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Your Life Unfolds, and Then--

Barbara A. Barnett is a writer, musician, orchestra librarian, Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, coffee addict, wine lover, and all-around geek. In addition to past appearances in Daily Science Fiction, her short stories have appeared in publications such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Flash Fiction Online. She is a contributor to the blog Speculative Chic (speculativechic.com) and currently serves as managing editor of the Odyssey Writing Workshop's blog. Barbara lurks about the Philadelphia area, where she lives with her husband and a pantsless stuffed monkey named Super Great. You can find her online at babarnett.com.

Have you ever had the feeling you're being watched? Of course you have, you're a fictional character. That's just life on the page, right? But what about those mundane moments that aren't on the page? When you're showering, brushing your teeth, clipping your toenails. Those plotless little moments creators skim past because the only thing moving your story forward is time. No one should be paying attention, yet that constant presence persists.
Now you know the feeling I'm talking about. I can tell by the way you're squirming, that hot flush through your cheeks. You're thinking about all that porn you've watched, aren't you? Probably the most universal vice in the world, yet it's always the first thing people are embarrassed about. But trust me, there are worst things.
There's the void. The moments when no one is watching. The moments when you don't exist at all.
Oh, but you always exist; yes, I've heard that protest before, seen that look of defiance you're giving me now. Your story is always there, you say, always unfolding, waiting for the creator to discover it and mold it into word or dance or song. Like the artists who tap into your world, you are born and you die, and in between you live as completely as anyone, a life full of peaks and valleys, of milestones and mundanity.
Tell me about the mundanity.
Showering, brushing your teeth, clipping your toenails--yes, we've mentioned those already, so what else? Tell me about the moments no one turns into word or dance or song. Like fetching the morning newspaper. Yes, now you remember--how every day you trot out to the driveway in your bathrobe, toss the sports section in the recycle bin, read the rest over toast and coffee.
Strange you didn't think of that until I mentioned it.
But let's continue. Tell me something else unremarkable about your life. Something too routine for anyone to care about. You can't, can you? Every single moment you think of is the stuff of story: the bully on the playground, your mother's death, that first awkward kiss with the girl next door.
All moments people have read about. All moments I gave you. Because I was watching. Creating.
Oh, your life is your own, is it? A thing I stumbled upon in its completion? Then tell me about the mundanity. And while you regale me with tales of your terribly ordinary life, take no notice of that trail of blood on the carpet, that desiccated hand reaching out from beneath the couch to grasp your ankle.
Sorry, did I frighten you? Please, sit down, relax. There's nothing there now. Really, grabbing that knife won't help. I thought my little demonstration would make it clear: the only dangers you face are those I create. And I can take them away just as easily.
Besides, you were going to tell me about the mundanity. Maybe after you feed your dog, though; he looks hungry. What do you mean, you don't have a dog? He's right there at your feet, the wire-haired terrier with the brown spots and stubby tail. How could you have forgotten him? It's almost as if he didn't exist until I created him.
Do you understand now?
It's sad watching you like this: pacing, sweating, tearing at your hair, trying so hard to recall moments you haven't lived. And the ones you can remember--showering, brushing your teeth, clipping your toenails, reading the morning paper--moments of tedium, yet still you have that feeling of being watched, don't you? Only it's different than what you experience during the significant moments; it's not like the day you finally stood up to that bully. Then the sense of being cheered on was palpable, the squeeze of an anxious reader's fingers upon the pages of your life as real as the crack of your fist against the bully's jaw.
This other feeling is desperate, fleeting, terrifying. I know, because I feel it too. Your story has been told, and so you cling to whatever scraps of existence your creator will grant you. Showering, brushing your teeth, clipping your toenails--I am the only one watching you during those moments, just as someone else right now is watching me, telling my story. And when there is no more story left to tell, when our creators finally look away, both us will return to the void. Because no one will be watching.
You'll be showering, brushing your teeth, clipping your toenails. Your life will unfold, and then--
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 25th, 2017

Author Comments

While chatting with some fellow writers over dinner at a workshop, we were joking about ways to tell if you're a character in a badly written story. That led to someone asking, "What if your omniscient narrator is a perv?" Someone else decided I was just the person to write that story. I'm still not sure if I should be flattered or disturbed by that, but I'm also not one to shy from a writing challenge. So with that conversation in mind, I started this story thinking it would be a light, humorous piece, maybe one of those listicle-type stories. Instead it took an unexpected turn for the creepy. But I'm not one to shy from the creepy either, so I went with it.

- Barbara A. Barnett
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