Author: Ádám Gerencsér
I had reluctantly become the Hero, went on a journey that changed me, prevailed over the oddest of odds, put a distressed damsel out of her misery, defeated the menacing genius and renounced the spoils of victory, save for a keepsake. I ended my story as a recluse in an exotic ashram and vowed never to use my new-found powers for evil, as I watched the sunset bathe airy pagodas in rays of orange light.
And now I’m stuck here. The writers shelved their manuscripts, the editors archived the footage, the producers closed the marketing deals. The film was an exercise in tongue-in-cheek metafiction, something about breaking down the fourth wall, and was met with limited success. Soon, everyone moved on to the next big thing.
As all other scripted locations were damaged, destroyed or repurposed, I count myself fortunate that my adventure’s final chapter brought me to this place. The monks are solemn, but friendly, the food is edible and the library is well stocked, though markedly skewed towards Eastern mystics. The grounds are spacious and clean, and the prayer flags strung between hillside stupas make for a strangely uplifting sight in the morning mist.
Nothing much to do here, except eat, sleep, read and think. I’ve grown a tidy pouch, munching on dumplings with yak butter tea in the afternoons, pouring over the popular science magazines the librarian was kind enough to order in for me. All I have to do to earn my keep is follow the daily rigour of meditation and chants.
I’ve been here for two years now. Even if a sequel had been pitched, I guess it wasn’t picked up by the studios. Over time, I realised there are others forsaken like me. Some have been stuck for a long time. Perhaps their franchises were discontinued. Or reimagined. I recognise them by their reluctance to talk. The monks say they have reached ‘nirvana’. Apparently we’ll all escape the samsaric cycle, sooner or later.
I had been conceived as a smart, witty character. Hard to impress. So naturally I thought that ‘awakening’ is going to be something banal. They say that, in the end, everything disappoints.
Inmates here come in three flavours. Those that believe to have attained some manner of enlightenment and live out their days in hazy, bemused bliss. Those that come up against some imaginary inner demon and are defeated by their own lack of persistence. They slowly fade. And those that discover within themselves some well of darkness, a void of infinite diameter, and end their lives by their own hand.
None of these paths enticed me, so I finally took recourse to my keepsake from the erstwhile lab of the evil genius. It was a tiny vial that he had carried on his person, something that should have ensured his continuity after his inevitable defeat. A potion to make him real, outside the plane of fiction. His cackling speech to this effect had given me the necessary time to foil his plans.
I wish I had thought this through before I broke the neck of the glass and downed the purplish liquid.
Passed out as a character, woke up as a person and yet I’m still here. I smell of sweat by midday, grow stubbles and have occasional indigestion, get winded from climbing the stairs when it’s my turn to spin the prayer wheel, and I develop headaches from the monastic moonshine. Worst of all, I think with a human mind. Gone is the peace of stand-by between scenes of purposeful activity. I’m aware of my mortal nature – and I fret.
My awakening brought the ultimate horror. The realisation that I issue from a work of fiction dreamt up by mortals.
I stare at my first wrinkle, a spiteful reminder that expiry is not inevitable, but merely an intermediate rung on the evolutionary ladder towards immortality. And through the vagaries of the cosmic lottery, I was conceived by an author in his own image: capable of reflection on his existence and given to anxiety about its eventual termination, but part of too early a generation to attain the objective of that innermost sentient instinct – the avoidance of death.
And now I’m hungry again.