The New Exhilarist  

“Earn Money Writing!”

How many freaking searches coughed that jolly promise up every time Sable crept toward the end of the month with the rent due and felt the sick reality of her English degree sticking its dying black tongue out at her in mockery. Surely her debt-bloated degree would do her some good eventually. After a sufficient bout of romantic pain and suffering? Metaphoric starvation? Etc?

But how long?

          Nearly every headline claimed a similar holy land of relief, but they were mostly the same. A bunch of generic writers earning very little, gleaning a few by-lines on generic topics so companies could ride the drive-by advertising. The best thing was the writing practice. But writing about a new line of indestructible Japanese sushi knives, or this season’s new but barely changed smart phone, or how to better hipster style Zen color code your antique book collection, wasn’t up her alley, though she could have faked it for “$75-$125, depending on realized advertising monthly traffic.”

Dispirited: The Novel could wait while she paid the bills.

          Sable was thirty pages down into her search and about to give in to a call for a “Top Five Old Timey Mountain Remedies for Pet Dander” article when she glanced the phrase “Write for The Exhilarists. Change Your Life.”

“Are you a writer? Do you desire to change your life and the lives of others while doing what you love? Do you crave random adventure?”

          Yes. Yes. Hell, yes!  

          “We cater our articles to an elite clientele. We assign you field experiences. You write your blogs. We pay you. It’s that simple. Do you have the interest, energy, and the nerve?”

          Yes! OK, Where do I apply?

Sable was heady with the mystery. Even as click-bait clichéd as it seemed.

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        What pulled her in was the application process: “Two-hundred words. That’s all we’ll give you. And let us add, we get hundreds of these, so make it good.”  

        I really don’t need two-hundred words. But thanks, anyway.

Until I can actually leave this dried up town, I only escape through my pen. A little cash only goes so far, but that’s not news. In my mind I go anywhere I want. I want real life. Give it to me.  

I’m a good writer and I trust my writing most of the time. I only need more of the real to write about. Again, give it to me.  

You want a writer with dangerous blind enthusiasm? A craving for changing their life? Wanting the same for others since “I’ve been there?” All the blanks filled in perfectly with a sarcastic spice? Someone who will gleefully answer a mysterious ad on the internet and go to work tomorrow?

Hire me, the rent’s due.

 

          She shot off the email, daydreamed about its cloak and dagger-ness the next day, but had mostly forgotten about it by that weekend.

She answered a ding on her phone Saturday morning:

 

          “I’m Richard with The Exhilarists.”

          Whoa.

“I’ll be in town this afternoon. I’d like to interview you if you’re still interested in our position. Could we meet at the café downtown at one? I’ll need to be leaving soon after we’re finished. Does that work with for you?”

          She answered yes, knowing Fanny’s was the only thing passing for a café downtown.  

            

Four hours later she was back at her laptop, the lights shut off, doors locked, blinds pulled. Her lip was split but no longer bleeding. Her gums tasted of copper. She was pretty sure her left eardrum was busted. 

          A chat-box waited in the lower corner of the company website offering, Advice on your project?

Sable’s fingers quaked trying to type through the shock of the last few hours.   

          “My interviewer robbed our bank in town today.”

          There was nothing at first. Then some response.  

          “I’m sorry. Who was this?”

          “Richard. He interviewed me for a writing position today. Then he walked across the street for some cash and robbed the damn bank with me standing next to him! What am I supposed to do about that! What sort of bullshit is this?!”

          Hesitation and thinking on the other side.

          “I’m sorry. We don’t have a Richard on staff. Are you sure?”

          “Yes, I’m sure! He knock someone up side the head.”

          Am I?

          “The man’s last name?”

          Sable paused. She had no idea, did she? He’d never mentioned it. She’d forgotten to ask, she was embarrassed to say. She went back to the email. It was missing. The email she’d gotten setting up the whole thing was gone from her account. She checked the trash. Spam. Vanished. The paranoia was real now.

          “I don’t remember. I’ve been through a lot. And what do you mean he’s not on staff?”

          “Hmmm. Sounds like you’ve had a terrible day.”

          I don’t need patronizing right now. Jeez.

          “But, I do see you on our roll of content providers, so that’s good news.”

          Wait, what?

          “You mean I’m hired?”

          “Yes, seems so. As of the middle of this afternoon.”

          Cha-ching.  

          “You know, close calls just like this are very popular with our clientele. It’s not something your run-of-the-mill person experiences every day. Such excitement.”

          “It was awful.”

          Hesitation.

          “I’m sure it was.”

          She was going to have to clean the dried blood off this keyboard later.

          “It seems that’s your first assignment, Sable. This terrible experience. It’s due in three days. 800 words. Put the reader in the center of your panic and fear. You’ll be paid when we get it, if we’re pleased with it, of course. You will have no say over the final edit, nor will you see where the piece is published. Our clients have private access to your posts.”

          This is so damn strange. Is this even legal?

          “That’s it. Just like that?”

          No answer.

 

          The view across Main Street out of the window at Fanny’s the next day gave Sable a good view for scoping out the closed bank. Its entrance was webbed with yellow caution tape. Plain clothes investigators milled about the front. She sipped her coffee, wincing when the heat touched off the pain of her split lip.  

The memory of Richard’s fist glancing off her lips and teeth in the middle of the robbery nearly caused her to drop her coffee mug, but she licked the disturbed rust taste across her gums and steadied herself.

She had a blog to write.

Larry D. Thacker is a writer and artist from Tennessee. His stories can be found in past issues of The Still Journal, The Emancipator, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Dime Show Review. His poetry widely published. He is the author of Mountain Mysteries: The Mystic Traditions of Appalachia, poetry chapbooks Voice Hunting and Memory Train, and a forthcoming collection, Drifting in Awe.

He is taking his poetry/fiction MFA from

West Virginia Wesleyan College. 

www.larrydthacker.com