The Bargaining Protagonist
I sat alone, bathed by the amber light of sunset, scribbling away in my studio apartment as my eyes drooped from sleep deprivation and my stomach growled from hunger. Every corner of the room was covered in loose documents of forgotten plot lines and concepts that I would never fully complete. I honestly didn't know if my bed had proper sheets anymore or if I slept under a pile of half-written manuscripts.
To-date, I had published 10 novels over 10 years and sold 100,000 copies. Unfortunately, 99,980 sales came from a single novel: A Tale of War and Famine, a heart-wrenching story of a world stricken by war and disease such that all of humanity had been pushed into a single city, no larger than modern-day Boston. In the novel, the water in the city also became contaminated with yet another plague, this time with the potential to kill off 50% of the remaining population.
The main character, Dr. Jerry Curie, a descendant of Marie Curie, had found the contaminated water early when his daughter became infected. He spent weeks trying desperately to find a cure as his family died off one-by-one, and in in the last chapter of the book, he had finally done it. Unfortunately, at that time, he was only able to synthesize enough for one person, the disease was quickly spreading to the remaining human population, and his wife -- his only remaining family member -- was at her deathbed with only hours to live.
Worse, he had found himself coming down with symptoms and knew that he would not be able to generate another dose if he was sick as well. With this, he was left with an impossible choice: to save his wife or himself.
In the last few paragraphs of the book, Jerry is in the hospital and holding his wife's hand, both of them silent and trying to make sense of everything. As his wife slipped out of consciousness for the last time, Jerry gave her a hug and pulled the vial from his coat pocket, staring at it through tear-stricken eyes.
"I'm sorry Carole," He said, "But this is for the greater good."
He then drinks the cure to save himself, and the book ends.
If I'm honest, it wasn't my best novel, but it was the one that sold the most. I had to turn it into a series to pay the bills.
The only problem was that this novel was never meant to have a sequel. All the plot lines had wrapped up, except one: how would Jerry synthesize enough of the cure for the rest of humanity? I knew the audience would want another miserable tale where Jerry desperately tries to save everyone and fails, but was this enough for a full book?
It had to be.
As I tapped my pen on the page, trying to figure out the best plot, I heard thumping and yelling from my upstairs neighbors. If this novel did not sell, I would quit my dream of being an author and move back in with my parents. I was already at my wit's end and could not take another year living as I had been.
Even with the noise, I found my eyes were too heavy to keep open and before I knew it I had fallen asleep. I opened my eyes to a hospital bed with an older man grasping the hand of his dying wife.
It was Jerry.
I saw him drink the vial with tears in his eyes and then drop it on the hospital floor, shattering to pieces. He then continued to tend to his wife for hours, even as nurses advised him to leave. He would look up, still crying, and slowly shake his head, mouthing the words he could not say, "No. I will stay no matter what."
After some time, Jerry's wife faded away, leaving Jerry alone in the hospital room with his hands running through his hair. I didn't know what to do or say, so I stood up, put my hand on his shoulder, and said, "I am sorry for your loss."
Jerry looked to me and spoke for the first time since his wife passed away, "It's my fault, I could have..." he trailed off and buried his head again in his hands.
"It's not your fault, Jerry." I sighed, "If it's anyone's fault, it's mine."
Jerry sat in silence for a few seconds before asking, "How do you know my name? Who are you?"
"Ah. I'm your author. I made you and this world."
"You made me?" Jerry asked, still not looking up.
"Yeah. You are a character in my book."
"So that means... How much of my life did you write?"
"All of it, I guess?" I drew a deep breath, "In my world, there was no plague."
Again Jerry sat in silence. Without looking up, he began to speak slowly, "Then you can fix this."
"Well, I could..."
"Just write a new book! A book where my cure saves everyone, including..." He paused again and I saw a tear roll down his cheek. "Did my wife pass away in the book yet?"
"No, not technically."
"Then save her. I'll do anything if you just save her." He grabbed my forearm looked me in the eye, but his gaze quickly dropped again and he let go.
"I can't." I found a seat on the other side of the hospital room and sat down, analyzing him from a safe distance. "The people have spoken. I have bills to pay."
"So you are not writing a sequel because the book didn't make enough money?" Jerry sat in shock, but eventually nodded to himself. "That's ok. At least I will live in a world frozen in time to before Carole dies."
"Well... Not exactly. Your book was actually really profitable, so I wanted to continue the story."
He looked up. I had never felt such a piercing gaze. "So what does that mean?"
"It means your life is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better, I'm afraid."
Without saying a word, Jerry dropped his head into his hands and began sobbing once again.
I didn't know what to say or how to console him, so we sat in silence until I found myself awake again in my apartment. I lifted my head and along with it came scraps of drool-stained paper. As I peeled them off my face, I looked down where I read a single line that I did not remember ever writing:
Prompt: You, a struggling writer, are currently negotiating with the Main Protagonist. You need this next book to sell for rent and food. They need this next book to be popular while minimizing casualties/deaths so their World will survive. Unfortunately, your readers are already expecting something...