The Quest For Great Literature

Part III:

Chapter XII

Julian groaned and pushed himself upright. The door buzzer sounded again, and he tripped to the door and swiped at it. His stomach dropped when he saw Susannah waiting outside.

"Hi," she said. Julian assumed an anti-awkward expression and invited her in.

"What's up?" he asked, helping her to the couch. He sat down on the bed again.

"There may be one or two things you need to know," she said, avoiding his eyes.

"Say whatever you need to say," Julian reassured her. She smiled at him weakly, and proceeded.

"So… you know how you met me?" she asked.

"Of course," said Julian. "You were helping Gork."

"Right. But I haven't always lived in that… town."

This triggered some nagging feelings in Julian that he hadn't been able to put a finger on. His grin dissipated. "Right. It was kind of a hologram." He pondered it a little more. "A hologram on a shapeshifter ship." Another pause. "A ship filled with shapeshifting aliens in a hologram."

Susannah gave him a knowing look and let him continue.

Julian was thunderstruck as the realization crushed his heart. "I'm guessing you're a shapeshifter, aren't you?"

"Bingo," said Susannah, allowing a touch of melancholy into her voice.

"… … …" said Julian emphatically. "… … I've never met a shapeshifter who spoke English."

"We do occasionally, but not often."

Julian hesitated a moment, the said, "I'm sorry, I'm kind of psyched. You're a shapeshifter."

"Yes, you hit the nail on the head."

"Your name's probably not Susannah, then."

"Right. It's Reem."

"… …" Julian explained.

"I just thought you'd want to know."

"You're darned tootin', I want to know!"

Susannah cringed, and Julian immediately regretted the outburst. "I'm sorry, it's just that… well…"

"I know," Susannah said soothingly, with a hint of regret in her tone. "It must be hard to discover that the person you love isn't the species you thought she was."

The Author snickered. "Can't you help yourself?" Julian snapped. The Author smirked, but fell silent all the same.

Susannah, or Reem rather, shifted uncomfortably. "Do you want me to leave?" she asked. Julian shook his head no.

"Could you do one thing for me before you go?" he asked her. She assured him that she would. "Can you return to your original shape?" Susannah smiled weakly, then squelched. Julian briefly thought how cruel it was that the shattering of his dreams should be accompanied by such a noise as a squelch, but he shook off the feeling.

Reem, though very similar to Gork in appearance, had a definite, prim female look to her. Her green body was like a pill-capsule with pencil-thin limbs to which were attached oddly human hands and feet.

"This is my natural form," Reem stated, her feet not quite reaching the floor from the couch. Julian tried to say something polite, but he could do no more than begin his sentences. "It's fine, you don't have to say anything," she assured him. It was odd hearing English spoken by a being whose natural language was so advanced that it required no translation. She looked at her feet for a few seconds, then said resignedly, "Well, I probably should leave you alone."

As Reem left, questions flooded Julian's mind. He burned with rage against the Author. "You scum!" he shouted, slamming a fist against the wall. "Why are you so antagonistic?"

"Don't blame me, I don't come up with your story, I just write it down. If I created the story, there would be very little unhappiness of any sort. Just so you know, this was the hardest chapter for me to write to date, because I don't do the emotional scenes. But I feel a closer connection with you now, because you have struggles, and, in my existence, I have struggles too. I would prevent them if I could, but that's not how reality works."

"And I suppose you talk to the Author a lot in 'reality'?"

"Well, that depends on your point of view. But good point. Nevertheless, this is your reality, not mine. Who's to say which of our realities is more real? You would undoubtedly say yours is the more real of the two, but to my perception, yours is merely ink on paper. What if my existence is nothing more than a bit of ink on paper in an altogether higher reality, if that higher reality even abides by physical laws similar enough to mine to allow ink to exist and be scrawled across a page."

"I'm dreadfully sorry, I'm sure that was a marvelous speech," said Julian blankly, "and it sure sounded deep, but I'm afraid most of that went over my head."

"Bah, it's nothing," the Author grunted. "Just the inane ramblings of someone who's really trying to stall for time while he figures out what happens next so he can start a new chapter."

"Good luck with that," Julian said in a genuine attempt to reconcile with the Author. "I'm tired, though, and I want to get some sleep, so can you bother another character for a while?"

"Sure thing," said the Author agreeably. Julian lay back on his bed once more, and the Author exerted his influence on the storyline to make sure he wasn't disturbed.

While Julian and Reem were having their heartfelt discussion, Archibald was in an entirely different state. He and Björn had found they couldn't rest, so they were sitting around Archibald's quarters, sipping grape smoothies and swapping tales of old times.

"I came into Julian's service quite by accident," Archibald related. "I was on a reconnaissance mission for my government, when suddenly I discovered that the entirety of the kingdom was contained within an underground chamber of Julian's manor."

"Good grief," Björn thundered. "How big is the place?"

"Nobody knows," Archibald intoned mysteriously. "I personally think there's some kind of spatial distortion that makes the place literally go on forever, because I've rounded the same corner twice and ended up in different places, climbed staircases only to find myself back where I started, and although all the windows let in natural light, there's always another room when you open a door to go outside."

"I was lucky to meet Julian at all," said Björn. "I got lost when I went in to meet him, and when I ran across him, he was lost too. So we wandered for three hours before we found his study."

"Why were you meeting him?" asked Archibald, following the question with a large gulp of grape smoothie.

"My father was a serf on Julian's land, and had just discovered an ancient manuscript buried in the fields. I was going to consult with Julian. He was a lot nicer than I expected. He treated me like a friend rather than a servant."

Archibald nodded. "That has always endeared Julian to me. I hope he does well. I think I'll do whatever I can to be sure he does."

"Agreed," said Björn.

"Well, we should probably try to get some rest before we die," Archibald said, finishing off his smoothie and setting the glass on the table. The table promptly engulfed it, and returned to its normal spotless, flat state.

"This chapter was really unlike anything you've written so far," Cormac the Reader said to the Author. "It was actually passably serious."

"I know, but it had to happen sometime," the Author remarked. "I'm trying to expand my horizons."

"I've read better literature," you remarked.

"I'm not so sure," said Cormac. "My question is, how does the Author presume to know what you're thinking about his book when he's a very biased source of evaluation?"

"I don't," the Author explained. "I'm assuming the worst."

"Is that a good mindset when writing a novel?" asked Cormac.

"Has it occurred to you that maybe I'm writing this for my own benefit?" the Author answered by way of a question. "I write for my own sake, and for the sake of writing. In our own reality, there was once an insane artist named Henry Darger, who wrote a nine million word novel. But he probably never intended for it to be read. It was purely for his own benefit."

"Yes, but he was crazy," remarked Cormac.

"True. Nevertheless, if I was aiming for a less tolerant audience, which expects a pure novel in the established framework set down by thousands of novelists prior to me, I would be following a structure rather than writing aimlessly. Besides, my handwriting is absolutely atrocious." Cormac laughed at that. And so would you if you were reading the manuscript rather than the digital version.

It's time to end this blasted chapter. I've already written about two pages more than I intended, anyway.