The nineteenth story start just sat there on the screen. Ryan couldn’t believe that Kelly had stopped there when twenty was so close. He turned the laptop so it faced Kelly.
“What were you thinking?” Ryan asked. “If you were going to abandon these story snippets, why wouldn’t you at least go to twenty? Nineteen is just so…odd.”
Kelly appeared calm as she took a sip of her coffee, but Ryan could hear the tension in her voice as she said, “Do you know how hard it is to come up with a new story beginning every week? You make it sound so easy. You should do number twenty!” She set her cup down, splashing some of the precious liquid onto the table. “If we weren’t in this coffee shop, I’d cuff you upside the head, you bastard.”
Ryan held up his hands. “Whoa! Take it easy. I didn’t mean… Um, is something going on with you?”
Kelly sighed and said, “It’s just
— from Eve —
..they’re starting to come for me. ‘Starting’ ha! Oh, god, that’s not even funny.” Kelly’s cracked composure fully disintegrated. Ryan looked nervously around the coffee shop, hoping no one was noticing, or worse, speculating about why his girlfriend was beginning to cry. “They always blame the guy” he thought.
“Kelly, it’s okay.”
“No, it’s not,” she almost wailed.
“Honey, babe, what is it? What are you talking about ‘coming for you’?”
“The Starts. You know I love the Story Starts. Don’t they know I love them? They are so full of possibilities, so open. But they want more. At first they just nagged me a little. ‘Oh, please can’t you define me a little more? What becomes of me?’ But now….”
“They’re like zombies.”
“Alive but not fully formed. Not able to die once they’re started. And now they’ve starting coming for me. They won’t leave me alone. But they’re only starts! They’re not good enough for a whole story. And even if they are,” Kelly’s voice rose in panic, “I can’t write 19 novels!”
“Honey, it’s just writing. It’s fictional. This is just in your head. They are just in your head.”
Just then a young man approached their table. He was clean cut, suit, tie. He seemed slightly out of place in the casual neighborhood coffee hangout. “Excuse me,” he said, sitting down with no invitation. “You have to help me, Kelly.”
“Who are you?” Ryan asked.
“Don’t you recognize him?” Kelly asked. “He’s Mark from story start number seven!”
— from Random —
“Mark? But I thought Eddie was in story start seven!” Ryan said.
The young man glared at Ryan. “I am Eddie in the story, but my real name is Mark. Obviously Kelly changed my name to ‘protect the innocent’,” Mark said, miming air quotes.
Kelly nodded and said, “Right, you were going to an interview with your lips still numb from Novocaine. How did that go for you, by the way?”
“You tell me!” Mark shouted, prompting several others in the coffee shop to look up.
“Oh, right,” Kelly said. “Duh.”
“Look, it’s not about the interview, okay,” Mark said. “All us characters, we’ve been living in limbo and our stories are merging. That’s what I’m here to tell you.”
Ryan shook his head, feeling as if this were a dream.
Kelly said, “The stories are merging? What do you mean?”
“I started meeting the characters from your other stories. That’s how I learned that I was in only one of nineteen unfinished worlds. Now they’re all here. Mick, Karen, Marcus, two Jims and two Andrews. Everyone. And they’re all pissed. We’re all pissed.”
“God, I had no idea! I’m so sorry,” Kelly said.
“I know you meant well. That’s why I’ve been siding with you, but all the others, they’re not as forgiving. In fact, that’s why I’m here, to warn you that they’re planning to…
Yep, it’s the Return of the Story Start. Just for the hell of it. Feel free to add to this story starting where I left off.
(You might want to read more about these silly story starts. Or you might not. How could I know? I’m not you.)