clicked the CHECK E-MAIL button and leaned back in my chair, taking a
break from the morning grind to look out my office window.
Sunlight glinted off the
windshield of a familiar pickup truck power-sliding into my driveway.
It fishtailed for a moment, roared up my driveway, and then skidded to
a halt inches from my garage door. My plumber, Sam, came hurtling out
of the cab and up the walk toward my front door. He abused the doorbell
for ten full seconds.
I didn’t move. The door was
unlocked, and Sam would figure that out soon enough. While I waited for
him, I checked my e-mail. A couple of Google alerts. One of them
appeared to be a blog review of my Snowflake method. The other was just
an entry on eBay for the sale of a used copy of one of my novels.
The front door slammed open and
Sam’s heavy footsteps clomped in.
I spun in my chair and waited.
Sam strode into my office, his
face the color of raw liver. “You!” He pointed a thick finger at me.
“It’s nice to see you, too,
Sam. To what do I owe the—”
“You been making up stuff about
“I’ve . . . what?” I stared at
“It ain’t right to tell lies
about a decent, hardworking feller,” Sam said.
“What makes you think I’ve been
telling lies? And who do you know that’s decent and hardworking?”
“You was showing me about them
Google alert thingies last time I come by, so I put one on my name and
what do ya think I discovered?”
I shrugged. “Maybe that you have
the same moniker as Simone Rizzo Decavalcante, also known as Sam the
Plumber, a Mafia leader who died in 1997—”
“I ain’t talking about that,
and you know it good and well. You been fibbing about me something
fierce, and it ain’t right.”
“I’ve been fibbing about you?
Sam, have you been drinking the hard stuff? Why would I fib—”
“You been writing a monthly
column, and every month it’s about me.”
A cold wave washed down my back.
So Sam knew at last.
“I seen what you wrote last
month,” Sam said.
I put on a placating smile.
“Sam, it’s a humor column. All I intended—”
“You said I was mythical. I
looked it up and figgered out you was just using a fancy-pants way to
say I’m fictionary.”
I sighed heavily. It was time
for The Talk. Little boys and girls all learn one sad day that Santa
Claus is just a chubby guy with a fake beard. Bigger boys and girls all
learn eventually that their parents, their teachers, their preachers,
and even their presidents are imperfect people who sometimes don’t know
what they’re doing. Life is full of surprises.
There was no easy way to say it,
so I just blurted it out. “Sam, it’s true. You’re fictitious.”
Sam slumped to the floor like
his knees had turned to jelly. “You mean I ain’t real?”
“That’s exactly what I don’t
mean. Sam, feel the floor. Is that real?”
Sam thumped the laminate floor
of my office. “Feels pretty real to me.”
“Take a deep breath. Does that
Sam sucked in a lungful, and
then let it out slowly. “That feels real, too.”
I reached out a hand. “Now get
back on your feet and act like a man. Being fictitious is common. Lots
of fine people are fictitious.”
Sam grabbed my hand and heaved
himself to his feet, nearly crushing my bones in the process. “Yeah?
Lotsa people? Like who?”
“Don Corleone. Elizabeth
Bennet. Harry Potter. Scarlet O’Hara.”
Sam studied me with the same
befuddled look my cat Zephyr wears all the time. “I ain’t never heard
of none of them fellers. You’re telling me it’s mostly boring people
that is fictionary.”
“Not at all. If you’ve read my
column, you know that I’m a fictional character there, just the same as
Sam scowled at me. “Right, just
like I said—boring people.”
I felt the back of my neck
getting hot. “Why does it matter if you’re fictitious?”
“Well, fer one thing, it means
you control everything I do. That ain’t right!”
“You’re wrong there,” I said.
“I’m just as fictitious as you are, and I’m on exactly the same
metaphysical plane as you are. I can’t control you any more than you
can control me.”
Sam moved his thumb and
forefinger like a duck’s beak. “Quack, quack, quack. That don’t mean
diddley to me. If you don’t control me, then who does?”
I sat back in my chair. “That’s
a good question. Within our own metaphysical realm, we both actually
have free will. I don’t control you. You don’t control me. And there is
no deity inside this universe who controls either of us. But if you go
up one metaphysical plane, to the level of the author of this column,
then we’re both completely controlled by him, and he’s presumably more
real than either of us, even though we can’t see him or detect him in
“Quack, quack, quack.”
“Look, Sam, you either accept
what you are or you don’t.”
“You just said I ain’t got no
choice,” Sam said.
“Do you believe you don’t have
Sam thought about that for a
moment. “It sure feels like I got a choice. What about you? Do you got
“I have exactly as much choice
as you do.”
Sam’s face relaxed. “I guess
that’s something, then.” He stood for a moment, thinking hard. It
looked like it was extremely painful. Three times, he opened his mouth
as if to say something, but each time he couldn’t seem to form the
thought into words.
I decided to help him out.
“You’re wondering whether I’m made of the same pipes and levers and
wires as you are.”
Sam’s eyes went wide and he
backed away from me. “That’s exactly what I was thinking!” he
stuttered. “The exact words. Jeez, you’re a freaking mind reader!”
“I’m made of the exact same
stuff you are. But even so, I’m fundamentally different from you,
because I’m the projection into this metaphysical plane of the author
of this column, whereas you aren’t. So metaphysically—”
“Quack, quack, quack! Don’t
give me none of that metal-fizzy gobbledygook! I ought to just whack
you good with my pipe—”
I snapped my fingers and Sam
froze in place. Literally froze right there, with his mouth open and
his hand reaching for the enormous pipe wrench hooked in his belt.
I studied him for several
minutes, wondering what I should do with him next. Finally, I picked
him up and hauled him out of my office and down the walk to his pickup
truck. Oddly enough, he seemed to weigh no more than a teddy bear. I
leaped onto the roof of his truck, balanced him there, and then jumped
down to the driveway.
I snapped my fingers again.
“—wrench,” Sam said. He blinked
twice and stared at me. “How’d you do that?”
“Do what?” I asked as
innocently as I knew how.
“Whatever you just done to me.
We was in yer office and now we’re out here.”
“Well, you were threatening me,
so the author stepped in and gave me some powers I don’t normally
“That ain’t fair!” Sam glowered
at me. “Make him stop it! He ain’t got no right butting in like that.”
shook my head. “Sam, I have no more control over the author than you
“I thought you was the author.”
“I am and I’m not. Both at the
“Quack, quack, quack.” Sam
clambered down off the truck. He studied me for a moment, and finally
grinned at me and stuck out his hand. “Truce?”
“Truce.” I took his hand.
He twisted hard, spinning me
around. Before I could react, he lifted me bodily and threw me against
Pain slammed into my brain like
a hammerfall. I couldn’t think, couldn’t hear, could barely see. I fell
to the ground and lay there in a daze, struggling to wipe the blood out
of my eyes.
Sam appeared above me. I saw the
flash of a pipe wrench, felt a head-splitting crash on my skull, and
then . . .
That fast, I was dead.
My corpse lay on the ground,
inert, with Sam striding back and forth, smacking his right hand in his
left palm and muttering. “He ain’t gonna tell no more lies about me. He
ain’t gonna give me that quack, quack, quack about metal-fizzies. He
ain’t gonna play no more magic tricks on me.”
My body didn’t move.
Sam paced for several minutes,
staring at me. Slowly, his rage subsided. He looked toward the nearest
neighbor’s house. Nothing there. Nothing at the neighbor on the other
side. Nothing at the one across the street.
A slow grin spread across his
face. He lifted my corpse, hauled it around the back of the garage, and
down to the pond. The ducks ran away from him, quacking.
Sam found a burlap sack, shoved
my body into it, added several cinder blocks, tied it all up, and
heaved the whole thing into the pond. He sat down on the bank and
watched. The ripples died away. The ducks came back and paddled on the
pond, quacking and diving for food.
Sam stood up, dusted his hands
on his coveralls, and hiked back to his pickup truck. He unlocked the
door, heaved himself inside, stuck his key into the ignition, and
backed out of the driveway.
When he shifted gears to drive
away, he stopped cold.
There I was, standing in front
of him, healthy as a horse, blocking his way. I snapped my fingers and
his engine coughed and died. I walked around beside his truck and
opened the door. “Hello, Sam.”
Sam’s mouth hung open like a
dog’s in August. “That . . . that ain’t possible.”
“This is fiction,” I said.
“Anything’s possible if the author decides it is.”
“Then it ain’t fair. It ain’t
fair at all.”
“No, it isn’t fair.”
Sam stared at me for a long
I stuck out my hand. “Truce?”
Sam thought about that. He
opened his mouth, but he couldn’t get the words out.
“You’re thinking that you’d
like to get your hands on the author of this column, but you can’t
because you and he are on different metaphysical planes, and that the
closest you’re ever going to get to him is me, which ain’t fair.”
Sam’s eyes got huge. His Adam’s
apple worked up and down several times. “That’s all true, but you got
to stop it! Promise me you ain’t gonna give me no more of that quack,
“I can’t guarantee that. I’m
not the author. I don’t ultimately control what I do, anymore than I
control what you do.”
“Yer saying that yer just as
fictionary as I am?”
I shrugged. “That’s . . . about
the size of it.”
Sam stared at me for a very long
time. Finally, he grinned and stuck out his hand and gripped mine.
“Truce,” he said in a thick
As I watched him drive away, I
thought how very strange it is to be a fiction writer and a character
in my own story, living in two different metaphysical planes, both at
the same time.
Quack, quack, quack.