Pretty great, right? Here's the thingamabob I threw together today. Enjoy!
I sit up with a start, blinking in the light shining over my desk. Had I fallen asleep? I rub my eyes and look around my bedroom. Everything looks the same as it always has. The clock shows 1:47 p.m. in glaring red letters.
“Hello there, Tracey.” The voice, female, emanates from everywhere and nowhere. Somehow it fills the room without being loud. “Nice to finally meet you.”
I whirl around in my chair. “Who are you? Where are you?”
“Excuse me?” I stand and begin poking around, first looking under the bed, then opening the closet. I am alone.
“This is the first day of your existence. It’s very exciting, isn’t it? Your story has been percolating inside my brain for months, and I’ve finally discovered my main character. You.”
I scan the ceiling for some wispy ghost floating above me, but there is nothing. A disembodied voice in my room? I must be dreaming. “I’m sorry, can we start at the beginning, please? This is not the first day of my existence. I’m twenty years old, thank you very much. I think you have me confused with someone else.”
“Take a look at your journal.”
Cautiously, I retrieve the notebook from its shelf and flip it open. But instead of the scribbles pouring out my thoughts, the pages are blank. Well, not quite. Blurry smudges of blue ink are smeared across the pages, like fresh writing soaked in a rainstorm. “Where did my journal entries go?”
“They never were.”
My furrowed brow and darting eyes must have shown my confusion.
“You have a history, but I haven’t exactly . . . written it yet. Hence the mostly blank journal.”
I point to the page. “But I remember writing this! I remember what I wrote! August eleventh, twenty-sixteen, four-something p.m. . . . I wrote down a verse from Proverbs 18, and then some thoughts on—”
“That’s good to know about you. I’ll jot that down. But listen to me, Tracey. You do have a vague history, the one I came up with. It feels real to you, but in real life it never happened. I haven’t written it, see? Only what I write exists. Today I just started writing about you.” The voice gets excited. “The story starts on a typical day to show the reader your life situation. You have a day off work, so you’re writing . . .”
“Hold up.” I toss the journal onto my bed. “This is crazy. My life never happened? I have crystal clear memories of that life! It’s a peaceful one. I have a family—”
“Oh, thanks for reminding me. They died.”
The world shifts. My stomach lurches as if I just staggered off a spinning carnival ride. It’s like the colors of the room change, and yet they don’t. It’s like the furniture rearranges itself, but it doesn’t. My cheeks are wet—I’m crying? Something has shattered inside me. I can feel the jagged shards of it scattered throughout my bloodstream.
“What—” My voice catches. “What do you mean? They’re just upstairs, my parents . . .”
“Died in the same explosion that killed your siblings.”
It doesn’t sound right, but as the girl—Author—speaks, images flash in my memory. A man at the door, grim-faced, bearing the news. Footage on TV of the hotel exploding in fire and smoke and debris. It’s not right, because I remember what it used to be: my family, intact and happy. But now I also remember the tragedy of one year ago. Which is true?
“Your backstory was too boring. I decided you needed a disaster to spur you on and give you emotional depth.”
“You killed my family?” I whisper.
“No, the terrorists did. Oh, but they’re actually dragonriders. You just don’t know that yet.”
“You killed my family!” I scream. “What is this? You rewrote my life?”
“Hmm. I’ve been thinking maybe your brother survived the blast, though. You’ll discover him at the end of the book, and it will look like a happy reunion—until you find out he joined the evil dragonriders.”
I shout a word I’d never used on anybody. It tastes dirty on my tongue.
“Goodness, Tracey, that’s not in keeping with your character.”
“You don’t know me! I don’t know how you’re doing this, changing my history, but I demand you change it back!”
“Calm down. I can’t get this story written if you insist on being obstinate. Your grief means you have nothing to lose, so when the dragonslayers rope you into their plan to send the riders packing—the dragons are all evil monsters, by the way—there’s nothing to keep you from joining their cause.”
I pinch my lips together and swipe the tears from my eyes. This has to be a sick joke. “If you know me so well, you know I’m a writer too.”
“Yes, that’s a particularly fun aspect of your character. It’s kind of like a slice of me walking around in the story.” Author giggles. “And when you encounter dragons and otherworldly fighters, you’re enraptured because it’s just like the books you write. And read. I wonder which way the back cover blurb should go? ‘When dragons flame into Tracey’s life, just like the books she’s always lost herself in . . .’ Or ‘When dragons flame into Tracey’s life, just like the tales she pens . . .’ I can’t decide.”
“Shut up! I was going to say that as a writer, I can tell you that making your main character an orphan is the most clichéd tool in the box. Likewise with the just-like-the-books trope.” I cross my arms, sorrow quickly hardening into rage.
The Author prattles on, apparently heedless of my words. “You know, I wonder if maybe you killed your family and you just don’t know it yet. Yes, what a great idea! You used to be part of the riders, and you did something that enabled them to blow up the hotel. Then you left. I don’t know why yet, but I’ll figure it out. Oh, and they wiped your memory before you left them. Ha! This is fabulous!”
The whole time she’s talking, the room does that spinning, shifting thing again, and my insides heave. I double over. My head pounds as memories are created and erased and pieced together—rewritten. “I hate you,” I gasp out.
“I’ve been told that before. I’m such an evil authoress, aren’t I? You know what they say. Drive your character up a tree and throw rocks at them.”
I can’t believe she sounds delighted. I almost expect her to break out in a villainous mwahaha, but she doesn’t. I rub my temples, trying my utmost to suspend my disbelief over this horrible turn of events. If I were Author, wouldn’t I be gleefully torturing my main character too? Of course I would. The thought sickens me, but it's the truth. Maybe a more reasonable approach is best.
“It sounds like you have a cool story going, Author.”
A blatant lie. It sounds awful.
“But I’m not an interesting enough person to be your Main Character. I’ve always thought I’d be a better Sidekick. Or even a Background Character.”
They had easier lives. The whole universe wasn’t conspiring against them.
Author seems to consider this. “No, I like you. I want you to be the Main. But you may be right about being uninteresting.”
I barely stop myself from rolling my eyes.
“I know! You have dormant superpowers that you don’t know about yet! Dragon telepathy, perhaps? That way you can discover your gift and help defeat the dragons by convincing them to go away.”
Once again, the nauseating shift. I grab my head. “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong! I don’t want superpowers, I don’t want amnesia. I just want to be normal. Give all those things to someone else. Let me be a supporting character instead. Please.” I gaze up at the ceiling, not sure where exactly Author was. “They have far better mortality rates.”
“Not true. Sidekicks frequently die, and their deaths have the double benefit of being a disadvantage to the Hero, while also driving their quest forward at the same time. Mains seldom die, and when they do, they can often be resurrected. Besides, you're saving the world!”
“But life is an awful lot harder for Mains. I don’t think I can take that.”
Author laughs. “That’s what they all say until I prove them wrong. Just wait till you reach your happy ending. Wait till your story becomes a bestseller! Then you’ll thank me.”
I open my mouth to protest, but Author continues.
“I’ve also been thinking of adding a love interest. Gotta have a little romance in this thing. I think he’ll be a dark, brooding dragonslayer. But he’s a double agent, also working for the evil riders—who, by the way, are trying to take over the world with brute force and flaming beasts.”
How does one girl manage to stuff this many clichés into one story? I grit my teeth through another round of my world being rewritten at the whims of a psychopath. As I do, I glance in the mirror, not at all shocked to see the pallor of my skin. Having one’s life torn down and rebuilt within minutes would have that affect.
The voice seems to hover over my shoulder. “You know, we’re going to have to do something about that hair. It’s the wrong color.”
“What’s the matter with dirty blonde?”
“It sounds gross. Let’s make you simply blonde.”
My hair brightens a few shades, turning golden.
“Are you serious? Do you want me to have blue eyes too? There are too many Barbie dolls in fiction.”
“You’re right. Black hair.”
Glossy black spreads from the roots to the tips. “I look like a vampire.”
“Now that’s an idea—”
“Wait, forget I said anything! Black is fine.”
“You need to be shorter. Petite. So it’s more adorable when your big, buff love interest sweeps you away from danger.”
My bones grind painfully as I shrink several inches.
“What am I forgetting? Oh! A mysterious scar.”
A thin pink mark draws itself down my jawline, then vanishes only to reappear on my forearm.
“There. That’s better. Facial scars are so overdone.”
I grab two fistfuls of hair. “Enough! Go bother someone else! Stop meddling in my life. I’m no longer me anymore. You’ve changed my appearance, you’ve given me superpowers, you’ve erased memories and added others, you killed my family . . .”
The lights dim. “Well . . . You have a point, I guess. You’re no longer the girl who first popped into my head.”
This time the room seems to flip upside down. I fall to the floor—or is it the ceiling? When everything finally stills and my stomach stops doing somersaults, I sit up and look around. In the mirror, my reflection is back to normal. I think back on my life. No tragedy, no explosion.
Upstairs, footsteps creak and muffled, familiar voices are talking. My family is back.
I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe Author decided to abandon her story, or at least to scrap my character and find someone else. I settle back into my desk chair. My laptop is open, my work-in-progress novel staring back at me. Suddenly I’m not in the mood to write. Just as I close my laptop, Author’s voice returns.
“Okay, okay, but we’re keeping the telepathy. That part was awesome.”
My enraged shout is loud enough to rattle the window.