“Oh please!” shouted The Writer. “You simply must be kidding me!”
We had just taken our seats on the plane as The Traveler finished his tale and, though I feel that he had some more to add, The Writer stopped him after the one-liner. The Traveler tossed his pack into the overhead compartment, took his seat in the middle section of the plane, and looked at The Writer, who was seated to his right. “What?”
The Drunkard, who, upon boarding the plane, snatched the drinks menu from the seat pocket in front of him, added his own take to the conversation, “Yeah, Writer, what?”
“You don’t see it?” asked the Writer, rubbing his temples and stammering nonsense words.
The rest of us looked at each other and gave a collective shrug. “No,” said The Student. “Enlighten us as to what we’re supposed to be seeing.” The Student, The Drunkard, and The Stalker were seated in the row in front of The Traveler, The Writer, and I. All of us being in the middle section, we found it quite easy to turn around and address each other when the need arose.
“It’s contrived.” said The Writer, holding up his fingers and ticking off his points as he made them. “It’s sensational tripe. It’s completely unrealistic. It makes no grand comment about anything in any matter that could be called artistic, it—”
“Now hold the fuck on a minute,” said The Drunkard. “You’re kidding, right? It’s a story about a guy who is about to get shanked on the street and you’re talking about artistic merit?” The Drunkard waved The Writer’s objections away. “Go shit in the ocean.”
“Now, hold on,” said The Student.
“What, you’re taking his side?”
“Wait,” said The Student.
“Yeah, give him a chance,” said The Traveler, who was shockingly calm about being slammed by a critic.
“Thank you,” continued The Student. “I’ll admit, what The Traveler has told us is not particularly literary, but I doubt that you could, Writer, in any good conscience, make the remark that any story in its time that revolves around bloodshed, was seen as anything other than pulp fiction by the academic establishment, or the critical establishment, etc.”
“Pah,” said The Writer, “Poe, for example, was al—”
“When we arrive in the U.K., I ask you to find me a source from Poe’s time saying that he was a literary genius. Even if it is the case that such things were said, I point you to Kurt Vonnegut, who was initially branded as science-fiction, and thus unworthy of serious consideration. It took quite a bit for him to be seen as worthwhile. My point, oh stubborn one, is that simply because there is sensationalism, or anything beyond an existential crisis, in a story, does not mean that the story has no merit. Even being entertaining in its own rite is indicative of merit.”
“You are in the wrong. All fiction must have artistic merit, otherwise it is as worthless as reality television.”
“So I guess this means that you’re not a Stephen King fan,” said The Drunkard.
“Ha!” exclaimed the Writer. “Stephen King is not worth a second glance on the bookshelves. Tell me, Stalker, where do you fall in this debate?”
The Stalker, who had been sitting silently in his seat, slowly rose and faced The Writer. His eyes became slits and he said, in a low, steady voice, “I shall make a voodoo doll in your likeness.” Then, he returned to his previous position.
“Ah,” said The Writer. “Well. Okay then.”
An uncomfortable silence passed.
“Well,” said The Drunkard, “I say that it was a pretty decent story, and a good enough kick-off to our contest. Probably could have used a little more in terms of tension-building, but hey, nice going for off the top of your head.”
The Traveler bowed his head a little, “I tried.”
“What say,” I said, “we break from our contest until after our meal, that way the next storyteller has the advantage of beginning with a well-fed and energetic mind?”
There was a general consensus that this was a good idea and we each retired to our own ways to fritter away the time until the dinner hour fell upon us.