A.J. Walker



Mid Week Flash Challenge: Week 263


Willam G. Stephens was a household name. You may well remember him from his classic books and plays. Who can forget his breakthrough epic family saga, ‘Doctor Turner’s Parallel Lives’ or ‘Imperfect Perfections,’ and ‘A History of Bees in Five Movements’? His serial story with Jess the three-legged poodle/Jack Russell cross had a nation rapt and then in tears for months.

Everybody looked forward to his weekly column in the London Gazette. They never knew where his serials would travel to - and his excoriating editorials when he was on duty were powerful pieces to behold. Many a public figure having been lambasted by Stephens had oft to consider their future when his colourful caricatures stuck once out in public. He was scintillating with wittisism and choosing the right crack to lever at with his forthright pen.

In the ‘
For Arts Sake’ magazine interview he famously said he wasn’t a lyrical polymath or wordsmith genius but simply a “conduit”. He claimed to never know what he was going to write from one day to another. That he’d sit in front of a blank sheet of paper and put down a random word then let the following words take him where they wished to. He’d no control of the story and he was as surprised at twists & turns - the endings of them - as any of his devotees. He’d said that he believed that there maybe no such thing as a genius but just right place, right time. Twenty years into his career he’d been pulled into researching ley-lines and he’d even had a woman in his home purporting to be an expert in communication to the afterlife to see if he had someone whispering the words to him. She’d said that there was; but could say nothing more. Stephens later called her a charlatan in one of his columns. A fortnight later he’d struggled not to write “she should have seen that coming” when she died in a bizarre accident involving a spaniel puppy (not hers) and a tennis net.

Several weeks later he went into his office to work on his weekly editorial – he’d expected it could be about Cleanliness Being More Important than Godliness, or maybe something about the Foreign Secretary needing a multitude of very private secretaries to keep him up to date with who he was seeing in a variety of settings – of course, in reality once he’d written the first word down he’d have been surprised by what he’d written. He told Rita, his long suffering wife, that he need never travel as as soon as he was sat at his desk he’d be whisked away hither and thither; without the need of that tiresome travelling nonsense. Rita always put on a rictus grin: she so wanted to see the world (though preferably without William).

“RITA!!” The scream ripped through the usually quiet townhouse. She was genuinely shocked by it. He was usually so sedate even in throws of relative passion.

After running down the stairs as if chased by the devil himself she’d found William under the desk searching the floor and panting like an overheated dog. “We’ve been robbed, Rita. Robbed!”

It took a while to find out what he was talking about. The house hadn’t seemed to be disturbed in any room. The doors and windows were all secured as usual. She told him that there were no signs of an incursion and that all their valuables were still in place.

“No valuables!” William panted. “Pens, the pens. They’ve all gone.”

The police sent a couple of men around, including a senior officer, given Stephens’ celebrity status. They too failed to find any evidence of a break-in or any nefarious activity - other than some suspicious material in what Stephens called his restorative ‘
head strolling paraphernalia.’ Nothing was said about that.

He was asked for a description of the pens and he quickly provided them with an itemised list and detailed drawings of them. The policemen were impressed by his thoroughness. PC Hunt commented to his sergeant that maybe Stephens was compensating for something. “May as well call them a penus instead of a pen, Sergeant.”

In the subsequent months Stephens never wrote a word which made it to print in a newspaper, magazine or book. He tried pens cheap and month wage expensive, typewriters and even tried dictating to Rita and several secretaries. Nothing worked. His muse had gone with his pens. Or maybe the conduit had gone.