THE ORIGNS OF MY STORY, ATM
By Jon Land
ATM, my story that appears at the very end of Nothing Good Happens After Midnight, was born on Saturday, November 16, on the New York City subway’s A train heading for the 207th Street stop. I remember that so clearly because I was on my way to a tailgate party preceding the Brown University vs. Columbia football game, a game destined to become Brown’s first Ivy League win in three years. The due date for my contribution to the anthology was coming up and I was planning on penning it the following week.
Even though I had no idea what I was going to write about.
Well, that’s not entirely true. See, I count “The Twilight Zone” as the foremost influence on my style of short story writing. And fellow fans of that Rod Serling classic will recall that many of the episodes features something Alfred Hitchcock might have called the McGuffin, generally an object on which the action is centered around. None other than William Shatner appeared as a newlywed in one held hostage by a fortune telling machine in “Nick of Time”. A pair of glasses played a pivotal role in the classic “Time Enough at Last” starring Burgess Meredith. A stop watch takes center stage in the similarly themed “A Kind of Stopwatch,” that same kind of role played by a camera that takes pictures of the future in “A Most Unusual Camera.”
So I didn’t have a story yet that fall Saturday when I stepped aboard the A Train, though I knew it would be in the tradition of those Twilight Zone benchmarks. I took my seat and was greeted by an advertisement across the aisle that included a Venn diagram.
Hmmmmmm, I thought, Venn would make an interesting name for my hero. So what if he was riding the very same A Train headed to the same bar where the pre-football game tailgate was being held? And what if he was a male hustler? I’d never written a character like that, so I knew I had something even before the notion of Venn being down on his luck and down to his last forty bucks conjured the notion of an Automatic Teller Machine he visits in my mind.
Not just any ATM, of course, an ATM straight out of the Twilight Zone. Sitting there on that train, I came up with the idea of an ATM that dispenses more than money, an ATM that would, essentially, change Venn’s life forever and for the better. And, just like that, I had my story. Not the specifics yet, but those would come.
And come they did! I had a vision of a kind of treasure hunt, with the ATM sending Venn out to complete a series of tasks he has no choice but to undertake in order to get his card back. The machine sends him to locations, though he has no idea what’s going to happen when he gets there. And even when he gets his card and money back, he still follows the machine’s instructions because it promises to take good care of him if he obliges it.
I wouldn’t know the specifics of Venn’s life-changing adventure, until I set out to put pen to paper—well, fingers to keyboard. Nor did I know what the Zone-like twist ending would be, only that the story would have one.
In those 5,000 words that comprise the story, Venn became exceptionally clear in mind and just as easy to root for. With him at the helm, the story basically wrote itself; my fingers only needed to keep up with Venn since the entire story is told from his point of view to the point where one of Suspense Publishing’s editors asked if I was going to bring him back because she couldn’t wait to meet up with him again.
All because of a ride on the New York City subway I took to a tailgate party. I might never ride the A Train again but I can’t wait to write Venn’s next adventure.