It was a cold day, grimy day - the kind where the sun shines bright and the week-old snow looks gray and oily in the harsh new light - and Bill's punch was quick, unexpected. It sent Theo reeling, toppling back onto the pile of reject submissions - a thousand of the worst stories ever written cushioning his fall, a million imprecise words delivering him from a concussion that would have left his ears ringing for months.
Bill lowered his voice. "We have to publish it."
It started a half hour ago. The courier pulled off his hat as he climbed the stairs, N's last tucked under his arm, stuffed inside one of those padded minella folders that comes with a string to keep the flap shut.
Theo signed for the package at the door and dumped it on the pile with all of the others.
At first, he and Bill had rented out a PO box - the second-smallest one they could find - but as their circulation increased so did the number of submissions they received. Now Fiction published every month to a few thousand subscriptions. Not bad for two guys who worked out of a dingy little office above a record store.
Theo stood up from the beat-up leather couch and lit up a cigarette, wandering over to the window. This was how he and Bill spent their Sundays - reading submissions. Most of them were lousy, some redeemable, and only a tender few really readable, really excellent. These were the ones that were published each month, and that was what Fiction was - a collection of excellent fiction from unknown authors. Bill clutched the story he just read in his left hand, folding it up as leaned against the sill.
"Got anything?" Bill asked, looking from up from a ten-pager about a goldfish that wouldn't die.
"Nah," Theo replied. He turned from the window to throw the little bundle of paper into the rejects. "One man's fight against the car wash industry. I'm thinking no."
Bill gave a little snort as Theo once again surveyed the mountain of submissions. He picked out a thick, padded minella envelope from the top of the stack and meandered back over to the couch. Taking a drag from his cigarette, he carefully untied the string, pulled open the flap, and dumped the contents of the package onto his lap.
His eyes got wide.