen. Sentences flew by and formed paragraphs in fractions of a second. Those paragraphs became whole pages in seconds and those pages became chapters in less than a minute. The word count reached well over one-hundred-thousand, and the page count reached almost three-hundred. And it kept moving, always upward, the pages scrolling by faster and faster. His fingers moved faster too, until they seemed not to move anymore; they moved so fast that they seemed to stay locked in one endless blur. The words on the screen became a blur too, and the page count continued.
300 . . . 400 . . . 600 . . . 800
His fingers began to slow down, gradually moving slower and slower, along with the words on the screen, each word taking longer and longer to type as they moved gently back to a normal pace. He didn’t notice this either – he was still entranced by the screen. The typing became slower and slower, and Harry grew out of his trance, coming quietly back into a state of awareness.
When his fingers finally came to a complete stop and the cursor flashed patiently on the screen, he looked dazedly at the page count.
‘Oh my fuck,’ he whispered and swallowed hard. ‘H-how is that possi -‘
He stood up from the computer, looking outside and noticing that the day was still young. The sun was still fairly high and he knew that it had to be 6 PM, at the latest. But it had felt like hours. It was hours. Nobody can write nine-hundred-and-sixty-seven pages in one day. His mind point blank refused to believe it.
‘It’s not possible . . .’
He backed slowly away from the laptop, as though it were a diseased thing, or some cursed machinery, and made his way to the study door. He yanked the door but it didn’t move and his fingers slipped off, scraping themselves along the corners of the door.
‘Oh, fuck!’ he shouted, grabbing his fingers with the other hand. He looked back at the laptop worriedly; wanting suddenly to get the hell away from it. ‘Something’s wrong,’ he said.
He reached out for the door again, this time pulling it slowly. It was stiff, as though there was a force on the other side, pulling at the same time. Eventually he got the door open, and it stayed in position where he left it – unmoving once again. He considered it with fear in his mind.
He walked into the living room and towards the clock. His jaw dropped when he saw the time and his mind went into major denial. The clock told him that it was twenty minutes to two in the afternoon.
‘Ten minutes?’ he gasped. ‘I’ve been in there for ten . . . ten minutes? What?’ His heart pumped and his stomach flip-flopped. His legs felt weak and he thought he might faint, but it didn’t happen and he could only stare in mad awe at the clock.
‘Anne,’ he said in no more than a whisper. ‘Anne?’ He repeated her name, but got no response. He looked around him. ‘Anne?’
He stayed where he was, waiting for a response, but he heard none. He looked over at the front door, remembering that she had gone out to do some gardening. He had to talk to her. She’d be able to make sense out of what had just happened. Anne was the down to earth, logical one. He was the imaginative writer who had repeat nightmares and wrote about things that scared the shit out of people. He couldn’t count on himself at a time like this – he would likely freak himself out more.
But Anne would calm him down. She would know what to say to make it better. She always did. She was good at making him feel better. All she had to do was look at him and he felt good inside; warm.
He stumbled to the front door, and grabbed the handle. His eyes widened with fear and near panic when he found the door was just as stiff as his study door had been. He pulled at it and it slid open a few inches. He pulled harder, putting all of his body weight into it. It came another inch or so and then he heard it, a crack and a pop and the handle came away from the door. He was brought to the ground by his own weight, slamming hard onto the carpeted floor, his head missing the coffee table by centimetres.
He jumped up, not quite recovering, but not quite feeling he had the luxury of time; something was very wrong here and he didn’t like it at all. He walked back over to the door and inspected the crack he had created between the door and the door frame.
‘Anne,’ he called out as he inserted his fingers in around the door. ‘Anne!’
He pulled, putting all of his strength into it. His face turned red and he huffed and puffed with the effort. The door began to budge, gradually giving way. Inch by inch it moved away from the frame and at last there was enough space to slip through and get out of the house.
‘Anne!’ he called as soon as he passed through the doorway. ‘Anne, where are you?’
He walked cautiously down to the garden, scanning the entire property. As he neared the garden, he stopped dead in his tracks. A realisation suddenly hit home and he voiced it.
‘There’s no wind.’
He looked up at the huge Maple tree that had sat outside the cottage for almost one hundred years. It had been planted by the people who built the cottage and had stood as a constant, woody sentinel for all these years. Now, the wind had stopped, and with it, the leaves and branches had ceased to move.
Harry reached up and plucked one of the leaves from the tree. The leaf came away, but the other leaves, and the branch he had tugged on, remained motionless, as though stuck in time. He held the leaf between his trembling fingers, scrutinizing it and wondering what was happening. He dropped the leaf but it didn’t fall. It just hovered motionless in mid air.
He took a terrified step back from the frozen leaf and his heartbeat doubled. His mouth dried up in a flash and sweat stood out on his forehead, stinging his skin. He turned around to face the garden and saw her.
She was sitting on a large log that she called her “garden armchair”, surveying the garden. But she wasn’t moving. She was deadly still, like the trees and the wind and the sun. Harry swallowed a lump in his throat and took one unsure step towards her.
He waited, but got no response, so he took another step, then another, and another. Slowly, he drew closer to her, and with every step he took he became more sure that whatever had happened to everything else, had happened to her too. He walked slowly around her, looking quickly at the garden. She didn’t move. She didn’t look at him, or even acknowledge his presence. She just remained there, looking at her flowers.
Her hair was flowing away behind her, caught by the wind and now frozen in one movement behind her head. Her mouth was smiling and she had one hand raised with a finger pointed upwards. He knew what she was doing. She was scolding the flowers. She would talk to her flowers, because she believed that they reacted to human stimulus.
He looked at her, his heart thumping loudly in his chest and sweat streaming over his face. He moved closer to her. She never made a single movement: she was completely frozen in that position. He stared at her as he crouched down, looking into her eyes and suddenly missing her. He suddenly wanted to hear her voice so badly. He wanted to tell her he loved her and hear her say it back. He wanted to kiss her and love her. His eyes welled up and tears began to stream from them.
‘How is this happening, Anne?’ he asked quietly. ‘Come back to me, love. Make me feel better. Don’t go away . . . I need you!’
But she didn’t hear him pleading, and she never moved an inch. She remained as she was, smiling at the flowers in mock anger, her finger raised and her head tilted slightly to the right. Harry rested his head on her lap, and imagined she was stroking his hair and whispering to him.
Then he cried.
When his tears finally dried up, and his headache thumped so loudly inside his head that he could barely hear his own thoughts, he slowly sat up. He looked at Anne and caressed her face with his eyes. She was so beautiful.
He looked around dazedly. Was he still dreaming? Had he even woken up at all that morning? He knew he wasn’t dreaming. But then how was this possible? How was it possible for his nightmares, the ones that had haunted him all of his life, to become reality?
Reality . . .
‘I can’t do this,’ he said. ‘I can’t live like this, and I won’t try. I can’t look at you like this everyday. I can’t see you everyday and tell you I love you each morning and know that you won’t hear it, and you’ll never say it back.’ He swallowed a fresh batch of tears. ‘I can’t do it, my love.’
He stood up slowly, his hands resting on her knees, then he bent down to her and kissed her cheek, rubbing his cheek along hers and crying as he did.
‘I love you, my dear Anne. I love you.’
He walked away from her, and his tears came again. He roared at the ground and at the sky. He roared and roared until he reached the house. He cried for himself and he cried for Anne. He cried because this wasn’t right. He cried and he screamed.
He walked inside the house. He wasn’t crying anymore, but there was a low, primal groan which came from deep in his chest. He walked up the stairs, taking each step slowly.
He reached the top and his and Anne’s bedroom. He crossed the room and entered the bathroom. She was in the bathroom, and the bedroom, in everything he saw. Her clothes; her make up; her books and music; her flowers that she put in the window every morning. She was there and he had to close his eyes so as not to see her.
He reached into the wall unit above the sink and fumbled around inside, finding it hard to see through his tears. Finally, he found what he was looking for and he took it down. It was a small bottle of tablets. Sleeping tablets. He walked back out of the bathroom and towards the bed. He didn’t want to look out the window because then he would see her. He couldn’t bare to see her.
He sighed heavily and cried again, sitting there on the bed for a long time and working up all of his courage. Finally, he opened the bottle without looking at it, and quickly poured its contents down his throat, swallowing hard. He lay down on the bed and curled up, crying convulsively until darkness came and claimed him as its own.
The pain was over, and as he died, the last thought he had was of the nightmare that he had finally written but that would never be read.
The nightmare that had become reality.