THE FOURTH WALL
A terrible short story about terrible short stories, by BHS
It was a dark and stormy night.
Protagonist fumed to himself as he stomped down the streets of the city of Setting, grasping his umbrella tightly. Didn’t the Author just have to start him off with the most cliché opening line in history? That alone was enough to put him in a bad mood… the first bad mood of his so-far very brief existence. His temperament did not improve as he further considered his position. Who was he, really? Where was Setting? Where did the umbrella come from? He didn’t know; he had only been created several sentences ago. All he had were his clothes, his raincoat, the umbrella, and some vague sense that there was a plot device coming up soon. Until then, he would just have to follow the Author’s direction. Realizing this did nothing to improve his mood.
On and on he trudged, the driving rain pounding heavily against his umbrella. The stores he was passing were brightly lit, filled with warm and dry people that existed for no purpose other than to juxtapose their situation with how cold and wet he was. Lightning flashed across the sky, and a sharp wind began to pick up. Protagonist pulled his raincoat tighter over his nondescript clothes that the Author hadn’t bothered to describe yet, and silently cursed his lot in life. Bits of paper were being blown against him, impeding his progress through the paragraph. The gale was becoming such that it was stinging his eyes, so he yanked his hood over his face as best he was able.
“I wish this narration would hurry up,” he muttered to himself. It escaped his notice that those were the first words he had ever said in his life. Lost in his own dark thoughts, and unable to see more than a few inches ahead of him, he walked straight into the girl before he knew what was happening.
The two of them collided painfully, sending her sprawling over him in an awkward position. Protagonist was thrown backward, and stars exploded in front of his eyes as his head cracked against the pavement of the sidewalk. Through a red haze of pain, he wondered idly why exploding stars and red haze were the standard measurements of pain for characters. He could sort of understand the red haze, but the stars seemed needlessly dramatic. His vision was slowly clearing, and he managed to gasp out an apology to the girl before he really saw her face.
She was a vision out of a dream. Her long, raven hair spilled over her shoulders and onto his raincoat like a black, inky waterfall. Eyes green as emeralds were blinking, coming back into focus as she stirred herself. Her wet clothing was clinging tightly to her body like a second skin, accentuating the perfect curves and contours of the female form. Protagonist knew at once as he beheld her, both because of her extraordinary beauty and because there were no other characters in sight, that she was destined to be his, and only his. Her lips parted, and with a soft, melodic voice, she spoke, interrupting the long and increasingly gratuitous exposition. “I’m sorry I ran into you… My name is Love Interest.”
Protagonist struggled to find words. This was it,he thought, dumbstruck. This was the plot device he had felt back at the top of the page, an eternity ago… but he had never expected another character to ease his misery, never dreamed that the Author would introduce a soul mate for him… In some distant part of his mind, he noted that the storm was clearing. Right on cue. It was another cliché, but suddenly he found he didn’t mind. He swallowed.
“Um, it’s all right, it was my fault. My name’s Protagonist… Here, let me help you up.” Gently he lifted her off the ground; he was surprised at just how light she was. As she stood, she caught a glimpse of his face, and he knew from her expression that the thoughts crossing her mind were very similar to his own from two paragraphs ago. Slowly she leaned toward him, closing her eyes…
Suddenly, they were sitting in Protagonist’s apartment, wearing dry clothes and sitting across from each other at his dinner table. He was now wearing comfortable evening wear, and she had on a stunning new black dress.
Protagonist looked around, confused and irritated. “What the hell just happened?”
“Oh, the Author cut away from the scene to increase the romantic tension,” said Love Interest, rolling those brilliant green eyes and sighing. “Annoying, isn’t it? But at least we’re out of the rain, and the story’s moving along now.”
Protagonist shrugged. “I suppose that’s good enough. So… tell me about yourself.”
“I was hoping you could tell me! I was just introduced on the last page… I’m as in the dark as you are.”
“Damn. Maybe we’ll be fleshed out as we go along.” He drummed his fingers on the side of his chair, trying to think of something else to talk about. “You know, you’re not anything like what I expected.”
Love Interest laughed at that. “You were expecting a blue-eyed blonde, weren’t you? That’s how I was going to be described until the Author changed his mind at the last minute.”
“It doesn’t matter. I think you’re beautiful anyway…” As soon as the words had left his mouth, Protagonist grimaced. “Blech,” he said. “That was an awful line. Maybe it’s a good thing we cut away from the kiss…”
“I don’t know,” she said with a coy smile. “Something tells me we wouldn’t have done much talking.”
They both laughed awkwardly, but their forced mirth was cut short by someone pounding on the door. “Open up!” yelled an angry voice on the other side.
“Who’s there?” Protagonist growled as he got to his feet. He really didn’t want to know, but he didn’t have much choice… This new character had been given dialogue, so he had to be important somehow.
“I’ve come for Love Interest! Now open this door!” spat the angry voice with equal ferocity. Protagonist and Love Interest barely had time to look at each other uncomprehendingly before the door burst open.
There in the doorway stood a handsome man with dark hair. He was dressed in all black, and his dark eyes burned with cold fury, directed solely at Protagonist. As the man noticed Love Interest clinging to Protagonist’s side, his face broke into a malevolent sneer. “Well, Protagonist, we finally meet.”
Protagonist was rapidly growing tired of this diversion in the plot. Important character or no, he was keeping him and Love Interest from any romantic interaction, so he had to go. He clenched his fists and stepped forward to the invader. “Enough with the rising action already,” he said. “Who are you?”
The man twirled his obligatory black goatee and took a fighting stance as he answered. “My name is Antagonist! Prepare to die!”
“What?” Protagonist blinked. “Wait a minute! Why are you so angry with me?”
“I don’t know!” roared Antagonist. “I’m just written that way! I’m going to kill you and take Love Interest back!” With that, he hurled himself at Protagonist, and Love Interest screamed…
Something came crashing through the ceiling of the apartment, obscuring everyone from view in a thick cloud of choking dust. Waving her hand in an effort to clear the air, Love Interest coughed and felt her way through the cloud. Her slim hands wrapped around an arm, and she pulled with all her might, playing fervently that she had the right character. The owner of the arm grasped her hand in his…
“Love Interest! Are you all right?”
She sobbed and wrapped her arms around Protagonist, tears of relief streaming down her face, and she felt his strong arms holding her. After a long, dramatic pause, she looked over at where the huge object had fallen.
“What happened? What made that sound effect just now?”
“I don’t know…” Protagonist shrugged and slowly stepped over to the point of impact. Antagonist’s smashed and broken body lay under what appeared to be a huge, metal cube of some kind. Whatever it was, there appeared to be words carved on it. He reached out his hand and wiped some of the dust away to see what they were… then he groaned. Written on the huge metal cube were the words: “WRITER’S BLOCK”.
“Well, that was stupid,” said Protagonist, standing and brushing himself off. “That’s it? That’s the conflict resolution? No long, drawn-out, bloody fight scene? He dies, just like that?”
Love Interest came up to him and peered at the Writer’s Block. “Well, you know how these things work. He’ll probably be back in the next story.”
Protagonist groaned. “So we have to go through all this again. Great.”
“At least he’s gone for now,” she said as she smiled up at him. “Come on, cheer up. You won, the villain is dead, and you have me with you, so it can’t be that much longer until the end.”