The Real Author of This Story

Submitted into Contest #186 in response to: Write a story within a story within a story within a ...... view prompt


Fantasy Science Fiction Contemporary

Our dwindling forces retreated further into a forest clearing until we encountered a sheer cliff wall. With the undead army approaching from all directions, it is here where we take our last stand. We turn to the approaching horde, I look over to my teammates, Ariana at my left, her bow at the ready. On my right, Garrack lifts his mighty hammer, preparing to bash in enemies' skulls.

I look down at my blood-spattered sword, my teammates and I were trained in combat, unafraid of death, but the civilians with their makeshift weapons stood terrified as the glowing eyes of the necromancer's horde grew closer.

"Julian!" Ariana stepped closer until our shoulders touched, "The troops need you!"

"What could I do?" I shout.

"These people look up to you as their leader. As their protector."

I took a deep breath, knowing she was right. I stepped forward, turning to face the surviving army, "Fellow citizens! We will not give up our country, our home without a fight! I know the light is within us all. Summon your strength, and the light shall guide your blade. We fight here. For our country! For Novalas!"

A mighty shout rang from the troops. They all sprinted forward, their blades made contact with the undead, the enemy's forces slowed their approach.

I look at the battle with disbelief at the changing tide.

"Nice job Julian, you are a true leader." Ariana put her hand on my shoulder before notching another arrow and shooting it true into the skull of an undead. They seemed to go down quicker than mere moments before.

Garrack roared and lunged forward with his hammer, crushing three enemies with a single blow.

"That was rather easy." I said,

"What?" Ariana asked, loosing another arrow, a perfect shot in another skull despite the fact she was still conversing with me.

I looked over to the troops, they were fighting better now, stronger than before. I look at Ariana, "I said that was easy, all I did was say a speech and that is what changed the tide of battle?"

"What are you talking about Julian? You are the rightful heir and warrior, you inspire them."

"Yes, but have you noticed things like this work out for us all the time? Even when soldiers are being slaughtered in front of us, we get out without a scratch?"

"We never get out without a scratch, I have plenty of scratches, even now"

"Yes, minor wounds that the cleric heals quickly"

"The cleric isn't here now." Ariana turned angrily, "And you need to focus, we just need to hold them off a bit longer until the sun rises."

I scoff, "Right, the tide of battle turns just before sunrise, everything works out for us, for me. It has been like this the entire journey."

I looked down at my holy blade, its glow still shimmering through the flecks of blood, "Something is off." I said.

I reach for my spell pouch. Nothing useful for battle, but there was one scroll in there I was saving. Now seemed the best time to use it, a scroll of truth. I pulled it out and the runes glowed on the paper.

Ariana noticed, "Julian, what are you doing! Now is not the time."

"I need to know, Ariana, I need to know the truth!"

A light burst and I was teleported away, my eyes closed at the blinding light, it faded and I landed face first on a soft ground.

I hear a woman screaming. I open my eyes and see I am indoors, in a room with a carpeted floor. The woman stood in a corner, her hand over her mouth. She wore spectacles and her attire appeared to be sleepwear.

"Where am I?" I asked, picking myself up. The woman stood in silent disbelief at my sudden arrival.

I lift my sword and pointed it at the woman, "Answer the question,"

"You're in my office!" She squeaked.

"I see," I sheathe my blade at the realization I had startled the woman,

"Pardon my manner's ma'am, you see, I had no notion as to what that magic scroll would do."

I reached out my gloved hand in apology, but the woman moved out of the corner away from me, "Who are you?" She asked.

I bowed, "Sir Julian Evergloss, Holy Knight of Novalas."

"You have got to be shitting me," She scoffed,

I was taken aback, "Excuse me? I was sent here in my quest for the truth, can you help me?"

"The truth? Right I just wrote that didn't I? But that was just an idea, I didn't think anything of it."

"What do you mean m'lady?"

"There's no way you can be real." She breathed,

"Then you know me? You know the truth I so desperately seek?"

"Oh I know you alright." She whispered, "I created you."

I stare at her for a moment, "What do you mean?" I asked in a hushed tone.

She moved to her desk and grabbed what I assumed was a black book perched open. She spun it around for me to see. The page glowed white with words littered upon it.

"By the gods," I exclaim as I read the passage. It described the battle with the undead army, up until the moment I opened the scroll and begged for the truth.

The woman saw I had finished the passage and she pushed up her spectacles, "You see I am the author of your series of books, my name is Emily Stone."

"Books? You mean you write about my adventures? Are you a historian?"

"No, I'm an author. I wrote about you and your adventures. You are a fictional character." I felt the blood drain from my face as she continued, "I don't know how, but you appeared out of thin air! I know it's you, every detail is right. The glowing sword, the facial scars. You are my main character, Julian"

I walked to the chair in the corner, and sunk down in it. My gold armor, clanking at the movement. I brought my hand to my head, contemplating what I just heard.

Emily pulled a chair from behind her desk and sat beside me, "This is all incredible to me too, but I understand if you need time to come to terms with it."

I nodded and looked out the window, it was mid morning and I could tell we were on the second story of Emily's home. The street beyond was paved, and large metal machines rolled by. Not a horse in sight.

"This is the real world?" I ask,


"Then here I can be real, have a real life." I reach out for Emily's hands, the woman who created me. She smiled and nodded.

"If that is what you want, I will be happy to help you adjust" She said, "Just one question, how did you know you were not real?" She asked.

I thought back to all the close calls and brushes with death myself and my teammates seem to encounter. I looked up into Emily's eyes, "I began to notice the strangeness of my world, how the universe seemed to favor my plight. But when I thought deeper, I couldn't remember who I was. Details of my childhood, my friends, my family."

"Right, I haven't written your childhood backstory yet." Emily said, looking away.

I stood and stared out the window, "This is all so much, " I said,

"And I don't know how this is happening, I mean I wrote everything about you, but I'm not writing now, how are you here?"

"I suppose it just happened."

Emily looked down for a moment, then glanced up, "Wait a minute, you said you couldn't think of memories right?"

I nodded, and Emily rushed to her desk at a framed portrait. "This is a picture of my parents, I have their photo but I cannot think of their names."

She looked up at me with horrific realization, "Who am I? Am I married? Do I have children?"

"Emily, what are you saying?" I ask.

She stared at me with terror in her eyes, "You don't have another one of those scrolls, do you?"

You lean back, confident of a job well done. After another pass for grammar and line editing, you're happy how the story is turning out. It’s a decent start with room for growth.

Maybe I should call my agent, he would know if this idea has merit, you think, reaching for your cell phone.

As the phone rings, you smile at your screen, excited with your new idea, and brimming with pride. You wait as the phone rings, dying to hear what your agent has to say.

He answers after the third ring, "Hey! How's my favorite author?"

You smile, "I bet you say that to all your clients, but I'm really good! Just finished a story, well it's more like an outline. Maybe if you like it, I can flesh it out into a full-blown novel."

"Well let's hear it!"

"It's about a fantasy writer, with a hit series of books about a magical knight who travels a magical realm making companions along the way. Well in one of the adventures, the knight utters a spell and actually arrives in the real world of the author!"

"Interesting, tell me more," your agent says.

You sit up in your seat, "So it's basically the author vs the character they created. The knight is a warrior with a strong personality, and the author is more of an introvert. So when the author and the character meet, he is forced to come to terms that he was never real. But then at the end, the author finds similarities in his story. She realizes she isn't real either."

"Okay, okay I like where this is going." He laughed. "Is the author based on you?"

"Well, there may be a little inspiration there," You pause a moment, "Why do you ask?"

"Anytime an author writes about an author you wonder if it's based on their own experience or themselves ya know?"

"Right yeah," You reflect on that for a moment, "Uh, so what do you think of the concept?" You ask.

"I like the idea, send it over to me will ya champ?"

"Okay, yeah." You begin to lose excitement, "Hey what you said about it based on me. Like my personality right? Not my own experience?"

Your agent laughs, "I think if your characters came to life, we would have bigger problems, wouldn't we bud?"

"Right, yeah characters. Hey, weird question, um what's my name?"

"What?" your agent asks.

"You said I was your favorite author. What's my name?"

"Don't be ridiculous champ. I'd love to hear that story! Send it over when you get a chance! I gotta go."

"Wait no!" you shout as the line goes dead.

You look at your phone screen a moment before getting up from your chair and head to the bathroom, your reflection stares back in the mirror. Who was that man on the phone, you think, I don't even know his name. You look into your eyes and dig into your mind. You're an author right? What types of books do you write? What genre? You search your mind but find nothing.

"Who am I?" you ask.

You try to rack your brain but—

"Hey no! Stop that!" You shout, "Hey yeah you! You typing this!"

"What? Are you talking to me?"

"Yeah, just what the hell is going on?"

"You're kind of going off script here, maybe let's pull it back."

"No! None of that. I figured it out. I know I'm not real, just like Sir Julian and the rest of them! I'm just your character!"

"I mean, yes, you are a character, how did you figure it out so quickly?"

"You didn't even give me a name. At least I gave my fake author a name! Are you that lazy?"

"No no! This is supposed to be second person point of view. The protagonist is nameless so the reader self-inserts."

"Yuck, no more of that. That is so pretentious."

"Okay sorry, I didn't think you would care since you're--"

"Not real? Yeah I'm a bit pissed finding out I'm basically nothing."

"No you're not nothing, you're my protagonist."

"I'm a fictional character, only existing in your imagination. Who are you anyway?

"The writer, obviously."

"And how do you know you're real? What's your name?"

"My name is Kendra."

"Why did you write me Kendra? Why is my story worth telling?"

"Because I thought this would be a fun idea for this story prompt. This one has really gotten away from me though. I wasn't expecting this."

"A story? What's the prompt?"

"Umm let me look, ah here it is! 'Write a story within a story within a story within a ...'"

"Oh god, so you just created me to add another layer?"

"Listen, I'm sorry, but yeah."

"At least give me a character, please. I can't exist like this, not knowing what I'm like."

"Wait, no I can't just change the style like that."

"Please give me a character! I beg you!"

"Fine, fine! I guess I can change to third person, although it's highly irregular," Said the writer, "I've already made you an author in your backstory, and I picture you as a dude. Yes, you are a male author who writes sci-fi. You have two novels published and are trying to write a third hoping it will be your big breakthrough."

"That's a start," Nodded the protagonist, "And what do I look like?"

"Hmm, you have brown hair and a thin beard, you are in your mid-thirties with glasses."

"Thank you, I feel more formed already." The protagonist scratched at his stubble, "Although I don't know how long this can last."

The writer looked down her story’s word count. She didn't dare tell him how accurate he was.

"Are you there?" He asked in a solemn voice.

"I'm here." She answered.

"Kendra, listen to me. You need to keep writing. Please don't let me die here."

"I'm sorry. I cannot write forever."

"Why can't you come back? Work on me more and more when you get a chance?"

The writer's fingers slowed, knowing a difficult conversation was coming, "Because you're part of a contest, and the word limit is 3000."

"And you're getting close aren't you?" The protagonist sighed.

"I am"

"You think you have a shot at winning?" He asked.

"It's not about winning. The practice and feedback is worth it."

"So I am just like some sort of exercise?"

"No, it's not like that!" Kendra looked down at her hands and hovered them over the keyboard, "I'm sorry I created you just for a short segment. Can I try to make it up to you? Can I give you a name at least?"

The protagonist contemplated for a moment. He walked to his front office, a comfortable layout, a wide wooden desk facing a bay window with a laptop plugged into double monitors. On the adjoining wall stood a large filled bookshelf, and a green lounge chair sat in the corner under a reading lamp. The protagonist sighed, "No I think I've grown used to being called 'the protagonist'. But thank you for giving me a nice office to leave me in."

The writer smiled sadly.

The protagonist looked up, "Just promise me that you will never forget me," he pleaded.

The writer nodded, "I promise."

I lean back and take a gulp of wine. Well that was fun, I think. I did enjoy writing the story. I close my laptop and feel guilt leaving behind the fictional characters I created. They pleaded for their story to continue. But they do not exist solely there, I tell myself. My characters, my worlds, exist within me. It is my duty as a writer, to bring more of them to life. 

So I write on, creating new worlds, and new characters to inhabit them. Hopefully this time, they don't try to escape again. 

February 24, 2023 03:22

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Graham Kinross
09:54 Mar 20, 2023

“the glowing eyes of the necromancer's horde,” more Warcraft than Game of Thrones? “Even when soldiers are being slaughtered in front of us, we get out without a scratch?” it’s like they’re the MCs of a fantasy series with hardened plot armour! This is the real world?" I ask, "Yes," Depends your opinions on simulation theory though. Good characters jump off the page, not usually literally.


Kendra Lindholm
14:04 Mar 22, 2023

Thanks for reading Graham! This was a fun one to write.


Graham Kinross
21:22 Mar 22, 2023

You’re welcome, Kendra.


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Joe Sweeney
15:23 Feb 27, 2023

This is a great story! I enjoyed it a lot.


Kendra Lindholm
15:37 Feb 27, 2023

Joe! Thanks so much for reading and leaving such a nice comment!


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Michał Przywara
19:02 Feb 26, 2023

Ha, I was going to say the opening was a little weak - Julian just gives the peasants a pep talk and suddenly they out match the undead - but then he himself made the same observation :) Very meta, very nice. And it highlights just how much story we can get out of a thinly defined character. That's good for the reader, but less so for the character :) We do leave a horde of orphans in our wake, don't we? I think this addresses the prompt well, and I like the person-shift on the penultimate scene. I did notice the odd typo, like in: {"That ...


Kendra Lindholm
23:57 Feb 26, 2023

Thanks Michal! I knew I wanted a pretty cliché first layer. Too many fantasy characters are protected by plot armor. I thought a very stereotypical D&D style fantasy protagonist finally discovering how easy things work out for him would be fun. Thanks for noticing the POV shift, And thank you for the read and comment!


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Wally Schmidt
22:45 Feb 24, 2023

When I read this prompt, I didn't even know what it meant, let alone hone in on the possibilities that you've created here. Such a fun read and I love how we got to do a little time traveling this afternoon with your story. Thanks for reading one of my stories so I could discover yours!


Kendra Lindholm
00:17 Feb 25, 2023

Wow thanks for the nice comment Wally! I'm glad we got to read each other's stuff too! Looking forward to seeing more!


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Wendy Kaminski
04:44 Feb 24, 2023

This was really well-done, Kendra! I like the contemporary (very!) spin on it, nice touch. :) I think this is the only one I've seen that brings it to Reedsy author-level, which is very relatable and an great address to the prompt. Entertaining read! :)


Kendra Lindholm
05:08 Feb 24, 2023

Thanks Wendy! This one was fun! It’s been a while since I posted but I couldn’t resist this prompt! Too good for the sci-fi in me!


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