The Pencil Lead
Surrealist Collective

Vincent W. Sakowski



The six members of the collective sat around the table in Vincent’s kitchen. All were white. Largely middle class. Well-educated. Their ages ranged from the mid-twenties (Carlton and Kevin were the youngest), to the mid-forties (MF was the oldest), with David, Hertz and Vincent somewhere in between. Four lived in the States. Hertz was in the UK. Vincent was in Canada. Being spread so far apart, they rarely got together, but this was too important a meeting to miss. Each of their novels was published and doing extremely well. Movie rights were pending on half of them, and cult status was assured for all. The writers were enjoying the wave of success, but now it was time to decide on their successors: six more worthy authors to takeover and start their own collective. Allow the first six to step back for a bit. Relax for the first time in many, many months. Let the royalties roll in. They had just spent the weekend at a convention at a nearby hotel, doing readings and book signings. Fending off rabid fans. This was their last time together before they parted ways. Five would be in the air shortly, so the alcohol was flowing freely: single malt scotch, (Canadian) beer, and the official drink of the collective–vodka and orange juice. Simple but effective. Classic.

Vincent took a long pull on his screwdriver and began: "I’ve been talking with Joy ProzaKc, and we’re in negotiations for her to be my successor."

A general commotion. Snorts of disbelief. Drinks spit. Spilt.

Hertz dabbed at the corners of his mouth with a handkerchief. "Bullocks! Don’t lie to us."

"It’s true." Carlton downed half his screwdriver and reached for the big bottle of vodka. "They’ve been discussing this."

"Gadzooks." MF blurted. But then the room went silent for a moment. All anxious except Vincent. MF picked at the label on his beer bottle and kept his eyes down as he barely muttered: "Well, uh, MF been talking with Stephen King . . . and he thought uh--"

"Hack." Vincent knocked his glass on the table, punctuating his remark.

MF kept his eyes down. Sweating. "Well, King has sold a lot of books."

The other five shouted: "HACK!"

MF crossed his arms. Pouted. "Well, MF’s wondering about who you guys have then?"

Without hesitation, Carlton replied: "Kurt Vonnegut Jr."

Vincent: "Has been."

Hertz chimed in before an argument started: "Ramsey Campbell. Remember, I met him awhile back in England at that conven–"

Vincent: "Wannabee."

Kevin had a shot of liquid courage before he made his offering for the chopping block:

" . . . ummm . . . John Saul . . ."

Vincent: "Never was."

Kevin: " . . . and ummm . . . Richard Laymon . . ."

Vincent: "Yeah. Definitely ‘Lame man.’ No wonder you chose two. Can’t you guys do any better? I’m talking Joy ProzaKc. Not some ‘I-wish-I-wrote-something-good-at-least-once-in-my-sorry-ass-life-kinda-author.’"

David held his head high. Confident. "Well, before the convention I flew to Europe and dug up Franz Kafka and turned him into a zombie. He does my bidding now."

Vincent raised an eyebrow. "Congratulations. Now, can you have him write a novel without so much monotonous dialogue? And why not tell him to finish a novel for once, too."

Laughter all around, except by David, who sulked.

Vincent got up from the table and crossed over to a nearby closet. Faked a generic Southern accent.

"Looks like I gotta get me my pappy’s shotgun and hunt me down one verbose motherfuckin Czech zombie."

David stood up. "Actually, he was a Czech-German, and just living in German-speaking Prague, and–"

Vincent took a double-barreled shotgun from the closet. Started to load it. "Who gives a shit? The sumbitch must pay."

"What did Kafka do to hurt you or anyone?"

In his own voice again, Vincent replied: "Hey man, I just finished THE CASTLE and I nearly went into a coma three times. Three fuckin times man! I’m not exaggerating."

"You can’t be serious?"

Kevin added: "I had seizures, twice, while skimming The Trial-- those long monologues are pure evil man. PURE FUCKING EVIL."

Nods all around . . . except by David, of course.

Vincent put a few extra shells in his pocket. Closed the door. "No wonder you insisted on your own room. I thought it was just for you and your harem . . . again."

"Yeah, that moaning and groaning sounded a little odd." Carlton thought aloud. "But I just figured you were with that big-bull-dyke-lookin girl I saw hanging around you all day Saturday."

David avoided Carlton’s gaze and refused to comment. "OK then, but I’ll do it." He held out his hands for the shotgun.

" . . . I don’t know . . ." Vincent voiced the others’ doubts.

"Maybe someone should go with him, just to be sure." Carlton offered diplomatically.

Kevin pulled out a nickel-plated .357 from behind his back under his T-shirt.

"I’ll go. It’ll be fuckin sweet."

Eyes wide, Hertz crossed his arms. Sat back straight. "I see Customs is as efficient as always."

After making sure the safety was on, Vincent carefully handed the shotgun to David.

"And be sure to pump a few rounds into Max Brod’s corpse too, if you raised him as well-- for not burning those manuscripts like Kafka asked."

David took the shotgun in one hand while he wiped away his tears with the other. Sniffed.

" . . . k . . ."

He and Kevin left the room and went outside, where David had hidden Zombie Kafka in the trunk of his rental car. The other four sat in silence as they waited for the inevitable. They heard a primordial groan, but then no gunfire. After waiting another minute, Vincent went to the window to see what was happening. ZK sat in the trunk, gesticulating wildly, talking their ears off in German. Pleading for its undead life? Perhaps. Kevin rubbed his temples as his left eye twitched. A migraine was building already. He snapped his arm up and put a round in ZK’s forehead, and blew what was left of its skull across the inside of the hood. Then, he emptied the other five rounds into ZK’s body. David stood by and watched, his grip tightening on the shotgun. He wasn’t sure whether to shoot himself, or Kevin, or finally free himself and pump his own rounds into ZK. David remained standing outside contemplating all this as Kevin returned and said with disgust:

"That Kafka just doesn’t know when to shut the fuck up."

Carlton topped off everyone’s drink whether they were drinking vodka or not.

"Alright then gentlemen, Vincent has raised the bar for us. We’re going to have to do a whole lot better. Give Joy other writers truly worthy to be with her."

Vincent returned to the table with Kevin, who was already reloading his revolver.

"We’re still just discussing things, so let’s not get too far ahead yet. Though, Joy did mention she was willing to sacrifice her first born to be a part of the next collective."

Hertz threw up his hands in despair. "How are we supposed to compete with that?"

A general commotion once again, but Carlton settled them down.

"Yes, well, we’ll have to do our best. If each of us can bring someone as great to the table, she’ll be more inclined to say ‘yes.’"

Vincent raised his glass. "True enough."

Carlton clinked his glass, holding no grudge for Vincent’s earlier inflammatory comments. He knew Vincent was right. "Next order of business then . . ."

The shotgun roared outside.

" . . . Well, let’s see who or what David pointed that shotgun at." And Carlton drained every last drop before they went outside.

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