• Giancarlo Ghedini


Updated: Feb 20, 2021

“It’s not a tumor, doc,” Frank Merton told his brain surgeon. He put his head in his hands and winced from the headache’s shooting pain. “It’s a demon.”

Dr. James Howard looked quizzically at his patient. He showed Frank the scan again, pointing out the abnormal region on the screen and said, “Well, we won’t know exactly what type of cancer it is until we remove as much as we can—hopefully all of it—and send it to the lab. But I assure you, it is most definitely a tumor…not a demon. Although, I can’t blame you for associating it with such. Cancer is evil, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Dr. Howard, I know this may be difficult for you to accept. But I’ve written horror novels for the last ten years. But I didn’t actually come up with any of them. They’re not my words.”

“You have one of those ghostwriters?” Dr. Howard asked.

“Yes,” Frank said. “The demon in my head. He tells me every last word to me. He doesn’t shut up until I get the words on paper. You think I like writing about murder, gore and all the things nightmares are made of? I’m easily frightened. I would never willfully choose to write that stuff.”

Dr. Howard chuckled and said, “I can see why you’re on the New York Times Best Seller list. You should turn what you just said into a book. I’m a fan, Frank. I’ve read all your novels. But I’m concerned. The fact that you’re hearing voices—a common auditory hallucination, typically associated with schizophrenia—is alarming. The tumor could very well be causing it. We know it’s the source of your constant headaches. No doubt about it. Look, Frank. I love your work as much as the next guy. But I’m a man of science and reason. Everything—and I do mean everything—has a physical cause, not a paranormal one.”

Just then, Frank groaned in pain.

“I need these headaches to stop,” he said. “But I don’t want my creativity and career to stop as well.”

Dr. Howard smiled and said, “Well, if you do nothing about it, everything will stop. The tumor will grow, affecting more and more brain functionality. Your headaches will intensify, and it will eventually kill you. And really Frank, with an imagination like yours, I don’t think you ever have to worry about losing your creativity. I would think you’d have some clarity once the headaches are gone.”

Frank knew the doctor did not understand. How could he? He didn’t bother telling Dr. Howard all the details about the voice in his head. That slithery, wicked voice, year after year, dictating every word in every book verbatim. Drown this character, stab that one, make the monster under the bed have horns and sharp teeth and feed off the child’s fear. For the last decade, Frank Merton had been pumping out nightmare after nightmare. He made a great living from it. So far, he was only given the title of his next book. It was called The Murderous Shadow of Cornelius Huxley. He didn’t tell a soul about it. He kept it in his head with the demon.

Frank knew if he went through with the surgery, he’d never finish that book. But his head throbbed even while he thought this. The headaches were getting worse by the day.

“I’ve had a good run,” he told himself. “I can live without writing another book if it means no more pain.”

Several hours after the surgery, Dr. Howard came into Frank’s room. The surgeon looked troubled. He stuttered as he spoke and rubbed his forehead.

“Well, this is very strange,” he told Frank. “But your tumor disappeared right in the middle of the operation. It’s a medical miracle and I don’t even believe in miracles. We have nothing to send to the lab. It’s gone.”

Still groggy from the anesthesia, Frank quietly said, “I understand, doc. No need to explain.”

It took a few weeks for Frank to completely heal from the procedure. But when he did, the headaches were gone. So was his writing career. The words simply vanished from Frank’s mind. He made his peace with it and soon took a job at a bookstore.

A year went by and an author came to the store to sign copies of his new book. The table was set up. The author asked for a glass of water and swallowed four pain killers. Frank was only slightly surprised to see it was none other than Dr. James Howard. The brain surgeon’s new book was called The Murderous Shadow of Cornelius Huxley.

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