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art by Melissa Mead

Tunnel Vision

Zach Shephard lives in western Washington, where he writes speculative fiction, plays board games and does everything in his power to avoid mayonnaise. His stories have appeared in places like Flash Fiction Online, Alex Shvartsman's Unidentified Funny Objects and Kazka Press' At Year's End, and he has more fiction forthcoming from Weird Tales and Chaosium's Once Upon an Apocalypse. You can check him out at the frequently updated zachshephard.com, where you'll find a new post every six months or so.
You follow her down the street because her story is important. She doesn't know it, but you've been with her a long way.
She is the protagonist.
You know everything there is to know about her: her favorite color (deep violet), her tortured past (how can one endure such abuse?) and, most importantly of all, her quest.
There are things she must do. Evils she must confront. Stories she must tell.
She is the protagonist. She is important.
But what about the others?
You follow the protagonist down the busy city street. She's on her way to fulfill her destiny. You pass dozens of other souls along the way, but they're all faceless bodies in the crowd. You don't care about them--as far as you're concerned, they have no stories of their own.
You're wrong.
You bump into a man while trailing the protagonist. You see no face, no name, no story. His hair is the color of steel, combed in a way to meet the standard set by his overpriced suit. His name is Tyler Cobb. He's a successful businessman whose wife thinks he's having an affair.
She's wrong.
He's been sneaking out in the evenings to worship an elder god. Some of his old high school friends got him involved in the cult, convincing him that their master could guide him through the mess of his crumbling marriage.
Last night, they gathered in an abandoned warehouse and sacrificed a human girl to their deity. She burned for seven minutes before she died.
Things have gone too far. Tyler Cobb wants out. He's on his way back to the office, where he will put a gun in his mouth and pull the trigger.
You have no idea who he is.
You don't remember seeing Tyler Cobb. He was there for the blink of an eye, but now he's gone. You won't even hear about his story on the news, because in your mind, his story never happened.
The protagonist steps into a restaurant where she will confront her former lover. Following, you pass a table where a couple is eating quietly.
But they aren't.
They're arguing loudly. The man, a red-eyed insomniac in frayed denim jacket and jeans, insists that the machine must be destroyed before the Outsiders can interrupt the time flow again. The woman, a splash of red features on a canvas of ivory skin, sticks a pistol into his kneecap under the table. She connects to Mission Control via the comm-system installed in her brain and informs them that the last rebel has revealed himself. There follows gunfire and breaking glass, and screams from all the restaurant's patrons.
You don't notice any of it.
The protagonist is important. She's developed. Her story is the one in which you're invested. You don't care about Chef Lawrence in the kitchen, who will be fired if the manager searches his locker again. You don't care about the children walking down the alley behind the building, who are wandering into the path of a distracted delivery truck driver. You don't care about pregnant Emily or terminal Tim or the witch in the corner whose spell will open a dimensional rift and turn the entire city into a demonic playground.
You don't care because you haven't been told these things. From your perspective, they don't exist. But they're there--in every story, in every crowd. The protagonist doesn't recognize them because they're not developed--because they're not "important."
She's wrong.
They live all around you: in your books, your movies, your very life. They exist, and because of that, they are important. If you want to see their stories, all you need to do is open your eyes and look.
You won't.
In the restaurant, at a table in the back corner, the protagonist meets her man.
Finally, some action.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, September 10th, 2013


On one lazy weekend day a few months ago, I found myself having a hard time getting through the book I was reading and decided I should relieve my boredom by writing a story. The first thing that came to my mind was an opening line that said, "He's bored, so he writes a story." The second thing that came to my mind was, "Who the heck cares how bored I am?"

This led to another, more important question: just because potential readers don't know me--just because they don't have reason to care about the problem of my boredom--does that make it any less of a problem? I then started thinking about how everyone has their own daily hurdles and stories, but we only seem to care for the ones we hear about. I let the idea simmer for a few days, then wrote this story the old-fashioned way (pen and paper!) in about half an hour while lying in bed before turning off the light.

(And for those observant readers who noticed I didn't actually write this story on the day I was bored, you’re correct--the boredom was not cured. But I ended up getting my first DSF sale out of the deal, so I'm not going to complain.)

- Zach Shephard

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