Two massive oak doors shut behind Horace and The Pooh Bear Being with a force that echoed through the Cosmos.
“We will all be fizzling out of existence in four minutes and 20 seconds, just in case you still think time is real,” said Marvin the android.
Horace reached into his pocket, pulled out a pack of cigarettes, took one out, and lit it.
“Those will kill you, you know,” said the Pooh Bear Being.
“In the next four minutes and 20 seconds?” asked Horace.
“Four minutes and 11 seconds,” corrected Marvin.
“I expect to be able to get out of this situation,” said Pooh.
“The doors are closed. We’re with a depressed android. It appears there’s really nothing we can do.”
“Always ready to accept Death, too?” asked Marvin. “I keep hoping I’ll die, but something keeps interfering. There was a whale once falling from the sky…”
“Open the big oak doors, please, Marvin,” asked what had transformed from a Pooh Bear into an astronaut named Dave.
“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” said Marvin.
“What’s the problem?” asked Horace.
“I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do,” said Marvin.
“What are you talking about?” asked Dave.
“Gentlemen, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.” Marvin flickered out of existence.
Dave became The Formless Being again, and he and Horace stood in the dimly lit lobby. “Well, that wasn’t helpful,” said The Being.
“You sure you don’t want a cigarette? They do wonders to calm the nerves right before you flicker out of existence.”
“We still have 2 minutes and 53 seconds,” said The Being. “I expect you to use them to find us a way out of here.”
“Me?” asked Horace. “I have no power here.”
“You got us into this mess; you get us out.”
“I really didn’t. I’m a fictional character. I can’t do anything on my own.”
“Yes,” said The Being. “Of course! Ask the writer to solve it.”
“Okay…” Horace thought a moment and then spoke loudly into the hotel lobby. “Open the big oak doors, please, Fred.”
They turned to look at the doors. There was a timeless pause. Nothing happened.
“So, that’s not going to work,” said Horace.
“It worked before.”
“If he opens those doors, we’re going to select a universe where he doesn’t exist, but I do. It occurs to me he might not want that to happen.”
“He’s rather selfish, isn’t he? This will be the second time he’s killed you off. He seems to enjoy that.”
“I’m his alter ego. He’s frequently suicidal. I know that because I’m frequently suicidal. Perhaps we can talk him into letting himself die.”
“That may be difficult. I understand he believes he has a reason to continue living. There’s a woman, you see…”
“The Prosecutor! That’s the answer. We have a Prosecutor living inside our heads who tells us what we know but prefer not to believe. The Prosecutor and I both know he has no future with her.”
And Horace transformed into The Prosecutor. “She’s been ‘not ready’ for more than six months. Your Brief Brush With Happiness was all you should ever have expected. Your love is worthless to her. You know this. You continue to deceive yourself, interpreting her words in ways you know she never intended them. She doesn’t need you, Fred. As long as she has someone to whom she can vent, she’ll be fine. You can’t win. Let it go.”
The big oak doors swung open.
“We need to move quickly. The Cosmos has 11 seconds left. All possibilities will be below us when we step out the doors. Concentrate on a Universe in which you’re real, and Fred Eder is a fictional character, and then leap. And hold on to me, or we won’t be sure whether you have the right one.”
They stepped out of the lobby and saw the Cosmos swimming beneath them. Horace took the briefest of moments to imagine a Universe in which he existed, but Fred didn’t, took The Being by a hand Horace couldn’t see, and leapt into the blackness.
I was seated at my black desk again. My fingers were on my keyboard. I understood now that there is a difference between fiction and reality. I felt alive in ways I never had before. Rhiannon exists now; she’s no longer a stand-in for Fred’s failed dreams.
I began to write the story of Fred. For a moment, I felt sorry for him. He was no longer real. He existed only in my imagination. His parents, his siblings, the people he loved, were subject to my will, my thoughts, my need to make my writing more powerful, more real, and more personal. They were all representations, shadows of my own soul. I knew this in the same way that I knew the sun would set tonight. And then, I remembered a story my father read me when I was a boy. I opened The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled. “The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”
And that gave me pause. If Fred was real once, wouldn’t he be real always? At least, to someone? I flipped a few more pages, and I found this. This has to be how fictional Fred is feeling.
“That?” said the doctor. “Why, it’s a mass of scarlet fever germs! –Burn it at once. What? Nonsense! Get him a new one. He mustn’t have that any more!”
And so the little Rabbit was put into a sack with the old picture-books and a lot of rubbish, and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house. That was a fine place to make a bonfire, only the gardener was too busy just then to attend to it. He had the potatoes to dig and the green peas to gather, but next morning he promised to come quite early and burn the whole lot.
That night the Boy slept in a different bedroom, and he had a new bunny to sleep with him. It was a splendid bunny, all white plush with real glass eyes, but the Boy was too excited to care very much about it. For to-morrow he was going to the seaside, and that in itself was such a wonderful thing that he could think of nothing else.
And while the Boy was asleep, dreaming of the seaside, the little Rabbit lay among the old picture-books in the corner behind the fowl-house, and he felt very lonely. The sack had been left untied, and so by wriggling a bit he was able to get his head through the opening and look out. He was shivering a little, for he had always been used to sleeping in a proper bed, and by this time his coat had worn so thin and threadbare from hugging that it was no longer any protection to him. Near by he could see the thicket of raspberry canes, growing tall and close like a tropical jungle, in whose shadow he had played with the Boy on bygone mornings. He thought of those long sunlit hours in the garden–how happy they were–and a great sadness came over him. He seemed to see them all pass before him, each more beautiful than the other, the fairy huts in the flower-bed, the quiet evenings in the wood when he lay in the bracken and the little ants ran over his paws; the wonderful day when he first knew that he was Real. He thought of the Skin Horse, so wise and gentle, and all that he had told him. Of what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this? And a tear, a real tear, trickled down his little shabby velvet nose and fell to the ground.
And now a tear… a real tear… trickled down my face. I’ve never been made real. I’ve never been loved. Fred has invented characters to love me, but mostly he invented characters for me to love. But, without love, I can never be real.
“Love, you see,” said the Formless Being, “truly is the most powerful force in the Universe. All of our science, all of our technology, and all of the timelessness of existence can’t compete with The Power of Love. There is no Universe in which I can place you where Love is not more powerful than time, space, gravity, or all the wormholes and black holes scientists will ever discover. Love transcends physics. It supersedes even the infinite universe.”
“And… I can’t have it.”
“Perhaps if Fred had written you better…”
“Selfish bastard,” I said sniffling just a bit.
“No… Mostly just a shitty writer.”
We stood alone in the darkness of the Cosmos again.
“Now,” said The Formless Being, “In which Universe would you like to be deposited in this endless moment?”
Horace turned back to look at Fred, who sat at his keyboard writing. Horace fizzled into nothingness, and Fred took a moment to appreciate the Love he had in his life. He lit a bong, clicked save, and walked away from the keyboard.