It is never a good idea to tell people about your dreams, not if you want them to keep paying attention to you. By dreams, I mean the type we have when we are asleep, rather than the other kind, which have more of the sense of ‘ambitions’, or ‘hopes’. (Although, sometimes it is better to keep those to yourself too, or only share them with the most trusted of the trust-worthy.) And yet, even though I know this is a really bad idea, I’m going to do just that. Wait; don’t click away, it’ll be worth it, I promise.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post where I drew an unreasonably forced analogy between the Sun and a paperweight. At the end of that entry, I played a quick game of ‘what if’, where we met the character of Justin Tempo, deity tenth-class, Milky-way division, Pantheon Corporation. I did this, because it amused me (Ms. Shemanamarms – from Divinity Resources – was a particularly nice touch, I thought). But there has been a … ahem … complication.
The roots of this complication connect, partly, to the truth that I felt a little pleased with myself about Justin’s creation, and the flash fiction length incident that followed. I knew at the time that it was not great writing, not necessarily original. I knew also, that it would probably never win any prizes, even the ones they give away in cereal boxes. But still, for a self-indulgence it seemed harmless enough, and wasn’t so bad that anyone who looked at it would break out in plague boils. Yes, I decided, it was pretty good. At least, good for something I wrote.
In addition feelings of self-satisfaction, I was rather taken with this deity tenth-class character, and the universe he seemed to inhabit. So, in the days and weeks that have followed, I’ve spent rather too much time thinking about him: what happened to him after he was suspended? Did he go to that pocket universe? What kind of pot-plant did he keep in his cubicle? Does he even like pineapple flavored drinks?I now have answers to these questions, but they didn’t come in the way that one would expect. And that, is the complication.
You’ve probably already guessed that the answers came to me while I was dreaming. I know, this doesn’t seem that strange. Many creative types have reported that some of their best ideas have come to them in this way. (Thanks for thinking I’m creative, by the way; that makes me feel really good.) It hasn’t just been one dream, though, it has been many. I’m still having these dreams, and this to the exclusion of all other kinds (Like being back in high school with no clothes on … wait. Maybe that really happened?) What’s more, in these dreams I’ve actually met Justin Tempo, and he is not happy with me at all.
The light is crazy here. Medicated crazy. It doesn’t seem to have any source; it just sort of hangs there, like transparent orange-yellow smog. And yet it illuminates the landscape in shadow-less contrast, revealing large semicircular mounds – much like those used for burial, or that are left behind as memorials to long vanished cities. On a mound in the middle distance, is a man in a long coat.
With the grace of a Kung Fu master, the man whips the back of the coat over his head so that the wind fills it and lifts him off the ground. The distance collapses.
As he lands, his features come into focus: shortish, perhaps in middle-age, perhaps not. Tired looking, and with hair that appears to be harassed with fatigue. He speaks:
“So … it’s you.”
“Yes, it’s me … I think it’s me, anyway.”
“I’ve had the hardest time trying to get hold of you,” he says.
“Sorry about that, I’ve been having some financial difficulties, I haven’t been able to pay a few bills.” Silence. “Ummm … who are you again?”
“Justin Tempo. I am Justin Tempo” he responds, with pregnant emphasis.
“No you’re not. Nice try, though; almost had me.” More silence. A thick and syrup-like absence of sound. “Really? Come on, I’ve gotta be dreaming?”
“Yes, but I am Justin Tempo nonetheless, and it is all your fault Arthur Wingsmith … if that is your real name.”
Arthur shifted his weight uncomfortably, and dodged the name question with a different question. He’d always found it to be a useful tactic. “But how is that possible? You’re a complete fabrication. I wrote you for entertainment purposes.”
“I know, it is something of a mystery; one I’ve been endeavoring to solve.”
Arthur shifted his weight again, and asked another question: “You mean a mystery like when Professor Ethnopholes’ postdoc – Jim – disappeared, and left a strange note?”
“What did the note say?”
“It said: the smiling oranges, smile only at the edges – NO SIGNAL.”
“No, not a mystery like that one.”
“Shame,” said Arthur, sounding deflated. “Because you know I solved it. Wasn’t easy either, some really subtle thinking required …”
“Shut up Wingsmith! I like you, but you do waffle on, and I’m already a bit cross.”
“How do you know I waffle on?”
“I’ve been reading your blog.”
Justin took a deep, calming breath, and then continued: “I’ve been able piece a few things together so far. Here’s what I know.”
It turns out – through some weird perversion of the ontological argument – in creating the ‘what if’ scenario of Our Star, A Paperweight fame, Arthur had somehow brought that universe into existence. The mechanics of how this works are still opaque. This shouldn’t happen at all, or if it should, the characters that populate such fictional worlds should not become aware of it. The consequences of a character awakening to the truth of its existence can be dire. As an example, Justin drew attention to a world he had visited where cats pretty much ruled an entire planet. Mysteriously, the cats had also become aware of their existential position, and were now making plans to invade, and conquer, a neighboring fictional universe.
Justin had been awakened to the truth of this himself while drinking a particularly strong pineapple drink, and watching someone called Gary wash a sports car.
At first he had been stunned. Then, he had become annoyed. As he reflected on on his situation, he decided that he had much preferred not existing, because “you can’t really have many problems when you don’t exist.”
His mission, therefore, was twofold: 1) find out what is going on. 2) Reverse it, so he can go back to his nice quiet, uneventful non-existence.
“You want to stop existing?” Asked Arthur incredulously.
“But surely it is a gift, something to be embraced with joyful enthusiasm?”
“Clearly you did not pay enough attention to the kind of soul-crushing job you gave me. But that’s not the point, this whole situation is dangerous for everyone. We have to put the safeties back in place, and it is your responsibility to help me do it.”
The wind picked up.
“I’m not really sure how I can help,” Arthur said. “I mean, I just imagined the whole thing for fun.”
“Yes,” replied Justin, “you imagined it, but not completely. It’s still very fuzzy at the edges. I need you to write more of it, perhaps a series of novels. That way, I’ll be able to explore in greater depth, and hopefully bring it all to resolution.”
“A series of best selling novels?” Arthur looked hopeful.
“Doubtful. But fortunately, the success of the work is not required. Only that it gets written.”
Arthur tried to hide his disappointment. At any rate, it could fun, perhaps he could pretend he was a misunderstood genius or something. But then a thought struck him: “I’m not sure if I could write a novel. Maybe a novelette, perhaps I could even stretch to a novella. Would that be sufficient?”
“No. What we require is full-length fiction. You owe it to the universes, Arthur. You owe it to me.”
“I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try. I guess I’ll need to write a side-kick, or partner for you, then?”
“You know, someone you travel around with, who helps out, shares the adventure, and so forth.”
“Oh, I see. No, you’ve already done that. You gave me a plant, remember?”
“Yes, but that’s a plant, isn’t it? Good for producing oxygen and stuff, but I’m not sure how much use it would be on the mystery front.”
“Pretty good, actually,” replied Justin, “Its a Quantum Entanglement Fern, so is – naturally – sentient.”
“A whatum-whosa-ma-which?” Asked Arthur, in perfect non sequitur fashion.
“Look, we don’t really have time for this, it’ll come to you eventually, stands to reason. It’s supposed to be here to explain it to you itself. Probably running late again. No sense of time that plant. Ah, here it is now.”
In front of Arthur, slowly winking into existence, was the strangest pot-plant he had ever seen. It just sort of floated there, in a cardboard box, a mass of blurry shifting tentacle like leaves phasing in and out of the dreamscape. Arthur stared.
“Hello Arthur,” the plant said through a hole that appeared and disappeared in its central mass. “I’m Arthur Wingsmith, Quantum Entanglement Fern.”