As a special holiday gift, please enjoy this short work of fantasy. And may all writers who read this find their own magic button in 2016!
Once upon a time, there lived a man named Will Wright. He worked in an attic room with one narrow window. When the words flowed, he wouldn’t even notice the blue patch of sky he could see from his desk—until it faded away in the late afternoon, forcing him to turn on an inside light so he could continue to write.
On other days, he would stare out at the windows across from his own, wondering what his words were really worth—and who lived beyond that greenery-encased balcony across the way.
One morning when the words wouldn’t come, he pushed opened that window—and at the very same moment, the balcony door opened out too. A smiling young woman said, “Hello, William. How are you today?” Her painted scarf billowed up, covering her face for just a moment.
“Not so good,” he replied, removing his glasses to rub at his eyes. “We’re all drowning in words. What’s the point of writing anymore, no matter how good it is?”
“Your stories are important,” she said.
“Some days they seem to be. But lately all I can think about is whether anyone will read my work. Never mind if I’ll ever get paid for it.” He sighed, heavily.
The young woman nodded, her gaze intent. “It’s a good thing you opened your window. You’re ready for the magic button.”
“All you have to do is push it. Computers take care of payment, publishing, and distribution.”
“Really?” Will cocked his head. “That sounds way too good to be true.”
“There is one catch,” she said. “Once you hit the button, you can’t take a story back. Before you click on it, make sure your work is absolutely as good as it can possibly be.”
He shrugged. “I do that anyway.” He hesitated, but just for a moment. “What’s it look like?”
She faded back into the room’s shadows, and when she reappeared there was a dark wooden disk in her left hand. “Here, catch–” she tossed it across to him, right through the sliver of open window, and somehow he caught it. The edges were smooth, and the button in its center was carved from a buttery wood with a fine grain. The word “publish” had been engraved so deeply, his fingertips disappeared into the letters.
“From now on, don’t think about anything except the writing,” the woman told him. “When your next story is ready, press the button. Good luck!” Still smiling, she waved the tail of scarf at him before tugging the balcony door closed.
Will set the button down on the far corner of his desk, just out of reach. And when he sat himself down again to write, the words began to flow. By the time the light faded from the window, he had finished a rough draft of the story that had eluded him for the past several days.
He spent the next day editing and polishing. Since he didn’t know where the story would be published, he couldn’t adapt the word count or style to fit the location. Instead, he imagined a dark-haired boy sitting on his knee, and then he cut out anything that he thought would start that boy fidgeting. He found himself smiling, and even laughing at some of his word choices: writing was fun again!
By the time the light began to fade from the window, Will was satisfied. He poured himself a healthy dose of celebratory whisky, and as he sipped it, he stared at the wooden button. Should he try it? Stories were his children; it felt a bit irresponsible to send one out into the world without knowing where it was going.
Better sleep on it for one more night. Tomorrow he’d decide whether to use it, or toss the button back out the window.
The next morning, Will read over the final draft and couldn’t find even one small word he wanted to change. This was the best possible story he could write about this topic (though to be perfectly honest, it wasn’t as good as the story he’d written a year ago, about that other topic he liked more).
Time to publish.
He ran his finger along the warm grooves of each letter, in order—and after tracing the last leg of the “h”, he clicked the center of the button, before he could change his mind.
A message instantly popped up on his screen: “Nice story. Please check your bank account.”
Really? Instant payment?
Sure enough, there was a new deposit—for a little more than he’d expected, really, considering the word count… and his own awareness that it was not, in fact, the best thing he’d ever written.
Wow, was that easy!
That meant he could just write. Maybe he could even start work on his dream story, the one that seemed like it would be impossible to get published anywhere…
Will spent the next several days trying to collect his ideas and stitch them together. There were so many! And now that he wasn’t letting worry about where to publish corrode his excitement, the words came easily.
A few days later he had a workable rough draft, so he treated himself to dinner at his local pub. As he took a seat at the bar, a woman at a table across the small room nodded at him, then leaned in to say something to her husband. And then the husband turned to look at Will, smiled, and raised his glass.
They recognized him. Nice—though it was also a bit odd.
Will turned back to wave down Ben the bartender, only to find him already setting down a frosted beer mug.
“I really liked the ostrich metaphor,” Ben said, wiping a spot of foam off the nearest tap. “That whole heads-in-sand thing has been way overused, but you managed to turn it into something new.”
Ostrich. That was in the piece published with the wooden button.
“Thanks.” Will sipped at his beer, trying to stay casual. “Where’d you see it?”
Ben shrugged. “Can’t remember. Does it matter?”
Will grinned. “Not really, since–”
“Willie!” Arthur Author clapped him on the shoulder, a little harder than necessary. “Great piece you ran a few days ago. Only you could make that whole ostrich thing stick!”
“Thanks, Art.” Will smiled up at him. “Wait till you read what I’m working on now.”
The following morning, Will sat down at his desk again with a fresh determination. For the next several days, he worked late into the night, trying to capture his most important points without repeating himself or getting too carried away.
When he remembered to check his email, there were comments from readers who’d enjoyed his last story so much they’d been inspired to drop him a note. There was also one from a guy who strongly disagreed with his central idea, which sparked a thought for another story… so he wrote it down on his ideas list. One thing at a time; he needed to get this one polished up, so he could hit the wooden publishing button again.
Finally, several agonizing edits later, his masterpiece was ready to go. He reached out, hit the button, and poof!
“Best one yet. Please check your bank account.”
Even though the word count was slightly less than the previous story, the payment was higher. That was a surprise—but a wonderful one. It was his best story so far this year—and maybe, just as the button said, his best one yet.
Will stood up, stretched his arms over his head until his hands pressed against the dusty roof beams, and then walked over to the window again. Just as he opened his, the woman across the way walked out on her balcony.
“William. This new story is fantastic. I figured it was going to be, since you were so excited about it.”
“How did you know?”
She shrugged, setting today’s scarf billowing around her narrow shoulders. “I could see your light on later and later each evening.”
“Wow. That makes it so easy for me. All I have to do is write!”
She smiled. “That’s the idea—you do what you’re good at, and the button does the rest. Now go write your next best story. And if you have any more doubts—just open your window.”