The Fifth Rule

What if the protagonist and the antagonist were the same character?

*  *  15  *  *

Or somebody with a broken nose pushes a mop past me and whispers:

“Everything’s going according to the plan.”

Whispers:

“We’re going to break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world.”

Whispers:

“We look forward to getting you back.”

Arthur closed the book and took off his glasses. “Well damn,” he muttered to the empty room. “Bastard was right again.” He rose from his chair, took the book to the shelf and placed it between Fahrenheit 451 and Flat Stanley.

After pouring himself a glass of scotch, sat down at his desk, picked up his phone’s receiver and worked its dial.

“Well?” said an expectant voice on the other side of the line.

“I owe you twenty bucks,” replied Arthur.

“I told you someone had already written it!”

“And one of these days I might learn to listen to you.”

“So what’d you think of it?”

“It was better than anything I could have written,” said Arthur.

“Now stop it, old man. You know that’s not true.”

“Being the world’s foremost expert on myself,” Arthur replied, “I feel quite confident in saying definitively, no. I most certainly could not have written it better.”

“Whatever you say,” said the man on the other side. “Hey, you sound funny. I thought you got rid of that damned rotary phone last year.”

“Are you kidding me? I’m never getting rid of this thing! The wife made me move it out of the living room, but she can’t stop me from putting it in my office.”

“Right. Big man.”

“Only the biggest,” said Arthur sarcastically.

“Speaking of, are you coming down to Vico’s tonight?”

“I can’t. Thanks to somebody, I have to start all over.”

“Don’t shoot the messenger, old man. I was just trying to help.”

“Yeah, yeah. You’re always just trying to help,” Arthur teased.

“Pfft. You know it! See you tomorrow. And make sure you bring the twenty bucks you owe me. I ain’t about to forget this time.” And without waiting for a response, the man hung up the phone.

Arthur walked over to the bookcase and began perusing for further inspiration. One book in particular caught his eye. “Son of a bitch,” he said as he picked up The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “I should have known as soon as I thought of it. I mean, it’s not exactly, but pretty damn close.” He returned the book to the shelf and sat back down in his easy chair, retrieving his laptop from the coffee table.

He tried desperately to come up with something new, but he had been beating this concept around for so long that it was the only thing he could think about. “Perhaps,” he thought to himself, “I can come up with a twist on it.”

“Really,” replied a much more derisive version of himself. “You’re going to come up with a twist on a twist?”

“Maybe just a new way to approach it.”

“Yeah,” came the sarcastic response, “that’ll work. I’m sure.”

“Oh you’re right,” he said, surrendering to himself. “There just aren’t any new ideas to have. Are there?”

“Nope. They’ve all been taken.”

“So then what the hell am I doing with my life?”

“Beats me.”

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