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It is here, sadly, that I will do my last writing in this world. Sad for me anyway, though probably not for anyone else who has read my work. Critics have called my ideas unreal, impractical, and half-baked. They say my characters are inconsistent, impossible to root for, and are involved in unrealistic plot turns. But this piece will be different. It will be better. It will contain what none of my writing up until now has: Realism.

Last Saturday I sat patiently at my table, located on the furthest wall from the doors, tucked into a corner in the large hall of the hotel at yet another sci-fi convention. On the table I had an assortment of my latest books (available only in paperback), and a misspelled nameplate reading Charls Branford. I added the E joking to myself it would be the most writing my autograph pen would do all day.

I usually have some passers-by stop and talk, although they seem to only be those who have never read my work. People more familiar with me tend to keep walking. But those few who stop are usually good for a sale.

It was when one of these individuals stood in front of my table that this story was prompted.

He looked very tall, although my view was low from the cheap folding chair. His face was darkened beneath a ball cap, his features indistinguishable. I thought it odd that anything could be shaded under the bright fluorescent lights hanging over the hall, but then something stranger occurred.

“I’m a long time fan,” he said.

I didn’t think any of you existed , I thought.

“Thank you,” I said.

He asked for a copy of Zombies On Planet Nine, my latest novel. He handed me twenty dollars and I asked his name so I could inscribe it. He told me, however, I couldn’t spell it.

“That sounds like a name I would use for one of my characters,” I told him. I have often used long unpronounceable words with too many consonants in proportion to vowels, and what this man said sounded like the correct pronunciation of one of these words.

I asked him to repeat it, thinking the echo of the hall combined with the excited mutterings of fans had distorted his voice. He did, and then, following what was surely a quizzical expression on my part, told me just my signature would suffice.

I did as requested, and handed him the book. After thanking me, he turned to walk away.

“Excuse me, um,” I called after him. “Sir.”

He turned, and even at this new angle his face was dim and vague. “I was wondering if there was any one thing specifically you like about my work?” It sounds egotistical, as if I were prodding for a compliment, but my critics are so busy pointing out my shortcomings that I’ve never received constructive feedback. If I could be made aware of even one positive attribute, it may give me something to work with in the future.

He said, “It’s so real.”

“But none of it’s real. Not the characters, not the plot, not the setting, none of it,” I said, hating myself for repeating my critics. Clearly, the continuation of our conversation was nothing more than a waste of time.

“You write reality as I see it,” he said. “It’s all around us. Surely you see it too.”

“I only write fiction,” I countered. “And not well.”

“You are appreciated where I come from.”

“Where is that?”

“I think you know.”

He left before I could say anything further.

I abandoned my desk in a futile effort to locate him.

From then until now I have looked for him everywhere. It was only a short time ago when I sat down to my latest story that I realized where to find him—and moments ago I did. I now know his name is XTHYMOS GZRANDLP. He was in my writing all along. I’m in that world, his world, now with no plans of ever leaving. As long as I continue to write these words, I will be able to live here forever. I think this ends chapter one, but I’m in a book with an infinite number of pages.

XTHYMOS is calling me now, and so I must go deeper, deeper into the world I did not create, but merely found.

end article

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About Alan Murdock

Alan Murdock is a writer of horror, sci-fi, and other weird fiction. He lives with his wife and daughter in New England, but is a frequent visitor to the fictional town of Haven Falls, Connecticut. When not reading or writing, he enjoys spending time with his family, watching the Red Sox, and drinking beer—usually all at once.