Suddenly, The Drunkard stopped talking and sat back in his seat. He took a swig from his flask, took a drink from the glass in front of him, and started whistling.
“Well?” asked The Traveler.
“Well what?” responded The Drunkard.
The Student leaned forward on the table. “You’re telling me that’s where your story ends?”
“Oh, God no. That would be ridiculous.”
The Writer snorted. “As if you have any idea how to tell a story.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
The Writer cleared his throat. “Shall I count off the mistakes you made? No, for that would take far, far too long. I shall, however, say that the entirety of your introduction could have been summed up in no more than two to five sentences instead of the dragging, alcoholism-glorifying dung you threw at us. I mean, really, what was that? Do you expect your audience to slog through such a list without yawning or, worse, chucking your book through a window?”
“And what would you suggest?” said The Drunkard, speaking in a low tone that could only be described as pants-shitting-terrifying. “I instead list off the emotional description one would expect to hear from a Livejournal post from a freshman in high school?”
The Writer matched The Drunkard’s tone as best as he could—which, coming from him, turned into a comical and not at all threatening semi-rumble, “The reader needs some emotion other than the desire to drink.”
“The reader,” responded The Drunkard, “is fully capable of deciding to read something other than the pining love letters of an obsessive, jealous maniac who dumps women because they have the sheer audacity,” he pronounced these words about two times louder than any other, “to wink at a man other than their batshit insane boyfriend.”
“Don’t you dare pretend to be capable of understanding my reasons of—”
“I think,” said The Stalker, cutting through the tension with a steel knife in his voice, “that both of you should stop this bickering before we are thrown out of the pub.” He nodded to the bar, “The bartender is glaring at us and, since you started arguing, the lounge has emptied. Now, as I actually like this corner quite a lot,” he continued, “and would like to return here often, I will say that if the two of you do not stop immediately, you will find several dead rodents in your room over the next two weeks.” He finished speaking with a slurp from his cider.
The bartender nodded to The Stalker and brought over another cider. “Compliments of the house,” he said before walking off.
The Drunkard and The Writer glared at each other with red faces.
“I think,” The Student said, “that the two of you should apologize to one another. Clear the air.”
The two combatants muttered apologies at each other.
“Right,” said The Traveler. “We need to lay some ground rules for the future. First of which being the following: All tales must be finished in one sitting. The tale should not be split up into more than one part unless we are interrupted by an outside force—such as The Interloper. As we have not instituted this rule until now, The Drunkard will be allowed leeway in his tale; he shall be allowed to continue his tale in the manner already proscribed under the agreement that his tale shall not exceed three parts, and each part shall be judged as a singular entity in its own right, without regard to the preceding part. Are we in agreement?”
I, personally, was amazed that The Traveler could exercise such a legalistic turn of mind off the cuff. I would have required at least two days to come up with any sort of rule resembling what he just turned out. That aside, we all agreed to the rule he set forth, as it seemed just and fair for each of us be courteous to the rest and not leave everyone hanging, so to speak.
“Good,” continued The Traveler. “Next, in regards to the criticisms immediately following the telling of a tale: As this is, in theory, an exercise in storytelling, we must treat this contest as a sort of workshop; the ultimate deciding factor—in place of a grade in a workshop class—at the end of a workshop being the final judgment of our party. Now, in a workshop, it is imperative for all involved to be courteous to one another and refrain from personal attacks.”
At this, The Writer and The Drunkard grumbled.
Unfazed, The Traveler continued: “All criticisms immediately following the tale shall be made with the preceding in mind. The tales shall be judged on their own merit, with no pretensions to the belief that there is an all-powerful, overriding definition of what makes a legitimate work of literature. If a tale is a fantasy tale, then it shall be judged with that in mind.”
“But fantasy is—” started The Writer.
“I repeat,” said The Traveler, using a tone of voice usually reserved for angry fathers speaking to children who will not stop complaining, “all tales shall be judged without literary pretensions. None of us—especially you, Writer—are Hemmingways or Dickenses or Rowlings or Tolkiens or, etc. etc. ad infinitum. All tales shall be judged to the merits of whatever genre they are in. If a member of our party has an inherent hatred of a genre, then they will refrain from speaking following the telling of a tale, so as to avoid any unnecessary criticism based on biases. I’ve been in several workshops and—”
“What?” spat the Writer. “When?”
Had you not seen the vein poking out of his forehead at that moment, you would have not known that The Traveler was annoyed at the interruption. “Five years is a while to be in college, and I’ve been in enough Creative Writing classes to know your type, Writer. You’re a bad influence for anyone who is putting the Creative before the Art of Writing, if you get my drift.” Indeed, we did. The capital letters were quite audible. “Now, the best writing classes I’ve been in—the ones that produce stories that have been published—are the ones that act in such a manner, the ones that place respect for the author and respect for the story above all else. Are we all in agreement with the suggestions I have put forth?”
Everyone but The Writer agreed, and he eventually nodded and grumbled the affirmative.
“Good, then we shall abide to these rules to the best of our abilities,” finished The Traveler. “As we have all finished our drinks, we have the option of remaining here or going our separate ways and adjourning our meeting for the time being.”
“I think,” said The Writer, “that I need to go to my café for a while.” What he didn’t say was the words “you troglodytes,” though we could all see that he wanted to say such by the contorted, red face he was making. At any rate, he stood, drained the rest of his glass, put on his flat cap, and left.
“And I,” said The Student, “shall head back to campus. Maybe the cleaners have finished my flat and I can cook before the Chinese turn it back into a swamp.” He put on his jacket and left the pub.
“Drunkard,” I said, “are you sticking around?”
He shot a quick glance at The Stalker and said, “No, I’m… uh, going to head off to… somewhere else. You know. Things to do and whatnot.” He practically bolted out of the pub.”
The Traveler sighed, finished his drink and said to The Stalker and I, “I was thinking about poking around the Cathedral for a bit. I haven’t been in there yet, and have heard it’s absolutely gorgeous inside. You two want to come?”
The Stalker slurped from his drink. “I think,” he said, “that I shall stay here for the time being. Get my thoughts in order.” He pulled out his laptop, started it up, and immediately put in his earbuds.
I turned to The Traveler and shrugged. “Guess that means I’m coming with you.”