|The Right Words
Author: Red Rose Black Ink PM
Sure, as a writer sometimes I have a hard time coming up with the right words, but this time I should know what the right words were. Maybe it was the pressure that was messing with my memory, or maybe it was the thought of who I was talking to...Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 1,186 - Published: 01-27-13 - Status: Complete - id: 3095968
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My mom would not be happy if she knew that I was sitting out here working on a story. The truth was, I had been interested in the museum, but I had suddenly gotten one of those weird spells of nausea I got ever so often, and had barely managed to tell her that I wasn't feeling too good before running outside. By now, sitting out here on a bench, I was feeling okay, but I didn't especially want to get up and go back in. I didn't have any paper with me, so I'd pulled out my phone, thought back to where I'd left off writing last time, and continued from there.
I became aware of the extremely tall man standing above me when he asked, "May I sit here?"
"Sure." When I realized how blunt that sounded, I added, "Go ahead," costing myself the next sentence I'd had in mind. I tapped my thumbs on the keyboard, frustrated.
The man took a seat next to me. I glanced up enough to see that he had a pencil and a small piece of paper in his hands, but I was too busy trying to catch my lost train of thought to pay much attention.
Another moment went by, and the man asked, "What's that?"
I still didn't look up, but I could tell the motion was toward my phone. "Just working on something I'm writing."
There was a long pause, and I looked up at the man who had joined me. Besides being so tall, he was honestly rather gawky-looking, with a scraggly beard. He was instantly recognizable. I was pretty impressed that Gettysburg National Park had found such an accurate-looking actor. And having him wander around like this, to draw bored teenagers- I had to admit I looked like one- into the history of the place, was a great idea.
His acting was good, too. He gave my phone an appropriately confused look before looking up at me. "You're writing?"
He looked at the paper in his hand. "I'm writing too. At least, I ought to be."
Ah. And we were at Gettysburg. What could old Abe Lincoln possibly be writing? I played along- "Yeah? So what are you writing?"
"I have a speech to give later today. A few remarks for the dedication of the cemetery."
"Oh, are you the main speaker?" I knew the answer to that one too, but hey, I was having fun here.
"No, I'm just to make a few brief remarks. If anyone falls asleep, I haven't done my job properly." He looked at my phone again. "May I ask, what is that?"
I shoved it into my pocket instead of answering. I wasn't going to attempt to explain modern technology to an actor who knew perfectly well what a cellular phone was. "Do you have any idea what you're going to say in your speech?"
He looked down at the paper in his hand. "Mostly. I'm having a little trouble with the wording." Suddenly he looked back up at me. "Do you think you could be of some help?"
It wasn't until then, when he looked at me, that I started to wonder. He was just so serious. Either this guy was a fantastic actor, or... No way. Impossible. "I'll try. What do you have so far?"
The man looked down at the paper in his hand, then cleared his throat and looked up at me. "I'm sorry, I'm not quite feeling my best today."
"That's all right," I said. "Go ahead."
Slowly, only occasionally glancing at the notes on his paper, he went through the speech, pausing occasionally to make sure I was following and to ask what I thought of various things. He was particularly concerned about the allusion to the Declaration of Independence. I assured him that the reference was perfectly clear.
I was no less convinced that this was impossible, but the way he recited that speech... he recited it like something he'd made up himself and wasn't quite happy with yet. I recognized that. I know what it feels like.
"...that government of the people, by the people, for the people..." He glanced over to check my reaction, and then finished, "shall survive." The instant he looked at me he asked, "What is it?"
"That's wrong," I said automatically, and then stopped myself and tried to think. It was wrong, I knew that from history, but I couldn't just say that, because if he was writing the thing now there was no history for it to comply with. Probably. What did I know about this? Maybe the words he chose to end his speech had some impact I couldn't forsee. Back-see. Maybe if what I told him conflicted with the history I knew, I would disappear or the Confederacy would win the Civil War or the time-space continuum would rip and the planet would implode. I was getting more confused the longer I tried to understand it.
Never mind. I just had to think how the thing was supposed to end, and tell him that. "That ending. It's too...abrupt."
He mouthed the words to himself, then nodded. "I think you're right. What would you suggest?"
At the moment all I had to offer was my opinion on what he'd actually said, so I gave him that. "It should be more dramatic than that. Not just it'll survive, it'll..."
"Or, it will not," he said, sounding inspired now. "...shall not cease to exist?"
"That's good," I said, although it wasn't quite right. If I could only think of the actual speech, instead of the 'modern translation' we'd written in sixth-grade social studies. "Not very vivid, though."
"Shall not vanish- No. Birth of freedom. Death-" As soon as he spoke again I knew he had it. "Shall not perish-"
That was it.
"-from the earth," we finished together.
I slapped a hand over my mouth.
He smiled and said, "Then I suppose that must be the right wording." As he started to write that down, he dropped his pencil and his head fell into his hand. I leaned forward too, worried, but once he'd carefully sat up, he told me, "I'll be fine. I've been a little dizzy today."
"Maybe you should get some rest before your speech," I said. I hadn't noticed until then how pale he was. The weariness on his face I had noticed, but I had attributed that to something more serious than illness.
"That sounds like an excellent idea." He stood up, holding the paper carefully in his hand, told me it was a pleasure to meet me and thanked me again, and started to walk away.
Suddenly I remembered, and leaned over to look under the bench for the pencil. It was gone. When I sat up, of course, so was its owner.
For a minute I couldn't do anything but try to make sense of what had just happened. Eventually I got up and went back inside, and the first thing I did there was to look for a copy of the Gettysburg Address...just in case.