THE ENDING: A DIALOG BETWEEN A MAN AND HIS CREATOR
Stan stepped up on the curb as a lonely compact car whizzed by him. Warehouse 816 towered over him, its broken windows filled with darkness. The place had been abandoned since Amelia was left inside and stabbed nine times—once for every year the Ghost spent in prison the first time Stan caught him. Stan hadn’t been to that place since then, and just being there put a knot in his stomach, but he had to come. His visit was prompted by a note he’d received on his dinner tray at the hospital:
WAREHOUSE 816. IT ENDS TONIGHT.
“It does end tonight,” Stan whispered in the solemn darkness.
He slowly pulled the revolver from his hip holster and walked through the battered front door. Stan sucked in a sharp gasp and almost dropped his gun. The warehouse was nothing like he remembered it, before or after its abandonment. There were no old boxes, no support beams, not even a concrete floor. Its size had decreased impossibly. The multileveled building was now only one small room, whitewashed from ceiling to floor.
“You’re here,” a disembodied voice called.
Stan pivoted to his left, instinctively pointing his gun at whoever was in the room with him. He hadn’t noticed the man sitting at a white writing table. Stan couldn’t see his face, only a head of short black hair and a pair of wire-rimmed glasses. The guy was hunched over, penning words into a spiral notebook. He didn’t look up from the table, even with a deadly weapon trained on him. Maybe he didn’t notice.
“I bet you’re wondering what’s going on,” said the Writer.
“Where is the Ghost,” Stan demanded. “I don’t have time for games.”
The Writer kept on writing. “This isn’t a game, Stan. You can have your epic final confrontation with the Ghost if you want, but I need to talk to you first.”
Stan pulled the hammer back on his revolver. Whoever this guy was, he had to be working for the Ghost. He had probably been put there to get Stan to lower his guard. That was a trick he would never fall for again, not after the Ghost blackmailed Stan’s old high school sweetheart into reeling him into a relationship, only to have her literally stab him in the back. Had Pierce not been suspicious of her and staked out across the street from her house that night, Stan probably would not have survived.
The Writer chuckled.
“What’s so funny?” Stan asked. “You think I’m playing with you?”
“I remember when Lolita stabbed you. That was in book three Spectral Desire. It was the first time I thought seriously about killing you off. I didn’t have the heart.”
“Sorry about Pierce, by the way. He was one of my favorites, but sometimes moving the plot forward requires desperate measures. God knows you wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t died.”
“Alright, you,” Stan stormed up to the writing table, throwing a veil of anger over the terror that welled in the pit of his stomach. No one knew about what had happened with Lolita; not even the Ghost had all the details. And this guy claimed to have had something to do with Pierce’s death. Was he there when the Ghost shot him? Stan shoved his gun at the Writer’s head, but the guy kept on writing.
“Tell me who you are, or I swear I’ll paint that wall with your brains.”
“You’re not going to shoot me,” said the Writer.
“Yeah?” Stan went to pull the hammer back, but he’d already done it. “If you knew anything about me, you wouldn’t be so sure.”
“On the contrary,” the Writer said wryly, “I know you better than you know yourself. And I know you’re not going to shoot me, because it doesn’t follow the plot.”
“You think I care about your plot?”
The Writer paused. He took a second to peer up at the barrel of Stan’s revolver, then continued writing.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “There’s no easy way to explain this, so I’ll just come out and say it: I created you, Stan. You’re a character in series of murder mystery novels: The Ghost Chronicles. The series tells the story of you, Stan Avery, and your attempts to catch the Ghost, the killer who murdered your wife. In each novel you’re faced with a new murder case that you and your partner, Pierce Underwood, have to solve. Somehow the cases always lead you to the Ghost. You end up solving the case and saving the day, but your nemesis always gets away. Is any of this ringing a bell?”
Stan didn’t respond. The Writer’s words all rang true, except the part about him being a character in a book. None of the information was anything one of his closest friends or worst enemies wouldn’t know. Since Stan didn’t know this guy, the Writer’s knowledge only proved he was working for the Ghost. He envisioned himself shooting the Writer in the chest. As much as he would have enjoyed blowing away anyone working for the Ghost, this man was probably the only person who knew where to find him. All his other henchmen were behind bars.
“Look,” Stan said, “you picked a real bad day to screw around with me. Whatever this is, I’m not buying it, so tell me where the Ghost is.”
The Writer kept writing. “I don’t know where he is, but I won’t stop you if you want to look for him.”
Stan spat on the floor. The wad didn’t make a sound.
“I’m warning you: Try anything, and I’ll put one right in your face.”
The Writer didn’t as much as look up in response.
Stan turned and headed toward the door, but soon realized he was headed in the wrong direction. Maybe this book character business was getting to him more than he wanted to admit. He turned to his left, but that was the wrong direction too. He spun around and stared at the opposite wall. It was a blank white square, like all the others. There was nothing all around him but white walls and a writing table. The door had disappeared.
Stan whipped his revolver back out and pointed it at the writing writer. His hands shook so violently he had to grip the gun with all his might to keep from dropping it.
“Who are you?” Stan demanded with the forcefulness his police training called for. “What is this? What happened to the door?”
“Do you believe me now?” asked the Writer.
“How did you do that? Answer me!”
He held up his pen. “What do you think I’ve been writing all this time?”
Stan tried to get a look at the writing. He was too far from the desk to make it out, and he dared not take another step closer to the man. It was a trick. It had to be. Stan took a deep breath and gathered is thoughts. It was just a mind game. The Ghost did things like this all the time. He was trying to freak him out and throw him off his game.
“Really?” The Writer raised his eyebrows, but kept his eyes on his work. “Okay. If this is just a mind game, then how would I know that you stole your father’s Luger when you were in the tenth grade? You were going to shoot James Carson, the kid who used to bully you. But you got scared and put the gun back before your dad got home.”
Stan stopped breathing. “I’ve—”
“Never told anyone about that. I know. It was the only time you were ever afraid to fire a gun.” The Writer smiled. “I just made that up, by the way. Fifteen seconds ago, that event had never happened. Now it’s one of your deepest secrets, and James Carson is now a real person. That’s what we writers call retroactive continuity, or ‘retcon’ for short.”
It was a lie. Stan remembered that kid that bullied him in high school. He remembered taking his dad’s pistol. There was no way this guy just made that up. It happened over twenty-five years ago.
“Come on, Stan,” said the Writer. “Is it really that hard to believe? That huge warehouse you remember is now a small room. The door you came in is gone. I know your history because I made it up and continue to make it up as we speak. I’m the invisible hand behind your life and everything in it. In the back of your mind, you’ve always known the crazy coincidences that happen to you aren’t just random chance. I’ve been guiding you since day one, and I don’t know if you’ve realized this, but I even know what you’re thinking.”
It was crazy. Impossible.
“Right now you’re thinking this is crazy and impossible.”
“Shut up!” Stan screamed. “If you’re telling the truth, then what are you doing here?”
“That’s the question. I’m here for the same reason you are. Remember the note on your dinner tray?”
“‘It ends tonight,’” Stand echoed the words. “So it was you who sent the note?”
The Writer shrugged. “Yes and no. The Ghost sent the note, but he’s a character just like you and everyone else in this world. You got that note because I meant for you to get it. I wanted you to come here because I need your help.”
“What do you need my help with?” he asked.
The Writer paused his activity and leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands together behind his head.
“I need help with the ending,” he said.
“The ending of what?”
“Of this,” he indicated the nothingness around them. “The end of the story. I’ve been at this for nine years. All the action, the emotion, all of the ups, downs, and in between. I’ve thought about ending it so many times, but after every book, a new idea came. There were new avenues to explore, and new mysteries to be solved. I just couldn’t get enough and neither could my readers. To be honest, I’ve fallen in love with this world and its characters, including you. I love it so much that, now that I’ve exhausted every possible scenario, I have no idea how to end this. I stopped writing when you walked into Warehouse 816, and this manuscript has been sitting in my desk drawer for a year. Today, I picked it back up and decided I’d write myself into the story for one reason and one reason only: To give you the choice.”
The Writer took another notebook from the desk and handed it to Stan. Stan looked at the Writer, wondering if this guy was serious. He didn’t seem to be joking, or even setting up any kind of test the way the Ghost usually would. He just sat there, writing. They continued—Stan standing, and the Writer writing—for an uncomfortable minute or so.
Finally, the Writer spoke up again though he kept his eyes on the notebook. “You can leave now.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Stan said indignantly. “Your boss killed my partner, and unless you want to join him—”
The Writer picked up his notebook and left the desk, rolling his eyes as if Stan was no more than an annoying distraction. He pushed against the white wall and a door opened to another room, which was apparently also completely whitewashed.
Stan hastened after him, shouting commands to stop. He couldn’t catch up before the Writer closed the door behind him. It was not a full second later that Stan burst through the door behind him and stumbled out onto the street outside of Warehouse 816. He looked back, gun in hand, but was indeed right back outside. The rickety door of the condemned warehouse stood wide opened, so Stan could see that the interior had transformed back into the unkempt stone structure it had always been.