by Mike W
A take on the fairy tale The Elves and The Shoemaker.
The Elvori and The Storymaker
There was a title - Winter’s Echo - and nothing else.
Sitting at his kitchen table Jeff stared at the laptop screen, willing inspiration to strike, but it steadfastly refused to come. A dozen times he’d started to write the story, and just as often he’d ended up deleting it all in despair.
It was now two o’clock in the morning, hours since Claire had stormed off to bed and he’d angrily opened his laptop, determined to prove her wrong, to write the story that would finally sell.
But he realised now that it was never going to happen. Claire had been right. He would never make it as a writer. She’d supported him all these years for nothing.
With one last despairing glance at the two accusatory words on the screen, he made his way upstairs and climbed as silently as possible into bed, trying hard not to disturb Claire.
She was asleep.
Or pretending to be.
It was noon the next day when he finally surfaced. Claire had gone to work early while he’d still been asleep. They hadn’t spoken since the previous evening’s argument. Lying there disconsolate Jeff had come to a decision. This was the end of his dream of being a writer. The time had come to grow up and face facts. Last night Claire had threatened to leave him. He was sure she hadn’t meant it but it had scared him. The one thing that he was certain of, above all else, was that Claire was the single most important thing in his life. He couldn’t risk losing her. He would get a proper job - a career.
Intending to delete the Winter’s Echo document he’d left on his laptop last night - a practical demonstration of his new determination - Jeff hit a key on the keyboard to bring the screen back to life. He was going to look for jobs.
As the screen lit up Jeff saw, not the two words he’d been expecting, but hundreds of them. He stared uncomprehendingly. Paging down a few times confirmed that it was exactly what it looked like: a short story. Winter’s Echo, it appeared, had been written.
But that, of course, was impossible.
He fell into the chair at the kitchen table and tried to consider the possibilities. Had he written it last night after all and somehow forgotten? Maybe he’d got up in middle of the night and written it – a kind of sleepwalking perhaps? He even considered the possibility that Claire had written it. But nothing he could think of seemed even remotely plausible.
Eventually he gave up trying to think of explanations and read the story.
Afterwards he sat back astonished. It was good, astoundingly so.
It was set in a world named Elvor, an alternate reality so well-realised that, on finishing reading, Jeff felt a sudden strange kind of disconnection at suddenly finding himself back in the mundane surroundings of his ordinary kitchen.
Elvor was a curious and beautiful land and the Elvori an odd ethereal people. Much of the background detail was merely hinted at, but the strength of its reality was such that Jeff felt completely immersed in it.
The actual story was a strange and subtle thing, lyrical and profound, about the power of story itself. In Elvor story-telling was a complex and integral part of life and culture. The Elvori lived their lives by the stories they told and those that were told about them. It was almost a religious thing. There were individuals called Story Masters who governed the making of stories and seemed almost priest-like. There was so much peripheral detail that was never explained, as if the reader were expected to know it already, and this leant a great realism to the story.
That evening Jeff showed it to Claire.
“Jeff, that’s brilliant. Easily the best thing you’ve written.”
“That’s the problem. I didn’t write it.”
“What do you mean?” Claire sounded disappointed. “Is this someone else’s story?”
“I don’t know. Claire, this sounds crazy, but last night, after you went to bed, I tried to write something, a story, to prove to you that I could do it. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t write a thing except a title. I gave up and came to bed. Today when I looked at my laptop this story was there. I don’t know how. I didn’t write it. I can’t explain it.”
Claire looked at Jeff for a moment. “But you must have,” she said.
“Maybe you wrote it and went to sleep and forgot that you’d written it.”
Jeff shook his head.
“Or you wrote it in your sleep.”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Jeff, come on. You must have written it. I certainly didn’t and there’s only the two of us in the house.”
Jeff just stared blankly back at her.
In the end they could find no explanation that worked. They settled eventually on a vague idea that Jeff had somehow written it sub-consciously, automatic writing or something like that. These things happened didn’t they?
They decided Jeff should submit the story anyway. It was too good not to. It was so good in fact that they agreed they should try the most eminent magazine in the field. And so next day, not without some considerable misgiving on Jeff’s part, Winter’s Echo by Jeff Stephens was sent off for consideration by the largest and best known publication in the field of fantasy and speculative fiction.
Incredibly, just a few weeks later, the story sold.
And not just that, but Jeff was also asked for more Elvor stories. The magazine felt certain that their readers would love Winter’s Echo and demand further tales of the Elvori.
For a while Jeff and Claire forgot all about the true origin of the story and celebrated as if Jeff had actually written it himself. Claire believed in him once more and that gave Jeff the confidence to think he would be able to write more tales about the strange world of Elvor where story was life itself.
However by the time the story was published a couple of months later, to great critical acclaim, Jeff was despondent again. He’d tried in vain to come up with another Elvor story but nothing he could write himself came even remotely near to the brilliance and subtlety, the sheer heart-breaking beauty, of that first story.
One night, in desperation, he plucked a title from the air - Dreams of the Silver Forest - typed it into his laptop and retired to bed.
In the morning, after a restless night, he kissed Claire goodbye as she went to work and with some trepidation, not sure exactly what he was hoping for, he opened his laptop.
There was another story there.
Unbelievably it had happened again – whatever ‘it’ was.
“There’s something really weird going on here, Claire.”
“You’re absolutely positive you didn’t write this?”
“There’s no way I could write anything that good.”
“Well, I don’t know, Jeff. I think you’ve just got to go along with this until we can work it out.”
“Send it in you mean?”
“Well they wanted more Elvor stories.”
“But it’s not my story to sell, Claire”
“I don’t think you have a choice. It’s too good to keep to ourselves.”
And she was right. The new story built on the first one and developed further the world of Elvor. More details were revealed, more insights into its complex culture of story. And so once again Jeff submitted it and once more it sold.
And so it continued. The stories kept coming and they kept selling. All Jeff had to do was provide a title. The years passed and Jeff’s reputation in the world of fantasy fiction was assured. He and Claire married. They moved to a nicer home. They’d discovered that the phenomenon was not linked to any one particular place. Wherever Jeff was the stories would appear.
Gradually, over time, he and Claire came to realise exactly where the stories were coming from, and who was responsible for them. In the end, of course, it was all very obvious. The truth was right there in the tales, had been from the very first one.
They grew to accept the situation and to enjoy Jeff’s success and the rewards that it brought, though they were fully aware at all times that it could all be taken away from them as easily as it had been given. “After all,” Claire would reason with him. “It’s not as if you’ve deliberately stolen someone else’s work. The stories have been given to you like some kind of gift.” For what purpose neither of them could ever begin to imagine.
But it couldn’t last. Eventually Jeff became dissatisfied with his undeserved success and he knew he was reaching some kind of turning point. The recent stories had been making lots of things perfectly clear to him. There was a lot of detail in there about the hidden paths between worlds and how to find them, how to travel them. There was a decision to be made. After weeks of deliberation however, he had finally come to realise that, in actuality, there was no real decision to make at all. There never had been. It had all been leading to this. There was only one thing to do and he knew he had to do it. It was time to take control, to craft his own future, to make his own story.
That evening he talked it over with Claire. Not entirely to his surprise he discovered that she had been feeling the same way herself for some considerable time and she readily agreed.
He spent the whole of the next day writing. For the first time ever it came easily, almost as if the story had been given to him in the same way as all the others. But this time he knew it was his, it was his own creation, his own work.
His own story.
Once he’d finished he showed it to Claire. She read it through.
“It’s perfect,” she said, and kissed him.
Leaving the laptop open on the kitchen table they went to bed and held each other and waited for the morning.
One cold and clear morning in mid-spring – a crisp echo of the bitter season just passed – the would-be Storymaker and his beautiful wife, led by unseen Elvori guides, walked out of their home, perhaps forever, and stepped hand-in-hand into the Silver Forest…