In the spirit of early sharing, a rough draft of the first few pages of a short story by Matt Runkle

What the book offered, in addition to freedom from the tethers of geography, was ritual. Finally, everyone sighed. And their sighs intermingled and became the book, the very sort of record that was missing from their lives. And the friends it contained? Silence—we hurtle. We’ll get to containers once we land.


In the waning days of Myrne’s career as a stewardess, when she was still only vaguely aware of the book, she found herself in the midst of a minor confrontation: a rakish young man had asked if he could change seats.

She peered at him over her seat chart—her face was still unmarred then, her glasses a full inch away from her face. I already gave you three chances, she told him. Back there on the tarmac. An idiot test.

Around them roared the full blue fire of the sky.

The man, being baby-faced, was used to getting his way. His heavily dappered torso bristled with retort; a coo moved up the back of his blond little neck. A hedgehog, thought Myrne, adorable. She looked again at her seating chart, and was shocked to find the man’s name had shifted to his desired seat.

I updated my profile, he smirked.

She could tell he was the sort of charmer most people found hilarious, the most unhilarious sort of all. Sorry, she said, dead serious. I’m the one doing the updates here.

Not anymore, you’re not. I rewrote the book.

Oh really, said Myrne with her eyes.

The book, ma’am, is where we’re all headed.

I don’t know where you’re headed, but the rest of us are flying to Portland. Myrne straightened herself and again asked the man to move.

A wind came through the cabin, the kind that stirs in the wake of turning pages.

Myrne, who always said yes to pharmaceuticals, had still never gone so far as to conjure a creature riding the aircraft’s wing. Yet now, a throng like a mist unwinding all around, she looked out the window and saw her high-school valedictorian: a small, shiny head just above the cloud caps, its topknot uncannily in place. 

Absently, eyes on the stowaway, Myrne swore in an outdated manner.

You have a way of talking, the man told her. A silence disarming yet astute. Like a politician.

Beside the valedictorian, a doctor appeared, a familiar, white-lipped man from a day long past. Myrne’s impotence in that moment became more than just a discomfort, and she knew the rakish young man could sense this.

Right now, he said, the book is not in need of leaders. But keep it in mind: one day soon, once it’s been around long enough to come to a sort of boil, it could be convinced.

Convinced, thought Myrne, what a word. Tucked inside it, as in the back of every seat: a glossy threat of unlikely violence.

Think about it, the man said. Running for office would be an apt transition for you, a stewardess, the epitomic regionless servant. The perfect candidate to represent a concept as shiftless as the book.

All right, Myrne said. Put your tray table up and we’ll call it good.
It was time already to prepare for descent, and Myrne made her way to the intercom at the rear of the plane. As she walked down the aisle, people from her past appeared in increasing numbers, one small haunting after the next, each making an unbearable flapping noise. This, thought Myrne, is what it sounds like when the shit hits the fan. The sound of uncertainty, of being taken to the grave by the faulty contraption of another. 

Nevertheless, that day a seed was planted, or seeds rather, which weren’t planted at all, but scattered like pepper and salt from the rear of the plane.

Two things that are hard to come by, reader: First, in the stratosphere, containers. And second, in times like these, the thrill of being a pioneer.


The following months for Myrne were a sort of hardening. She could feel the book grow thick around her, its pages hardly turning anymore, a blossoming of mildews in its furthest, most sodden pages, dust forming dunes in its drier realms. Boogers, squished insects, the heft of indecipherable pencil scrawls. Myrne became inseparable from the book, from every page of every person she’d ever had the briefest encounter with, the heaviness of each friend’s heart weighing her down with the dense, suspended woe of a planet.

To the point where she could no longer leave the ground.
It was funny, though, how actual books, the small ones you could hold in your hand yet still keep separate from yourself, were becoming rarer. There was a time when Myrne had popped such things as often as pills. They had once been soothing, those little objects that conjured thoughts of men in funny blouses, of women on liberating voyages, of long forgotten children returning to remind their mothers they exist. But now, unemployed, the very air so tortured and replete with paper, the effort it took to seek out something so old fashioned caused Myrne a searing cerebral pain.
She could feel it most acutely at her temples, as if her tendrilous, tender thoughts had become enjambed in the hinges of her glasses. She winced; it almost salted her throat. In a way it was like she was shit, and like she had been put through the fan.

And so, weighted down with the friendly crowd, she gave in.

She sat down to assemble her profile, her own personal page to prove her existence in among every single other page in the book. Myrne, she printed, and 58 and Pittsburgh and Retired, Panagaeic Air. Petite, she printed, but I contain multitudes, then crossed out contain and wrote exist beside. Then crossed it all out and wrote: A whole lot of natural panache in a deceptive slip of a woman. She spent a few minutes examining her new digs before setting up camp in its breakfast nook, slamming down a saucer to ash her menthols in.  

The rakish young man still appeared now and then, another irritant, really, in among the doctor, the valedictorian, the bland and directionless mob. The book had just become too big, had failed to account for the gravity of the masses, who now let out a collective, pallid moan for leadership. The whole overburdened book would lurch to the east, then the west, and Myrne’s stomach cumbersomely pitch, and she’d eat another Dramamine, more than she’d ever consumed in all her years in the skies. It was just like the man had said, and every now and then he would remind her, the brim of his newsboy cap cresting the edge of her page as he whispered, You’re the one.

Nearby him sometimes, preceded by a propeller’s whir, a lithographic girl on a bomber’s nose: the profile of Poney Marie.


Have you ever been involved with a book like that, one that created an illusory need for order while its mechanics fluttered and loomed? Well, then you understand. The politics of this moment involved some extrication, some controlled ripping and dissolving of ancient glues. At the same time, as you know, conservation was imperative. It was requisite that existing pages remain bound, that any bid for power be cleverly slipped in between, and that newcomers adhere just as snugly to the book’s elusive spine.

With that in mind, the book’s first candidates approached the ring and threw in their hats.

Poney Marie had had her eye on Myrne for a while now. Freshly hatched from a Portland college of public policy, Poney Marie’s dream was to one day be known as a doyenne. A dreamy word, doyenne, dignified yet bedecked with flounce. Her plan for achieving such a title was to attach herself to a promising candidate, and put her tactical knowledge—which was considerable, all her professors agreed—to use in the newly opened district of the book.

It was Remy who had first pointed her out to Poney Marie. She’s your woman, he’d told her one morning in bed. An ideal proletarian sylph. He was struck by Myrne’s relatability, he said, and how it was tempered, oddly, by an almost poetic obfuscation. He said this up on one elbow, almost groggily with his fist against a smirk.

Poney Marie looked at him for one moment longer, clamped into a state of tender surrender; with an effortful blink, she tore herself away, at last, and turned to Myrne.

She studied the lady’s profile from afar and had her doubts. But Remy insisted: there was a leadership position waiting for Myrne, and the time for seizing it was ripe. Why not then, Poney Marie thought, just let that tender surrender happen? Remy was, after all, one of the book’s founding fathers and likely saw something there she had yet to learn. She decided to join Remy in his snarky admiration, mimicking it until she, herself, managed to coax forth a sincere faith in Myrne’s electability.

And so Poney Marie began to haunt Myrne’s profile daily, flitting by and looking wise, making sure Myrne got a glimpse of her, trying to keep her teeth unclenched as she wished she would hurry up and inquire after her services. In order to start their partnership out on the right foot, she thought, it was important the stewardess come to her.

The joy she felt, I’m sure you can imagine, the day there finally came a message, wafting down and smelling musky, crisp, like something you could almost eat. I’ve been thinking some about power, it read, and thought maybe you could hook me up.

At the bottom, signed like a child: Myrne.