Once upon a time there was a man who, any of his friends or family would say, was pretty normal. He was an average student in school and while he was there he went out with a girl for three years. Their relationship became more and more turbulent as time went on and they were broken up as often as they were together. They were together when he went away to college, but as soon as he was gone he cut off all communication with her. It was a selfish and immature thing to do but after a while he felt like he couldn’t talk to her ever again. She would ask all of his friends how he was getting on but he never even spoke of her.
Financial restraints forced him to drop out of college and he began working in the deli of a supermarket. He spent his days working with vacuum packed meats and 5 litre jars of condiments. When he was twenty he bought a second hand motorcycle and rode it as often as he could, within a year he had sold it and bought a somewhat reliable car. He took night courses once a week and soon took a job as an assistant manager in another supermarket.
Now in his twenties, in a new job and renting a small house an hour from where he worked he became strangely depressed for a few months. It had been building for a while. He wasn’t sure he wanted to work selling milk and bread the rest of his life. He was in a huge amount of debt, and he had no neighbours. The house he was in was at the bottom of a long side road off the main road into town and there were no houses nearby. It was just himself and his dog, Remmie. He could not hear any traffic from the house and his dog never made a noise, he never barked or growled despite the fact that they were surrounded by nature. No birds or small animals ever came near the house.
After a while the man got it into his head that the house was haunted and slept in his car for two nights before moving back to town and in with his mum.
One night while she was away he let the dog out without tying him up. He drank most of a bottle of vodka and stared into the oven. There was no sound. Nothing either side of him existed. There was only the oven with is square, black opening. Eventually, after an unknown amount of time, he started to hear the TV, which had been on the whole time. He decided to go and find Remmie. He walked out his front door and crossed the street. He was hit by a taxi coming back into town. It caught him above the knees and he could feel his legs twist uncomfortably. He threw his hands up to his face, and became aware of what was happening. His eyes narrowed and he saw the dark figure of a man behind the windshield, arms braced against the steering wheel. His chest and head met with the bonnet and he bounced off. He could hear cracking glass and the taste of vodka in his mouth was replaced by hot bile. His body turned in the air and the tarmac hurt him as he landed. He felt he could not breathe. He did not know if he was drunk or seriously hurt. No part moved the way he wanted it to. His vision was blurred.
Next he was back in his old house. Furniture gone, the way he left it when he ran from the imagined spectres. His arms and legs were fine and he realised he might be dreaming. As soon as this thought entered his head he began floating upwards, he floated through the ceiling and was in a room he did not recognise. In the corner was a man sitting at a table. He was intently typing something on a laptop. Whatever he was typing must have been interesting because he rarely stopped. He would pause every now and then for less than a second but mostly it seemed to be one quick, stream of thought.
He was closer now, floating right above the second man’s shoulder. He could see a little of what he was writing. It appeared to be a story of some sort. He read a line from the middle of the page Next he was back in his old house. Furniture gone, the way he left it when he ran from the imagined spectres. He was taken aback. He read more and realised that the story was about what had happened to him. As he read to the bottom he read about himself reading the story.
“What are you writing?” he asked aloud.
The writer stopped writing. He turned slowly to face the man. The writer had short, messy hair, a neat beard and glasses. The writer, however, saw nothing at all as he had not described what the first man looked like yet. Floating in the air, eyes and a nose appeared. Thin lips on a very pale face. Similar hair to the writer, but much darker. The head sat on a khaki jacket and faded red t-shirt, jeans and old worn boots.
“What are you writing?” he asked again. His voice sounded unsure.
“What is your name?” asked the writer.
“It’s… it is…” He knew his own name. Of course he did. Who didn’t know their own name. It was Richard. He knew his own name was Richard. But somehow it sounded wrong.
“My name is Richard” he said. As soon as the name was out of his mouth it felt strange. As if he had gotten it wrong. It felt like it was the first time he had ever said it. And yet he knew his name was Richard.
“I’m writing about you Richard” said the writer. It seemed more natural when someone else said his name.
“What about me?”
“Everything about you” the writer smiled.
“Where am I now?”
“You’re where you’ve always been, you never left.”
Richard didn’t speak for a while.
“You write what I do” he said at last, trying to get his head around the situation.
“No” said the writer “You do what I write”
Richard understood exactly what the man was saying but was horrified. He took a step back and looked around. He was back in the haunted house. Fully furnished.
“and all this…” he said
“Not real. Just a facsimile of things I’ve seen. A made up world.”
“I’m not real?”
“Was I ever real?”
“Maybe in some ways. Maybe I took your traits or your appearance from someone I know, but you are not them. You are not really real, I guess.”
“You created me?” a sadness in Richard’s voice
“I suppose. I didn’t really think you’d have so many questions.”
“You created everything?”
“Everything you see”
“So nothing is real” Richard stopped looking at the second man. He glanced around the floor, at his own feet. The writer saw he was uncomfortable. He felt bad for telling him all this in such a candid way, but then he felt a wave of apathy. Richard was not real so it didn’t matter if he was uncomfortable or sad. The apathy didn’t last and he felt guilty. He felt guilty because he was the one that created him and he created him to feel uncomfortable and sad at this moment. How could he not feel for Richard when he was standing there in front of him, head spinning, questioning his very existence.
“Some things are real, you just haven’t seen them.” The writer offered.
“Can you show me?” said Richard looking up again, and feeling very exposed standing in the middle of the floor on his own. The writer saw this and offered him a chair at the table that neither of them remembered seeing there earlier. Richard sat opposite the writer.
“Can you show me what is real?” he asked again, leaning in slightly.
The writer thought about this. He looked at the bright screen, he looked at Richard, he glanced at a picture on the wall of someone he had never seen before.
“No” he said at last. “No matter what I write, or what I show you it won’t be real. I can take you anywhere you want, I can describe it to you forever, but it wall never be real. It will still only be a crude copy of an infinitely detailed reality.”
“I see” said Richard “Have you seen the real world?”
“I believe I have”
“Is it different? Better?”
“I did my best to recreate it here” The writer gestured around the old room, paths worn in the carpet. Walls faded, curtains thin. The table was good and solid and the lines of age made for a very pleasing effect.
“Is this a real house somewhere?”
Again the writer thought
“Probably not. I think it is a compilation of similar houses I’ve been in. That picture, for example is from my granny’s house. I think it’s a relation of mine.”
Richard was looking at the computer.
“You haven’t been writing for a while” said Richard
“How come I’m able to do things you don’t write?”
“I don’t know”
“How come I still exist?” Richard turned the laptop so they could both see it
“I don’t know”
The last line on the laptop was “What are you writing?” he asked aloud.
Neither man said anything. Richards hand hovered over the keyboard.
“What if I wrote something?” He asked, his eyes lighting up for the first time.
“I don’t know” said the writer “It might happen”
Richard smiled, but the smile left him and he took his hand away. The chair he was sitting on creaked as he leant back.
“Look at the last line” said Richard
The writer read it back “What are you writing?” he asked aloud.
“So?” the writer was confused. He was biting his nails as he always did.
“That’s where the story left off. If I write something now the story might jump back and continue on from there.” Richard was getting a bit more animated.
“I see” said the writer, arms folded now to save his nails. “So if we write anything it will pick up where we left off and negate everything that happened since then?”
“It could, this reality follows the story, no?”
“Then how come we’re able to have this conversation?”
“I thought you created this, you tell me!” Richard’s eyes were bright again, but not with excitement as before, this was alarm. Richard began to think that this man did not know what he was doing. He had power over Richard and he did not know how to use it.
“It can’t send me back, I’m not part of the story”
“Of course you are.” Said Richard, voice raised “You’re sitting in front of me. I’m talking to you. This is the story!”
“No I’m…” the writer began to panic, he knew he was above the story, outside of the story, but when he looked around all he could see was the inside of Richards’s old house. A simple mesh of every old house he had ever been to. The floral wallpaper, the dust. Desks with drawers probably full of yellowing papers. A tasselled lampshade on a long thin lamp. He was part of the story too. Had he entered the story? Placed himself inside? There was another option. One that he did not want to think of. Was he himself an invention in the story. Was he fictitious also? Of course not, he was real, he had seen the real world. He could describe it in detail. But the thought remained. He was a character in a story, based on someone real, but an unreal character nonetheless. He could feel his mind being invaded. Every feeling and musing being broadcast to the world. People reading the story in another reality looking directly into his head. He imagined a brick wall, as if to stop them. He knew if he saw a brick wall, that’s what they would see also. A red brick wall, he could see the thick grey cement between each brick, dipping in slightly where the bricklayer’s finger had run along the edge to remove any excess. New solid bricks, stacked perfectly, no deviation, no windows or doors just a tall brick wall. He reached out in his mind to touch them.
The writer opened his eyes, but he was still in the room with Richard. The story on the computer screen, unfinished and missing everything about himself. He held onto the table. He knew people could see him. He knew giant people were looking down on him as they read this and could see everything about him. He could feel sweat on his temples and his face felt hot. Was he red? The giant people could see him. They knew he had actually gone pale.
“I have to write myself into the story” the writer said, swivelling the laptop back around to type.
“No. I’ll disappear!” Shouted Richard, on his feet and grabbing the back of the laptop.
“I’ll write everything the way it happened.” The writer held Richards wrist, to stop him pulling the laptop away, he was concerned it would break.
“And then what?” Richard tried to struggle free “Stop writing when you get to this point? Stop existing again? Go back and write it all again?”
“What are you writing?” he asked aloud. Richard read the last line again.
“Then I’ll write it different, I won’t let this happen”
“Then you’ll change me, I won’t be me anymore” Richard got violent, the laptop was lifted into the air, four hands clinging to it, and slammed back down on the table. The colours on the screen changed, blinked, nothing, and then came back. The writer inhaled deeply and started shouting.
“You’ll break it and kill us both. We need that to exist. Stop! I won’t write anything.”
The laptop came to a rest on the table. Both men held it tight. First the writer let go, he held his palms up as if to surrender. Then Richard let go.
“What do we do now?” asked Richard, breathing deeply.
The writer lunged forward and began typing. He was a liar but he didn’t care.
He wrote. He glanced up at Richard for a split second, Richard sat there wide eyed, his hands in fists on the table. He was waiting to disappear and die.
Then Richard had a heart attack
He finished the line. It was stupid, but he was panicking, he wanted rid of Richard so he could sort out his own existence. Richard didn’t vanish, or die, or move. The writer looked at what he wrote. Why hadn’t it worked?
“What did you write?” asked Richard, scared beyond belief. Immobile.
Richard hadn’t introduced himself in the story yet. The name Richard didn’t exist on the page. He read back quickly. He deleted what he had just written. He was sweating.
And then he died.
He rewrote the line. But nothing happened.
And then the man died.
He tried again, but nothing happened.
Nothing. He could hear Richard rise from the chair and walk around the table. He felt him get closer. The writer held his finger on the backspace key. The story disappeared before his eyes. Richard just stood behind him watching. He made no attempt to stop him. Soon there was an empty page, a single tiny vertical line sat in the top left hand corner blinking in and out of existence as they watched.
“Why did you do that” Richards voice broke slightly, he swallowed hard.
“I’m not the writer” said the second man. His finger still resting on backspace. “I never was. I’m not real either.”
“But you said you created me?”
“Maybe I did, I thought I did. But I was created to create you.”
Richard sat back down. Where had that second chair come from?
“So who created you?” his tone was quiet. Their eyes didn’t meet.
“Another writer.” He let his head fall back. The ceiling was cream and long, wet patches ran from wall to wall, discolouring it immensely.
“There” he said pointing upwards.
Richard looked up and through the ceiling he saw letters floating in the air. He strained to see them as words appeared backwards from right to left. Someone above them was writing all this. He picked out a word here and there.
But it moved too quickly for him to keep up with and read. He strained his eyes further. He could see the ceiling perfectly in place, but through it he could see the words. Like staring into water at night, He brought his hands up to his forehead, and became aware of a something moving. His eyes narrowed and he saw the dark figure of a man behind the ceiling, arms outstretched, typing on a keyboard. In the reflection of the man’s glasses he could see the words filing upwards. He felt he was suddenly looking down on himself and he shut his eyes and sat once again.
“Where do you want to go?” the second man asked Richard. His voice sounded weary and as he typed he hunched a lot more than Richard remembered.
“I don’t know” said Richard “home I guess.”
“Where’s home?” he was still typing
The room was gone. There was pain and then it was gone too. There was florescent lighting. A dog was barking. His mother’s kitchen swam around him. He let the dog in and went to bed. He could already feel the start of a hangover.