Artwork by Amanda Rehel
Claire enters her apartment with a prominent scowl on her face, all her friends are gathered in the living room and kitchen listening to loud music and enjoying her drinks. The crowd is silenced as she slams the door behind her. They all stand around, tightening their grips on their glasses, feeling the tension rise in the room. Claire jams her coat on the hanger, and stomps over to the drinks table, pouring herself a giant glass of wine.
Only after a large gulp does she glance around the room, looking for one person in particular—her former best friend Kerry…
David sat at his writing desk, typing out the words on the page with one hand as he sipped his tea with the other. He was wearing the same clothes as yesterday, and his beard was growing in. For three days he had been sitting there, avoiding light and any human contact. His story was almost a month late, and he hadn’t had any form of inspiration. At this point, he was determined to write anything at all, even if it was complete crap, just so he could hand it in for editing at least. Once someone looked it over, maybe it would give him time to think of some brilliant twist to give this story.
He continued to write about how Claire walked over to Kerry and poured the wine over her head, and stomped off to her room to scream. And yet, every idea he had about these women had ended. They were fighting over a guy, and David wasn’t sure who the guy was going to end up with.
David got up and walked to his kitchen, thinking the break might do him some good. He poured some water into the kettle and waited for it to boil. He lived in a tiny apartment with tiny rooms. With his writing career just starting to take off, nothing about this life was very glamourous or exciting. Many times he had debated leaving the big city and moving back in with his parents, but if he could get this story in then he might not have to do that.
When the kettle boiled, he pulled out a bag of earl grey tea, threw it in a mug and poured hot water in it. Then he grabbed a muffin from the basket on the counter and sauntered back to the writing room, sipping his tea.
He walked in the door, pulling the mug down from his face, and almost spilled half the tea down his shirt. Sat on his desk chair, staring at his computer screen was none other than Claire, or how he had imagined Claire would look. She had long black hair with blunt bangs and was wearing the same sparkly black skirt and dark green button-up as in the scene he had just written.
“Excuse me? Who the hell are you?” he asked, glancing around for something to defend himself with. He looked past the desk at the bay window, seeing it still closed and locked shut. “Get out!”
“What are you even doing in this scene?” Possible-Claire asked, ignoring him.
“I don’t know,” he said, “get off my computer! Get out of my apartment!”
“Kerry is my best friend… she would never cheat with the guy I’m dating. Also, why am I fighting her instead of this jerk? Have you not heard of feminism? Can’t we gang up together and get back at him…? Clearly, Kerry mustn’t have known about him, considering it was a secret relationship.”
Claire turned around, giving him the same look David had just written her in the scene. “And I am not this dramatic. You make me sound like a maniac. I would be a lot more subtle at a party… I am not a party-pooper.”
“Am I going insane?” David asked, setting down his tea on the table. He ran back to the kitchen sink and splashed water on his face. He expected the cold water would wake him up from whatever this dream was, and when he returned to his room she would have disappeared. But when he creeped his way back into the room with water spilled down his front and peeked his head around the corner, he found her still sitting there.
“What are you still doing here!” he screamed. He hoped it would scare her off, he reached over for the phone to call the police, but realized it wouldn’t do him any good if this was just his imagination.
He sat down on his bed. “I am going insane,” he told himself, “because you’re sat there acting like Claire, and looking like Claire. But that can’t be real…you’re not Claire.”
Claire just stared at him like he was an idiot. “I am Claire, you idiot,” she confirmed.
It was official: he had gone insane.
David turned around and walked out of the room. Through the closed bedroom door behind him he could hear her hitting what he assumed was the backspace button. He felt like he had developed an instant fever. He could feel sweat dripping out of all areas of his body. Was he sick and hallucinating?
He grabbed his coat and jetted out the door. He quickly stepped out onto the oddly quiet street.
David wandered down the street, getting so confused. He was finding it particularly hard to breathe, and began yanking at his shirt collar until he swore it might come off. But there was no change. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think. Something was wrong with him. The whole world seemed to be spinning around him like he was lost on his way to Oz.
As he walked he realized he wasn’t going anywhere in particular, but every time he turned in a direction he thought he knew, nothing seemed familiar. Like it had changed or moved itself. This whole thing was getting him very lost.
He wandered past several new stores that felt oddly familiar, but he had never seen with his own eyes before.
“Oi, you’re going the wrong way,” someone called, running up behind him.
“Wrong way?” he asked, turning around. “I’m not headed anywhere in particular,” he responded.
“The party’s at Claire’s house, isn’t it?” Kerry told him.
David closed his eyes and exhaled sharply. Perhaps he had truly gone mad, because when he opened his eyes, Kerry still stood there, staring at him with her wide eyes and big smile. The exact girl he had been writing about for chapters and chapters. The sidekick to his main character. The Thelma to her Louise.
“What is going on!” he cried out, opening his eyes and raising his fists in the air.
“You’re in our world now,” Kerry responded without missing a beat.
Kerry smiled at him innocently. “We’re writing the story now. You’re in our world.”
“You’re writing the story?” he repeated. “How? That’s not possible.”
“Claire was at the keyboard, wasn’t she?” Kerry pointed out. “We’re going to fix it for you.”
“You know, I’ve heard of authors saying their characters just take over the story…. But I never thought they were serious.”
Kerry laughed, shaking her head. “Come on, we’ve got a party to attend.”
Once they got up to Claire’s apartment, David started having the strangest feeling of déjà vu—everything and everyone was how he had pictured it in his book. They opened the door and he saw the same coat hanger by the door, the same terribly ugly orange couch that Claire loved, the same kitchen island with the stools surrounding it, and the same bedroom door to his right. The apartment was exactly how he had pictured it, and he was in it.
“What kind of dream is this?” he asked turning to Kerry. She pulled at his arm, dragging him through the crowd of people, all waiting for Claire’s birthday party. Behind them all on the kitchen island was an array of drinks. Kerry poured two and handed one to David without answering his question.
“Excuse me, might I bother you?” asked a stumpy bald man. He was Claire’s brother, Charles, who never had any luck; he was always losing things—his keys, his hat, his job. He didn’t have one redeeming feature the whole book. He was just a sad man who made Claire look a little better.
“Yes?” David asked, glaring down at him. This whole joke had gotten a tad ridiculous. His mind tended to play tricks on him when he wanted to procrastinate but this one was a little far.
“I was just wondering if perhaps you could write a little more for me. I am the main character’s brother and all, so I wouldn’t mind having a little bit of a redemption storyline… even just like a small, little, story arc,” he said, as he nervously played with his paper cup.
“Charles, I’m not sure that’s entirely necessary. This story is about the girls.”
Kerry elbowed him hard in the ribs. “Are you kidding me? You’ve written several paragraphs of how Claire is worried about her brother and how her brother means a lot to her, man,” she reminded him. “We should have never trusted you to write this story. It’s a good thing Claire has taken it over.”
“Pardon?” David asked.
And as if on cue, Claire came in with great finesse. She threw her coat on the rack, and waved the manuscript above her head so everyone could see. “All finished!” she called out, cutting through the crowd, handing out different sections of it to various characters that had suddenly perked up as she told them about their backstory and new development. She came up to her brother and Kerry, completely ignoring David for the time being.
“Kerry, you and I will not be fighting over a guy. Instead, I will arrive here tonight in a slightly disappointed mood, but still with great party skills. I will have seen you earlier that day with him, and realized that we both had secret relationships with him. Instead of pouring expensive wine on your head, I will drink it and it will be delicious. And then I will pull you aside and we will discuss how we are going to both dump him and then take our revenge,” she said almost all in one breath. She then took Kerry’s glass from her hand and drank it before she continued. “We will then both realize that we don’t even need stupid boys, and we will open our own business and make lots of money and amount to great things, and he will be alone forever.”
Next she turned to Charles and handed him his pages and told him, “Charles, my brother, you will finally land a job after realizing your passion for florals. You will meet a lady who will come in to find an obscure flower, and you will wow her with your expertise.”
Charles smiled, looking down at his floral printed shirt. “I do really love flowers,” he said as he nodded, with mist in his eyes. He looked very happy to have his redemption arc. David scowled—this was his story, and he was the one to decide what Charles would do.
In fact, the whole room chatted to themselves about how excited they were about the direction and storyline change they each had gotten. Suddenly the party livened up and everyone sounded happier with their lives.
David shook his head, still stood there looking pathetic with his day-old clothes and his patchy beard. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to go!” he cried. “I write the stories!”
Claire turned to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “David, you did good. You started us, you created us. Just sometimes… characters take their turn. It’s not you, it’s us,” she told him softly. “When you wake up from this dream, you will be in your bed, and the story will be sent. Characters write themselves sometimes,” she added, patting him on the back. “Have a drink.”
The next morning David woke up with a start. He rolled around in his sheets as he tried to get up as quickly as possible. He looked around the apartment, opening up every closet and cupboard door, making sure no strange women were in his room.
He stuck his head out the window, expecting to see his made-up town, but instead heard the hustle and bustle of Toronto streets—he was home. It had all just been a bad dream.
He sighed, went to his closet and picked out a new outfit for the day, determined to clean himself up and actually finish his book. His dream had told him one thing: he needed to stop letting his mind wander, and be more focused on the story.
Right as he was about to sit down at his computer, after having gotten dressed and eaten breakfast, his phone rang. His editor’s number showed up on the caller ID. David winced when he picked up, expecting a harsh tone asking him when he would be submitting his manuscript.
“I know, it’s late, I’m sorry!” he said quickly before she had a chance to ask. “It’s coming soon, I promise!”
He got a confused reaction from the other end of the line. “Coming? David, I got the pages last night. I stayed up all night to read it. It’s fantastic!”
“It is?” he asked, tentatively.
“Yes! You’ve done a great job! These two girls, Claire and Kerry, they have such attitude, such strength. They take charge. This will be great for people to read!” she cried out excitedly.
“Oh, well, thank you,” he said, not entirely sure what to say.
“How did you do this? What was your inspiration?” she asked curiously.
David exhaled, leaned back in his chair and scratched the back of his head. “Well, you know…characters write themselves sometimes.”
About the writer
Emma Morden is a staff writer at Inventio. You can read her biography here.
Editor: Sarah Cacella