The 8-Ball

📅 Published on May 29, 2022

“The 8-Ball”

Written by Eli Pope
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
Please wait...

Chapter 1

The Gift

On my eighth birthday, in 1968, I got an odd birthday gift. I was certain everything it represented was true, and I was quick to ask it questions as I awaited the triangular answer to appear in its purplish-blue form underneath its black round body. The Magic 8-Ball, about the size of a softball, somehow held the magic to predict my future in simple answers to only yes and no questions. “It is decidedly so, ask again later, Better not tell you now, cannot predict now, it is certain, you may rely on it. There were 20 possible answers. 10 affirmative, 5 non-committal, and 5 negatives. I was no mathematician, but the odds always seemed good that I should receive the answer l hoped for. For the most part though, those hopeful answers usually eluded me. Trina wasn’t in love with me, I wasn’t going to get that minibike like my best friend Randy got. I would also be forced to finish my school career without escaping by writing a number one best seller or be discovered on the Jr. High baseball diamond to become a professional pitcher. I never put stock in the negative answers but held strong prospects for the positive ones. If I would have had money, I would have bet it all at my young age on what the 8-ball had to say.

As I continued to grow up, like all toys purchased and given to me as birthday gifts, my once prized Magic 8-Ball finally found its home retired to the brown cardboard box filled with other short-lived Hasbro games and metal collectible cars once garnering my unrelenting attention, however short it was. I didn’t see the Magic 8-Ball for many years as that box remained in the farthest reach underneath my bed where all monsters lived, only to come out at night to make their scary sounds and create many moments that rattled throughout the night.

Chapter 2

Summer of 1978

I dreaded going through my things. An eclectic collection of my life getting laid out across my bed to either be taken with me off to school or packed away and taken to the basement. My folks were excited about me choosing creative writing as a major with journalism as a minor. My mom always loved writing. She was a published poet and my grandmother on her side had written a two-volume book on her life and times. It seemed possible the gift of writing was in my genes. My grandfather on her side was a preacher and gave what I recall, very deep and thought-out words of wisdom filled with faith. I’d chosen the small college in our hometown to attend. It hadn’t made the list of schools turning out winning war correspondents like Neil Sheehan or novelists such as J.D. Salinger or Ernest Hemmingway, but it was a chance for a kid from an average blue-collar family fighting to keep their house payment made and food on the table for six kids, a chance to break the mold and get a diploma from a good solid college.

In the middle of those nerve-racking thoughts of my future while sorting out things of my past, I got down on my knees to survey the collection of forgotten junk kept hidden from sight underneath the bed I’d spent sleeping on since I can remember. In the farthest reach of the corner, swallowed by the darkest shadows, sat a dusty brown cardboard box, tucked away like a pirate’s chest full of booty. I stretched my arm as far as possible, attempting to contact its edge using the tips of my fingers. I eased closer, my body now halfway underneath the frame of the bed until the feel of gritty, dry cardboard finally met the touch of my skin. I slid in a tad farther before a firm grip was made. Slowly backing back out and tugging the slightly weighty box along with me, each elbow digging into the carpet aiding in pushing myself backwards from the tight opening. I wondered what was contained inside. When I finally sat kneeling at the edge of my bed, I lifted the newly found treasure using both hands and held it up in the light. I inhaled a large breath of air and then in one strong puff, blew the loose dust from its folded closed top, one flap held over the other which had sealed it shut.

I should have known its contents, I supposed. But I didn’t. Every child has a special hiding place for secret things, and I imagined this must have been mine although I didn’t recall having it. I placed the discovery on top of my bed amongst the other piles of things from my past to further inspect. Carefully pulling at one corner of the box, gently tugging at the focal point where the flaps overlapped, the box slowly unfolded mimicking the lens of a camera’s aperture opening its exposure ever wider. My attention became very focused while I attempted to recall the items that I’d placed within its confinement so many years ago. I believe my heart rate even increased slightly above normal as the opening became wide enough to clearly see inside. My smile grew exponentially across my face as my mind now captured by a cascade of flooding memories overwhelmed at what my eyes now saw and recognized. Sitting in the lefthand corner of the box, mixed amongst scattered Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, sat my very dangerous set of Clackers. The mere sight of the rock-hard, brightly colored red plastic balls leashed together by a thin white rope, quickly brought the painful memory of swollen wrists painted with blackened bruises ushering in tears as large as the Magic 8-Ball nestled in and proudly resting above the other assorted toys and trinkets. Aw, the masterful lies of the Magic 8-Ball, I reminisced. The brainchild of the Brunswick Billiard Company. The huge conglomerate that sells the lies of many childhood dreams that never come true as “predicted.” Girls who were supposed to fall in love with boys that didn’t, fortunes promised to be made, and dreams of fame which never bloom into reality. All those lies that lay heavy on a child’s heart creating a myriad of future mental issues all for the profit of some CEO exec. Whatever brings the cash enabling him to purchase another yacht or beachside home no matter the cost of shattered youthful dreams being crushed.

That’s when the recollection of one specific question wafted into my mind and gently settled into the foggy topic of the moment with a thunderous thud. I sat back, my body propped against the wall below the window, gently resting my head against the painted horsehair plaster and gently closing my eyes to replay the last question I’d asked. The one the 8-ball answered just before I tucked it neatly away with all the other worn out and broken souvenirs from my childhood, to be retired into storage and forgotten.

“Magic 8-Ball—will I ever be famous?”

I gently shook the 8-ball several times as instructed before revealing its answer. I now remembered the day precisely as it happened. It was way back when I was twelve years old. I’d kept the black round birthday gift with the white encircled number 8 boldly displayed like a badge of honor out on the shelf for almost four years to the day I’d unwrapped it way back. I was down in the dumps on that particular day because I was told I had to clean up my room immediately.

“William Gregory Mansfield—I’ve asked you for the final time! Your grandparents are coming to celebrate your birthday tomorrow and I want that cluttered room of yours straight as an arrow before they get here, young man. If it’s not, we’ll just skip your birthday celebration this year! No presents or cake!”

I knew she meant business with the threat of skipping my birthday. Mom loved family celebrations even more than us kids. But today, I needed a celebration. The girl I thought I was in love with dumped me Friday afternoon just before the last school bell rang. I knew what the blues were all about now, and to top things off, I now had to work in my room cleaning like a chained prisoner from the work camp clearing all the weeds along the highway. I looked up and saw the Magic 8-Ball just sitting on the shelf. I picked it up, first thinking I’d open my window and just chuck it out to the street, watching the dang thing explode and shatter into pieces. It had lied to me so many times in my past. It held no value anymore; only harsh reminders of things that never came to be. I unlashed the window locks and pushed up with all my strength, breaking the seal of paint that held the window tightly closed. After expending most of my strength and frustration getting the window open, I looked out and saw my friends playing tag in the quiet intersection, our usual spot to meet. I lost the feeling of anger in a flash and instead looked down at the dusty black round ball with the white circle and black numeral 8 on it. I decided to ask it one last question before stowing it away in the cardboard box already full of junk from past birthdays and Christmas’.

After asking those five simple words once more, “Will I ever become famous?” I continued to shake it before slowly turning the bottom upward where the answer would be revealed to me in its purplish-blue triangle.

“It is decidedly so.”

I briefly stared at the answer before letting out a sarcastic guffaw. “Yeah, right, my ass!” I looked down one last time before stowing the stupid toy away, which now brings me to the day I rediscovered it on my way to packing up my room for college. I once again picked up the ball of untruths and repeated the same question, knowing it would likely reveal a different answer this time since it was merely a toy of chance. After asking the same question years earlier, I repeated it word for word, “Will I ever become famous?” I turned it over, readying myself for yet another resounding guffaw from disgust.

“It is decidedly so.”

I laughed out loud before finishing what I’d started to do years ago and should have done all along. I opened the window which opened much easier in my older and more physically fit shape. Seeing no one out front, I grabbed the softball-sized black plastic toy and chucked it out as high as I could towards the intersection of the asphalt streets. With a much quieter bang when it hit solid ground than I expected, it splintered off into several pieces before what was left rolled awkwardly to the curb catty-cornered from our house. It wobbled several sickly lopes before entering the storm sewer opening and disappearing into the darkness forever gone from my sight.

That would be the end of the story of my birthday gift’s life and recollections if not for where I found myself many, many years later.

Chapter 3

The Trip 2024

I’ve always been the guy who finds himself driving by old stomping grounds or my home I grew up in an attempt to relive moments from my past. I like the feeling of remembering. It’s like a drug calling out to me, demanding I answer the call. Melancholy is a feeling I embrace and am very comfortable with. Reflective times. Moments spent calculating my choices and where they have led me. I’m generally a happy person but I do find myself sometimes dwelling amongst sadness. I’ve never felt I am out of control though. I can turn these feelings of sorrow on and off like a light switch, which is why I wasn’t alarmed at first when a slightly newer but strange version of this swept over me. That was before the magnitude of it overtook my ability to maintain control and completely swallowing me into its captivity much like a caged bird.

The walls began closing in on me. I was with my wife, son, and her parents as we sat in a restaurant set in nostalgic ’70s style. Pop art on the walls like Andy Warhol, album covers framed from bands like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Joe Cocker. I’d been fine I thought at first. It was just the heat affecting me. We laughed at some of the displays such as the vintage Yo-Yo sign and lava lamps oozing their goo from the top and then dropping down to the bottom of the colored water. I was happy and talkative just moments before everything changed. Suddenly I felt like I was sitting before a giant, living postcard. There was movement within the picture, but it felt like a Picasso painting of somewhere I’d been before but couldn’t quite remember when or where I was. Déjà vu with an eerie twist. As I sat, attempting to fake a feeling of normality so no one would worry, when in truth I was sailing far overhead peering down at the scene from above. I felt a feeling of fear I’d never known before. I’m the guy that doesn’t panic, yet I felt a horribly unfamiliar feeling setting in. I’m the guy who rarely feared anything, but I was frozen with a strong uncomfortable apprehension in an instant. I feared I was losing control of myself as everything from what I saw, smelled, and tasted seemed new and unknown. Foreign and very unworldly from the place I was from. I was in another world running parallel with the universe everyone else was in. Lost in the cosmos, yet in enough control to nod my head to the conversation that was being discussed as if I remained focused in it, which I was not. Their language became foreign, syllables rolling off their tongues in tones I’d never before heard.

My first thought was that someone had slipped something in my drink or laced my food with LSD. I certainly was poisoned either with purpose or possibly accidentally. Should I say something? Shall I let my family know I may possibly be in trouble? I didn’t want to cause panic or make a scene. I tried to ascertain if I were the only one in the restaurant experiencing the oddities I was. Would I recognize the signs if they were? I was clueless.

“William—are you okay?”

My wife’s voice sounded distant and echoey as if we were deep in a cavern and she had called out to me from across a distance, her words losing their volume as they bounced from wall to wall before reaching me. I strained to decipher what I was barely hearing in one moment yet almost screaming in my ear the next.

“William! Your forehead is dripping with sweat! Are you hot? Your face is flush. Take a drink of cold ice water, honey.”

I wanted to answer her, but I couldn’t make any words exit my mouth, feeling as if cotton balls were encrusted on the inside of my cheeks, my tongue thick and gooey caused me to fear any attempts at talking would come out garbled and sounding like a toddler’s gibberish.

Her voice echoed again only much louder before fading off into a whisper, “William! Do you hear me?”

I saw people looking our way to the table we sat at. I was sitting in my seat, but also seeing the scene from above and then several other different angles and perspectives of the room. Am I having a heart attack or stroke? Is a seizure going to drop me to the floor? My eyes scanned the room and though the scenery moved quickly like snapshots in one of those old-time machines that looked like a stop action film when you cranked the handle and peered into the binocular eyepieces, I was able to focus on every detail yet nothing but a blur all at once. Voices kept mixing. My wife’s, my in-laws’ and my son’s along with a myriad of unfamiliar ones. It was like an orchestra playing sheet music filled with human verbiage in harmony, yet I could make out individual words like solos. It was maddening and internally I begged it to cease.

My eyes caught a black blur and I somehow focused upon it. It was a Goddamned Magic 8-Ball! The sight of it brought a second of calm before I noticed the glue and cracks showing it had been repaired. It couldn’t possibly be…. I was now sixty-four years old, close to five decades since I’d hurled that damned black 8-ball from the second story of our house. It had flown from my own hand and onto the paved road. I’d seen it explode into several pieces with my own eyes. What was happening? Had I angered my maker and now being punished?

My wife, our son, and I were visiting her folks where they now lived. A fairly quiet and artsy community that was three states away from the house I grew up in and had thrown the toy from its window. Impossible! There was no way the 8-ball I was looking at was the one in the same. The calm from the sight of it now speedily went from confusion to full-blown panic. I started babbling words, trying to explain the thoughts going through my head. I knew by the look in their eyes I was speaking sentences they were unable to understand. The possibilities of what this whole scenario could mean kept bouncing in and out of my mind like a tennis ball in a heated match. My wife’s parents looked at me as if I were a crazed person suffering a psychotic episode and the look in their eyes caused me to close within tightly and enter self-preservation mode. I went silent and waited for the explosion. I knew it was coming. What in the world was happening to me? Had aliens snatched me up and done experiments on my brain and then reinserted me back into my world to see what would happen?

I’ve never doubted myself and the world I lived in until this very moment. I didn’t know who or what to trust. Was my brain suffering a chemical reaction causing me to doubt my existence? The walls kept closing in tighter. Is this what a mental breakdown consists of? Who could help me or explain this to a point it made sense and give me calm to the lack of control I was feeling? I pictured the movie, The Matrix, and imagined I had been hooked up to the machine feeding the alien and giving it life up to the point I’d broken free and realized what was happening. Now, it had turned on me and was attempting to snuff my existence from its web. Either that, or I was clinically insane and suffering a massive meltdown. I just couldn’t concentrate enough to define which was more plausible.

“Calm down, William. We are all here to help you,” my wife’s lips spoke with a quiet reassuring tone I couldn’t make myself believe. Just words to trick me into letting my guard down so I could be taken out.

My son chimed in behind her, “Dad, it’s okay, we got you. You’re gonna be alright.” Again, the voice I heard seemed as if it were scripted and forced. The effect was not sufficient to slow my rapid breathing or lull me into any form of calm. I attempted to inhale slow, long, and deep breaths, filling my lungs to their capacity so I would build the strength to cut and run, but it didn’t help. I was much too weak now. I looked at the familiar faces around the table, people I should trust, but now couldn’t. My focus widened to others at tables around the room who continued staring in shock. They all wore the likeness of out of focus circus clowns, their faces molded into rubbery distorted Halloween masks letting eeking, hissing noises escape from their rubber lips that were oversized and flopping about.

Escape. That is the only thought that continually raged through my mind. I felt as if I were a trapped rodent in the corner of a room filled with hungry killer cats ready to pounce upon me at any moment to shred and feed on my torn and clawed flesh. I feared becoming their fodder, overloaded on catnip forcing them to react in crazy unexpected movements. I ascertained the only feasible thing to do was to force myself up and run as fast as I possibly could over anything or anyone who got in my way. I was terrified. Hovering above every thought that came and went was the same line in my head, “It is decidedly so… it is decidedly so…” Is this what would make me famous? Flipping out in a public place and possibly being gunned down in the parking lot as I escaped the scene by some trigger-happy overzealous rookie on the force deeming me a threat to society? A moment later I couldn’t feel a thing. My body stiffened and the lights went out. As quick as someone throwing the main breaker on a fuse box, I was out cold, memory deleted.

When I woke up, I had no idea where I was. I assumed a mental institution. I’d written about one, down south during my investigative reporting days. The atrocities which had been taking place for years were abhorrent. Would I now be an unfortunate soul getting experimented on and given drugs to turn me into a zombie? A crazed tool of war for the Army? Maybe I was already drugged and the feelings of panic I was experiencing were part of some research project I’d been enrolled in against my will. This feeling—this trying to recollect a memory that didn’t feel like mine now felt fake or implanted. Was I even real anymore? Was I ever?

While I no longer seem to be suffering panic, I was overwhelmed by a deep feeling of being lost or deserted. Left behind like a sole survivor floating in the middle of an ocean, all alone and clueless as to how long I’d been adrift or where I was. If not for the constant lapping of the calming waves against the raft which held me, I knew the anxiety would begin attacking once more. A faint memory of being a once happy-go-lucky and mediocre journalist—I now was uncertain if anything inside my brain was real or maybe I’d become nothing but a collection of tissue, cells, and brain matter with absolutely no purpose here other than be trapped within a question mark. Like Pinocchio, I wanna be real again, I wanna be a real boy, not a wooden puppet forced to do the bidding of some unseen controller hidden behind a cloak of darkness.

“Mr. Mansfield…” the man in the white medical coat spoke. “Mr. Mansfield, over here, sir…” he snapped his finger, drawing my blank attention. “We’ve been doing some blood tests and….”

“Who are you,” I asked. “Where am… where am… I? My family….”

“Mr. Mansfield, you are at the Central City University Hospital. I’m Doctor Albert Kander and your family—your wife, son, and folks are in the waiting room anxiously awaiting to hear how you are doing. You arrived here by ambulance after experiencing a breakdown of sorts. We are running some tests to see what possibly brought this event on.”

He continued talking but his words became a string of foreign gibberish to me, much like just before the lights went out. I lost my attention span for him the minute I heard him say the entire episode played out in under five minutes and my family was waiting to see me when he gave them the “all clear.” I knew the “episode” lasted far more than five minutes. Worlds could be created in the time I spent down the rabbit’s hole. Words I didn’t even know I’d heard before began to form questions in my mind and I suddenly began speaking—asking….”

“A breakdown? High anxiety? Really?” I questioned, not believing something so simple falling from his mouth could explain away my gut-wrenching episode of what I saw as two worlds colliding into a cataclysmic catastrophe. “How do I know I haven’t been poisoned? Will this happen to me again?” I asked in a demanding and defiant tone.

“Have you been under any undue pressure lately? Work—at home, anything you can recall?”

“Nothing like that. I can’t think of a thing. I’m usually scared of nothing, but I’ve never felt so fright-filled and helpless—totally out of control of my surroundings—my thoughts, my actions.”

The doctor interrupted me and asked, “At any time, did you feel like causing any bodily harm to yourself or anyone else?”

“Are you kidding me?” I know my face was beginning to redden. I could feel the heat and the pulsing and pumping of blood through the veins in my temples. “Is the government forcing you to ask these questions? Absolutely not! I’ve never wanted to hurt anybody or myself! No, I haven’t been having troubles at home or work! This came on like a runaway freight train from nowhere! One minute I’m sitting with my family enjoying a meal—the next second my brain is filled with fear and confusion as I watch everyone around me become melting cartoon people!” My breathing began to become labored. “I just want to be back to normal!” I desperately sucked for air, unable to feel like my lungs were filling to capacity.

I never saw the nurse coming around to the side of my bed. I never felt the needle stick as she apparently shoved the medication into my vein. All I felt was a flooding and euphoric calm rush over me as the faces smiled, their hands waving goodbye to me as if I were aboard a giant cruise ship waving Bon Voyage to those left behind on the dock. Lulled into a fantasy world that felt safe and warm—fuzzy and cute, but not real. Not the world I belonged in. Suddenly I sank into blackness filled with empty silence. All alone, frozen in time.

Chapter 4

Life Continues

Being a writer from an early age, I always enjoy any library, especially one new to me. I was thrilled at the thought of being able to visit the Library of Congress for the first time in my life. While the Magic 8-Ball of my youth had fed me lies about me one day being famous, I had been afforded a wonderful life fulfilling my dream of being a journalist. The newspaper I worked for my entire career up until and including today, was very rewarding. I’d received several accolades along the way and assumed this was the level of fame the black plastic ball of foretelling knowledge was—well—foretelling. I held no great disappointments in the way my life was turning out. Retirement was around the corner as I was coming up on the age of 65. My wife and I were looking forward to seeing the country from one end to the other, bottom to top, while traveling it in the comfort of an RV. I was looking forward to possibly working on my memoirs to seal up the good life I’d led and possibly share what I’d learned along the way. Literary fiction called out to me, and I felt I had a few stories and books inside my head before my ultimate departure from earth. There was of course like anyone’s life and marriage, a few ups and downs and unseen obstacles to be traversed, but Katrin and I had found love in each other along with our fair share of happiness and unusually good health.

This would be my first trip up on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. I was given the gift of visiting the Library of Congress as a retirement perk from the company I’d worked for my entire career. The library’s campus was made up of three separate buildings and upon entering it, it instantly felt as if it would be the pinnacle of my career. I was excited, to say the least, as I walked through the large entryway. That excitement quickly transformed into pure awe as I began to visually take in all the majesty of its size. Hundreds if not thousands of shelves and books displayed. The room echoed with silence, but one knew all the volumes perched staunchly upright side by side, held worlds from all the varying imaginations of authors and time. Within that silence, there certainly must be the hum and rumble of all the words contained within all the inked pages, scrambling about to be heard and read. My heart began to pulse heavier as if prodded to do so by all the authors represented. In this first moment of being overwhelmed while imagining the collection of hours it had taken to fill all the pages in all the books portrayed. I knew full well how long it had taken me, myself to write the manuscripts I’d written. A great portion of my life was sitting at a table tapping away in silence alone while my family graciously and patiently put up with my absence. I was suddenly reminded of the four simple words which had somehow haunted me my entire life from the day I unwrapped that damned birthday present on the celebration of my eighth year of life.

It is decidedly so.”

 How in the world this ridiculous string of words has stuck with me in my memory bank for almost fifty-seven years, puts me beside myself. I swear when I even think of them, I see them in that purplish-blue triangle inside my head, taunting me with the lies the Brunswick Billiard Company filled me with. Telling me I would be famous as if I were ludicrous to even doubt it. I’d spent my childhood believing I would become famous and all because of a black plastic 8-ball designed to make a company millions of dollars by placing false hopes and dashed dreams into twenty separate random lies. My heart began to throb, and the memory of a family dinner gone bad years and years ago did nothing to ease the oncoming sensation building within. There must be a devil trapped inside me, born to perpetrate these unwarranted attacks of panic contained inside my body and soul.

I looked up at the shelves towering above and below me. I was surrounded by words. Their leather-bound spines began to glimmer in and out of focus as they trembled on the shelves as if attempting a massive breakout. If I were to die at this moment, the thought of being trampled by or drowning in the hundreds of years of written words from famous writers spilling their thoughts and dreams over my bones or into my lungs after being freed from their captive stark white pages—well, there could be far worse ways to die inside my thoughts.

“Excuse me sir—”

Three words from a stranger somehow broke through the chasm of thoughts circling inside the structure of my mind, and I turned to answer.


“I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but…” The younger gentleman, possibly college-aged, nervously attempted to gather his thoughts before continuing. “… I’m certain you’ve probably heard this a hundred times before, but… you look dead spot on like… like… W. G. Mansfield if he were to be your age, of course.”

All the internal scrambling within my brain came to an abrupt halt instantly like the dead calm after the lightning bolt strikes the tree and splinters it before your eyes. I smiled. “Why young man, I am W. G. Mansfield. William Gregory Mansfield in fact.”

The W. G. Mansfield?” he asked almost as if he were in disbelief.

“The only one I know!” I smiled and laughed whimsically.

“But… but… he’s famous….”

“Well, I’m not aware of any fame of mine….”

“and… he’s… he’s …been dead for… for twenty or so years….”

I was stunned. I felt a pain so deep within my heart I wasn’t sure if its beating would continue. I was speechless, not knowing how to respond. Had a wasp dropped into my shirt and stung my chest?

“His books are up on the fourth floor, sir. Would you… like me to… to show them to you?”

I must have changed color to a ghostly white because the young man held out his hand to aid my now trembling body. I felt as if I’d aged twenty years in an instant. I wasn’t sure if it were the news of being famous… or being told I’d died twenty years earlier, but I did take his hand and begin to follow.

“Is this some kind of intricate joke you play on visitors here?” I asked.

“No sir, not at all. I’ve been most fascinated by the writings of Mansfield.” He responded as if were ignoring the fact I had told him who I was.

He led me to an elevator and as the door closed and the journey upward began, he started to speak again.

“I’ve read them all. At least twice.” I saw a twinkle in his eye as if he were gloating with pride of his achievement. “I, of course, have my favorite….”

“Tell me, um, what name do you go by?” I questioned.

“Tim. Tim Galloe. I’m a junior at Georgetown University. English major with a journalism minor.”

“Well, Tim Galloe, that is a very challenging choice you’ve made! It sounds almost as familiar as déjà vu to me!” I answered while attempting to decipher the entire matter of circumstance I was now incased in. Wondering exactly what books this young man was taking me to see.

“It’s just uncanny, sir. How much you look like him. Like I was saying, I do have a favorite… The Slaying…”

“The Slaying of Demons.” I finished his sentence.

“Yes, sir. Brilliant work. I’ve read it four times and was thinking about starting it again! I just hate it was his last book.”

“How in the world did you find it? I was never able to find a publisher that would look at it with any seriousness.”

The young Tim Galloe looked over at me with a coy smile before continuing, “His wife Katrin had his first book he’d ever written, Where the Eight-Ball Lies, published about a year after his death. 2005 Penguin Random House. Went bestseller within two weeks.”

“I’ll be a son-of-a….”

The bell chimed and a digital voice announced, “Fourth Floor, “as the door slid open.

My mind was returning to the mad spin. The swirling madhouse it was before Tim Galloe stepped in and added the finishing blow. I couldn’t understand what was happening. It made no sense at all. I know I didn’t hear him wrong or misunderstand his date. He said 2005, a year after I presumedly died. But I was here, I was alive. That would have put my death twenty years earlier. What was happening? The real quandary to this entire—thing was—I hadn’t written my first book until 2018. How could it have been published thirteen years before I ever even began writing it?

I looked around while carefully observing anyone who was near us. Looking for perked ears or people far too concerned with our conversation. There must be cameras hidden somewhere. This had to be some intricate joke conceived by one of my co-workers as a retirement gag or something. Either that, or Doctor Kander had missed the ticket by a long shot. Maybe I was clinically insane, but somehow still a functioning madman, like an alcoholic who was able to cope with daily life. Whatever it was, I needed to slip out and call Katrin before this escalated into something out of my control.

Tim gave my arm a gentle tug, steering me to the left and down between a row of seven or eight-tier shelving. Book after book, title after title began dizzying me.

“It’s just up here not much farther, Mr. Mans… um… Mansfield.”

He obviously didn’t believe I was who I claimed to be. Even though he’d been the one who stated I looked like an exact replica of the famous author. He suddenly stopped and reached up to the third shelf from the top and drug his pointing finger down a line of spines until it stopped. His fingertip slid to the top and hooked the book, pulling it in an angle toward him until he could grip it with his full hand. “Here it is, The Slaying of Demons. The crème de la crème of writing!” Tim opened the book and began to read. “Twas neither truth nor….”

I joined him in speaking out loud as I stood too far from the page to read, “nor lie when the demon spoke. It was mere smartly crafted words from its forked tongue, and they stuck to me as if coated in paste and fire. My ears became heated as his callous sentiment tumbled through the stench-filled air and entered the canals of my ears. It was at the point my skin became singed I knew this beast within brought me no goodwill and must be slayed.”

Tim looked up at me in awe.

“I can go on if you like?” I asked.

“You really are him, aren’t you?” He quickly flipped to the last pages of the hardbound book in his hand. The author’s page. There at the top was a picture of W. G. Mansfield. Tim looked down at it, studied it momentarily and then returned to my face and once more glanced at the picture as he pulled the book closer to his eyes. He reached over and gently brushed the longer graying hair across my forehead over to one side, revealing the same dark-tinted birthmark in the same spot on the forehead of the picture. “How can it be?” he asked.

I looked at him and shrugged in shared question. “I have no idea. As far as I’ve known, this book and all my others are only files stored on my laptop. I’d thought about Indie publishing them back when I wrote them but knew my marketing skills would get them nowhere. I really wrote for my own pleasure. Therapy. My self-medication to slay the demons that laid dormant most of the time. I always felt as if I could rid myself of them by exposing them on paper for others to see someday. I’d been foretold I would be famous one day, but I never believed.”

“Mr. Mansfield, these….”

“Please, Tim, call me William. I think we’ve come far enough now even though it’s been a very short time, to be on a first name basis.”

“Okay… William… these books of yours are… they’re brilliant. They are moving, telling, even teaching. You deserve the fame… you’ve earned the shelf your works now sit here in the Library of Congress. I’ve gotten more out of your writing than I have in three years of my classes. I can’t believe I’m talking to you, let alone being able to call you William.”

My eyes surely showed the confusion I felt. “Tim, I appreciate your kindness. But—I don’t even know if I’m truly alive or not. I… it all… it all makes no sense. I don’t even know if my wife is still where I left her at home? I saw her two days ago, but is that a hundred years in present time? Where has time gone? Am I stuck in a world that seems woven between reality and fiction? If I’m supposedly dead, what did I die from and where is my body buried?”

“Mr. Mansfield—I mean, William—” Tim slowly flipped the author’s page over revealing more on the back. He held the book out toward me to read. “If you really want to know—it’s on this page.”

My hand shook as I grasped the bound volume in my hand. I hesitated, not knowing if I were mentally ready to read the circumstance of my demise. If I were truly dead, how could I lift and hold this leather bound, eighty-thousand-word literary fiction within my grasp now? Ghosts can’t defy the force of gravity pulling downward. Not being a ghost merely visible as a mist gathered in the air. An image with no substance. I took the copy and held it in my hands, lightly dragging my fingertip over its shiny leather finish. I could feel the bumps and cracks stamped into the leather. If I were truly a ghost, I would imagine any sensations such as this, impossible. As I studied the cover, I noticed it contained no image like the cover I had created for it. It bore merely the title at the top in what appeared to be gold leaf lettering and W. G. Mansfield across the bottom in the same. I stared at it, almost forgetting that Tim was standing nearby watching. My gaze moved around the room, realizing all the history nestled within. The hundreds if not thousands of writer’s works stored together for others to pull from the shelves and savor.

The Magic 8-ball had somehow been more than just a silly toy created by a huge conglomerate to pad their bank accounts and financial portfolio. It hadn’t been the demon I’d made it out to be, one designed to merely haunt my existence with falsehoods throughout my life. It was so much more. It was a world of its own held inside the black plastic encasement for reasons I would never truly understand. Had it been given to me to let me know my life would not be a waste or go unnoticed and without recognition? Had it been the tool designed to aid in the legacy I would leave behind? Standing right here next to me was a living example of a life I’d never previously known but was touched by words I put together in a string that talked to him. Spoke to him in ways that he understood and instilled value in him.

I became lightheaded attempting to absorb it all in. The demon of doubt within me was also swaying inside my head. I could feel him beginning to falter. Tim must have noticed and slowly walked me over to a table in the middle of the large reading room. There were others sitting at tables a distance from us, heads buried in books held in their hands or laid flat upon the tables. They appeared to be feeding their brains letting the matter within soak up the writings of someone fortunate enough to have been given a home for their works to live and remain alive through the tests of time. Giving knowledge and thought-provoking ideas to ponder.

I wasn’t sure how I could ever pull myself away from this odd trap my brain appeared to be caged within. It wasn’t scary like before. There was a pleasance this time. It felt like I was at home in a warm leather reading chair with a light shining down in the perfect mix of tone and spectrum. Cozy, comforting, and anxiety free. I wanted to know what the next page read. What it held in words, the language I loved most, explaining what had happened. But I was so at ease I wasn’t certain I wanted to risk losing this fragile moment I was encased in. I did long to hear my wife’s voice, though. I’d heard it just this morning over the phone when she called to wish me well on my visit to the library. It seemed warmer than usual now that I think upon it, but I took no real notice of any difference at the time. Now, that conversation seemed so distant, as if years had passed since her words sounded melodic to my ears. Her voice always gave me comfort. Even when spoken in anger, I knew she would always love me. I needed to hear her voice again. I had to know she was alive and still remembered me—and the love we share between us. I stepped out and away from the people concentrating on their books and would call to say hello, tell her how much I love her, and then say goodbye as if it were the last time. Then I’d come back and read how I was taken from this world and moved to the next level.

Chapter 5

Goodbyes Are Never Easy

The phone rang twice before I heard the magic of her hello. I was quick to say I love you to her.

“William? “ She quickly spoke before a tone of doubt crept into her voice. “Who is this?”

“It’s me, sweetheart, your loving husband.”

The line went deathly quiet.

“I don’t know who this is—but it’s not funny. How did you get this number?” she questioned. “William is not here. He will never be here again….”

“Sweetheart, it’s me, William. I just wanted to hear your voice. I needed to hear you and let you know I… I love you.”

“William? It… it can’t be… it’s not… really you. You’re gone. You’ve… you’ve been gone for… for… for so long….” Sniffles took the place of her confused and saddened words. I instantly felt my heart breaking. I knew now what I had dreaded reading. It was true. I was no longer a part in this world, in her world. I felt the crack that I knew laid dormant for some time, grow wider. I’d been so careful to nurse it so it wouldn’t spread any further. I felt that crack widening as my heart continued to break as I listened to the tears and sighs on the other end of the line we were connected by. I knew my time with her was very short. A sixth sense, I suppose.

“It is me, Katrin. I know I can’t explain. I just wanted you to know that I do love you and… and I’m okay now. I’m at peace. I… I… finally… I finally slayed the demon, honey. It’s dead and gone.

The phone line went dead after she whispered, “I love you too, William.”

I slowly walked back into the room and sat down where my book, The Slaying of Demons, lay open to the page I feared would send me away to some other place I wasn’t prepared to go. At least at this moment, I knew I could call and hear my wife’s name, I could nestle into a warm leather chair and read any author my heart desired. This library could be my heaven. I wasn’t sure if I’d be sent to another pleasant spot or possibly hell or some horrible derivative of such. If only I now held that Magic 8-Ball, I could ask it and know before I took the risk of reading the last paragraph.

Tim looked at me as if he knew I had a great challenge facing me. I wasn’t sure if he was just that perceptive or if he was somehow a bigger part of this than I knew. Maybe, just maybe he was a guardian angel sent to usher me into the next world. If I were supposed to be informed ahead of time, the 8-ball would be sitting on the table beside my book, and it wasn’t. It must be a sign of choosing my fate by faith. I took a deep breath and looked over at Tim before lowering my eyes to the page I somehow knew would lead me somewhere other than here. I began to read,

W.G. Mansfield never saw the accomplishments and accolades of his writing. He authored twelve books in a matter of three years along with countless short stories. He never became published while he lived, having been rejected by all the major publishing houses with his first manuscript. William never attempted to query another, believing his work unworthy.

William Gregory Mansfield was driving home from a seminar one stormy night when a bolt of lightning struck the vehicle he was driving as it crossed the Missouri River. Witnesses traveling behind him and heading toward him in the opposite lane stated the entire bridge’s steelwork lit up in a brilliant glowing flash as his car traveled through the railing and over the side high above the deep swift water. Every one of those witnesses, six separate accounts traveling in four separate vehicles, claimed the victim’s car did not fall toward the water, but instead rose into the sky and disappeared in a great ball of light. William’s vehicle nor body was ever recovered, and his death remains a mystery. All his works have since been published by Penguin Random House and inducted into the Library of Congress in 2010.

Upon finishing the last word of the printed paragraphs within The Slaying of Demons by W. G. Mansfield, a bright light flashed throughout the library as the power flickered in every building on Capitol Hill for several seconds. When the power was restored, all was as it was except for the copy of William’s book found lying open to the last paragraphs of the Author’s page. There was a single fingerprint freshly seared into the bottom of that page.

There was no sign of either Tim Galloe or William Gregory Mansfield ever again. The Magic 8-Ball is still produced using the same model as its original inception, and is sold today under the company name Mattel. Does it still turn a profit? It is decidedly so.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
Please wait...

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Eli Pope
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Eli Pope

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

More Stories from Author Eli Pope:

The Halloween Funeral
Average Rating:

The Halloween Funeral

A Rapacious Appetite
Average Rating:

A Rapacious Appetite

Red Balloons
Average Rating:

Red Balloons

Sophie and the Monarch
Average Rating:

Sophie and the Monarch

Related Stories:

No posts found.

You Might Also Enjoy:

The Firefly Wars
Average Rating:

The Firefly Wars

Average Rating:


Kill Bot
Average Rating:

Kill Bot

Beta Test
Average Rating:

Beta Test

Recommended Reading:

Night of the Living Trekkies
Fright Bites: Short Tales of Terror
Wicked William: My Ouija, My Friend (Wicked WIliam Book 1)
City of Demons: The Unseen - Book Two

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Skip to content