Short Story on metafiction
“A wise teacher once told me that a work is never finished. It is only abandoned at some point in time.”
Footsteps echo down a hallway. They are somewhat insistent, knocking through threadbare carpet to reach decaying wood below, an odd hollow noise with a slight hint of muffled dullness. The sounds reverberate through the corridors, labyrinthine in construction and overwhelmingly grey. The pattern of raps against the floor varies, speeding up and down in cadence to some unknown algorithm. For you see, the person whose footsteps this symphony belongs to is late. Late for class. Not that they would have normally cared, but today is the day the assignment is due, and that it was the perfect time for the printers to malfunction across the whole damnable building.
“Fuzzzsk.” The late traveler affirms his status as a Luddite, and expresses his opinion on all electronic devices in general.
That sound also travels slowly, almost languidly, across the hallways and rooms. The odd aural mechanics of that brutally elegant syllable’s interaction with a doorframe shifts the pitch crazily as its source rushes madly past. Beyond that doorway, it comes out as a distorted buzz to the people within that room, barely recognizable as a spoken thought. Within the room, the errant sound waves shear and weave between messily arranged desks, across deliberately ripped clothes, across the contours of hands and feet and glasses and hair. It barely registers on a person within it, for right now the secrets to a Universe are being revealed.
“So you see, epics of this kind are almost always introduced with a Traveler figure,” a sonorous voice intones, wise and majestic, each syllable imbued with meaning and intent. They come from the wizened old figure slouching amiably across a chair positioned haphazardly near one end of the room. “The traveler merely introduces the settings of the story, gets everyone interested, and has absolutely nothing to do with the tale proper. Sometimes, the traveler gets to return as a figure who signals the epic’s finish.” The Orator gets up, pacing slowly around the room, gathering thoughts, looking into space as if waiting for a muse to conjure the words. “If you’ll have a look at some of the readings, which I know is a futile hope, but anyway, If you look at something like the Arabian Nights you’ll get the general idea. Now, of course,” and now the great mentor stops, and thinks for a moment, staring intently at something at the conjunction of ceiling and wall at the back of the room which obviously is of great importance but doesn’t seem to be visible to anyone else.
“Of course,” the figure remarks again, and pens are raised in reverence, fingers poised carefully over keyboards, waiting for a morsel of gospel from the Great One. “The epics of yesteryear concentrate on a central figure. He (yes, it was a very patriarchal world back then),” and there is almost a sigh from the figure, “is not usually described too well. Why? Of course, so everyone could imagine himself to be the hero, overcoming adversity.”
In front of the Great Sage, a person sits back and stretches his arms, loosing the cramp from them. This new found knowledge suddenly piques his interest. Fortunately (Or Unfortunately, as his friends who deal with the cold world of numbers and symbols and this crazy thing called Logic would say), he never had to think too hard about what he did. Well, he certainly thought, but to concentrate was another matter entirely. Where numbers and formulae and rules constrained his friends, he was free to let his mind wander onto the contemplation of all things, free from the mundane mechanics of the physical world which he inhabits, free from all the sheer bother which people stuck in this world are fixated on. He has no dependency on things in this material world.
A note he is scratching into his notebook peters out into nothing. He shakes his pen once, twice, and then finally gives up after dismantling it provides no solution to his drought of black gold. One last time, he attempts to draw a line across the paper, but the clean page mocks him with pure and white derision. With a soft sigh, the student leans forward, hoping to remember every scrap of knowledge the mentor might impart on him.
“Now, of course, our hero has a certain complication facing him,” the sage continues, “and it doesn’t have to be that big a complication, but in all literature, in all drama, there are complications that must occur that must be resolved. You don’t want to read about someone sitting in a room watching drying paint all day, unless you have an internal monologue, but no one thought of that back then, and quite frankly, it’s an excuse for a writer to cruise and not bother about keeping the story tight.”
The student notices something out of the corner of his eye even as he ponders the forms such an absolutely boring tale could take. Now, that form was a beguiling one. The curves themselves were worth watching. He takes a far more careful survey of his target. The plot is good, the exterior is excellent, and the stylistic technique… yes, it is pleasantly tight. He delights in his very guilty pleasure. One more roam over with the eyes…
With a sudden start, he realizes she’s looking back at him with a curious, somewhat quizzical look. He flushes red.
“And a very simple complication is a female, (Again, apologies to the women in the audience) who is an attainable object for the hero. I think there are a few stories where the girl is the one doing the wooing, but I’m afraid it’s Japanese and it’s a Novel, which is what we’re NOT looking at today. So grit your teeth, ladies, and think of England.” The Great Educator looks down again, scanning the crowd packed within the room to hear this great lesson of life. One of them appears to be hiding under his desk, the others look clearly bored, and one is picking her nose. Typical. “Now, I’m sure you all know of the Virgin/Whore dichotomy, yes? It’s true, she is One or the other, at least in the epics. Either the maiden fair and true, or the wicked deceiver. Now that was a very simple complication they liked to use, even that as simple as the maiden stuck in a tower that the hero had to save. It’s quite funny, if you look at it now.”
The student isn’t so sure. The angel in front of him is giving him a glare that might shame a Dragon into meek submission. With a sudden wish that he had listened harder when a friend explained the physics of Romulan Cloaking Invisibility Devices to him, he tried the next best thing- Disappearing under the table. He could feel his attempt failing miserably even as he tried the maneuver, but he did most certainly feel a sudden hatred for people who chewed gum and then stuck the remains under desks. That one would take a few days of intense washing to get out of his hair and system. The student looks down at his watch and realizes, with relief, complete and utter joy, that the lesson is over. A few others in the crowd begin to noisily pack away computers and notebooks, and the Orator realizes, with a sigh, that no one can stand the test of time, nor can one resist the call of Lunch, nor can anyone ever, ever, stop a group of students from leaving the moment their scheduled “learning time” is over. Learning for Learning’s sake.
The student counts himself lucky that the object of his indiscretions gives him only one baleful stare of death as he escapes from the suffocating airlessness of the room.
It is an indeterminate amount of time later. It is hard to explain this in literary terms without simply spelling it out, but if you’re using a device like tracking the decay of a simple object over time or showing the passing of the seasons, such broad time dilation tricks just don’t work for the time period required, which is too short for any of this to occur. Not to mention, there would have to be a very good reason as to why the objects in the room were picked up, placed in a ship flying at relativistic speeds near the speed of light, and replaced at exactly the same place that they were before for any of the time dilation tricks to occur. It is not possible on any budget allocated to a University student, that is certain. Suffice to say, the Student is in an exam hall some time later, and he is not happy.
He is not happy for a variety of reasons, the main one being his lack of memory concerning the Literary techniques he swore to remember that time lost in the mists of history for what may as well be eons ago. The clean page in front of him again mocks him with black and white intensity. The Question at the top stares out at him, begging him to answer it. The second reason is the fact that it is cold, and he thoughtlessly forgot to bring something to keep him warm. The third. Well, the third problem is sitting in the chair front of him, hunched over her desk and scribbling furiously, and she is still driving him to distraction. Why does she keep wearing those jeans…?
The answer is, of course, that they’re comfortable and she likes wearing jeans. But then why do these disturbing thoughts on clothes keep running through his head? They’re covering up the good stuff, the stuff he needs so desperately. The words still echo in his mind as he tries to replay the tape recorder in his memory of that day lost to time.
“And a final word on the Epic…” click.
“And a final word on the Epic…” click.
“And a final word on the Epic, which will make your lives very much easier come having to write a Paper on it,” says the Sage, with a wide grin, “Is that whatever the Epic, there were only Ever two endings.”
But how best to furnish the answer, to show how the literary technique is worked? How to write without using the trite conventions of a manual or handbook? How to show that he had been paying attention in class and remembered all the techniques of writing, of plot and direction, of setting atmosphere and being artful? The student smiles and picks up his pen. He knows what to write. The paper shall be stained with his mark, and it will be a glorious stain, a stain that will fill hearts with joy and awe and delight. He touches the paper slightly, to align it perfectly with his pen. Even the quick, sensuous shudders from the body in front of him to shake off a cramp in the hand fail to take his attention. It is said that when the student is ready, the master will appear.
“Either the Protagonist married the girl of his dreams,” the Orator muses in a half remembered memory, lost in another world where Gilgamesh spars with Achilles for who gets to pay for the next round of drinks, where Ganesh sits down on a couch and prepares to write the greatest, longest story ever told. Another world where a one eyed God of All drinks in a bar and laughs with a small man with fur on his feet and a ring that can make him invisible, where a stern looking old man sits glowering at a pretty woman who sits on his best knight’s lap, where Harun al Rashid the Just slips out into the Baghdad night and finds a widow who wishes only one thing of him- to Kill Harun al Rashid. A world where a serpent made of rainbows winds up the lands to speak to the mischievous Monkey, who has to return some books he’s taken from a remote monastery. A world where the Empress of the Sun waits beneath the Ocean for the time where she can blossom and give birth to the Earth.
“Either he marries her,” the student writes down, almost finished with his work which he will submit, and it is at that moment that a sudden clatter of something falling in the cavernous hall barges into his consciousness and makes him jump, as it does quite a few people in the room. When the mutterings of hatred and annoyance from the people in the room subside, the student notices a sharp pain in his foot. It is with indifferent curiosity that he leans and peers over the desk to see just what is causing the pain. It is the leg of the chair in front of him, and it is digging deeply into the top of his shoe. The chair’s occupant notices the imbalance as well. She turns around with a polite expression of contrition on her face, which changes to a quizzical pursing of her brow as she tries to place where exactly she remembers him from, and then the quick frown as she places it. He winces slightly as she scrapes the chair abruptly off his shoe with deliberate ferocity. The Student wonders if he could perhaps say sorry to her for his previous disrespectful treatment of her. Over a coffee, perhaps, or a movie, or perhaps even a picnic?
She turns around and gives him one last glance of death. Oh well.
“Or he dies,” he scribbles down onto his paper. Then, smiling cheekily to himself, the Student finishes with one last flourish of Literary technique, a device so ancient that to use it now is new.
“Or he wakes up, for it was all a dream.”
The banging of footsteps can be heard as someone else tries to find another printer for an assignment that is due.
END OF EXAM
PLEASE DO NOT TAKE THE QUESTION PAPER FROM THE EXAM ROOM