Is It Live, or Is It Metafiction?

By S. Ross


— This is to be a bad story.

— You mean "bad" as in "good"?

— No, I mean bad. That seems to go over well in this day and age. Good is bad, and bad is good. Why not pander to my audience?

— You can't mean that.

— Why not?


Pete stared at his computer screen, its phosphorescent glare brightening the gloom the way the headlights on his father's Ford had lit up the ditch an instant before it hit bottom, ultimately killing everybody in the car, except for Pete. Pete had never quite gotten over the trauma, and, even now, staring at the cracked glass on his monitor, which, on reflection, turned out not to be cracked at all, except in his own mind, which may, perhaps, have said something about the state of his mind, he found himself wondering whether he would ever reach the end of the sentence he was writing or serving or both, and whether he was explaining too much, and whether he should have been writing when he was under the whether. But, then, what's a meta for?


— You don't really mean that.

— Do I, or don't I? Only my hairdresser will ever know.

— Huh?

— No, I'm lying. My true intentions will be placed into a sealed envelope, which will be kept safe until the critics comment on my story.

— That's not fair.

— Life isn't. The critics will have to decide whether that makes the slightest bit of difference to them, and, if so, which way they wish to gamble. The worst that can happen is that they'll look really silly. They may wish to put on Groucho Marx glasses, to complete the effect.


Sabrina rolled her i's, which was a challenge. Most people can roll their r's if they try hard enough, but rolling one's i's isn't e.z. But, then, Sabrina was a rhymes-with-bitch, which was rich, because that meant she could spell. She'd mutter a magic couplet, and whammo! She'd rolled her i's. And her mark, who tonight was a rather handsome, if foolish, young man.

"Come here," she said, with a come-hither look.

"I'll try," he said, "but I don't think my aim's that good."

The next thing he knew, he was out on the street, lacking his pants and his wallet.


— I am beginning to realize just how much fun it can be to write a story without having to worry about quality, consistency, or coherency. No wonder it's so popular.

— Geez, you are pretentious.


For a time, Pete had been thinking of going vegetarian. With so much death in the world, he'd been musing, it seemed senseless to kill animals for their flesh. That was before he'd been living at the commune. Indeed, his past perfect progressive phase had been trying, and, as hard as he'd tried, he'd still been setting a poor example. Perhaps he'd been feeling too tense.


— Your cleverness is showing.

— Damn.

— Nobody's even going to know what "past perfect progressive" means.

— Judith will.

— Okay, but you'll send everybody else to their dictionaries.

— Why would they bother? It's only a bad story.

— See, that's the problem. The story is bad, but you let your style run rampant in each individual section. It spoils the effect.

— So you'd want something that's bad, through and through?

— Don't you?

— Nah, that's been done.


My gosh, thought Pete, if you drove a spike through this computer monitor, it just might look a bit like a shattering headlight, just before the resultant explosion sent you to the hospital.  If monitors explode like that. Do monitors explode like that? I should find out if monitors explode like that; if they do, I can use a monitor as a murder weapon in my next novel. That would be cool. My father's body was cool to the touch when he was in his coffin. It's amazing how the mortician washed all the bits of headlight right out of his hair. Below his hair he got much deader. Maybe I'll have a mortician use the exploding monitor as a weapon. That might give me a snappy title: The Mortician Monitor Murders. Alliteration is cool. Hey, maybe I'll go see Sabrina.


— Is this a story or an exorcism?

— Both.

— Do you really think you can get away with it?

— Sure.

— Perhaps you don't understand. I'm not asking whether it'll be successful. The question is whether you really think you'll escape being lynched by your peers.

— Ah.

— Feel free to think it over. You have time before you have to submit this.


Nah.  Too easy.


— No, there isn't enough time to write something new. I'll just have to take my chances.

— Your funeral.


At the time of his father's funeral his mother was, still in a comma. She'd broken a few bones and had lacerations in: her colon, at least it wasn't her.  Period.

"A week later..." her life elapsed...


— You're getting sloppy.

— Am I?

— You're scared. You're afraid that if you try to write a real story, it won't be good enough. That's why you're claiming this is a bad story.

— Nonsense.

— But that was a bloody mess.

— Isn't that the point?

— So you admit that this is meant to be more than just a bad story?

— I admit nothing. If you see more, that's because you want to see it.


"You cannot see what I see because you see what you see. You cannot know what I know because you know what you know. What I see and what I know cannot be added to what you see and what you know because they are not of the same kind. Neither can it replace what you see and what you know, because that would be to replace you yourself."

"Hang on, can I write this down?" said Arthur, excitedly fumbling in his pocket for a pencil.

"You can pick up a copy at the spaceport," said the old man. "They've got racks of the stuff."

— From Mostly Harmless, by Douglas Adams.


— Are you allowed to steal paragraphs wholesale like that?

— Barthelme did it with the Yellow Fairy Book in "The Glass Mountain," didn't he?

— Yes, but I think the copyright had expired.

— Hey, doesn't the Yellow Fairy Book sound like a book about a cowardly—

— Don't go there.


Keep a rubber on you, please,

To cut the risk of STDs.

The reasoning is not immense;

It's just a bit of condom sense.


Shit, swore Pete. I'm out of condoms.


Sabrina sighed. It wasn't as if she enjoyed her work. But eye of newt and toe of frog were so hard to come by, she needed all the money she could get to pay for her weekly brew. And then there were Aunt Hilda's medical expenses, which kept mounting up; witch doctors weren't cheap. Pete was always good for a few bucks; the insurance money was more than enough for his expenses. He was even able to pretend to be a writer, instead of going out and getting a real job like everybody else.

Sighing once more, she touched up her eye shadow and walked out onto the street. Pete would show up, possibly with another dumb poem to show off. He would, he would. He always did.


— Why not? I've already got a witch in this story.

— Just don't.

— What, you think the world will come to an end if I push a button or two?

— I didn't say—

— Oh, why not? One deus ex machina, coming up.

— No, wait—


Suddenly, the sun went nova, wiping out Pete, the annoying writer, Sabrina, the equally annoying foil, and the entire damn planet. The contents of the sealed envelope were similarly destroyed. The author is dead; long live the reader.

Copyright 2000, 1998 S. Ross. All rights reserved.