Susan Masterson drops her pen on the coffee table and shakes the building cramp out of her hand. She looks at the stack of her book, “Sated: Volume Three of the Love Thirst Saga”, set out on the floor next to the hotel suite's coffee table. She estimates that she is about halfway through the three hundred copies that the publishing representative asked her to pre-sign tonight. She has to have the books ready for him to pick up by the morning, so she is doing them early so she can rest all night and be fresh for tomorrow.
She hopes her hand recovers before the reading tomorrow. It wouldn't be fair to not do live signatures for the people who come out and stand in line. Signing her name so many times in a row is one of the few things she regrets about her success, and she has to frequently remind herself that it is a problem she would have killed to have ten years ago when she was staying up all night working on “Love Thirst” in her cramped little apartment.
Rubbing her hand, she decides to take a break, maybe have a cup of tea and watch the sun go down through the window. She heads into the suite's small kitchen, a kitchen bigger than the one she had before “Love Thirst” was published and she started making what she still thinks of as “Anne Rice money”. In fact, the whole hotel room, while nothing like where she lives now, makes her old apartment look like a dump; the publisher put her up in a really nice place.
She grabs the electric kettle off of the counter, and fills it from the tap. She knows that there are bottles of water in the fridge and cabinets for her to use, but she still doesn't think of herself as the kind of person who makes tea with bottled water. She feels a little pride that she has not become one of “those people”.
The kettle rumbles softly as it begins heating up, but under that she hears what sounds like paper rustling in the next room. She goes back into the living room to find it exactly as she left it. The windows are shut, and the air is off; it's too far into the fall to need the AC anymore.
No, the room is not the same, not exactly. There is something new. Sitting next to her pen, a Montblanc worth more than the computer she wrote her first novel on, is an origami crane.
“Hello?” she asks the empty room, “Is someone here?”
The only answer is the louder rumbling of the kettle as the water starts to boil.
She wonders if the little paper bird had been there the whole time, and she had somehow just not noticed it. It would hardly be the first time she had failed to notice details; something her many critics criticize her for repeatedly.
Those critics really bothered her at first, but then she saw another author, although one that is not a fan of hers, say that it was okay to not like things. She took that to heart, and reminds herself of it whenever she sees some of the truly horrible things that people say about her writing, and herself, online.
Susan walks over to the coffee table, her eyes sweeping around the room for any signs of who put the paper crane there. She knows she has some exuberant fans that regularly send her apples in reference to a minor scene in the first book, but she cannot fathom why, never mind how, they would leave her a paper crane in her hotel room.
She reaches for the crane, meaning to grasp it between her thumb and finger, and feels a stab of pain as she touches the paper. She pulls her hand back with a hiss, looking at the web of flesh there. Blood is welling up from a small hole, almost as if crane pecked her with its beak.
Wondering if there was a needle or something sticking out of the crane's beak, she would have to go to the hospital to be tested if there was, she bends down to look at the crane. She doesn't see anything protruding from the tip of the beak, but there is a tiny spot of her blood there.
She walks through her bedroom and into the bathroom, imagining what someone might be trying to drug her with, or what diseases she may just have been exposed to. She takes the little metal complimentary first aid kit from next to the sink, and starts to open it when she hears more rustling.
Susan rushes back into the living room. There are more cranes on the table now, a dozen at least, and made of different colours. It looks like some are made out of newspaper, some out of magazines, or maybe the glossy pamphlets for tourist attractions they had in the rack in the lobby. One looks like it was somehow made out of toilet paper.
While she ponders the cranes, she notices something else. Some of the books are gone from the stack she had already signed; a couple dozen at least. A chill runs up her spine. The only people that should have keycards to this room are herself and the guy from the publisher.
Of course members of the hotel staff would have access. It is possible that one of the housekeepers is a fan or a critic, but how could they have gotten in and out without her hearing or seeing? How could they have come and go so fast? A dozen thick hardbacks would be difficult for just one person to carry.
She sees her phone sitting on the table between the grouping of paper cranes, and starts for it. As she reaches for it, she hears the kettle click off from the next room, and looks up towards that direction. Her jaw drops as she sees two figures emerge from the kitchen.
The two figures, they are more or less shaped like men, are tall; seven feet at least. They are so tall that the tops of their heads almost touch the ceiling, and their heads, if that is what they truly are, are seem to bristle with short tentacles.
At first, Susan thinks that the men are white with little black stripes, and the occasional black rectangle, but as they approach her she realizes what the black rectangles are: the cover to her book and the stripes are writing. Somehow they are wearing the pages from her book.
“Who are you?” she tries to sound confident, defiant, but she never was a good actress.
The paper figures don't reply, but they do step closer, standing in front of her with only the coffee table between them
“What do you want?”
“They don't want anything,” A man's voice replies, “it's what I want that matters.”
A man walks out of the kitchen. He is wearing a long, wrinkled black coat over a wrinkled and stained white shirt and a pair of wrinkled pants. His skin is pale, made even more so by the unruly mop of black hair sticking up at odd angles on top of his head.
“And what do you want,” Susan asks, more afraid of the man than the mute paper-covered figures.
“I want to know why your books are met with adoration and acclaim despite being complete shite while I can't even get mine published. Why millions of idiots scream at you like you are one of the bloody Beatles and I have to work in a book shop just to put food on my table and a roof over my head?”
“Vampires are popular right now,” Susan replies, sounding unconvincing.
“But what you write… those aren’t vampires, those are oversexed teenagers pretending to be centuries old. They aren’t even well written over-sexed teenagers. I’ve read better Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction! Yet all of these people drool over your latest plate of literary feces like you were the Bard himself! It’s just not right!”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t ask for people to-“
“Yeah, I can see how sorry you are,” he waves to the roomy suite around them, “This looks real sorry!”
“Listen, sir, there are plenty of people who don’t like me, and that’s okay; it’s okay not to like things, right? Maybe you just haven’t found the right audience? Have you tried electronic self-publishing?”
“Self-publishing,” the man roars; his eyes looks ready to burst from their sockets, “Vanity press? My work deserves better than vanity press!”
The paper figures seem to grow in size in response to man’s anger; their heads do touch the ceiling now, and their shoulders have become almost as broad as she is tall.
Susan struggles for some way to try and pacify the man; she knows that a better writer would come up with something easily, “Well… maybe you could let me read your book; I could pass it on to my publisher.”
“Do you think that’s what I’m here for? Do you think I want your approval? Your validation?”
“I want you to send a message for me; I want you to let the literary world know that their attempts to grind down the minds of the populous with ridiculous drivel like yours will not be allowed to stand. I want you to let the world know that it takes more than sex and glittery vampires to create literature. I want you to let every glorified fanfic writer know that I am coming for them.”
“But who are you, and who are they,” Susan asks, motioning to the two paper clad figures.
“They are whatever I want them to be. It is not just words that I can bend to my will,” the man says, and with a wave of his hands the two figures collapse into piles of loose paper. The piles slide together, merging behind the mad writer, “and, not that it matters, you may call me the Paper Tiger!”
The man steps aside, revealing that the piles of paper have formed a new form, that of a large white tiger.
The tiger growls, baring it’s long paper fangs. It crouches, and then springs over the table at the crafter of vampire fiction aimed at teenage girls and bored wives.
Before Susan can even finish drawing breathe to scream, the tiger is on her. It may only be made of paper, but it hits her just as hard as a real tiger would. It drives her back over the sofa and into the window.
The window holds for a fraction of a second, long enough for the writer’s ribs to snap as she is crushed between the glass and the paper monster, before giving way. The window explodes in a thousand little gems of safety glass, and Susan suddenly finds herself airborne.
As she tumbles amid a shower of broken glass, glittering in the early night sky like one of her vampires in the sun, the tiger loses its form. What was a snarling beast is suddenly nothing but sheets of paper fluttering in the air, trailing her to the ground like a comet’s tail.
The Paper Tiger smiles down from the broken window, already people are starting to gather around the body lying broken on the street in front of the hotel. The sheets of paper fall on them like oversized snowflakes.
The man smiles and turns to leave. Tonight was fun, but there’s a science fiction convention happening in Springer City this weekend, and he simply must have words with some of those writers.