Fifteen minutes already passed since Susannah May last checked the time on her aging flip-phone, and that had been fifteen minutes after she stayed waiting for company to arrive. She shuffled her posture a bit on the wooden booth seat. Her eyes wandered, hoping to see somebody walk around the corner in the rather forgettable tavern despite the fact that she would easily hear anyone approaching. The tavern at this late hour of the night was devoid of life, save the sole owner back in the kitchen cleaning.
Susannah stretched her arms over her head, then let her arms flop back onto the table in front of her. Many would say the wait wasn't worth it, and they would be right. For Susannah, though, little could be done but wait. There was always the option to leave, but...
The entrance door clicked open just then, and two men stepped through and towards her table. One wore what appeared to be a military pilot’s orange jumpsuit with lieutenant stripes on his shoulder, and he guided the other, who wore what resembled a peasant farmer’s attire, to follow him.
“Susie?” the first asked rhetorically. “Sorry I’m late. I found a new member for our chapter.” He then took an inventory of the empty seats. “Where’s everyone else?”
“This is it,” Susannah said.
“Oh,” said the man in the jumpsuit with a tone of resignation.
“Could you please tell me now what’s going on?” said the man in the peasant farmer’s attire, his gaze darting with confusion between the two.
“Let’s start slow, Robert,” the man in the jumpsuit said. He gestured towards Susannah. “Robert, this is Susannah. Susie, this is Robert, our newest member. Have a seat, Robert.”
“So what’s his story, Randy?” Susannah asked the man in the jumpsuit.
“We’ll get to that in a moment,” Lieutenant Randy said, slapping Robert down next to Susannah, then sits down himself across from them. “First, drinks. BARKEEP!”
Footsteps start shuffling from the kitchen closer to them.
“What is this place?” Robert asked. “It’s as if I stepped into the pages of a history book.”
“History book, you say,” Lieutenant Randy said with mild fascination. “Well, let’s just say for now you’re with good company who know what you’re going through. We’re a support group—ah, barkeep! I’ll have a Foster’s, the lady will have—“
“A cosmo, please,” Susannah interjected.
“—and he will have… hmm. We should probably stick with water. You OK with that?”
Robert nodded hesitantly.
“And a water for him, thank you,” Lieutenant Randy finished. The barkeep jotted on his notepad, then shuffled back towards the kitchen. Lieutenant Randy leans back in a relaxed posture.
“Alright, Robert,” says Lieutenant Randy, “tell us a little about yourself: who you are, where you come from, what you normally do, what exciting thing may have happened to you not long ago. You don’t happen to be a janitor, do you?”
“A what?” Robert asked.
“Um, someone who cleans up dirt and stuff, generally in places like schools and offices.”
“No. I’m a farmer.”
“Right, I should have figured from get-up. You just remind me of a friend I know, is all. I’m sorry, please tell us your tale.”
“Well,” Robert started, “There’s not really much to tell. Like I said, I’m just a farmer from a town called Cylerna. Funny you should ask about exciting things that happened recently, though. Up until maybe a week ago…or was it a month? It’s hard to say, really. As I was saying though, up until recently, my life was pretty peaceful. Dull, even. Then, during a dark and stormy night, I was attacked by a monsterous…beast, I would call it. I defended myself and managed to slay it.”
“I see,” Lieutenant Randy said. “Did you slay it with a weapon handed down to you by someone close?”
“Why…yes, actually,” Robert said with surprise and suspicion in his voice. “A dagger from my father. He was a soldier while he was still alive.”
“Did you know him well?” Susannah asked Robert. Robert started to answer, then stopped and thought about it.
“No, not really,” Robert said. “I mean, I thought I did, but then I realized that I can’t recall much anything about him. I know his name was Fredrick, and his mother – my grandmother – survived the atrocities of the Years of Darkness over half a century ago, though she never told any of us who my father’s father was. It was something that a stranger soon after the incident claimed to know…”
“Please, continue,” Susannah said.
“Well, this stranger claimed he was a demon and that he sent the beast, or as he called it, an imp, after me as some sort of test, one I apparently passed. He then offered me knowledge of my grandfather if I joined him to search for what I assumed to be treasure of some sort. Now, normally, I wouldn’t give this stranger a second thought. He was obviously some sort of con man under the guise of a make-believe monster of superstitious lore. I don’t take stock in any claims of the supernatural, mind you, nor do I go about committing crimes. However, for the first time in my life, I felt I was meant for something, that I was meant to go on this journey with this stranger, that I would finally know the one mystery in my life I cared to know, however far-fetched the possibility may have been. I felt I could hardly do otherwise but to accept his offer. From there, I must confess that the details are still a blur in my head. We came across a stout bearded man with an axe—“
“Sorry to interrupt,” Lieutenant Randy said, “but was he, by chance, about yey-high, wearing a horned helmet with a dirty blue tunic and blackened yellow cape?”
“Yes—do you know him?”
“Possibly, but that’s not important right now. Please finish your story.”
“As I said, the rest is still a blur to me. After the stout man was forced to join us, we ventured out into the sea to a larger sea vessel, where the stranger claimed the treasure would be found. Other people arrived, though, and a fight broke out. Were I not a man of reason, I’d say that some of those fighting were angels and demons, but in the chaos of all the fighting, I’m sure I was seeing things. The ship took damage and began to sink, and I was sure that I would drown then and there. I blacked out, and when I came about, I found myself on the shore of an unfamiliar coastline not far from here, strangely dry and no worse for wear. That is when you – Randy, is it? – found me and offered to help me with my bearings. I’m still of mind that I may be dreaming right now.”
Susannah and Lieutenant Randy both looked at Robert in contemplative fascination throughout his speaking, though Lieutenant Randy came off as if he were already familiar with the story. Robert lowered a hand surreptitiously to his hip as his suspicions rose.
“I’ve told you my tale,” Robert said. “Now, if it’s not too much to ask, tell me what it is you want with me.”
“We don’t want anything from you,” Lieutenant Randy begun to say, then leaned towards Robert. “Look, there’s something you need to know. You’re not going to believe it, and when you realize what I’m saying is true, you’re not going to like it. I can tell because it’s written all over you. You’re the straight man, doggedly stuck firm in more-or-less the ‘real world’ as it’s sometimes called, and your whole purpose is to be confronted with your mistaken beliefs.”
“Are you going to tell me that angels and demons exist too?” Robert said as he rolled his eyes.
“Not quite,” said Lieutenant Randy. “I can’t tell you whether they exist or not, but they exist at least in fiction, just as you do.”
“I’m not following,” Robert said. Lieutenant Randy pulled out a smartphone from one of his pockets, continuing to talk to Robert with his attention focused on his phone.
“I’ll spell it out, because subtlety is not my forte: you are a fictional character -- a forgotten fictional character, to be more accurate, just like me and Susie here. I’ve had this conversation enough times to know how this goes. You scoff at the idea, we show you the story you come from, you deny it some more, it sinks in, you get angry, you’ll probably try bargaining with the Writers to wipe your memories or something, then when they don’t listen, you’ll get all depressed and then, hopefully, accept your fate. I won’t lie to you, though – a lot of forgotten characters kill themselves to try and give closure and drama to their lives, and sometimes that’s enough to be remembered again. Some of them off themselves just because they can’t handle it all. Some of them just wander away as if they never existed. Trust me when I say that being a work of fiction is not what should concern you. It actually resolves a lot of mysteries in one’s life, one’s purpose becomes quite clear, at least some part of said life is often meaningful to a lot of people, and once you know you’re a fictional character, there’s a lot of fun to be had. A forgotten character, though, that’s a whole different story. In fiction, death can bring you glory, and you’re almost assured at least an afterlife, if you haven’t just outright ignored death altogether. When you’re forgotten, however, it’s as if you never existed. Nobody cares about you, your sense of purpose suddenly falls from under your feet—ah, here we go. Took a bit of searching, but I found the story you came from. Have a look.”
Lieutenant Randy handed his smartphone to Robert, who reluctantly took it. Robert’s eyes slowly hardened as he read over the text before him. He sat paralyzed before he finished reading what was on the screen. Susannah held the hand Robert held the phone in with her own.
“We know what you’re going through, and even if you don’t believe us now, we’re always here for you. I have a place not far from here, and you can stay with me, if you wish. I know the pain of being forgotten even before I knew I was just a character, because that was what defined my stories. All of them short, all of them with the same futile notion that the man I loved would remember and return to me if I just waited. I still can’t help but wait for him, but I know that my stories have been forgotten and my writer has abandoned me. We will never abandon you.”
“Unlike the barkeep,” Lieutenant Randy muttered. “I think he forgot about us.”
The sounds of shuffling footsteps approached the table.
“Spoke too soon,” said Lieutenant Randy. The barkeep placed their drinks on the table, not once having turned his attention to them, and then proceeded back to the kitchen. Susannah gently removed the phone from Robert’s hand and replaced it with his glass of water. She then took hold of her own drink, as did Lieutenant Randy.
“To the forgotten,” Susannah said as she raised her glass. Lieutenant Randy did the same, and the two of then turned their attention to Robert. His gaze, firmly locked to nothingness before, now fell to Lieutenant Randy, then to Susannah, then to his own glass of water, before having looked back up with his glass raised.
“May they be remembered,” Robert said.
The three clinked their glasses together, Robert and Susannah sipping their drinks as Lieutenant Randy downed his.
“You’ll never be forgotten, Ten-Four,” Lieutenant Randy whispered.
“Ten-Four?” Robert asked.
“Oh, tell that story, Randy!” Susannah chimed.
“I really should get going to Annual Forgotten Character convention before page twenty-seven…” Lieutenant Randy started to say. “Ah, what the hell! Let me tell you about a story that started off as a knock-off to Star Wars…”