Matt would give his left kidney for a pen.
He couldn’t say why his left and not his right. It just happened to be the first thing that came to mind. Being frozen in a featureless void long enough to lose all sense of time and space had gone to his head. No food. No water. No feeling. Only thoughts. Endless thoughts of pizza and the girl he loved...
It couldn’t be just any pen he’d sell his body for, though. No. This one had to have the ability to bend reality; to shape and destroy worlds with one curl of ink. He needed the Great Creator’s pen. The Great Creator that had forgotten about them.
I won’t do anything drastic with it! Matt shouted – projected? – his thoughts into the void. Stuck lips didn’t speak well. You can keep the cosmic power. I just… want to know who she chose.
As if the world had accepted Matt’s offer, a shaft of muted light shot him in the eye. He couldn’t squint to keep the light out; stuck eyelids functioned just as well as stuck lips. While his eyes watered, the light expanded until it covered the entire world. It illuminated the dusty, looping words hanging in the gray sky and the pile of frozen bodies beneath it. Matt gaped internally at the opened sky. Maybe the Great Creator hadn’t forgotten them?
He and the world were a baited breath. They waited for something – anything – to happen. One eternity stretched into another. Silence. Stillness. No life found anywhere.
And then the pen fell.
The sun rose over the battlefield.
Additional light peeked over the horizon as the disembodied voice filled the air. Words appeared in the sky, dark and wet and new!
The survivors rose to their feet and watched their savior - Trout Wobniar, a girl as beautiful as the fish that shared her name - climb the hill at the center of the bloodshed.
Matt’s limbs unlocked, and an old, fermented pain tore through his left side. He gasped and trembled as he stood. He had forgotten about the minor lead bullet he had taken for Trout. He shrugged it off. It had been worth it for her.
Matt’s turned his gaze along with the soldiers around him to a small hill with a smaller figure at the top. Her hair blew behind her in a wind no one else felt. Matt imagined her eyes flashed like so many diamonds.
Trout brandished her blade. Tears streamed down her face, her teeth bared in a fearsome but grateful smile. She roared, “The war is over! Yay!”
Matt believed the conviction in Trout’s voice but struggled to believe the words. She couldn’t think of anything a bit more appropriate for a situation where they were surrounded by bleeding, bullet-riddled bodies of friend and foe alike?
The soldiers cheered with relief.
The cheer rose in Matt’s throat and echoed in the masses around him. Matt smiled in relief. Eh, what the heck? She could say whatever she wanted. They had won the war, and that was what really mattered. That and...
The heroine’s two meat slabs made their way to her.
Matt’s feet moved on their own despite the pain in his side. He hardly noticed.
He climbed the hill where Trout and her bodyguard Kebrek waited. If Matt had to call anyone a meat slab, Kebrek took the cake. Or, meat pie. Whichever.
Kebreck’s body was nothing but a chain-mail of muscles upon muscles. He’d have made his brain ripped, too, if he could figure out a way to do it. Books and knowledge were out, though. The only functions his brain served were to make the occasional grunt and chew inhuman amounts of protein.
Trout spread her arms wide and took in the breadth of humanity beneath her.
Matt’s heart oozed to his toes as he watched Trout. She was just… everything. Beautiful, with her perfectly messy mouse-brown hair. Her face with the eyes; the ones that shone like an indeterminate sort of rainbow gem. Talented; the way she brandished a sword against droves of men with semi-automatic rifles and somehow escaped unscathed every single time beyond any human comprehension. Mysterious. Eloquent (other than that minor lapse). All told, Matt would never be able to find another girl like her.
“Friends! You all should know that I, a sixteen-year-old girl, have chosen the love of my life from between these two men that are at least four-years my senior, because that’s an absolutely appropriate thing to do amidst all this death!”
Again, Matt heard her voice make the words, but they sort of bounced on his eardrums like drunken kangaroos. Where had that come from? Where had her usual pizazz and spunk and flair gone? What about her caring heart?
Matt shook his head. He needed to give her a break. They had just been through the most brutal battle their land had seen in the last thousand years. Trauma did weird things to people. Even people as perfect as Trout. Plus, she was about to choose between him and the brick. Nervous energy could have played a part in her less-than-stellar timing.
Heck, he was already soaked with nervous sweat, and he hadn’t said anything. Of course, blood loss may also have had something to do with his particular circumstance, but he chose to ignore that. He pressed the wound in his side and drummed his fingers on his leg in anticipation. Blood dripped between his knuckles.
Both armies leaned forward with baited breath, their emotional well-beings entirely hinged on the choice of this one teenage girl. The memories of war – of bloodshed and horror beyond compare – were forgotten in the face of budding romance.
Trout turned to face her future.
“I choose you, Kebrek!”
Matt squinted at the words in the sky. They couldn’t be right. He rubbed his eyes and blinked at them again. An ‘M’ could sometimes look like a ‘K’ if someone had terrible handwriting, right? And if they wrote… sideways? For one letter? And scribbled a bunch for the ‘att’ part? That could be a thing. Right?
The giant bent nearly halfway, and the pair kissed passionately amidst a chorus of ‘awws’ from the onlookers.
The oohs and ahhs rolled over Matt like a bizarre cotton-candy wave; far too fluffy and out of place. It pummeled the already smashed pieces of his heart.
Poor, sweet Matt who was only written into this story to create an unwarranted source of tension, approached the happy couple, prepared to congratulate them without bitterness or guile as the epitome of a “nice guy”.
Matt hardly heard or comprehended the words. He pried his feet from the ground as if they were rusty nails in decayed boards and dragged them to Trout. His soul crumbled as he watched her with Kebrek. How could she have chosen him? The brick only stood next to her and grunted when the situation demanded. He had no depth – barely even a soul! Not a single redeeming quality other than his superior abs. Matt had taken a bullet for Trout. He had sat in lonely darkness and thought of nothing but her (and pizza; an excusable distraction). He had been created for her.
Matt's jaw creaked open. He knew the words of happiness for the new couple were preparing to force themselves from his throat like so many chunks of rancid puke; enslaved by Great Creator’s whims.
A small dimple formed next to the corner of Trout’s lip. Matt remembered the picnic they had gone on as kids, when he had first discovered that tiny little divut. She had gotten a drop of pizza sauce stuck in it. He’d found it adorable, in more than a “just-friends” sort of way. He couldn’t go back after that.
Matt’s conscience squirmed. There had to be something he could do; some way to voice the ire he felt watching Kebrek crush Trout’s hand in his meatloaf fist. He couldn’t fight the Great Creator’s will, though. He had to obey.
The word echoed across the landscape and shook the flimsy, gray sky above. Matt’s body stopped moving on its own and he seized the moment to take control of himself. The words lazily forming above his head stopped, as if the Great Creator had been shocked into silence. Matt took his chance. He hobbled to Trout, equal parts amazed, confused, relieved, and terrified he could move without the Great Creator’s say-so. What was happening?
He grabbed Trout by the shoulders.
“Trout, listen to me. You don’t belong with this guy.” He glanced at Kebrek, worried he might smash him flat with one of his mighty fists.
Nothing. Not a single emotion passed across Kebreck’s face. He looked like someone had hacked him out of a slab of rock and left him there. He didn’t care about Matt trying to steal his girl. All the more reason for Matt to fight.
He turned back to Trout. “You’ve known him for, what, all of a month? Maybe? And he doesn’t talk! How well could you really know a guy like that, much less love him? Use the common sense I know you have!”
Trout didn’t say anything for a minute. She just stared straight ahead like a paper doll.
“Trout!” Matt shook her.
Trout blinked and smiled at Matt. “I know. But he has nice muscles.”
Matt’s eyebrows threatened to shoot off his forehead. “Wha-Nice…? I took a bullet for you!” Since when had she cared about muscles? He could build more if she wanted! That would be an easy fix!
Trout frowned. “Well, so did Kebrek.” She gestured to her hunk, who had a small graze on his impossibly large bicep, which could crush Matt’s skull with a single twitch.
Matt smashed his face with his hand and whimpered in a mix of frustration and utter disbelief. “You know that’s not…” He breathed deep. Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. “Nevermind. If you can give me one reason why you love this guy, besides his muscles, I won’t say another word.”
Trout pouted and stroked Kebrek’s arm. “But, muscles.”
Matt took a step back. Unbelievable. The whole situation was unbelievable. This was not Trout. He had no idea what kind of alien had taken over her body. This was not how his life was supposed to go. He had been dropped into a sadistic mind game only meant to fight someone else’s boredom.
Matt’s whole body tensed. A fire ignited in his chest and raged through his veins. His fists clenched. He ground his teeth until they nearly cracked. Something snapped inside him. He glowered at the sky, hoping the fire inside him would burn away the lazy handwriting hanging there, holding his fate in its loops and curves. “This is your fault, isn’t it?”
The sudden hush deafened him. No one moved. No one breathed. The whole world stopped. Matt’s anger still burned holes through his chest and sense of self-preservation. “Well, is it?”
The gathering gasped in alarm. Had Matt given complete leave of his senses? How dare he speak to their life-giver in such a way?
“Don’t give me that! If you’re going to be passive-aggressive at me, at least have the decency to do it yourself!”
The sky darkened, as if the Great Creator themself loomed over them.
You, my friend, are walking a dangerous line.
If Matt hadn’t been so angry, he might have taken more time to register his surprise. He had never heard the Great Creator’s voice so personally. It resonated from the top of his head to his toes. He felt like a tuning fork clanged against a dense rock.
But, he was angry, so none of that mattered to him.
“So you do speak after all!” He threw his arms wide. “What’s with the crappy ending you just pulled?”
I beg your pardon? I don’t have to explain myself to you.
“Oh, really? You enjoy playing with people’s fates for no reason?”
That’s practically my job description, so, yes.
Matt glanced to Trout, who toyed with a single chest hair poking out of Kebrek’s shirt. He shuddered. “Forget that! I need this fixed right now!”
Oh yeah? How do you plan to make me do that?
Crud. They had a point. He couldn’t very well write something new. He needed their all-powerful, magic pen for that...
“I’ll tear the pen right out of your hands!” he shouted before he could stop himself.
The sky paused again. A feeling of… anticipation? Anger? Relief? Matt couldn’t pinpoint which, but something filled the air, and he didn’t like it.
“Y-yeah.” He shook off his doubts and gathered wind back in his sails. “Watch me!” He marched off the hill and through the crowds of men he only now realized all looked exactly the same. “You don’t deserve to have that power! You can’t even put together a decent variety of background characters! Some ‘Great Creator’ you are!”
A man with bright purple skin, hair, and eyes shoved through the crowd. “Hey, I resent that! I am absolutely a variety.”
Matt jabbed a finger at the sky. “Grape-flavored pettiness doesn’t count!”
With every step he took, despite talking a big game and the fury that drove him… somewhere, Matt became more and more aware that he had no idea where he was going and how he would get to the Great Creator, and that he was bleeding all over the battlefield.
Unfortunately, the Great Creator was aware of all those minor inconveniences, too.
How do you plan to get to me, big guy?
Matt shoved another combatant away. They all stood around like penguins sitting on their eggs. Were they all as brainless as Kebrek?
You know, I thought I had written you smarter than this.
Matt tripped over someone’s feet and grit his teeth against the pain that jabbed into his abdomen. He really needed to get that taken care of.
Your wound’s not looking too hot. I have a healer woman waiting for you back with the others. She can make sure you don’t die.
“Now you’re threatening me?”
I don’t have to. You’re doing a pretty good job of killing yourself all on your own.
You’ll never make it. There’s no way to get to me.
“Get. OUT. Of. My. Head!”
Listen here, bucko, that’s not how this works. You came from my head.
Matt shoved his way through the last gathered fighters. The purple one still pouted somewhere behind him. “Boo-hoo. The all-powerful being’s going through a crisis.”
Lightning chased its tail across the sky, trailing restless thunder that shook the ground, and our intrepid explorer, to his core.
The storm clouds rolled in and the thunder clashed in Matt’s bones. He opened his arms skyward, a tired gesture of pure “why?”. “You’re so cliche!”
If I’m cliche, what does that make you?
“Angry, to be perfectly frank!”
That’s not what I… Your name’s not Frank.
Matt pressed his fingers one by one into his palms to ease the tension in his knuckles. “Really? Right now?”
Just a bit of harmless wordplay.
“Harmless? Your ‘playing with words’ wrecked my life! What gives you the right to do that?”
My receipt for pen and paper.
“I’m done talking with you.”
Great! There’s no point for this hare-brained scheme anymore. Good work everyone. Time to go home.
“Are you trying to make me mad?”
What if I am?
“It’s no wonder you’re creating crap choices for people rather than spending time with others of your kind if this is how you choose to treat everyone.”
The words in the sky came to an abrupt standstill. The rumbling voice stopped. The movement and life of everything around him halted. He was the only one left breathing.
Matt exhaled, and the sound made him jump. He hadn’t realized how overwhelming such a small thing could be in a world without sound. Although he welcomed the ability to hear his own thoughts again, perhaps there was such a thing as too much silence.
Of course, he preferred too much silence to a cruddy narrator taking over his life.
Matt shook off the unease that had settled over him and plodded on. His footsteps made sound, but didn’t echo back to him. He had always assumed a big, open expanse of nothingness would echo. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He didn’t like being the only source of sound. He felt so exposed, helpless, vulnera-
Matt’s train of thought derailed, flew off a bridge, and exploded against a ravine wall as the whole world shifted faster than he could get the ‘A’ out in the alphabet song. If he had been in the middle of nowhere before, he found the need to redefine what “nowhere” meant.
“What the—?” He had somehow appeared in a blank wasteland. Not white, or black, or gray, or any other color he knew. Just… blank. He had no shadow, and couldn’t even tell where the ground ended and the sky began. It looked as if he should be floating, but the solid ground beneath his feet told him otherwise. He scrunched his eyes shut and crammed his palms into them. The place made him nauseous to look at.
“Did you do this?” He shouted to what he thought might be the sky.
Perhaps. The voice grumbled in Matt’s stomach.
“Ahh, so the Creator speaks again. I hoped you’d leave me to my own devices for good.” He peeked through his fingers and saw the one word above him, small, crammed, and quick. Good. He had guessed the sky right. Now he at least had a reference point. His vision remained blurry though. “Why’d you do this?”
You made me bored, so I skipped it.
“You can’t just…” He staggered back a pace, blinking and squinting like an old man that forgot his coke-bottle glasses on top of his head. His feet dragged like lead weights. “How is this not boring?”
How about you try creating entire worlds. The period splatted more ink across the sky than seemed necessary. Had he hit a nerve? Then you can talk to me about the scenery.
“What scenery?” He gestured at nothingness and immediately regretted it. His head throbbed. His wound dripped blood down his leg. “You know what, maybe I’ll take you up on that offer. I’d bet anything I can make better things than you can.”
And let you ruin all the effort I put into this? I don’t think so.
“What effort? There is nothing of value here!”
You seriously wonder why you didn’t get the girl with an attitude like that?
Matt squinted to see better and jabbed a finger at the messy words. “You drove me to this! You have no room to judge, you hack.”
Poor, unfortunate Matt found the only rock in the vast wasteland and tripped over it. This led him to find the only mud puddle for miles. With his face.
Blood-loss made Matt’s reflexes too slow. He didn’t fully realize what had been written until he toppled into what looked like an ink-stain on Blank City. Wet sludge forced its way through his teeth and nostrils. He flailed in the muck until he found a non-slimy handhold and pushed himself to all fours. He spat mud and wiped it from his eyes. “How old are you?”
He went to rise, but his legs gave out. The single smudge of brown on the white canvas swam in his eyes, and the tear in his side gnashed at the muscles and bones beneath. He groaned.
That wound really is serious. You’ll probably die.
“Thank you, you perfect embodiment of all sunshine and happiness,” Matt said through clenched teeth.
Listen, Trevin. I’m willing to forgive your many trespasses. If you turn back now, I can have a healer waiting for you back home. If you play nice, I might even make her cute.
“I… don’t need… any help… from you,” Matt panted as he struggled to his feet. “And my name is Matt.”
Mmm, no. I’m pretty sure I wrote you as Trevin at some point.
“Well, you must have hated Trevin, because now I’m Matt.” He hauled himself to his feet, one inch at a time, dripping sludge and blood. At least he added a little more life to Blanksville.
You know what, you’re right. I got rid of him because he was boring and a stubborn jerk-face.
“Aren’t you supposed to be all prose and beautiful words? “Jerk-face” doesn’t fit your shtick.”
It’s called ‘creative license’, Garreth.
“Now you’re just being mean.”
Imagine how much worse I’ll be in person!
“Don’t care. Still coming.” Matt took a step and swayed on his feet. The blood loss ate at his balance. He squinted in the distance at a small gray and green speck. “Wass tha’?”
Something changed in the air. Something energizing and dread-inducing all at once. Anticipation? Whatever the feeling, it set Matt’s teeth on edge. He wanted no part of it.
The words in the sky and voice in his head both came slow and deliberate. Nothing. An old scrap of grass I experimented with one time.
“Huh.” Matt set a course for the splotch.
What are you doing?
“Going to the place you obviously don’t want me to go.”
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
“When you become… flippant… instead of… patronizing… that’s grounds for… suspicion.” How could such a little scratch make it so hard to breathe?
I’m telling you, it’s a waste of time.
“You’re a …terrible liar.” He bent over and rested his hands on his knees, panting while the world lurched around him. “You won’t stop me.”
The poor, dumb idiot had sealed his fate with those four short words. His challenge had been accepted.
“If you think that’ll scare me, you’re—”
The land roiled as if to devour our intrepid explorer. It shook with such unbridled, righteous fury it tore itself asunder.
Matt crashed to his knees when the earthquake hit. The tremors turned the blank surroundings into dark, rolling waves of earth. Fissures splintered the new landscape, hedging him in. “You have got—” the land bucked and threw him back, “to be—” another shock wave flipped him like a pancake onto his stomach, “kidding me!”
Oh, but the wrath of a Creator was no joke. While the earth heaved its rejection at the blasphemer, the skies flung their fury at him. They could not stomach the thought of their mother’s grace and wisdom being challenged.
Hail and stinging rain hammered sideways against Matt’s skull. He was soaked through in seconds. “Dirt and air don’t— gah!” his hands flew to his eyes to clear the ice and water that drilled into them, “have feelings, you psycho, delusional maniac!” He crawled to the nearby fissures, set his feet beneath him, and vaulted the chasm. One leg crumpled beneath him once he reached the other side, but he awkwardly rolled into some semblance of an upright position.
Once his stomach stopped lurching with the ground, he took off at a dead run toward the color in the distance, which remained unaffected by the apocalyptic weather. “Your physics suck!”
Lightning streaked toward him and struck the ground mere inches from his feet. He staggered away, blind and deaf, but still able to hear the words rumble through his body,
Matt had no idea what crazy cocktail of adrenaline, dead brain cells, and straight-up dumb luck kept him functioning, but he was grateful to it. He blinked away the pulsing red and blue spots in his eyes and pressed on.
Mighty gales battled back frail Matt. Rocks and uprooted trees barreled toward him. The ground threatened to swallow him whole. It dragged him further into its depth with every step. A hopeless boy in a hopeless situation.
Matt ducked beneath the flying debris and bent parallel to the ground as he defied the howling winds. His breath burst from his lungs ragged and pained, often snatched away before he could take full advantage of it. It felt like someone had sliced into his side and taken a whole chunk away, like a piece of sadistic pie. His blood had destroyed his shirt and was staining his jeans beyond repair, too. He grit his teeth and gathered the last bit of his strength.
“You don’t define me! You understand?” he roared at the stupid, cramped handwriting above him. “I’m not frail! I’m not hopeless! I’m not a device to create “unearned tension”, whatever the heck that means. I’m my own person, and I’ll live my life how I want to live it!”
The writing stopped again. The storm did not. It simply continued to rage. Matt cursed the stupid Creator, the stupid weather, and his stupid, stupid wound. He took one more step forward…
And promptly blacked-out.
* * *
Warmth brushed across Matt’s face. His eyes fluttered open, to his immediate regret. A shaft of sunshine punched him right in the eyeball. He groaned and sat up, rubbing the psychedelic spots from his eyes.
Welcome back to the land of the living.
Matt massaged his forehead, his thoughts fuzzy. “What happened?”
You got into a fight.
“With a dump truck?”
More like an entire field decided it hated you, but if a dump truck makes you feel better, then sure.
“Wha— Am I dead?”
Only to me, but I get the feeling you’re too angry to care much about that.
“You…” The memories barged through the fog. The ground trying to swallow him whole. Arguing with thin air. A purple schmuck. And Trout. Trout!
“You! I’m way past angry! You ruined my life!”
And we’re back.
Matt tried to digest his surroundings all at once. Green grass. Blue sky. A little house where he had somehow managed to get on the roof ? “Where am I?” He patted himself to make sure all his body parts were in the right place - he wouldn’t put it past his psycho of a Great Creator to make one of his arms stick out of his scalp just to spite him - and discovered something missing. “And what happened to my bullet-hole?”
I healed it for you. You’re welcome. Didn’t want to leave your left kidney damaged. You so desperately wanted to trade it.
Matt blinked. “You heard that?” He wiped his hands in the air as if to wipe the question from a white board. “Why in the heck would you do that? You hate me!”
Doesn’t matter. Weren’t you here to take something of mine?
A young woman materialized next to him. Dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. Body shape hidden in an over-sized hoodie. Jeans and ratty Converse shoes. She dug into her hoodie pouch and pulled out a black pen. “This is what you wanted, right?”
The world stopped as Matt stared open-mouthed at the phantom girl and the basic, unassuming pen in her hand. She couldn’t be the Great Creator, could she? No glow. No magical presence. No horns. Just a normal-looking, somewhat forgettable person…
...that also happened to be able to appear on roofs at will.
And the pen; as un-extraordinary as its wielder, with a few bite marks on the end. Nothing at all like he had expected. Which, given the nature of the last twenty-four hours, he should have expected. “Is that…?” He couldn’t finish the sentence. Didn’t dare to.
Could he really write anything he wanted? Anything? He could make all the dead people come back to life? He could make everyone rich beyond their wildest dreams? He could, maybe, give Trout a little more time to think about her decision?
He reached to take it, but stopped himself. No. No, no, no, no, no! “That’s not real.” He clenched his jaw and glowered at the sky again. “Very funny! Ha. Ha ha ha. Stop sending proxies to do your dirty work and come mock me yourself!”
I assure you, it’s me, and it’s the pen. The words, though barely noticeable through the blazing blue sky, splatted in frustration.
“Yeah? Then why is she here with me while more words are written in the sky?”
“Would you just look behind you?”
Matt did. The girl stood there, pen in hand, brandishing a sheet of paper with their conversation written on it. The handwriting matched the Great Creator’s.
“Do you believe me now?”
Matt squinted at her. “... Maybe.”
“Great. Then here, take this,” she shoved the pen into his hands. “And get out of my sight. Bye!”
“Hold on a second!” Matt snatched her wrist before she could get away. “What’s the catch?”
“There is no catch.”
Matt raised his eyebrows until they nearly disappeared off his forehead. “The person that tried to crush me with three tons of mud to keep me away from this place is telling me there’s no catch?”
She yanked her wrist away from him. “It was your hero’s test, or whatever. You had to prove your worth. You made it. You did it. That’s what you came to get. Ta-dah! It’s yours now!” Her dark eyes darted everywhere but his face.
“I don’t buy it.”
She threw her arms with a mighty huff. “What else do you want from me?”
“I want you to fix the mess you made!”
“I can’t!” she flinched at her own words. She folded her arms tight to her chest and scuffed the roof shingles with the toe of her shoe. “I can’t.”
Matt sighed and sunk to the rooftop. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I don’t understand any of this mess.” He set the pen next to him and looked across the landscape. Absolute awe forced his mouth open despite himself.
Miles and miles of green grass blanketed round hills and the base of cloud-crowned mountains. Wildflowers in almost every rainbow color sprung from every available patch of earth. Their heads bobbed in a trilling breeze. Matt had never seen a sky so blue, nor clouds so like brushstrokes. The soft beauty played a dizzying contrast to the dark, grungy world Matt knew. He saw it from his perch, a gray smudge on the horizon, like someone had tried to blot it out with a cheap eraser.
“Why couldn’t we have had all this?” Matt asked mostly to himself.
“Sorry your world was such a disappointment.” The Great Creator dropped next to him, her face tight in a sneer. She was careful not to touch the pen.
“Hey! If anyone has any reason to be bitter, it’s me!”
She bristled, back straight and eyes flashing. “You’re right, because your problems are the only ones to have ever existed!”
“Oh, please, like you’ve had the love of your life snatched away from you for the sake of feeble entertainment!”
“I might as well have!” Her eyes widened. She gnashed her teeth as if she regretted her words.
With a huff, she drew her knees to her chest, folded her arms over them, and looked across the grass-field. A few clouds gathered above them and turned silver before they dropped a thin blanket of mist. Rainbows sprayed across them. Any drops that fell on Matt immediately steamed off from the sun still high overhead.
“Couldn’t you have just taken the stupid pen and left?” She didn’t look at Matt.
“Why, so someone else can clean your mess?”
“You wanted it! Why must you make this so difficult all of a sudden?”
“Because I don’t understand!” Matt tore at his hair. “Why—? How? How could someone that created all this,” he flung his arms to encompass the fields around them, “and that,” he gestured to his smudge of a city in the distance, “just throw it all away to the first person that wanders by?”
“You think you just ‘wandered by’? I led you here.” She jabbed a finger at him. “You were the only person stubborn and angry enough to want to run off with that pen. So I kept you angry so I could be free of the thing! But then you—” She curled her fingers, as if contemplating what it would feel like to strangle him. “You had to go and ruin all my plans literally five seconds before I got away with them! Remind me next time to write someone with less of a brain.” Her arms fell to her side. She scoffed, the sound hollow in her chest, and rolled her eyes. “Not that I intend to write ever again.”
Matt sensed now was not the time to jab back at her. “Why are you so desperate to stop?” he asked instead.
A flash of surprise flickered in her inky eyes. It quickly disappeared. She cocked her head defiantly. "Why do you care?"
Matt said nothing.
After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, she sighed like dusty pages opened for the first time in years. Her squared shoulders and puffed chest deflated. “I’m tired, Matt. I’m so. Tired.” She traced the shingles with one of her fingers, looking ashamed. “Never getting anywhere with the things you want to do. Hearing every day that something you’ve put your whole heart and soul into isn’t worth a drop in a bucket. And, even worse, realizing they’re right.” She lifted her shoulders once and let them drop again. “I can’t do it anymore. I just… can’t.” She chuckled, the sound thick in her throat. “I thought if I just finished something, I could maybe end this part of my life with a little dignity. But even the characters in my own story smelled the garbage.” She looked at him with a wan smile and nodded to the pen. “I don’t deserve that pen. You were right. Anyone can do a better job than me.”
Matt groaned inside. Of course. Of course she had to be someone he could sympathize with. He wanted to hate her. So, so much. But he could only muster frustrated sadness. “I’m sorry.” What else could he say?
“No, I’m sorry.” She looked at him - really looked at him - for the first time. “I’m sorry I ruined your life and dragged you into this whole mess with my own selfishness and insecurities.” She picked up the pen with two fingers like it was a used tissue and presented it to him again. “Please, I want you to have this. You can fix anything you want.”
Matt stared. Anything?
It all had come from that pen. His world, him, Trout, even Kebrek. They all had been forged in its ink. And could easily be reforged again and again and again. He really could do anything he wanted with it.
He saw the ink-stained palm beneath the pen.
He looked at his Great Creator. “If I take this pen, will you, I dunno,” he gestured in a vague circle, “disappear? Not be able to come back? That type of thing?”
She faltered for a moment, as if the possibility had just struck her. “Probably not. I won’t be the one writing it anymore, so my ‘mark’, I guess, will fade.” She squeezed the pen. “It’s for the best, though. I’m no good anyway.” She released her grip and shoved it towards Matt again. “Take it.”
The breeze ruffled Matt’s hair and made the wildflowers’ heads bob. Their fragrance flooded his nose. The sun warmed his back, and the open sky made him feel like he could do anything. Trout, his home, all of this, hadn’t been made by a pen. Everything he loved had come from her; this small, insignificant girl with no confidence that had breathed life into so many worlds. Their Great Creator.
Matt pinched the bridge of his nose. “Before I make any decisions, tell me again; why did you try to kill me?”
She twiddled with a string on her hoodie. “I told you before, I wanted to make you mad so you’d take the pen. But then, I got carried away because I started having… fun.” Her voice broke at the word. The sadness in her voice carried the same weight Matt’s chest had when Trout chose someone else.
“Dropping the equivalent of a mountain on me is getting carried away?”
She shrugged wordlessly.
“Freaking psycho.” Matt curled the Great Creator’s fingers back around the pen and pushed it back to her. “I feel like I’ll regret this, but I want you to keep it.” She opened her mouth as if to protest, but he held up a hand. “Only if you keep writing.”
She gaped at him as if his head had fallen off his shoulders. “Are you sure? Even if I keep it, there’s no guarantee I’ll come back to your story to fix it. My brain’s… hard to control sometimes.”
Matt shrugged. “I like the things you write. Doesn’t matter what it is.” He grimaced. “Unless it’s Kebrek and a few tons of angry mud.”
She held the pen to her chest. Her eyes shone with a hope that looked like it had been shoved in a deep, dark closet for way too long. “Do you really mean that?”
Matt grimaced. “Please don’t make me say it again. I’m still upset with you for the Trout incident.”
She chuckled. “Who knows? Maybe someday you’ll get the ending you want.”
Matt rolled his eyes and sighed. “I won’t hold my breath.” He shooed her off. “Go already! Don’t you have some writing to do, or something?”
“Oh my, how the tables have turned. Yesterday you couldn’t wait for me to appear so you could give me a piece of your mind.”
“I gave it, and now I am starting to regret it.”
She chuckled and turned to leave.
“Actually,” Matt stopped her, “Can I ask one more question?”
She rolled her eyes as a token gesture. “Make up your mind!”
Matt hesitated with his question purely out of pride, but he also knew this would be his only opportunity to ask. He took a deep breath and looked at his hands.
She laughed outright this time, her cheeks pink and her eyes sparkling. A wildly different Great Creator from the vindictive, malignant one he had thought her to be. “I thought it’d be less work for me. Someone decided to prove me wrong.” She gave him one last look. “You’re sure you don’t want my pen? Not even for, say… a left kidney?”
Matt groaned. “Get out of here.”
She gave him another smile, pen in hand, and left as suddenly as she came.
Matt watched the waves of sunflowers and sunshine sprawled before him. He listened to the birds and the bugs and the breeze and soaked up the shingles’ warmth beneath him. He imagined what it would be like to bring Trout to this spot for another pizza picnic.
The words in the sky hung suspended above him, hasty, excited, and complete.