A Short Story in 2nd Person

It is just past 3am and you have decided to try writing a short story in 2nd Person. For the last several hours, you have been tossing and turning, first to one side then the other, flipping your pillow repeatedly and scrambling your blanket around in an attempt to find the perfect ratio of covering. Finally, you decide that you can take it no longer and throw yourself from your torturous bed, giving in to your interminable thoughts.

You spend the next few minutes in various contorted stretches, every muscle clenched to squeeze away the sleepiness; one last yawn and you’re ready. The time has come—you have a story that must come out.

You sit down at your desk and prepare for the task ahead of you. You pop your knuckles; you roll your neck. You pull towards you a black fountain-pen and a blank pad of paper to begin the rough draft. Your knees rattle with excitement. You rap your fingers against the desk. You lick your lips. You cough into your clenched fist to clear a small amount of phlegm caught in the back of your throat. Finally, pen in hand, you’re ready to begin.

But, as you look down at the clean sheet of paper, dissected only by the light electric-blue lines running horizontally across it, you can’t seem to figure out how to start. Your pen just sort of taps at the paper, like a hen searching for seed, leaving little, nearly imperceptible scribbles where you had wanted

to put the first lines, or at least the title—instead of the start to a story, however, you just have some small, unintentional graffiti defacing an otherwise clean white page.

You absentmindedly brush your hand across the pen marks, your pinkie mechanically flicking, subconsciously expecting them to fly away like the little bits of detritus left behind by a pencil eraser. Obviously they stay put, and your hand just reflexively, and in vain, demonstrates muscle memory. But, as your focus zooms onto these haphazard little marks that dash and curl and cross in wanton disarray, you start to notice vague patterns, pictures that begin to emerge from the chance collisions of your unintentional pen-strokes: little faces peeking out from behind the ethos; an inky-black octopus, the silhouette of a panda balancing on a circus ball; a gallant knight; a hobbled wretch; a war being waged by the eternal armies of Good and Evil. All that is needed is a little imagination and artistry. You connect the dots here… accentuate a line there… fudge a smudge, script a scribble… and there you have it—suddenly your pen is swooshing through the air, darting back and forth, curving and gliding nimbly, almost of its own accord. You work feverishly, picking out these patterns and running with them, trying to connect everything.

You imagine yourself recreating the entire universe. Atom by atom, you’re pulling together stardust and aether, setting them in motion, whirring electron and proton in spinning nucleotides, smashing together molecules and compounds, nurturing and growing them as they unfold upon their trajectory, shifting and changing and evolving—the infinite beauty and madness of it all contained in each of your ink drops. Sweat trickles from your brow. Your hand starts to cramp. Finally, you throw down your pen and rub your tired eyes.

As you look down before you, the first thing you notice, not without an admittedly deserved sense of accomplishment, is that your previously empty page is now covered from corner to corner.

The second thing you notice, however, is that there is not a single word written. Instead, your page is filled, heading to footer, with a vast interconnected drawing of variegated patterns and textures—etches and sketches, oodles of doodles, piles of pen-strokes—the whole thing a delicate mess of perfectly balanced chaos: a triple clockwork system of celestial bodies composed of sacred geometry; pulsating atoms split and spilling forth; kaleidoscopic shifts of dazzling patterns turning into amalgamated landscapes into shape-shifting creatures into vast abstraction; a churning river that slowly becomes a thicket of tall grass which in turn becomes a coiling deoxyribonucleic helix into a galaxy of stars; swarms of thaumaturgical ants raging across particle substructures built upon the flaming parapets of fortresses protecting from the savage sanctity of a wilderness just barely held at bay; amoebic splotches and cosmic nebulae coalescing and intermingling with the intricate unfolding of the chaos all around; faces and figures all interlinked and interlaced throughout like the various disparate threads of some grand tapestry. For just a moment, it seems you have somehow contained the entire infinite universe within the edges of this sheet.

Yet, it is not a short story in 2nd Person and so, in disappointed frustration, you tear out the page, bunching it up into your fist, and toss it into your already-nearly-full wastebasket. Time to start again.

This time is much easier. The words flow as if they had been welled up and set free, dashing across the page in fervent strides. You don’t even have to think before the next word comes rushing out of your pen, linking together syntax and semantics. Without effort, you let the story keep coming out—your pen glides continuously and all you have to do is merely guide it, like some Ouija board séance, sculpting from its raw clay the statue of a masterpiece.

Page after page fly by in quick succession. The sun begins to rise—light shines in from the window edges, forming a warm aureole around the closed blinds. You rub your face with your aching hand, trying to wipe away the numb pins and needles. You are so tired you feel delusional, or very hazy to say the least, but you find that you are incapable of tearing yourself from the story and so, equipped with your pen once again, you trudge back into that literary jungle, hacking and slashing away at the dense and snaring vines attempting to hold you back.

Just when you think you are nearing completion, the story keeps unfolding and unfolding, like some magician’s scarf that gets pulled from their sleeve, one colour after another, on and on, until the joke’s run its course. Just over the hill you see the finish line—multiple times. Yet, each time proves to be a trick of the eye, an alignment of perspective that continuously transposes the finish line onto the next further hill; just when you reach the crest of what you thought was the final hill, you see the upward trajectory merely continues, dropping off and reascending in cycles.

So, onward you press, watching, like a gardener that tends daily to their flowerbed, your story grow and rise, branching out and blooming. Then, suddenly, before you even realize it, you’ve written the last word—you’re done.

You have finally accomplished what you set out to do. And what an accomplishment it is—you have successfully written a short story in 2nd Person—something that you weren’t even sure was possible, and certainly never imagined was actually within your capabilities; yet, here you are with a story written in 2nd Person right in your very own hands. It seems almost surreal. You think of pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. Your excitement bubbles. Suddenly you find yourself re-reading your entire story from the first line, trying to appraise it as an open mind.

You’re absolutely amazed and astounded, baffled and bemused, completely dumbfounded. Everything fascinates you, grips you, holds you immobile. The juxtaposition, of knowing and learning more, nascently opens planes and quietly reveals secrets you thought unobtainable. Voraciously, and without xenagogue, yearning zealously—you journey onward, reading the story as if you were discovering some hidden secret you had never before known.

The words start to blur as your eyes mist up. You can feel your heart pound in your chest. It’s beautiful—every word playing off each other in a perfect, delicate harmony. You start to notice the subtle notes of implied imagery cropping up and disappearing here and again in the ever shifting landscapes of the storyline. Themes are treated like toys—picked up in turn, played with, spun around, and set back down again. Richly dotted wordplay connections that you don’t recall being intentional start to polk themselves out here and there in a perfection that, if truly unintentional, seems absolutely miraculous. You begin to feel akin to what you imagine a young parent might feel, having left their child unattended with a set of alphabet blocks, only to return and find the blocks spelling out, word for word, the entire ‘To Be or Not To Be’ speech (of course, if there was only one set of blocks, there was not two B’s).

Halfway through the first two pages, you start to feel light-headed, the edges of your vision getting brighter and brighter—your face warmer and warmer. You realize that, completely transfixed the entire time, you had forgotten to breathe. You inhale with a mighty gasp and wipe away the sweat trickling from your brow. What you initially thought might be impossible, you now realize you have accomplished with complete, absolute perfection.

The thought staggers you a moment. Taking a step back, you slowly sit down. But then, you jump back up. You have no time to waste. You are electric; every atom in your being is alive and

humming. You are overcome by a desire, an urge, a need, to have this story published. You don’t have time to make any corrections or type out a fair copy—as-is-in-the-raw-scribbles-and-all is how it must remain. You know you can’t wait, the world can’t wait, nay, the story itself cannot wait for existence in being published and read. You know with absolute certainty that this story in your hands is needed, sorely needed, by a decaying world devoid of anything like it. So, you immediately rush out, story in hand, and head straight towards the nearest publishing company headquarters at a brisk, purposeful walk that could almost be called a run.

After traversing several blocks, however, you come to the realization that, in your excitement, you have rushed out without even putting on your shoes. This becomes alarmingly apparent to you via the assistance of what has to be the sharpest rock in the entire state—or at least the county. As you check to see how badly you were punctured, you can’t fail to notice that you also forgot to get dressed, and the chill morning wind starts to cut right through your bedtime attire. You proceed undeterred. Still riding the high of creation, your freshly crafted treasure in tow, you decide to let nothing stop you.

The sun is still cresting the horizon, which gives your surroundings a surreal impression: darkened hues, elongated shadows, heightened contrast. The roads seem emptier than you ever recall seeing them. Off to one side, there is a group of people camped out in front of a closed-down store, of which you can’t help but notice a resemblance to a Black Friday sales crowd—just dirtier, and more friendly to each other. You notice one member of the group is staring directly at you, has been staring at you for quite some time, by all appearances. His bulbous eyes stand out sharply against his dirty face like those of some mud-dwelling sea creature, with his gaping mouth full of rotted teeth hanging wide open, gulping at the air. His gaze sleets your spine, forcing you to immediately break eye contact with a shivery twitch, and you are overcome with a tense, urgent desire to increase your pace.

You continue on, tractically pripping over yourself—the adrenaline casting everything in a sinister tone. Over and again, you seem to see movement in the shadows of every building corner. However, upon rounding each bend, you find nothing there, each time causing an increase in agitation. A car drives by which you are almost certain is the same car that has driven by you three times already and, every so often, over the sounds of your own worried footsteps and pounding heart, you can almost make out the faint sound of another pair of footsteps following somewhere behind you. You are not sure what’s going on, but you do know that you are scared.

At this point, you start to question your own sanity. You rationalize that your sleep-deprived mind might simply be playing tricks on you—that you have lapsed into some sort of temporary madness, until you have the time to rest. You desperately try to convince yourself that your imagination is running wild and that it’s all in your head, just a product of your overworked brain, but you can’t seem to shake this feeling that you are being followed—tracked and stalked by some dark, unseen force, or forces. In full blown panic—afraid to lose your life, even more afraid to lose your work—you break into an all-out sprint.

You run at top speed without stopping until you see, rising in front of you, the tall, gleaming rooftop of the publishing company headquarters. You climb the cement steps that lead up to the austere building and, panting, pull open the heavy wooden door. You walk in, taking the first (official) steps to publishing your fresh masterpiece.

As you look around the intimidatingly clean and well-decorated lobby, you see a slew of frail, worried-looking writers sitting here and there—all in the slumped postures of those who have been waiting long enough to resign themselves to getting comfortable. Immediately, you are greeted by the sweet, cheery voice of the pleasant young receptionist.

“​Well hello there! A writer, are we? Welcome, welcome!” she sings through a smile as she begins to rummage through a pile of papers, “You will need to fill out the proper forms, of course.”

She hands to you an assorted stack of coloured folders, all filled with various forms.

“​Adam here is our company financial liaison, he can help you with that paperwork, just follow him through the back door over there and you two can talk money.”

She nods over her shoulder at a tall man with small eyes. The other writers look at you in peevish envy as you walk towards the looming squinter, who is now opening the door for you. Just as you step through the threshold, the door suddenly slams shut behind you.

Before you can spin around to see what has happened, you are blindsided by a large man wearing a jumpsuit and a surgical mask, who tackles you and pins you to the ground, sending the files flying through the air, while his partner, similarly dressed, begins to tie you up. Any attempt to struggle is met with severe punishment and, after some brutal, smashing punches to the face and a cracking stomp on the ribs, you cease resistance completely. Roughly and impatiently, they strip you, cutting the seams of your pajamas and inspecting them thoroughly, before turning their attention to the mess of papers now scattered across the floor—apparently looking for your manuscript, which must have gotten mixed in with the forms during the struggle.

While they are completely absorbed with searching through the pile, you manage to slip your ropes and sneak away unnoticed. As you stumble around the dark room in a battered daze for what feels like a lifetime, you finally come across a metal door, which you ram your body into, pushing in the panic bar and sending it flying open. As you stumble outside, you’re washed over by the blindingly bright light of the sun.

Through squinted eyes, you look around. From what you can tell, you are in the middle of a dirty, trash-filled alleyway, having just emerged from some unassuming warehouse, smack dab in what appears to be the middle of the city. Sore and exhausted, battered and completely dejected, you admit defeat and start wandering in whichever direction you feel that home is. It is not long, however, before you are stopped by local law-enforcement and taken in for indecent exposure.

At the precinct, they make you sit in a cell for hours before they finally interrogate you. You try to explain yourself. You tell them how you were followed, tricked and beaten, how your prized story was stolen from you, and how it all seemed organized, like some dark, unseen forces were pulling the strings, targeting you, trying to ensure your story never saw the light of day. The entire time, you are on the verge of breaking down; you have to stop several times to compose yourself, but the officers keep urging you to go on.

Maybe they think you’re crazy and take pity on you—or maybe they truly believe you—either way, they tell you that they are going to let you off with a warning. They give you a blanket to wrap yourself up in and walk you to the door. You shake their hands and turn to leave. However, after taking a few steps, the hairs on the back of your neck start to stand on end. Before you can react, you are grabbed from behind by one of the officers, their hand over your mouth to muffle your scream. You feel a sharp pain in the side of your neck. The lights begin to glow much dimmer. A fog rolls in from the corners of your vision, then darkness.

You wake up at home in bed, nestled with your blanket. You feel foggy. You have no recollection of how you got there. Both your head and your body ache badly; this pain, however, is

completely eclipsed by your grief at the loss of your story. You try to recreate it in your head, but the gaps and embellishments of memory serve only to further estrange it from the forefront of your mind.

Suddenly, you remember the scratch paper—the paper you had thrown away, covered with those scribbles and doodles and various other sorts of pseudo-art while you had been procrastinating a beginning. ‘​Perhaps,​’ you think to yourself, ‘​somewhere in that inky black soup of creation lies the key to the perfect story in 2nd​ ​Person.’

You lunge toward your wastebasket and spill the contents out across the floor, but there is nothing but trash, trash and unusable scraps of discarded writing. That page, that last vestige of your perfect story, is nowhere to be found; you sit crumpled and defeated on the floor, trying not to think about what that means.

After a while, you finally arrive at a personal resolution. You decide, come what may, to try with the entirety of your might and intellect to recreate that perfect short story in 2nd Person, in all its glory. You set yourself to your task and work diligently. When you finally finish, you lay down your pen—and you can’t help but feel sad.

You feel sad because you know that the story you currently hold in your hands is not perfect. You feel guilty knowing that the one you will send in, the story the readers are going to get, is but a pale reflection, imperfectly cast, of what once was—of the dazzling, irreproducible perfection that was the short story in 2nd Person you once held.

You weep for them, for they will never know what they’re missing.

Dakota William Szaniszlo is a poet and prosist from Tucson, AZ. He is a committed practitioner of shower-singing, a volunteer life-coach for the dead, an unlicensed self-surgeon, and an avid collector of tossed-out ideologies. He enjoys contemplating ineffable abstraction, dreams nightly, and spends most of his free time on long drives through various mental landscapes. He has been previously featured in The Antonym: A Bridge to Global Literature and in Issues 22 and 24 of Canyon Voices.