Andy was at the door, with red wine and apologies.

Paul wasn’t sure why he needed the second, but was always grateful for the first. So he invited his friend in.

It took the first bottle for Andy to work out how to even start the conversation.

“Listen, Paul. I have to tell you something.” It wasn’t an original start.

“Really?” Which was lucky, really, seeing the attention it got.

Andy nodded and fished a small gem out of his pocket.

He placed it, solemnly, on the table.

“What’s that?” Paul asked, finishing off one glass and pouring another.

“It’s your diary.”

Paul felt a dull ache from behind his eyes. Was he getting hungover already?

“And, that pain you’re feeling? That’s a residual block that was put in place until we could have this conversation.”

A bright, stab of pain hit Paul this time. He swore.

Oh – he was paying attention now.

“I’m told it might hurt. But it would that the pain would get less the more you knew.” He took a deep breath. “You didn’t just go to bed the other night. In fact, that was far from what you did.”

Paul looked up, his face contorted with pain. “For the love of God, Andy. Tell it quicker.”


And so Andy started. He reminded Paul about his premise that we were all story, that he had encoded himself, in preparation to enter his own narrative engine.

Paul sat, opened mouthed.

Tp be fair, he should have waited until Andy told him that his future self had arrived at the door and told him what they had to do to keep Paul alive. 

At that point, Paul’s mouth had nowhere to go.

But his headache had gone.

“Wait. Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that I input a narrative encoding of myself into a narrative engine and broke the Wall?”


“And that all that night you, and a version of me from the future, or some other narrative strand, came here and the pair of you told stories all night so you could guide me out, and save my life… Because…that’s what happened to him?”


“How did he know?”

“I told him. You.” Andy sighed. “Like I’m telling you now. I told him then. So that, when you reach his when, you can do the same thing.”


Author Sanders and Chief Scribe Anderson readwatched the scene. 

Sanders nudged the Scribe. “I’m going to be sick, now.”


Paul felt his mouth fill with saliva. Seconds later his stomach flipped. He jumped up, and raced to the toilet where he threw up, noisily.


“It’s not noble, this story.”

Anderson giggled.


Washed and mouthwashed, Paul returned. He pointed at the gem on the desk.

“And that?”

“That’s your diary. The last form it settled in before we brought you out.”

“How do I read it?”

Andy shrugged. “I’ll be buggered if I know.”

They looked at each other. The silence grew.

Paul laughed. Small to begin with, but soon huge shrieks.

“Andy! We’re RIGHT! We can change our lives…The WORLD! We broke the wall!”

“You almost died, Paul. You have to be more careful, build safe rooms outside narration so you can go back to them. And safeguard.”


Off the Edge of the Page, Author Sanders mouthed the words he had taught Andy to say. These words would form the basic Rules of Litranautics for years to come.

“OK, Paul. This is where I worked it out, but I couldn’t say it. Let’s see how you do.”


“Yes, Anderson.”

“We’re entering a period of Narrative Flux.”

“I know. Close all the hatches, disengage from this narrative line, but hold position. I want to pick it up the moment we stabilize.”


Paul poured a new glass of wine, drank a mouthful and then picked up the gem.

“You know, I need your help with this, Andy. There’s no way I can do this on my own. It’s far too big.”

“But…I don’t know a thing about this.”

“I can teach you.” Paul sat down. “You and me, mate. Brave new world and all that.” He threw the gem to Andy. “And who else is going to be able to work out how to read this?”

Paul sat at his girlfriend’s parent’s house.

He’d agreed to go for Christmas. Well – it wasn’t so much an agreement as an order, but he wasn’t going to complain out loud.

He still felt terrible and it was at least two days after drinking with Andy. The night was still a blank. He remembered talking to Andy about stories. Well, not so much remembered but that’s all he’d been talking about recently. And then there was going to bed and his terrible hangover.

Which wasn’t being helped by the snoring of his girlfriend’s dad.

Paul looked across at the sleeping man, mouth open, drooling onto his jumper. On the TV the latest in a long line of Christmas special Soap Operas. He had long since cared which love triangle was being displayed for his pleasure now. But the remote was firmly locked in his grasp.

His story experimentation had been going quite well. The Fairy Tale generator was fantastic. He felt a terrible pain starting behind his eyes. He was talking about stories, how story engines could be used.

“Christ.” He hissed. The pain becoming splitting. 

Paula’s dad moaned and grunted, mid-snore. “Wha? Wha? What was that?”

“Nice. I was just saying Nice, Pete. The Jumper. It’s very nice.”

“Ah yes. Wife’s idea. I think it looked smashing in the catalogue.” He pointed the remote at the TV like it was a weapon. Let’s see what’s on here, shall we? Oh, I like this one.” And he settled down for another, indistinguishable soap.

Five minutes later he was asleep again, snoring but this time drooling on the other side of this jumper.

He looked down at his Christmas presents. A novelty pair of slippers – bunny. And the Christmas Jumper.

Bright Red, of course, with a snow scene, chunky reindeer and holly.

He sighed. At least it wasn’t soap. But they hadn’t met the delightfully eccentric grandmother yet.

Still, the Wine was OK though.

“Cheers.” He toasted the TV.


Author Sanders Toasted through the Write Portal. “Cheers, you miserable bastard. I had to go through that, I don’t see why you should have it any different.”

The phone rang.

Stephanie nudged her husband in the ribs.


“Own,” she mumbled in reply. “S’yur own. Inging.”

He answered.

“Get a ticket. Get on a train.”

Patrick sat up, suddenly awake. “Say that again?”

“Christ, man. It’s fucked up. 5 have gone down already, we’ve lost contact with 2 more. We’re bringing you in.”

“Omefing rong?” Stephanie asked.

Patrick reached out his hand and rubbed her. “It’s ok, darling. Go back to sleep.”

He got out of bed and moved to the bathroom.

“Control,  in case you forgot, I just got married.”

“And? Did you miss the part where I told you people were dying? Make something up. You’re not some rookie we just put in place.”

“Control, I-”

“I expect you back here tomorrow. Do not make me classify you as Rogue. We need to debrief you and work out how this cock up came about.”

The phone clicked off.

Patrick flushed the toilet, washed his hands and snuggled back into bed.

“Wha was tha?” Stephanie asked. “Ooh – you’re cold. Don’t touch me until you’re warm again.” She shifted away from him. “Don’t you dare!”

They settled down.

“Work,” he said.

She looked at her bedside clock. “At 4am?”

“Some kind of emergency. They need me in ASAP. I think they can have me in at 6.”



Two hours later, Patrick left. He had seemed absent most of breakfast, and Stephanie was worried. She asked him what time she should get dinner ready and 

he replied that he’d have to call her once he worked out what the emergency was.

And with that he was gone.

She gave him 15 minutes before she went back to the bedroom and pulled out her phone.

While waiting to connect she pulled out a suitcase and started packing.

An automated voice told her the number she was trying to reach didn’t exist.

She dialed her access code and an operator answered.

“This is Agent 575 requesting immediate evac. Yes, the Mission Black Swan was a complete success. My target’s been recalled and it appears most of the others have been lost. Oh, Operator, make sure Evac brings a van. I want to keep some of these wedding presents.”

Denny reached into the fridge and pulled out a beer. He appeared to be practicing how to cry. The sounds were there, but his face was dry.

Setting the bottle down next to his badge, the detective collapsed into his chair as a new bout of fake sobbing took hold of him.


6 months ago the first body was found. It was on the sidewalk, seemingly shot. The CSI teams weren’t amused. Why, they asked, would some make a flesh puppet?

Then they asked, why would someone skin their victim and place him on a frame. Then, when there was no frame – How did this person have all their organs removed so cleanly.

That case was still open.

The second victim was found 2 weeks later. This body was thrown off a building. Again, no blood. No organs.

The third was a week after that, sat in the bath, a razor blade dropped at the side, their wrists torn like old paper.

The police were stumped.

There were no marks, no possible way for the bodies to be empty. Especially not the suicides.

Yes. Plural. Many more were found.

Doctors sent patients for X-rays. When the plates came back blank, the patients dropped dead.

Surgeons sliced through flesh revealing hollow shells. None survived.

In fact, no living specimen had ever been found or studied.


Detective Denny Tutturo had stopped crying. He was calmer now.

Earlier today he had cut his finger. Just a paper cut. It was quite painful, but it hadn’t bled. He had come home soon after.

There he sliced his palm with a fruit knife. Just to make sure.

He hadn’t bled, but his skin stayed ragged, like dried paper.

He picked up his service revolver, placed it against the pillow wedged up against his temple and left another bloodless, empty corpse for the world to puzzle over.

Austin pulled the door. Then pushed it.

It opened the second time, a small bell ringing to mark his entrance.

The cafe was warm, and busy. He tried to find a quiet place to sit. Maybe…

“Alright, love? Gawd, you look colder than a witch’s tit, if you don’t mind me saying. You get yerself over by that ‘eater there, and I’ll come get that order once you’re warmed up a bit.”

So much for casing the joint unnoticed.

He shrugged off his coat, hung it over his chair and sat down. Then stood up, lifted his coat off and pulled a small package from his pocket, and placed it on the table, before going through the sitting process again.

“So then,” the woman who greeted him came back. She was pleasant, the way mum’s are described in children’s books. “What’ll it be?”

“I’ll have a tea, and…is there a possibility of a bacon sandwich?”

“Oh, seeing as you asked so nicely. I’ll see what I can do for you.” She grinned at him and disappeared into the back of the place.

Austin looked around. Everyone there looked nice. Respectable. He wished he’d bought a paper.

“Tea. The sandwich is on its way.” It was a male voice, this time. Rich. Deep.

Austin’s head snapped up. Sure, there might be a beard, and maybe he looked more at peace, happier. But it was his old adversary. “Zarkophski!”

“Well, who did you expect? You came into my cafe!” He stood back. “What, no hug? It seems like a life time since I saw you last.”

Austin got up, and awkwardly slapped Zarkophski’s back. His old enemy sat at his table.

“So – tell me everything.”

Austin was wary. “Like what?”

“Well – start with work. Oh, Sylvie!” The waitress came over. “Sylvie. I want to introduce you to someone…very important to me. Austin and I go way back and, to be fair, we didn’t often see eye-to-eye. But it’s because of him I’m here today. Austin, this is Sylvia. She was my first friend here. She taught me everything there is to know about service and we run this place together.”

She shook Austin’s hand. “It’s wonderful to meet you. He talks about you often. I didn’t think you existed. But I’m glad you do. You’re the only reason this place isn’t called ‘Sylvie’s’!” She chuckled to herself. “I take it you’ll have your coffee here then?” She asked the arch fiend of crime.

Who nodded sheepishly, “If it’s not too much trouble.”

Austin waited until she was out of earshot. “I can still hear the voice over!”

“Oh, that’s mine. Probably. Sometimes I turn it on. Just to amuse myself. So…”

“Hang on. She wanted it to be named Sylvie’s. Why wouldn’t you let her?”

“Because, my not so wise friend, you would never have found the place. Now, will you tell me how you got here?”

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