This story is by Elissaveta Marinova and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Gary and I got along fine until the day he decided to kill me. What kind of writer schedules the death of their main character mid-novel?
Things started off well. He put me together one Sunday, built me with the meticulousness of a watchmaker. Personality came first and, although I would later regret being given the gift of insight, I was glad the first word typed about me was perceptive. Then came cynical but empathetic. I was only a blob in his imagination but slowly, a world started to materialize all around me. Hates mess. Or was it me who was starting to materialize in the decluttered world Gary had constructed for me? Patient but quite the fighter. This would later come in handy.
I was left to marinate in this abstract cloud of words for a week. Thank Gary I was patient! I had nothing but a father, very absent, no mention of a mother, no job, no passion, no lover, no name. I was in fact called B for so long I got accustomed to it. Bee, quite a nice ring to it, no?
When I acquired a face, jolly and freckled with skittish wide eyes, and a rounded body, always cloaked in oversized rainbow dresses that billow in the wind, I also acquired a leather satchel bag I would carry wherever I went. And to make it even more cumbersome, Gary made me fill it with hefty literature books, resulting in, as he elegantly put it, my… crooked gait.
We had a little spat when, just as I was getting used to Bee, I was renamed Chloe but he quickly made up for his poor taste in name-picking by moving me and my father into a charming Victorian house in Greenwich, away from the hustle-bustle of London.
My neck was stiff, my heart was empty and I missed the Bee I used to be, but for a brief period, things were looking up. I was given a sunny, albeit windy, childhood on the coast of Brighton. I was introduced to a sweet boy who called me sunshine and hummed The Beatles’ “Here Comes The Sun” anytime it broke through the clouds. And most importantly, I was granted with a purpose. Wants to be a writer. That made two of us, except I would never murder my protagonist!
Just like that, it all went downhill when, one stormy night, I heard Gary mutter, “kill your darling” over and over in his sleep. I didn’t think anything of it at first; for all I knew, he had finally realized his beloved opening line was lacking, or better yet, the portrait of my boyfriend Jamie he liked so much was in fact too shallow. As weeks passed, however, no darling was killed. And incidentally – yes, let’s go with that – Jamie started calling me “darling.” My paranoia metamorphosed into terror when I awoke one morning to the ghastly sight of red highlighter over my name and a pithy comment that read, must die in the end.
It is strange, really. I was always aware of the story Gary was piecing together for me but it was only when I discovered my life was threatened that I woke up. Survival instinct? Or had I gained enough depth and complexity to develop my own consciousness? No matter the reason. I was unfettered.
I had to learn more about my death but, even though I came from his twisted mind, I could only learn Gary’s intentions when he sat before his laptop and started typing. Or muttered in his sleep. I could often hear him talk to Lori too, his eldest daughter and self-appointed editor, but to complicate matters, the echoes of their conversations only ricocheted back into my world when Gary’s laptop was closed and my story, left to sleep in the background.
They talked about my death once and although no details were divulged – it’s as if they knew I was drinking in every syllable they uttered – Lori sounded as unconvinced as I was of the need to kill me off. “Just let me finish sweetheart, and you’ll see,” he had said.
Who was he to decide when and why I must die? Sure, he was the one who gave me life, but did that entitle him to take it away? I had so many stories to tell, so much love to soak in. I needed a plan to save myself. A plot twist, if you will.
Try as I may, I could only truly be myself and interfere with his prose when Gary was asleep – I suppose I was at his mercy during the day. This unfortunate constraint slowed me down but at least, allowed for seven uninterrupted hours of Bee-going-to-town-with-Gary’s-words time.
In theory, things were easy. In practice, a little less so. The minute he shut his laptop, Greenwich faded into the background, only to be replaced with words, heaps of them, stacked in neat rows like army soldiers ready for a fight. All I had to do was wander between the written lines, look for hints, clues to help me solve a crime before it was committed, and rewrite my own story. Push words back and forth like changing furniture around.
And push words I did. Plucked them even, one stubborn weed at a time. Once, when Gary overslept, I plucked an entire page’s worth of weed words, not because they were indicative of my death but because I was bitter. Of course, he rewrote the whole thing in the morning. Or should I say replanted. Not only that, he also increased the font size from 12 to 16 so I could no longer lift the letters by myself, let alone see above the words. Did he know I was no longer his marionette?
I crisscrossed the written pages for nights on end, but it was like walking in the streets of London: impossible to see into the distance unless you climb to the top of a building. This lasted days, weeks, until it dawned on me that Gary’s Word Document had a vantage point of its own: The Page Number Lighthouse.
The following night, I poured the books out of my satchel bag, filled it with a set of binoculars and a rope for emergencies, and set out on a trek to Lighthouse 103, scrambled up the spiral staircase within the ‘1’, and once outside, dangled my feet from the comforting oval hole of the ‘0’.
As I looked down upon Gary’s helpless prose through my binoculars, far out into the distance, two tall iron gates appeared in focus. Since when did my story have a Part II? I swept the skyline and, closer to where I stood, Part III rose through the word blocks. What was lurking behind Part II and why was I unaware of its existence? I had to trek to the very beginning to find out.
Sadly, I had no other choice but to start off where Gary left me every night, which was usually the last page. This made hiking more than twelve pages per night almost impossible. Almost every time I thought I was nearing Part II, the smell of freshly ground coffee robbed me of my freedom, pulled me away from the neat stacks of words and back into misty Greenwich, where Jamie awaited me with open arms. Or was it Gary? No, I didn’t like to think of it that way.
Luckily, as winter settled in, Gary started calling it a night earlier and sleeping until later. This added an average of two to three hours to my investigation but it wasn’t until Christmas holiday that I made significant progress. When he left me for 6 whole days – that is 144 hours of uninterrupted freedom – I took Margin Avenue and anxiously hiked all the way to Part I, Chapter 1. The trek alone took two days and two nights and the temptation to stop at Part II, climb Lighthouse 53 and quench my curiosity was strong, but I did not yield. I had to do this chronologically.
By 1 a.m. on Day Three, I had reached my destination and by midnight, I had gone through Chapter 1 and 2. Everything was as I remembered and it is with a smile on my face that I relived my meet-cute with Jamie. A little less nervous after the beautiful reminder of how him and I became we, I spent that night at the entrance of Chapter 3, camping in the sheltered semi-circle of the ‘3’.
By the end of Day Four, I had walked the first 42 pages and I missed Jamie terribly but on the plus side, I could see the gates of Part II peeking through the word blocks. On the downside, still no clues about my death.
At 8:23 a.m. on Day Five, my world collapsed. Gary had been shrewder than I anticipated: I was not the only main character in his book. There was another narrative. Another girl. As I stood before the moss-covered gates of Part II, feeling cheated and manipulated, a million questions raced through my mind.
I couldn’t sleep a wink that night. From the top of Lighthouse 87, I got acquainted with the new Bee – name-thief! – and the heart-rending story of her mother’s suicide and her attempt to rebuild her life. I didn’t know what Gary had planned for us and although I hadn’t officially met New Bee yet, I knew our lives were bound to collide.
As the sun rose over Day Six, I was completely smitten with her, not in the Jamie way but the we-could-be-sisters kind of way. New Bee was kind, caring, and in the face of such tragedy, she had found – or been given? – the strength to keep walking, keep breathing and keep trying. Was I, somehow, going to get in the way of that? Or was I meant to walk a chapter or two by her side?
When Gary returned and the bitter scent of his morning coffee swooped me back to Greenwich, I fell into Jamie’s arms but his embrace felt different. I wanted to tell him everything and run away with him. But that morning, for the first time since I had developed my own consciousness, I saw the lack thereof in his eyes. He was nothing but a sweet, sweet illusion. The most beautiful, oblivious puppet there ever was.
Perhaps Gary had it right. I no longer belonged here. But what was going to happen to New Bee? And how could I abandon Jamie? We had no future together, but I had fallen in love with him faster than you fall asleep. I couldn’t leave him, naked and exposed to Gary’s fickle writer’s mind. Not yet. I had to stall and buy time, but how was I to convince Gary to keep me alive?
On January 1st, Lori came home late and I overheard Gary grounding her for being drunk on a week night. “It’s New Year’s Day!” she groaned, “It’s Tuesday!” he retorted, “It’s my life,” she said in return and right then and there, I knew she would be my saviour.
Lori was only allowed to use her dad’s laptop on Sunday mornings and although she allocated most of her time to reading the New York Times online, I knew she often skimmed through Gary’s work in progress. I had to grab her attention.
On Saturday, January 5th, I set to work the minute Gary went to bed. No longer able to push words around, for they had grown into buildings, I decided to collect all the tree stump periods lying around and form words of my own. His prose, suddenly devoid of pauses, looked awfully disconnected.
By 9 a.m., I had gathered 198 tree stumps and written, “Lori, help me stay alive, I’m not done. Love, Chloe.” As the fruity aroma of coffee permeated the air, I closed my eyes and let myself float back to Greenwich, relieved and filled with hope.