Life between the Lines

Life between the Lines

Kenneth Burchfiel

There was a flash, and a cramped little room appeared before them. Aside from a wooden crate and a stream of water, there was nothing but white space to be seen.

“What do you think this place is supposed to be?” the taller one asked. “The writer really rushed into the setting, huh?”

All of a sudden, five portholes appeared to the left. Water dripped down from the cracks in their sides.

“It’s a sinking ship, Red,” Bob replied. “We’re the main characters for once. That’s a change.”
Bob kicked the side of the wall with his left foot; the ship’s wall responded with a dull clang. This wouldn’t be a fun one; he could already tell.

“Horrible place for a story,” Red said. “If the author had any sense, he would have put us in Iraq, or maybe China. Sinking ships are a clichéd theme by now.” He ran a hand along one of the portholes. “Readers are tired of this sort of thing. They want car chases, Bob. Car chases.”

Bob smiled. Red was the type of person who loved to hate every story he appeared in. The guy was a good source of entertainment during a sluggish day of work.

“Forget the criticism,” Bob said. “Let’s just find a way to escape so the plot can advance. We’re not helping with the initiating action.”

They looked around. By now, the water had risen to their knees.

“Look at that,” Red said. “The writer even forgot to put in a door.”

Just then, a metal entrance appeared. Red walked over and yanked it open, only to be met with a wall of water that knocked him to the floor.

“That’s what you get for criticizing the writer, I suppose.” Bob said. “Let’s get out of here before we die prematurely.”

“No hurry,” Red said in chest-deep water. “Not even this writer is dumb enough to end a story like that.”

Back in his prime, Bob thought, he had only worked for the established authors, the people who knew what to do with his talent. Love dramas, chase scenes, the occasional comedy—he had built up quite a resume. But those writers had all but disappeared, leaving only green-eared amateurs with plots so convoluted that they may as well have been written in Greek.

They fought their way through the flood and out the door. In front of them stretched a massive hallway that vibrated with the sound of bullets. Suddenly, a set of guns appeared in their hands.

“How do we know who we’re supposed to be shooting?” Red asked. “This is one unexplained plot point after another.” He fired aimlessly. “If I were the reader, I would have sat this down long ago.”

“I know what you mean,” Bob said as he locked in on an enemy. “It would be cool if this were in space, though.”
Just then, the sky went dark. Red and Bob began to drift around the room.

“Great,” Red said. “Now we’re floating. You know a writer’s getting desperate when they listen to you for advice.”

“I’m sorry. I just like science fiction more.” Bob shrugged and bounced off the wall, shooting behind his legs.

These days, readers demanded action and gore in every paragraph. He was no stunt double, Bob thought; he was no pincushion. The punks who competed with him for parts were far better at the shallow stuff.

There wasn’t much detail outside the ship’s windows, save for a star or two. Everything else was white, empty, unexplained. Strong settings were becoming a lost art.

“You know what would actually be cool?” Red said. “If we were fighting in the Mexican War with pistols and swords.”

Nothing happened. Red looked around, confused.

“Ha!” Bob said with a smirk. “Looks like your idea isn’t—”

He gasped out in pain. A bullet had penetrated his shoulder.

“That’s got to hurt,” Red said.

“Eh, it’s not too bad. Looks like the writer wants us to do a teary dying scene. Pretty shoddy climax, if you ask me.” Bob clutched his shoulder in mock agony.

A second bullet whistled through the air and got Red in the chest. He looked down and rolled his eyes.

“It’s always in the chest, huh? Well, what could I expect from someone who puts us on a sinking ship in space?”

“Not much,” Bob said. “Well, the next story should be better. I can just feel it.”

Indeed, there was always the next story. It was the one thing about his job that heartened Bob, for once in a while, he would come across a writer who reminded him of the good old days.

Neither of their bodies were strong enough to stand. With their final strength, the two reached out and shook wire-frame hands.

“Until next time,” Red said.

“Until next time.”
They fell limp. The room flashed again, resetting the entire scene to a perfect white.

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