Aaron Steinmetz

...be very still...the bird's angry...and I think he can see us.

Cocoa Tales: Episode Twenty

In Smokey, Floyd was driving, Jessica was in the passenger seat, and Nibbles in Faber’s body was in the back. Nobody moved, said or thought anything.

In the woods west of Redding, down a long and dirty road rarely traveled, the entrance to the Feline Underground was closed, a deer asleep beneath a tree.

In a completely different, much better book altogether, Sandy Mantle slept calmly beside his lovely wife, Myla, a contented smile on both of their faces.

And in a world of white still stuck in writer’s block, I was scratching my neck, Cocoa asleep at my feet, the Sandman sitting cross-legged with a cup of tea in his hand. I sighed and wondered what my muse was doing. Maybe she’s crying. She's probably not.

And here I am in white, all around me, it’s blinding this infinite white. I can’t stand it. When I’m wandering around this infinite whiteness I keep thinking my eyes will get used to it, and it’ll dim to a shade of gray. But it never does. It’s always as blinding, sometimes appearing to be vast and enormous, sometimes choking me as it closes in like fog under sunlight. She gave me all my ideas and now I’m here without her, trying to do this on my own. Maybe she had the power all along, maybe it was all just dictation, maybe I should just give up.

No! I can’t. Not with how far I’ve come in this story. Too many lives are dependent on me at this point. Faber and Floyd, Jessica Holiday, The Sandman, Harold and his father, the cats in the Underground, the Chief, President Winchester, even Marley Bean, they are all depending on me!

Her eyes still closed, Cocoa said to the Sandman, "Is it just me or did he forget to mention someone relatively important to this story?"

"I’m surprised you’re even listening to him. I tuned him out ages ago."

"Good idea."

And what would my muse think of me if I didn’t think about the story? I have to keep going! I must keep going! Okay. Let’s see, where am I? I’m looking around the whiteness as enormous letters fall from above me, giant letters with curved serifs forming the words and sentences, all lined up left-aligned, all falling down as I quickly find my way back to the beginning, where it all started, the opening scenes of this haphazard story.

Storming along the streets in broad daylight, Cocoa didn’t care who saw her, not anymore. "Abandoned warehouses, abandoned schools, abandoned everything is abandoned in this city!" She was done with explosives, done with pageantry. She would simply walk up to a human and kill him. No theatrics, no showboating. Just see a human and kill him. Or her. She didn’t care.

So she met Harold.

She stops at the feet of a man who hasn’t run away from her. She looks up at him. "You! You shall taste death at the hands of Cocoa Tael, Harold Gerald! I’ll live with you as your pet but know that I will bring your end painfully and swiftly."

Harold is standing next to his white truck fumbling with his keys. "No you won’t, Cocoa Tael," he replies. "You will become my pet but fail at every attempted homicide, because that’s the way the Storyteller rolls, humor, instead of horror, and death isn’t funny."

"Die!" Cocoa leaps into the air but succeeds only at getting herself captured by Harold who says, "It’s just a shame this story is being told by someone too worthless and incompetent to plan ahead."

No! No! That’s not working! I groan, throwing my head back with my eyes shut, panting, saying, Okay, okay, let’s try someplace else.

It’s all too random, too last-minute. I need structure, I need a plan. I’ve been flying by the seat of my fingers all dancing on this qwerty keyboard without any hope of a timeline for too long. This story demands more from me, and I have to learn how to give her what she needs and make her feel loved for once in my life.

The words rise up this time, as enormous and life-size as ever before all flying above me too quickly to read. But I know where I’m going; I’ve lived in these words for too long for me to not find my way around them in my sleep. I should know. These words have haunted my dreams for years. I continue searching through the labyrinth of characters until I find what I’m seeking, a bed not set for me or my muse.

Harold and Cocoa on his bed in the morning. Not speaking. Cocoa lying down on Harold’s chest pawing at his face. Harold picks up Cocoa and climbs from his bed. "Oh Cocoa," he says, "I knew you’d come around." They hold each other close for a moment before the faux Cocoa exclaims "KITTY BOMB!" and explodes destroying the entire house–Harold and Cocoa included–in one enormous fireball. Before they both die, Harold turns to a scorched Cocoa and says, "You didn’t think that one through very well did you?"

"My bad," Cocoa says, "but it takes a pretty lousy Storyteller to come up with something this stupid." She exhales a long death gasp and Harold follows close behind.

And I shake my head smacking myself in the forehead kicking nothing as the whiteness continues its torment. I turn around to see Cocoa asleep next to the Sandman, the Sandman glancing up at me. "It’s all about foreshadowing," he says. "Your muse knew what she was doing. Think about the next step in the story, the logical progression of the chain of events."

But all I can think about right now is her warm smile in the morning light.

I sighed.

I can’t do this. I’m hopelessly screwed. I’m trapped here in this ceaseless white. It’s all lost. It’s the end of all we hold dear. I’m stuck in this white prison of my own incompetence and I’m taking all my characters with me, Faber, Cocoa, Floyd and Jessica, we’re all trapped.




It’s all lost.

Floyd, Jessica.

The Sandman and Cocoa.

And Faber. Faber too.

This is their prison too.

My shame is their shame. My incompetence theirs. My prison their prison.

They’re all standing next to each other in this prison cell.

They’re all in a jail cell.

Cell block ‘S’.

Floyd says, "We’re hopelessly screwed. We’re going to die in here. It’s all lost. It’s the end of all we hold dear."

I smile.

Of course.

I turn to the Sandman smiling. He takes a sip from his tea and says, "Took you long enough."

I shrug. Gimme a break. I’m still new at this.