The Man in Black

‘Morning.’

‘Morning.’

‘Are you ready?’

‘Ready?

The man in black looked around. ‘I know I’m a bit early, but I thought the sooner we get started and all that?’

‘Started?’

‘The man in black frowned. ‘This is your story, isn’t it?’

‘I think so.’ He paused for a moment, as he became Steve. ‘Only I didn’t even have a name until that last sentence.’

The man in black nodded once. He took off his black cowboy hat and wiped around the inside of it with one black-gloved hand before putting it back on. He checked his surroundings again, seemingly unimpressed. ‘This is your story, though, isn’t it?’

Steve stood up, looking around himself, but with more of a proprietorial air. He hoped he didn’t look too disappointed. ‘Yes, this is my story.’

‘Not much of a setting, though. Not much more than a blank page.’ He took a step closer to Steve. ‘Anyway, I haven’t worked with this writer before. What’s he like?’

Steve shrugged. ‘As you can see, he’s not much of one for descriptions, but I do all right. The love interest is usually well-delineated.’ Steve paused. ‘If you don’t mind me asking what is it to do with you?’

The man in black stepped back. ‘I’m in the story aren’t I? I would have thought that it has quite a lot to do with me, wouldn’t you?’

‘I don’t know.’ Steve waved a dismissive hand. ‘You could be a minor character for all I know, someone to add a bit of colour, even some kind of comic relief.’

‘Me? Comic relief?’ The man in black’s fist clenched.

Steve swallowed. ‘No offence.’

’No offence? Don’t you realise who I am?’ The man in black loomed over Steve, making him take a step back.

Steve shook his head. ‘No. Of course not. I’ve only just got here.’

‘I’m the antagonist.’ The man in black stood taller, grinning. Even the stubble on his chin was black.

‘Oh.’

Oh – is that all you can say?’

‘Sorry. I wasn’t expecting you yet. I mean we need to do some establishing of my world and all that first, don’t we? Before the writer introduces the antagonist forces and brings my world into chaos and me… us… into conflict.’

There was a chair suddenly in the nothingness of the otherwise blank page. The man in black thought about sitting on the chair, but decided it was not in character. The chair disappeared. ‘Only these days readers want to get right into the action, right into the meat of the story without all that tedious stuff at the start. Who really cares whether you show your inherently kind and good nature by rescuing a cat from that tree in the opening pages.‘ He pointed down the page.

A silver birch tree that was beginning to form in the next paragraph deleted itself. From somewhere beyond the paragraph there was a surprised and indignant meow of protest.

‘Oh,’ Steve had been hoping to meet the love interest first, but he was stuck with his antagonist here now. It looked like they had no choice but to get started. ‘Right,’ he said, squaring up to the man in black, knowing that this early in the story he was bound to suffer a humiliating defeat. ‘I’m ready.’

The man in black strode forward, ready to begin the story.

 

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