By Tim Law
Author’s Note: Piece was originally titled “The Shadow”
Looking out at the many faced crowd that had filed in to fill the available seating, Eric Flute, manager of the Redfield Library and Culture Center dabbed at his shiny forehead and tried to control his nerves. Eric always found that there was a mixture of excitement and terror whenever he had the privilege of playing Master of Ceremonies at these types of events. That evening he was honored to be introducing author Fiona McIntosh, the first overseas author to ever visit Redfield, at least as far as Eric knew. He had read the books by this author since his secondary school years and migrated with her when she made the smooth change from fantasy to contemporary and finally crime. Understanding it was important to bring authors and guest speakers of various levels of fame and establishment to the local community for Eric this particular author and thus this event gave him an extra level of exhilaration.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” Eric began after a calming deep breath gave him the courage to step up to the podium and stare into the bright light. “Welcome to the wonderful Redfield Library and Culture Center.”
The crowd remained silent, politely listening as the Library Manager took care of the formalities. With practiced flow Eric ticked off the list of acknowledgements of dignitaries he had earlier spotted in the waiting hubbub. Eric then covered off the location of amenities and what needed to be done should there ever be any kind of emergency. As he informed the crowd of the simple instructions he prayed to whatever bibliophilic deities that were possibly listening that now was not the time to test such instructions and Eric’s ability to follow them.
An unpopular notion begun by the previous manager of the facility had been to highlight and make mention of the original land owners of the local area. Eric felt just as passionate about this and so, like his predecessor Pam Wright, he too made certain to acknowledge culture, spiritual and heritage beliefs. Unsurprisingly Eric noted a bit of shuffle amongst the crowd and a few nervous coughs. He suspected he knew from whom such discomfort emanated and chose just like always to ignore those squeaky wheels and to carry on with his introduction.
“It is now my greatest pleasure to welcome to the podium our special guest,” stated Eric, his voice morphing as his heart filled with excitement. “All of the way from way down under… Author of well over thirty books from fantasy to crime and historic fiction she has done it all… Please welcome…”
Eric did not even have to say the name. The applause from the crowd drowned out his announcement and only grew louder as Fiona waltzed across the stage and up to the then vacant microphone. And waltz she did. There was no other word for it. Dressed in a shimmering black and white number the Australian came accompanied with nothing but a smile as broad as the double doors and a cheery confidence that matched. And with only that Fiona immediately owned the room. Eric slunk back into the shadows as Fiona took control and as he waited he watched and listened and learned. Allowing Fiona’s words to wash over him as they did the room of fans Eric found he was taken on a journey. Fiona discussed her book, the after COVID travels she undertook as research and the time she spent intimately getting to know all of her characters. As discussion veered seemingly off course and into more personal territory Eric made to step forward and take back the reins. Mistress of the spotlight Fiona waved him away with a spatter of well-chosen words.
“Where did you appear from?” chortled Fiona in feigned surprise. As bidden the crowded room laughed along, on cue.
“Just five more minutes?” the author then begged and Eric had no choice but to step back and vanish again.
Five minutes became ten and then twenty and Eric considered stepping out to the kitchen to check on supper. There was something about Fiona’s tone though as she answered for the third time a question from the crowd which sounded so similar to something answered only a minute before.
“Fiona, might you tell us what advice you have for anyone who wants to publish their own story?” asked Eric, again stepping into the light where all could see him.
His booming voice honed from many an evening ushering out stragglers at closing time Eric’s question drew everyone’s eyes in an instant. Again the beads of sweat began to glisten and gleam upon his head as the Library Manager’s face turned red. Luckily Fiona took the question and ran with it.
“For those of you who are courageous enough to write,” the Australian began. “Might I recommend you purchase a copy of my book How to Write Your Blockbuster?”
The expected laughter filled Fiona’s pause and coy smirk and Eric watched on in awe as the Aussie casually gained back the room’s focus.
‘She has them on a string,’ Eric realized.
“But failing that I would suggest writing about what you know and are passionate about,” Fiona added with seriousness as the laughter faded away.
Eric imagined in that sea of darkness many a member of the local writers’ club making a quick note of these worthy words of wisdom. This lady up on stage had made a career of what many, Eric included, had thought would and could only be a hobby. Fiona and so many like her that Eric Flute had arranged to visit the small town with such a big library was evidence that dreams could come true. All it took was a lot of hard work, a little bit of industry know-how and a pinch or two of luck. As Fiona finally stepped away from the microphone it took Eric a moment to realize it was his turn to speak.
“Fiona we are truly grateful that you have taken the time to visit Redfield on your hectic tour of our great state,” mumbled Eric in obvious awe. “Please would you now venture down to the Reading Room? I believe we will have the opportunity to buy a personally signed copy of your latest novel.”
“They make a great Christmas present!” Fiona suggested.
The way the copies sold that night Eric had to believe the gathered masses agreed.
Later that night Eric sat in his den with Chet Baker playing in the background and a half glass of Shiraz swirling in his hand. Eric stared at the glowing screen of his laptop, a fresh page awaiting his first words. That screen had been mocking him for the past six months but Fiona’s wisdom and encouragement that night had inspired Eric to fire up the computer and his brain as he searched for the story within him, the one he knew was waiting to get out. As the first words tingled in his fingers and then tapped across the keys Eric finally felt the fire of all writers. He witnessed with the thrill of a child in a toy store the unfolding of his beginning that was somehow leading him into the guts of his tale. It felt good, no better than good. It was exhilarating to feel the energy of story creation, the utter joy of being the first to know what happened next. Eric considered as he wrote that he had possibly been happy before, slipping in and out of those shadows as a writer’s support. The Library Manager realized now though that such a life would not satisfy him forever. He longed to follow in Fiona’s footsteps, in the same footsteps of so many writers who planned, plotted and gave a dream everything. Fiona’s words that night had inspired him. Eric’s first words, his initial draft of his very first story were only the beginning of a long journey. For Eric was determined to be the shadow no longer. Eric Flute planned to be the star.