The term "carriage return" comes from the mechanism on a manual typewriter - when reaching the right hand edge of the paper, you use a lever to return the "carriage" back over, and move the paper up a line. This is why the Return key on a computer is called, well, the Return key.

They're funny things, typewriters. The first time I ever used one, I thought they were really modern, clever, and complex. I'd been writing for years, but only ever with a pen and paper. The typewriter seemed to give me a new level of control over the words, made me feel like a real writer. It was a machine designed for one thing and one thing only - writing. I had one for a few years, and thought it was the bee's knees, the dog's bollocks, the gnat's chuff, the camel's arse, the magic left nostril of the unicorn, or whatever.

But then I discovered computers. Ah, the joys of the word processor! Typed in the wrong word? Just delete it. Not sure about the spelling? Computer'll check it for you. Wish you'd used that sentence at the beginning of the paragraph instead of the end? Just drag and drop it. Beautiful. Suddenly the typewriter seemed outdated, clunky, childishly simple. What an effort it was to type on it, compared to the computer keyboard - you needed a sledgehammer in each hand to hit the keys hard enough. If you got a word wrogn wrong, you had to X it out or put dashes through it, cock up a paragraph and the page was lost, pull it out, rip it up, start again. Sometimes you'd miss a key, and end up with several metal arms all jammed together. What an ugly, heavy, useless contraption. I left it in a friend's house one day, and never bothered to pick it up. I didn't care. I had a computer. The typewriter was dead. Long live the typewriter.

And that's the way things stayed, for quite some time. Surely no writer worth their salt would waste their time using shoddy equipment. I needed the very latest thing to help me shorten the path my ideas took between brain and page.

But ideas don't always have the courtesy of coming when you're sitting down at a PC. They turn up at the most inconvenient hours and places. Lying in bed, just about to fall asleep - bam, the greatest story idea you've had for months. Sitting on the train, watching the world go by, shazam, there's another one. Walking to the shops to get some food, whack, keep it coming, baby. So I got in the habit of carrying a little notepad and a pen everywhere with me. The notepads got smaller, so I could fit them in my pocket, but the pens were just a pain in the arse. If they worked at all, they would always leak a little bit so that I had ink all over my hands. If you don't have a decent writing surface, you have to use the wall - and pens just won't write upside down. Well, there's that special NASA pen you can get from the shopping channels that does, but I didn't want to write in outer space or underwater, I just wanted to write on a piece of paper. So I got a pencil. Funny, how stripping it down and getting simple can make things easier. There's something honest and decent about a pencil. Add in a metal sharpener and a notepad, and you're all set.

The trouble is - and anyone who has been exclusively writing on a computer for any length of time will tell you the same - is that when you're used to typing everything, you kind of forget how to write normally. It hurts, your handwriting looks like that of a small child, and it's really, R E A L L Y S L O W... It's okay for quickly scribbling ideas, but if you wanted to write a whole story, or chapter, or whatever, it's murder.

Computers, the supposed champion of the writer, failed me again on this one. I bought a small laptop, so that when I was away from home I could write more, but I must have done something to its mother in a previous life, because it fucking hated me. The battery went dead quicker than a guy in a red shirt on Star Trek. The cable at the back kept coming out. It crashed so often, after a while I was only capable of thinking in five minute bursts.

So I threw it away. I took it out into the back garden first, and smashed the shit out of it with a cricket bat, which gave me great satisfaction. I screeched and gibbered and raved like a fruitcake as I battered it to death. If the thing had had blood to shed, I would have smeared it all over my naked body and howled at the moon. Luckily for my neighbours, though, it didn't.

I was still left with the problem of how to write large amounts when I wasn't near my computer. The only practical thing I could think of was to get a typewriter again. It didn't need a power socket, it would never crash, and I couldn't ever lose my work by pressing the wrong button. When I got back from my journeys, I could simply scan in the pages, optical character recognition would pick up the words, I'd fix the bits that had gone a bit wrong, and all would be well. The wheel had come full circle, and I had a typewriter again.

They weren't easy to find though; you'd be surprised how difficult it is to buy a typewriter these days. There are specialist shops you can go to - specialist shops, for Christ's sake! It's like they're antiques. Well, they are, really. Strange how quickly life moves on. I got a cheap second hand one, and it was like meeting up with an old friend. It was a fairly modern typewriter, worked pretty well, but it didn't really have any character, any class, you know? I figured, if I was a writer using a manual typewriter, I might as well get one that looks the part.

I looked into it, and found out that I wasn't alone. Robert Bloch, author of Psycho and a gazillion other books and stories, only ever used typewriters. He'd churn the stories out, sixty or a hundred words per minute, only using six or seven fingers at a time. It just proved that you didn't need to learn how to type properly, if you did it long enough you would get fast. Really fast. He didn't like the electronic typewriters though, or any sort of complex machinery - apparently he was a bit of a jinx. Someone from UCLA came to interview him once, bringing lots of complex recording equipment. As soon as the machinery was in the same room as Bloch, it completely ceased functioning. I like that story. While I'm never going to be in the same league as Bloch, at least I'm on his side as far as the typewriter is concerned.

Someone else who is a fan, and who I will also never be as good as, is Harlan Ellison. He's got loads of typewriters. Four of them are Olympia portables, using a typeface called Congress Pica. Funnily enough, two of these Olympias used to belong to Robert Bloch. He left them to Ellison in his will, which is kind of a cool way to pass on the torch.

So I was in pretty damn good company, I thought. Sure, I didn't have as good a typewriter as them, but what the hell, they can't all be that different. They've got the alphabet and an ink ribbon, you know, they're not like cars, you can't exactly put a hi-fi system in them. But soon after finding out about Bloch and Ellison, I started picking up more typewriters, just as a hobby. I managed to get hold of a portable Underwood from the 1930s, a Royal, and even an ancient Remington. To my surprise, I found that they really were all different. The shape, the feel, the sound, the speed of key return, the hardness of the keys, the noise of the bell, the varnish, the metal, the colour, the smell, even the lingering echo you can hear if you strike a key and listen for a few seconds. They're really quite beautiful machines. I finally understood why so many people keep persisting with them, even now, in an age where they are completely obsolete.

I was at home the day I first saw it. I was on the internet, checking eBay for second hand models, which was rapidly becoming a daily obsession, when I saw the listing: "2nd hand Olympia typewriter, good cond., needs repair, once owned by Robert Block, author of the Psycho movie". They'd spelt his last name wrong, of course, and he didn't write the movie, he wrote the book - but my heart leapt out of my chest, even though it was a terrible cliché for it to do so.

I clicked on the link, and frantically scrolled down to the picture. It was gorgeous; bottle green and shiny, slightly crooked, but just fabulous.

I had to have it.

Only one other person was bidding on it, and I don't think they were really that interested, so I managed to snag it for next to nothing. I couldn't believe it. When it arrived, carefully packaged, I opened it as if I was opening a lost treasure from some Pharaoh's tomb.

Oh, the smell! The smell of ink, the smell of metal, the smell of writing - I knew at once that the seller had been telling the truth. This was one of Robert Bloch's typewriters. I wondered which masterpiece he'd written on it - The House That Dripped Blood? One of his many classic short stories? Or even one of the drafts of Psycho? I didn't know. All I knew is that I wanted to write something, anything, on it, right there and then.

I slowly fed a sheet of paper into it, and started typing.

The story came out quickly, easily, the machine itself seeming to inspire me, helping with the flow. The words poured on to the page, and I laughed as I finally typed "The End" at the bottom of the last page.

It was a good story, too. A spooky tale about a man who makes a pact with a demon - I won't bore you with the details, but he ends up having his heart ripped out as he is driving to work, his car ploughing into a house as he dies. Something, you could say, that the master himself, Robert Bloch, might even have written. Not as good as his stuff, of course, but you get the idea.

I was perfectly happy with my new possession for exactly twenty four hours, until I saw the next morning's paper.

It was right there, on the front page. A local man had been killed when he crashed his car into somebody's house. Just like in my story. I would have shrugged it off as a coincidence, but for the other details. The police were treating it as foul play, because there were a number of suspicious factors. Like, for example, the man's heart, which had been removed prior to the crash. While he was still alive. Just like in my story.

I raced over to the telephone, but then paused. What the hell could I say? "Excuse me officer, but I believe somebody murdered this man using a story I wrote yesterday as inspiration. What? No, nobody but me has read it yet..." No, that wouldn't sound strange at all. They certainly wouldn't come and arrest me just because I knew the exact details of a man's murder the day before it happened...

I needed to take my mind off it. Over in the corner, the typewriter was sitting on the desk. It looked friendly, comforting, so I walked over, in a daze, and started writing.

The next day, a man was found hanging from a bridge in the centre of the city. He had been strung up by his own intestines, strangled with his own colon. Just like in the story I had written that second day.

Things went from bad to worse after that. No, they went from terrible to catastrophic. Every story I wrote seemed to involve gruesome deaths, mutilations, torture - and every single one came true for some poor bastard the next day. But I couldn't stop writing them, couldn't change the grisly subject matter. I needed to get them out. I tried to stop one day, but was wracked with pains in my stomach and itching all over my skin, almost as if I had tried to give up some horribly addictive drug. It was taking me over. I started writing more and more every day, until I had the gnarled and twisted hands of an arthritic old man.

More bodies were found all over the city. Skinned torsos, limbs, faceless corpses, eyes gouged out, hacked to death - all of them by my own hand. I didn't do the deeds directly, but I typed those people to death, murdering them just as surely as if I had wielded the knives myself.

One day, in a moment of strength, I managed to take the typewriter down to the river in a bag. I threw it in. There was no need to weigh it down, the metal monstrosity did that all by itself. I watched it sink beneath the murky surface in the space of a second.

Relieved, I walked home, only to find the damn thing back on my desk when I got in the door.

I sank to the ground, crying in desperation and fear. There was no getting rid of the thing. I was stuck with it, forced to be the conduit for its grisly taste for murder, depravity, and human flesh.

I understood, now, how Robert Bloch had been so prolific, why such an apparently pleasant, jolly fellow like him had managed to write such terrible, horrific stories, why machines all around him refused to work, like the recording equipment in that UCLA interview.

I understood about Harlan Ellison, too, who had taken on two of Bloch's other machines, why he kept churning out books and stories, why you could hardly ever find his stuff in any bookstores; he obviously can't bear the thought of profiting from other people's deaths, so has his publishers only sell enough to cover their costs, but he has to keep writing, constantly writing, wracked with fear and guilt, but unable ever to stop.

I also understood why the eBay seller had been so eager to offload the typewriter, why he hadn't had a reserve price, and just wanted to sell it to anyone who would take it off his hands. Maybe that was the only way to get rid of it, to have it taken by someone who really wanted it.

And ultimately, I understood that I could never get away from the machine. It hurt when I wasn't writing on it, felt so good when I was - but at a terrible, terrible price.

I'm typing this now on the typewriter, Bloch's typewriter. I think this is my only way out. I hope it works. I've written to Ellison's agent suggesting he do the same thing, but I don't know if it'll ever get to him. I'm taking care of things this end, anyway. Whoever finds this, please, destroy the thing before it sinks its claws into you. Here goes nothing:

"I sat back after I finished typing, and placed the story inside an envelope, which was marked 'To be opened after my death'. I taped a large piece of paper over the typewriter, with the words 'DANGER - DO NOT USE - READ NOTE FIRST' written on it in big letters. As soon as I was finished, I had a massive heart attack, and was killed instantly. The person who found my body made sure to destroy the typewriter in accordance with my wishes, before anybody was able to use it."

I hope it works. I really hope it works.



16:52, 30th October 2002
For Jo

Submitted to e2 as part of the quest - Everything Quests: Scary Stories. Ha! You were reading fiction all along! BoogaBoogaBooga!

Notes: All the stuff about Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison is true; Bloch did all his writing on Olympias, reportedly at speeds of up to 100wpm, and the UCLA incident really happened - check out http://httpsrv.irt.drexel.edu/faculty/ina22/cliplib/clip-bloch.htm for a great article featuring all that info and more besides. Ellison really does own two of Bloch's machines, which were bequeathed to him - this is mentioned in the superb short story collection "Slippage". And Ellison's stuff really is impossible to find in bookshops - but not, of course, for the reasons above. As for me, yes, I rely on pencils when away from home, but you'll take my computer away from me when you pry it from my cold, dead hands. Or when I get a better one. Manual typewriters really are quite difficult to find, there's a specialist shop near me that sells and repairs them. Parts are rarer than rocking horse turds, apparently. eBay has loads for sale, even antique ones - there was a gorgeous 1920's Imperial in working order, one bid, £4.99, last time I checked, so if you're interested, go there. Be warned, post and packing's a bastard - they're very, very heavy.

I wrote this for my girlfriend as a Halloween treat, to be read out by the light of a pumpkin candle. To make it extra atmospheric, I downloaded a font called Fucked Olympia from www.free-typewriter-fonts.com - when printed out, as long as you don't use any formatting apart from underline or strikethrough, it very nearly looks like you've actually used a typewriter. There are some other typewriter fonts there too, varying in quality. If you really want to go for authenticity, like I did, use a transparent text box to XXXX out some "accidentally" mistyped words (check out http://www.monkeyshatner.co.uk/type.html for a pic of mine, and http://www.monkeyshatner.co.uk/pumpkin.html for a pic of the pumpkin). Er, or get a real typewriter - but that's too easy...

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I gentled the Toyota down through the damp sky. My roof flared into welcome as always, which meant that the security systems in the loft hadn't seen anything they didn't approve of since my departure that morning. I told the carcomp to land us, deciding that I didn't need another noise complaint or airspace warning tag - the main attraction of my loft was its private roof pad and approach lane over the choppy waters of Boston Harbor. Another couple of citations for manual landings and I'd lose access privileges, watch AirCon stuff me back into the lemming pack of a subway commuter existence. No family, no real expenses save the house and the ruinous credit that went into the Toyota and its never-ending hunger; I couldn't see a reason to risk it.

The carcomp landed with barely a kiss, as it always did. The fans feathered to neutral as the hub stators nulled, speeding up momentarily before beginning the long spin down to silence. I grimaced and rubbed my eyes in the evening glow of the Boston Downtown skyline, pushing its way into the car through a myriad highways of water vapor as the fog sent tendrils over the edge of the roof.

Cracking the door, I remembered to bring my briefcase and handheld before palming the lockpad on the car and trudging across the roof to the metal door securing the staircase. It relaxed to the approach of my handheld, inside my jacket, but it still took the old metal Medeco key on my neck chain to coax it finally open.

I've never been mugged inside my apartment, and I've lived in this city over fifteen years.

Of course, a lot of people say that they've never been mugged in their apartments either, and they don't bother with anything like the systems my pad has. I always shrug and mumble something about better to have and not need and they decide it's not worth ribbing me about. My private paranoia isn't their problem.

The metastack in the middle of the loft space would be, if many of them knew it existed. It consisted almost entirely of custom nanobuilt logicblocks, with Peltier channels grooved throughout it. It has probably a fiftieth the computing power of Citibank, but don't tell them that - things like that make them nervous as all hell. It's got all kinds of pop art on the outside to try to make it look like a structural column that I couldn't remove when the loft was renovated; if you aren't in the metaware trade it might fool you. As long as it's not on a Run, that is; when it is, hot air cycles out ducts from the top out the roof of the pad and flumes into the night air in columns of infrared treason.

Mikarecursore was born in there.

I have a permit for a high-cap nanostack, ostensibly for making flitter fuel. I have one, too - it's in the corner, and it's maybe a quarter the size of the one my permit says I can have. Also, I tend to feed it distilled water, not the mixed pollutants that you can feed an industrial nanostack - that reduces the power load and heat load when it's on. The extra expense of the quality inputs means that the power output of the metastack can be explained away as a nanostack laboring through the night to crack benzenes and monoxides into beaded molecular hydrogen, rather than the much lower-cost transition from pure water.

At the moment, the top of the metastack was flaring blue to green and back in a slow pulse along a ring perhaps a centimeter tall. I slung the bags onto a chair, opened the fridge and pulled out something with caffeine and pollutants in it to drink before heading over for my Desk.

Mikare wanted to talk to me.

This wasn't really Mik, of course - but it would be difficult for anyone who didn't know Mikare intimately to figure that out, which was the point. What I did when linked, as Mikarecursore, was technically legal - at least when I Flashrun. But Mik could, and did, do other things from time to time - and like any superhero, as Arjen and Sly had called me, there might come a time when it would be worth more than any thing to be demonstrably here while Mikare was there. So, daily, I talked to the heuristics. Daily, they sounded more and more like 'me.' They still couldn't fool Clotho, or Farnham, or any of the other core 'runners, but to someone who was looking for Mikare based on a description or recorded encounters, they'd do fairly well. Every conversation I had thickened the safety net.

"Mik, it's me."

Hey Top. The voice was baritone, extremely level, just like Mikare's on the few occasions he spoke. Here it came from every direction at once as Mikare stole channels to the pad's ambient systems.

"What's going on?" I cracked the top of the soda and felt it chill.

There's a problem, Top. I think your dinner is going to be late.

I didn't choke on the soda, but it was hard.

The pad had two floors. The top, just below the roof, was one gigantic space which held the metastack and various other tools and gear for both Net work and for the Toyota's occasional forays into the mud and water (salt and fresh) of the SCCA rally circuit. Below that was a four-room space of the same size and shape, connected by an industrial metal staircase in one corner; the staircase opened into a parlor that I never used since I rarely entered by my front door. Off the parlor was a bathroom, a living room with dusty but more formal furniture, a full kitchen instead of the kitchenette corner the top floor had, and a dining room.

Mikare had just told me the dining room was occupied.

Worse yet, the security systems hadn't said a damn thing.

"Well, that sucks." I determinedly took a swig of the soda. "Is it gonna be cold when it gets here, or still hot?"

I think it'll be cold, but probably still edible.

Well, at least whoever it was didn't look like they were waiting to jump me.

"Okay. Thanks. Um, look, can you preheat something for me then, and give me a few minutes? I'll want to eat pretty quickly." This was not in my admittedly highly paranoid security routines, and I sweated behind the soda can while I waited for Mik - what there was of him at the moment - to try to figure out what I meant. No problem. You're paranoid. He's paranoid, then. Gotta be.

I'll warm up something Japanese. Is that okay? As several muscles relaxed in my gut from relief, I heard a slight rising sound from above. The Toyota's fans had stopped coasting and were whining under power as they spun back up to lift speed. He'd figured it out.

"Thanks Mik." I strolled over to the armchair I'd ditched my bags in. I picked up my workbag in my right hand, pretending to fumble in the outer pocket with my left, and turned away from the chair. I was heading roughly in the direction of the roof stairs as I cursed and rummaged inside the bag, looking up only when I had to in order to navigate the steps. Somewhere above me, the Toyota was moving from a whine to a quiet snarl as the fan blades twisted. I heard the slight creak as its weight lifted off the pad's hardpoint above me and the roof restressed, but at that moment I had to look up in order to bolt up the stairs without tripping.

There was a man standing on the steps.

That was my first thought. The second was that he was really, really, really big. The third, as I stumbled backwards on my way towards falling flat on my ass, was that he was wearing what looked like high fashion body armor.

The final thought before my tailbone hit the floor with a painful jolt was that we weren't alone on the floor. The voice from the top of the stairway leading to the lower floor sent a bucket of ice down my spine just because I'd known the stairs were empty, just like I'd known the door to the roof was unblocked.

"Sit down, Christopher. It's okay. We just want to talk."

Shit.

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