A drop of condensation rolled down the glass and pooled on the windowpane. Charlie watched it as it made a damp spot on the wood and tutted. Lifting his cigarette to his lips, he took a long drag and looked back to the glaring screen of his laptop.
‘And it was there that Jonah decided he must…’ he read aloud. ‘Must what? Must what, Charlie?’
He was halfway through his third novel and for the life of him, he couldn’t seem to slip back into writing the way he used to. Since September, he had chained himself to this desk, missing out on birthdays, reunions, even Christmas parties just to hit his February deadline. But for some reason, the words just weren’t coming.
The moonlight shone in through the window, bathing his small study in a wintry glow. It was almost midnight but he refused to close the curtains, hoping inspiration would somehow strike from the quiet scene below. Rows of slanted rooftops reflected the moon’s beams back up to the sky. Nothing moved. Nothing murmured. No inspiration would strike here tonight.
Pushing his chair back, Charlie stood and started to pace. With no other light in the room, he moved in and out of the moon’s gaze, enjoying the way the beams danced on the rim of his glasses. Why was it so hard to write this time around? The first two books had simply jumped from his fingertips to the keyboard and become instant hits with readers around the world. Perhaps it was because it was the last one in the trilogy but this one was just not working.
Downstairs, he heard his wife turning off the TV, her slippers shuffling across the floor as she started to make her way up the stairs. How long had he been sitting here? Five hours? And the most he’d written was 100 words. At least three hours had been spent deleting sentences that just didn’t work, over and over again. He couldn’t disappoint his fans, he just couldn’t.
‘Charlie?’ he heard Georgie’s familiar voice call.
‘I’m going to bed.’
‘I know, I know. I’m just thinking-’
‘Have you seen the moon tonight?’ she said, climbing the couple of steps up to his attic room.
‘No,’ he replied to the closed door.
‘Oh, you should see it,’ Georgie said. ‘You’d like it.’
Charlie stopped pacing, aware of his wife hovering on the top step. He should ask her in, tell her to come and look at the moon with him. He knew he should and yet, if he did, it would take him ages to get back on track. Not that he was going anywhere at the moment.
‘It’s called a Wolf moon,’ Georgie said, quietly. ‘Because of the wolves howling in the winter.’
‘Nice, love. I’ll have a look later.’
There was a quietness between them as he gazed up at the moon outside his window. She would know he had already seen it. She knew he never closed the curtains when he was writing.
Realising she wouldn’t be invited in, Charlie heard her turn and start to descend the stairs.
‘Goodnight then, love,’ she said. ‘I won’t disturb the genius at work.’
‘Goodnight, Georgie,’ he replied. ‘I won’t be much longer.’
Her footsteps faded away and Charlie was left with the Wolf moon and an unfinished sentence that was haunting him. Somewhere along the line, he’d lost his love for the stories he was creating. His publishers had promised his readers that each book would be bigger and better than the last – more epic battles, more nail-biting cliffhangers. More, more, more.
And now here he was, writing about a man called Jonah that he didn’t even care for. It had all become so detached from the original story he wrote – a love story, essentially. Holding the backspace key down, he watched the letters disappear from the page.
‘Sorry Jonah,’ he sighed. ‘I’m making a mockery of you.’
Georgie’s faint cough from the floor below made him stop. He wished he could go down to be with her instead, but the publisher’s deadline sat heavy on his shoulders. What was it she’d said? A Wolf moon? What was all that about?
Clicking away from his third book and on to the internet icon, Charlie brought up the search bar and typed in ‘wolf moon.’ Thousands of results came back, telling him that the bright January moon was named after the wolves who howled at it in the depths of winter, on the search for food. The famine and the feast – he could tell them a thing or two about that, Charlie chuckled to himself. The name of the Wolf moon had Celtic origins, said one website – derived from Native American tribes said another. What would it have been like to hear those howls in the dead of night? An icy cold January night, no less.
He shivered to think of it.
The first full moon of the year. How was it January already? He thought back to the text he’d received from his oldest friend, Jerry. ‘Happy New Year, mate. Have to try and get together soon – I’m forgetting what you look like.’
He’d rolled his eyes when he got that one. It was the same story every year when he was trying to get a book finished. Nobody said anything when he was at every summer BBQ, but miss a few months in the winter to keep to your contract and suddenly, you were the devil incarnate for not being around.
His father had been the same, missing out on time with friends and family. As a baker, he’d been the one person everyone had come to for their fresh loaf and some sweet treats. He’d go to bed early to rise before the sun and start baking all over again. They’d hardly see him over Christmas while he was out delivering goodies to people around the neighbourhood, but he’d always be back in time for Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. You have to do what you have to do to get by, Charlie told himself. Even if it meant staring unhappily at a screen for a few hours.
The problem was that this book was just going deeper into a rabbit hole that he needed to escape from. He wasn’t writing to satisfy his own hopes and dreams anymore, he was writing for his publishers who made demands on him. And that wasn’t why he started creating stories in the first place. The characters had all become a little too predictable; they weren’t allowed to be contradictory as real people often are. They had become one-dimensional caricatures instead, and while the story had taken them on adventures to far-flung corners of the world, it just wasn’t the same as the original.
Charlie sighed and rubbed his tired eyes. He couldn’t go back and start again now…could he? Make this a book he was actually proud of? Do Jonah some justice?
A bird flew past his window, jolting him out of his stupor. The moon was still there, watching him suffer with the consequences of his own actions.
‘Oh shush,’ he said to it. ‘You don’t have to deal with problems like this.’
He remembered gazing out the window of his dad’s van at a full moon when he joined him on his deliveries one year. Trays of bread slid from side to side in the back as they came to the end of their rounds.
‘Sun will be up soon, boy,’ his father said. ‘Just a couple more to do and you’ll have to be off to school.’
‘Moon’s still out,’ Charlie replied. ‘Full moon too.’
‘Oooh yes,’ his dad said. ‘What a beautiful sight.’
They pulled up at Mrs Hardy’s house, light from the small kitchen pouring out to the front garden. Opening the back of the van, Charlie pulled out a tray with a loaf of bread and some freshly baked scones on top.
‘Come on then, lad. Don’t ring the bell, you’ll wake her baby.’
His father’s hand on his back, Charlie was guided up the path and they both knocked gently on the door.
‘Oh hello, you two,’ Mrs Hardy whispered. ‘Thank you so much – this smells delicious. Let me get your money.’
‘You’re more than welcome,’ Charlie’s father said quietly, as she tiptoed back into the hall.
‘You two must be exhausted before the day even begins,’ she replied, placing the money into his father’s hand.
‘Ah, well we love it, don’t we Charlie?’
Charlie nodded enthusiastically back at his father.
‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day, eh?’ Mrs Hardy smiled.
‘Exactly. You take care now, love. See you next week.’
They walked back to the van, and Charlie felt his father’s hand ruffling his hair. What his dad had said was true. He did love it. They climbed back into the warmth of the van and Charlie’s dad whistled as they set off back home.
Charlie smiled to himself as he recalled it now. One of those core moments that stuck with him for years. Looking back at his screen, his eyes scanned the plan for this chapter. What was he doing? None of it made sense. According to his agent, it was what the public expected after two books that had been real page-turners. It was The Grand Finale.
But it wasn’t him. It wasn’t his characters. It had all turned into a bit of a pantomime, and it just wasn’t real anymore. No wonder it had been so painful to write.
‘Forget it,’ he sighed. ‘I’m not doing it.’
Opening a brand new document, he wrote ‘Chapter 1’ at the top, Mrs Hardy’s sage advice ringing in his ears. ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work a day.’
Charlie picked up his whisky and held it up to the moon.
‘Here’s to new beginnings,’ he said to it.
And then he began to write…
‘Jonah looked up at the icy Wolf moon…’