Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
Jonathan sat trembling in the dark. He stared at nothing, his eyes not penetrating the circle of blackness that surrounded him. A single lamp illuminated the round table he sat at, allowing him enough light to see the edges of it and nothing more. A tea pot and half-empty cup sat in the centre. With a trembling hand he reached toward it and took it towards his lips, not truly looking at it as he drank. He set the cup down on a plate. The cup rattled against it, the only sound save for the thunder that rumbled in the distance.
He heard a switch flick. Jonathan shut his eyes for a moment, temporarily blinded by the harshness of the light that filled the room. He opened them again to see a small, white kitchen. A single window and two doors broke the array of cabinets the covered the walls.
Standing in an open door was Chris, Jonathan’s friend and housemate. He had a hand on the light switch.
“John, what are you doing? It’s after midnight!” Chris asked.
Jonathan kept staring forward and didn’t reply.
“John, answer me. This is the third time I’ve caught you up like this. What are you doing?”
After a moment’s pause Jonathan replied, speaking in a dry, quiet voice. “I had the dream again.” He still stared unblinking toward the window, though he didn’t seem to notice what was behind it. Chris flinched.
For months now, Jonathan had been experiencing the same recurring dream. In it, he stood outside his own life, looking in at it. He saw himself live his own life, going through the same daily routine and experiences over and over again. However, something about it all seemed unreal. All his actions were artificial, all his conversations seemed planned. A strange feeling that something wasn’t quite right filled him and grew and grew. Slowly, and so gradually he barely noticed, his actions were replaced with words. Instead of seeing things happen he read them in a massive wall of text that described his every movement. His conversations came in quotation marks which he read instead of spoke. Soon his entire life seemed to be a novel, running forward toward a conclusion that was always surrounded in haze. When he got to the end, he always awoke, but the feeling never left. Even sometimes when he was awake he began to lose his feelings of normality. For brief moments, barely noticeable, he saw objects described in text rather than in their own form, and his own movements seemed to be described by a nameless narrator.
Chris sighed and walked forward. He rested a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder and spoke in a reassuring voice. “Listen, John, I know you are worried. But you have to remember, it’s just a dream! You have been very stressed lately and started having nightmares. It happens, and its nothing to worry about.”
Jonathan chuckled slightly. “Oh no, no it isn’t.”
“What do you mean? Look, John, get back to sleep. You’re starting to worry me.”
For the first time that night, Jonathan stood and faced Chris. He was taller than Chris, and the shadow he cast obstructed Chris’ face. “Don’t tell me you haven’t had that feeling! That creeping, inching suspicion that something isn’t right? Doesn’t everything just seem too dramatic, too convenient? THIS ISN’T HOW REALITY SHOULD BE! THIS ISN’T HOW PEOPLE SHOULD BE SPEAKING, IT ISN’T HOW THEY ACT!” Jonathan realized he was shouting and stopped. He breathed heavily and tried to calm down, resting his head in his hands.
Chris looked at him with worried eyes. “Alright, John, here’s what we are going to do. Just go back to sleep for now. Tomorrow we are going to make an appointment with Dr. Limestone. She helped you with the dreams before, and…”
“No.” Jonathan said, shaking his head. “No, I am not going back to Dr. Limestone! She isn’t going to fix this, she isn’t going to solve the problem. She isn’t part of it and I don’t even think she is a character.”
“John, what are you talking about? A character in what?”
“THE BOOK! Don’t you get it yet? I don’t know if it’s a comedy, or a drama, or what… But we are all part of it, and I don’t think she is.” That was the most horrifying part of his dreams. He felt as if hundreds of eyes were reading the text along with him, learning his every movement as if they were plot points in a story. He still had the feeling at that very moment, that in a strange, twisted way, he was being watched.
Chris stared at him, not knowing what to say. Jonathan stood up out of his chair and faced him, holding his hands in front of himself as if pleading Chris to understand. The tea cup fell from his hand, shattering on the ground. “Look, isn’t this all just too convenient? Doesn’t it ever feel that way? Listen to that thunder. Doesn’t it seem like a perfect setting? And everything is like that! The lights when you entered, the tea cup, by god, even the way I’m standing! This isn’t how things work! They don’t come together to make themes! Weather shouldn’t just suit my mood like this. Do you not see it!?”
Chris was taken aback. “Well uhh… John, that’s all just ridiculous. Storms happen, whether you are angry or not. The tea cup was an accident, and we can get a new one. Now what is this about Dr. Limestone? What do you mean she isn’t a character?”
Jonathan went back to holding his head in his hands. “I know I am not going to see the doctor because she hasn’t been described. I have no idea what she looks like.”
“If this was real life, then there would hundreds of little, insignificant things happening. I would know dozens of people and unimportant details. But this isn’t real life, and anything that isn’t part of the story won’t be described. I am not going to see Dr. Limestone. Outside of this conversation, she doesn’t exist, and we don’t even know what she looks like.”
“John, that’s ridiculous! This is beside the point…”
“Really? Describe her.”
Chris opened his mouth to respond, then stopped. He realized he truly had no idea.
“Well, she was a psychiatrist…”
“that had helped me with the dreams before? Is that what you were going to say? Because that was established for this conversation. You have no idea what she looks like, do you?”
Chris paused. That was exactly what he was going to say, down to referring to Jonathan in the third person. It did seem odd. “Well that doesn’t mean anything! We’ve just forgotten, that’s all. We haven’t seen her in months. Anyway, it isn’t important, what is important is that…” Chris said.
“STOP TRYING TO RATIONALIZE WHAT SHOULDN’T BE! There is no reason for us not to know what she looks like. It’s just a freaking plot device, that’s all it is. Even what you just did there, trying to change the topic to hide parts that haven’t been fleshed out! This isn’t how people act Chris.”
“Well, all right, but still that doesn’t mean anything. It’s just one person.”
“Oh really? Describe our neighbor’s to me. Describe your PARENTS. Describe anyone who isn’t directly related to this conversation, and I will believe you.”
Chris stared at him in shock, not knowing what to say. He searched his mind for anything, for his neighbours face, for his parent’s image, and found nothing. Over and over again he tried and came up blank.
“Well… Oh god… I don’t know. Maybe we are all just tired.” Chris said.
“Thank you Chris. Haha, Chris or Christ, my want to be protector and savior, who shines a light into my darkness! Nice imagery there, eh? Just like the storm? Alright then. What did you have for breakfast this morning?”
“I don’t know! It’s not important!”
“EXACTLY! ITS NOT IMPORTANT! We don’t know anything that isn’t directly important. Why is that? Why the hell should that be? It’s just too god damn convenient! Look, if this is actually a house we have been living in, you should be able to answer me this question at least. What is behind that door?” Jonathan pointed toward the closed door at the other end of the kitchen.
“I… I don’t know. I don’t know what to say.”
“Exactly! There is no reason for two people who have lived in a household for years to not know what is behind a single door. It just wasn’t relevant when you turned on the lights, so it wasn’t described. ”
“Alright John, alright. Say you are right and we are just in a story, what then? Do we open the door?”
“I don’t know. It is there for a reason now, we have drawn attention to it. Now there has to be something important.”
“Oh god, so now you think just be talking about things we can influence the freaking universe? That’s insane.”
“No, it must be! Look, it’s like the tea. I had the tea so that the rattling glass and the broken cup could represent my emotions. Now that we have drawn attention to that door, it must represent something. This is how it works, yes? You turned on the light, flooding light into my darkness, but I denied it and put you into my shadow.” For a second he closed his eyes. He hadn’t seen Chris hit the switch, but the words “he had a hand on the light switch” flooded his mind in black lettering. “It’s all foreshadowing! So when the kitchen had two doors, one open and one closed, there is something important behind the closed one. Chekov’s Gun, right? You came in from one to help me sort this out in part one. Part two occurs behind that door.”
“Well what then, should we open it?”
“I don’t know. We don’t know what is behind it. We don’t even know what type of story this is!”
“That’s true… This could be a drama, an action, a comedy… That wouldn’t be too bad. Perhaps this is all just a joke!”
“Really? You want to live in a comedy? Do you realize people would be laughing at us, our every move? What if we are just two buffoons for people to mock? God, If we were just two cartoonish idiots, would we even have the intelligence to tell?”
“I… I hadn’t thought of that. It is still better then a tragedy.”
“I… I don’t know. Look, we can work this out. It can’t be an action, neither of us really knows how to fight or carries any weapons.” Jonathan spoke, realizing he established it as fact as he said it. “I don’t think it is a comedy, because we would probably be able to remember funnier things happening. Then again, maybe we wouldn’t as part of the plot… I don’t know.”
“Hopefully it’s a drama, or a romance. Imagine if this entire thing was just to set us up with some perfect woman?” Chris said hopefully.
“I don’t know. Look, we should be able to tell what this is from our surroundings. The writing and descriptions should reflect what the plot is. We should see foreshadowing, maybe we can pick it out.” A slow realization began to dawn on Jonathan. Though he kept guessing, in his heart he knew exactly what sort of story he was in.
“Alright, well then what can we learn from this kitchen?” Chris asked.
Jonathan thought for a moment. “Everything in this conversation, and the things we have talked about, revolve around myself. I think it is safe to say I am the main character here.”
“Alright” Chris said, nodding and following along. “Then what has happened to you recently?”
“I’m worried Chris. With the thunder, the darkness, the nightmares, the falling cup… I don’t think this is a happy story. Something bad is going to happen, and it is going to happen soon.” As he spoke, thunder once again boomed on the horizon, and a flash of lightning filled the window with jagged light.
Chris swallowed. “Alright then. Do we open the door? Neither of us knows what is behind it, I think it’s safe to say we weren’t supposed to know. Somehow you’ve broken the mold. What do we do?”
Jonathan squeezed his eyes closed and gripped the back of his chair. He hadn’t even realized he had stood behind it. His knuckles turned white. Finally, he spoke. “If this is the sort of story I think it is, I don’t think we have a choice. Either we go through that door and figure out what is behind it, or it is going to come and get us. If we are the main characters, then we should be safe. Usually they survive.”
“Usually? Not always?”
Chris looked at Jonathan, then toward the door. “Alright then, we might as well get it over with. If I am the sidekick here, I guess that’s my job. I’m Christ anyway, right? I bring light into dark areas? I’m the sacrifice?”
“Chris! Don’t joke about that! Look, I don’t know…”
“Don’t worry! Like you said, we are safe, right? We are the main characters. We never die in the first act. Maybe it will just end up being a big joke anyway.”
Though he was still terrified, Jonathan slowly nodded. He couldn’t help but think that, by breaking their own plot line, they would no longer be safe as the heroes in a story. He feared to voice the complaint, as by saying it, he knew he would make it fact. He watched Christ walk forward and open the door carefully. The hinges squeaked as it opened, and a cloud of dust came into the kitchen. It was clear the door hadn’t been opened for a long, long time.
Beyond the door was near pitch black. Chris reached into a nearby drawer and took out a flash light. He turned it on and shone it into the darkness beyond, revealing a narrow wooden staircase that descended between two stone walls. He walked slowly down the stairs. Jonathan came behind him and followed into the unknown darkness.
Chris reached the end of the stairwell and paused. He turned to face into a small room, shining his light around.
“Dear.. Dear god John. This isn’t a comedy. This is a horror.”
Jonathan followed his gaze to find his worst fears confirmed. The floor of the room was covered with fine black dirt. Scattered across it were dozens of broken bones and skeletons along with ancient weapons. The walls were covered with blood red writing scrawled in dozens of languages, from ancient runes to modern letters in languages neither person could understand.
“RUN CHRIS! WE SOULDN’T HAVE COME HERE!” Jonathan shouted as he sprinted up the stairs. The entire building began shaking. The low rumbling he had once thought was thunder became a continuous noise that seemed to come from every direction at once. He ran toward the kitchen, but stopped in the doorway. The cabinets at the far end of the kitchen began to lose their form. They blurred then turned into written words, becoming replaced with descriptions of themselves. “Large white cabinet, with a silver handle. Small thin cabinet, with a golden handle. Electric oven, four stoves on top, black wit rnis of stl as black mltae slag asdf sdg
p;” sdg dsg sdfg
The letters began to slide down, mixing and forming indecipherable gibberish before disappearing into an ever growing sea of inky darkness. Jonathan realized that, having found out the truth and broken his role, he had removed the very thing that held his plot together. By going outside his own story he had destroyed his fictional universe.
Chris didn’t stop when Jonathan did. He ran into Jonathan’s back, and they both fell forward. Chris didn’t seem to notice what was happening and crawled forward, calling to Jonathan to keep running.
“NO! DON’T GO IN THERE! IT ISN’T REAL!” Jonathan shouted. Chris screamed as he finally saw walls melt around him. He crawled and clawed back towards the stairwell, but was overcome by the descending wall of letters. His feet began to change slowly. His face contorted in a look of incomprehensible horror as he saw his legs dissolve into letters, then disappear forever. He kept crawling forward, but nothing he could do would change his fate.
Jonathan watched in terror as his friend dissolved into oblivion. The very universe he lived in was dissolving around him. He turned and began to run down the stairs again, preferring the horror of the skeletons to the certain death in the kitchen.
He stumbled at the bottom and collapsed onto the dirt floor. His head scraped along the ground, forming a long gouge over his right eye that blinded it with blood. With his good eye he turned to see his fate. The oncoming wall of letters kept coming down the stairs, then stopped at the base. The letters molded together, filling in all the white space and forming a black wall. Jonathan felt it, and realized it became part of the same stone wall that now surrounded him. Using the dropped flashlight he looked around. He was trapped in a square stone room no more than twenty feet across.
Jonathan sat in the centre of the room, not knowing what to do. Time seemed to slip away, and he had no knowledge of its passing. He had no idea if he was there for minutes, or days, or years, or even centuries. He simply remained trapped alone in the darkness. Though he may have guessed he was there for days, the flashlight never dimmed, and the blood never stopped pouring from his head. There was nothing for him to do and he felt no reason to move.
Alone with an eternity to himself, he began to contemplate what had happened. He thought oh his own life, of his existence, and how he had come to be. He thought about himself. It seemed wrong to think that way.’Himself’ implied he was an actual living being, and he wasn’t sure if that was truly fitting. It suited him more to think in the third person, as he would have been written in the story. Was it fair to say he was ever anything more then that, a fictional creation?
His thoughts turned to the room. He had no idea where he was, or how the poor souls who had become the skeletons that surrounded him had found their way into the small, black cell. Perhaps he would join them. Perhaps someone else would come to inhabit the small space, and he would be gone forever. Perhaps it had already happened, and without a sense of time he hadn’t realized it. The thought sent a chill down his spine. He didn’t know what was worse- an eternal life in a cage, or simply ceasing to exist with no sign that he ever was. With no sense of time in this strange world, who was to say that it hadn’t already happened? Perhaps both were true in their own way. He realized he needed to leave some kind of permanent mark, so that somehow, maybe, another person might know he existed. He had to tell his story. With all the time imaginable to spare, and no time at all to lose, he thought about what he had to do.
After some time, though he had no idea how much, he stood up again. As if compelled by an unseen force, he walked toward the wall. He dipped his hand in the blood that flowed down his face and put it on the stone. He made lines which formed letters, then the letters formed words, and finally the words formed a story.
It began “Jonathan sat trembling in the dark…”
Credit To – Eric