The pair of wanderers amble across the precipice of the chasm; a massive fracture in grey stone that lurches down into the abyss below. One, a writer, wears dirty sneakers and a coat he has yet to notice is inside-out. The other, a guide of sorts, wears a suit, but does not look comfortable in it.
‘This is it, then?’ Ask the writer.
‘In a sense. How do you mean, specifically?’
‘That this is it!’
‘I mean it’s just us. We’re all that’s left. That’s the rest of it; down there. Lost, gone, burning away to nothingness.’
Almost as if to demonstrate a point, a dim red light bursts from the emptiness of the abyss; some grand artefact of history goes up in flames, and is lost.
‘Hardly.’ The guide retorts, straightening their slipping bowtie, ‘There are a lot walking this precipice. Far more than you think. You just refuse to see them.’
‘You make it sound like a choice. How many others?’
‘Seven billion. Give or take.’
‘But rapidly decreasing, surely? Just look at it,’ The writer points down, into the tumult below, ‘It’s a mess.’
‘It is. Or at least, you think it is. This is all far more dramatic than some of their interpretations.’
‘Come now.’ The guide stops, staring down, ‘Don’t play dumb. This image of yours; of the world burning away to nothing, as two lost wayfarers look on from some far away place, doomed and powerless. That’s all it is; an idea. An interpretation. The world put into a single scene. Ridiculous allegory.’
‘It’s not a very good allegory if we acknowledge it, surely?’ The writer asks, looking up at the hollow-eyed guide.
‘No. It’s trite, really.’
‘Well, you don’t need to be so blunt about it.’
The guide laughs, resuming the walk as they continue, ‘Don’t I?’
‘Well,’ A pause, ‘No!’
Sighing, the guide responds ‘I act as you command. I am nothing more than an artifice of this literary exploration of your own psyche. I am powerless to be anything but what you write me to be.’
‘Then why are you being so harsh?’
‘Well that’s it, isn’t it? What greater condemnation could there be than your own plot device, an entity entirely under your control, belittling you?’
‘Couldn’t if I wanted to! I’m fictional, you fool! I am yours to control, and this is what you have me do!’
‘Why would I write you like this then?’
‘You tell me. Out of my mouth or yours, they’re your words in the end.’
‘But I don’t know.’
‘Then neither do I. I can make some guesses though.’
‘Go on, why not?’
‘Indeed. Look, down there.’ The guide signals to the burning abyss, stretching out beneath them. ‘That is the outside world; or at least, how you see it. You have grown so used to looking into that expanse and finding hopeful actions, or stars, or ideas to focus on. But now it is black, and empty, and the good is burning away. So you’ve become introspective, and if I may say, a little obtuse.’
‘You were being helpful for a second there.’
‘I can only be as helpful as you make me.’
‘Still nothing!’ Interrupts the guide, ‘I’m not here! I’m nowhere! I’m words on a computer screen on your desk, as you sit there sleepless and alone in an unlit room, as night traffic passes by your window! You pretend it’s those cars preventing your sleep, but we know better; because there is no we, only I, and that I is you! You sit there, creating new bags under your eyes that your friends will ask of on the morrow, filling in for two sides of the conversation instead of facing the night!’
Gently swaying back and forth in the absent wind, the writer just stares at the guide through his own hollow eyes. ‘I don’t know what to say.’
‘Of course you do. You said all of that. By the way, “on the morrow”? Really? You’ve been reading some dreadful fantasy book or another, haven’t you?’
‘I guess you’d know.’
‘Aye, but you’re working awfully hard to keep up the pretence that we’re separate entities.’
They stand for a moment, their eyes switching from the abyss below to the grey expanse of flat stone around them.
‘Shall we walk down there?’ The guide asks, pointing to a rough-hewn slope down the inside of the chasm.
‘That wasn’t there a moment ago, was it? I don’t remember seeing it.’
‘Of course it wasn’t, you’ve created it for the convenience of the plot. You don’t remember seeing it before because you hadn’t written about it before. It quite literally did not exist in the confines of this universe until right now. At least as far as anything here can be taken literally.’
‘Look, I know, OK?’ The writer snaps, ‘But I can’t picture you as a voice in my head, and I can’t picture any of this in any other way than as a reality. Even if some slightly less figurative me is in another place, writing this all down.’
‘Fair enough. Shall we, then?’
‘Is it safe? It doesn’t really look-’
‘OK, seriously? Are you kidding? You’re-’
‘Fine, I get it. Let’s go.’
The strange pair make their way down the winding stone pathway, into the void that stretches out below them. They are suddenly bathed in a bright red light, and the writer braces for the heat of whatever new artefact has been put to flame. The guide stares on, placidly.
‘Where’s the fire?’ The writer mumbles, to himself more than any observer.
‘To yourself? Look, if you don’t need me I’ll be going.’
‘Can you at least act like you aren’t aware of the descriptions? That’s meant to be for the reader, not for you.’
‘Come on, that’s a bit confrontational.’
‘No, literally. Make me.’
Returning to his examination, the writer grasps a hold of the source of the red light, still flickering like a fire.
‘It’s an LED? What?’ He asks, confused.
‘Do you want the explanation, or-’
‘That’s what you’re here for, go on.’
‘Not yet. Walk a little further, then look at the ground.’
They amble on, abandoning the glowing LED as it fades into blackness. Just as the light from above is fading from view, their path stops angling down.
‘Wait, this is the floor? We’ve only walked a few hundred steps.’
‘Like I said, look down. In fact, kneel down, feel about with your hands.’
‘This all getting very conceptual, you realise?’ The writer asks, smirking, though he knows the guide cannot see him.
‘I mean, really I can’t see anyth-’
Kneeling, the writer fumbles about blindly for something to grasp. He quickly finds something glassy, and pulls at it. With a click and a thud, it comes away, and the shallow cavern is filled with the same grey, sourceless light as above.
‘What is this?’
‘A blacklight. It’s what was keeping this place dark.’
‘I don’t think that’s how those work.’
‘Of course it’s not, that’s impossible. But you don’t actually know what blacklights do, so you’re misusing the word for literary effect.’
‘Fine. So there was a light making this place look dark and deep. Want to fill me in at any point here?’
‘Only as much as I am capable of desiring anything, as a fictional character. Fine.’ The guide adjusts their bowtie again, and begins to unbutton their suit jacket. ‘It’s artifice. All of it.’
‘We already established that none of this is real. It’s all artifice.’
‘Well, this is artifice-ier.’
‘Your words, remember.’ The guide continues, ‘You’ve filled this world with such fashionable cynicism. Darkness is terribly popular these days, I suppose. You fill your world with what you think you need to succeed; you make your view of the world into what you think it’s supposed to be: a dark and hopeless place, a deep and unending pit where all goodness is burnt away.’
‘Without them, it’s grey though. I mean, clearly I have some self-image issues if you’re the person I trust to guide me, but at the same time, I’d give myself credit that my real pool of understanding is a little more complex than a grey expanse.’
‘Probably. But this isn’t a real pool of knowledge. This is what you’re left with should you remove the props you have built yourself. Whatever colour, and optimism, and natural light you grant yourself is deeply hidden from us, here.’
‘But does this not imply there is no darkness? That it was all imagined for an uninvited observer?’
‘No, not at all. I am only as constrained as you make me, and you’re losing your grip on the reality of this place. I know you too well; you’ve worshipped at the altar of St. Jane a long time, and there are recesses to other places you want none to see. Is that why you built this place? You manufactured this chasm, such that you could precisely control its depth and influence?’
A pause. The absent air rings loud in their ears.
‘So where do we go from here?’ The writer asks.
‘Nowhere. All we have is a grey expanse now; what else do you expect me to show you? Frankly, it’s gotten a little dull. And we’re well past the line of the avant-garde, so really it’s probably better we not dawdle much longer.’
‘No, seriously. I’m in control, right? Then fine!’
Colours wash into the pit they stand in; light from a hundred tiny sources bathes them in a phantasmagoria of realities.
‘Pretty.’ The guide says, as they walk over to one of these new sources. They pick up the light and give it a tug, dragging many more closer. ‘Strings of fairy lights, however, do not a good home make. You can’t force it, or fake it. The pretence is too obvious.’
‘But, it’s mine. All this is mine. What am I supposed to do with it all now? Plug the blacklight back in and pretend none of this ever happened?’
‘Of course not.’
‘Leave this place. Let it crumble. Let some new thing take its place and bring with it new ideas, a new literary space to explore. If you don’t force it, if you don’t carve out this space consciously, then your unconscious mind will do it for you. Even through this most introspective of aggressions you called yourself a writer, so there’s no doubt you’ll do it. Let some new, natural thing replace this one, and see where it takes you.’
They pause, staring at each other.
‘OK.’ The writer mumbles, ‘What now then?’
‘Well now you end the story. Pin us against the wall, walking off into the sunset, or let it fade to black. Give them, us, a satisfying ending, and then let you; this you, the you who isn’t the one at his desk, get to work on some new thing.’
Pausing, the writer considers the guide’s words. ‘No. Nothing so fake. I’m just leaving.’
‘What of the story? What of me?’
‘The story can fend for itself. I’ve worked it too long already. You? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll see you in the new place. Maybe you can help me make it.’
‘I think not. Next time you cast a conscious eye to this place, whoever is to guide you won’t be me. Good night, writer. Enjoy your craft.’