The Dance of the Type

The story that kicked it all off. Written for a steampunk flash fiction fanzine called Cogzine in 2012, this is how I realised I wanted to write. Economy of words is a very useful lesson to learn.

The shadow of Isla Soltura, passing overhead and blocking the window, darkened the attic room, but the oil lamp I held illuminated the case before me. Opening the lock with the key I had found in the broken drawer downstairs, I swung open the lid and beheld a device. It looked like a typewriter; but there were many more keys than were necessary. They seemed to spring from every part of it and at every angle; for the life of me, I could not think what they were for.

I ran downstairs to fetch some paper so that I could test this mysterious contraption. I didn’t even know what I wanted to write; perhaps inspiration would strike. Returning to the attic, paper in hand, I stretched forward to slot it in, but nowhere could I see a suitable place to insert paper. Curious to the design of the thing, I reached my hand forward to press a key: “H”. Nothing happened. I tried to type the word: “Hello”. Again, nothing. 

With my hands still outstretched, prepared to type nothing in particular, as I had just about given up hope on the blasted thing ever working, the re-emergence of light into the room from the window distracted me. As I turned my head to see the floating island of Isla Soltura move far enough for the sun to come through again, my hands were upon the keys. Without realising what was happening, I saw that my hands were moving across the keyboard so fast as to nearly blur in vision. A low humming sound rose up and paper with prose upon it was appearing from the back of the machine – how did it get there? And what on earth was written on it? 

For ten minutes this went on, I watched my hands move from beyond my control. Finally it stopped, and the hum slowly lowered in pitch and died, as if the typewriter had sighed. Taking the paper in my hand, I saw that it contained stanzas of verse so beautiful that it was comparable to the classics. How had this happened? Still in a daze and in mild shock, I fell downstairs to my hammock and slept, poetry in hand.


When I woke up, the next morning, the paper was gone. With a calming cup of Imperial-grade tea in hand, I noticed there was a large brown envelope by the front door. Contained within was a manuscript for a literary review – Heraldic Fortunes – and a note to say thank you for the poetry and that it was to be the main feature of this week’s issue.

Before the cup had hit the ground and smashed from my slackened grip, I was already running full-pelt to the attic. Visions of becoming a great writer, known throughout the centuries for his beautiful verse, I reached the typewriter again, rubbed my hands together and spread them forwards, ready to type my way into fortune and respect. I pressed nearly every key in a frenzy, but the noise wouldn’t arise; and I felt empty. There was no paper emerging. I pressed every key within sight, pushing all the extra ones, and heard a loud clunk. The typewriter fell to pieces. Within the space of a day, I had stumbled upon, and lost the dance of the type.

© 2012 Thomas J. Spargo