Story Police, by MaryAlice Meli
“What’s the problem?” The police officer withdrew a notebook and pencil from his uniform shirt pocket.
“You see a problem? There ain’t no problem here.” A squat, burly man in need of a shave hitched up the too-long pants of his Confederate uniform. A slender girl cowered behind him in a low-cut, blood-spattered, white dress. Her tattered, lacy skirt revealed long, shapely legs.
“If there is no problem,” the officer began, slight emphasis on the grammar correction, “why are you here?”
“Why not?” The man rocked back on his boot heels and rolled his shoulders. The girl clutched his arm, revealing herself to be taller than the man even though she was barefoot.
“You should know it’s illegal for characters to be out of context. That regulation is clearly outlined in chapter two, pages fourteen to eighteen in the Official Handbook of Fiction Writing. Noncompliance penalties can be severe.” The officer’s leather equipment belt creaked as he pulled out a soft cover, dog-eared manual.
The man’s hands became meaty fists; the girl whimpered.
“What if we don’t fit our stories? What if we ain’t comfortable in the context the writer’s jammed us into? What then?”
“Please,” the girl entreated. The man put a fatherly arm around her shoulders and gave a consoling squeeze.
“I can’t go back,” she whispered, reaching a hand to the officer. “The writer plans to kill me so horribly, so painfully, bloodily, pointlessly.”
“What’s your character’s name?” The officer opened his notebook.
“Lucy Westenra,” she said with a sob.
“Ah, geez. Not another Bram Stoker wannabee.” The cop’s pencil jabbed a hole in his page. “Third case this month. If I had a dollar for every vampire story. . .” His voice softened and he smiled. “Now, Miss. . .Lucy, for now. . .we’ll see about getting you into another story but I can’t guarantee it’ll be something you’ll like.”
He shifted his weight and turned to the man. “What’s your character’s name?”
As the cop’s jaw dropped in shock, the man raised his hands in mock surrender. “See? Can you blame me for taking off?” He dropped his hands. “I don’t mind battle scenes and dyin’ but love scenes and a sissy name and this outfit?” He tugged at shirt ruffles spilling from his jacket. “A man in battle gear doesn’t wear this shit. The writer has it all wrong.” The man’s arm bumped his saber. “And this. . .” He pulled the long, steel blade from its scabbard. “This just ain’t me. I’m more crime noir, know what I mean? A henchman. An enforcer.”
“Yeah, a Joe Pesci type.” The cop tapped the pen against his notebook. “Substandard grammar fits you.”
“You got it, pal. Tall and lean I ain’t but I don’t take shit from nobody.”
“Looks like I’ve got another writer stealing from the classics thinking we won’t notice,” the cop said.
“No, it’s the same steampunk writer who wrote Lucy’s story, mixing genres and time periods, jammin’ us together in the same crazy book. We tried to tell the writer her plot wasn’t workin’ but she wouldn’t listen. So we decided to break out.”
“Characters can’t run away.” The officer closed his notebook. “Listen. You’re two-dimensional kinda like Flat Stanley. You only achieve full dimension in readers’ imaginations. If you’re not in a story, you’ll fade to storage until needed by another writer.”
“You mean, we don’t have no choice? No say?”
“We want to find our own stories,” the girl said. “Can you help us do that?”
“You’re runaways, not missing persons,” the cop said, glancing away from her heaving bosom. “The academy doesn’t teach procedures for helping characters find stories.”
“Then, what can you do?” said the man, his words edged with impatience.
“My job is to enforce genre codes and fiction regs. Writers are impulsive, barging into stories before they know where they’re going or what they’re doing.”
“So, you arrest writers who violate fiction rules?” the girl asked.
“I cite them, issue rejections. Sometimes I include suggestions for improvement but, mostly, just send out form letters.”
“So, you do help writers sometimes.” The lilt of hope sang in the girl’s voice. “Tell us how we can find writers whose stories will fit us. I want a story that lets me wear beautiful gowns and ride horses with my hair flowing in the wind and dance with a handsome man who will love me to rapture.”
“Hmmmm. Sounds like you need a romance writer.” The cop stroked his chin, his eyes warm with humor. “Lots of romance writers out there; popular genre.”
“Where will we find writers to hear us?”
“Go where writers go – conferences, classes, critique groups, coffee shops, bars. Appeal to a writer’s imagination.”
“And if they can’t hear us? We’ve got to make our own stories.” the man said. “I’m tired of being a henchman. I want to be a protagonist but what writer’s gonna be inspired by a mug that looks like mine?”
“I’d be inspired by you,” the girl said. “You have heart. That’s more important than good looks or height.”
The man winced at the word height.
“And guts,” the cop said. “You had the courage to break out of a bad story.”
The man’s jowls and frown lines relaxed. His eyes gleamed with excitement. He rubbed his hands together. “I been thinkin’. We could pitch a story that’s. . .that’s a romantic suspense, techno-crime-thriller, sea adventure. Check this out. Lucy could be my daughter who’s kidnapped for the sex trade on the eve of her wedding. . .
“. . .in a beautiful glowing white silk dress with seed pearls and . . .”
“. . .an I rush to save her all the way to the gang’s getaway yacht where I blast the kidnappers and rescue her.”
“Uhh-hunnh. Sounds familiar. Like that movie with Liam whatshisname,” the cop said. “Ahmm. . . oh, what the hell, there are no new plots anyway. Go for it.”
MaryAlice Meli is a writer living in Steelers country, aka Pittsburgh. She is a former reading teacher and newspaper reporter. She earned a master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University, Greensburg, Pa. Her flash fiction has appeared online at EveryDayFiction.com>
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