By J K Nottingham
Stories, Paul felt, were the only pleasure keeping him from leaving this world without care for the consequences. Today a great idea for a story had come to him fully formed. However, with no small amount of frustration Paul decided he could never write this story because it too closely mirrored recent unfortunate events in the life of one of his friends. He was sure people would recognise his friend as the story’s inspiration, and Paul was quite certain that a lot of people would be unhappy about that.
He clenched his fists in frustration and ground his teeth; he just knew people would go crazy for this one.
But then he had an idea. What if he were to write a story about what might happen if somebody were to exploit a friend by turning their misfortune into a story. That would be a story idea all by itself; he liked the idea and decided to go for it.
This is what he wrote:
Jed liked to write stories; he wrote lots of them, but sometimes he found it hard to come with ideas for new ones. One day, Jed was sitting at his computer, and he knew he wanted to write a story, but he just couldn’t think of one. He stared out of his window at all the wonderful things and people around him, but none of them gave him any ideas for a story. Not that day anyway. Eventually, Jed started thinking about all the people he lived with. Suddenly he realised that the perfect story had been playing out in his house for the last few weeks. His friend Peter had been to Hell and back… but surely he couldn’t write a story about his friend… could he? I know, thought Jed, I’ll write the story, but it will just be for practice, and I won’t ever let anybody read it.
So he started to write, and this is how it began.
Peter had always been too quiet; he knew that’s what people said about him anyway. They thought he was too introverted, and didn’t want to socialise. And they were right, except for the word ‘too’. Peter liked being introverted, and he didn’t like to socialise because on the whole, socialising has nothing to do with who anybody actually is. Well that’s what Peter thought anyway.
Actually, everybody really liked Peter; they knew he was a little quiet, but they didn’t force him to do anything he didn’t want to. When he wanted their company, they were there for him; when he was ill, they cared for him; when he began to climb very tall buildings and threaten to throw himself off, they were concerned and persuaded him to come down, and when he told everyone his name was Parflozzun Garontier III, a special agent from the planet Ravgisaab, they took him to see a doctor.
The doctor suggested Peter should be taken to hospital to have some tests done, and given some medicine to help him stop thinking he was from another planet.
“They might make him feel like he’s on a different planet.” The doctor had chuckled at them, “but it’s for his own good…”
Peter didn’t like the hospital; the other patients were weird; one kept staring at him without blinking for hours upon hours, and one time, in the queue for lunch an old lady tried to eat his elbow. It wasn’t a very nice place to live, but Peter had to live there for three weeks.
After three weeks Peter was allowed to come home, and everybody said they were pleased to see him. They were really a bit afraid in case Peter still thought he was Parflozzun Garontier III. He didn’t, but he didn’t know who he really was either. Still, the doctors were happy, and that meant he must be better.
Jed looked at what he had written, then he looked at his watch. It was quite late, there was a good program on the television, and he wanted a cup of tea. So Jed got up and went downstairs to watch television and drink tea.
When Jed returned to the room, he was surprised to find his own story had been erased and replaced with another. He began to read it, and what he read made him feel very guilty, but not for long…
This is what he read:
Peter had been feeling pretty miserable all day. He’d been letting his mind wander, becoming paranoid that the people around him might actually be afraid of him. The one thing he didn’t want was for them to treat him any differently to how they’d treated him before they took him to the doctor. He decided to wander down the corridor to see his friend and housemate Jed, because Jed had said he could always talk to him about things that were on his mind. When he got to Jed’s room, Jed wasn’t there; his computer was on, and Peter couldn’t help taking a look at what he’d been writing. What Peter read confirmed all his worst fears about how people perceived him. He felt betrayed by Jed, because he had genuinely thought Jed was his friend. This made Peter very upset, so he decided to finish the story on the screen. When Jed returned to the room, he was surprised to find his own story had been erased and replaced with another. He began to read it, and what he read made him feel very guilty, but not for long… as he was reading the last sentence, Peter stepped quietly out from behind the door and slipped a shoe lace around Jed’s neck from behind; pulling the ends as tight as…
Jed wasn’t able to read the last few words of the story because his eyes were bulging from the pressure of the chord round his neck. He brought his hands up to his throat and grappled wildly, choking, and spluttering as he tried to call out.
Here, Paul stopped writing. He read through his story and smiled ruefully; he quite liked how it had come out, but he realised that part way through, it began to bear too much resemblance to the recent unfortunate events suffered by his poor friend. He knew he couldn’t let anybody read it, because they would think he was cruel for using his friend’s problems to try and make money. Paul sighed and carefully placed his notebook into the drawer by the side of his bed. He propped himself up on his elbows and, making sure nobody in the ward was watching him, he reached under his mattress and took out another, much smaller notebook. Flicking through its worn and ragged pages, he found a blank page and began to write, glancing up from time to time. This is what he wrote:
Agent Garontier III’s log.
It is the Ravgisaaban month of Brown Water.
Human emotions are extremely complex; I continue to feel illogical, intermittent guilt for the death of the earthling ‘Jeremy’. This ‘guilt’ also limits creativity, preventing me from making money. I am confident these feelings can be overcome once I have adjusted to this human body. Until next time; Squarg be with you.
The last part was scribbled very quickly, and the notebook was stuffed hastily back under the mattress. A man in his early thirties was approaching the bed smiling; he was wearing a white coat, and a square laminated badge hung from the breast pocket. It said ‘Dr. Peter Grayson: Chief Psychiatrist.’ Paul smiled back.