The Story Of Your Life (Original Short Story)

ShortStoryCovers

Author’s Preface: 

The Story of Your Life is on it’s 9th draft; beginning as a Creative Writing project my sophomore year of college, this story was nothing more than me poking fun at the rules we learned from the textbook. “A story has to be this and it has to have that but you can never do these,” et cetera. Over the years, I’d add to the story a bit and recycle some other elements for additional workshop classes until I finally got this tale about to where I think it works best. A couple years ago, my professor and friends all read this version of the story and told me it was a lot like Black Mirror. I hadn’t watched the show yet but, yeah, it has a lot of similarities with many Black Mirror-esque elements. I’d say that this story is if Stranger Than Fiction was a Black Mirror episode…and I hope you enjoy it.

The Story of Your Life

CAMERA 8 FOOTAGE FROM SAN DIEGO BAY APARTMENTS:

Erica storms out of the apartment and slams the door behind her. She quickly walks to the parking lot.

With a shaking hand, she gets in her car.

CAMERA 1 FOOTAGE FROM ERICA'S CAR:

Her hands are still shaking as she reaches for her phone.

A few minutes later, she continues to stare at her blank screen and finally tosses it into the passenger’s seat and drives off.

CAMERA 5 FOOTAGE FROM STARBUCKS EXTERIOR:

Erica’s car pulls up to the window to order a coffee.

CAMERA 2 FOOTAGE FROM ERICA'S CAR:

As she waits for her order, she finally types out and sends a message.

ERICA'S TEXT MESSAGE, COURTESY OF AT&T INC.:

I hope that dumb whore you keep texting has enough sense to stay away from you. The only person you care about is yourself. Also, fuck your bland excuses for not talking to me. Just because I can’t talk about my work doesn’t mean that you can’t ever ask how it went at the end of the day? Being in a relationship is a two-way street and you have to put in effort…you can’t pin this on me and act like it’s my fault. I’m the only one who ever tried to make this work so it’s your fault that we’ve been unhappy for so long.

CAMERA 1 FOOTAGE FROM ERICA'S CAR:

Michael Gagnon leans out of the window. “9.75, ma’am.”

Erica continues to type and hands her Visa to the barista.

ERICA'S TEXT MESSAGE, COURTESY OF AT&T INC.:

When things are going well between us, everything is great. Because of that, I’m willing to give this one more shot but you have to tell me now whether that interests you or not. I know you’re still home so text me in the next hour.

CAMERA 2 FOOTAGE FROM NARRACORP LOBBY:

Erica enters the building and takes a sip of her coffee. She burns her tongue, spits it out, and curses, dropping the cup in the process. It falls to the floor and spills her hazelnut Americano all over the carpet.

“Son of a bitch,” she mutters as she smears the drink into the floor with her shoe, hoping it will become less noticeable but staining a square-foot instead.

“God-fucking-dammit.”

She glances around to check if anybody is watching. Everybody is. She shakes her head and proceeds to the elevator. After three minutes, the elevator door opens and she steps in.

CAMERA 1 FOOTAGE FROM NARRACORP ELEVATOR 3:

Erica presses the 8th-floor button and waits for the doors to close.

A voice emerges from down the hall: “Hold the elevator!”

Erica presses the CLOSE DOOR button repeatedly while shouting “I’m trying, it’s not working!”

The door closes and Erica is alone. She sighs in relief. Looking up into this camera, she mutters “Don’t judge, it’s been a rough morning.”

The elevator stops on the second floor and two employees get in.

“-didn’t even know that the killer was right behind him!”

“Oh my god, why don’t they ever know?”

Erica steps into the corner as the two continue talking. The elevator starts to rise.

“Oh, shit, is this going up?”

Erica remains quiet. The two look at her and look back at each other.

“Umm… yeah, some characters are clueless,” one man continues.

“Right? So I made a twig snap under the killer’s feet and my character turned around just in time to run.”

“Damn, nicely done. You would’ve been screwed if he died.”

“Yeah, I know. Those updated Terms & Conditions are crazy.”

“At least we’re done for the night, I’m gonna sleep like a baby.”

The elevator stops on the 8th floor. Erica tries to squeeze between the men but they do not notice her. She clears her throat and they move out of her way. She leaves the elevator.

CAMERA 4 FOOTAGE FROM NARRACORP 8TH FLOOR:

Erica walks into the lobby and over to the main desk to check in. She looks at the sign above the desk: Romantic Comedy.

“Romance is comedy,” she tells the attendant.

“Maybe comedy is romance,” the attendant responds with a wink.

Erica stares blankly. “Christian, is there a way to change genres today? I’m thinking maybe sci-fi, fantasy, horror…genre related, none of this romance bullshit. Today is not my day.”

Christian clears his throat. “Well…yes and no. You can apply today, but the changes won’t take effect until tomorrow, I’m sorry. I can go ahead and do that for you, though.”

Erica frowns. “Alright, thanks. Let’s do that.”

“Okay, will do. Also, new software was installed today! There may be some minor glitches until the updates start to roll in but Corporate says it all should make things easier for you guys, so that’s a plus!”

“Mm.” Erica nods and walks away.

CAMERA 3 FOOTAGE FROM ERICA'S NARRACORP DESK:

Erica takes a seat in front of her computer. She reaches for something as she waits for the computer to turn on. Her hand grasps nothing but air. She rolls her eyes and curses under her breath. Her computer starts up and loads the program.

WELCOME TO THE NEW NARRA-TOR!

UPDATED TERMS AND CONDITIONS

Erica scrolls through and clicks all of the boxes at the bottom without reading any of them. She presses “accept” and glances over what she has just agreed to. She is now on the mailing list for promotional offers and has told the new program to give her tips on narrating.

“No no no no no-” she furiously presses “back” but the computer continues to load.

As the program starts, two names fade up on the screen:

Richard Johnson and Mallory Stanley.

She clicks continue and begins to read.

RICHARD’S EXPOSITORY SCENE:

            An alarm wakes Richard up. He looks at the clock, and then rolls over and sits on the side of the bed, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands rubbing his eyes. He stands up and looks back down at the bed where his girlfriend sleeps, her arms spread across the pillows and her long, brown hair draped across her naked back. Richard walks over to the bathroom and flicks on the light.

            Mallory’s voice emerges from the beneath the covers, “Can you turn off the light please or shut the door?”

            Richard clears his throat, “No, I have to get to work. You can shut the door, and then maybe get a job too.” He glances at her as she stares back at him.

She looks hurt, but her eyes show a pain that wasn’t created at this moment. She has incredible eyes with multiple colors, starting with blue and green along the outside and becoming an orangey yellow near the middle. Her irises look like the sunset; starting to rain. A tear rolls down her cheek.

            Mallory scoffs. “You know, Richard, I would love to but some other people have boyfriends who are so controlling and selfish that they don’t let their girlfriends take jobs that require them to travel! How am I supposed to use a creative arts background if I can’t go wherever I want?!”

            “Oh as if there are no jobs here! We’d never see each other if you worked away from the city,” Richard retorts. “Where would you be if you didn’t have me?” He turns around and slams the bathroom door behind him. “Happy now?!”

Richard stares, longingly, into the bathroom mirror and splashes water onto his face. He doesn’t recognize himself- at least, not the good person he once was, before working for his father’s company. The longer he stared into his own eyes, the more he saw of his father in the reflection. His peripheral vision would trick him as his features slowly morphed. “Spitting image,” everybody used to say. He takes a hand towel and puts it over his wet face. As he wipes away the water, his father disappears as well.

He walks into the closet and browses through the suits he’s collected, and inherited. He throws on a dark, slim fitted two-button and then walks to the door. He turns off the bathroom light and heads back into the bedroom. The bed is empty, Mallory is gone and the only sign of her is a handwritten note that rests on the sheets.

END RICHARD’S EXPOSITORY SCENE

CAMERA 3 FOOTAGE FROM ERICA'S DESK:

“Jesus, not today,” she mutters as she rubs her eyes. “Where’s the comedy?”

Do you accept this story?

Click YES to proceed or NO to exchange

She sits there for a moment and clicks.

YES

“I got you, Mallory. Erica to the rescue.”

A notification comes up on Erica’s computer screen:

Welcome, valued employee!

You have signed up to receive Narra-Tor tips.

For this story, keep in mind that…

  • Richard must earn the love of another character
  • You may use supporting characters to help Richard do so
  • Use callbacks and payoffs to make the story more meaningful
  • Do not drift too far from the main plotline
  • Neither the protagonist nor love interest may die

Erica clicks out of the notification, “Yeah, yeah, I know how shit this works.”

A voice comes over the wall of the cubicle, “Wadja say?”

CAMERA 4 FOOTAGE FROM NARRACORP 8TH FLOOR:

Henry Jones stands up from his desk and leans over the cubicle.

“Nothing, Henry, you must be hearing things.”

Henry presses his glasses against his face and continues to smile, folding his arms on the top of the cubicle wall. “I’m pretty sure you said something, pal. Trying to get my attention, huh?”

“Henry…” She sighs dismissively and proceeds to ignore the question.

This seems to spark even more interest in Henry as he adjusts his thick glasses. “C’mon, buddy, let’s talk.”

“Is it really worth it? This is going to be my last day on this stupid floor, I’m transferring tomorrow…”

“What?” Henry looks shocked. “That’s terrible news, I’m sorry, girl. Do you at least have a good character today?”

She glares at the screen, her face blank. “…No.”

“Watcha gonna do, kill him?” Henry giggles.

She looks back at him, “Sure, why not?”

Henry hesitates. “Um, you should really read the new Terms & Conditions, Eri, that might answer your question.”

“Yeah, yeah, it was rhetorical. But hey, it’s my last day in this department. Maybe I’ll just kill everybody.”

His jaw lowers slightly and his eyes widen. “That’s the spirit! Hold on, I’m getting a call.” Henry ducks back behind the desk and pretends to answer a phone. “Oh, hi, Mr. President! Yes, I can do that for you…”

She lets her forehead fall onto the desk and hits it repeatedly. She looks back up at the computer and clicks

COMMENCE INTERACTIVE STORY

***

Richard stands in front of his fellow businessmen, predicting how their investments and costs will track over the next quarter. Suddenly, a new look on his face says that he hears something strange, but he blinks it away as if to forget it. He casts his gaze to one side of the conference table.

“I will only say this once: stop talking, guys. You know how important this meeting is. I know it’s you, Travis. You’re maturity level has never fit your age.” Richard glares at him.

Travis’ eyes widen and he shifts uneasily in his chair. The other well-dressed businessmen gathered around the long table sit in awkwardness, waiting for Richard to continue, and hopefully finish, his business presentation. They’re eager to leave for the day.

“Seriously, stop! Whoever keeps talking will be forced to leave!” Richard glares at his associates, who all look around at each other in confusion.

“I’m sorry, the only thing you guys should be confused about is how the hell you are all working for this company when you can’t stop disappointing everybody!”

The room soaks in silence as Richard holds his finger out like a mad father scolding children. His blood pressure rises, turning his face red and forcing beads of sweat to slide down his temples.

Nobody says a word. Richard doesn’t move, but his eyes dart around the room, looking at each individual as if he was studying them for something specific. He squints his eyes, blocking out anything he isn’t hunting for as he looks at the mouths of each person to see who keeps talking. Richard gets more and more uneasy with every person he looks at, crossing them off his list, the likelihood of his insanity rising rapidly.

Richard is nervous, and it shows. He puts his finger down, hesitantly standing up straight and blinking his eyes over and over again as if hit with a sudden realization. Without saying anything else, he turns around, frantically shoving papers into his briefcase, and escapes the meeting, his two-dozen associates following him with their looks of perplexity and judgment. Richard keeps his head down as he jogs down the stairs and through the lobby, exiting the building. Sweat rains from his forehead and labored breathing pounds from his open mouth as he throws open the doors and quickly stomps onto the sidewalk.

He vocally erupts into the sky, throwing his head and hands back, “What the fuck is going on?!”

The people on the busy sidewalks of New York City, like blood cells unstoppably moving through veins, suddenly freeze to a standstill. Richard stands in the middle of everything, a magnet for dirty looks. His countenance changes to one of confusion as he looks up to the sky.

“Hello?!” he shouts upwards, unafraid of any judgmental look he may receive from anyone surrounding him. One by one, the pedestrians on the sidewalk begin to ignore him and proceed with their daily routine, Richard becoming a funny story to tell over coffee.

“Is somebody there?!” He continues to bellow.

Richard puts his hands over his ears, trying to block out the mysterious and relentless noise, but still to no avail. Richard starts to sprint through the crowd, pushing people out of his way and narrowly squeezing between them, leaving his briefcase behind. After a few blocks of furious running and dodging, he turns sharply into an alley, which offers a sudden comfort as a stark contrast to the unapologetically busy and claustrophobic sidewalks. Panting, he leans over against the cold, rough brick in an attempt to calm down and regain his breath. He looks up between the tall buildings to the sky above, still confused about what is going on in his mind.

“What is going on?!” He howls.

Richard listens for an answer, but he hears nothing. He-

“No, I can hear you just fine!”

Richard continues to roar hopelessly into the heavens, unsure exactly of who he is talking to.

“Actually, asshole, I’m talking to you!”

He yells at himself, cursing his stupidity and refusin-

“Hey!”

Hello…?

“Who are you!”

Wait…can you hear me?

“Yes, I can hear you! I’ve been trying to get your attention this entire time!”

Oh, fuck.

***

CAMERA 2 FOOTAGE FROM ERICA'S NARRACORP DESK:

“Oh fuck, oh, fuck, oh fuck fuck fuck…”

She looks around the office, presumably to see if other people are looking. Nobody notices her except for Henry.

Henry pops back up over the wall of the cubicle. “Me again!” He says with a chuckle.

Erica’s eyes continue to dart around the office. “Henry, is your computer working?”

Henry nods and smiles. “Yup, just fine! The weirdest thing today is how you’ve been acting.”

“So, like…new software…nothing weird? No bugs?”

He looks up and rubs his chin slowly. “Not that I’m aware of. Why, is yours acting strange? Should you call I.T.?”

Erica scoffs, “I.T.? Those slow bastards wouldn’t get here for a week.”

“Well, at least it’s not maintenance!” He chuckles and waits for her to do the same. He clears his throat. “Is there anything that I can do?”

“No, no, it’s fine.” She looks back at her computer and stays silent.

After a few moments, both employees continue working.

***

Holding her keys in her hand, she turns back towards the door. She reaches her arm out and grabs onto the doorknob…and waits. But for what? Richard’s approval? Affirmation? Verification? She doesn’t need to prove herself to anybody besides herself, and Richard was right: there are jobs in the city that she could get. Mallory turns away and walks towards her car.

She keeps getting e-mails about one job in the city, but they have never had any positions open. Either way, she opens up her email, scrolls through the junk, spam and FaceBook updates to find the last time she sent in her resume. It’s been almost four months. She looks out the windshield: parents getting into their cars, kids hopping on the school bus– a town that never sleeps starts its day as Mallory sits unemployed and single. At this moment, she’s nothing but untapped potential, and what better to do than to cast aside doubt and pursue dreams? She clicks “send” and tosses her phone into the passenger seat. Before she can even put the car in reverse, her email notification buzzes and the screen lights up.

Mallory’s eyebrows scrunch in confusion as she takes the phone into her hand to read the email. It’s a response from the resume: “Re: Application! …Congratulations, Mallory! A position opened up at our company that you…” she doesn’t even open the email up, excitement consumes her. Not even three minutes after breaking up with Richard and her life is already turning around. What more could this day possibly have in store? She joyously puts the car in reverse and drives off to her new office space.

***

“Hello?!”

…Hello?

Richard looks around, shocked, amazed, slightly horrified and suddenly relieved at his discovery. He is at a loss for words.

“Um… I, um… well, why… why do you keep talking to me?”

I’m not talking to you…I’m talking about you.

His eyes narrow.

“Why would you do that? How could you do that?” he wonders, half to himself.

We really shouldn’t be talking about this…

“I need to know, what is going on?”

Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on right now. It’s my last day; I just know what I have to do.

“Which is…?”

My job: to narrate you into a happy ending. Get somebody to fall in love with you…somehow.

He chuckles and tosses his hands up. “Wow, can’t believe I didn’t figure that one out! Rookie mistake, right? My last narrator would be disappointed that I didn’t catch on sooner this time…”

Dammit, Richard, you’re making this job harder than it has to be. Today has been a long day and I’m just trying to finish your story with Mallory. Okay?

Richard looks back up towards the sky, confusion consuming him.

“…How do you know about Mal?”

Look…you’re a character in a story- a romantic comedy- about you and Mallory. I’m  here to keep you two from breaking up and to get you back on the right track so that this story can be complete. Got it?

He stares upwards, expressionless. “You’re crazy.”

You’re the dude with a voice in his head and I’m the crazy one?

“I’m perfectly normal. Actually, I’m a great person and there’s nothing wrong with me. Mallory is the one that needs help.”

 

 

 

“Hey!”

I’m sorry, I’m absolutely flabbergasted at how conceited you are. You ask me to explain what’s going on and then you don’t believe it. You don’t exactly have the upper hand here, Dick. I’m a narrator. What’s to stop me from narrating a truck from falling into this alleyway?

“You can’t do that.”

You’re right, I’ve never been able to do that.

“Exactly! You ju-”

A soft creaking noise slowly starts to squeak it’s way into the alley, and quickly grows to a much louder roar. Above, a pickup truck teeters on the edge of the roof, ready to fall.

Holy shit!

“Holy shit!”

The truck leans slightly further and slides an inch towards the alleyway.

“No, no, no, don’t! Stop!”

Don’t stop? If you say so…

The truck slides a few more inches, it’s headlights now aiming down at Richard.

“Please, okay! You win! I’ll play your game!”

Welcome, valued employee!

Goddamnit, I’m sorry. One second.

You have signed up to receive Narra-Tor tips!

How do I turn this thing off?

***

CAMERA 2 FOOTAGE FROM ERICA'S NARRACORP DESK:

“How the hell do I get to Settings? And… cue.”

Henry emerges from the adjacent desk.

“You’re going to want to-”

“Found it!”

“Alrighty,” he mutters as he disappears again.

She checks her phone for any new messages, shakes her head, and puts it back into her pocket angrily. “Fuck you, too, Steven.”

She continues to type.

***

Richard is laying on the ground, a crumpled and smoking pickup truck sits just inches away from his feet as he gasps for air.

Honestly, you’re welcome for not killing you. I’m sick of people like you walking around like you own the place. I guess I’m the lucky one that gets to put you in your place…You’ll never guess what happens when I change fonts!

Author’s note: WordPress doesn’t seem to allow me to change fonts so you’ll have to use your imagination. Picture comic sans for this next paragraph, and then a chalk-y font, and Courier after that 🙂

Richard looks around at the world around him which suddenly became comic-book like. Everything is covered with a half-tone dot effect and bright colors, making everything seem two dimensional. The people walking along the street had speech bubbles and thought balloons emerging from their heads.

“What is all of this?”

Richard is thrown against the wall with a colorful BLAM!

“Ow, what the hell?!”

The color in the setting heavily saturates and the buildings around Richard turn into a preschool cartoon, as he also transforms into a more animated version of himself.

It’s time for a life lesson, Richard. You may think that you’re some kind of hero, but you should know that all villains think that they are the hero in their own mind. They all think that their cause is the most righteous but their justification is always selfish. Some of them are born villains and cannot be saved, but some of them are just lost and looking to be rescued…I’ve been doing this for a while; I know how stories go.

“You don’t kno-””

I know people like you, you’re no different.

“EXT – NEW YORK CITY – ALLEYWAY – DAY” appears overhead.

ERICA

You are not the center

of your, or anyone else’s,

universe. It’s time that you

learn this for yourself.

RICHARD

Isn’t this my story, though?

CUT TO:

Richard slowly starts to float above the ground. Inch-by-inch, he rises. He looks down and gasps, swinging his arms around to try to grab ahold of anything as the pavement drifts farther and farther away. He lifts above the building and continues to fly into the sky.

“What the hell! Stop! Help!” He screams, now hundreds of feet above the skyline. A plane materializes out of thin air and begins to approach from half a mile away.

“Oh, Christ please no…”

The plane rockets towards Richard, bursting into flames as it gets closer and closer.

“Stop! What the hell!”

Just before turning Richard to dust, the plane becomes a cloud and passes through him, leaving him cold and wet.

“Oh, thank God,” he releases a sigh of relief.

Wow, that was cool. All of that in a romantic comedy? Damn, narrators should be able to do this more often.

“Explain what just happened!” Richard screams, soaking wet, as he floats in the sky.

Fuck if I know. I wonder what else I can do…

A hundred feet in front of him, colors start to appear. A spectrum of light, sparkling in all directions. The sparks grow larger and larger, consuming more and more of the atmosphere around him. From the center, darkness emerges and expands. A wormhole materializes in front of Richard and he is thrown into it.

Richard screams and holds his hands in front of him, afraid of what is to come.

Time and space race past him at unbelievable speeds, colors that he has never even seen are now visible in the most intense and vivid fashion. Richard starts to lose consciousness as he runs out of oxygen.

WARNING: YOUR CHARACTER IS GOING TO DIE

Oh, shit, don’t die! Ahhhhhh, what do I do what do I do what do I do?

Richard is thrown backward in reverse, the same colors now inverted as he begins to return to the dimension. He reenters the atmosphere but is not breathing. Richard is lowered onto a New York City rooftop and laid down carefully.

Come on, wake up!

Suddenly, Richard coughs and gasps for air, clutching his neck in panic and jumping onto his feet.

“Jesus Christ Lord God above, forgive me!”

Just as his feet come in contact with the ground, he runs over to the stair door and clutches it hard, afraid to let go.

That’s my bad, this is new to me too. But your mythological savior had nothing to do with this, it’s me you should ask for forgiveness. And Mallory, too.

Richard struggles to regain his breath as he coughs onto the brick.

But yeah, that was close. You definitely cannot die.

“Ya think?” He waves his hands in horror.

You’re not off the hook. Consider this a warning.

“Just leave and let me live my life, okay?” Richard is on the verge of tears.

Leave you to, what? Continue destroying the lives of those around you as you slowly become your father? You are weak and selfish. My job is to change that, and Mallory just might be the one person who can look past your brash exterior and find something redeemable. I sure as hell can’t.

Richard falls to his knees, tears welling up into his eyes.

“Please…” he sobs. “Please…just leave…”

Not until you get Mallory to say ‘I love you.’

He wipes away his tears with his suit jacket. “Why does she matter so much to you?”

She is the pinnacle of your story and the saving grace for your hopes of becoming a better person. This is the entire reason that I’m here! We’re both in a lot of trouble if you don’t get your sorry ass to her and win her back!

Richard shakes his head, resting it in his hands as he finds the courage to stand up for himself. He rises to his feet and looks back up. “Sure, I have some problems but who doesn’t?” He sniffles and wipes his eyes again. “The only bad thing that has happened to me recently has been you…coming into my life and turning my world upside down. Trucks…fonts…explaining everything…who the hell cares?! You’re a stupid voice destroying my life way worse than I’ve destroyed others.”

I’m here to help you! You aren’t exactly the kind of person who seems like he’d take friendly advice or criticism, am I wrong?

“How judgmental do you have to be to have decided that I’m not worthy of living my own life? You-”

Congratulations, you entered a difficult choice in your life! Every character has one of these and yours happens to have been now, that’s not my fault! Everybody goes through these and it’s our job to make sure you all stay on the right path and don’t fuck it all up! Your future hinges on-

“Wow, all high and mighty are we? Thank God- or should I thank you that you’re here to help us all! If I’m at some difficult point in my life in which my future hangs in the balance, what if Mallory is, too? What about Mallory’s narrator?”

She might not have one right now, maybe her relationship with you isn’t as important in her story as yours is. Not everybody is at a crossroads at the same moment and nobody knows when they are. You are, though, so again…congrats, Dick.

“Yeah, lucky me. What if she is at a crossroads, and her narrator is trying to get her to fall in love with somebody else? What if you’re at a crossroads and your narrator is try-”

How dumb and conceited can you get? People don’t have narrators, characters have narrators! The characters never know that they’re being watched or narrated; that’s how stories go! There’s a huge difference between you and me and it’s that I exist.

“How do you know that you don’t have one?”

I literally just told you. I’m not a character; of course I don’t have a fucking narrator.

“You just told me that you wouldn’t know if you did, though. You’re not even living, you’re just observing other people live. You’re the puppet, I’ve had free will until you and your job entered my life. You’re less of a person than I am!”

No, no…stop trying to condesc-

“Maybe you’re at a crossroads too, ever think about that?”

Why would I have thought about that? It would be pointless, I’m. Not. A. Character.

“You wouldn’t know if you were, don’t deny this. Let’s see…it’s your last day there, your system is malfunctioning, you’re breaking all of the rules, and I’m guessing that you’re having some relationship troubles since you keep taking everything out on me. Sounds like a pretty good start to a story doesn’t it?!”

Richard stands still, staring into the sky.

***

“Mallory, I’ve got to say we’re really impressed with your resume. Your double majors in Liberal Arts and English, minors in Creative Writing and Psychology, and extensive experience in many publications and short story collections prove not only impressive but superior to all other applicants,” he marvels, peeking over his thin eyeglasses. “Look, we have a position open right now if you’d be interested in taking it, we’d love to have you.”

Mallory is at a loss for words, she can’t even remember the last time that somebody had complimented her so graciously. “Th-thank you so much, sir, I’d absolutely love to work here. I’ve never heard much about it but from the application alone, this seems like it would be right up my alley!” She laughs awkwardly.

He looks at her blankly. “Yes. Well, we like to keep things pretty quiet around here. You’ll be asked to sign a non-disclosure form as well as a few other documents for protection. After th-”

“I’m sorry, protection? Why would I need…protection?”

“Oh, my mistake,” he smiles and waves his hands. “I must have misspoken.” Mallory laughs along with him. “I meant to say our protection. We like to play our cards close to the chest.”

Mallory opens her mouth but hesitates to say anything. But hey, a job is a job and money is money. “Sounds good to me! When can I start, Mr….?”

“If you could get here around 7:30am today, that would be great.”

Mallory cocks her head to one side. “I’m sorry- today?”

“Ye-” He stops himself and laughs, “Oh, I meant to say tomorrow. Today? That would be crazy.” He continues to laugh as his cheeks turned red. “Tomorrow…with your driver’s license, social security card, passport, birth certificate, and insurance card, we’ll get everything taken care of.” He smiles and extends his arm. Mallory reaches outwards but he doesn’t shake. After an awkward moment of standing there, she realizes that his hand was not being offered to shake, but referencing the door that she entered from. Pursing her lips and nodding, she mumbles a “thank you” and walks out.

***

Erica stares into the space in front of her.

Maybe you’re at a crossroads too… The words echo through her mind. Terrifyingly humiliating thoughts plague her. …just watching other people live…

What if he’s right? She runs her hands through her hair, slowly. Resting her elbows on her knees, she sits there, motionless.

I’m not being narrated, I can’t be. I know the world I live in, this is real. Theirs is not…

She looks at her phone for a response from her boyfriend… ex-boyfriend? Holding the device in her hands, she begins to type but deletes it all.

She tosses the phone on her desk with a soft thunk. Seconds turn to minutes as Erica ponders, and judges, her own life. What has she done with her life? What will she do? Are her actions her own?

I’m in charge of my own life.

With a deep breath, she begins to type…

Nothing happens.

What the hell?

She hits it a few times in hopes of manual recalibration.

Nothing… she sits there silently and takes a deep breath.

“You know, I could take a look at that computer for ya!” Henry hovers behind her.

“Ah!” Erica gasps and grabs her heart. “Jesus H, don’t scare me like that Henry!”

“Oh I’m sorry, friend, I sure didn’t mean to startle. Let me test my magic on your desktop to see if I can’t make your life a little easier, yeah?” He smiles down at her. What choice does she have?

“Okay, Henry, do what you got to do.” She rolls back and lets him access her workspace.

He gets down on his knees, level with the desk. Clicking his tongue, he scrolls over her tabs and minimizes them. “Let’s see…”

Erica sits there. She waits. Her eyes move around the office. She blows a raspberry.

“Richard Johnson…interesting name,” Henry mumbles and looks back at Erica. When he sees that she’s looking back, he avoids eye contact and goes back to working on the desktop. Henry laughs suddenly. “Hey Erica, guess what.”

Erica raises an eyebrow and stares at him silently.

He looks back eagerly, a large smile spread across his face. He waits for her to respond. They stare at each other for 10 long seconds before he gives up on her response. “Well, what I was gonna say was that I think I know what the H in ‘Jesus H’ stands for…”

She rolls her eyes.

“It’s ‘Henry!’” He guffaws. “Because I’m so helpful with your computer, I’m like a miracle worker! Maybe one day they’ll say Henry J. Jones, J for Jesus.” Smiling helplessly, he turns back to the computer and continues to work. “It’s actually J for John but we don’t have to tell anyone.” Henry continues, “You know, we’re not supposed to talk about our characters but we’re so close of friends that I think we can bend the rules a little bit. My character today reminds me a lot about you, hopeless romantic, lost love kinda deal.”

“Henry that doesn’t sound like me at all.”

“Well, she reminds me of you because she’s trying to move on from dating some guy that isn’t good enough for her. Right?”

Erica is surprised, Henry seems like he knows her a little better than she thought he did. “Actually, yeah. Wh-what else do you know about this girl?”

Henry hits a few more keys and celebrates with a “Huzzah! Your computer should be working fine now, I actually don’t see any problems with it at all but I cleared out your cookies, cache, history, spam, and installed an adblocker so you won’t have to worry about any of those Tips anymore.”

“Wow, thank you. I really appreciate your help with this, Henry.” Pleasantly astonished, she rolls her chair back towards her desk as Henry pats her on the shoulder.

All of a sudden, her phone lights up and rings. They both look down at the screen: Steven Marshall. Erica grabs it off of the desk and habitually presses her finger to the screen on the “Answer Call” button without thinking. After a moment, a soft “Hello?” emerges from the speaker, but Erica doesn’t say anything back. “Hello?” again. “Erica, you there?” She hangs up on him and sets the phone back down.

“Who was that?” Henry asks.

“My boyf-” Erica tilts her head. “Ex-boyfriend. I just broke up with him.”

Henry nods and lets a half-smile leak onto his lips. He walks around to his cubicle.

Erica stands up. “Oh, about that girl?”

Henry stops and leans over the cubicle wall. “You know… I’ll tell you at the end of the day, maybe we could go out for a drink?”

Erica thinks for a moment and sits back down. “Sure, I’d be okay with that. Don’t forget to tell me that story, though, I can’t wait to hear about it!”

Henry smiles, “You got it, buddy,” and disappears back down to his desk.

Erica can’t believe what she’s feeling: freedom. Freedom to do what she wants and not worry about what anybody else thinks about her. She doesn’t need Steven to be there for her all of the time– she doesn’t need Steven to be there at all. Henry’s loved her since day one, that much has been obvious. With a smile, she continues to write.

***

CAMERA 1 FOOTAGE FROM 20TH FLOOR: NARRACORP HQ LOBBY

Ed Cooper raises his hand to know on the door when Mallory Jones walks out.

“Oh, excuse me, I’m sorry,” she says with a half-hearted smile.

Ed nods and moves to the side.

She passes as he walks into the office.

ERROR: NO CAMERA INSIDE HQ OFFICE

CAMERA 1 AUDIO FROM 20TH FLOOR: NARRACORP HQ LOBBY

Sir, we have a problem.

What is it?

It seems as though an employee found an error in our new software update. She’s communicating with her character…

How is this possible?

She’s transferring to science fiction tomorrow, the Narra-Tor system is mixing her genres together while the process takes place. With the software update, no firewalls have been installed to prevent this.

We have to stop this. Does anybody else know about it?

I think it’s contained thus far, but there are real-world consequences.

Get security down there now! We can’t afford to have the public find out about what we do.

Sir, if you could explain to me how she’s actually affecting the real world, I might be able to help more…

This is way above your paygrade son, just worry about that employee and stopping her!

Yes, sir.

CAMERA 1 FOOTAGE FROM 20TH FLOOR: NARRACORP HQ LOBBY

Ed Cooper opens the door and runs to the elevator. As he waits for the elevator door to open, he pulls out his radio and whispers “Security to 8th Floor, subtle and silent.” The elevator begins to rise from the ground floor.

***

Alright… let’s do this.

“Hey, welcome back. Lucky me.”

Richard, I don’t have all of the answers. I’m just a person trying to live my life and this happens to be my job. Maybe you’re right. Maybe weird things are happening and the two of us are caught in the middle of it. I don’t know you, I’ve just been using you as a punching bag imagining it’s my ex and I haven’t given you fair judgment. Let’s start fresh, shall we?

“Apology half-accepted. So what now?”

What I’m saying is that we have to get through this together, as a team. Then, we can both be done with this. If what you say is true, maybe fixing your story is the end of mine as well.

“I mean…yeah, I wanted this to be over before it began.”

Are you ready for this? Let’s create an ending to this weird little journey.

“Cool,” Richard stays silent for a few moments. “How are we gonna fix all of this? Can you use your superpowers?”

I…I can’t promise anything. This software is completely malfunctioning, I don’t have much control over it anymore. I’m still an omniscient narrator but I’m not a god or anything…

“So, you can read other people’s minds too?”

Wait, we’re in the middle of this important and emotional moment and you think about nothing but sex?

“What but I haven’t even asked- oh, yeah, mind-reading…”

I’m not going to abuse my omniscient abilities by helping you seduce women, absolutely not. Jesus, what are you 12? What is with you men?

“But you can read their minds, and you can tell me what they’re thinking so that I can make them fall in love with me. You want Mallory to be free of me, and you want me to find love. That sounds like a win-win situation. Just le-”

That’s not at all what I said. Were you even listening?

“I was at first but you lost me. Too much explaining, kinda bored me, to be honest.”

You’re irredeemable.

A sudden scream coming from around the corner into the alley interrupts Richard. The scream is short as if silenced abruptly. Richard turns around from behind the dumpster to see. A woman rounds the corner sharply, followed closely by another figure. Richard takes a step back as to not get seen.

The woman is pushed up against a wall by a large, hooded man. His hand covers her mouth and a silver object is being held near her stomach, shining. The woman’s eyes are wide, full of fear. She whimpers alarmingly, but her cries are muffled by the man’s hand.

“Don’t you dare make a sound,” the man grunts.

Richard, you should save her. Give yourself some character, why don’t ya?

Richard grimaces, disgusted. “Yeah, right. Get blood on my suit?”

What the hell? Here, I’ll help…

The dumpster starts vibrating and screeches across the stone ground to the other side of the alley, leaving Richard crouching on the ground with nothing to hide him from the thug. The man and the woman stare at him, confused looks on their faces.

“Goddamnit,” Richard mutters. “You owe me a suit.” He rolls his eyes and stands tall. “Hey! Get away from her!”

The man turns towards Richard, taking his hand away from the woman’s mouth. She stands against the wall, too petrified to move or make a noise. The tall man takes a step towards Richard. His pants have holes in the knees, the kind you get from fighting or falling on the ground too often. His shirt has stains going up the torso, leading up to his neckline. He has a bushy goatee, the rest of his face was poorly shaven, which left a dirty appearance on his cheeks. His gray eyes are tired, desperate and furious.

“Fight or flight, little man,” he growls, pointing his blade towards Richard.

He takes another step forward.

“Well, you’re in trouble, because I can’t fly,” jokes Richard.

Richard looks up and whispered, “That wasn’t supposed to be a joke.”

Trust me, Richard, I did you a favor there. Not that whoever is going to read this story is going to care about your intellect.

“Shut up,” Richard and the stranger say simultaneously.

The man takes a step towards Richard, closing the distance to just a few feet. “Who are you talking to?” he demands.

“I’m talking to you, while you’re still conscious enough to listen!”

A spark is ignited, “That’s it, motherfucker, you’re done!” Blade first, he leaps forward. Richard leans to the side, barely dodging the knife as it passes his cheek. For a brief moment, the stranger’s arm is outstretched next to Richard with his back facing him. Richard takes his fist and thrusts it hard into the back of the man’s elbow, hyperextending the arm. Bone pierces through skin and blood spurts from the wound. The man cries out in pain and bends over, clutching his injury.  Richard leans down, pries the knife from the man’s hand and holds it above his head. He swings down hard, hitting his opponent’s skull with the butt of the knife, causing the now unconscious body to fall to the ground like a ragdoll.

You’re welcome.

Richard looks over to where the woman stands as she continues to shake in fear, clutching the brick. He slowly walks towards her; she doesn’t know if she can trust him.

“It’s okay,” Richard promises, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Okay, Richard, let’s see how well your brilliant idea is going to work. She is thinking that you’re just as bad as he is because you’re walking towards her slowly with a knife…you should probably drop it.

“I promise, everything’s okay,” he assures as he throws the knife away.

The woman seems relieved, slowly shrinking away from the wall, color returning to her face. She has brown hair which flows down past her shoulders. As Richard approaches, more of her features become visible, such as her incredible eyes with multiple colors, starting with blue and green along the outside and becoming an orangey, yellow near the middle. They look like the sunset.

“Hello, beautiful.” Richard attempts to act suave as he takes another step towards her. “How lucky are we to have crossed paths today?”

Creepy, dude. Is that how you flirt?

The woman blushes and tucks her hair behind her ears, flattered. “Saving lives and giving compliments, is that your gimmick?” She laughs, surprisingly comfortable with this strange alley man.

Tell her that taking care of people is what you live for.

“Taking care of people is the thing that I wake up every morning wishing I can do,” he persuades. “It’s what I live for.”

The woman gives Richard a funny look as if she has always been looking for somebody who would say that exact thing to her.

Tell her that sometimes, one must sacrifice himself in order to make the world a better place; even if it means hurting somebody else.

“I mean, I didn’t want to hurt the man, but sometimes you have to hurt somebody to protect somebody else,” Richard explained, perfectly getting the admiration and respect from the beautiful woman.

“I’m sorry, what’s your name?” she asks, intrigued.

“Richard,” he replies, “and if you ever need saving again, you should give me a call and I can come take care of you.”

The woman chuckles, not believing that Richard perfectly represents the man she is looking for in life.

“Okay,” she decides, “let me give you my phone number.” The woman smiles again.

Richard pulls out his phone and waits for her to talk.

Suddenly, the woman turns to dust, disappearing as if she were never there.

***

CAMERA 1 FOOTAGE FROM NARRACORP ELEVATOR 3:

The doors open on the 20th floor and Ed Cooper enters. Five other men in suits line the perimeter of the elevator. Ed presses the 8 button and the doors close.

“Guys, we have one job right now: stop Erica Ambrose before it’s too late.”

One man nods. “How much time do we have?”

Ed looks at the floor number (18…17…) and then turns to him. “I don’t know, not much. We have to get to her before her character finishes his story or dies. If either of those things happen, we’re in a lot more trouble than we could ever imagine.”

A few men tilt their heads. “What do you mean?”

“Even I don’t know…”

14…13…

***

Richard looks up to the sky, taken aback and saddened, “What the hell happened?! You killed her!”

No, she ran away when you fought the thug; the woman that was standing there was my little creation. Richard, the whole reason I’m here is to teach you to become a better person, you have to earn Mallory’s love. Do you think any woman would have actually hung out with a stranger after getting attacked? You didn’t deserve that girl. You didn’t even win her heart, I told you what to say and how to act. No part of what just happened would have ever actually happened in the real world. You wouldn’t have even beaten that guy up if I hadn’t narrated you to do so. That poor lady would have gotten her heart broken by you if I let her trust you. You were lying to her by saying all of the things she wanted to hear, not the things you wanted to say. Did you notice her eyes?

“Her ass?”

Her eyes.

“No, not really.”

Are you kidding? They were just like Mallory’s. God, you’re hopeless. Any other character would have understood that callback.

“I wasn’t listening. I got distracted.”

If you were a better person, she might have been yours. Captain America would be sleeping with her right now, but you’re no hero. Honestly, do you think that any woman would have actually given a strange man in an alley her phone number after almost getting stabbed? How selfish are you?

“I’d rather die than believe that the person I’ve been my whole life is the villain of a story.”

It’s ultimately your choice what happens in your story, but it has to-

“But can’t you control what happens?”

Yes, I can, but-

“Well cut that shit out. From now on, my story is my own and I control my own destiny!”

Fine, I’ll stop helping.

Richard immediately feels a sharp and brutal pain in his back. Standing behind him is the stranger, one of his arms dangling and the other holding his knife, thrust into Richard. Richard twitches, his heart penetrated by the sharp weapon. The man takes the knife out, and forcefully reinserts it. Again. And again. And again. The man drops Richard, and runs deeper into the alley, clutching his broken arm as he disappears into the darkness. Richard falls to the ground, in shock. He coughs, spitting blood from between his lips, his hands clutching his back as if trying to stop the bleeding. The blood flows faster, and faster.

Sometimes you have to sacrifice something in order to make the world a better place; even if it means hurting somebody else. I don’t want Mallory to experience what I experience in my own personal life. Bye, Dick.

He continues to bleed, only a handful of second left until he dies.

***

As Richard bleeds out, Erica leans back. She bumps into somebody behind her.

She turns around, five men in dark suits surround her.

“What the hell?”

Ed Cooper stands over her. “Erica Ambrose, stop working. Have you finished your story yet?.”

Her jaw lowers abruptly. “I mean, not really. I’m transferring.”

Ed moves her aside and steps towards the computer. He reads, only a handful of seconds left until he dies. “No, no, n-!”

A bright flash swallows the city.

***

Nothingness.

Emptiness.

Darkness.

Silence.

“Hello?!” I call into the void.

I don’t hear a response. Everything is black and blurry. I start to hear voices, faint but recognizable. It sounds like arguing. One of the voices sounds very familiar…

Shapes and colors start to become crisp. I’m in an apartment, standing in a doorway. There is a woman in a bed in front of me.

“You know, Richard, I would love to but some other people have boyfriends who are so controlling and selfish that they don’t let their girlfriends take jobs that are out of the city!”

Mallory…? Is she yelling at me? Where’s Richard? I don’t say anything.

She sighs exasperatedly. “Why do you always do this? You only hear what you want to hear and you never listen to what I have to say!”

She’s talking to me…oh, dear…I have to finish this story. I wait a moment, staring at her hurt face, feeling nothing but sorrow for her. “Mallory, you’re absolutely right.”

“Shut u– wait, what?”

I take a step towards her. “The only person I seem to care about is myself. Being in a relationship is a two way street and I have to put in effort; I can’t pin this on you and act like it’s your fault. You’re the only one who has ever tried to make this work, so it’s my fault that we’ve been unhappy for so long. It’s time for me to change.”

She blinks in confusion, awestruck and in disbelief. She sits there in silence, looking for the right words to say, but can’t seem to figure it out.

“It’s okay,” I assure her. “I’m going to be better.”

Her eyebrows furrow and she tilts her head.

I continue, “If you’re willing to forgive me, I think we can make a happy ending out of this love story.”

She remains silent. “You know…I can’t believe what an asshole you are. Do you think some stupid fake emotions are going to win me back?.” She gets out of bed and hands me a note. “Here, I wrote this last night. We both know we weren’t meant to be.”

I hold the note in my hand. “Mallory… please try to understa-“

“Don’t you dare try to lecture me again. All you can ever do is belittle and demean, and our love story has been over for a long time.” She finishes putting on her clothes and walks out, slamming the door behind her.

***

Henry finishes reading his expository scene and takes a deep breath. Thank God she left Richard, what a terrible character… Mallory sort of reminds me of-

“Yeah, yeah, I know how this works,” a familiar voice comes over the wall of his cubicle. Excited, he stands up to talk to his friend.

“Wadja say?”

“Nothing, Henry, you must be hearing things.”

Henry presses his glasses against his face and continues to smile, folding his arms on the top of the cubicle wall. “I’m pretty sure you said something, pal. Trying to get my attention, huh?”

“Henry…” Erica sighs dismissively and proceeds to ignore the question.

This seems to spark even more interest in Henry as he adjusts his thick glasses. “C’mon, buddy, let’s talk.”

“Is it really worth it? This is going to be my last day on this stupid floor, I’m transferring tomorrow…”

“What?” Henry has loved her since day one, but she’s never known about it. “That’s terrible news, I’m sorry, girl. Do you at least have a good character today?”

She glares at the screen, her face blank. “…No.”

“Watcha gonna do, kill him?” Henry giggles.

She looks back at him, “Sure, why not?”

Henry hesitates. “You should really read the updated Terms & Conditions, Eri, they say that if you-”

“It was rhetorical. But hey, it’s my last day in this department. Maybe I’ll just kill everybody.”

His jaw lowers slightly and his eyes widen. “that’s the spirit! Hold on, I’m getting a call.” Henry ducks back behind the desk and pretends to answer a phone. “Oh, hi, Mr. President! Yes, I can do that for you…”

After they converse, Henry finds himself back at his desk, twiddling his thumbs and thinking about his character. He strokes his chin, deep in thought. Mallory doesn’t belong with Richard, that much is clear…but how do I complete her story?

Hours later, after working on Erica’s computer, he finally starts to think of a plan…

***

“Do you have any questions?”

She doesn’t.

“Well, let’s show you to your desk!”

Christian gets up from behind the counter and escorts her into the maze of cubicles. “So what made you choose Romantic Comedy?”

Mallory laughs, “Well, what would life be without romance and comedy?”

He turns to her and chuckles. “Tell that to the person you’re replacing.”

“Not a lover, eh?” Mallory winks. “Why did she quit?”

“Well, she was here yesterday, but her name isn’t in the system anymore. The same thing happened with another employee who worked near her.” He shrugs, “Pity that they aren’t here to try out the new software, though. It was just installed this morning and it’s supposed to be pretty great!”

“Oh…that’s sad. Hopefully, we’ll find out what happened to her soon.”

Christian nods. “And here is your desk!” He gestured towards the empty chair. “If you have any questions, feel free to ask me or any of your coworkers or me. Good luck, and welcome to the NarraCorp family!”

Mallory smiles and takes a seat. She knows exactly what to do, but she isn’t sure how. Out of curiosity, she stands up to see who’s going to be working across from her. Across the cubicle wall, a man leans towards his desktop.

“Hi,” Mallory smiles. “What’s your name?”

The man looks up, “I’m sorry, today’s my first day, I’m trying to learn all of this. It’s pretty difficult.”

Mallory raises her eyebrows, “Okay, sure, no problem buddy. Let me know if you need any help!”

She sits back down and opens up her phone. A new text message from Richard: “Any chance we could talk later? I miss you and need to make it up to you, you deserve much better than the person I’ve been. I promise I’m a completely different person now <3”

Mallory’s heart skips a beat. She holds the phone in her hands, thumbs hovering over the buttons and types out a new message.

***

Erica sits in Richard’s apartment…in Richard’s story…in Richard’s body…waiting for any sign, idea or hint of what to do now. If I don’t get somebody to fall in love with me…what’s going to happen? Am I stuck here forever?

He checks Richard’s phone to see if Mallory has responded. The screen lights up with a new text.

Mallory: Hiyya, gal! You’ll never guess who this is! 🙂 😉 ❤

Richard stares at the phone for a moment, lets out light laughter of disbelief and runs his hands through his much shorter hair. There’s no way…

He begins to type: Omg…Henry??

Mallory: Ding ding ding! Lucky me! How’s your day? 🙂

Richard: Hold on, how the hell is this possible? How did you know this was me? What’s going on?

Mallory: Remember that woman that you reminded me of…?

Richard ponders this for a brief moment, and his eyes widen. No fucking way.

Richard: Mallory was your character this whole time?!

Mallory: Yeah, I sort of put two and two together when I was working on your computer! Richard was a terrible character and I saw that you weren’t going to finish his story. When I heard what happened to you, I knew exactly what was going on. So, I thought that finishing Mallory’s story with you in Richard’s body might not end up saving you, so I decided not to finish her story so that we could work together and end this thing once and for all!

Richard: You’re a genius, Henry…I would never have pieced that together

Mallory: Henry Jesus Jones to the rescue! 😉

Richard laughs, tears of joy and amazement fill his eyes.

Richard: So you’re in this story too?

Mallory: Yes..this part is going to be a little hard to explain…remember how Mallory left Richard? A note and then poof?

Richard: Yeah, that was just an hour ago or so

Mallory: Soooo, I, as Mallory, am at NarraCorp and am working at your desk now.

Richard: Wait wtf? How is there a NarraCorp in this story?

Mallory: Apparently Mallory has been trying to apply to NarraCorp…or NarraCorp has been trying to get Mallory to apply? It seems they’re one step ahead of us.

Richard: So NarraCorp is in this story and our real world…

Mallory: Actually, I have an even crazier idea: you know those updated terms and conditions?

Richard: No, who reads those?

Mallory: Well… the rules used to state that if you fail to complete a story, the editors in HQ would fix it, but NarraCorp doesn’t want to spend money on them to do so. Now, we become the characters and live their lives until the story is complete, via I guess?

Richard: There’s no way, that’s not possible. We can’t be thrown into some make-believe story.

Mallory: I have an even crazier notion: there’s never been a “story.” Maybe NarraCorp is a Big Brother agency that controls people, the characters that we thought were only in stories are actually real people and we’re all being manipulated by the Corporation 😦 I think you’re the cause of and key to all of this

Richard takes a minute to process this information. This story just keeps getting weirder and weirder. How is this thing gonna end?

Richard: So Mallory and Richard are real people? What does that make us?

Mallory: People can drive themselves crazy asking a question like that. What is anybody?

Richard: Are we people, or are we characters…? Pawns? Narrators? Dictators? This is all so much…

Mallory: You are whatever you want to be, Erica. We’re all characters in a way, but we’re all people first and foremost. Maybe we don’t have as much control as we thought, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have any, right? All we have to do is make the best of any situation we find ourselves in.

Richard: Henry, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m so happy we’re friends.

Mallory: No offense taken! but you better believe it, girl! Talk about a plot twist 😛

Richard: LOL alright, let’s finish this thing. What do we do? What are our stories?

Mallory: Well, you became Richard in order to finish his story and I became Mallory in order to finish hers. So, that’s what we have to do. As for our own stories, I don’t think we need to worry about those until we get this thing sorted out.

Richard: So Mallory has to tell Richard that she loves him and we’re done!

Richard waits for a response, but no new texts come through. He sits there silently, wondering what could be taking so long.

Richard: You there, Henry?

Mallory: Yeah, I’m here. All I have to do is say those words and you’re saved!

Richard: I think so… home free for both of us!

Mallory: …where should we meet up?

Richard: Let’s go for the poetic justice approach and meet at NarraCorp, you can get me in, right?

Mallory: LOL you got it, let’s make it happen. Meet me at the front door in 30 and I’ll walk you in

Richard: you’re the best, Henry

Mallory: anything for you, Erica 🙂

Richard puts his phone in his suit pocket and finishes tightening his tie. Looking in the mirror, he sees Richard, but the longer he stares, the more he sees of Erica as well. Maybe we’re not so different, you and I. He chuckles and rolls his eyes at how ridiculous this has all gotten. What are the odds… He turns away and gets ready to leave.

***

Mallory sits at Erica’s desk and waits for Richard to arrive. She stands up and checks on Mark to see how he’s doing. He’s fast asleep. This guy won’t last long, Mallory chuckles and walks towards the elevators. She knows the stakes of her task, and she’s up for it. She presses the DOWN button and waits for the doors to open. The door dings and she walks in.

As the doors close a voice calls “hold the door!”

She does.

“Thank you so much, very kind of you.” The man said as he walks in. “What a day, eh? Got a good character?”

Mallory smiles, “Actually…I haven’t checked to see what character I have yet. It’s my first day and I just got here an hour ago, still trying to figure it all out. What floor?”

“Oh, ground floor, heading home for the day. Finished my story already, some love is just easier than others right?” He laughs and tosses his hands up in a “what do you know?” fashion.

“Very true, some things are meant to be! Really makes this job exciting, and challenging.” She presses the G button as the man raises an eyebrow. “…I’d guess. First day, I don’t know anything yet.”

“Ah, yes. Why did you choose romcom over the other genres? A lot of people like sci-fi/fantasy because the rules can often be bent but romcoms can be hard to narrate.”

“Yeah, good question. My philosophy is…What is life without romance and comedy?” Mallory shrugs her shoulders. …and irony and sacrifice… “Maybe we can learn a thing or two about these characters, maybe even improve our own lives.”

The man chuckles softly, “I mean, maybe. These aren’t real people, though, so I think that when we narrate, we don’t learn much since we only apply what we already know to the story. The narrator controls the story and for the most part the reader just reads what we come up with.”

Mallory stands there, unsure of how to respond. Just yesterday, Henry had that same mindset but today has changed everything for her. Now, as Mallory, she knows so much more. “Is that true, though? How do we know these aren’t real people, and that we aren’t affecting real lives? Maybe life is just what we make of it everyday, whether or not we know if we’re actually in charge of our own actions.”

The man stares at Mallory, confused. “Sure…” He clears his throat and blinks. Standing up straight, he turns away and faces the door.

Mallory smiles, The truth can be scary.

The door dings as it stops on the ground floor. Mallory gestures for the man to go first but he’s already halfway out the door by that time. Mallory exits the elevator and sees Richard standing in the lobby, next to a coffee stain on the floor.

They both smile and walk towards each other. Even in Richard Johnson’s body, Erica has such an angelic way of carrying herself. Good golly. “Hey, there…Mr. Penis Weiner!”

Richard laughs loudly. “It’s such a pleasure to see you,” they chuckle at their inside joke and embrace. “I can’t believe this all worked out for both of us. It’s amazing and hard to believe.”

Mallory stands there smiling at Richard. “Well…are you ready?”

“Oh, I’ve only been in this guy’s shoes for one morning and I’m already sick of it!”

“Yeah, he doesn’t seem like that great of a person. How could Mallory have ever loved him?”

“You’re telling me… And your job was to get her to love him again? That’s crazy!’

Mallory stands there silently, pursing her lips. “I have no idea how I would be able to do that…good thing my job was to get her to fall in love with somebody else and leave Richard for good.”

Richard takes a step backwards. “No, what are you talking about? That can’t be true.”

Mallory cracks a half smile. “This isn’t my story, Erica. It’s all about you.”

“No, no, no, don’t do this. You’ll be stuck in this body for who knows how long!”

A soft chuckle escapes Mallory’s lips. “I’ve never really been one that attracts a lot of attention, this change could be good for me. Besides, once Mallory falls in love with somebody else, I’ll go back to being little old Henry…I don’t want that. Maybe this is the happy ending I need.”

Richard looks down, saddened. His eyes fill with tears as he realizes what’s happening. “Henry…”

“Richard…”

Richard sniffles and looks back up.

“…Erica…”

Richard shakes his head as a tear rolls down his cheek.

“…I love you…”

A bright flash swallows the room.

***

“Do you have any questions?”

She didn’t.

“Well, let’s show you to your desk!”

Christian gets up from behind the counter and escorts her into the maze of cubicles. “So what made you choose Romantic Comedy?”

Mallory laughs, “Well, what would life be without romance and comedy?”

He turns to her and chuckles. “Tell that to the person you’ll be working across from.”

“Not a lover, eh?” Mallory winks. “Why does she work here?

“Well, she’s transferring tomorrow. Today is her last day here.”

Mallory takes a deep breath.

“And here is your desk!” He gestures towards the empty chair. “We just installed new software today so it might be a little confusing but if you have any questions, feel free to ask me or any of your coworkers. Good luck, and welcome to the NarraCorp family!”

Mallory nods and slowly walks towards the desk. After standing there speechless, looks over the cubicle wall.

“Hi,” Mallory smiles. “I guess we’ll be working across from each other from now on.”

“Oh, hi,” Erica says. “I’m sorry, it’s been a long day.”

“Already? It’s still the morning, hon.”

“Right? My boyfriend’s being a dick, I spilled coffee and got a terrible character. What kind of a name is Richard Johnson? Things aren’t looking up so far.”

Mallory nods, “Woman to woman, I think you should just leave your boyfriend and move on. You’re amazing and you deserve somebody else.”

Erica’s brows furrow and she chuckles. “Wow, what makes you think that?”

“I just know it in my heart,” Mallory smiles, folding her arms on the cubicle wall.

“What’s your name?”

Mallory stands still, Saying either “Mallory” or “Henry” would both be hard to explain. “Well, it sure isn’t Richard Johnson. My parents loved me a little more than that!”

Erica chuckles. “You’re funny. I’m a little sad I’m transferring, it would be nice to work next to you.”

Her cheeks turn red. “I’m a little sad, too. But still, today will be a good day!”

“You’ll be the highlight! I don’t know how I’m going to fix my character’s love life, though, he seems like a real piece of shit.”

Mallory quickly raises a hand. “Actually, have you accepted the story yet? Can you still exchange it for a different one?”

Erica is caught off guard. “Umm…I can still exchange it, yeah. Why, though?” She scratches her head while she waits for a response.

Mallory looks around the room a good reason and then back down at Erica. The truth is a bad option, but honesty isn’t. “I think that you’ve already had a rough day, spending some time with Richard Johnson might not be the thing you need. I’d look for something heartwarming, not stressful.”

This surprises Erica even more, she leans back in her chair relieved and satisfied. “Wow, Mallory, that’s exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you. I don’t know why I didn’t have it in me to do that myself.”

“Perhaps you see some of yourself in that romantic relationship and were trying to prove that it could still work out when you just need to let it go?”

Erica blinks in confusion. Her jaw slightly lowers as she gasps silently. “How could you…”

“Another gut feeling, no big deal.” Mallory smiles and shrugs her shoulders modestly.

A loss for words consumes her, speechlessness wouldn’t even be close to describing it. “Well fuck,” she chuckles. “I might not transfer after all…I think you’re exactly what I needed today, Mallory. Hell, I love you already!”

Mallory’s cheeks turn red. “I lo-” but she doesn’t finish the sentence. She knows what will happen if she does: Mallory’s story will be complete. And what’s Henry to do after that? Go back to being Henry? No. Less than a few hours in these shoes and she already feels more respected, desired, and loved.. Why change that? “I’m gonna love working next to ya, pal!”

Erica smiles, but then her smile fades. Mallory’s diction, how she uses informal pronouns as punctuation, and how she seems to know so much about her after just a few minutes of talking… “Are you friends with the man who used to work at that desk?”

Mallory’s eyebrows raise in awareness, embarrassment, and slight guilt. “…No, why?”

“No reason, you just remind me of him a little. Thought you two might be related, or friends or something. Nevermind,” Erica waves away the idea as she smiles up at Mallory. “Wow, has anyone ever told you how amazing your eyes are?”

Mallory laughs awkwardly, “I hear it from time to time.” She scratches the back of her neck. “Shame I never met Henry, he sounds like he was a pretty cool cat. I’d love to hear about him but I’ll let you get back to work!” With a smile and a nod, she disappears over the cubicle wall.

Erica remains sitting, but the idea doesn’t leave her mind. I never said his name… She clicks her tongue as her eyes narrow. Looking back at her computer, her mouse hovers over the two options.

YES / NO

She looks back at the cubicle wall…smiles…and clicks.

 

 

The next story in this collection, To the Depths, will be published in a month!

 

To the Depths is a psychological horror in which a pregnant mother is in a car crash with her husband, and they both wake up in the hospital. After the husband dies in the bed next to her, Emily starts to question everything she’s seeing; the past, present, and future all seem like lies. I’d describe To the Depths as James Wan’s Saw meets Stephen King’s 1408: it’s going to be nuts. Here is a first-draft version of the Prologue (basically all I’ve written so far)…

~Prologue~

In the middle of the night, a soft touch wakes her up.

“Mommy, I’m scared.”

“Everything’s okay honey, go back to sleep.”

“Can you tuck me back in?”

She rubs her eyes. “Yeah, of course.” She gets out of bed and holds the girl’s hand as they enter the hallway. “What are you afraid of?”

“There’s a monster in this house.”

“A monster?”

“He’s still in here. Mommy, I’m scared.”

“It’s okay, there’s nothing to be afraid of”

They enter the little girl’s bedroom and she climbs into bed.

“Mom?”

“What is it, sweetie?”

“Don’t go into the light.”

“What?”

Everything becomes bright.

From outside the window, light begins to pour into the room.

Headlights, it looks like. She squints and peeks out through the blinds. The light has no source, as if the window itself was a flashlight. The light grows brighter. She backs away from the window and heads out of the room. The living room was flooded with blinding light, light so bright that she could barely stand to have her eyes open. The light grew brighter, and brighter. Even with her eyes closed now, it seems as though the light is too much to handle.

“Mommy!” The girl screams. “Mommy, help!”

“Uh…” Emily hesitates. “Hold on!”

She tries to open her eyes but in doing so, everything becomes black.

“Mommy, no!” The little girl lets out one final scream before silence swallows the house.

“Baby?”

No response.

“Honey, are you okay?”

Emily fumbles around in the dark, using the walls to guide her back into the child’s room. She carefully walks down the hallway, feeling for familiar objects. Everything feels strange. The walls feel old, as if the wallpaper is barely holding on to the surface.

The gets to the end of the hallway and calls out. “Baby?!”

She reaches her arm into the room, and in doing so, feels something strange.

Water, like an ice-cold bath, filling the room.

She reaches for the lightswitch as her hand begins to freeze.

As the light comes on, she realizes that she can see once more.

She sees blue.

Everything is blue.

As her eyes adjust, she notices that the girl’s room is what’s making everything so blue, with water up to the ceiling. In front of her, a wall of liquid that somehow is maintaining the shape of the room.

Inside, the little girl. Hanging by her feet from the ceiling. She appears to be screaming for help, bubbles escaping her lips.

Emily gasps and tries to enter the room. She places one foot inside the wall of water, instantly sending chills up her leg. She reaches both of her hands into the doorway to hoist herself in. After taking a deep breath, she immersed herself in the ice bath.

Being able to walk on the floor is the first thing she notices, even though there is great resistance for her to swim through. As she makes her way over to the little girl, Emily realizes that bubbles no longer escape the girl’s lips. Emily makes the mistake of gasping once more, and sends waves of icy liquid into her lungs. With one hand, she clutches her throat, and with the other, reaches for the girl’s outstretched arm. As soon as she makes contact with her skin, the girl bursts. Red liquid explodes from the girl like an ink cloud from a squid, quickly devouring the peaceful blue. Only seconds later, the water in the room floods into the hallway, allowing the room to fill up with air.

The moment the water was below Emily’s mouth, she began to cough uncontrollably. More than half of her face was wet from the blood. The other half, tears. Sobbing and coughing as the water lowered itself to the floor, she collapsed to the ground.

PartII

 

Original Short Stories

Blake Carson Schwarz View All →

Indiana University graduate in Media and Creative Writing. I love to write my own stories as well as experience the work of others. On this site, I post reviews, essays, and other fun posts that I hope you have as much fun reading and I have writing. Please share any comments you have, I’d be happy to hear what you think!

*Never a critic, always a fan*

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