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In Fiction on December 7, 2009 at 9:43 pm

Ulber Krang was stabbed to death with his own pen.

It was night and ever-so quieter than usual. His office, cluttered with cigar tins, incense and curled-up paperbacks, was a small dot inside a massive estate. The grounds had grand trees and sweeping drives. The A-road beyond the ornate gates had faded from a peak-hour rumble to an eerie silence.

The silence was a gift. Ulber Krang was writing a new blockbuster. It had diamonds and monsters and a sexy heroine. He was to scrawl hundreds of pages and, once dictated, it would appear as a hardback: his name shouting in embossed capitals on bookstore shelves.

They stood in his own bookcase too. Hardbacks, paperbacks, manuscripts, like monuments. Spine after spine of pulp fiction, each with the same diamonds and monsters and sexy heroine.

He’d written all of his books with one black fountain pen. It had fake silver edging that had long tarnished, and the clip had snapped a decade ago. The discarded cigar boxes that gold-leafed his bookshelves were kept as a kind of talisman, as was all the clutter he didn’t notice any more. Memories forgotten; now just furniture. The pen was better than that. It was an old mascot and the source of his strength.

The sexy heroine wouldn’t use a pen, of course. She was not only sultry and athletic, but she could type 90 words per minute and could hack into any computer system she wanted to. She didn’t know keyboard shortcuts, because Ulber Krang had never heard of keyboard shortcuts. She would bark commands at her screen:

“Computer, get me the head of the secret service.”

Characters would often speak. They would come alive and gallop with the story down startling avenues of plot. When he was in the flow, when things were quiet around him, the pages would sparkle with fireworks. Words would chase words; sentences would explode into reams of existence. This was how blockbusters were made.

Tonight was one of those times. He saw the diamonds sparkle in his mind, and his heroine’s perfume was as real as the incense hanging in his room. The outside world melted. The engine of a plane hummed at a distance. The wail of a fox added a chill to everywhere but here.

Sentences spilled thick and fast. His writing stretched to a scrawl as he thought of the punchiest verbs he could. Slammed. Yanked. Pummelled. Yelled. The words spidered down the page.

And then he stopped. Pain ripped from his palm to his wrist, but he didn’t let go of the pen. He just froze and his mind went blank. For a moment, he forgot to breathe, and he looked around the room in confusion. What just happened?

The pen was in the middle of a sentence, on a drying up-slant from a t to an h. It stuck to the paper like glue, and a fullstop of ink was already pooling around the nib. He gripped the pen with white fingers and tried to recall the word he was writing.


Not the best word, but he forced his hand, now shaking, to complete the h. He was like a child copying rote. Except, the pen didn’t move. His hand was frozen, and the numbness scared him.

“There’s only darkness inside, so why don’t you do us all a favour and give up?”

The voice was barely human. It slithered into his ears as an exhausted rasp. Ulber Krang dropped the pen onto the page and stood up backwards from his chair, almost tripping over the wheeled legs. He shot glances from the bookshelf to the window. And back again. He heard his panicked breathing. He listened hard as the words echoed in his mind: the occasional plane buzzing above his house was truly a world away now.

The voice, it was so nasty. It wasn’t a woman’s, but then again not a man’s either. He looked back to the page. The heroine was in the middle of scaling a wall with the barest of tools. She had done it a dozen times before.

He took a few steps towards his desk, as if approaching a sleeping lion. It couldn’t be? He leaned close to the page. The patterns of ink seemed mottled on close inspection; he no longer saw words. Closer. Was something moving amongst the letters, or was his vision swimming?

The pen said: “You’re useless as a writer, and if you think ‘that’ll’ is a word, you’re more cretinous than I thought.”

The air rushed in screaming torrents. The ceiling shot into his vision and he landed on his back with a painful thud. He caught his shoulder on a discarded dictionary; the agony punched like a fist into his neck and he squealed.

The pen stood up straight. It towered over the desk, and shook when it spoke. The voice was half-formed ice and came from the air itself.

“You think having a crappy paperback in a supermarket, fingered by morons whose lives were dead before they started, you think that makes you a writer?”

“What do you want?” Ulber Krang winced at his own cliché.

The voice came from every part of the room. From every paperback bearing his embossed name. From the forgotten manuscripts that fluttered when he came in the door.

“Your stupid, pathetic heroine isn’t going to save you.”

“She’s not sultry; she’s the product of a masturbating old pervert.”

“She’s a cardboard cut-out anyway. I could tear her to shreds in seconds …”

“… like I’m going to do with you.”

The pen was getting closer. Ink poured down the side of the desk, and bled from the spines on the bookcase. Ulber knew his manuscript was ruined. He used his arms to crawl backwards but only felt the hard edge of his book shelves against his shoulder blades.

A creeping, black wash drizzled onto his collar bone.

“Who’s messing with me? I’ll call the police.”

The pen’s clip was pristine, as new. It glimmered, untarnished and proud, yet there was little light in the room.

“The poor secretaries typing this crap. They’re thick enough to be in your books.”

“The publicity you whore for peddling this vomit.”

Ulber Krang scrabbled to bring himself upright, but his hands were numb and they slipped in ink.

And he knew he’d never write again.

The pen hovered over him. He could see nothing else.

Its voice was an angry buzz of white noise. “Tacked-on endings. Sentences that ramble on. Exposition through dialogue. Impossible plots with more holes than I could count. Too many holes.

“Too many holes.”

One stab was all it needed. The pen punctured his heart. A gargle crept up Ulber Krang’s throat. Then a second stab, right between the ribs. Pinned down by fear. Tried to speak. Another stab. Wet warmth spread over his body. And more stabbing.

The pen didn’t stop for a long time. Every wound was for a crime of fiction that the author would never understand, for levels of subtlety that had evaded the writer for two decades of blockbusters. All Ulber Krang knew was the first draft rush and the money and prestige it had afforded him.


He was pierced 200 times, said the police report. If the author had been filled with light, where there was only truly darkness, he would have shone a mirror ball cascade across his cluttered studio.

The torrents of ink confused investigators. The crime was never solved. Millions of people enjoyed his books for decades after. The policeman who collected evidence on that bloody night had bought every single one of his supermarket paperbacks.

“Bag that, Dave, will you?”

Dave placed the bloody pen into a clip-seal bag and attached an evidence label. He looked at the implement, now in its own way a museum piece in its airtight case, and wondered how many books had been written with it.

He threw the evidence bag onto the desk, and ran his finger along the bookshelves. He imagined writing his own book with the same pen.

If Dave hadn’t been so distracted with the hundreds of books and cigar tins that lined his hero’s office, he would have heard a faint scraping sound, almost a bubble amid the bustle of police activity.

“Sealed tight. Can’t breathe.”

The day faded into quiet night, and not another word was written.

Matthew Bionic is a pauper and occasional writer living in the miserable leafy suburbs of Manchester. He lives off skinny lattes and toasted leaflets. Bionic has written under a pseudonym in newspapers (lots of times) and magazines (sometimes) and is a failed stand-up comedian. You can read more on his blog, Ghosts On The Roadside.