This was, by Alexandra's count, the sixty-seventh time she had been tortured, murdered, hacked to pieces, and shoved into Jim's refrigerator for him to find when he got home from his overseas deployment, and she was really starting to get annoyed.
"It's like this jackass of a would-be author doesn't even know what women are," she snarled, jabbing the ice cubes in her drink until they broke down into slush. "Like he thinks we're just some kind of . . . of . . ."
Wong the Inscrutable and François—her companions as always on nights like this—avoided her eyes as she looked around for the right phrase. François (AKA African Henchman #1) was fiddling with the inside of the boxy contraption he always had with him. He'd come from a Francophone sci-fi serial before being co-opted by their current author, Alex knew, had been a genius engineer on some kind of super-massive spaceship. Wong (who Alex thought was probably original, since he was so underdeveloped he wasn't even fully corporeal) stroked his pet rat with his one solid arm, glowering into the middle distance from under his painfully stereotypical peasant hat.
"Plot devices," she finished with a sigh and tossed down half the drink in one gulp.
Things hadn't always been this way. Alex remembered her first writer, the one who had created her from nothing. Alex knew the novel she'd been in back then was far from perfect—her struggles to be accepted at the corporation felt extremely dated, and she'd been a little too stereotypical-self-made-woman—but at least she'd had some say in how her story had happened. And anything was better than the fridge.
"Do you know what my line is?" She asked, her voice raw. "The only line I get before I'm taken out?"
Out of the corner of her eye she saw François grimace, but the liquor spurred her on. Her most insipid smile on her face, she giggled vapidly, then, in a sing-song voice, repeated the line: "co-ming!"
"That's it! All I get is a single word, delivered with the stagecraft and nuance of a dead rat! No offense, Wong."
Wong stroked the rat again and made a motion somewhere between a shrug and a nod. In all the years they'd been stuck here, Alex had never known him to speak or stand or do anything else, although to be fair he didn't really have a functional mouth. Or legs.
François, though, looked up with a grin. "Mam'selle, I know just how you feel. I myself do not even get a line—I merely open the door and shove the ice pick straight into your eye. And poor Wong, of course, appears only in the background, lurking in the window of an unmarked van across the street, the last thing you see before you die. He does not even get to feed your remains to his beloved rat. Maybe in a finished story he would play a large role as villain, but, well. . . And let us not even speak of Jim."
Alex snorted at that. She'd never even seen her "boyfriend" Jim, wasn't sure he even existed to the author beyond the name—never mind that he would no doubt be the hero of whatever story existed beyond the first aborted scene.
"More to the point," François continued, "you know that it pains me almost as much as it does you to go through this barbarous charade, this . . . idiotic, endless abattoir of an opening scene." He patted the top of the box. "And I know that you will feel almost as happy as I do when I say that with this device complete, we need not suffer it a single time more."
The crushed ice in Alex's drink sloshed as she slammed her cup on the table, hopeful despite herself. "It reaches through the fourth wall and strangles him?"
"No." François frowned. "That would kill us too, since he is writing us."
"Oh." Alex took another drink. At least it would be permanent, she added in the privacy of her own head. She thought Wong looked disappointed, too, though of course it was impossible to tell.
François continued, undeterred. "It is something even better than that. The device will change his frame of reference; he will be able to see storytelling from entirely new points of view. And it will increase his motivation and ambition a hundredfold! No more will we be forced to endlessly act out an opening scene. No longer will we be stuck in endless white rooms free of description. And if my calculations are correct—" His voice dropped to a whisper, as if he were afraid to speak too loud— "this will give him the energy to finish the first draft entirely."
"We could move on," Alex said. "Be in newer, better stories—ones written by people who actually know how stories work."
François grinned. "You must agree, Mam'selle, that things could hardly get worse."
"Do it," Alex said. "Get us a story set somewhere other than in a delusional never-was 1960s middle-America. Get us a story where we're all active participants, where we have unique and interesting lives. Get us," she hissed, "a story where I do not get fucking murdered and stuck in a fridge."
"Wong?" François asked, looking to the other man.
Wong did the shrug/nod thing again, but his eyes were wet with emotion, and his hand was clutching Ratso so tightly that the little rat squirmed and tried to escape.
"Bien," François said. "We shall give it a try."
He flipped switches and pushed buttons and spun dials on the back of the box, which started to hum quietly. There was a sudden crackle, and the air filled with the smell rain makes just before it falls.
François let out a low whistle. "That was fast. He must have just been sitting down to write. Brace yourselves, everyone!"
Alex grimaced. Already she could feel the story-world pulling at her, tearing away at her control, at her identity. She had just enough time to gulp the last of her drink, the alcohol burning its way down her throat, before the familiar surroundings of the bar faded into blackness.
It was a dark and stormy night in the fabled and legendary city of ELLAAAAAHKRA [replace this with real name later], home of storied magical spell-slingers and sword-users and heroic fighters [fighters is vague pick a better class title like paladin or something?]. There were also a number of dwarves, who were short in stature and savage in nature like the savages of Africa [fix this later since it's fantasy] had beards like flowing rivers. Also there were elves, with magical and legendary powers and strange clothing and who had strange mysteries in their eldritch eyes as they gazed up at the dark black night with its glimmering stars and nine enormous fabled moons [what would this do to the tides? find that out so the setting is SUPER realistic and authentic].
Ah'lek isan D'aruh, the pure half-elven priestess dressed in a beautiful gown [need a better description of her clothes. worldbuilding is important!], was awaiting her lover, the powerful and handsome human heroic paladin Jim, who was known as a smiter of evil and a protector of women, and who would later come to be the biggest and truest savior of the kingdom of [spoilers? ask mom what she thinks]. Ah'lek stood on the rooftop of the Holy Magical Legendary Temple of Anarchical Moon-God W'onG, admiring his numerous moons with their craters and magic-giving abilities. It was like a prayer for her only she did not pray with words. She went into a trance, envisioning with her mind the holy face of Moon God W'onG, his holy moon-like yellow skin.
Suddenly there was a scream from the street a few streets over from the temple. It sounded like a girl maybe. Ah'lek knew onyl she could help the girl so she leaped into action, her magical katana singing its own praises with glory and righteousness. She was very scared but she knew Jim would be here to save her soon. All she had to do was last until then. She screamed blood-curdling murder in her beautiful voice when suddenly she saw that it was one of the evil black dwarves riding on a rat the size of an elephant [no elephants in the fantasy world? better description] holding an axe that was almost as big as his beard but not quite because he had a very big beard.
"Jim!" she shouted. "I can not do this by myself! I need your powers to defeat this evil black dwarf on his giant rat! Please help me now! I am scared!"
From the other street over she thought she heard a reply but before she could make it out the dwarf and his rat tragically knocked her to the ground and killed her by crushing her into tiny pieces with its giant rat claws which were so sharp not even her magical katana could withstand it without being broken. Her last thought as the claws sliced through her attractive and beautiful face was that at least Jim would be able to avenge her because he was such a good warrior.
[okay this is going really good so far maybe push through to the next scene and I can fix all this later in edits! or maybe once I finish writing the whole novel I could just rewrite it a few times from scratch. I heard that's a good way to really get into my characters heads, so I bet I could make it more empathetic to women that way. but there's a lot of dialog in the next scene from the dwarf when Jim starts to fight him so I'd better rewatch lord of the rings a couple more times before I try to tackle it.]
This story originally appeared in Galaxy's Edge.
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Stewart C Baker is an academic librarian, speculative fiction writer, and occasional haikuist. His fiction has appeared in Writers of the Future, Nature, Galaxy’s Edge, and Flash Fiction Online, among other places. Stewart was born in England, has lived in South Carolina, Japan, and California (in that order), and currently resides in Oregon with his family—although if anyone asks, he’ll usually say he’s from the Internet. You can find him at infomancy.net or on Twitter and Facebook as @stewartcbaker