Adventures of a Self-Aware Character

Ever read a book where you questioned a character's decision? Maybe you felt the way they acted was cliche or just plain stupid. That's life for Martin, a man in his early twenties who lives in a world where every character is predictable and every story is predictable. Worse, when he tries to alter their cliched lives or point out their stupidity, he only ensures their cliched ways will continue.

Meet the self-aware character.


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1. Chapter 1 - Obligatory Exposition

Chapter 1 – Obligatory Exposition

Martin stared at the ceiling, examining with feigned interest the crack that ran from the left corner to the right. His legs were stretched out across the bed, stiff from being in the same position for too long. He shifted his head slightly, angling his neck so he could get a full view of this ceiling blemish. It was silent in the room except for the ticking of the clock on the wall. Martin had been there long enough that this noise didn’t even irritate him any more – it simply blended in with the silence. Somewhere in the flat, Martin knew that his food was burning in the microwave. He also knew that there would be a problem very soon involving a flaming microwave oven and cremated popcorn. The smell was wafting through the open door. Taking a deep breath in, Martin swung his legs over the side of the bed and shifted his gaze from the ceiling to the walls. Standing up, he wiggled a leg to regain feeling in it as he checked the time. 3:25. Still a couple of hours till he’d have company. An almost inaudible ping sound came from the kitchen. He stood, clicked his back and walked out the bedroom door.

 

A few minutes later, Martin was staring at the broken microwave. While he was staring at the ceiling, the excessive amount of popcorn had pushed against the door with such force that the door had simply burst open, spilling popcorn all over the floor. Examining the door hinges, he discovered that he was lucky it hadn’t occurred earlier. Both hinges were rusted so much that Martin was unsure if the metal had originally been silver or copper red. He shrugged, grabbed several bowls from the cupboard and filled them with popcorn. After filling five large bowls with popcorn (and still having some left behind), he decided to abandon all hope of pretending he didn’t break the microwave, instead deciding to let the mess speak for itself. He put these bowls on a tray and took them into the cramped office space he and his flatmate shared, placing the tray on top of a pile of books about CV writing and interview techniques. Martin sat in the lone swivel chair, spun around till he faced the desk, opened his laptop and cracked his knuckles.

 

“Ok.” He said to no-one in particular. “Let’s try again.”

 

Faced with a blank page on-screen, Martin took a handful of popcorn from one of the bowls and positioned his fingers over the keyboard keys. And waited.

 

An hour later, the page was still blank. He sighed, and tried again. His fingers moved over the keys slowly, hesitating over each word.

‘What about…no, no, that’s not a good sentence. How about…nope, no good either.” Martin mumbled to himself as he repeatedly formed and reformed the same sentence. He checked the clock – not even five yet. Admitting defeat for now, Martin reached for more popcorn and grabbed his phone. No texts, no messages. He sent a text to his flatmate anyway.

 

U done with the interview?

 

He chewed the popcorn slowly, waiting for a response. It didn’t take long to get one.

 

yup. b ther in 5

 

Martin quickly typed out an acknowledgement whilst simultaneously grabbing more popcorn, hoping his friend had got the job. Granted, a job working supermarket tills wasn’t at the top of his job list, but it was a job nonetheless. Plus, he thought, if he got the job, he’d be in a good mood and won’t care as much that the microwave exploded.

 

Realising that he’d eaten an entire bowl of popcorn, Martin stood up and closed the laptop. His non-existent book would have to wait another day. For now, he’d have to be content with writing weekly articles for magazines. Sighing, he sank into the armchair, switching on the TV in defeat.

 

It wasn’t long before he heard keys jangling in the lock. There was a pause, then the door swung open on its creaking hinges.

 

“Hey.” Martin said as his flatmate walked in. The man himself didn’t look too happy. Guessing he didn’t get the job, Martin stood up and closed the door to the kitchen, stepping in front of the broken microwave as he shut it. “How did it go, Simon?”

 

Simon sighed at the floor, then looked up. “We got post.” He said in a monotone voice. He bent over to pick two envelopes up and walked through the living room to his bedroom, throwing the post on the armchair. He threw himself onto his bed. “And no, I didn’t get the job, before you ask.”

Martin walked into his friend’s room.

“Well…you can always try something else. Someone’ll have you.”

Simon gave Martin a withering look, before groaning and holding his hands over his face. Martin shifted feet awkwardly.

“Um…I’ll go and check the post. You never know, it might be good news.”

He heard Simon’s ‘Yeah, right’ drifting out after him as he walked back to the armchair. Both were addressed to him. The first one was the rent bill. Martin decided to pocket this and tell Simon about it later. The second letter he looked at for a while, not moving. He didn’t dare. A while ago, he entered a competition, where young writers were asked to produce a short story. The winner not only won a decent sum of money, but also got the opportunity to write in their monthly magazine. Martin began to feel his palms sweat. Of course, he couldn’t have won. There were thousands of people entering, after all. And he was by far not the best writer out there.

 

But then again, they wouldn’t sent letters to people that didn’t win. They’d ring.

 

Martin turned the letter over and over in his hands. He heard Simon call out from behind him what the matter was, heard himself reply with ‘Nothing’. His fingers hesitated over the seal a moment longer, before he couldn’t stand it any longer and he ripped the envelope open. Inside was a lone piece of paper.

 

Dear Martin S.’ the letter began.

We at the “Writers of the Future” magazine would like to congratulate you on providing us with a magnificent piece of writing. Your story, “Empty Rooms”, really captured the attention of our judges, as well as several of the people here at headquarters.

 

Unfortunately, we are unable to offer you the deal with the magazine. However, since we were impressed with your story, we have decided to offer you £500. This will be sent in the form of a cheque very shortly.

 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for entering our competition, and we hope that you continue to produce thought-provoking stories such as “Empty Rooms” in the future.

 

Kind Regards,

Tracey Odeive, Head co-ordinator at the ‘Writers of the Future’ magazine.’

 

Martin stood in silence, unmoving. They liked his story? At first he thought it was a misprint, but no; they had clearly cited HIS story.

“No way.” Martin said slowly. He heard Simon stand up and walk to his side. A moment later, he heard a sharp intake of breath next to him.

“You…won?” Simon said, almost as shocked as Martin. He nodded down at the paper, still unable to believe his eyes.

 

It took around one second for a reaction.

 

“MARTIN! YOU AMAZING IDIOT! YOU WON!”

“I…did…didn’t I?”

“YES! YES!”

“I…won...in a writing competition…me…”

Simon was jumping up and down, a huge grin on his face.

“Simon?”

Simon stopped and looked at Martin. “Yeah?”

“I won something.”

Simon grinned “You bet! You know what this means, right? CELEBRATION!”

With that, Simon ran to the kitchen and, before Martin could stop him, he had swung the kitchen door open.

“We’re gonna drink that bottle in the fridge, and order pizza, and…what happened to the microwave?”

Martin walked over to the open door and leaned in. Simon was standing still, his foot hovering over a mass of popcorn on the floor, his eyes staring at the broken microwave. His expression was mostly confusion as he tried desperately to figure out how this happened. Martin couldn’t help it – he burst into a fit of laughter. Simon turned around slowly to face Martin, struggling to keep a straight face. He didn’t manage it for long.

“You…you….broke it…with popcorn?” Simon struggled out. Martin didn’t even try to speak, he just nodded. Simon burst out into uncontrollable laughter and bent over, clutching his stomach.

 

A few hours later, the two friends were sitting on chairs in front of the TV; half-watching a re-run of a gameshow, half-absorbed in eating mountains of pizza and popcorn.
“Hey, Martin. You, uh, decided what you’re gonna spend the money on yet?”

Martin, a slice of pizza halfway to his mouth, looked at Simon. “Oh, no.”

“A new microwave?” Simon said with a grin. Martin put the pizza slice down.

“Yeah, but microwaves don’t cost £500. I did have this one idea…”

“Go on, what? A giant TV?”

“No. But I’ve always wanted to visit other countries…”

Simon gave Martin a very odd look. “Uh…that is gonna cost WAY more than £500. And we don’t have much money anyway.”

“I didn’t mean places like the US. No, I meant somewhere like Bulgaria, or Romania.”

“Dude. There’s nothing there. Why’d you want to go there?”

“Because I think that setting might be just what I need to get going again on my book.”

Simon sighed. “Well, whatever. If that’s what you wanna spend your money on. How long will you be there?”

“A couple of days. I have some money saved in the bank, and if I join a tour group then the price is less.”

Simon reached for a bowl of popcorn, his expression somewhat annoyed. Noticing this, Martin took the bowl to get his attention.

“Do you…want to come with me? There’s probably enough money for both of us to go.”

His expression lightened, but Simon tried his best not to show it. “Well, I dunno, it’s probably gonna be boring…”

“Ok, don’t come then.”

Simon sighed. “Fine, I suppose I’ll go to keep you from going insane.”

Martin grinned. “Thanks. I could use a babysitter anyway.”

Simon threw a piece of popcorn at Martin and laughed. “Yeah. Now give me back that bowl.”

 

--

 

“Ah-ha! Found something!” Simon shouted from the living room. Sitting in his office chair, Martin sighed and closed his laptop lid once again, hiding the blank page from view. He sat still for a moment, thinking about how he was going to finance the trip. Sure, if it was just him, he could easily fly out somewhere and spend a good week researching and relaxing. But with Simon as well…

He sighed again and stood up, arching his back in a stretch before looking out the window. It was going to take some sort of miracle to make this trip happen.

“Hey, Martin, you still in there? Come on!”

Turning away from the window, Martin kicked the door open and put his hands in his hoodie pockets. Simon jumped when he heard the crash of the door, turning quickly to face Martin, before relaxing into a grin.

“Oh, you’re alive then?”

Martin grinned back and walked over to the chair Simon was sitting in. His legs were swung over the arm of the chair, his back pressed up against the seat so that he was almost upside down. Martin peered over the back of the chair.

“Uh…is that…comfortable?”

Simon looked up again from his laptop screen. “Huh? Oh, yeah, I guess. You want to see what I found or not?”

Martin shrugged and bent over the chair to face the screen. On the screen was what looked like a forum of sorts. At least, Martin was ninety percent sure that ‘xXTARAWESOMEXx’ wasn’t a real name. After staring at the screen for a moment, a faint bleep was emitted from the laptop, and a new message popped up.

“Simon…what exactly am I looking at here? Are you online dating again?”

Simon turned to Martin, raising an eyebrow.

“No…why would I want to show you that? Look, read these messages.”

Rolling his eyes, Martin bent forward even closer to the screen. After a minute had passed, he took a deep breath and leaned back, looking into Simon’s eyes.

“So if I am to understand this correctly…this is a group of people you’ve never met before who all want to visit Bucharest for various reasons; people who are willing to pay money to go as a group to get cheaper hotel bookings. People who could easily be mass murderers or escaped convicts for all you know.”

Simon blinked once, expression unchanging.

“Yeah?”

“You don’t see a problem with that?”

Simon titled his head to the side, frowning a little.

“No…these people all seem nice enough. Besides, the forum is totally legit. I had to answer all kinds of questions to even get into a forum, and even then I had to convince these people I wasn’t out to kill them.”

Martin sighed loudly, covered his face with his hands and shook his head.

“Dare I ask how you convinced them?

“Skype. I tell you, one of these women even had a list of ‘Europe’s most wanted criminals’ up to see if my face resembled a criminal.”

“And how do you know they’re not going to take my money and run?”

“Mutual trust. I don’t take their money, they don’t take mine.”

“You mean mine.”

It was Simon’s turn to roll his eyes. “Yeah, whatever. Point is that it’s all arranged now.”

Martin’s head shot up from behind his hands.

“…Please don’t say you’ve already paid money.”

Simon grinned. “Even better. I’ve booked us into flights to Bucharest tomorrow. We leave at five in the morning, meet the others at the airport around eight.”

Martin groaned and sank to the floor.

“It didn’t even cost the full five hundred! Martin, I’m telling you, this is genius!”

Martin hid his head between his legs and covered it with his arms, mumbling something about being in some kind of horrific sit-com. Simon leaned backwards to see around the chair, prodding his friend on the shoulder.

“Hey, dude. Trust me on this one.”

When Martin looked up at his friend, there was a murderous look in his eyes that unnerved Simon slightly. Not enough, however, to stop the slow-growing smile on Simon’s face.

“There’s no way to get the money back, I assume?”

“Nope.”

Martin sighed again, suddenly looking twice as old as he did a minute ago.

“…If I wasn’t forced to travel with you now you’ve spent all my money, I’d straight-out kill you.”

Simon grinned.
“That’s the spirit! This is gonna be great!”

Martin groaned again and sank his head back into his lap as Simon started talking about spending the last forty pounds on a new microwave.

There were many words to describe this trip with total strangers his friend had got him into, but ‘great’ wasn’t even close to being one of them.

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