All Stories, General Fiction, Writing

The Renfield/TomTom Ghost Debacle by Leila Allison

All writers have that one bugaboo story that refuses to finish. It’s as though the damned thing has something against you, and would do anything to mess with you, even to the point of sacrificing its chance of appearing anywhere in the Universe. My bugaboo story is called Renfield and the TomTom Ghost. It has been in production for two years, yet not even a hundred words have been “shot.”

Although I have finally figured out a way that might move Renfield and the TomTom Ghost across the finish line before I die, I’m determined to leave a record of my suffering in this matter just in case it does kill me.

The Union of Pen-names, Imaginary Friends and Fictional Characters (from here, UPIFFC) is responsible for both my woe and the possible solution. It is important to know that the woe part was inflicted on me by the union with intent while the solution came up by accident.

I’m a humble pen-name, and when I came along my union was known as the Amalgamated Union of Pen-names and Imaginary Friends. I get along just fine with my fellow aliases and the imaginary friends–hell, the way I see it, everybody should have a dozen of each. Unfortunately, about two years ago (which is not coincidental to when Renfield and the TomTom Ghost began to shoot), my dues-hungry union decided to expand and include under its incompetent wing all fictional characters. And I mean all of them. No exceptions. Everybody and thing ranging from the facehuggers in the Alien franchise on up to Hamlet is in the UPIFFC (almost wrote “on up to Jesus Christ,” but I’ve got enough people mad at me as it is). As a pen-name, when I create fictional characters, I also create fellow union members. It is an insipid situation that causes me to be both a comrade and “The Man” at the same time.

There once was a time when I just wonked-up (yes, busybody autocorrect, I mean “wonked-up,” not “worked-up”) a character and went on my way. “No, no, not so fast,” said the union after the inclusion of fictional characters. “You now have to offer the parts in every new story to all of your previously created fictional characters, before you can create new people or creatures.”

My trouble stems from the fact that since I’m  a pen-name, I’m also a fictional character, and possibly even an imaginary friend to my “employer.” (Right here, I am resisting all temptation to bash on that rat.)  Persons who have the nerve to publish under their own names are not obliged to follow UPIFFC rules. Moreover, as a virtual type of person, the way I “write” is completely different than what goes on inside the tweedy, elbow-patched, pipe smoky, oak panelled studies in which you breathing writers produce works of genius during the narrow interval which lies between the cessation of one drunken orgy and the start of the next. My productions resemble movie sets at which I am the producer, director, screenwriter and, sometimes, an actor.

{Now for a word from Ms. Allison’s “employer”: “Have you ever noticed that some writers begin new paragraphs with information that really should be in the old paragraph? It happens because, in this case, the writer read somewhere that modern day readers are turned off by long-assed paragraphs of, say, greater than eight lines–which happens to be the length of the previous paragraph. If I know Ms. Allison as well as I think, an example of this is about to happen.”}

I arrive “on set” at hell o’clock in the morning, hair askew, clad in a ratty bathrobe, a novelty-sized coffee cup in one hand, a cigarette in the other, one slipper on, the other MIA, and one eye closed in an unconscious effort to balance out for the missing slipper. The “script” we shoot from is just an outline with only a few set scenes and lines in it. It’s what my actors do with it that creates the story’s final draft. So when I, even in my slovenly condition  yell “Action!” I do it with the high hope that the magic will ensue–or, at very least, the literary equivalent of that truthful crudity “It’ll make a turd” ensues.

Not so with Renfield and the TomTom Ghost. It is to be a simple story about Renfield driving her “cherry” 1967 Charger named Lucille into the wilds of Torqwamni County to attend Tupperware-Con (Renfield is a food-storage device fangirl and expert). She’s to plug the coordinates into her TomTom, but a ghost has gotten into it and refuses to direct her to the convention until they locate and return the ghost to the wishing well it “wishes” to haunt, but cannot find. All right. Fine. Whatever. So it ain’t Lord Jim; but I dare you to find anything else like it.

I had written the piece for one of my major fictional characters, Renfield Stoker-Belle. Although she loved the idea of “at last seeing my name atop the marquee, where it belongs,” she was still a touched pissed at me for making her look both duplicitous and a bit of “a weirdo, in general” in earlier pieces. Realizing from the title that I couldn’t shoot the yarn without her, she went diva on me. Her demands caused her to come off as both duplicitous and a bit of a weirdo, in general.

“I want my own dressing room,” she said. “No more sharing a john with anthromorgraphic rodents and Peeping Tom shadowghosts,”

“All right. Fine. Whatever,” I said.

“I also want a bowl of Skittles–a big mo-fo of a bowl, fresh every day, mind you, in my dressing room–minus the purple ones. If I see even one purple one, I will not perform until you remove the offending Skittle, personally.”

“All right. Fine. Whatever.”

“Also, I’ll do the script as writ, but I insist that three words be included. Word one:  ‘awesomenicity’ as a noun–as in the state of awesomenicity that I inspire. Word two: ‘awesomenicitized’ as in a verb–by such I mean–”

“I know what a fucking verb does, fink.”

“And…’awsomenistically’ as in an adverb. Everybody knows that you are keen on adverbs and collect them all adverbally-like.”

“All right. Fine. Whatever. Will there anything else, Sire?”

“Just one itsy bitsy thing–a non-issue when you think about it,” Renfield added with a duplicitous bat of her pretty green eyes. “I want to choose my co-star. I’ve got the perfect dude in mind.”

Although I didn’t give a rat’s ass one way or the other about who played the TomTom Ghost, I figured that I should show token resistance to at least one of her demands. “Hold on a minute there, weasel-girl,” I said, “the union says that I’ve got to cast all parts from my own stable of fictional characters. If you have one of those bohunks you see on one of those fingerbang romance novel covers in mind, you’re S.O.L.”

Renfield’s vocabulary is often as profane as that of a whorehouse parrot. Yet she feigned great offense to what I had said to her, as though she were one of those mass produced Disney princesses introduced to the concept of farting. “Could you be less crude in the presence of talent?” she said haughtily. “Rest assured my co-star is one of yours. I had to sift through many two-dimensional cardboard persons to locate someone who will both serve the story and at the same time remain aware of who is the star of the piece.” Then she smiled and whispered: “I can see that you’re getting twitchy because we have just entered the seventh line of this paragraph. Relax. I told my supporting actor to come see you at hell o’clock tomorrow morning in that cat-pee reeking slum you call an office.”

Sure enough, at hell o’clock the next morning there was a scratching at my office door. Not a knock, but a scratching, like that made by a rat in the wall.

“Come in,” I said confidently, because I had “Security” on hand just in case things got uglier than they already were. There’s no better protection against the loathsome critters that dwell in the sub-basement of my creative dungeon than the virtual version of my fuzzy white cat, Miss Izzy. (For the record, the virtual version of my corpulent black cat, Sir Dudley, adheres to the Falstaffian Code as far as the relationship of discretion and valor go–they meet at a homonym, for both Sir Dudley and Sir John like to hit the “sack.”)

The door creaked open, and standing there, all eighteen inches of him, was a turkey. Not a turkey as in that staple of 70’s sitcoms, the “jive” turkey; nor was he even a real turkey nor a virtual representation of such. He was a literary turkey–meaning he had at one time been an oft-rejected and subsequently retired piece I had written a long time ago, thus released into my “Turkey Pen,” where he (according to my muse) took the shape of a cartoon turkey composed of the printed words and numbers that had been present when he was an oft-rejected story. He (and dozens of others of his kind) had evolved into a fictional character when I had a story called Out in the Turkey Pen published a few years back.

The dynamic that exists between feline and fowl in the virtual world of pen-names, imaginary friends and fictional characters is the same as what it is in your so-called “real world.” The little turkey cringed at the sight of Miss Izzy, and Miss Izzy began to chatter at the sight of the turkey.

“Oh for the love of cranberry sauce,” I groaned.  “You can be the TomTom Ghost. Now get on out of here before Miss Izzy strews your giblets all over the rug.”

I should have vetted the little turkey, whose name was “Krook.”  He turned out to be a ham–not as in Hormel, but Shatner, And he was a belligerent little fucker as well. For two goddam years he emoted and chewed the scenery and got in the way of the story. I have abandoned the thing over and again just to return to it because, I guess, I am curious to see what it is like to repeatedly punch myself in the face. Renfield finds the situation she has caused highly amusing and often pelts me with purple Skittles because I had found out, a bit late, how hard it is to imagine a bowl of Skittles without the purple ones in it. Damn near impossible.

Just yesterday I had another go at the christless thing. It went like this:

Renfield leapt into her cherry ‘67 Dodge convertible named Lucille with great 

enthusiasm. “There’s awesomenicity in the air this morning, Lucille,” Renfield said,

awesomenistically. “We’re off to Tupperware-Con, where I am the featured after lunch speaker.

The topic is ‘Burping in the 21st-Century’. I’m going to awesomenicitize the audience with

my rev-olutionary double-corner snap and release.”

She started Lucille, who greeted the sunny morning with a throaty purr. Renfield

proceeded to feed the convention’s coordinates into her TomTom, unaware that a ghost had

gotten into the device overnight.

“Guide us to Tupperware-Con, trusty TomTom,” Renfield said, once again

awesomenistically. Instead of repeating the coordinates the ghost in the TomTom said,


“Cut!!! I screamed as I leapt out of my director’s chair. “Krook! You’d better be having a goddam stroke in there. I don’t recall writing ‘TomTom Ghost, here, why not make a weird-ass noise instead of reciting the dialog as writ?’”

Krook popped his head out from under the dashboard. “It’s called improv, young lady,” he said as though he were goddam Peter O’Toole. “I was speaking in Ancient Gobblish–I’m not surprised that you’re unfamiliar with it.”

“Read the shit as writ or I’ll familiarize my foot with your—”

“Director abuse! Director abuse!” Renfield laughed as she pelted me with purple Skittles.

“Miss Leila’s just one private part noun away from a meeting with a union rep.”

“What an excellent idea, Miss Renfield,” I said. “I’m going to do just that! After all, it’s our union.”

The Union of Pen-names, Imaginary Friends and Fictional Characters is a ramshackle structure located at the corner of 12th and Never in a part of town where it’s best to keep one hand on your wallet and the other on the pepper spray. The guy who represents me and my characters is named Lennie. No surname, just Lennie. He also happens to be one of my fictional characters, so I guess you could say that there’s a conflict of interests.

Lennie is a dim version of Mark Twain, and he has perfected the art of feigning dementia as to cut down on unnecessary conversation (which is all of it). You’ve got to read between the lines with Lennie to locate the wisdom. Hell, you’ve got to write what lies between the lines with Lennie, just to ascertain whether he’s still breathing. Although his tutelage inevitably leads me to anxiety and despair, I figured “any port in a storm will do”–an old cliche, which pretty much means the same as “any rat in a plague will do” when dealing with Lennie.

I entered Lennie’s office without knocking still clad in my robe, hair askew and one slipper missing. From his chair behind a desk that had been very old in 1903, Lennie regarded me with the same degree of awareness a mannequin has for other mannequins.

“Still running the senility gag, I see,” I said, less than awesomenistically, as I plopped down in the severe wooden client chair in front of his desk. “I know you’re in there because I created you. Keep on playing turtle or ostrich or pin the tail on the Julian Assange with me, rat bastard, and I’ll never go away.”

He sighed. “And who may you be?”

“I may be the person who relocates this sonofabitchin’ building to the North Pole unless you come out of hiding in plain sight.”

“A worse neighborhood? I tremble at the thought.”

I recalled the wino I had to step over on my way into the building; I recalled all the strewn trash on the cracked sidewalk; I recalled all the dregs of society milling about the grounds; I recalled blending in with it all perfectly. “All right,” I said, “I’ll improve conditions around here as best as my budget allows. I’ll do it even if you are your usual less than helpful self. All I ask is that you actually listen to me for a minute or so, before I let you drift back into your inner sanctum. Deal?”

“You’re that Allison woman, aren’t you?”

It was my turn to sigh. “All right. Fine. Whatever. Have it your way. But since you seem almost able-bodied verbally, perhaps you could advise me on what to do with an FC of mine named ‘Krook.’ The little jackwagon is deliberately ruining a story, which should’ve gotten him fired for cause a long time ago, if not for the union.”

“ ‘Krook?’ ” Lennie said softly. “From Bleak House? Using other writer’s characters is forbidden.“

“No, no,” I said. “Not him–not the real unreal him,” I said referencing the ugsome would be blackmailer of Lady Dedlock in Bleak House. “I don’t steal from Dickens anymore than anyone else does. My Krook is a literary turkey whom I had writ for a different story. There were dozens of turkeys in that thing and I named each one after a character from Dickens. I had a Krook, Twist, Fagan and so forth…”

“Seems unkind,” Lennie said, gazing at a point on the wall behind me, “that Mr. Krook should now suffer a fate worse than spontaneous combustion.”

I was in the process of mentally filling in the blanks after “Listen, here, rat bastard,” when I found myself in a blissful state of awesomenicity. Could say I had an epiphany. Could say I asomenicitized a kidney stone. Round here, it’s all pretty much the same thing.

“Eureka!” I shouted and I leapt to my feet and began my “happy dance.” I’d say that a confused expression entered Lennie’s face, but that would be redundant.

At hell o’clock the next morning I called the Renfield and the TomTom Ghost team together, armed with a new script. I showed the altered copy to Renfield only, who glanced at it, shrugged her shoulders and said, ”All right. Fine. Whatever.” Apparently, her highness had had enough of the pugnacious poultry’s antics as well.

After I yelled “Action!” the same old bullshit wafted the same old steam heavenwards until the TomTom Ghost spoke. As Krook once again proceeded to “improv” gibberish, which sounded like Yoko Ono singing an aria backwards, the new script kicked in. A flash of fire and ozone emanated from under the dashboard, and Krook, though unharmed, exited that area with great haste.

“Cut and print scene one,” I said. “Thank you, Mr. Krook,” I continued. “You have essayed the role of the TomTom Ghost to perfection. But the new script outline requires a new actor to play the Ghost of the TomTom Ghost because the original TomTom Ghost has spontaneously combusted. Our story is now called Renfield Asomenicitizes the Ghost of the TomTom Ghost.

“That’s ridiculous,” Krook said.

“You’re just now catching on to that?” Renfield said through a mouthful of green Skittles.

“We’ll see what the union has to say about this,” Krook puffed.

“It won’t say a goddam thing, you little a-hole,” I said. “I gave you the role of the TomTom Ghost, and now that the TomTom Ghost has been vaporized, a new player will assume the role of the Ghost of the TomTom Ghost.”

Before Krook could get even shittier about the situation than he already was, I summoned the great actor I had secretly cast in the role of the Ghost of the TomTom Ghost. “Miss Izzy, we are ready to shoot scene two.”

Miss Izzy strode onto set and once more the uneasy and extremely one-sided feline fowl dynamic presented itself. Miss Izzy lit out after Krook who beat a hasty retreat to the Turkey Pen and hasn’t been heard from since.

Only God knows how well casting a virtual female cat in the role of a male ghost of a ghost will go. But if you ever do see Renfield Awsomenicitizes the Ghost of the TomTom Ghost coming your way, I hope you will read it and come away with renewed appreciation for the suffering of the artist.


Leila Allison

Banner Image:



5 thoughts on “The Renfield/TomTom Ghost Debacle by Leila Allison”

    1. I want to single out Mr Henson for praise. If not for him few writers would gain anything encouraging for the effort.
      If possible, I would damn the “like” option, for it is as insincere as a form rejection email–of which I collected yet another today. I really shouldn’t submit to publications at which I have no chance. All my adult life I have been prone to long lasting depressions caused by rejection. That’s why I so often compose oddities like the one LS has presented here, today. Quite often, I find reality painfully lacking. And sometimes I have to indulge my self pity as I am now, or the empty night to come before I can write again, may prove too long. To quote the great H.Simpson: “Trying is the first step to failure.”

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi Leila,
    This is a showcase of your imagination and inventiveness. The clarity that you get within such a complex idea is staggering.
    When I write, I have trouble keeping tabs on a two-way conversation, I wouldn’t know where to start with something that has so many ideas and offshoots from those ideas.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.