"It was a dark and stormy night."
Henry sighed. He glanced at the screen for the second time; the seven words stared balefully back at him in return. The cursor, winking conspiratorially, attracted his attention for a moment. But no longer; scraping the chair legs back across the floorboards, Henry stood up and turned away.
A pace. Than another. Rattling the packet, he shook out a cigarette and tried to focus all his attention on the quick, fleeting flame. Silk Cut White - it had been Henry's last concession towards giving up altogether. He inhaled listlessly. He'd often pondered whether he could get more of a buzz from simply standing around outside the Trescothick Arms with his mouth open.
Had it always been this way? No. When he'd started, they hadn't been there, those words. He had no idea where they'd come from. But they were plaguing his waking moments.
Back, further back before the writing, things had been different. There was just the warehouse, then. The long hours, the fork-lift truck, the pallets. Simple concerns. Henry regarded his fingernails distractedly. Neat, clean. No manual worker, he.
The memories came back. His memories. The unexpected windfall that had allowed him to write. The courses. Practice, practice, practice. Finding his voice. The freebies he'd done to get his foot in the door. At first it had been a struggle, but over time the commissions began to come. Word slowly spread. Henry had a natural talent, he could turn his hand to most things.
You want an article on romance in the 21st century? Love to help.
A corporate brochure? Pleasure doing business with you.
Something for the kids? Child's play.
But now. But now. Three months it had been since those words started showing up at the front of his mind. Every time, he'd start, and "It was a dark and...." was there before he even knew about it. Any genre, any style.
He'd start a science-fiction screenplay, only to find out that the six-month nights on the outer moons of Saturn were unexpectedly filled with meteorological turbulence. The historic dramas all seemed to be set in the witching hour. And always raining.
He'd tried to avoid the clichés, but these days they were showing up like raisins in a fruit cake.
Stubbing out the last half-inch of cigarette, Henry reached for the blinds and looked out at the street below. Dim pools of light under the sodium flare of the street-lamps. Dust, litter and leaves skittering along the pavement, in time with the rhythm of the rain, blown against his window.
"Oh bloody hell."