Exercis 3 – Unreliable Third

Okay, a couple disclaimers to start off.  This is the third exercise in my 3 A.M. Epiphany book.  I have not posted anything in this category for so long because I have really been struggling with the idea of this exercise, in which the third-person narrator is supposed to be deliberately misleading.  I finally thought of this scene, which is a part of a book I may (or may not) get around to writing someday.  It works for the first hundred words or so, then you figure out the misleading part. But, I’ve always liked this scene anyway, so figured I’d post it so I feel like I can move on in the exercises.  It’s also a bit longer than it’s supposed to be, but, I hope you enjoy it nonetheless!


Neil sat on the floor in his cabin aboard the Adelaide. His forearms rested on his knees, his head was back against the hard wood of the wall, eyes closed. He was concentrating very hard on not concentrating on anything. Scenes, words, images…they had all been replaying in his mind and he was about to go mad. So there he sat, trying to clear his mind; trying not to think of anything. He knew he shouldn’t be there. There was somewhere else he should be. Yet, the world outside his ship was too much for him right then. He needed the dark solitude he found in his cabin. Footsteps. Hollow against the boards, moved towards him.


“Aha! I thought I might find you here.” Neil lifted his head. He stood with his arms folded, eyes glinting with amusement and mischievous smirk in place, just like always, as he gazed down at Neil. “The question is, why are you here?” Neil let his head fall back, closing his eyes again.


“Go away, Kevin,” he said.


“Now, is that any way for you to talk to your oldest and dearest friend?” Kevin said, trying to affect a wounded look. “I’m hurt, Neil. Really, I am.”


“And maybe if you were real, then that would matter to me.” Neil tried to keep his eyes closed, to not look at the form in front of him, but he couldn’t seem to do it.


“Aw, come on, Neil.” He moved over a couple more steps, then lowered himself to the floor so that he was eye-level with Neil. “Just because I’m a…” he held his hand out, palm up towards Neil, silently asking him for help supplying an appropriate term. Neil cocked his head to the side and raised one eyebrow.


“Figment of my imagination.”


“Right, of course,” Kevin went on. “Just because I’m a figment, doesn’t mean I’m not real.” Neil just looked at him. If it had really been Kevin there, instead of some weird vision, Neil would have laughed at the statement. That was exactly what it meant…and it was such a Kevin-thing to say.


“What do you want?” Neil asked, wishing this Kevin-figment would disappear and leave him to wallow in his pity, anger, grief and guilt in peace.


“Oh, I just thought I would drop in for a chat. So, how’s it going?” Neil glared at him.


“Are all dead guys as annoying as you?” He tried to make the words spiteful, but he could not wish spite on his friend, even if he was not real. Kevin shrugged, a noncommittal look on his face.


“I don’t know. I’m only as annoying as you make me. Remember, you…” he pointed at Neil, an amused smile lighting his face, “control me. I only exist in your mind.” He grinned smugly, as though he had proven a great point, and leaned back.


“I need a drink,” Neil put his head back again and closed his eyes against the painful vision of his friend who no longer existed. “Would you please, just leave me alone?”


“Hey, I just wanted to stop by and see a friend. A friend whose life, by the way, I did save. You know, you haven’t seemed very grateful.” Neil’s head shot up so fast he felt his neck pop and Kevin’s face registered surprise.


“Grateful?” Neil’s voice dripped incredulity. “Grateful! Is that why you’re here? You want gratitude? I hate you for what you did. How dare you make the decision for me that I was going to live and you were going to die! I was going to die. I had accepted that, was fine with that. I was supposed to die. You. You dying, and me not…I am not fine with that. You think you saved my life?” Neil gave a small, hysterical laugh. “You have ruined my life. I wish, I wish I had died! Why, Kevin, why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone!” Neil hated himself for the tears he felt, hated himself for the fact that he was screaming at the top of his lungs to a man only he could see and hear. Kevin’s look had grown solemn, a touch of anger crowding into the corners of his own eyes. It was a strange look for him.


“Leave it alone? Come on, Neil.”


“If one of us had to die, yes, you should have left it alone. I was the one stupid enough to wind up in the water. It was my mistake, it was my time, it was my right to be the one to die. I didn’t ask you to be a martyr. I didn’t want a hero.”


“And I was supposed to, what, stand on the deck and watch my best friend die when I knew there was something I could do to stop it?”


“Yes!” Kevin shook his head.




“If I had died, like I was supposed to, it would have been just a stupid, unfortunate accident. But when you dove in that water, when you let go of that rope, it became my fault. My stupid, unfortunate, accident suddenly became my fault that someone else died.”


“It wasn’t your fault, Neil. And you’re only looking at it from your perspective. Try seeing it from my point of view. If I stood there, and just watched you die, I would have to live the rest of my life knowing that I let you die when I could have saved you. Your death would have been on my head. I couldn’t live like that. My death was not your fault. You went overboard by no fault or mistake of your own. None of this was your fault. I knew that if I jumped in, there was a chance that we could both live, but if I stood on deck and watched, you would die for sure.” Neil shook his head emphatically.


“You’re not real! You’re in my imagination. You’re only saying whatever I imagine. It’s not really you.”


“The only reason you are imagining this is because you know me, and you know this is what I would say.”


“No, I’m just trying to make myself feel better.” Kevin gave a wry half-smile.


“No way. You are way too hard on yourself. You would never try to make yourself feel better. Face it. You know this is me talking, whether only in your imagination or not.” Neil was still shaking his head, but the movement was losing its vehemence, becoming less convincing even to himself. All amusement was gone from Kevin’s face. “This was how it had to go down. And you know it.” Neil’s head fell forward, defeated by his own mind. They sat in silence for a while. Finally Kevin broke it.


“You know,” his tone was a little lighter now. “There’s a really wonderful memorial service going on for me right now. I kind of expected my best friend and captain to be there to say a few words about me.” Neil rubbed a hand over his face.


“Yeah, I know.”


“Laura’s there, and she’s all alone.”


“I know that too.”


“You promised me you would take care of her, Neil. She needs you right now.”


“But she doesn’t want me.”


“Yes she does.”


“No,” Neil shook his head. He knew this only too well, could still feel the slap across his face, the repeated poundings on his chest and shoulders; could still hear the curses and accusations ringing in his ears. “She hates me. She blames me.”


“No, she loves you. She needs someone to blame right now, no matter how irrationally the blame falls. She’ll come to her senses soon. She won’t blame you for long.”


“I blame me. Why shouldn’t she?” His voice was flat, too exhausted to continue with his earlier vehemence.


“Well, then, she’ll forgive you soon. Do you like the sound of that better?” Kevin’s voice sounded patronizing. Neil lifted his gaze, finally, to connect with Kevin’s.


“You just don’t get it. I will always blame myself, and I will never forgive myself. How can I ask, expect, or want her to do so?” Kevin just stared, his brown eyes pained, trying to understand, and trying to make Neil understand. Neil’s gaze dropped.


“Please, Kevin, please. Just go. I can’t do this. I can’t see you, hear you, talk to you, and know you will never really be here. Just go.” Kevin didn’t respond. After a moment, Neil looked up. The cabin was empty. Nothing met his gaze but bare walls. Nothing but bare walls, and silence. Darkness. Solitude. Silence. He was alone.


– S.D. Bullard


~ by sdbullard on May 22, 2012.

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