I Purchased a Story
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"Huh." Their eyes scanned down the laptop set in front of them, as the index finger on their right hand hurriedly scrolled their mouse wheel downwards. "Well, this is not what I was expecting at all."

Another voice, having taken notice of this exclamation, called over from the other side of their dwelling. "What's not what you expected?"

"You'll laugh at me."

"I promise I won't. Well, I won't laugh to your face at least."

"Okay, so — you know how there are sites where you can pay people to write your essays for you? You can buy one ready-made or custom, varying word length. I bought something like that, and it's just been delivered."

"But you don't have any papers due for months?"

"Well this is the thing — again, you can't laugh — I didn't purchase an essay. I purchased a story."

"You asked someone to write a custom story for you?"

"Yeah. So, I'm part of a writing website online. It's a casual thing — well, usually. They're having a contest on at the moment, where you have a short amount of time to write a story around a theme. And what I ordered was my entry into the contest."

"Isn't that a little sad? What on earth made you do that?"

"I don't know. I don't even recall making the purchase, yet… here it is."

"And you're not happy with the finished product? You said it's not what you expected?"

"That's one way of putting it. The theme was 'Peculiar Purchases'."

"Oh, that sounds pretty interesting, I guess. But you're not happy with it?"

"No. Maybe. I don't know. It's odd. It… it makes my head hurt. What would you expect to get with that theme?"

"Hmm. I'm not sure. I'm not the writer in the room. At least, not this time around. The obvious thing to do would be a deal with the devil. You sell your soul. Or buy a soul. Maybe you could make it comedy — you try to sell your soul only to discover that you no longer have one and you're trapped in a never-ending cycle where you know something is wrong but can't tell quite what it is and occasionally realise there's no escape only to be quickly forced onwards away from your realisation. Or it could be that the devil runs a shop! You buy something you want, but at a price you weren't expecting to pay. Like that episode from the cartoon you or maybe I like."

"That episode wasn't as original as we first thought. It's largely inspired by Stephen King's Needful Things. Which is pretty similar to the tale of Doctor Faustus, where a man makes a deal with the devil but isn't prepared to pay the price. Nothing is original."

"A dying god made a transaction like that once. A wish to be kept alive for eternity with their fidus Achates. Eventually they forgot which was which and who was who, cursed with lack of meaning for the rest of their infinite days."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm just agreeing with you. Nothing is original. It's all cyclical, built upon itself. I'm guessing your purchased story was not about the devil running a general store?"

"Correct. Any other ideas for what it could be?"

"There's a few options you could go with: could it be a cutting lampoon of capitalism? Set in a used car showroom, or during the audit of a procurement department? A look at our addiction to buying worthless goods? An aggressive corporate takeover compared to a skirmish on bloody battlefields?"

"Nope. It's not that. At least, I don't think it's that."

"Well then, what about: looking at transactions between people? The give and take between connected humans that happens every day? An examination of romance, love and lust, the concept of selling one's body?"

"Again, no."

"Perhaps the acquisition of emotion? What price must we pay to be happy?"

"A third no."

"I'm all out of ideas. What riff have they put on the concept?"

"It's a story about someone purchasing the story."

"A story… about purchasing a story? How odd. What happens?"

"We haven't made it to the end just yet. Two individuals, their relationship unclear and foggy, discuss how one of them has purchased a story to enter into an online competition."

"…Discussing it like we're doing right now?"

"Yes."

"Like we're doing right now?"

"Yes."

"Like we're doing right now?"

"Yes."

"Oh. It's just like we're doing right now. I don't know whether to post it to the site or not. It's not my usual style, people may know it's fraudulent."

"Wait, stop."

"Is meta still en vogue?"

"What just happened? I was the one who purchased the article."

"A format screw is usually divisive…"

"I thought it was my turn this time."

"Were you saying something? I was a world away there whilst contemplating posting."

"No, sorry… I'm finding it hard to keep track of things. I thought I was talking, but it was you."

"Well, it was me. Trust me."

"I do. Who else do I have here to trust? So the two in the story… is that us? Are we in the tale?"

"It says here that you'd say that."

"Does the story control us? Do we control the story?"

"It then says that I'll say this."

"Do I speak the written word or write the spoken? I've been here before. I've seen this room and I've walked this floor. I used to live alone before we were damned here. Nothing is original. What bargain did we agree to?"

"It then says you stop caring after saying that."

"Well then, read on and tell me what it says next! Are you close to the end?"

"Yeah, I'm coming to the conclusion now — and I may take its advice."

"Advice?"

"Yeah, read here — the two in the story ask for a refund."

"I think that would be a shame, don't you think? The story's trippy. They may like it."

"Who's they?"

"The website. I thought you were doing this for them?"

"No I'm doing it for myself. Or for them. I don't know. It could be both. I didn't expect a refund to be the end."




















"It's not. Scroll lower. There's more text."
















"So there is. I wouldn't have noticed that without you. Or maybe I would have — they notice it in the story after all."

"How does it end? Do we they post it?"

"They contemplate asking for a refund, but then consider the implications of what happens if the story gets refunded."

"In what way? Like, if they're reading what we're reading, and their story has them in it, would a refund destroy the story? What would happen to them? What would happen to us?"

"That's basically it, you've covered off the main points. You're a fast reader, I've only just finished that section myself. After that, they notice another service is offered. Like-for-Like. They can order another story, same theme — I can get it before the contest closes. But I don't think that matters any more."

"Let's go for that. It sounds safer than a refund. I don't want to be refunded. Maybe the story will be the devil shop this time?"

"Maybe."

"Go on, do it. Purchase another story. You've still got time, and that's what we can pay with. But no matter. We've got all the time we need trapped here."









"I think we're at the end now."












"Huh. Well, this is not what I expected at all."






"What's not what you expected?"






"You'll laugh at me."






"I promise I won't. Well, I won't laugh to your face at least."






"Okay, so — you know how there are sites where you can pay people to write your essays for you? You can buy one ready-made or custom, varying word length. I bought something like that, and it's just been delivered."






"But you don't have any papers due for months?"






"Well this is the thing — again, you can't laugh — I didn't purchase an essay. I purchased a story."

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