Randy Ingermanson 

Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at www.SupremeDictatorForLife.com.


Randy Rooney aka Randy Ingermanson

I 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. Nothing much.

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 me!”

“I’ve . . . what?” I stared at him.

“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 feel real?”

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 you.”

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 any way.”

“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 any choice?”

Sam thought about that for a moment. “It sure feels like I got a choice. What about you? Do you got any choice?”

“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 have.”

“That ain’t fair!” Sam glowered at me. “Make him stop it! He ain’t got no right butting in like that.”

I shook my head. “Sam, I have no more control over the author than you do.”

“I thought you was the author.”

“I am and I’m not. Both at the same time.”

“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 a tree.

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 moment.

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, quack, 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 voice.

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.


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