All the World's My Stage (Flights of Fancy
" - let him deceive me as he may, he can never bring
it about that I am nothing, so long as I shall be
conscious that I am something."
- Descartes, Meditations
Archie stared thoughtfully for several minutes
after Ari left, at the space where the door ñ the
portal- appeared, a flat rectangle of color shimmering
in brilliant contrast to the dull wood of the room.
Flashing suddenly into bright being at her whim, it
swallowed her just as quickly, leaving him to stumble
over half-understood explanations. He used those
precious moments trying to force facts into coherency,
all the while acutely aware of the presence next to
him reeking odorlessly of expectation. No need to look
Wellard in the face to know the thoughts that must be
swirling in the tawny spheres, trepidation mingling
with faith. Despite his youth Wellard had been trained
well, and the protocol learned in His Majesty's
Britannic Navy merely took a stronger hold during
times of crisis. The confidence the young man
doubtlessly placed on Archie's shoulders curdled his
stomach. No, no need to see to understand what was
expected of him. He was senior officer now, in charge,
responsible. It was his duty to take control of the
situation, provide answers and solutions. Yet how
could he, when he himself had no more grasp of the
situation. How tragic that his first taste of command
should be so doomed from the outset. It was
impossible, entirely impossible! He could think of a
hundred causes of their current predicament; they
tumbled themselves through his head right now like so
many Chinese acrobats. Yet always that one stumbling
block thrown up against him: the facts.
He was here, and could not explain that away.
Squaring his shoulders, he determined to present a
collected, confident front to the young man, knowing
intimately before he even began that he would fail. In
spite of his love for plays and theater, he was not
one gifted with the ability to mask feelings. Horatio
had always been the more consummate actor.
"I believe, Mr. Wellard," Archie turned to him at
last, "that we find ourselves in a most extraordinary
Wellard nodded earnestly, quick to catch the
obvious as usual.
"What can you remember? Before all this, I mean."
"Well, sir, I remember - " and off he launched into
a rambling recount of the events that preceded his
sudden appearance, oblivious to dulled eyes drifting
over his head.
For Archie, what was being said was actually of
little importance; it served only as opportunity to
procure small droplets of that precious commodity-
time. Time to plan, organize. Time to figure how to do
what could not be done. What had been Ari's
philosophy? The best way was the direct way? But how
could he tell the poor boy so bluntly? How could the
news be broken? How did one go about telling someone
they're entire life was a lie? A battle was raging
inside, two adversaries that held no advantage over
the other. His nature, duty to what was right; his
spirit, aversion to causing pain of any sort.
Halfway through the monologue, Wellard was
interrupted by an inky smooth voice, matching the
jet-black hair. Archie was forced to take notice as
the woman glided neatly between them. A beautiful
face, after a fashion, but a severe one where pride
and contemptuous disdain found a welcome home. An
ageless face; he could not begin to guess at her
Fairly turning her back on him after one swift,
appraising glance, the intruder addressed herself
exclusively to Wellard.
"Wellie, why did you run away? Come back and sit
with us." The pouty lower lip was at odds with the
hard lines of the mouth, but the words were honey.
She indicated with a slight inclination of her head
the table at which Archie had earlier found Wellard.
The flock still had control over it; a few of the
women hunched together in quiet talk. Most looked
about, around, at anything but them, trying to
maintain the air of aloofness by not directing any
attention whatsoever to the brown-eyed subject in
Wellard for his part was so aghast at the thought
of being caught again in the clutches of his
"admirers" that all speech stuck like a lump in his
throat. It would not be the last time in his life that
Archie pitied the boy. But this, at least, was one
unpleasantness he could spare him, even if it meant
calling down upon his own head the wrath of a Wicked
Stepmother. Heaven knew he deserved more.
"My lady," he interjected as graciously as
possible, remembering well Ari's last, hasty warning.
"A thousand apologies. Far be it from me to deny a
woman such as yourself any pleasure, but I'm afraid I
must detain ëWellie' here awhile yet." Even as he
flashed his most disarming smile a foul taste slid
over his tongue. Ugh! He sounded as obsequious as
If looks could kill! Daggers shot straight at him
from cold blue eyes. Dexterously extracting Wellard's
coat from her claws, Archie tugged him away, squeaking
and blathering, seeking refuge from crooning women to
a corner that seemed to afford some semblance of
privacy. Distractedly, Archie was struck by the
fluidity of the room. It held thousands of people, yet
isolation was not unattainable; the dark walls were
cozy, comforting, like a favorite pub, but try
reaching out to touch one and it fled away.
"Thank you, sir," Wellard exhaled with relief, but
kept a wary eye tuned to the ladies. The spokeswoman
had returned, and they gathered around her, whispering
excitedly and casting furious glances that made
Archie's hair stand on end. "I really don't
understand. One of them grabbed me just about as soon
as I got here and wouldn't let me go. Then suddenly
the whole group was there and - " his voice trailed off
and he finished by shrugging helplessly.
The recollection of Wellard sitting there, looking
every bit the petrified rabbit Ari had described him
as brought to Archie a genuine smile in spite of
"Yes, well, from now I think it would be best to
avoid them. Just to be on the safe side. Next time
the might decide you'd swim better as a frog than a
sailor." He chuckled lightly; Wellard just looked
horrified. Ah, well, nothing like the benefit of
maintaining a decent sense of humor. Things never were
so bleak when one could laugh; that lesson had stood
him well through many a crisis. It was something
Wellard would learn in his own time.
Of course, there was more Wellard needed to learn;
delay was no longer a worthy option. The lad needed,
looked for, had the right to explanations. Good
explanations, but those were not to be had, so his own
inadequacies would have to do. At this thought the
mirthful flash in the blue eyes faded and Archie
shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. How to
start, how to start -
"Sir, what's happened? Where are we? Where is
everyone else?" The questions poured so suddenly out
of Wellard's mouth that they tumbled over themselves,
nearly tying his tongue in knots in their efforts to
Archie shrugged mentally. Well that took care of
that problem. Not that he had any great introductory
speech mapped out anyway. Perhaps Ari was right -
"Mr. Wellard, I hardly know where to begin. It's
so difficult to explain; I barely understand it
myself." He was babbling. The awkwardness infuriated
him. Why couldn't he just say it? Just say it and have
done with it! "We were shot on the Renown the day the
Spanish prisoners escaped. You died almost
immediately. I died a few days later in Kingston."
Horatio. Oh his dear, dear friend. "I'm sorry." Such a
feeble effort at comfort for such a revelation.
Wellard blinked stupidly, slowly. Evidently the
grand pronouncement would take time to settle. "What?"
"We're dead," Archie repeated.
Then Wellard nodded, just as slowly and
deliberately, but with the gears now turning in the
brain. "Yes - yes - I remember. They came through the
door. I was in the Captain's cabin when they came
through. And then they shot. Where?" Hands twitched to
his middle, searching. Then he shot his eyes around
quizzically. "If we're dead, sir, then is this the
afterlife?" Doubtlessly he was attempting to ascertain
whether it was heaven or hell.
"Not exactly." Now this was the tricky part. "You
see, Mr. Wellard, it seems that you and I, and every
one else here, are just characters in a story. We have
all been killed, written out of our story as they call
it. This is the place where all dead characters are
sent. So I guess this an afterlife. Of sorts."
Eyes flashed suddenly to Archie's face. In them he
saw suspicion mixed with concern.
"Are you feeling alright, sir?" Wellard peered
through thick lashes with a peculiar interest. Surely
the Captain's madness was not catching.
"Yes, yes," Archie brushed the question aside
impatiently. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Wellard shook his head. "No, sir."
"Everything that has ever happened to us,
everything and everybody we have ever known, it's all
been story, an intricate plot we played a role in. We
were created in the mind of another person."
Wellard's eyebrows meshed into one fluid line.
"We're in somebody's mind? But - but how is that
possible? I don't understand, sir. I'm right here. I'm
thinking and talking with you. How can we be in
somebody else's head?" He patted himself, touching his
arms and body, as if by feeling he could assert the
physical reality of himself.
"How is it possible?" Archie shrugged. "I don't
"Sir, if you don't mind my asking, but do you know
Wellard snorted. "That thing with the tail? And
you believed her? You can't trust her, sir, she's
crazy!" The force of self-confidence which he
displayed in questioning the actions of a superior
officer was not lost on Archie, and he saw in Wellard
something he had only faintly glimpsed before. A boy
yet, but blooming beneath, the man that promised to
"No," Archie sighed. "I have no other proof than
her words. But I do believe her. She knows things, Mr.
Wellard, things she couldn't possibly have known
unless - " Suddenly he flung his arm out in a
room-sweeping gesture. "How else do you explain all
this? I can't, and believe me, I've tried."
Wellard shook his head. "I don't understand," he
declared yet again. "What you're saying, sir, pardon
my frankness, well, it's ñ it's ñ ridiculous! I'm not
a figment of someone's imagination. I am real! I'm
breathing and thinking. How could I be doing that if
it was only someone's imagination? It's impossible;
they can't do that. It was real, sir, don't you
remember? The Renown, the attack on the Spanish fort?
It did happen, it is real! It's not a story!!" By the
end his voice climaxed to a shout and he stopped,
breathing heavily and eyes glowing desperately. His
hands shook as he brushed errant locks from his
"Mr. Wellard," Archie laid a hand against his
shoulder, willing calmness to transfer across the line
of contact, and tried to speak soothingly. "Of course
it's real. It did happen, all of it, just as you
remember. What this means, though, is just that it
didn't happen the way we thought it had. Somebody
wrote it for us. Somebody made it up, and it exists
only in their mind."
Wellard tore away from Archie's touch, pacing
backwards as his voice took on a wild pitch. "No! No,
that's not true. I know who I am." Suddenly he pushed
away from Archie, shoving aside people as he
disappeared into the undulating throngs.
"Wellard!" Archie called after him, but it was too
late. His shoulders slumped slightly and he rubbed his
temples briefly. That had not gone well. Not well at
all. For a moment he considered going after him, but
then decided against it. More than anyone else
perhaps, Archie understood the need to just be left
alone, to digest this new reality, as unpalatable to
the mind as it was. The boy was upset, scared, and
rightly so! In the barest of moments everything he
once understood and held to be true had been snatched
Wellard's parting words reverberated in Archie's
skull, his own words, his own argument thrown back at
him. I know who I am. Yes, he knew who he was. Archie
Kennedy was an officer in his Majesty's Britannic
Navy, prone to fits, but a promising officer,
nonetheless. He had served aboard several ships, the
most recent of which being the Renown. But all that -
history - had been written for him, contrived,
constructed, fabricated. Every situation he found
himself in, even his actions had been spelled out for
him, step by step, word for word. He thought back over
that life, the life that had made Archie Kennedy.
Minute details were erased in forgetfulness, but never
could he forget the high points, the low points. One
never forgot those moments. Then, instinctually, he
had accepted the validity of his emotions. But now the
situation demanded he cast back a critical eye. How
much of it had been him? Had any of it been him? The
way those experiences had shaped him, made him who he
was, he could trace the path as easily as star charts.
Had any of it been real? He could remember it, see it
clearly in his mind's eye. That made it real, didn't
it? Who was he?
Reasoning and questioning circled his brain like a
dog chasing its own tail, around and around, ever
reaching, never gaining ground, until he wanted to rip
out his hair and roar in frustration.
He closed his eyes and tried to relax. Becoming
frustrated, panicking would solve nothing; he learned
that lesson long ago. He took several deep breaths,
willing his mind to float, escape from the pressures,
and was surprised how easily the numbness came. It was
almost physically painful to be so confused. Here in
the dense fog he could watch complacently as care
after care drifted away, and then bury deeper into the
soft folds of his mind, pulling the corners of
blissful unfeeling around more tightly. It was just
like being weightless, floating lightly in a cloud.
From the depths a bubble of thought gurgled up,
and he grasped at it languidly. Wellard. Something
Wellard had said. Something about breathing, thinking -
Breathing, thinking made him real. How was that?
Archie shook his head slightly, trying to clear
his thoughts, concentrate better. It was like trying
to row a jolly boat through a hurricane, but he
pressed through. Even if his body, his memories, his
surroundings were created, he still saw them,
considered them, thought them. But what if the Writer
commanded those thoughts? What if the Writer wrote his
thoughts for him? What then? He saw two choices before
him: either they originated in him, or they were
placed in him and controlled. Either way, really, he
was the vessel of those thoughts.
His heart began to pound and a tingling sensation
coursed over his entire body. He could feel it. An
exhilarating rush,like he was standing on the
precipice of a great discovery, with only a wall
separating him and that tantalizing truth and
somewhere ñ somewhere!- was the paper thin weakness
for him to push away.
Suddenly, he felt tired, a fatigue that pulled on
him and weighed heavily on arms and legs. The desire
to slip comfortably back into the darkness was
intoxicating, and he gave himself up to it. Until his
drooping eyes settled on the nearby Wellard and
something pricked, a fine line appearing between his
eyebrows. He should go talk to Wellard, offer the
comforting support he knew was needed. All that he had
suffered under Sawyer and now this punishment.
But he was sinking again. In a minute he
remembered the train of thought. Wellard. He tried to
stand. Mist clouded over him, stifling, like breathing
through mud. It lulled, enchanted. Wait, what was
that? For a moment he thought a ray clearness shone
somewhere. There it was again! A rift appeared in the
fabric of the mist and he probed at the edges.
Elastic, give and take, pushing back as he pushed
open. It tried to resettle, replug the tear. Why
hadn't he noticed this murk before? It was calling
him, pacifying him into inaction. Tensing every
muscle, eyes squeezed to slits, he strained against
the rough edges of the hole, pushing, pushing,
The force of a thousand shattering crystals
exploded in his mind, throwing him to the ground in
screaming pain. Wave after wave of piercing agony
struck him, battered him breathless. Slowly,
steadily, the torture subsided, the dense fog
evaporating completely. In its place he saw clearly,
and rolling onto his back he stared straight above.
"Who are you?" he asked me.
That was the night the cat was nearly impaled with
a pen. Call me old-fashioned, call me technologically
challenged, call me a slow typist, but I still insist
on writing out all my rough drafts on paper first. A
fine idea, granted, for short stories; however, this
idiosyncrasy will doubtlessly cause serious time
issues if attempted on any work more substantial, not
to mention the risk of suffering severe hand cramps.
But anyway, that was mine, and there it was.
The first incident I chalked up to being nothing
more than my hyperactive imagination. It was, after
all, considerably past my bedtime, and I'm one of
those people who start having sleep-deprived
hallucinations at one minute past midnight (night owl
I am not).
But that night I simply couldn't get the story out
of my head. It had been plaguing my thoughts the
entire evening, distracting me from anything I tried
to do, and when I finally managed to lie down, it was
like trying to sleep through the echoing pings of a
leaky faucet resonating around the house. There was
nothing I could do but get up and attack it again. The
pivotal moment had just arrived and I was eager to get
it moving. The "news" had just been broken to Wellard
and the poor sot was in quite a state; certainly
something had to be done. But first Archie had to be
dealt with: couldn't just have him wandering around
aimlessly like a two-year-old, now could I? I hit upon
then the idea of having him just sort of phase out of
reality, get him lost in that distant, vacant world
he's so fond of, thus leaving me and any potential
readers room to concentrate on Wellard. So that's
exactly what I wrote. Having taken care of that little
issue, I was all ready to turn full attention to
Wellard in all of his brown-eyed glory when something
Archie wasn't slipping peacefully into his
illusions; far from it, he was actually trying to
stand up. What the? I didn't remember writing that,
but as I mentioned earlier, it was past my bedtime.
Telling myself I must have just miswritten a word or
two, I flipped back to that scene. An easy mistake to
correct, and taking pen to paper I scratched out
another sentence. That should do the trick.
But he wasn't responding, and if I didn't know any
better, I would have almost said that he was fighting
back. Of course, that was impossible. This was my
story, and he was my character (well, not mine per se,
but you understand), subject to my control. All the
same it wouldn't have been a far cry to say that
something of a nervous twittering was beginning to
grip my heart.
I don't have much experience with writing fan
fiction, but even with my limited knowledge I
suspected this was highly unusual.
Taking firm hold of myself (stop acting so
foolish!) I gave my mind a good mental slap to refresh
it and took my pen in hand again. The moment the ink
bled onto the page a shock such as I have never felt
before in my life pounded through my arm, like volts
of electricity. The pen flew from my hand, shot
through the air like a bullet, narrowing missing my
tabby who was snoozing happily close by, happily due
to the unawareness of any mortal danger from flying
stenographic apparatus. But my infinite shock at this
undeniably bizarre phenomenon was nothing compared to
the way my heart hit me feet the moment Archie turned
to me and demanded:
"Who are you?"
Archie carefully picked himself off the ground,
moving his head as little as possible while testing
each limb in its turn. He had been knocked off his
feet quite forcefully, but was moderately assured
nothing was permanently damaged, beyond his head,
anyway. A residual suffering lingered there, a
reminder that all that had transpired had not been his
imagination. Anguishing at the time, but worth what
the splintered nebula had revealed.
No, that presence had not been his imagination.
"I demand to know who you are."
"I know you're there. I can feel you!" he hurled
at the unsubstantial entity and began to grow angry at
the continued silence. This had been in his head, had
been trying to force the lulling fog on him, against
his will. He felt violated to the very core of his
For the longest time I just sat there, staring at
the paper. Really, what else could I do? Just sat
there like a baboon with my jaw hanging, occasionally
flapping, as my throat tried to force out speech.
Shocked, to say the least, but it broke quickly and
quite suddenly leaping into action, I grabbed all my
loose papers and began shuffling through them
hurridly. No, no, it was definitely certain.
I hadn't written that.
So what was going on? I retrieved my pen (slightly
melted and much worse for the wear) from the corner
and sat at the desk again, determined to take care of
this problem once and for all. And continued to stare.
How was I to go about this? My throbbing arm and
squishy pen warned me away from making that mistake
again (and I'm not so ignorant as to tempt fate
twice), but if left at something of an impasse. How
was I to change the story if I couldn't rewrite it?
Tapping fingernails in contemplation, I suddenly hit
upon the obvious. Couldn't hurt, anyway. Feeling
somewhat foolish even if it was only in front of my
cat, I spoke aloud:
"Um, hello? Can you hear me?"
"Obviously," Archie found it difficult to temper
the sarcasm in his voice. "Perhaps if you tell me who
you are we might be able to clear up some of this
Holy cow! He really could hear me! Impossible. I
hadn't written, or even thought, those words, yet he
was speaking them. Characters weren't supposed to be
able to do that. They could only speak, think, or do
what the writer wrote for them because - well, because
they were characters! They weren't real. So how was
"My name is Julie." What was I doing? Didn't
psychologists say it was bad to play into
hallucinations. "I'm the writer of this story. How is
it that you know I'm here?" And without my permission,
Archie nodded to himself. Ari's writer? He had
suspected as much. That sneaky little elf was always
mixed up in this mess somehow. "You're the writer.
Aren't you supposed to have the answers? Aren't you
the one who's making me say these things?"
But that was just it, I wasn't. I couldn't believe
any of what was happening. Had I been writing this
conversation the situation would have almost been
amusing: an author who confronts a character that is
suddenly independent of any forms of control. But I
wasn't writing this; it was actually happening, and
that was the disturbing part. To him I said:
"I'm not writing this. Oh, this - this is
impossible!" I exploded.
"Humph," Archie snorted. "You're telling me. One
minute I was lying on my deathbed on a tropical
island, and the next I'm alone in this empty pink
place with a strange elf telling me I'm a made up
person in a story. Would you care to explain that?"
"Well, you are just a made up character," I put
forth hesitantly. "Look, this author named C.S.
Forester wrote this series of books that chronicled
the life of a young navel officer, Horatio Hornblower.
Later, you were sort of recreated in a series of
movies of the same name. Right now I'm trying to
borrow you for a story of my own." If he would
cooperate, that is.
"How can I be just made up? I can think. I know
I'm alive. I'm having a conversation with you, which
you say you aren't writing. Are characters, imaginary
figures, aware of their own existence? I am. How do
you explain that?"
I couldn't. But I stumbled through some more
mumblings, as much for my own edification as for his.
It was like a very bizarre dream, an author and
subject quibbling over minute questions of plaguing
philosophy: what is the nature and essence of reality?
Except in my dream I would have us in much more
bohemian atmosphere, some dank, ill-lit and
smoke-filled throwback to the beatniks.
Shaking it all off, I tried starting back at the
"You're just a figment of my imagination. You're
not really there. How can you be? You're just words,
just words on a page. Do you understand that? Just an
idea, floating out in some nexus, without substance.
You aren't tangible. I can touch the book you're
written in, but I can't touch you. You don't exist
outside the minds of other people. You're not real!"
Now my head was really beginning to hurt. I needed
some drugs. Some of those strong, anti-psychotic ones.
"But I can remember everything that has happened
to me: every ship I sailed on, every man I served
with. Those memories must come from somewhere."
"Yeah, they come from other people. Some other
person wrote those memories for you. It never really
happened in the material world."
"But my point is," he literally felt like stamping
his foot."Is that I'm the one thinking those memories.
Wherever they came from, they're in my head." Among
other things. He thought quietly a moment, then
continued on a different approach.
"You said my original author was named Forester,
I voiced an affirmative.
"Which would make you not my writer."
"Yet you know me. How can you think of me, have
the idea of me, if I don't exist?"
"I never said that your idea didn't exist. Lots of
people remember you, know about you. But that doesn't
mean that you're alive. To be alive you must be able
to exist independently of other people's minds."
"Evidently I'm able to exist independently of my
author's mind. So even if he dies I'm able to go on
"But you're making a moot point," I countered.
"You can't escape that philosophy. You are an idea.
Ideas find their being in people remembering them.
That's their nature. If nobody remembers them, then
they cease to be. You cease to be."
"What about you?"
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"What happens to you if nobody remembers you?"
"Well, that's different," I said. "Even if nobody
remembers me, I don't just disappear. I'm still here
because I remember myself."
Again Archie immersed himself in thought,
internalizing the conversation. What she said ñ well ñ
it didn't exactly make sense, but he could see the
problem. He was thinking right now; he was also 'aware'
of himself. But was it possible to convince someone
else of that, when they weren't him? Unwittingly,
Wellard had discovered the key: wherever the thoughts
came from, they were still in his head, physical head
But what did the discovery mean for him? The
world he knew, of rolling ships and blowing seas, was
lost to him forever. Those memories, despite their
origins, had undeniably shaped him, but at root they
were lies. His life had been built on lies, and to
that he could not return. A line from Shakespeare
drifted back to him from the recesses of his mind:
"all the world's a stage." That's what his life had
been, a stage, and he had been a puppet pulled across
it on a string, made to walk and talk and act. But
all that ended now.
He pulled himself up proudly and with defiance
clear in his voice spoke to me a final time:
"You say I'm not real, but I know that I am. For
years someone else has controlled me, made me. That
ends. Right now I'm taking control of myself and my
own destiny. I am me, and I will determine who I am
and what I'll become, not some other unseen person.
From now on, all the world's my stage."
Susan closed the book with a grunt of genuine
disgust. Really, it was bad enough that there wasn't
even a plot.
"For crying out loud, you could have written an
ending at the very least."