It took around twenty years for anyone to ask why Professor Gossard’s books took so short a time to write. The man was near infamous–especially in the underground sci-fi worlds that Ballard had once thrived in and Gossard ruled–for churning out at least two new books every year, and was well-loved for his intellect and creativity. That’s what had secured his position after all; he was the best creative writing professor the university had ever known, and that reputation had withstood almost forty years, countless students, and countless novels. He was also a ruthless teacher, known for driving out the students who didn’t meet his diamond standards and pushing them towards other majors. He was a legend, but even legends need help.
That’s when the college hired Hannah. She’d been top in her class with Gossard twenty-two years prior, and the two operated like a well-oiled machine. Students would often see them walking down the halls together–him, hunched over a wood cane he claimed had been hollowed for a sword, and her, staring down the corridor with steely emerald eyes. She became his secretary and an assistant to the department as a whole, helping to plan the gala where he would earn a Lifetime Achievement Award.
A common issue with Gossard’s class was missing papers. The man didn’t return anything, giving feedback online or in person. He didn’t have office hours, but people dipping into the English department to drop off papers or meet with advisors had peeked into the little room and found it nearly held up by stacks upon stacks of paperwork. Always in the center of the mess would be Hannah and Gossard, working quietly.
Hannah became keeper of her boss’s mess and set about tidying up. Most of the mess was failed papers, bills paid and forgotten, fan letters skimmed and tossed aside. It made her sad, how much of Gossard’s life had been tossed away without care. But there was a special nook of writing in the office, small and shrine-like.
Stories from students, marked with golden stars. His favorites, and her own was on top. She hadn’t seen it in years, its memory forgotten in a sea of minivans and busy work, and fondness filled her heart. So, feeling bold, she took all the stories home to read.
That night, buzzing frantically between pdfs of excerpts of old books and short stories that had faded in memory and ink, Hannah discovered just how Gossard’s books came out so quickly. Why no one ever saw him with papers other than in that office, the hollowness of his cane, his ‘creativity’.
Four months later, Hannah stood in front of an over-eager, drunken audience at the department’s award ceremony. As one of his students and his closest friend, she’d been tapped to give him the award herself. “I suppose it’ll be strange,” she began, drinking deep from her water before continuing, “But I want to read a little bit of one of Daniel’s novels, The Well of Human Bravery. This came out about five years ago.” Clearing her throat, she read, “The Cassian moon hung triplicate in the silver sky, and the stars burnt around it like firecrackers in the middle of the night.” She spun the beginning of the book, words flowing like water as she described the night sky and the young astronaut tripping the light fantastic on his way home from a nearby planet.
The audience applauded when the excerpt was done and Gossard preened under the attention, silvery beard trimmed and eyes bright.
Hannah put down the book, and picked up the other set of papers. “Now, I’d like to show you what he taught me about writing by reading a bit from one of my own assignments for him. This story is called ‘Star-blinded Lazarus’.” She cleared her throat, ignoring the wide-eyed gaze from Daniel Gossard as his doom came. “The Falsei moon hung triplicate in the emerald sky, and the stars burnt around it like firecrackers on the Fourth of July.”
The audience was silent, as they’d be for everything involving Gossard from then on.
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