Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Now Time Doth Waste Me

The following is an excerpt from Now Doth Time Waste Me by Ben Shakey. It will be published by Reckoning Books in April 2009

Julia sat in the lunchroom and leafing through the pages of Historical People Magazine.

“How can you read that trash?” asked Violet

“I just like the pictures. I always wondered what these people looked like.” Julia answered.

“I think it’s just wrong. The time paparazzi harass those poor people. No wonder Cleopatra killed herself. They won’t leave that poor woman alone.”

“But didn’t you find the size of her nose astonishing. That’s what all the fuss was about. Don’t pretend you don’t find this interesting. And that unibrow. Oh my” Julia let out a puff of disapproving air.” I mean I would be different if I could afford time travel but the media are the only ones that can. With time’s self correcting properties it’s the only way to make money off time travel. It’s not like you can go back and win the lottery”

“I think it’s dangerous.” said Lisa “All those time paparazzi mucking about. One is going to step on a butterfly and doom us all.”

“Can’t be done” said Julia. “Once time is set in motion it can’t really be changed. I mean, look at how many times they went back and arrested Jack the Ripper before giving up. Got away every time and killed those women. Just sometime it was a few blocks to the east. Not really that big a deal in the massive span of time.”

“ I still think it’s dangerous.” Said Lisa

“I still think it’s cruel.” added Violet

“Well if you don’t approve I can put it away” Julia started shoving the magazine into her hand bag.

“No, its okay” said Lisa and Violet in unison and all three burst out laughing.


William Shakespeare has demons.

They follow him through the streets of London. They spy at him from the corners of the taverns. They sit in the front row of the Globe and move their lips along with new couplets he wrote hours ago, like they lifted them directly from his mind. They dig though his garbage like feral animals. They shout his name and when turning to look, they blind him with a flash of light.

He cannot write with this hounding and without writing he will never be famous.

A demon follows him now. He looks like a man but lurches and crouches and peers through the stalls at him.

William stops for a pint and the demon follows him into the brew house. It sits at a bench, drinking ale, and never lifting his eyes from William.

William drinks. He is not a heavy drinker but now everything else seems so heavy. His writer’s block is heavy. His failure is heavy. The eyes of the stranger on him are heavy. His drinking might as well be heavy too.

Finally, he drinks enough courage to commit his plan.

William staggers into an alley, populated strictly by prostitutes and customers. He huddles into one of the dark corners where the prostitutes would work and waits.

The stranger, like a crab, scuttles into the dark alley. His eyes move back and forth. “He is looking for me in the shadows” thinks Shakespeare.

William draws his dagger and pounces. He knocks the stranger to the ground. One knee on the stranger’s chest, Will presses the blade into his neck and shouts “Who are you?”

From the blackness of the alley, prostitutes and their patrons scatter like birds after a cannon blast. William and the demon are alone.

“Who are you?” shouts William, pressing the blade harder into his neck, ready to puncture the skin.

“Nobody!” cries the stranger


“nobody, really.”

“You die either way. Reveal yourself and end with a weightless conscience.”

“You don’t kill me,” reasons the demon. “You aren’t a killer. You don’t commit murder.”

“I will kill you but first I will kill your children and bake them in a meat pie and force feed them to you.” The stranger is right. William is not capable of murder but he also wrote Titus Andronicus and talks a mean game.

“No, I know you never commit murder.” The demon calms down. The panic leaves his eyes.

The panic arcs from the stranger to William. “You know the future. What does it hold for me?”

The stranger shakes his head. William presses the blade enough to draw blood.

“Dammit!” It curses.

“Speak devil!” Orders William

“You become the greatest writer ever. The greatest. You change the way people speak. Students spend years studying your plays.”

“Flattery is devil’s greatest tool!”

“It’s true, also the Globe burns down and you leave a bed to your wife.”

“Why do you tell me this? That I sabotage my own future after learning this?”

“There is nothing you, I, or everyone else can do to stop it.” The Demon shrugs his shoulders and then casually adds “Greater than Chaucer.”

Shakespeare suddenly feels calm. He doesn’t care for writing. He hates it really. He only does it because it brings renown that labour can’t.

He loves everything about being a popular playwright except the actual act of writing. At his lonely writing desk he copies Marlowe as best he can and hopes that is enough to appease the groundlings.

Now there is no need to write. There isn’t even a need to think. He just sits back and transforms into the utmost wordsmith in English history.

Even superior to Christopher Marlowe

“I do not care if you are a demon, an angel, or something in between,” says William “If what you say is true then how do I thank you?”

“Smile” says the demon.

William smiles.

The stranger holds a small box in front of his face. There is a flare of light and the stranger runs.

Christopher Marlowe pours Ale down his throat.

“I cannot write.” He says and takes another deep drink “There are devils following me. Accosting me. Calling my name. One waited for me in the toilet, blinded me and ran.”
Shakespeare nodded in understanding of the dilemma

“How do you write?” asks Marlowe. “How do you write with demons amongst us?”

“I don’t write anymore.” Laughs Shakespeare. “No matter what I create; I am and will be famous. What do I care?”

“But the craft” stammers Marlowe. “But the art...?”

“That’s all secondary. I don’t really care for the art to be honest” explains Shakespeare.

“It’s all I care about” moans Marlowe. He takes another deep, searching gulp “and the demons took the art from me. I don’t care a whit for fame. I would be happy with them thinking someone else wrote the plays. I would be happy with everyone thinking I was dead. I want to write again.”

“Really?” says Shakespeare incredulously “I would be happy if I never had to write again. I only want people to think I am famous and clever and buy me drinks and quote my works.”

Marlowe thinks about their two contradictory ambitions.

“Maybe we can make an arrangement Mr. Shakespeare” and he lifts his mug in a toast.

Ricky looked at the magazines in the checkout line.

He could never bring himself to actually buy a copy of CSH: CRIME SCENE HISTORIANS but it was fun to flip through as the food got rung up.

His eyes darted across black and white photos of carnage. Of course, the time paparazzi could easily shoot colour photos but something about black and white made it seem more authentic.

Ricky looked at Julius Caesar, full of knives and blood soaking his toga.

He looked at Jesse James, shot in the back and lying bellow a picture frame.

He looked at the corpse of Christopher Marlowe.

“At least they guessed it was Christopher Marlowe” thought Ricky. “The dude got stabbed in the face. I’m surprised anyone knew who this was”

Ricky stared at the grisly photo and tried to recall who Marlow was. “Might have been a friend of Shakespeare’s” he thought “but I could be wrong”.

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