He was the most celebrated writer in the world. He had won the Pulitzer, the Noble, the This, and even the That. Presidents flew him in just to get a picture with him. He was the only writer in the world that would be mobbed by crowds wherever he went.
He had outsold Harry Potter, outsold the Bible, and even the Beatles.
But he was unhappy.
It’s not everyone, he thought.
He asked his PR person to meet with him. A slick guy with slick hair and a slick suit.
“Author, my man, how can I help you?”
“I’m unhappy, Slick, very unhappy.”
“Why, my man, why? You’re big! You’re huge! Life is good!”
“It’s not everyone,” Author said.
“Why, what do you mean, my main man? Not everyone?”
“There are people that didn’t read my books is what I mean,” said Author, his face turning to stone as the words came out of his mouth, almost like he couldn’t handle even saying them.
“What? You kiddin’, Author? Everyone’s read your friggin’ books, man! I’m talking people in the third world! People in China, my man! We got your books translated to every language ever. Even Yiddish, for the Hasidic folks. Only book they’ll read, my man. You’re good.”
“It’s not enough,” Author said, “What about the places where people can’t read? Or the places where they don’t sell my books?”
And now Slick looked at Author and at first he was dumbfounded. Author wanted people who couldn’t read to read his books? That made no sense…
But then Slick’s money-mind spinned. He saw something as he looked at this writer who had already made him so rich. He saw an opportunity.
And so Slick sat back in his chair, rubbed his chin, and nodded. “You know what, Author, you’re right. Let’s make it happen, my man.”
And Author walked out feeling happy and content, knowing that his PR man would take care of everything, just like he always did.
And sure enough, the next day, the Author International Literacy Program was announced. Slick had gotten Bill Gates on board and now they were going to spend ten billion dollars to make it so that everyone in the world could read.
Author sat back and smiled, because he knew his writing was good, and he knew everyone would read it. Slick’s plan was genius because half of the ten billion dollars would go to giving everyone Author’s books.
And so Author went back to writing books. And year after year a new one would come out. He was prolific, and each one became more popular than the next.
And ten years later, Author was sixty years old, and he picked up the newspaper and read that the Author International Literacy Program (or AILP) had brought the literacy of the world to 100%.
The whole world applauded Author for his amazing work. They cheered when he was offered the Noble Peace Prize and when they invented a prize called the Noble Author Prize, the only prize ever made just for one person.
But Author didn’t care about all that. What he cared about was that now, everyone in the world could read. And that meant that everyone in the world had read his writing. He would never be forgotten. He would live forever. His writing, his soul, it was there in them. People in the Congo, people in Thailand, people in the North Pole. Everywhere.
Inside something didn’t feel right. He didn’t feel happy. He wasn’t satisfied. Something was missing.
For days after the news, he tossed and turned in his bed at night, unable to sleep. What was he missing? What was wrong? It was all he ever wanted.
He didn’t eat, he didn’t write, he hardly even breathed.
What was wrong? What was wrong? What was wrong?
The question rang in his mind over and over and over.
His phone buzzed day after day with the calls from Slick, who was trying to congratulate Author. But Author couldn’t face Slick or anyone else.
And then Author was on the computer, on Wikipedia, and he was reading about the population of the world, a thought he still couldn’t get his mind off of.
And then he saw it: the reason he was tossing and turning. The reason he was so tortured.
“The majority of the human population is dead,” the fact said. “Billions of people have lived before us.”
And it was like his soul was hit with a ton of bricks. He thought everyone in the world had read his books! But he forgot about the dead people. The billions and billions who never did and never would read his books.
Author was devastated. He sat back in his chair, breathing shallowly, anxiety creeping though his hands, through his feet, eating him up.
No, no, no, this couldn’t stand. He had to do something. He had to fix this.
He rose from his seat, picked up his phone which had 999 missed phone calls, all from Slick.
He called Slick, who picked up before the first ring ended, and said, “Let’s talk.”
Slick met with Author an hour later in his office. It was 3 AM, but he didn’t care. What had happened to his client?
Author came into the room and sat down heavily in the big, heavy leather chair in front of Slick’s one-ton, solid cherry desk.
“Author, you okay? Hadn’t heard from you for a bit. You got some stubble going on, eh? Look a bit sick. You all right, my man?”
Author didn’t respond, just looked at Slick straight in the face: “What about the dead people?”
Slick didn’t quite know how to take this, with Author’s gaunt, old, stubbled face looking at him.
“Um, what?” he asked.
“The dead people! The dead people! All the dead people ever! The billions of people who haven’t read my writing. What am I supposed to do about them? This isn’t good, Slick, I’m not happy, I’m not happy.”
And slowly it dawned on Slick. Author was right. Billions. Billions of people who hadn’t paid for the privilege to read the books. Billions.
And Slick’s money-brain started churning, and he looked at Author, and he forgot all about the stubble and the gaunt look, and instead he saw an opportunity. Again.
“Don’t worry about it, Author, I’ll handle everything.”
Author’s breathing slowed, deepened, and he finally relaxed. Slick would take care of it. It would be okay. Yes, it would all be okay. He went home, sure everything would be okay.
The next day the Author Time Travel Consortium (the ATTC) was founded. $100 billion was poured into it, all from donors who believed that Author was a visionary genius. “If Author thinks we can do it, we can do it!” was the refrain, from Buffett to princes in Saudi Arabia to the president.
And for the next ten years, Author was happy, knowing that Slick would take care of everything. He returned to his writing. His stubble disappeared. He was happy and loving to his family, he showed genuine care and love for all around him. With the thoughts of fame out of his mind, he could live again.
And then, after those ten years passed, and Author was seventy years old, he picked up a newspaper that said, “Time Travel Invented Thanks To The ATTC!” There weren’t any other pieces of news, that’s how big it was.
And Author smiled. Slick had done it.
Over the next ten years, diplomatic missions were sent to the Past to create relationships with everyone from Moses to Gandhi to Cleopatra to the native tribes of the Americas. And, of course, with every diplomatic mission came a stack of Author’s books.
Soon, every single person in the world that had ever lived had read Author’s monumental works.
Author was now eighty years old, and his dream had come true. He had achieved all he ever wanted. Everyone who ever lived knew who he was. Everyone who ever would live would know who he was. His writing was read by one and all.
And inside, he knew he should feel happy. He knew he should feel satisfied.
Instead, his insides exploded.
His kidney went first. Then a lung. Then his liver.
The world was shocked. Author had been overcome with a mysterious disease which had caused parts of his body to explode one by one. They flew doctors from all over the world to examine him. Doctors from the future, herbalists from the past. Everyone that had any knowledge about what could be happening.
But no one knew. No one could help.
And soon it wasn’t just his organs. As his eyes popped off, and his ears fell off, he wondered why this was all happening.
The world watched in horror as their hero, the man who had united them, disappeared from their grasp. There was nothing they could do except watch. And cry.
And it was around the time his fingers, hands, arms, and legs disappeared, and his tongue fell out, that he realized something…
He would never be able to write again.
He was now a limbless, mouthless, shell of a person with half the organs he should have.
All he could sense was touch. He knew it was morning because the room would warm from the light coming in the windows. He knew when his wife would come to visit him because he would feel her soft hand on his shoulder.
Besides that, he was alone. All alone with his mind.
He didn’t know that the whole world was already mourning his loss, and having great celebrations in his honor, statues built of him, a whole month devoted to celebrating his memory.
He had no idea. It was just him. His thoughts. A bit of touch and warmth every now and then.
Not knowing what else to do, hee played over his life. Played over all the letters he had ever been sent. Paper stained with tears from people telling him how he had changed their lives. Napoleon’s was his favorite. The guy cried so hard that Author couldn’t even read the letter.
He thought about the popularity of his books, about how much they had sold, how he had solved the literacy of the world, made Time Travel real.
But the more he thought, the less it meant anything to him. Alone in his mind, in his stubby body, only feeling warmth, he slowly stopped caring about any of those things.
As time passed, he stopped thinking of time travel and literacy, letter, his popularity.
His mind turned to writing again. Inside of himself, he began writing books with his mind to pass the time.
As he wrote them, he knew they were literary masterpieces. He knew that if they could find a way out of his brain, onto paper, the world would never be the same. They were books of Revolution, books Introspection. Books that would shatter everything around them.
But no one would ever read them. Only Author, and he didn’t want to read them. He just wanted to write more.
And as every day, that moment of his wife touching his shoulder gave him strength and comfort, he would go back into his mind-writing.
Year after year he would write his books this way. A book a month, it seemed.
Each book delved deeper into his being, each piece of work moved him beyond anything he had ever experienced.
And it was so weird to Author because he kept expecting to be sad that he couldn’t share his books, that everyone in the world and that had ever existed had read his other work, but now absolutely no one would read the rest of his work. The best work he had ever done.
But he wasn’t. He wasn’t sad at all. He was happy.
And he realized it was the first time in his life that he had ever actually been happy.
He couldn’t figure it out, he couldn’t understand it, he couldn’t wrap his mind around it.
So he kept writing.
And with each book, his happiness grew. His sense of peace, a peace he had never had, was growing within him.
And now he was 95, an old man, and what was left of his body was shriveling. He knew his time was coming soon. And he knew his wife knew, because now she was coming more. Not just touching him, but siting down next to him. He could hear her breath softly touching his skin, feel her hand as it rested on his head, slowly petting him. Her hands were old too, but they were still so soft, still so warm.
And the more she came, the more he loved her. The more he wanted to talk to her.
But it wasn’t the kind of wanting he had when he wanted the whole world to know about him. This wanting came from somewhere deeper, it was the kind of wanting that allowed him to be at peace even while he was heartbroken he couldn’t reach out, take her in his arms, and plant her with a big, sloppy kiss.
And whenever she came, he would stop his writing. He would stop everything. He would let it all go just so he could be with her. And he realized that even though he couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, couldn’t kiss… he was more with her than he ever was.
And as his body weakened, and it became harder and harder for him to think straight, he did something he never thought he would ever do: he completely stopped writing.
Instead, he waited for those sweet moments his wife would come to join him. The rest of the time, instead of putting himself to work, he would be… just be…
And for the first time, words came to him instead of from him. Words about death, and about life. About G-d (or whoever). About what really mattered. About Truth. All these words, they came out of nowhere, as if falling like leaves from a tree, slowly drifting into his mind.
On the day that Author was to die (somehow, he just knew this was the day), he knew that there would likely be throngs of people who would mourn him. People from throughout history would hear about it, people today. He knew that they would make speeches about him, make even more days to honor him.
But he didn’t care. He didn’t care at all. He knew he was going somewhere else. He knew that where he was going, none of that mattered. He knew because the words had come to him and told him that. He knew because he never felt more love, more peace, than when just one person touched him, kissed him: his beautiful wife, who was with him now. Spending the whole day with him.
And as he started to slip out of consciousness, as he saw things for the first time since his explosions, a single tear slipped from his eye socket. A tear that came from a simultaneous sadness and joy. Sadness for the time he had wasted. And joy for the opportunity he was given to gain some back.
And when the monitor indicated that he had died, when his heart stopped beating, his brain stopped functioning, and his one lung stopped breathing, his wife began to cry.
She had felt him all this time. She had known he was finding the peace he was always looking for. She could tell by how tense he was for so long when they were married, and how he slowly relaxed over time.
She smiled, tears flowing down her eyes, the only one that knew how much her poor husband had suffered trying to convince the world of what she had known all along: that he was a great man. A worthy man. And as she laid her head down on his chest, which was no longer rising and falling as it had all these years, she cried and cried for the husband she had loved more than ever.
And when the funeral happened, Author’s Wife went to it, and people were amazed at her look of peace, her look of strength. It was the first funeral that everyone in the world attended, and everyone that had ever existed flew forward and back in time to attend. Martin Luther King Jr spoke followed by Lao Tzu and then Abraham.
The whole time, the wife stood in silence, unresponsive to the fanfare. Unresponsive to the whole world crying around her.
She looked up into the sky, where no one was crying, where no one existed, and she envisioned Author as she loved him. With no limbs, no mouth, no eyes. Just… a soul. And she couldn’t wait to join him.