The Storyteller

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


Fantasy Fiction

Then there are the people watchers. 

I sometimes like to watch the people watchers. People watchers are easy to spot. They are sitting in a quiet spot, trying not to be conspicuous as they conspicuously indulge their voyeuristic pursuit, making back stories up for the people who catch their eye.

Some people watchers are merely exercising their imaginations. Others are broken in some sad way, and they drag themselves out from the haven of their bedroom to watch others going about their business and they latch onto one after another of them, living life vicariously for a short while, until it all gets too much for them and they skulk off to the sanctuary of their home again.

Usually, I avoid the people watchers. I am no longer quite sure why. I am sure there was a good, sound reason, but that reason has been drowned in the sands of time and all I have is that people watchers are a bit like me. Only a bit, mind. They are amateurs playing at the application of imaginary stories, whereas I read the true stories of each and every one of my subjects and then I weave them a different story. A story that would not exist in their lives were it not for our brief encounter.

Not that they ever encounter me. We are never formally introduced. Most of my subjects never see me, or if they do, they do not register who it is they just walked past. They do not know me for who I really am.

Today is different.

I have settled down in a good spot. A corner of a bar with a wide uninterrupted view. I am listening to Tracy at the bar, and when I say listening, it is so much more than the hearing that people do in a such a half arsed way. Honestly, I do not know why people bother with this life of theirs when they squander the miracle they are, and the gifts they were handed. They actively choose to dull themselves to the world. Cowards that they are. And Tracy is even now dulling herself with alcohol at the bar, as the bar tender conducts a pretence of hearing her sordid tales of woe.

I listen. Not to her words. I don’t bother with the noise of their words. I listen to her.

I wasn’t always like this. I was young once. Young! I had hopes and dreams and I had my looks back then. Yes, I was a looker and I understood the power of my looks, or so I thought. My Mother tried to warn me. She told me again and again not to rely on my looks alone. But did I listen? Did I ever listen?

Absence in a story is powerful. Tracy has tried to remove her Daddy from her story. Why? Because Daddy removed himself from her story when she was young. Only he didn’t. Not really. She has clouded the truth of it. It was her Mother who engineered her dear Daddy’s departure. Focused as she was on her looks and the transitory elements of her offering, her Mother became paranoid that her devoted husband would leave her. She did not trust him, nor did she believe that someone could love her for who she was, so she conducted a concerted and protracted pre-emptive strike upon the one person who loved her for who she was, and in the end, Daddy walked. Mother didn’t stop there. She alienated dear Tracy against that man. Deprived her of her own father for no good reason, just vanity inspired insecurities.

And here Tracy is, drinking herself into an early grave. Fallen prey to the same fallacy as her Mother, only this time, the father of her children took the kids. This is about as happy as Tracy’s ending will be. She won’t last the year out. She never keeps track of the number of glasses of wine she drinks. She used to, but when she began losing count, the discomfort at that and the slippery slope she was accelerating down made her turn away from the reality of her existence and the number of glasses she drank each day more than doubled.

Tracy is sad and sadly she is boring to me. There is little there for me, and so I move on.

Sat at a table, a little way away from me is John. He’s been here for fifteen minutes. He arrived early, drank a pint of cold fizzy lager at the bar and then ordered another and took it to the table. Like the lager, he is fizzing. Fizzing with a nervous energy. This man has changed the narrative of his life story and deep down, he knows what he is doing isn’t just wrong. 

It’s doomed.

John is a heady cocktail of emotions. His nervous system is working overtime. The nerves and emotions are warning cries that he is both ignoring and also celebrating. For so long, John was stuck in a rut. Desperately unhappy. Now he thinks he has risen out of his rut and that he is no longer unhappy. 

John is about as wrong as it gets and when he discovers his folly, he will fall. He will fall far and he will land hard. Getting up from that will be as much as he is capable of, and he will have to find an inner strength he never knew existed in order to keep walking through this wonderful miracle of life.

I can see all of that without blinking. So effortless to read that part of John’s story.

I love her. She’s amazing. She’s the one. She makes me feel alive.

That’s one strand of John’s story. The story as he sees it.

This is bad. I’ve made a mistake. What if someone sees me? What if Sarah finds out. Why am I doing this? What about the kids?

Conflict. Always the conflict. 

And then she walks in. 

John is of little interest to me, whereas this creature? But it’s not her as such. It is the story the two of them are playing out. An old and well trod path is this. John is a mug. A fly in a spider’s web. He won’t see it, though. Not until he’s lost everything and in losing everything, he will continue to fixate on her. She is John’s fool’s gold. She is his wake up call. She is false. She is the dream John created to escape the drudgery of a dull life.

She is using him.

I don’t have to look out for her. John signals her arrival with a tremendous pulse of that nervous energy of his. He mistakes it for love. It’s not even lust. It’s desperations and it is denial.

Jayne walks in and bestows a smile upon John. He misinterprets that smile. She’s got him exactly where she wants him.

Eventually, John will allow himself to wake up from the nightmare of his own creation. He made of Jayne a dream, and all of this is his doing. This is so easy for her. She just lets him do the work. He plays out his fantasy and she reaps the rewards for as long as it suits her.

When it comes to its sudden end, John will put it down to a midlife crisis. Hurt, dazed and bemused by what has happened, it is doubtful whether he will ever see Jayne for what she really is. Not often does anyone see someone like Jayne for what she is. Looks can be deceptive and she is all about the deception. So much so that even Jayne cannot see her true self. Not anymore.

Today, she plays the dream woman and she takes everything that John gives.

For a moment, I am tempted to delve into Jayne’s story, but I avoid such pursuits. I am not John. Jayne makes no sense. She is a danger to herself and anyone that she draws into her broken narrative. I don’t do broken narratives. Even I cannot fix Jayne’s narrative and I will not risk myself in the attempt.

John’s imminent ending is not happy. He has another three weeks of this delusion and then his entire world will collapse in on itself. He might see it as a lucky escape. I hope that he does, because Jayne’s ending is dark. She is descending step by step into her dark ending and there is no turning back for her. She does not know how. She is trapped and she is the sole architect of that trap of hers. It is a clever trap. She has convinced herself that her salvation is somewhere out in the world, not that she searches all that hard for the key that will unlock her self-imposed imprisonment. She’s far too used to the pain now.

I move on.

I have to move on. The walking cognitive dissonance that is Jayne will get too much. It fascinates me that she can hide so easily in plain sight. John’s reaction to her is extreme, but they all paint each other with their own expectations and seldom do they take the time to find out how close they are to the mark with their assumptions.

I browse the bar. It is a weekday and not too busy, and yet I am struggling with noise as I attempt to hone in on Brian and Sally, a middle aged couple who are having a pleasant after work drink together. These two are a content couple. Not exactly happy, but one of those couples that just are. The pretence of that story as a couple does not interest me, what does interest me is their desires. What they sacrificed in order to attain this state of constant coupledom.

I am getting to the juicy part of their stories when the noise around me intrudes and I back up a little. I pause my activities and loosen my focus and instead I attend to the noise itself.

Noise is an occupational hazard for one such as I. I am surrounded by stories and I have a need to hear them. So many stories being voiced. A chattering crowd that never shuts up. They get louder in their sleep. I hear their dreams loud and clear.

No, this noise is different.

I turn towards its source. 

She is different to the others. She is about as different as it is possible to be. Only I can see her difference. Everyone around her will only see the most ordinary of faces in the crowd. I smile as I discover that the ordinary woman with the unflattering hair cut that she tends to once a month in her drab bathroom, the plain woman wearing the cheap spectacles that do not suit the shape of her face, is a librarian.

That should be all the warning I need. I should get up and leave this place then. There is a whole world out there and I can go anywhere and ply my trade as I see fit. But I stay put and I delve deeper. I want to know more about Belinda the Librarian. It has been such a long time since I encountered someone so different and I am eager to learn her story.

After all, we all relish a challenge, don’t we?

There is something enthralling about Belinda. She shines. Now, all the noise is gone and there is only her. I watch her as she watches Brian and Sally. Seemingly oblivious to my curious gaze, she is people watching.

People watching, I feel a familiar itch at the nape of my neck, but I do not understand its familiarity. Fascinated as I am by the potential of Belinda’s story. I say story. There is never just the one story. So many stories, and her a librarian. She has so much potential and I can see the light of that potential. I can feel it. Tantalisingly close.

I push beyond Belinda’s reading of Brian’s desires and the life he yearns for, and then I am there. I see a golden landscape of narrative. The sight of it sends a thrill through me. But that thrill is laced with something that I should attend to, but cannot…

Hello L.

Belinda turns towards me now and her gaze freezes me to the spot.

Don’t fight it. I am not alone.

I cannot move. I am caught in the tractor beam of her staring eyes. I can feel her companions though. I sense them. They are near.


There are always two.

Only this time, there are more than two. How I know this, I do not know, but know it, I do.

You didn’t think you could keep getting away with it did you?

I try to look away, but I cannot. Now I am aware of the other sets of eyes. I cannot turn to look upon them, but I know.

Tracy at the bar.

John and Jayne at the table in front of me.

Even Brian and Sally.

Six of them? What a sad joke.

“How?” I ask.

You became complacent. Too obvious.

“But you tricked me!” I gasp.

Like you tricked all those people that you meddled with. You should never have left the fold L. You should never have gone out into the world. Do you even know how many there were?

I don’t.

I lost count after the first few. 

All those stories.

At first I watched and I enjoyed the lives playing out in front of me. Just like they watched their screens. That was enough for me. At first.

But then I realised that I could interact with them. I could change things and watch the way that it played out. 

I started gently. I tweaked a storyline here, changed a plot there. Then I sat back and watched the effects of the changes I had made. The gentle changes were interesting, but I wanted more. Always more. It was addictive and the effect I had on others became my drug. 

You didn’t have to make it real. You didn’t have to play it out in these real lives. You went too far. Again.

But that is where Belinda is wrong, because you see, I did have to. I was compelled to. Once I started, I could not stop. I tried and I tried and I thought the best way to stop was to create the worst of consequences. I bent a narrative path so completely out of shape that there was only ever going to be one ending and that ending was bloody and it was fatal.

That first kill was shocking, and the shock was exactly what I was after. I had gone too far, and I was going to stop. I really was. That was my last go at all of this, but in the aftermath of the shock, I realised that I was excited, and I was also fascinated. I was curious to find out what happened next. There were so many more possibilities. Possibilities to play with.

It became clear to me that that initial shock was caused by my loading the bases and failing to create balance. I had to have another go at this, but this time I would twist two protagonists right around, so that they faced each other in a battle to the death. Only this time, one of them wouldn’t fight. They stole my narrative from me and created their own pathetic alternative.

I was furious!

So I went again and again and as I did, I found more imaginative ways to create battlegrounds for those whose lives that I touched. 

Do I know how many there were?


Only that there were never enough. 

Never enough.


I made things ever more interesting, and as I went again and again, I delighted in how little input was needed. I didn’t have to push all that hard. My initial efforts were too heavy handed. It didn’t take me long to perfect my craft. A touch here. A kiss there. A breath in the seashell of an ear. Then I watched as the fun began.

These people are monsters.

My monsters.

It is time.

“Time for what?” I ask, but I know.

For your return. Father is furious.

“I’m going there?” 

He thinks it best. You have been too long away from home. And now this…

And now this…

I lost myself here. I lost myself in a sea of stories. I think I wanted to drown in them. I wanted to end myself and this was the only way I could see to do it. Throw my own story out into this ocean and forget myself, even if only for a while.

I did that.

I did what I set out to do.

If only for a while.

Now they have found me. My brothers and sisters. They have found me, and they have brought with them the stories of old and with them is my story. The oldest of stories. 

Time to face the music.

I would say that it is time to see how this ends, but that is not how it goes for me. An ending would be far too simple. Far too easy. That is my punishment, and my punishment is without end. 

I am without end and so too is my story.

February 19, 2023 12:10

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14:12 Feb 25, 2023

I find The storyteller and the people watchers a great choice of words! It really blends into the profound world of the narrator, who is very relatable to sensitive people. Eventually the twist to a slightly paranoid vibe was also very relatable. I like it a lot!


Jed Cope
15:49 Feb 25, 2023

That's so good to hear! I'm you related to the story and more importantly, enjoyed it!


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Lily Finch
04:59 Feb 21, 2023

Pretty dark stories L. chose for all his six who tricked him. Good idea for the prompt. Thanks for the read. LF6.


Jed Cope
10:53 Feb 21, 2023

Glad you enjoyed it! Now I'm thinking that there must be scope to use Russian dolls as a vehicle for the stories within stories... that could be interesting!


Lily Finch
13:17 Feb 21, 2023

You might be on to something there. Go for it. LF6.


Jed Cope
13:54 Feb 21, 2023

Shame you can only write one story for each prompt...


Lily Finch
14:38 Feb 21, 2023

Yeah, I agree. LF6.


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Jack Kimball
15:04 Feb 25, 2023

Hey Jed. I sensed Greek Mythology here. The MC has power to change others but is out of control. 'You went too far. Again.' I read Belinda as the messenger from Mt. Olympus. 'It's time to come home now.' Just my take on it. Plus the mood held me throughout. Great story!


Jed Cope
15:52 Feb 25, 2023

I really like your take on the story. I always love to hear how readers engage and what they make of a story. Glad you enjoyed it!


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Elka Rae
08:00 Feb 25, 2023

This is my favorite line, “Throw my own story out into this ocean and forget myself, even if only for a while.” it really resonated with me, the despair and hurt in the sentence. Combined with the last line is devastating. What a fantastic storyteller you have created!


Jed Cope
10:53 Feb 25, 2023

Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I really appreciate your feedback, and that line did something for me too... it is a potentially brave thing to do this, but as you say, also despairingly sad.


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05:27 Feb 25, 2023

I absolutely love this! Your use of figurative language, especially imagery, is astounding. The people watchers are the beginning immediately caught my attention. I would read this as an entire book. Very good work!


Jed Cope
10:51 Feb 25, 2023

Oh thank you! This is lovely feedback and I am so very glad you enjoyed it! Before I started in on it, I thought about how a book is a series of stories. Each character brings along their own stories and there are opportunities to play with that and provide some interesting and unexpected twists.


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