A CREATIVE DEATH
William Chadwick hated crime scenes. He was a professor of English, not a policeman. Sure, he had consulted with the police before, but he would never get over the blood. “No one should die this way,” he thought, as he put on some forensic gloves.
“Hey, Bill,” said Detective Maria Garcia, who had called him. “The victim’s over here.”
Alex Morgan was slumped over his desk, his head, or what was left of it, resting on a keyboard. His face was twisted into a strange mixture of pain and happiness. “Not another,” said Prof. Chadwick, as he examined the scene.
“Looks like it,” sighed Det. Garcia.
“Was this an explosion wound or implosion?” Prof. Chadwick knew it would be one or the other.
“It’s consistent with an explosion,” said Dr. McMann, the coroner. “Look, the top of his head is blown off.”
“At least he died happy,” said Det. Garcia.
Prof. Chadwick knew this type of wound meant that the victim had had so many ideas in his brain that the pressure had become too much, and “Boom!”, his head had exploded. Implosions usually meant a vacuum from a complete lack of ideas causing the skull to collapse. The head could only take so much.
“Anything on the computer screen?” Prof. Chadwick knew there’d be something, mostly gibberish. For implosion cases, the screen was usually blank.
“Yeah,” said Det. Garcia, “just two words: “trolley problem.” That’s why I called you. What the hell does it mean?”
“Too much to this poor guy,” said Prof. Chadwick. “It’s just an old ethics problem. Are you sure that’s all there is? Usually there’s a lot more for explosion cases.”
“That’s it,” replied Det. Garcia. “There should be more drafts on the computer. I’ll turn it over to IT and get them to open it up. The record is 17 drafts and this guy looks good for at least 10.”
“Make sure they check for other entries,” added Prof. Chadwick. “He looks like he belonged to the Idol cult.”
“I’ll have the techs sweep his apartment,” said Det. Garcia.
“They should look for signs of dashed hopes and broken dreams,” said Prof. Chadwick before leaving. “This one was hard core. And see if there’s anything about ‘Gary.’”
The mysterious “Gary” was the head of Idol. No one had ever seen him; some said he was just an internet fiction, another urban myth. Prof. Chadwick was convinced that he actually existed. “Writing cults don’t form around an idea,” he thought. “They need an actual leader, someone to feed them those damned prompts, to coax them along. An idea doesn’t eliminate people. It takes flesh and blood to do that.”
“I’m not sure there’s even a crime here,” said Det. Garcia. “These people do it to themselves. I’ll finish up, and call you if there’s anything more.”
* * * * * * * * *Alex Morgan was extremely happy. He had just made it into another round. It had been a real struggle, but he’d survived to Level 50. “I’ve never been this far before,” he thought. Sure, there’d been sacrifices, big ones, but he had to keep going. It was all that mattered. “I can get another job later,” he thought.
Then there were the Levels of Enlightenment. Alex had read that after Level 25, some people had visions of Gary, and if he could just make it to the Top 10, he would achieve Real Creativity. “If I win,” he thought, “I’ll appear in the Column of LJ Idols.”
Alex had to be the best, it was all that mattered now. Everything else was falling away, including his job, and possibly his family. It had been pretty quiet recently. He had devoted his very being to writing for Idol. All that was left was his cat, and she had one paw out the door.
Alex sat by his computer waiting impatiently for new messages from Gary. They always came after the poll results: Work Room and the all-important Topic, with its deadline. Dead Chinese take-out boxes littered the floor. Alex needed a shower and a shave, and his old blue bathrobe was taking on a gray tinge.
“It doesn’t matter,” Alex thought, “there’s no one here to see me.” He had just finished the marathon of reading and commenting on other entries. “So many – but not as many as before.”
“Let’s get you some food, kitty!” he said to the cat, who wanted to be fed again. Kitty had a real name, but Alex couldn’t remember it in his excitement. “The topic’s posted!”
“Trolley Problem” would rule Alex’s life for the next five days.
“Plenty of time to write,” he thought. Deadlines had always been a problem for Alex. He kept revising his entries, wanting to make them better. Poems, journal-style entries, fiction – he had tried them all.
After Googling the entry, Alex decided to sleep on it and get a fresh start. This was a fun topic, and he knew the competition would be fierce.
Early next morning, Alex drank several cups of coffee and ate a few bowls of Cap’n Crunch, then skipped his shower again and sat down to write. He immediately had an idea, which was usually a problem for him. “I’ll write something romantic, a couple finding true love on a cable car in San Francisco.” A love story was sure to be popular.
Alex started: “The lonely cable car climbed the steep hill into the cold fog. ‘It’s empty, like my life,’ thought [protagonist].”
He got up to take a break, feed the cat, and get some more coffee.
Back at the computer, Alex wanted to think about the rest of his story, but his brain was moving on.
“I have a new idea,” he said to the cat. “It’s even better – it’s about a kid who solves a famous math problem someone spray-painted on the side of a cable car, winning fame and fortune.”
Alex started his new story. His fingers flew across the keyboard for a few minutes, until he got to the part where he actually needed to know some math. “Time for a coffee break,” he thought, “and some internet research.”
Five hours and many distractions later, Alex had something different. “I’ve got a lot of good ideas,” he thought. “I could go meta and have the ideas be armies fighting in my head until one wins. I’ll stick a trolley in a battle scene.” He noticed he was getting a headache.
Over the next few days, Alex started a story, worked on it gleefully, then abandoned it in favor of a better one. His headache kept getting worse. “I’ve been living on coffee and cereal,” he thought, “but I’ve never written like this before!” If Alex had bothered to look in a mirror, he would have noticed a little trickle of blood from his ears.
Time was running out, and he needed an entry. He had all those fantastic ideas. Why not just pick one and force his way through it? He didn't have to be a genius, just a bulldozer.
Alex’s eyesight was getting a little blurry. He needed some sleep, and he had to do something about his headache. When he went to the bathroom to get some aspirin, he noticed that his ears, nose, and eyes were bleeding. “I’ll see a doctor after I’m done,” he thought.
Back at his computer, Alex had an epiphany – the best idea yet! A story about a psychiatrist who listens to the problems of talking trolley cars. “It’s perfect!”
With that last burst of genius, Alex’s head exploded. It could not take it anymore. He felt no pain, just an instant of relief, and then he slumped over his computer.
A neighbor called the police after a few days when Alex’s mail began piling up.
* * * * * * * * * *Following his consultation in the Morgan case, Prof. Chadwick waited to hear from Det. Garcia. Finally, a notice from the coroner arrived, with a ruling of natural causes. “Hhmph,” thought the professor, “there’s nothing natural about this Idol cult. Someone’s got to do something.”
But then Prof. Chadwick made a tragic mistake -- he found Idol online. “Hey,” he thought, “a new season’s starting! I can pretend to write entries and report to Detective Garcia.”
After signing up, he read the prompt. “I like that topic. I have a great idea for a story!”
And so it began, another newbie consumed by Idol.
Det. Garcia hadn’t heard from Prof. Chadwick for a few months, so it was a sad day when she was called to his apartment and found him sitting before his computer, with his head imploded, the cursor blinking on an empty screen.
The cult had claimed its latest victim. “When will it end?” thought Detective Garcia – never, she feared, as she left for another case.
* * * * * *
A big thank you to halfshellvenus for beta reading this entry.