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||You are on Week 493
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Four Hundred Ninety Three Ends Friday, January 28
It was another boring afternoon at the bookshop. Now, Barratt loved working at the Neovian Printing Press -- reading was his favourite pastime, and he enjoyed the smell of ink and musty old books -- but he had to admit it could be dull sometimes. Most days, he spent much of his time staring at passersby walking past the shop windows, always rushing here and there, too busy for books.
The shopkeeper had gone to the back room to catch up on taking inventory, and she'd left the shop in Barratt's paws. No customers had come in, though, so he'd had to busy himself with another round of dusting. Barratt didn't think it would be possible to find a speck of dust in the entire shop, he dusted so often.
A tall, slender Aisha walked past the window, pausing as she always did to peer into the glass at the shop within. Every afternoon at about the same time, that Aisha passed and looked inside, but she'd never come into the shop. Barratt had taken to calling her "Amira" in his head because she resembled the Lost Desert princess and seemed to have a regal air to her. He'd often wondered where she was headed each afternoon and why she always window-shopped but never came in to browse. Probably just another Neopian who's too busy for books, he thought glumly.
Barratt tried to look busy with his dusting as the Aisha cupped her paw against the glass to see inside the shop. Usually, she'd just move on, going about her daily business -- whatever that was -- but that day, the bells above the shop's door jingled as it opened and the Aisha stepped inside.
He almost dropped his feather duster in shock. Barratt could feel himself blushing furiously as he stammered, "G-good afternoon. Welcome to the Neovian Printing Press. Can I help you at all?" He'd never had to serve a customer before, especially not one like this mysterious Aisha, and he darted a glance toward the back room, hoping that the Pteri shopkeeper would come out and take over. He saw her flitting back and forth across the doorway, taking inventory, but she didn't emerge.
The Aisha smiled at him politely and took Stories from Beyond off the shelf, turning it over thoughtfully in her paws. Then, with a little grin, she hurled it at the chandelier that lit the shop.
"What are you doing?!" Barratt cried, cringing at the crash the book made as it hit the crystal beads of the chandelier. He was sure that the shopkeeper would come out and fire him for allowing such behaviour.
The Aisha's smile widened into a grin, and she took another book off the shelf and handed it to Barratt.
"Go on, Barratt," she said in a teasing voice. "It's your turn..."
Author: The Customer's Always Right?|
Date: Jan 24th
"W-what? Wait," came Barratt's dignified reply as the Aisha daintily placed the book in his hands. He stared at it, unbelieving, as the gears in his mind spun endlessly, trying to figure out what she had just said.
The Aisha laughed, a melodious sound, like bells. "Oh, you heard me." She walked -- skipped, almost -- along the bookshelf, grabbing books -- one, two, three -- as she passed, then tossing them into the air. The books fluttered like Weewoos before crashing to the ground in a mess of crooked pages and bent spines.
"Stop that!" Barratt cried. He rushed forward to snatch another book from her hands before she could throw it.
The Aisha looked at him quizzically, grinned, and grabbed another book from the shelf. Barratt stole that one from her, too. "Don't make me call the shopkeeper!"
The Aisha laughed. "Oh, she won't be coming anytime soon." Her eyes danced wickedly. "It's just you and me, Barratt, darling. I made sure of it."
"What?" Barratt sputtered. "Why are you doing this?"
But the Aisha simply smiled. And that's what made him pause. Her smile. It was not the mysterious smile befitting the enigmatic Aisha who passed outside the bookshop every day, nor was it the maniacal smile one would expect from someone throwing books around. Rather, it was smug, confident, as if she were daring him to stop her, as if she was absolutely certain he would join her in her strange game.
It was the smile that made him falter, and the Aisha took the opportunity to grab the pile books from his arms and toss them into the air. They hit the chandelier with a clash of paper and crystal. A few pages came loose and fell slowly. Barratt watched them, transfixed.
"You like stories, don't you, Barratt?"
"What?" He tore his eyes away from the manic dance of falling pages and looked at her. Her head was tilted toward the ceiling, and she gazed at the chandelier and the paper with a ecstatic, childlike smile.
"I know you do," the Aisha said, answering for him. "I've seen you reading them. Every time I pass, you've got your nose in a book. And that's why..." She grinned.
"What?" Barratt asked again, feeling more and more like a child who was unable to do anything more than repeat what he heard. The Aisha darted forward, ripping more books from the shelves and tossing them into the air. Books flew, fell, came back to earth in undignified heaps. Pages tore, then tumbled slowly, almost like snow.
"Stop that!" Barratt cried, but the Aisha ignored his protests.
"There's something you probably don't about your precious stories. You probably think they're just paper and ink, little worlds you can escape into whenever it strikes your fancy. You have no idea." She laughed then, clasping her hands over her mouth. "No idea at all."
The Aisha skipped over to another shelf, carefully pulling a book from its clutch, tenderly riffling through the pages. Her smile became a bit more subdued, almost a little melancholic. "All your stories, all you books. They're real, you know. The worlds, the characters... they exist outside their leather-bound confinements. The words are simply prison-bars, destined to keep them in and keep everybody else out. Which is why..."
She grinned and turned to Barratt, tossing him the book in her hands. "Which is why we have to destroy them..."
Date: Jan 24th
"What?" Barratt cried as he watched her toss another book into the air. It sailed clumsily halfway across the room before slumping upon the floor in a crumpled and defeated heap. "You're insane!"
The Aisha paused only momentarily as she turned toward Barratt. The smile was only a faint ghost of its former glory, and all the smugness had been cast aside as if it had been nothing more than a cloak. Tiny fragmented tears, like lost jewels, twinkled momentarily in her luminous eyes as she spoke, her voice soft and haunted. "I wish that I was," she said. "You don't know how much that this was all in my mind, but it isn't. It's my reality, and it will be your reality as well if you don't destroy it now."
She walked toward him slowly, wading through the damaged books like a literary swamp, and handed a book to him. "You must destroy it," she whispered. "I can take care of all the others, but this one you must destroy yourself, or you will be doomed."
In a daze, Barratt took the book. Although he had cleaned these shelves numerous times, he was positive he had never seen this book before. It was leather bound, and appeared oddly ancient and modern at the same time. As it was placed within his paws, he knew a thousand others before him had held this book, and the knowledge simultaneously excited and frightened him.
"You have to destroy it, Barratt," the Aisha whispered, "It's the only way."
Barratt continued to study the book. There was no title nor author's name printed on the front, and he had no idea of the contents. Perhaps this Aisha was right, and he should destroy this book. He was bound to get fired for the wanton destruction she had caused anyway, so one more book wouldn't matter. Yet, he found himself reluctant. He had always loved to read and often felt books were his truest, closet friends.
"I can't do it," he finally said, raising his eyes to look at her. "What if you're right and these books are real? Then what? The worlds in these books are better than the real world! There's excitement, and the hero always wins. It's not like life -- not like my life. Each day is the same, and I'm tired of it! Maybe I would be happier if I lived in a book!" Barratt stopped suddenly as he caught his breath. Never before had he yelled like that, and he hadn't even known those thoughts were in his mind. However, now that the words had been spoken, there was no taking it back.
The Aisha shook her head. "You have chosen," she said, sadly, "but I only wished you had listened." Without another word, she turned and left the shop, and he was alone again.
Alone with his books.
Sighing, Barratt went to the back to retrieve a broom. With any luck, he might be able to get this mess cleaned before the shopkeeper returned, but he would have to work fast. At least he had something to do now, he reasoned as he hurried back up front to clean.
As he stepped through the curtain to the front of the shop, he couldn't believe the scene that stretched before him. The shop was in pristine condition -- even better than it had been before the strange Aisha's visit. For a moment he just stood there in amazement as he looked around. Surely he couldn't have dreamed or imagined the whole incident, but he just didn't have any explanation.
It was then he noticed the book the Aisha had handed him setting innocently on the counter. Still confused, Barratt made his way over to the book and ran one paw over the cover. The same feelings as before rushed over him in a wave, but this time he was going to open the book...
Date: Jan 25th
The book seemed to grow warmer under the light touch of his paw, as if it was somehow aware of his desire, as if the strange tome wanted to encourage him, to reassure him. Barratt hooked his paw under the edge of the leather cover. For a fraction of a moment, the Aisha's large eyes loomed in his memory, glistening with watery tears, but the book grew warmer, beckoning, willing, inviting, coaxing...
In one swift movement, he flicked open the cover and held his breath. Nothing happened. After a few seconds, Barratt let his breath escape with a hiss, heaved another deep sigh, and looked around at the pristine shop which was, and probably always would be, exactly the same as it had always been. A mixture of disappointment coupled with a sliver of relief flooded him. He looked back down at the book and almost fainted.
Struggling against panic, Barratt managed to force his eyes back to the creamy pages. What had once been blank was now being filled with writing. The letters and words formed delicately on the paper as if some invisible hand were tracing their familiar patterns with ceaseless determination. Still not quite sure what he was doing, Barratt leaned forward over the book and began to read the words that formed.
The Neovian Printing Press was quiet, as usual, quiet and dull. No customer disturbed the little bell that hung above the door, and the shopkeeper's assistant, a thin Wocky named Barratt..."
He couldn't read further. His heart was racing and his mind was filling with all manner of thoughts. Some told him to run, others told him to read on, and a few suggested some bizarre action or other that would, nonetheless, amount to nothing more than useless arm waving. Barratt snapped the book shut, unable to stand the sight of his name being written by nothing at all, and tucked it under his arm. The compulsion to keep the book with him was strong.
Perhaps he ought to take a break. A nice stroll around Neovia would do his head some good, and he was sure the Pteri shopkeeper wouldn't mind him ducking out for a few minutes' peace. He flipped the little sign that hung on the inside of the glass door from "open" to "closed", stepped outside and froze.
Something cold, cruel, and exceedingly sharp pressed itself against Barratt's neck.
"Turn around slowly, and no sneaky business, y'hear!" said a gruff voice somewhere close to his ear. Barratt did as he was told, clutching the tome to his chest like some kind of shield. He blinked and opened his eyes to see the twisted and somewhat angry face of a Techo snarling at him. He was short, broad, eye-patched and cutlassed, all of which begged the obvious conclusion.
"P-pirate?" Barratt stuttered.
"Aye, lad. And me an' my boys here'll be wantin' that there book, so hows about you hand it over nice an' slow..."
Date: Jan 25th
Barratt blinked a few times, hoping against hope that the image of the pirate would fade before him like the wisps of a nightmare upon waking, but the Techo remained. The stout pirate stood there looking at him, his good eye dancing with an icy fire that chilled Barratt to his very core. What had started out merely as a peculiar day had turned into some sort of deadly game of which Barratt didn't know the rules.
The Techo wasn't alone, either. Behind him stood a surly, disagreeable group that looked exactly the way an inventive child might imagine a pirate's crew. Suddenly, Barratt realised that's exactly what they were. They were characters in a story -- his story, to be more exact. Despite the situation, he smiled slightly as he straightened his shoulders. If this was his story, then he was the hero, and standing up to these pirates should be a snap.
"No," Barratt said, the stutter eliminated from his voice as if it had been purely imagined, "I don't think I'll do that."
The pirates look postively stunned. "You be makin' a mistake, boy," snarled the Captain, unsheathing his cutlass, "The choice be yours -- the book or yer life!"
"You can't hurt me!" Barratt announced, feeling completely confident. Still smiling, he started to push pass the pirates to leave the shop.
Suddenly, he felt a stinging sensation on his upper arm and was shocked to see a thin, red line glaring through the fur. The pirate captain had cut him! He realised that somehow this was all very real, and he was in actual danger. His bravery melted like ice cream on a summer day, and the captain and his crew surrounded the frightened Wocky.
"The book," prodded the Techo.
Seeing no other way, he started to hand the book over to the pirate. He saw the greedy smile upon the Techo's face, but he was trapped. How could he have ever imagined himself to be the hero of any story?
"Stop!" a melodious voice suddenly cried. "Don't do it, Barratt!" All at once, the mysterious Aisha came swooping in on a rope that had somehow been tied to the ceiling rafters. She was also dressed as a pirate, her own sword gripped tightly in her paw.
"Interfering again, lass?" asked the Techo.
"Always, Captain Oldbones," the Aisha retorted.
"That's Orebones!" the pirate roared. "Get her boys!" Shouting and yelling, the entire crew rushed toward the Aisha, but that had apparently been her plan.
"Run, Barratt!" she shouted. "Get away from here!"
Barratt nodded dumbly and ran as fast as his feet could carry him. He rushed out of the shop and down the street, aware of a few strange looks from those he passed by but not daring to slow down. He twisted and turned down familiar streets and alleys, doing his best to put as much distance between himself and the shop. Finally, out of breath, he leaned against the wall in a shadowed alley and looked down at the book he still held.
"What was that?" he asked aloud. "Am I going crazy or what? One thing's for sure, though -- I'm going to have to hide this thing."
"That won't work," a familiar voice informed him.
Jumping, he turned only to see the Aisha walking toward him. She was dressed normally again, and there was no trace of her pirate lass persona. "What's going on here?" Barratt demanded. "Who are you?"
She sighed deeply. "My name is Pearl," she answered. "And my story is your story now..."
Date: Jan 26th
"What are you talking about?" Barratt cried. "I do not understand." He clutched the book against his chest, as if the feeling of the leather-bound volume and the smell of ink and paper would offer him comfort, answers.
The Aisha looked at him sadly. (So she did have a name. Pearl. Pearl, not Amira. It both suited her and didn't suit her at the same time.)
"I'm afraid it is not an easy thing to understand."
"You can try."
Pearl sighed again and leaned against the wall, sliding down to join Barratt on the ground. She looked so out of place, with her long lashes and elegant eyes, squatting in the dirt in some shadowy alleyway. When Barratt had watched her pass outside the shop oh, so many times, he never imagined he'd get the chance to speak to her, let alone everything else that had happened.
"I don't know where to start," Pearl muttered.
"The beginning might be a good place."
Pearl laughed. It was a sad sound. "Yes. You would think, wouldn't you? After all, stories always start from the beginning. Once upon a time and the like. But life..." She shook her head. "Real stories -- the ones that live and breathe outside of books -- aren't so easy to decipher. You cannot pinpoint the true beginning of a story. You can try, but how do you know which part is the true beginning? Does the story start when the life does, with birth and when eyes are first opened, or does it start much later than that? With the first dream, the first wish, the first mistake, the first time a stranger enters a bookshop?" She looked at Barratt as she said this, almost apologetically.
"Earlier," Barratt said, clutching the book even tighter to his chest, "you told me that stories -- every single story that ever existed -- are real, and so are their characters and their worlds and everything about them. And," he swallowed before he could continue, "and you also told me that we have to destroy them. Why? Why did you stay that?"
Pearl smiled sadly. "Because sometimes that's the only way they will end."
"But books, stories, they are such beautiful things! Why would you want to destroy something like that?"
"Because that is the only way they will end," Pearl repeated.
"Why?" Barratt asked glumly, confused and bewildered. "Why are you so obsessed with ending things? D-destroying them?" The last bit came out as a hiss.
Pearl looked at the ground, traced patterns in the dirt. "Haven't you ever skipped to the last few pages of a book, just because you could not wait to see what happened next? Because you wanted to know how it ended so much that you could barely contain yourself?" She shook her head sharply, brushing away her doodles, erasing them. "No, no... that's a terrible analogy. This isn't like that at all. Sorry.
"It's more like," she began, frowning, as if she could only find the words she was looking for only if she concentrated hard enough, "if you're still stuck in a story, it can never end, and you can never move on. Endings are lot like beginnings in a way. Just like how you can never pinpoint a beginning, how can you be sure when a story truly ends? The evil can be vanquished and the kingdom can be saved, but then what? What happens next? If one..." Her voice faltered a bit. "If one is caught between stories, how can they move on? How can they be free?"
Barratt listened to her speak, not entirely sure if he understood or not. "But what does this have to do with me?" he whispered. "Why am a part of this? And those pirates! What are they doing here?"
"When you read something, you make it real," Pearl said. She shook her head when Barratt opened his mouth. "Don't worry, Barratt, I'll get to that. What was I saying? Oh, yes. When you read something, you make it real. So, in the same way, when you create something, you make it real as well.
"A quill holds a lot more power than one would suspect, and a storyteller even more so. A storyteller can twist fate, bring carefully hidden secrets to light, reunite old enemies and new allies, resurrect villains and heroes alike. A storyteller can do anything, if they put their mind to it. But what happens if they stop writing? What happens to the story, the world, the characters then? If the storyteller stops, does the story stop with it? Does the story freeze, its world and its tale and its characters held in limbo until the storyteller picks up the pen once more, or do the characters live on, trapped, unable to continue with anything until the story is finished?"
"Is that what happened to you?" Barratt asked, the gears in his mind clicking together as he spoke. Pearl nodded and smiled sadly.
"That's what you're trying to do, isn't it?" Barratt continued. "Finish your story. But why am I a part of this?"
Pearl closed her eyes for a long time and then opened them again. "You mean to say, Barratt, is that you do not recognise me? You do not remember me?"
"What are you talking about -- " He stopped. His eyes widened. Of course.
His mind fled back to the days of his youth, when he lived for stories and nothing more. His room had been a maze of books, stories opened and unfinished, novels packed onto one another, forming fragile towers. And there had also been the notebooks, the pencils, the words he had written himself, his own story, not the story of his life, but his creation, his masterpiece, the one he had never finished...
It was so clear, so obvious now. How could he not have seen it before? How could he not have known who she was, when she had passed the shop front so many times?
"You're mine," Barratt said, realising at last. "Your story is mine..."
Date: Jan 26th
"Yes," Pearl nodded. She smiled, but it was once again a sad smile, one that didn't quite reach her eyes. "And when you decided that you'd rather sell books than write them, I became trapped."
Barratt's head spun as he desperately tried to get a grip on reality. There were so many questions he had. "Part of what you're saying makes sense," he began slowly, "or at least, I can believe it. But other things... they just don't add up. For example, if all stories are real, how come we don't have a mass of superheroes, and villains, and crazy other made-up creatures running around Neopia?"
"Ah yes, why indeed?" Pearl looked... wistful? The Wocky couldn't quite decide what to call the strange expression on her face. "There are two reasons. The first should be more logical, I suppose. Consider this: of all the books you've read, how many actually occur in Neopia?"
"Well, I couldn't put a number to that, I don't exactly --" he trailed off as Pearl raised her paw and shook her head, indicating him to stop.
"No, I mean, just think: most stories occur outside Neopia if they contain things not seen in this world, correct?"
"Right... so does that mean there are countless other worlds out there, all created by us?" Barratt's eyes widened as a new thought occurred to him. "Are we just part of someone else's story?"
The Aisha wore her sad smile once again. "To answer your first questions, not quite. And as for your second... I'm not sure. But somehow, I'd imagine not. You remember how I said there were two reasons that all stories didn't exist in Neopia?" Barratt nodded.
"Look at me. I'm part of your creation, as was the Techo and his gang. But why am I here exactly? I- I'm not exactly sure how to explain this, but it's because of you." She held up her paw to stop Barratt from voicing his next question. "And I mean that as more then just the fact that you created me. There are certain Neopets in this world, Barratt, who have a gift beyond others. To write a book, you certainly must be fond of them. But to truly love stories the way you do... why that happens so rarely. Your life was and is books. As a child you preferred stories to friends. Your mind constantly buzzed with new ideas, forming and destroying themselves as quickly as they came. When you started to grow up, you worked around books, constantly reading new ones, and caring for them as if each one was your own precious child..."
As her voice trailed off, Barratt could begin to see where she was heading with this. "So you mean to say that because I love books, more than most Neopets in this world, you came to life? And other characters' stories... they remain trapped inside their books?"
Pearl nodded. "Yes. But you see, there's one more fact, the reason why I'm here. If you had written my story, and finished it -- truly finished it -- I wouldn't be alive in this world. But you stopped." Her voice dropped to whisper. "And in our world, your own section of Neopia with the characters you had created, we became stuck. Our world kept turning, but it was as if someone kept flipping the switch of a replay button; we repeated our tale again and again and again, always coming to an abrupt halt where naturally we should not." Barratt felt a wave of guilt rush through him, but Pearl plunged on.
"Eventually, my world began to fray at the edges. It started to unravel, and as it did it sucked its characters of out the world you had created and into the world you lived in. I, as the main character, was the first to leave. Soon Captain Orebones and his crew followed. Even minor characters you mentioned in passing are probably being brought to this world as we speak."
Barratt's face was a mask of horror. "So what do I do now? Continue writing?"
"I'm afraid it's no longer that simple. You see, in your creation, I was the main character. In your world, you were the main character. But now... now we have met. Now we share the same story. And it's not the way things are supposed to be. One of us will have to be removed, placed in a different story."
"Is there no way to control anything? Or am I just forced to admit that I might be sucked into someone else's story at any moment?" Barratt was shouting now, all his questions shifting into a swirl of confusion and anger.
"Not quite," the Aisha said, mimicking her earlier words. "There is one way to fix things, but no longer through your own book. The book you hold in your hands is the key..."
Date: Jan 27th
Barratt looked down at the book again. For all that its binding was odd and unmarked, it still looked astonishingly, well, normal. "Last time I opened this, it started writing a story. About me. It was like it was describing my... my life. It wrote what I was doing."
"Describing?" Pearl asked, her voice soft. "Or controlling?"
A shiver ran up Barratt's spine, making his fur stand on end. He shook himself. "You mean it wasn't describing the things I was doing, it was... making me do them?"
"I don't know," Pearl said. "Or," she said and hesitated. Then she went on, "Or maybe it's more complicated than that. When you were writing my story, did you make me do things?"
Barratt closed his eyes and tried to remember back to the days he had spent working on his masterpiece, the story of the daring and beautiful Pearl and her nemesis, the wicked Captain Orebones. "Not exactly. It was more like, well, like I had some ideas, but you -- you came to life while I was writing, and sometimes it felt like the ideas weren't entirely coming from me." He opened his eyes to see Pearl's soft expression and reflected that 'came to life' was apparently not just a metaphor.
"Exactly," she said. "In a really great work, a really powerful work, the characters and the world have a power and a will of their own. The author breathes life into them, and in turn they inspire the author. Did you know that's where the word 'inspire' comes from? To breathe life into something?" She shook her head. "But I'm getting off track. This book," and she tapped the cover, "is a similar kind of collaboration. Between me and you, and between you and... the narrative of your own life."
Barratt swallowed hard and opened the book.
Sure enough, words were scrolling across the page even as he read:
"...the narrative of your own life," Pearl said, her voice at once silky and sad. Barratt's face was a mask of surprise as he tried to absorb all this, and his paws barely shook as he tipped open the book and stared at the words unfurling there..."
Barratt resisted the urge to slam the book shut again. "What do I need to do?"
"You are one of the gifted talespinners," Pearl said. "And this book is one of the great artefacts of Neopia, the Book of the Web of Story. Either you or it alone is powerful enough, but together, I think you can weave whole all the stories that are left hanging. But you have to be brave... and reach into the story."
Barratt's heart was beating wildly. He'd never thought he could be so frightened by a book, but Pearl's words shook him to his very core. If he was another Neopet, he knew, maybe he would say, "So what? It's just a story."
But he knew better. He knew how important stories were. And that was why he had to try.
He put a paw flat on the page, right on top of the words that wrote themselves, and pushed.
Date: Jan 27th
...was suddenly gripping a long and elegant plume, scratching words furiously in the mystical tome.
Pearl turned to Barratt and said, "I have something important I need to tell you."
The Wocky's paw shook with the effort to raise the plume from the page, and he turned and pleaded, "What's going on now? I... I didn't write that. I mean, I know I wrote it, but it didn't come from me. And where did this pen come from?"
Pearl raised her gaze to the ceiling and shouted, "I thought I could do this my way."
Barratt followed the direction of the Aisha's eyes and saw only the same old and familiar ceiling, empty but for the gleaming chandelier. A chill ran down his spine as Pearl turned to him and said, "I have something important I need to tell you."
The Wocky mutely nodded.
"Self-awareness can be both a blessing and a curse, but it would seem that we've been left with no choice. Time must be running out or else the Weaver would have never intervened." Shouting at the ceiling once more, Pearl added, "At least that's what I thought."
"Yes," the Aisha replied patiently. "You are one of the many talespinners of Neopia, but there is one who remains above all others, the one who can take all of the different stories, the products of countless imaginations, and weave them into one coherent fabric."
"I've never heard of the... Weaver."
"Well, she has several different names. Some call her the Weaver or the Loom or, simply, the Storyteller, though many have claimed that title." With a chuckle, Pearl added, "I believe you just call her 'Boss'."
"You mean she's..."
"Yes, she has been the shopkeeper of this fine bookstore ever since she created this plane."
The Aisha paused to let this information sink in. Barratt's face closed like a fist in confused concentration, remaining like this for several moments before reopening in stupefied horror.
"Please explain what you mean by 'she... created this plane'?"
"I think you know exactly what I mean, Barratt," Pearl said gently. "You are a character in the Weaver's story."
Shaking his head, slowly at first and then more vehemently, Barratt protested, "Are you saying I'm not real?"
Pearl gripped his arm tightly and replied, "Can you feel this? I am real, even if I sprang from your childhood imagination. Of course you're real, you have thoughts and feelings and memories..."
"Do I? Do I have those things or are they being written just as they occur? How do I know I even had a childhood? How do I know that my memories weren't just created by this... this Weaver?"
"This is what I meant when I said that self-awareness is both a blessing and a curse. You know the truth but you can't possibly understand what it means. You want to know about memories? Think back to your childhood, was there a secret you kept just to yourself, something that you never told anyone?"
Barratt closed his eyes and was transported back to when he was a small Wocky. He remembered walking along the pier on Roo Island, fresh from a ride on the carousel and licking a chocolate ice cream cone. He could almost smell the salt of the ocean air and the richness of the chocolate as it melted on his tongue. Suddenly, a Techo, about his age but much taller and tougher-looking, stepped in front of him, blocking his path. Barratt felt small and helpless as the Techo demanded that he hand over the few Neopoints he had jingling in the bottom of his pocket. Terrified, the Wocky had given the last of his money away and had burst into tears of shame as he was forced to walk back home instead of taking the ferry as he had planned. The event was so humiliating that Barratt had never told the story to anyone.
When the Wocky reopened his eyes, he could see Pearl was smiling at him.
"Whatever you were remembering appeared very powerful. Very real."
"How do I know it actually happened, though?"
Pearl shrugged and said, "I guess there's no way to prove it, but look around. There's no way to prove much of anything."
"So what are you doing here, besides shaking my faith in reality?"
"Barratt, you are in serious trouble. Your own story is unravelling because of the unfinished story you created. There are just too many loose threads. The Weaver sent me to help you. If only you had destroyed the book before Orebones escaped... but what's done is done. Now, you must finish it."
"Why doesn't the Weaver just write the happy ending then? If she doesn't want to write it herself, she can just move the quill in my paw again and make it happen that way. Why would she need me if she created me? Why..."
A loud crash against the front door of the bookstore caused Barratt to jump. "Wh... what was that?"
Pearl ran to ensure that the door was locked and peeked through the spyhole. "It's the pirates, Barratt. They're back and they'll do anything to prevent you from finishing the story and putting them back where they belong. You must start writing, Barratt. You must lock them back up."
"And then what? Will you be locked back up, too? Will... I?"
The door heaved on its hinges as something battered it once more from the other side. "You must be brave, Barratt. Write the ending!"
The Wocky opened the book once more to find the pages blank and intimidating. Pressing down with the quill, he...
Date: Jan 28th
The pirates, with a mighty roar, crashed through the flimsy wooden doors, waving around their cutlasses and creating a gigantic scene.
Trying to ignore the strange sensation of using a quill that paid no heed to what he wanted to write and simply wrote what it wanted, Barratt spared the pirates one fearful glance before continuing to read the words on the creamy pages.
"Give us the book, ye hear?" snarled Captain Orebones, as he placed the blade at Barratt's throat. "We can do this the easy way... or the hard way. Yer call.
"Never!" screamed Barratt. "You'll never get this book, because soon, this'll all be over, just another story on the bookshelf."
"Oh really? Well, watch me, lad..."
But before the Techo could do anything, Pearl shrieked, "Oldbones, you idiot! You realise that the second you kill Barratt, you're just going to stop the Ending?"
"That's not what we want," protested Orebones. "All I'll be doin' is finishing the story..." A manic glint came to his eye. "My way."
"Either way, you're never getting this book!" Barratt suddenly noticed that everything the pirates were saying came in a slanted, hooked text, while whatever he and Pearl said was in the standard block letters... he had been working in the book industry long enough to know that anything the main characters were saying came in normal block text, which could only mean that at the moment, they were in his world, where Barratt was the main character. The realisation scared him, for the only way that could be happening was if someone had deliberately made it so.
Someone was writing his story.
If that was so, then neither of them needed to leave. They were never in different worlds in the first place.
Orebones seemed enraged for a second, then sheathed his cutlass. In a strange turn of events, he said, "I'm sorry for causing you the trouble."
"It's quite all ri--"
But before Barratt could finish the sentence, the Techo had grabbed the book from him, the pages ripping out and flying all over the floor.
"Don't do that!" Pearl shrieked hysterically. "You'll tear us all apart! You're going to destroy the entire world of story... you'll even be destroying yourself!"
Orebones paused. After a minute of pondering, he handed the book slowly back to Barratt.
Barratt suddenly noticed that even though the book had been in Orebones's grasp, the quill had continued its mad frenzy of writing. There was no way Barratt had any control over that... the idea of someone else, someone entirely outside of their world, writing the story had even more evidence to back its claims.
"Finish the story, Barratt," whispered Pearl happily. "There's no one to stop you, now."
"I will," said Barratt. "Pearl, if I could have my manuscripts?"
The Aisha handed them over, taking them off a high shelf. Barratt immediately took up the notebook in which he had left the pirates, beginning to finish their story. As he was doing that, the pirates began to fade from view. The more life that Barratt put into the ending, the less of the pirates existed in Barratt's world.
"You know, Pearl? I'm almost tempted to leave you out here in my world... with me."
"That would be lovely, Barratt, but I don't belong here. I'm meant to stay in my books, for readers to enjoy."
"That's true," he admitted. "I suppose I'll send you back, then..."
Smiling sadly, Pearl waved goodbye.
Then, as quickly as she had entered the door to the shop not so long ago, she was gone.
With a gust of wind, the chime of bells, a young Lutari entered the bookstore.
"Hello, there," greeted Barratt, climbing down from his ladder. "Might I recommend a few books?"
The Lutari nodded timidly.
"I'm sure you'll enjoy this one." Barratt handed over a book. "It's about a beautiful and daring Aisha named Pearl, who battles her nemesis, the wicked and evil Captain Orebones, a pirate..."
The Lutari seemed genuinely interested, flipping through the pages, as her grin grew wider and wider.
"How much is this?" she asked.
"Oh no, this is on me. Take it," urged Barratt, and the Lutari did so.
"Thank you, mister!" she called, as she exited the store.
The chime of bells as she left sounded almost like Pearl's voice... Barratt grabbed another copy of Pearl's story from the shelf, and, taking up a quill, he scratched two words inside the cover.
From her perch on the ladder inside the storeroom, the shopkeeper smiled serenely to herself. The book was over now.
With her fountain pen, she took up the Book of the Web of Story, which had magically appeared; lying on a shelf, it beckoned to her with the magic that was a story.
And then, on the final page, she wrote two words:
Date: Jan 28th
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