"It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read."
"Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die."
"The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means."
"I could deny it if I liked. I could deny anything if I liked."
---Selected Quotes from The Importance of Being Earnest
The Chronicles of Candace
The musty room was quite unlike what she'd expected. She could only afford a second-rate Chronicler, though, so she shouldn't have expected more. Books were everywhere and not the shiny, flat digitals that she was anticipating in a Chronicler's shop--these were thick leather-bound volumes. Everything was brown and aged. No, this was not at all what she'd expected, and she turned to leave before she was seen.
"Hello. Is someone there?" a man's voice called. He limped in then, leaning heavily on a cane. His snow white hair was tufted just above his ears and thinning elsewhere. He wore glasses--glasses! It had been decades since she'd seen anyone wearing glasses.
"I must be in the wrong store," she said, sure that it was so.
"You've come to have your life rewritten?" the Chronicler asked, examining her.
Candace didn't like the casual air about him--as if she was asking for nothing more than a cup of sugar. It had been a big step to give up--to admit that she was making an absolute mess of her life and someone else could do better.
"Yes, I have, but I'm looking for something better not worse," she said, frowning severely.
His laugh turned into a dusty cough, and he smacked his cane against the ground, saying, "Oh... well then... Let's get started on your happily ever after right away."
There was something in the way he said it-- a cunning-- that she mistrusted, but Candace couldn't afford a first-rate Chronicler. Nonetheless, she followed him through the stacks and stacks of brown books to a writing desk with a quill, a bottle of ink, and a single sheet of paper.
"Where is your digital reality creator?" she asked, eyeing the blank page. People still used paper?
"All in good time, my dear," he said, indicating she should sit in front of the desk. "So, you want me to tweak your life? You realize, of course, that you might be forced to adjust your reality to suit those that adjust theirs?"
"Of course, but can't I come back for an update?" Candace asked, worriedly. It would be just like her cousin Maura to ruin her new reality.
"Of course... of course.... If you'd like, but it's a slippery slope, and there are rules on what I can adjust. I can't change people or situations... only events."
"I know... I know.... I've read all the books before I decided. I've read Clayton's "A More Ideal Reality" and James's "Demand the Best Life You Can."
He held the quill over the blank page, paused, and stopped to stare at her. "What about the old books--when reality wasn't created?"
"Naturally, I haven't read those," she said in horror. "They're fiction. We've been counselled not to read those."
He snorted and dipped the quill in the ink pot. "Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read." His hand was covered in age spots and gnarled slightly, and the quill's feather shivered slightly as he wrote, "Miss Candace Brooks."
"How did you know my name?" she asked.
"I'm a Chronicler," he said as if this answered her question, and maybe it did. Chroniclers were born to adjust reality and few understood why or how they were the way they were. It was seemingingly mystical and magical, but, of course, Candace didn't believe in such things.
"Now then... let's talk about your family. Who shall we kill?" he asked.
"Kill?" she repeated, eyes widening.
"Of course, you're young, Candace, and surely some of them are standing in the way to your happiness. A train wreck... though I guess few people take the train these days, so they might be suspicious if we tried to get them on one. Oh... how about a nice zoo animal mauling? I haven't done one of those for quite a while."
"You're going to kill off my family?"
"Naturally. Easiest way to change a path. Kill people. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die."
Candace couldn't quite close her mouth despite the fact that even the air of the Chronicler's shop was thick with dust. "You can't do that! The books all said...."
"Bah," he said. "I'm a Chronicler--I can do whatever the hell I want, my dear Candace. If you'd like to play God, let's do this right. Now then, your Aunt Cecily is rather tedious, isn't she?"
"Aunt Cecily has had a very difficult time of it. She lost her whole family in World War III," Candace said, glaring. Her aunt was a horrible person, but she had a reason and a right, didn't she? Yes. If anyone had wanted to bend reality to suit her, you'd think her aunt would be at the front of the line. Frowning, she said, "Perhaps, you could have someone stop by and help my aunt. I don't think she gets visitors very often."
The Chronicler threw the quill down, saying, "Come now, Candace, you could do that on your own after you leave here. You're wasting my time. I'm here to fix the things that you don't care to--not inspire you."
"Well, I don't want my reality to ruin others' lives," she said earnestly.
His shrewd eyes stared through her.
"Let's not kill anyone," Candace said, shifting in the hard, wooden seat. Why didn't he have the new conforming-liquid seats that the other shops did?
"Very well," he said, finally. "Let's talk about love, then. Who would you like to love you?"
"Care for me?" Candace squinted at him, seeking clarification.
"No, that's a watered-down emotion that you've got already all around you. I'm prepared to write out a torrid love affair with groping and passion. Passion, Candace! That's what you need." He picked up his quill again. "A stranger-- strangers are always good for such things." He pointed at her with the quill's tip and said, "You may need new clothing. In fact, I would pack extra clothing just in case it's torn off you in a heated moment of ecstasy."
Her cheeks on fire, Candace whispered, "I thought you couldn't force someone to love another. It's not allowed. You could be barred from Chronicling."
"Only if I'm caught and who is to say that the person standing just outside my door hasn't been stalking you, hoping to declare his undying devotion. So you see, I could deny it if I liked. I could deny anything if I liked." Pursing his lips, he commented, "I could, in fact, deny I just said that, and they'd believe me--they always do. I could write that out too."
Candace's eyes flicked to the front door. Wouldn't it be better to have something like that happen naturally? "Just outside the door?" she whispered. Shaking her head, she said, "Can't it just be something normal--not drastic? I just want a few nice things to happen."
He rolled his eyes, saying, "You could do that. That's not what I'm here for. Wait! I have it. I have the perfect reality for you."
His quill hovered above the paper, but Candace leaned forward and put her hand flat where he would have written. This was too much.
"No one dies... and nothing passionate, right?"
Heaving a sigh, he said, "Very well. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means."
"Fiction?" she repeated, distastefully. "I don't want fiction! I want reality!"
Slapping his hand flat on the table, he rose up, saying, "Well, then what are you doing in my shop?" Crumpling up the paper, he tossed it in the wastebasket beside the desk. "Go make your own reality, Candace, and stop wasting my time!"
"I will," she said, jumping to her feet and glaring at him. In a huff, she strode through the dusty, brown shop and out the door.
The Chronicler smiled and took the paper from the waste basket, flattening it with a hand that was no longer old or gnarled. "Now then, Miss Candace Brooks lived happily and unhappily, but she lived." He wrote the words beneath her name and shook sand across the ink to absorb the excess. Blowing the sand away, he filed her paper along with the others in the book of life.