I see Jill Meyers way in the back of her oceanography class, sucking on the end of her Bic ballpoint even though it makes her spit taste blue and metallic. She stares at the paper on her desk, deep in thought. Jill's oblivious to the lecture on partially-stratified estuaries; she's got something else she's working on. She checks her watch and it's nearly time to go to French. She probably won't get finished. She hardly ever does. It makes Jill feel so intelligent whenever she can complete The Daily Crossword by Harris Abercrombie, but there's just never enough time.

I see Robert Frantz, who knows he's got a lot of work to get done at the office today, but he's not doing a thing till he's drunk his coffee and done his Daily Crossword by Harris Abercrombie -- the most important part of the Times, after the business section. Robert doesn't care if anyone else here at the insurance agency sees him with his crossword or not. He's more worried about them seeing the stain on his pants where his five-year-old spilt orange juice this morning. Robert will get paid the same whether he gets straight down to business or goofs around first, so the choice is obvious.

I see Celia Towers fidgeting with her blunt scissors as she storms the last empty spaces on The Daily Crossword by Harris Abercrombie. Celia is forty-four years old and has learning disabilities, so her mother keeps her from doing most things. But she can work crossword puzzles. And she can do it really well, too. When she's done with this one she'll cut it out and put it in her scrapbooks with the others, which date back nearly eleven years now. Sometimes Celia thinks it would be neat if Phil Donahue or somebody found out about her crossword-puzzle collection and she could be on TV. But she knows that's crazy. Her mother wouldn't let her.

I see all these things happening, but they're part of the past, from days and weeks ago. There's nothing happening now.

I stand at my apartment window, up from my cluttered desk of pencilled-in geometries, looking out from the twenty-third floor at motionless Chicago -- the Windy City without so much as a breeze. Birds hang in the sky as if on unseen wires. The streets below are clogged with the deadest traffic jam imaginable, even though it's nowhere near rush hour. Pedestrians have frozen in their paces, like everyone simultaneously realized they'd left their wallets at home, or the voice of God is issuing from the heavens and they've all stopped to listen. I look out at the seeming photograph of this world and I know that it has paused just for me, for me and the pages of checkerboard scribbles strewn across my desk. The designs are of plain old squares instead of arcane symbols or pentagrams, but they seethe with dark power nonetheless.

My name is Harris Abercrombie. I make crossword puzzles. I work for United Media Services as a designer of The Daily Crossword, a nationally-syndicated feature enjoyed by hundreds of thousands.

I'm also a vampire.

Okay, I said it. Now I'll try explaining it. Let's start with a few disclaimers.

First off, I'm not evil, and I'm not a creature of the night who turns into a bat and chomps folks on the neck, thirsty for blood. I'm just a guy. But I suck the life out of people just the same, without even trying to. You could more accurately call me a parasite or a leech or something else, I suppose; but I think vampire's the only word for it.

Second, I am not insane, and I do realize that this is all quite senseless. As far as I can tell, no one knows about what I am, and I've yet made no attempt at telling.

Third, and most importantly, I do not design crossword puzzles because I enjoy doing it. I want to make that clear. Originally I did it only for the money; now I have different reasons which I'll explain. I have never particularly liked crossword puzzles, I have never aspired to the career I now hold, and I'd hate to meet the kind of dork who would.

I do not understand the appeal of crosswords. I can see wanting to do one when you're waiting in the doctor's office or taking the bus to work or lying sick in bed -- in boring situations where there's nothing else to do. But why people choose to fill words into numbered boxes when they're free to do whatever else they want, and why they need these puzzles daily, I couldn't tell you. There're plenty of people like that out there, though; otherwise I wouldn't have a job.

I ended up in this business because I'm an artist. An artist is lucky to have any steady job, some people would say, and they'd be right. Out of college I ran through a series of art-related employments, silk-screening T-shirts, pasting up newspaper ads, color-separating greeting cards... it wasn't too aesthetically pleasing, but it was a way to make money. I've always had this fantasy that I'd be able to support myself from commercial art jobs while I painted in my spare time, till someday I could retire to the splendor of commissions and gallery showings. The problem was, I'd made a severe overestimate of what my "spare time" would amount to, and the day jobs absorbed most or all of my creative energy. I just didn't have enough time for real art. But I have the time now. Oh lord, I've got plenty.

So here's what happened: Three years ago I was working in the art production department of United Media Services, a newspaper-feature syndicate that deals nationwide in things like comic strips, advice columns and, you bet, crossword puzzles. One day at the office I overheard these two assistant editors bitching about a U.M.S. crossword designer named Juliana Crawford, who'd unexpectedly resigned. They were really upset. I knew one of the editors, a guy named Jaime, so I broke in and asked him why this was such a big problem. Jaime said because good crossword designers were impossibly hard to come by. I sort of laughed and said, "Really? But crossword puzzles are easy to make."

Yep. I had designed crossword puzzles before.

In junior high school I had joined the school newspaper staff, with the intent of doing illustrations for it. Newspaper staff wasn't extracurricular; it was an actual class for a grade, so I also had the intent of taking a slide. We all knew the paper was pretty bad, because really, there's only so much mileage you can get out of school news and school sports reports. Sometimes the staff would try to make the paper less boring and more like a "real" paper. Toward that end, a girl named Lucy Ann Kendall once came up with this brainstorm: "Hey, why don't we have a crossword puzzle? A crossword puzzle about school! Harris can draw it!" It was that attitude that non-artists so often seem to have toward artists, that when there's something to be drawn, not only can the nearest available artist draw it for you, but he or she wants to, as well. No matter what. That's what artists are for, people think. It's made me feel like Mikey from the Life Cereal commercial, sometimes. "Let's get Harris! Yeah! He'll draw it, he'll draw anything!"

Well, I did not especially want to draw a school crossword puzzle. Like I said, I was in that class to be lazy. But I liked Lucy Ann, you know, "liked" her, so I chose to prostitute my thirteen-year-old artistic faculties in hope of winning her favor. I went home and made a simple crossword with only about twenty words in it, words like the school's name, the names of class subjects, some teachers' names. Really corny. I did puzzles for three or four issues of the paper. Lucy Ann thought I was clever and said she wished she could be so creative, but my works weren't enough to sway her from Roger of the tennis team. So I felt like I got screwed on that deal.

But that wasn't what came to mind when I was standing there laughing in the faces of these worried assistant editors. I recalled instead how those junior-high crossword puzzles had come to me so easily. The prospect of making all those words mesh together was intimidating when I first sat down with it, but once I got going, it flowed out like tapestry from an alphabetical loom in my head, smoothly and mechanically. I finally quit the puzzles for the paper because they were stupid, not because they were tough to come up with.

So these editors looked at me like I didn't know what the hell I was talking about. They said you could hardly find designers who could make good puzzles and reliably meet their deadlines. They didn't know how they were going to replace this Juliana Crawford. I told them I had experience in crossword designing, enhancing the truth just a touch and leaving out any personal value judgments about the job. You see, production artwork gets horribly boring, boring to the point that us guys would kiss great amounts of ass for any assignment that was in the least bit different. And the more assignments we had, the more pay vouchers we got. Which is why, out of the blue, I was selling myself to these guys as their crossword designer, even though I didn't give a damn about crosswords. The one who I didn't know was skeptical, but Jaime told me to bring in some samples the next day, just for the heck of it.

I did three of them on a 15 x 15 grid like U.M.S.'s Daily Crossword uses. They were somewhat more difficult than I expected, since I had to cram words together a lot more closely than I did in junior high. I have a pretty big vocabulary which helped me get most of my words and clues, and I filled in the rest with abbreviations and people's initials and stuff. The first puzzle took me well over two hours; then I figured out what I was doing and put together two more in about an hour apiece. The next morning I showed them to Jaime and they overwhelmed him. He couldn't believe I'd done three in one night. He ran off to tell the crossword editor, Karen Lydecker. After I convinced Karen I hadn't plagiarized from old puzzles and could do the job on a regular basis, she hired me.

I was thereby inducted into a rotating cadre of designers, nine or ten of us irregularly alternating for the byline on The Daily Crossword. Are we a closely-knit band of artisans who have lunch together on Thursdays, to talk shop and swap cruciverbalist anecdotes? Hell, no. Well, the rest of them may be, for all I know. I've never met any of them and wouldn't really want to. I have no love or pride for this job or my fellow craftsmen; the salary, though, is something I've always warmed up to. This gig pays more than you'd think. Especially since Karen awarded my good work with a spot on The Sunday Crossword Deluxe, three months after I started. I almost make more money from this than I can in good conscience accept. Almost. But maybe it is a reasonable wage, considering that there're newspaper-buying masses coast-to-coast hungering each day for their crossword fix, and I'm the one who gives it to them. And it's from that author/audience relationship that all the weirdness comes.

It started off with dreams. Shortly after I got the Sunday Crossword Deluxe assignment, I had a dream about people doing my crossword puzzles. Like that wasn't strange enough in itself, the people in my dream were real live people, not just a mob of faceless puzzle-solvers. In my dream I knew them. I knew their names, their goals, their fears, what their families were like, what their favorite kind of ice cream was -- all these people, all in vivid and honest detail. And all of them were sitting around working my puzzles. The dream recurred for weeks, always with a staggering ring of truth. I didn't know what to make of it, unless it was some manifestation of guilt over my job. I did feel like a hypocrite, hating crossword puzzles but being responsible for people pissing their lives away on the damn things. And on top of that, I got paid for it. But I rationalized that I didn't force anyone to do my puzzles. They made the choice themselves. I couldn't admit back then that my fangs were well planted, and already drinking deep.

Insomnia soon accompanied the dreams. I would go to bed and sleep fairly soundly -- though visions of crossword addicts might dance in my head -- until I woke up around three in the morning and could not go back to sleep. Then I'd have to go to bed really early the next night. I could only sleep two or three hours at a time, but it always felt like eight or nine. I never felt tired when I woke up. The syndrome intensified to the point that I was sleeping a little while in the morning or afternoon and staying up all the rest of the time. Fortunately I was making enough from my crosswords to quit my production job at U.M.S., and did my work at home, since I wouldn't have been able to meet office hours. I made my puzzles at night, usually while Letterman was on.

Hmm... I slept to avoid the sun's baneful rays, and rose up from my resting place to stalk my victims by night. That should have been an early clue to what I had become.

Oh, there were lots of clues. Crossword puzzles are black on white, just like Dracula's cloak against his cadaverous skin, or like innocence tainted with dark. Cross-words. Aren't crosses one of the things that can ward off vampires, along with wooden stakes and garlic? And a lot of people don't realize this, but crossword puzzles aren't just randomly laid out. Any decent crossword has a symmetrical pattern, mirror-imaging itself on its diagonal axes. I'm not supposed to, but I have a reflection too.

Even with all that evidence, I didn't find out what I was until one morning when I was rushing to finish a Daily Crossword and a Sunday Deluxe. Both were due that day at noon. I'd gotten behind schedule because of personal problems. My wife, whom I've since divorced, had just left me. Crossword puzzles were the last thing in the world I wanted to deal with; in fact, my weird working schedule with them had been one of the many points of contention between me and her. So I'd procrastinated and it looked like I was about to miss my first deadline. With Karen it was the stroke of death to miss a deadline. And I was drawing a blank on these puzzles, with only a couple hours left until they needed to be on Karen's desk. My watch said 9:53 when I put it aside to keep myself from sitting and watching the minutes tick. I drove myself to finish the Daily, thinking "Oh, God, I wish I had more time," and I was done in something like an hour. I looked at my watch, a digital watch, and it still said 9:53. It wasn't stopped; it was still counting off the seconds. It just hadn't moved while I was working.

I was pissed. What a time for my damn watch to break! I went to check a wall clock. It said six till ten. So did every timepiece in the house. I guessed there was some weird power failure that affected even battery-operated stuff, somehow. I called for the correct time and it was 9:55. So I just shrugged and figured I'd looked at the time wrong when I started working. I sat back down and hurried through the Sunday Deluxe, which I was sure took more than an hour. Definitely. But when I was done, my watch, my clocks, the phone company, the microwave, the VCR, the radio and the shows on TV all said that it wasn't even ten o'clock yet.

Instead of going nuts, I drank a big glass of water while I sat and watched clocks move for ten minutes. Just to make sure time still existed. I got dressed and took the 10:25 bus to the office to drop off my designs and my clues, meeting my deadline with over an hour to spare. Karen made a sly remark about my dangerously tight arrival, telling me I should try watching my time. I came really close to hitting her.

When I got back home I tried an experiment. I got out Stephen King's huge book It, which I'd bought and wanted to read for months, but I'd never had the time. Well, now we'd see if I did. I sat down with the book and looked at the time on my watch. 12:12. And forty-eight seconds, when I put my watch aside. I wrote that down. I started reading. I got through the first two chapters, thirty-eight pages, and then I had to look at my watch. 12:12. And the seconds changed to forty-nine. I slapped my watch back down and read some more. I stopped at a hundred and fifty-seven pages to check the time. 12:12:50. I'd intended to sit there and read the whole damn 1,090 page thing, but when I was on page 216 at 12:12:51, I called it quits. Stephen King was good, but my real life was much more interesting. And scarier.

Okay, so I could make time stand still. What do you do once you discover that? I stared at my watch, making it stop and go by mental command. I was determined to find out why the hell this was happening. I had dabbled in meditation in my day, and it came to me as a possibility here, if only as a way to relax myself. First, I stopped time. Then I sat cross-legged on the floor, my back straight, my hands lying palm-up over my knees. I breathed from my gut and not from my chest, and I let myself drift. Every time a thought came through my mind I concentrated on it firmly, which paradoxically clears out all thoughts, or so they say.

I did this, and as soon as my mind felt peaceful and blank, an ocean of thoughts crashed in. It was people doing my crossword puzzles, just like in my dreams, racing through my psyche one after the other. Then I knew that they aren't dreams. They are real. I have a part of these people inside me. It is that part of their lives which they spend doing my crosswords. All of that wasted time doesn't just fade away and go toward the entropy of the universe. It remains, like the product of some law of conservation of time. The time that my audience forfeits is granted to me, in the form of extra hours, weeks, (years?) tacked onto my life, time for me to use however and whenever I see fit. It is bonus time. A fringe benefit. But what is the nature of this time transfer? Am I an unwitting god, benefiting from the worship of a strange religion I do not endorse and did not ask for? Or am I indeed a vampire, living supernaturally, an undead life sustained by stolen blood, raping the souls of innocents who want only to solve a harmless little puzzle?

I think I know which.

Not only do I take people's time -- I take their thoughts, as well. It's only the thoughts they have while doing my crosswords, but real, true thoughts nonetheless. I've learned how to control these psychic eavesdroppings; I can look into them when I want to, and shut them out when I want to, and they don't haunt me in my dreams anymore. No more insomnia either. My biological clock had gone out of whack because I was slipping into the frozen time in my sleep, getting a full night's rest in very little real time. I learned how to control that, too. I would be spending my frozen time awake.

After I meditated and figured out all these things, I immediately wondered if there was anybody else in my situation. Maybe it happened with all art -- or all created artifacts, if this were to include crosswords. Was this a creator's great reward, once his work achieves a large enough audience: He siphons off all their time spent appreciating him? I doubted it. Nobody could keep a secret that big, especially not artists.

What if all crossword designers, though, were like me? They could be, because like I said, I don't know any. I recalled Juliana Crawford, whose job I'd filled. I never heard why she quit. I wondered if it was because she hated the weird dreams and the way time acted funny. I might have gone to meet some fellow members of the Daily Crossword crew at this point, if it weren't that I'm the only one who lives in Chicago. The rest work by mail. But even if one of them was next door, how would I approach him? "Hi, Larry Delano? I'm Harris Abercrombie. Yeah, that's right, I'm on The Daily Crossword too. Listen, I was just wondering, do you absorb the life out of your fans, like I do?"

Most likely, this is a unique thing, experienced by me only. I know for fact that I am remarkable among crossword designers in terms of speed. I work over twice as fast as U.M.S.'s next fastest. So perhaps I have a special spiritual bond with crosswords -- I don't know, from a genetic defect or something -- which I would never have discovered, had Lucy Ann Kendall and a boring art-production job not led me to this fate.

So how did I respond to my predicament? I was overjoyed! I loved it! It didn't bother me that I was living on other people's time. They would be wasting their lives on crosswords no matter what; for me to profit from it cost them nothing. And at last, I had the spare time I'd needed and deserved for so long. The concept of hurrying was gone from my life. I finished reading It, and read a whole load of other things I'd never had time for. I rented more movies at a time than could mathematically be watched in the overnight loan period, and I threw away hours enjoying music while doing nothing else. But most importantly I had time for art of my own. Now I could paint and keep painting as long as the inspiration was there.

Sometimes I'd start feeling bored and isolated, but that was really no problem, because I could always go out on the town and live in real time with real people whenever I wanted to. I never turned into a recluse over this thing, thank God. I have concerns about staying too long in frozen time. For instance, I wonder if I age while time is stopped? I get tired and my beard grows and my food digests, so I suppose I do get older while everything else stands still. Which means that I'm pushing thirty-five, though the calendar says I'm thirty-three. By the time I'm forty, I could physically be seventy. That doesn't sound too appealing. I don't want to die of old age before 2000.

And more recently, I've wondered if I might be addicted to leeching people's time, now that I've done it so long. If I quit, would I be okay, physically and emotionally? When that thought hit me, I swore off stopping time for a month. Things felt weird, confined, but I made it through easily. After all, that was the shortest month I'd had in a while. But that didn't prove that I'm not an addict, because I still had a backlog of time in my system, and it was always gaining interest. And there's only one way to determine what would happen to me with that backlog all emptied out... now isn't there?

Well, we're going to find out if I'll suffer crossword-puzzle D.T.'s or not, and very soon. It's been fun, but the time has come for me to wrap up these three long years and move along. The legacy I gained from Juliana Crawford will change hands again. Why? I have several reasons. I'm modestly wealthy now, which means I can devote myself entirely to painting, and I'd like to do that. But mainly I just want to stop being a vampire. Once again I feel like Mikey from that old commercial -- this time, because I've been eating so much life, and liking it.

And it's because I've liked it that I'm not just quietly stepping down. No, I want to leave my mark on this industry. I'm going out with a bang.

So I go to the office and turn in some puzzles, and while I'm there I chat with Karen and tell her about this idea I've come up with. Karen is a devastatingly good-looking woman, the kind who makes you want to yell and high-five with your friends when you see her across the room at a bar. We have a good working relationship, so after I got my divorce, I thought about asking Karen out. But first I decided to check out her thoughts on the matter. That's always been the admirer's impossible desire, to know if that person of the opposite sex feels the same way. It's not impossible for me. Karen never actually works my crosswords, but believe it or not, I can read her mind while she's editing them. So I went to find out her opinion on freelancer Harris Abercrombie, and, well... she thinks I'm a nice guy, but she doesn't like a man to be shorter than she is, and there's a buried streak of anti-Semitism in her, and she has serious reservations about a guy dorky enough to make crossword puzzles for a living.

Remind me never to do that again.

Anyway, I tell Karen about this idea I've had. I could make this jumbo crossword puzzle, one even bigger than the Sunday Deluxe, which United Media Services could use to run a sort of contest. People could send in their correctly-completed puzzles, which would be put into a drawing for cash and prizes. Karen says it sounds like an interesting proposal and she'll get back

Boy. If Karen has any last doubts about my dorkiness, then that suggestion of mine surely lays them to rest. But do you think I want to do a contest-crossword just for the fun of it? You know me better than that. I have a problem I'm having a hard time solving, and as any half-sensible member of my audience knows: When you can't fill in the words going across, you switch over to the down column and see what kind of hints it gives you. I'm trying to figure out the best way to quit my job, and by turning my thoughts from personal concerns to the big picture, I've come up with a plan.

It so happened a couple of weeks ago that I picked up the thoughts of Tom Bachman, executive vice-president of United Media Services. Bachman works The Daily Crossword devoutly. Has lots of free time, I guess. While Bachman was doing my puzzle, he was daydreaming that it would be good for U.M.S. to have some big promotional gimmick, something to improve the company's standing in the syndicate community and generate revenue from sponsors. Bachman, being as imaginative as the average executive, couldn't think up a gimmick himself. So he sent out memos soliciting ideas from all mid-management personnel in the creative department, including Karen Lydecker. She'd just got the memo when I presented my crossword-contest idea, which she must have thought was some weird kind of serendipity.

Later Karen calls me with the news that U.M.S. has accepted my proposal. I'm not surprised; as much as Bachman likes crosswords, I'm sure he was all for it. What does surprise me is that they've got Pepsi to sponsor the contest, and the grand prize is going to be $500,000! This contest is going to be bigger than I expected. I want it to be big, but if it's too big it could screw things up. With all this money riding on it, they might figure out what's going on before they're supposed to. If they do, my plan won't work. But I've got nothing to lose. I'm going to quit anyway. If I pull it off, great; if not, at least I'll have tried.

It will be a few months before they can hold the contest because the lawyers have to work out all those infinite, fine-print contest rules first. I go ahead and start on my puzzle. It'll be the most difficult I've ever done, but that's okay, because it'll be the last. The reason why this crossword will be so hard for me is that I have three things I want to accomplish with it.

First, in spite of the guilt, I've liked having all this free time, I'll admit it. If I'm going to quit, I want to take one last big gob of it with me on my way out the door. It may be selfish, but if I was a real bastard, I wouldn't quit at all.

Second, I want to give something back to this audience whom I've fed off for three years. Ideally I'd like to reveal the gruesome truth and force them all to stop doing crosswords; but they're basically good, honest people and how they choose to spend their time is their business. Some of these folks will get money-appropriate, since that's the lure that got me in this mess in the first place -- and lots more will win Pepsi products. It's not much, but at least I'll be giving them back something.

Third, I don't want to leave things as they were when I found them. I want to shake United Media Services up some, do a little damage -- give the crossword industry what it deserves.

After a lot of work, I finish my masterpiece. My swan song. And believe me, it will fulfill my three goals well, provided the cat doesn't get out of the bag before it's supposed to. I turn in the puzzle and the clues at the office and rush from there to the airport, with my bags packed and ready. I have a contingency plan in case I'm found out and the police catch me before I can leave the country. I'll just stop time and run the hell away, and to them it'll look like I disappeared. The crossword contest might fail, but I am invincible.

So on a Monday morning, after weeks of promotion on TV and in print, The Great American Pepsi Crossword Challenge (yuck) appears across the nation, even in newspapers that don't regularly carry U.M.S. material. Down in the corner, in a smaller point-size than on The Daily Crossword but there nonetheless, it says "Puzzle design by Harris Abercrombie, United Media Services." And everywhere, people are finding out that this Harris Abercrombie is a pretty funny guy.

When The Great American Pepsi Crossword Challenge is correctly completed, the letters spell out two messages diagonally, one from the top left corner to the bottom right, and another going the other way. Black boxes fall in between words. Once they're pointed out to you, the messages stand out very plainly. The first one says: "CROSSWORDS ARE A WASTE OF YOUR TIME AND MINE." And the second: "STOP DOING THESE STUPID PUZZLES AND GET A LIFE."

I see Jill Meyers, and she and her sorority sisters have my puzzle spread out all over the floor, pooling their talents in the race for the half million. They'd settle for winning some of those cute Pepsi Crossword T-shirts, though. Then Jill's boyfriend walks in laughing, telling them that the puzzle has hidden words in it. Jill squeals in disbelief and fills in the messages on her copy. Cool! The crossword will be a lot easier to finish now!

I see Robert Frantz making a phone call at the office, half-concentrating on my puzzle while he's on hold. Someone just showed him the secret messages and now he's in shock. He'd like to try for that big cash prize, but he has other big cash to worry about first. Finally he gets through to his broker. Robert commands him to dump all his stock in Pepsi and in Norton Communications, which owns United Media Services. He's got no time to lose.

I see Celia Towers sitting in her room with the door shut, proudly finished with my puzzle after working on it all day. She thinks how exciting it would be if her mother would let her send it in to the contest. Then she might win and be famous. But Celia knows her mother won't do it. Her mother's watching the news in the living room. She doesn't like for Celia to watch the news because it might upset her. Celia can hear the muted voice of Tom Brokaw saying something about crossword puzzles. She cracks her door to listen, hoping her mother won't catch her, and Tom Brokaw says they've found hidden messages in the contest puzzle. Celia looks at hers and yes, they're there, spelled out in her own handwriting. Without emotion she takes the puzzle and the rest of her eleven years' worth and she puts them in the trash can. I want to look closer, to find out how angry she is, or how depressed, and see if her suffocating bitch of a mother barges in and makes things that much worse. But the connection is broken. The crosswords are gone.

I lie on the hammock outside my bungalow, taking a break from my paint-smeared easel, looking out at the wonderful, alive landscape of my new home in the Bahamas. Gulls climb up against the sea breeze and vanish. A couple on a sunset stroll get their feet splashed by the tide. Time marches on. I am satisfied with the way things worked out, but I'm not sure if all went perfect. It was viscerally gratifying, transmitting that advice to the public, but all in all I guess it was pretty silly. I think I hurt people like Celia Towers, though I never meant to. Maybe I'll find Celia's address and write her an apology. But wouldn't that be self-defeating? I wanted people to quit crossword puzzles, and she's probably one of the few who will. Mrs. Towers probably censors Celia's mail, so I'd never get through anyway. I don't know what to do. But this is real life, where you don't get all the answers by turning the page upside-down or looking at the next day's edition. I guess you have to leave a few spaces blank, and be content with it.

My name is no longer Harris Abercrombie. I used to be a crossword-puzzle vampire but I had a successful exorcism. Now I'm a fugitive from crossword-puzzle justice. And Pepsi justice, for that matter. I live on the income from my bloodsucking years, supplemented by seascapes I paint and sell to tourists. I still have a lot of that stolen time in my system, but I'm careful not to use it all. My body might be hooked on having it, and I never know when I might need it to escape from the law. And since I'm wanted, I've changed my identity. My name's Mikey. I like it.

I'm about to drop off to sleep in my swaying bed when an odd thought nudges me. Someone is filling in the contest puzzle entirely incorrectly, with a pattern of their own. I stop time and zero in to find out what's going on. I see a woman, and she's writing this message over top of my crossword:

Dear Harris -- I'll keep this short because I don't want you stealing too much of my time & thoughts. Just had to say congratulations on your Pepsi puzzle. Wish I'd been so clever when I quit. If you'd like to get in touch, I'm at 257-555-8146. Bye! -- Juliana Crawford

Hmm. Whaddaya know? This is one crossword puzzle designer who just might be worth my time.

Fancy Renerings