The Cliffs: An Essay, A Fiction, A Zombie Fusion. Part VI

Happy Holidays from The Weeklings. This week and next to tide you over between chocolate and hangovers, family and gifts, we have zombie fiction The Cliffs by Eric LeMay. The story comes with a Katniss-Everdeen heroine and an embedded hybrid essay about said fictions. Including tests: true or false, multiple choice and choose-your-own-adventures. Today is Part VI of our serial.

Click here for Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV & Part V of The Cliffs.

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

“MAYBE WE CAN get a sample of it.”

Huilang picked up her saddlebags and slung them over her shoulder, kicking at the piece of broken glass on the rock. “These are sure shot.”

A sample? Mis thought. “You want to go back there?” Mis pictured the necro, its black rotted mouth, pulling her toward the crevice. The imprint of its fingers lingered on her. She wanted nothing to do with it.

“Of course I want to go back,” said Huilang plainly. “It’s trapped, right?”

“Yes, but—“

“Then what’s the worry?”

“But it’s…” Mis’s voice trailed off. She found Huilang’s question so obvious she didn’t know how to respond. The worry was the necro, the relentless, flesh-hungry necro. Mis wanted as much distance as possible between it and herself. She could feel a damp sweat break out on her forehead. “I can point you toward it, but I’m not going.”

At this, Huilang stopped. She turned to Mis and started to say something, but instead she stepped over and put her hands on Mis’s shoulders.

“Look,” she said, “I know those things are nasty. But this one’s an anomaly. It’s the smartest of them I’ve seen since Chicago, so I’ve got to get a piece of it.”

“Why?” Mis asked. She could feel the heat of Huilang’s hands.

“To study it. To find out how it functions.”

“Are you a doctor?” Mis had so many questions, about the necros, about Huilang and Chicago and the world beyond the cliffs, but now one question more than any other pressed at her. “Can you help my brother?”

Huilang smiled sadly. “Not likely,” she said, “I’m not that kind of doctor.”

“But maybe?”

“Maybe,” said Huilang, letting her hands fall from Mis’s shoulders. “Maybe I can take a look.” She jostled her saddlebag into place on her shoulder. “But first let’s take a chunk out of that stem. That might be your brother’s best shot.” Huilang was already starting across the rock, the way Mis had gestured.

Mis trailed after her. “The necro?” she asked, “How?” Mis was baffled. The necro would kill anything it could get its teeth into. What possible way could it help to save her brother?

“Think about it,” said Huilang, “what if you could beat death? Live forever? That’s the secret those things are hiding. Hell, that’s why we created them in the first place, the hope that we could somehow stop ourselves from degenerating. Halt the breakdown in your substantia nigra. Regenerate your T cells. Those necros of yours, that’s what they were supposed to be, a cure. Who knows, maybe they still are?” Huilang stopped and glanced toward Mis. “You know, I have no idea where we’re going.”

Mis smiled and stepped past Huilang. “It’s there, around that bend.” She took a few steps, then turned. “I still don’t understand.”

Huilang bumped Mis back into motion with her elbow. “Nobody does,” she said, “but we need to find out. The group I’m working with, we heard about these stems that were different from the others. Smarter, more resilient. A subset or mutation, not like all those stupid cocksuckers out there staggering into pylons on Lower Wacker.”

“We call them ‘feeders,’” said Mis, pointing out a sharp drop in the path. She hoped over it, and Huilang followed.

“So you have seen them?”

“Not often. They come up the gorge, from the south. The guards have trouble getting them into the pit.”

“Pit?”

“It’s an old mine shaft,” said Mis. “It’s where we get rid of the necros.” And strangers, Mis thought, swallowing the words before she accidently spoke them. How would she get Huilang to the cliffs? To her brother?

“That fits the pattern,” said Huilang, once again talking to herself. “The more I go in this direction, the smarter they get. Hey,” she said, “I don’t suppose you’ve heard about some super-stem— I mean, some necro, one that walks and talks like a person? Supposed to be somewhere to the south.”

Mis searched her memory, but she wouldn’t have forgotten that. “No,” she said.

“Huh,” said Huilang, “I’ve heard that from a few people. Last guy claimed he’d seen it himself. Said it lived in a castle, on a hill. The place was supposed to be swarmed with necros, and this one was like a necro king.”

“Doesn’t sound real.”

“No,” agreed Huilang, “it doesn’t. And this guy was a nutbag. I could tell right off, but I was thinking maybe there was something behind his story. Maybe the rumor had some source.”

“Did he say anything else?”

“He didn’t get to talk for very long.”

“Oh,” said Mis. From the chill in Huilang’s tone, Mis could guess what had happened to her last bullets. “This one talks,” Mis offered.

“The necro?”

Mis heard the footsteps behind her stop. She turned and saw Huilang eyeing her. “Yes,” she said, “at least I think so. After I trapped it, it kept saying, ‘No.’”

“Shit, Mis,” said Huilang, shaking her head. “Anything else?”

“No,” said Mis. “I think that’s it.”

“It doesn’t play the piano or anything like that?”

Mis broke into a smile when Huilang’s expression went ghostly. She shot out a hand and clamped it on Mis’s mouth, pulling them both into a crouch. Mis panicked. She reared and twisted from Huilang, but she couldn’t get loose. With her eyes, Huilang pointed behind Mis and slowly released her grip.

When Mis turned, she saw nothing at first, just the dark forest, the flickering leaves and the slabs of rock rising into the night. And then movement. A figure lurching among the trees. It dragged one of its legs after it, like a slab of meat. And then Mis saw the others. The flashes of torso and skull moving on the forest floor, just beneath the boulders. The sight reminder her of ants swarming. She couldn’t count them. Ten? Twenty? More? Her eyes would watch one disappear into a shadow and leap to where another emerged. Their utter silence made the sight of them all the more ominous, like a ground fog, full of contagion, rolling toward she and Huilang.

“You ever see this?” whispered Huilang.

Mis shook her head.

“Me neither. Not in the middle of nowhere.” Huilang’s smile was back. “I’m betting it has to do with your necro.”

Mis felt her stomach turn. Not mine.

Huilang craned her neck, scanning the rocks ahead of them. “It doesn’t look like they’ve made their way up yet,” she said.

Mis followed her gaze. As far as she could see, the rocks were clear. But for how long? She looked back down into the trees and thought she saw more of them, their arms knocking against their sides, their chests hitching as they stumbled forward through the underbrush. These were necros she and Huilang could outrun. Mis took Huilang’s arm and tugged it, nodding the way they’d come, but Huilang looked confused.

“Let’s go back,” Mis breathed.

Huilang jutted her chin forward, toward the path ahead. “The sample. We’re going to have to hurry.”

 ~

 

Question Thirteen: Visualization

 

The zombie, more than any other monster, transforms landscapes. Imagine a rural farmhouse. Add zombies. Imagine a congested intersection. Add zombies. Imagine a train yard, a waterfall, a shopping mall, a wind-blasted slab of arctic ice. Zombies expose the potential for horror that haunts any location.

In the case of The Cliffs, the landscape in which the story takes place is the Hocking Hills region of Appalachian Ohio. Below are images taken from a hike through its lush forests and massive outcroppings. During this hike, the author recalls having a conversation with his wife:

“Wouldn’t this be an awful place to run into a zombie horde.”

“Stop it.”

“I mean, imagine those leaves, slightly rustling. ‘What’s that?’ you’d whisper. ‘What?’ I’d whisper back, hearing the fear in your voice. You’d point, and we’d suddenly stop and listen. And there, among the chirping of crickets and a distant bird call, the rustling would grow louder—“

“Shut up. And don’t do that thing where you pretend to hear something.”

“And slowly we’d go over. And we’d pull back the branch. And— Wait! Wait, come back!”

Despite the author’s love of playing “Imagine If There Was a Zombie Hoard Here” in almost any location, the prospect of zombies in Hocking Hills bedeviled him. Each time he and his wife hiked through the area, with its shadowy gorges and rotting trees, he would imagine the narrative possibilities (even if, for the sake of his marriage, he stopped voicing these images to his wife). Soon, he began dreaming about them. Until, one day, after being particularly freaked out by an episode of The Walking Dead, he decided to take a shot at writing a zombie fiction.

Using the information in these images, visualize the author’s initial hike with his wife and the current situation in which Mis and Huilang find themselves.

Ch13-cliffs1-3

 ~

 

 Chapter Fourteen

 

Deep within the shadows of the crevice, Mis could sense the necro, seizing her with its black eyes.

She and Huilang had crawled to the trap. Huilang set out before Mis could stop her, and Mis followed, whether out of a sense of concern or curiosity, she couldn’t quite tell. Maybe, in that moment, she didn’t want to be left alone. So she went, and when the two of them reached the hole, branches and debris still marking its edges, Mis had expected to find the necro just as she’d left it, circling its rocky confines, murmuring its “No.” Instead, she and Huilang looked down to see it right below them, looking up.

“It’s like it was waiting for us,” Mis whispered.

Huilang’s gaze went from the necro to the path’s edge. Beneath it, a hoard of necros quietly stirred. “Not us,” she said.

They’re coming for it, Mis realized.

Already, Huilang was hunting through one of her saddlebags. She pulled out a metal needle, maybe a foot long, hollowed on one end. Huilang held it like a knife, her thumb on the butt of its handle. She hit a silver button, and Mis heard a distinct clack.

“How high do you think it can jump?” Huilang asked.

Mis thought about the necro’s fall. It had missed the jump across the crevice, but it had been surprised. When Mis had first drawn it, when she’d hit it with the stone, it scaled the boulder in a matter of seconds. “High,” Mis answered.

“When it jumps, I’ll stab it in the arm or hand.”

Huilang scooted her head and arms over the edge of the hole, just far enough so she could make a clean swipe, and waited.

The necro didn’t move.

She wiggled her instrument slightly, as though baiting a bull, but the necro continued to stare at them with its dark unblinking eyes. Mis thought she saw a corner of its haggard lip snarl, but through the gloom she couldn’t be sure.

“Hold onto my legs,” Huilang said.

“No,” Mis snapped.

“Just until it jumps.” Without waiting, Huilang began wriggling more of her body forward, until her chest hung out over the crevice. Mis rolled her weight onto Huilang’s thighs, steading her. From there, she could no longer see the necro, only Huilang dipping her head into the hole.

“Careful,” Mis whispered. She could feel the cords along Huilang’s legs rippling, her hamstrings taut. If the necro got a hold of her, how could Mis possibly pull her back up? Could she just let Huilang go?

Then, from behind, Mis heard a gravelly scrape.

She spun her head and there, perhaps twenty yards away, was a necro. It ploded toward them, stumbling, unable to get its footing, but Mis knew that the rocks wouldn’t stop it. Nothing would.

“Huilang,” hissed Mis.

“A second,” Huilang’s voice echoed up.

Mis grabbed the waistband of Huilang’s pants and yanked, dragging her farther out of the hole than Mis would have imagined.

“What the—” said Huilang. And then, glaring back at Mis, her eyes caught the necro. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, shit.”

Already two more necros had crested the rock after the first one, each of them lurching toward the hole. Mis looked across the crevice, along the path she’d first took, but on that side a half dozen were now clambering toward them, their jerky legs slapping over the rocks, their heads cocked and screwed at unnatural angles.

Mis turned to Huilang. She’d slid to the path’s edge, to look below them. Mis moved next to her. Instantly, her throat closed, and the metallic taste of adrenaline filled her mouth. The ground beneath them throbbed with decaying bodies, at least a hundred, all clamoring toward the boulders. It looked as though some monstrous chunk of earth had been upturned and set free the slithering unholy things that scurried beneath it.

“Stems don’t do this,” said Huilang, transfixed.

Up, Mis thought, we have to go up.

Her eyes shot to the cliff face. It was too sheer, even for her thin fingers. They couldn’t climb out; they’d have to go through the necros.

“Give me your knife,” Huilang said.

Mis balked for a half-second—the knife was her only defense—then grabbed it from her rucksack and handed it to Huilang.

“Get the bags,” Huilang said. And before Mis could move, she was already heading toward the necros. “These are all stupid.”

Mis squatted down and hoisted the bags over her shoulders. The satchels were heavy and pulled her to the side. By the time she got her footing, she looked up to see Huilang rush the first necro. It was larger than her, with a rag of a flannel shirt hanging from its skeleton-thin frame. It lunged. Swiftly, Huilang skipped to its side and kicked it in the knee joint. The necro buckled, and immediately Huilang was on it, plunging the blade into the back of its head. Mis couldn’t see what happened, but in another second Huilang was standing again, moving toward the next necro.

Mis ran forward, struggling with the bags as she worked over the rocks. When she reached the first necro, she could see it was still alive, thrashing like a fly with its legs and wings ripped off. Its rheum-clotted eyes followed her, and its hands clenched and unclenched around nothing. As Mis stepped around it, she glimpsed a gash at the base of its neck.

Maybe she can save us.

Mis’s eyes darted up, hoping to see Huilang stepping over another downed necro, but Huilang was in front of her. “Too many,” she gasped.

Mis saw. Five, maybe six. Not as thick as the swarm below, but too many to take down one at a time. She turned with Huilang to head back. Maybe she could still find a place where the two of them could climb up? Maybe there was a break or seam in the rock? And then Mis stopped cold. She felt Huilang beside her, coming to the same abrupt halt.

Back at the crevice, the necros on the far side of the hole were toppling into it, one after another. Without slowing, each one pitched itself forward, a tumble of emaciated bodies, falling, falling.

“What’s happening?” asked Mis. Necros would wait forever at the edge of a cliff or bank of a river. No, they didn’t think, but they also didn’t kill themselves. As Mis watched another necro disappear into the rock, she heard Huilang’s hollow voice, “They’re giving it a way out.”

Mis hardly had time to make sense of what Huilang meant before two arms clasped around her waist. She strained, bracing for a necro’s teeth to sink into her neck. Beside her, she heard scuffling. Hiulang must have also been grabbed. Mis fired back her head, in the hopes of knocking the necro off balance. She felt a thud in her skull, and the grip on her loosened.

“Stop it, Mis!”

Mis turned and found herself pressed up against Argie’s chest, his eyes tear-filled and blinking from the blow she’d just delivered.

“Get off me,” she spat.

Argie dropped his arms, and Mis wheeled. A handful of guards, her father among them, were cutting down the last of the necros up on the boulders. She watched her father drive his rifle butt into the face of one. When it fell back against the rock, he drove his boot into its skull.

Next to her, Mis saw Huilang struggling against Cal’s great, bear-like grip. She was no bigger than a child to him, and he had her arms pinned tightly to her sides.

And then Mis saw the crevice, with the necros, fewer now and still falling.

“The necro,” she said to Cal, “it’s going to get out!”

Mis saw Cal’s brow knit. He had a sorrow in his face, a distance he couldn’t cross and reach her. And then, a second later, he looked past her. “What you want we should do with this’un?” he asked.

Mis turned to see her father, standing in front of her.

“Over there,” she gasped, pointing toward the crevice, “there’s a feeder over there that’s going to get out.”

Mis watched her father’s cold gaze go to the necros tossing themselves into the hole, back to Cal and Huilang, and then to Mis. When he finally spoke, he spoke to Cal.

“Kill her,” he said.

 ~

 

Question Fourteen: Pattern Recognition

 

With one chapter left in the story, you may rightly expect that you have reached its climax. Moreover, if you have kept in mind the graph that you made following Chapter Nine, you may also recognize that the action of the story has followed not so much a pyramid, as Frytag believed, but an upward slope, sometimes leveling, sometimes spiking, but always rising—a pattern more indicative of stories found in popular genres, such as post-apocalyptic zombie fiction.

And yet, the story of The Cliffs may also follow another pattern. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell argues that numerous myths from around the world share the same fundamental structure, which he calls the “monomyth.”

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Campbell sees this journey taking place in several stages, with each stage falling under a basic movement in which the heroes separates from his ordinary life, become initiated into a special world of adventure, and then returns—transformed—to the world from which his journey began. Here are the various stages:

Separation: the call to adventure; refusal of the call; crossing the first threshold; entering the belly of the whale.

Initiation: road of trials; the meeting with the goddess; woman as temptress; atonement with the father; apotheosis; the ultimate boon.

Return: refusal of return; magic flight; rescue from without; crossing the return threshold; master of two worlds; freedom to live.

Starting with “the call to adventure,” pinpoint how far has Mis has traveled, if at all, in this monomythical journey. Correlate specific events in the story with specific stages of the myth, explaining how these events fulfill Campbell’s narrative criteria.

 ~

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Mis’s mind flashed to the horse.

Her father wasn’t going to hear her out. He wasn’t even going to wait and take Huilang to the pit. He’d kill her right here, use her like she’d used that horse. Like meat. Mis had to stop him. She bolted toward Cal. Surely he’d listen to her.

“Cal!”

As Mis cried out, she saw Cal’s huge palm open, warning her away. In that same instant, Huilang wrenched herself upward in Cal’s loosened grip, as though she were trying to plunge backward into his massive chest. Suddenly, Cal’s face went slack, and Huilang dropped down between Cal’s arms. She circled behind him, putting his bulk between herself and the other guards, and disappeared.

Mis reached out to Cal, but her eyes hit on the hilt of the knife. Her knife. No, her father’s knife. It was buried at the top of a gape in Cal’s thigh. Blood poured from it like a black river.

It’s my fault, thought Mis. She let Huilang have her knife; she’d distracted Cal; she’d let this happen to him.

“Cal, I’m…”

Cal crumpled down on one knee, catching himself with his hand. Behind him, Mis caught sight of Huilang, sprinting away, running toward the necros. Near her ear, she heard a bolt from one of the guard’s crossbows whistle past her, and in that very second saw Huilang’s shoulder hitch. The bolt had landed, but Huilang didn’t slow down. She charged the crevice and flung herself forward, over the hole and into the pack of necros, toppling into one of them as she landed.

Mis braced. She waited for the necros to swarm Huilang, for their teeth to sink deep, for Huilang’s screams, for the terrible silence that would follow.

To Mis’s shock, the necros didn’t attack Huilang. They shuffled around her, continuing to throw themselves into the hole, as if Huilang weren’t there. Huilang got to her feet and scrambled between them, weaving in and out of the lumbering dead, until she vanished around a rocky bend.

“Let’s tie off that leg.”

Her father’s voice snapped Mis’s attention back to Cal. His face had gone white, and he’d collapsed down on one hip, his wounded leg bent out in front of him and bleeding. Mis’s father crouched over Cal, his hand on Cal’s shoulder. Mis had never seen her father touch anyone that way, with care.

“Ain’t nothing for it,” Cal sputtered. “Soon as you pull that knife, I’m gonna bleed out.”

“We’re not leaving you for them.”

Cal’s gaze went to the necros. “Ain’t nothing for that neither,” he said. “You just cut me clean, now, and leave the rest to the Maker. And you,” Cal said, turning his mighty head toward her.

Mis stepped toward Cal. She felt numb. There he was, as good as dead, and she’d caused it. Mis could taste the tears on her lips, but she couldn’t feel herself crying. She wanted to throw herself into Cal’s arms, wanted Cal to tease her like he’d done her whole life, but all she could do was stand by. She hated herself.

“You don’t go grieving after ol’ Cal,” he said. “This ain’t for you to carry.”

“But Cal.” Mis didn’t know what to say.

“This ain’t yours, Mis. It ain’t.”

With that, Cal nodded at Mis’s father. He nodded back and then, tenderly, grabbed the hilt buried in Cal’s thigh. Cal winced, as her father jerked the blade free. Blood rippled from the wound. In one smooth upward motion, Mis’s father cupped the back of Cal’s head and brought the blade under his beard and across his throat. Mis couldn’t see the cut, just the aftermath. Cal’s heavy brows widened and then, in the time it took to sigh, she watched the light leak out of his eyes.

“At least he can’t turn,” said Argie softly. He was standing right beside her.

Mis stepped away. She felt furious. What did it matter that Cal wouldn’t end up a necro? He was dead. How dare Argie try to find anything good about that?

Mis’s father lowered Cal’s body, so it rested on the rock. He pulled Cal’s lids down with his hand. Standing up, he turned toward Mis, Argie, and the other guards. As he stepped past Mis, not looking at her, he put the knife, hilt first, into her hands.

“You wanted this,” he said.

Mis looked down at the blade, slick with Cal’s blood. The moonlight glistened off the wet metal. The weight of it fell on Mis. Cal was gone, because of her. And not only Cal, Mis had also put the cliffs in danger. Huilang had escaped. She was out there, somewhere. Huilang didn’t have the precise location of the caves, but she knew enough. She or anyone she told could eventually find them.

I may have killed us all.

Mis looked up in the direction Huilang had run, as if, through wishing, through the rage she felt—toward herself, toward Argie, toward her father and this women who had killed Cal—she might be able to call Huilang back. Mis didn’t see Huilang, but she suddenly noticed that the necros were gone. The boulders ahead of her were clear, the forest serene. And then, Mis saw it, right where the crevice was, a skeletal hand rising from the hole, clutching the rock.

“Look…” Argie whispered. He’d seen it too.

Even as he spoke, Mis watched the feeder haul itself free. It slapped its way onto the boulder and crept to its feet.

Immediately, it locked its eyes on Mis. She heard its low reptilian hiss slither across the rocks. She couldn’t shake the feeling it recognized her, that it aimed its lifeless gaze on her alone.

It charged, faster than Mis remembered. Its horrid strides ate the distance between them. Mis heard more bolts whistle past her, saw them sink into the necro’s chest, its throat. A bolt ripped across its cheek, taking off a hunk of the necro’s parchment-like skin. Still it charged, undaunted, as if it wanted to run straight through Mis’s heart.

Mis had no time. She took the knife, still coated in Cal’s blood, and readied herself. She’d die. She knew it, but not without fighting, not without being the Mis whom Cal always thought she could be.

Mis crouched, ready to strike, when she felt someone move past her, fast, and a split-second later she saw her father, a hatchet in his hand, running at the necro.

“Mis,” snapped Argie, grabbing her shoulder, “let’s go.”

“No,” Mis spat. This was her fight, her fault. She couldn’t let her father die also. But already Argie had a grip on her shirt. He was dragging her away, toward safety, as Mis saw her father and the necro collide.

In a swift, upward blow, her father drove the hatchet into the necro’s chin. Mis could hear the cruch of bone as the necro’s jaw shattered. And yet the necro clamped its arms around her father, as though its limbs weren’t connected to its head. It dragged him toward its mangled face, and the two toppled onto the sandstone.

“Mis!” insisted Argie.

“I’m not leaving him,” shouted Mis, jerking herself free of Argie’s grip and stumbling a step toward her father.

Mis,” said Argie, “look.”

The terror in Argie’s voice made Mis turn, and she saw the source of his fear. Necros, dozens of them, were approaching from behind. Maybe the noise, maybe whatever power this feeder seemed to wield over them, had drawn them up onto the boulders, and they were coming, at Mis, at Argie and her father and the few guards trying to fend them off. The dead lurched forward, broken, rotted, as pale and pitiless as the moon.

~

 

Extra Credit

 

Fictional characters can have a life beyond the stories in which readers encounter them. Harry Potter feels like a person, even a friend. His readers can imagine him involved in adventures outside the ones written for him by J.K. Rowling. The thirty thousand works of Harry Potter fan fiction available online, each expanding the world that Rowing created, testify to that fact. For readers, fictional characters can take on what psychologists call an “illusion of independent agency.” Harry Potter, Elizabeth Bennet, Hamlet, Lolita, Sherlock Holmes, these constructions of the imagination seem to exist and, if that weren’t enough, possess wills of their own.

That experience isn’t limited to readers. Writers also speak of their characters coming to life. About six months into writing the first novel in her series, J.K. Rowling thought she’d change Harry Potter’s character and make him female, but Harry wouldn’t have it: “it was too late, it was too late to make Harry Harriet. He was very real to me as a boy, and to put him in a dress would have felt like Harry in drag.” In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forester explains this experience more generally:

The characters arrive when evoked, but full of the spirit of mutiny. For they have these numerous parallels with people like ourselves, they try to live their own lives and are consequently often engaged in treason against the main scheme of the book. They “run away,” they “get out of hand”: they are creations inside of a creation, and often inharmonious towards it…

When it comes to their characters, writers not only undergo illusions of independent agency, but also find that these agents, like Frankenstein’s monster, turn against their creators.

In writing The Cliffs, its author felt as though his characters had come to life. Mis’s father and brother, Huilang, Argie, poor Cal, and even the “feeder” often seemed real to him and, as Forester predicted, took the story in a different direction than the one he had intended. Mis did so most of all. Yet, rather than feel the sort of frustration that Forester describes, the author enjoyed it. He liked that Mis wanted to write her own story. In fact, he found it surprisingly difficult to end it on this moment, with Mis in travail.

But he did. Why he did is a matter of speculation, even for him, but one answer may be that, by doing so, he freed his illusion, so it—so Mis and the characters of her world—could discover their own stories. Perhaps he ended his story at this particularly charged moment to incite that same wish in his readers: to let this story live on, counjured now out of their memories, their desires, out of all the history, heartbreak, and hope that make up our nonfictional lives.

For extra credit, write what happens next.

 ~

Eric LeMay

About Eric LeMay

Eric LeMay (http://ericlemay.org/) is the author of two books and a forthcoming collection of essays. His work has appeared in The Paris Review, Gastronomica, Poetry Daily, the Best Food Writing series, and other venues. He teaches at Ohio University and also serves as the web editor for Alimentum: The Literature of Food and a host on the New Books Network. He lives in Athens, Ohio.
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