“What do you mean?” I said, stalling, although I thought I knew what he meant. I’d been trying to talk my way out of the psychiatric emergency room.
“Not just that,” he said, as if he had read my mind. “The whole thing: taming the pumpkin, the blog, the minor characters, telling everything from your own, unreliable point of view. Yeah, you’re miserable, and everyone but you knows why you’re miserable. You’re controlled by fear and you can’t step outside of yourself, even for a moment.”
How did he know about the blog, and about me? Did he google me from his office and read the whole thing, a whole year’s worth, while I was waiting? Is he an old fan?
“Is this supposed to be some new kind of therapy?”
“You don’t know who I am,” he said, mocking indignation.
“You’re the PAO (psychiatric assignment officer),” I said, looking in vain for a badge.
“You think you see because you made up your mind before you looked.”
My pulse quickened. If the heart monitor had still been hooked to me it would be going nuts. I’d just been praying to God, asking for His appearance. Was this He? Should I go back to my knees?
I was experiencing mysterium tremendum: the mysterious tremor you feel when you encounter the divine, or what you think is divine. It’s the Latin term for the creeps, the holy creeps, a lot like holy shit.
“No, I’m not God, although I might be to you. Harry, I’m Keith Wilson, your author. You keep forgetting you’re a fictional character.”
The feeling of mysterium tremendum is not very far from that other feeling you get when you peer into the abyss: that primal fear of not-being, of nothingness, of existential angst, of being told you’re a fiction. I was getting dizzy. I may have passed out.
He must have had smelling salts on him. We used to keep them in the PAO office to bring people back from a swoon, or a pseudo seizure, an existential panic, or something of the sort. I came to with my head suddenly cleared. There was a chemical smell.
The strange man stood over me, smiling. I squinted; he seemed as real as I did.
“If I’m fictional, then you must be, too, or you wouldn’t be here in my fictional world.”
“Well, first of all, this is my fictional world, not yours.”
“Secondly,” he continued, “I’m in the same boat you are. I know this isn’t something you like to think about, but this self that we think we have, well, it’s a fiction. It’s not real; it’s a construct. To my author I’m just as fictional as you are to me.”
Fictional; I thought I knew what that meant. I’m not so sure anymore. I can’t comprehend not being real. I think, therefore I am, and boy, oh boy, do I ever think.
“None of this makes any sense to me,” I said, “except for one thing. If you’re my author, then all this is your fault. I’m miserable because of you.”
“I admit that when I created you I put you in a difficult position, but no more so than any other author does. No crisis, no story. But you weren’t supposed to stay miserable. You were just supposed to tell stories. I named you S. Harry Zade after Scheherazade; you stay alive as long as you’re telling stories.”
“Tell your own damn stories.” I snapped. There’s nothing like injured indignation for its ability to bring you back from the brink of the abyss.
“It’s not the same,” he said. “I tried, but I worried about revealing too much of myself, of my loved ones, and of my clients. I worried about whether I was telling the truth or massaging it to make me look good. I got writer’s block. This is the only way it works for me.”
All this had as much meaning to me as that sound the adults make in the Peanuts cartoons.
“I created you, which means that, when I sit down to write I let you take over and tell the story your way. It’s called a character driven story, as opposed to a plot driven one. Character driven stories are much more realistic, the trouble is that the author then loses control of the tale and it goes on and on without ever coming to resolution. A lot like life.”
Character driven, plot driven, blah, blah, blah; who cares. You think you have problems, Mr Author; well, I’d like to have your problems. You got the kind of problems to have. You’re not locked up in this emergency room with your ass hanging out of a hospital gown.
“Harry, you took this perfect world that I created and messed it all up by misusing your free will. I have a good mind to write in a flood and start over.”
“Wait a minute”, I retorted. “What if there’s just a little bit of good left in it? Would it be right to send a flood, or fire and brimstone, and destroy the good along with the bad?”
“I was thinking of rewriting it.”
“I’ll rewrite it,” I offered. I wanted to have some fictional characters of my own, to be my slaves. I was also afraid he’d write me out of the story and that would be the end of me.
I added, “You just have to let me out of here, first.”