“You’re absolutely sure?” I asked.
“That’s what they told me,” Rob sighed.
“Yep.” Then, after an awkward bout of silence, “I can’t say I’m that surprised, to be honest.”
I was shocked. “How is this not surprising to you?”
“They told me it’s a lot more normal than you’d think. Especially when facing some sort of creative block.”
“You’re twenty-six, Rob, this kind of thing isn’t normal.”
“It’s not exactly abnormal.”
“It’s a case study in abnormality,” I snapped back.
“But I mean... it makes sense doesn’t it?” He picked up one of my manuscripts and flicked through the pages quickly. “You ever notice how we’ve got the same writing style? Plus, I haven’t been able to put pen to paper for months.”
“So?” Until Rob had started to justify it himself, I had been so shocked that I hadn’t even thought to question what he was suggesting.
“So, you were the solution.”
“No, you’re wrong. They’re wrong. It’s impossible.”
“Is it?” Rob asked. “You’ve been couped up in this apartment writing ever since you moved in.”
“Yeah, but –”
“I bet you haven’t spoken to anyone else since we met, right?”
“I’ve been busy.”
“You’re always busy. Every time people want to meet you, you make up an excuse.”
“I spoke to Ms. Larkson!” I shouted, pleased to have proved Rob wrong. It had been a long, incredibly slow conversation, but I had definitely spoken to our ninety-three year-old neighbour once or twice.
“You never spoke to Ms. Larkson, she just acknowledged you whenever I was nearby.”
I snatched the manuscripts out of his hands, suddenly insecure. It occurred to me that my memories of life before meeting Rob were dull and vague. My life had just... happened.
“You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?” Rob asked me.
“Ha, sure you are,” he smirked.
“I can tell you are,” he said, nodding towards the manuscripts I held. The tips of my fingers had gone a dark red as my grip tightened around the papers. “That’s a tell-tale sign if I’ve ever seen one.”
I had only known Rob for a couple of weeks. How could he know what my nervous ticks were? “I’m concerned that you’ve gone insane,” I replied, pushing the thought out of my head.
“I’m not insane. Like I said, it’s a lot more common than people think. Why can’t you just be happy for me?”
“What’s there to be happy about?”
“That I’ve taken this step to becoming more mentally sound.”
“Questioning your roommate’s existence isn’t mentally sound.”
“I’m not questioning it, Sam. I’m just re-evaluating it.”
Both of us diverted our attention to the living room as the phone rang.
“Answer it.” Rob smiled.
“It’s probably for you.”
“Might not be.”
“Yeah, it usually is.”
“So you should answer it.”
“But why don’t you, Sam?”
“I don’t feel like it.” Why didn’t I feel like it?
The call went to the answering machine, where our landlord – Rob’s landlord reminded him that rent would soon be due. Since his ‘creative block’, Rob had earned himself quite the reputation with the landlord.
“How much will I owe for this month?” I asked, attempting to change the subject.
“Sam, have you ever answered the phone?”
“Cash is a little slow at the moment,” I ignored him, “but once I get these manuscripts sent off, I should be able to cover the both of us for a bit.”
“You’re in denial, Sam.”
“No I’m not.”
“That’s exactly what someone in denial would say.”
Through the walls, I heard the announcer from Dancing with the Stars. “Ms. Larkson’s still up, let’s see what she thinks of this,” I said as I walked towards thee apartment door.
Rob sighed, “Fine, if that’s how you’re gonna be.”
I led Rob out of the apartment towards Ms. Larkson’s front door and knocked three times. After a few moments, there was still no response. Rob smirked.
“She’s hard of hearing.”
Rob knocked twice and waited.
“Robbie!” Ms. Larkson smiled as she opened the door. “Come in!” The smile disappeared. “Is your... friend here?”
“Hi, it’s Sam,” I introduced myself. “We met Tuesday.”
She ignored me.
“No, I just wanted to check that you were okay,” Rob said. “Don’t worry, I’ve found help. Sam’s gone now.”
“Oh, wonderful!” Ms. Larkson said, hugging Rob. “You’re far too old for that sort of nonsense.”
“Yes. Yes I am, Ms. Larkson,” Rob smiled. “I’ll see you in the morning.” When Ms. Larkson’s door had closed, Rob turned to me, his smile turning into a grin and his eyebrows raised, as though he had won a bet.
Back home, I sat down, oddly accepting of my existence – or lack thereof.
“So what now?” I asked.
“Well... It’s probably best if you go...”
“Yep, I guess so.”
“But I’ll keep thinking about you... y’know, keeping you alive, imagining you, all that stuff.”
“Hey don’t look so down, it’s not the end of the world. I mean, not really.”
“So I’ll think I’ll just leave then?”
“I think so.”
I stood and picked up the manuscripts from the coffee table, reading through my work once more.
“Oh the manuscripts...” Rob winced uncomfortably. “What with you being imaginary and all, I have to pay the full rent, which I can’t quite afford. So I thought, since those are technically my work anyway, I might send them out for a bit of extra cash in my name.”
I stared at him, speechless.
“I mean, it’s not like you’ll need the money, right?” he laughed nervously. “Because... y’know...”
I headed for the door as he opened a can of cold baked beans and collapsed onto the couch.
I was a rare thought after that. I know, because the rest of my life was mostly just as much of a dull blur as it had been before I met him. Occasionally, there were moments when everything slowed down again, and I knew I had crossed his mind. He was imagining where I might be, what I might be doing. He thought of me occasionally, yes, but that was the last time I saw him.
“Bye,” I muttered, as I closed the apartment door behind me.
He couldn’t hear me over Dancing with the Stars.
Anyways I'm free fr this time :)
No can do I gotta ride this wave before writer's block hits again
I really enjoyed this sudden burst of short stories from you, and I think writing down these kind of small experiments might have also been helpful for you. This one was close to perfection in a grammatical sense (bar the "he laughed" in between Rob's final lines, which should have been capitalized) and the writing style was anything but "dense", which is what you were concerned about in the last story if I recall correctly.
You tried going all-dialogue with this story and it was a successful experiment, and not an easy one in my opinion. Writing a long dialogue sequence and keeping it from becoming a shopping list or a straight-out theatre script is a tricky matter, but you managed to intersperse it with the right amount of descriptive bits and action at the right time. There were two instances where I thought you had gone too long with pure back-and-forth dialogue but I'm almost certain that's just a subjective opinion of mine since I tend to get lost when the dialogue goes on for a while without identifying who's saying what. In general, having a few lines of dialogue without adding dialogue tags or anything else can lighten up the style besides also quickening the pace, and so it can usually be a good idea.
Looks like I got this far without mentioning the main theme of the story or the plot, typical me. I thought the idea of having an imaginary first person narration was brilliant, and I liked that the subject was treated simply and in a light tone, without great showings of existential crisis. The "less is more" rule strikes again. The way you described his state in the flashforward paragraph at the end also didn't disappoint and didn't break my immersion; remaining vague and using figurative language there helped, I think. From a technical point, I appreciated your choice of trying a flashforward break before briefly coming back to the main time of the story to tie up the action with the final lines.
In conclusion, I'm glad you decided to try out different styles and ideas with these short stories and I mostly liked what you wrote. CYOAs are a different beast from short stories, but you can definitely be a good writer.