Home > NaNoWriMo 2011 > Day One Hundred and Ninety-one: Finders Keepers

Day One Hundred and Ninety-one: Finders Keepers

Katrina kept herself amused as she waited for the keynote speaker by reading the minds of the people sitting around her.

ZeffCon 2011 was packed. The Allenhurst Civic Center had been chosen because last year’s con couldn’t fit into the Eldewylde Hotel that had hosted it for the years previous. The con’s organizers were, of course, thrilled, since a bigger place meant more attention, more participants, and of course, bigger guests.

And it didn’t get much bigger than the keynote speaker for the con, the man that Katrina was there to see.

Roger Tillman had grown to be one of the most popular new authors of fantasy and science fiction in the last ten years, and the competition to get tickets for the speech was fierce. If she hadn’t gotten in, Katrina would have had to approach him somewhere else in the con to pick his brains. As it was, she could do it from her fifth-row seat at her leisure. Her talents did come in handy sometimes.

The man next to her had a song running through his head that was beginning to get on her nerves. She carefully blocked him out and focused on the large woman sitting next to her, who seemed desperately trying to think of an alternative to the only question she could think of to ask Tillman when he did his signing. Katrina dug a little deeper – “Where do you get your ideas?” She sighed and pulled out of the woman’s head.

Katrina had no idea where other writers got their ideas, but she knew where she got hers: from them.

The first time she’d done it was at a convention in San Diego fifteen years ago. She met a middling mystery author there, whose sales were slumping. While Katrina poured on the praise for the woman’s books, she took her first peek into the depths of an author’s mind.

She’d always been a “peeker,” as she called herself, ever since she started to hear what people were thinking back when she was a little girl. She couldn’t help herself back then – she was curious, and people were just loud. But as she got older, she got better at going in and finding what she wanted. She found it really useful for remembering names, for one, and it made her sales job at the time a lot easier to do.

What she really wanted to do, though, was write. Ever since high school, she’d tried writing short stories and novels, and what she came up with were stories that she ended up hiding in a drawer and forgetting about. Her ideas, she thought, weren’t any good. What she needed, then, were good ideas. And what better place to find them than in the heads of people who’d proven they could write?

In the end, though, she found it much less exotic than she’d thought. This author had her ideas cluttered about like a musty basement. Dull plots and half-formed characters, a title or a first line or two. Things she was probably working on but wasn’t ready to publish yet. Works in progress and works that would probably never get finished. This woman’s mind was a mess.

Katrina looked a little deeper, into the shadows of the woman’s mind, and it was there that she found what she would look for in every writer’s mind afterward. She found the seed of an idea. The grain of sand that would make a pearl, given time and effort. Katrina turned the idea over in her hands and examined it. There was something there about a house where a child was kept in the basement… a father who pretended she wasn’t his… a boy next door?

It would do. Katrina took the idea back with her and retreated back into her own mind. She thanked the author for her time and her signature and headed back to her hotel room. A few hours later and she had the book plotted out in her head. Just the rough outline, with a few important steps to it, but it was there. A few months of work and she’d produced her first novel, Groundling Child, which was published a year to the day after her meeting at the convention.

She’d published it under a pseudonym – Paula Grant – just in case the original author came looking for her. But she never did. As far as Katrina could tell, she never knew that the idea had been stolen at all.

Emboldened, Katrina started visiting more cons and meeting more authors. Each time, she found a seed, a germ of a story idea and took it back with her. Before she knew it, she was writing every day, and selling one or two books a year, in addition to short stories. The critics didn’t rave, but people bought them and within a few years she could go to any airport bookstore and see some Paula Grant novels on the shelves. If she had time, and the clerk was busy, she would stealth-sign them. They usually showed up on internet auction sites and got a good price, since the elusive author had never appeared publicly to promote her books.

But where Paula was something of a mystery, Katrina had become a familiar face at conventions around the country. Anywhere a famous author would show up, Katrina would be there. If she could, she’d even volunteer so that she’d have an even better chance at getting a face-to-face meeting.

This time, though, she’d had to settle for just being a member of the audience. The lights dimmed, and one of the con’s organizers came out to say how honored they were to have the world famous fantasy/science fiction giant speak at their convention. “Ladies and Gentlemen: Roger Tillman!”

The audience went crazy, of course. Some people already had copies of his latest book in hardcover and were waving them in the air as he came to the stage and waited out the applause. “Thank you,” he said. “Thank you.” He said it a few more times before the crowd calmed down.

“Wow,” he said. “I never expected such a reception. They told me that ZeffCon crowds were the best, and I guess they were right.”

More applause.

Katrina screened out everyone around her. The fat woman was just thinking, Ohmygod Ohmygod Ohmygod over and over again. Shutting her out was like pressing against a wind-blown door, but Katrina managed to do it. She wanted peace and quiet in her head before she went into his. The speech would give her more than enough time to look around, poke into the dark corners and see what she could find. Nobody ever seemed to notice her rifling through their mind, and time seemed to go differently in there as it was.

He was telling some story about how he got started, but Katrina just let it wash over her. She concentrated on a point just between his eyebrows, past the steel-rimmed glasses he was wearing. And she pushed.

On the stage, Tillman stumbled over his words and looked directly at her.

In her head, she heard him ask, WHO ARE YOU?

She recoiled back into her own mind and looked up at him with wide eyes. He seemed to have recovered from his verbal stumble and was back to talking about his high school English teacher, but she knew – she knew that he had felt her go in. And she was pretty sure he knew who she was.

Katrina picked up her jacket and whispered, “Excuse me” as she moved past the other convention-goers. The looks they gave her were anywhere from shocked to annoyed, and if she was listening she would have heard them think some very nasty thoughts. But she’d closed all the doors and windows, as it were, and got out of the main hall as fast as she could.

The rest of the con was sparsely attended during the keynote. She made her way to the art room before she found a place to sit down and gather her thoughts and figure out her options. It had been dark in that hall. He probably didn’t get a good look at her face, and so he probably wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a crowd by sight. But if he was anything like her, he might not need to see her. He might be able to find her no matter where she went. She started going through her bag to find her hotel key when she felt a certain… pressure coming towards her.

It was like a noise, but not a noise. Like a wave that was coming in from far away when you went to the beach, but not quite that either. It was the way the wind changed before a storm or a song started to build before it reached a crescendo. By the time she realized what it was, it was too late.

Roger Tillman came running around the corner, his mind blazing like a beacon to hers.

When he saw her, he grinned, and that beacon switched off instantly. The feeling of pressure vanished, and Katrina put a hand to her head. He stopped a few steps away. “Wow,” he said. He was smiling madly and couldn’t seem to keep still. “Just… wow.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I had to say that I wasn’t feeling well and cut the speech short, but I assured them they loved what they’d heard.” He tapped his temple and winked. “It’s just that…” His voice dropped to a whisper, and this handsome man looked like a kid for a moment. “It’s just that I’ve never met anyone like me before. I couldn’t let you get away.” He reached out for her, but she shrank back.

“Thank you,” she said. “But I really didn’t mean to… do that. I just wanted to…” She couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Wanted to what?” he asked. He glanced around. “Are there more of us here or something?”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “No, I’ve never met anyone either.” She didn’t dare look him in the eye, for fear that she’d reveal what she was trying to do. She’d read his books and loved them, and idea-borrowing aside, she looked up to him as a fellow writer.

No. As a writer. There was no “fellow” about it, of that she was sure. She was pretty certain that he didn’t pluck ideas out of people’s heads, and that would make all the difference.

“Listen,” he said. “I know there’s something you want to say. I can feel it. If you’ll just -”

“I have to go,” she said. She picked up her bag and tried to smile. “It was very nice meeting you, Mr. Tillman. I… I have to go.” She turned to leave, and that’s when she felt his hand on her shoulder.

She was running through a forest. It was deep and dark, and the bundle in her arms was moving. “Hush,” she said to it. She leaped with long, strong legs over fallen trees, and the wind rushed through her hair. There was no other sound but her footsteps and her breathing.

And the thing behind her.

She couldn’t see him, but she knew he was chasing. He was a force unto himself, tearing the great trees out by the roots as he pursued her. Great vines spiraled down from the trees, and she had to slice through them with her dagger before they could grab hold. She held the bundle tightly to her chest as she jumped across a chasm that opened up in front of her, curled up in a ball to fly through a wall of flame, and rolled back to her feet on the sand-swept desert floor.

Spikes of stone and brick shot up around her, blocking her path. A great whirlwind dropped from the swirling clouds overhead and moved as she moved. From behind, she could hear him.

“It is over,” he growled. “Give it to me.”

“Never!” she screamed, and she held the squirming bundle close. “You can’t have it!” Iron chains erupted from the ground, wrapping around her legs, her arms, her shoulders, and dragging her down. She held on as tightly as she could, but when he came close, it was a matter of only a moment before her treasure was revealed to him.

It was wrapped in rotting cloth, stained and fouled from years of use. Inside was the dried, rotted corpse of an infant, long dead. Its skin was gray and flaking away, its eyes dark hollows in a fragile skull. Beetles crawled across it and onto her fingers. She screamed and dropped the dead thing to the ground, where it exploded in a puff of dust. Her heart full of rage, she looked up at the man silhouetted by a giant and angry sun and –

Roger took his hand away and looked shocked when she spun on him. She glared through tear-filled eyes and then looked away. There was a small crowd gathering.

“Wait,” he said quietly. “That’s it?” He started to smile, but the tears running down her face were enough to set him straight again. “Katrina – Paula, that’s your big secret?”

She nodded. “I hope you’re happy,” she hissed. “You’ve ruined me.”

He took a step back, and this time he did smile. “Katrina, I bought two of your books in the airport to read on my trip.” She glanced up at him. “Seriously – they’re in my bag right now.” He took her hand in his, and she flinched. Nothing else happened, though. “They’re really good, Katrina.”

She shook her head. “They’re not mine,” she said.

“Of course they are.”

“No!” She pulled her hands away and dropped her voice to a whisper. “I found those ideas in other people’s heads. I went in and I took them and I wrote some books.” She wiped her eyes. “But they’re not really mine.”

Roger turned around and leaned against the wall. “Katrina,” he said. “Ideas are…” He wave a hand in the air. “Ideas are a dime a dozen. People have ideas all the time, and they ignore them or throw them away or let them fade. Any schmuck can have an idea.” He stood up straight and looked her in the eyes. “What makes you a writer is what you do with the ideas. You did the hard work. You put in the time and the energy to write them. You figured out the characters and papered over the plot holes and wrote and re-wrote.” He chuckled. “Believe me, I know what it takes to put a book out, and I know you did the grunt work.”

Katrina didn’t say anything. She looked away.

“Look,” he said. “I get ideas from all over the place. A word on the street, a phrase in a song, a weird sign or a guy in a restaurant or just some bizarre combination of thoughts. That doesn’t mean they aren’t mine, and it doesn’t mean the stories I write aren’t mine either.” He shrugged. “Okay, so what you’re doing might not be the most ethical thing in the world, true. But I’ll tell you this: the woman who wrote those books can get her ideas from anywhere she wants, as far as I’m concerned.”

She sniffed, and finally looked at him. “You’re not going to tell anyone?” she asked.

He laughed. “Who would believe me? However,” he said after a pause, “it might make a good short story.” He winked. She smiled, despite herself.

See you around, he thought to her.

She lifted a hand to wave. See you. The crowd followed him out of the art room, a few people lingering to see who this woman might be that had caught his interest. Katrina smiled at them and took up her bag.

He was right. It would make a good short story.

But this time, it wouldn’t be hers.

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  1. November 30, 2011 at 10:34 PM
  2. November 30, 2011 at 10:37 PM
  3. December 11, 2011 at 11:03 PM

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