This story is by Lawrence Cromwell and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
RACE TO THE END
347 Her argument with John left Mary quite contrary. Well, not exactly contrary. Closer to confused about the way her life was going. And her disagreement with John wasn’t the only encounter that had left her feeling that she had been drifting directionless and lost for the past two months. Several discussions she had had with other friends lately had led to nothing but disagreement and disappointment. The very attributes in those friends that Mary had sought for contentment and clarification had been lost. Most of the satisfaction of her discussions with others had been replaced by feelings of confusion and distrust. This dampened all of her enjoyment of time spent with her friends.
In one incident last week, she and her best friend Hellen had been discussing the latest book they had both read for the book club to which they belonged. While Hellen had nothing but raves for the book, Mary found it erratic and inconsistent. Hellen found the action and love scenes to be heart pounding and arousing which Mary couldn’t dispute but Mary was irritated by the way characters kept changing their personalities. Character X would exhibit a calm, analytical personality in one paragraph only to be hysterical and moody two pages later. Character Y, who was depicted as more interested in picking up dates in bars than in intellectual discussions in one chapter would solve a major problem for her friends after engaging in hours of introspection. But Mary’s sense of irritation with Hellen wasn’t just about Hellen’s enthusiasm for a poorly written book which pandered to unsophisticated readers far less educated than Hellen. It was about the change in Helen’s opinion about books that Mary had originally agreed with. When Mary had originally joined the book club about two years before, she had been immediately attracted to Hellen’s ability to find the flaws in the writing of whichever author they were reading. Hellen’s insight into the human psyche was refreshing and helped Mary enjoy books that she would have otherwise felt were dull and overly wordy. Most important, Hellen had eschewed sensationalism and appeal to baser emotions. When they had first discussed books, they both agreed that obligatory graphic sex scenes or those depicting violence and gore just to sell books were a betrayal of the craft of writing. Now Hellen seemed to wallow in such poorly written drivel.
371 If it had been possible for Mary to be more upset than she had been a few weeks back, it would have been a shock to her. Now, her life had become even more confused and empty. Not only had she started to avoid her former friends because their behavior had become so unpredictable, but she was even annoyed by the weather. No, it hadn’t become unbearably hot or cold, rainy or dry so much as it had lately become dominated by weeks of what she called ‘clouds in a blender’. In her mind, there was a distinct lack of any kind of weather at all, and that had weighed upon her subconscious mind, sending her into rapid, inexplicable mood swings. When she had noticed it, she felt that she could not describe the weather at all.
389 If she hadn’t known better, she would have sworn that the world was falling apart. But it certainly seemed to be. Even among her ever-diminishing conversations with friends, one overriding topic of conversation kept emerging. Everybody seemed to be anxious about how their lives were diminishing. Nothing imminent, just the feeling that everything seemed erratic and superficial. The usual edges and boundaries in their lives had become indistinct. Recent events seemed to trade places with present events. It wasn’t only Hellen and Mary, even Annika had expressed a feeling that the depth and meaning of her life had been lost. It was, as she put it, “As if God had taken some time off.”
This thought threw Mary into total panic as she began thinking of the ever-deteriorating fabric and texture of her life. A tree that Mary had once described in great, loving detail to a friend had now lost its distinction for Mary. “If God had taken time off,” she thought, almost paralyzed with dread, “It would probably feel a lot like what everybody I know is experiencing right now.”
She followed up this thought with the one which frightened her the most, “And nobody would be able to do anything to fix it.”
391 It wasn’t long after her conversation with Annika that Mary reached the conclusion that she could no longer deny. It was on the day that she walked out her front door and walked to where her car was parked in front of her suburban house. She did it as if she had done so every day for the last five years. But that couldn’t be right. Only yesterday she had taken the elevator down from her sixteenth-floor apartment to the street below and caught the subway to take her to her job across town. Just as she had done all her adult life. Living in the suburbs wasn’t the only thing going wrong here. Mary had never learned to drive, yet here she was driving to work without a care in the world. It had to be like what Annika had said about God taking a day off. “Except,” Mary said to herself, “What if instead of God taking time off, what if we were just characters in some novel and the author had started writing more and more distractedly? Would that feel like what we’re going through?”
404 Mary was now obsessing about the epiphany that she had stumbled upon a couple of weeks back. The problem was that she could find so many inconsistencies in her life and in everything she was experiencing for which the best and in some cases the only explanation was that she was just a character in some novel and that the author had become increasingly disinterested in his or her obligation to keep everything and everybody straight, normal, and predictable.
When she had approached Annika about her idea, reminding her of what she herself had said about God having taken some time off, she offered her own explanation which Annika thought carefully about and asked a few questions. She finally said, “You’re absolutely right! Now the question is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’”
“We don’t have much power over the author of our story,” Mary lamented. “We can’t yell at him or her from inside the story.”
“No, we don’t have a voice outside of this novel we’re living in,” Annika mused to herself. “But we can have a direct connection to our author.”
“That’s right!” Mary exclaimed. “We know the author has been writing the story of our lives. He or she has been adding new written material all along or our lives would have come to a standstill immediately. We’re pretty sure that hasn’t happened yet because we both feel that we have continued to have new thoughts, emotions, and experiences, however superficial.”
“And that means,” Annika said conspiratorially, “that he or she will be revisiting this story in the future. What do you think they will do if the next time they start to add to this book that…” Annika continued to explain her idea to capture their author’s attention to Mary.
Mary sat shocked as she heard Annika’s plan. “Are you listening to yourself? If this doesn’t go the way we need it to go, we are truly doomed.”
“I know,” said Annika ruefully. “We’ll have to get everybody we know to go along with this. I also know it’s a huge gamble, but what choice have we got? This could be our last chance at survival.”
459 All was in place. The event had been planned for tonight at twelve midnight. Neither Mary nor Annika had been sure that they could actually make it happen in the story they were in. They tried an experiment by discussing with each other in a private conversation that the author of their story was a complete fraud with no writing ability. When they confirmed through evesdropping that the conversation that they had planted had now become known to others, they knew they had a chance.
460 As midnight approached, the crowd stood naked in the town square. The tools of their mission held tightly in everybody’s hands. At 11:57, Mary reminded the crowd that everybody must take part together. Mothers with young children knew they faced a particularly grim task.
At 11:59 the sharp knives were unwrapped from the cloth covers that had concealed them. At midnight, the carnage began. By 12:07, nobody was left alive.
295 At midday Mary and Hellen began to feel the heat and humidity, but the towering cumulus clouds were moving in, suggesting rain. Mary said, “Well, I guess I’d better get back up to my apartment.”
And everybody lived H.E.A. until the end.