Monday, November 19, 2018

The Bureau of Fictional Character Placement

What follows is the first of six (currently) Mark Flyleaf stories. I'll be publishing a new one here each Monday morning through Christmas Eve. I hope you enjoy them.

The Bureau of Fictional Character Placement

"Good afternoon Mister . . . " Mark glanced at the form on his desk " . . . Burton. Please, have a seat." Mark gestured to the chair opposite his desk and then sat down himself.

"Please, call me Jim."

"Certainly," Mark said.

Jim walked into the small office. He was dressed in green fatigues, dirty black combats boots, and a leather flight jacket over a green shirt, and dragging a good six feet of stained white silk behind him. He sat in the proffered chair and pulled the silk the rest of the way into the room, heaping it up on the floor to his right. Then he leaned back in his chair and swiped the door closed.

"Welcome to the Office of Fictional Character Placement, Jim. My name is Mark Flyleaf. I understand that you want to find a position in a story?"

"Yes, sir," Jim said. "I've done some tertiary work in the past, but I was really hoping I could move up to a lead role."

Mark consulted Jim's application. "You've only listed one story on your application here. One isn't quite the same as some."

"Oh, well, I took part in two or three other short stories. Flash fiction. They never made it into publication."

"I see. So, essentially, volunteer work?"

Jim spoke in curt, military outbursts as befit his uniform. "Yes, sir."

Mark lied. "That's quite all right. Many of our clients begin with small roles like that before they move on to the big time. Nothing to be ashamed of."

"No, sir."

Mark laid the application on his desk and straightened his pen beside it. He had dealt with characters like these before. No experience, but big, unrealistic dreams of being a literary centerpiece. An archetype, even. Mark tried to help, but he knew characters like this rarely left satisfied. "Let's talk about the published position you did have, shall we? You were working with Mister . . . "

"Heller, sir."

Of course, Mark knew who this character had worked for — it was on the paper in front of him — but experience had taught him that open-ended questions encouraged potential clients to speak and helped them become more comfortable.

"Tell me about your work with Mister Heller."

"Well, sir, I only had a small part in the story. Didn't even get my name in print."

"Did you find it enjoyable?"

"It was enjoyable enough. But I had really hoped for something with a little more exposure."

"I understand."

"Maybe a love-story subplot? But I do understand that we've gotta take work where we can get it. I am a very hard worker."

"All right. So tell me a little about yourself. What do you do, for instance."

Jim's eyebrows furrowed. He glanced deliberately at the pile of silk on the floor beside him. "I'm a paratrooper. I parachute."

Mark turned to the small computer on the corner of his desk and executed a search for paratrooper. It returned no results. "Well, we don't have much call for paratroopers right now. Do you do anything else?"

"Um . . . " Jim drummed his fingers on his knee. "Not really, no."

Let’s try something a little broader, then, shall we?” Mark typed soldier into the search box. In a few seconds, his screen returned a long list of glowing green listings. Mark scrolled through them, skipping over most of them that required more depth than Jim seemed to have. "We have a lot of smaller parts for zombies. Do you think you could be a zombie?"

Jim grimaced. "It's not really what I am. I suppose, if somebody needed a parachuting zombie . . ."

Mark continued to scroll down the screen. "Is there anything you can do with your parachute besides, you know, jumping out of airplanes?"

"You mean like parasailing?"

Mark executed another computer search and got the same results. He shook his head.

"I could hang on to the back of a car at the end of a drag race."

Mark raised his eyebrows at him.

"I've heard that somebody getting wrapped up in his own parachute can be pretty funny."

"I hadn't considered comedy writing," Mark said. His fingers flashed across the keyboard as he combed through the listings. Plenty of comedy opportunities, but slapstick was going out of fashion."Sorry, Jim. I don't have anything in that area either."

They both scratched their heads.

"I have also heard," Jim said haltingly, "that a white parachute like mine can cause rather a panic when it comes down in the middle of the night. It looks like a ghost descending. Or so I've been told. Any chance you have some non-zombie horror positions available?"

A spark ignited in Mark's mind. "Now that you mention it, we got a new listing just yesterday that you might fit the bill for." His fingers danced as he searched for the right listing based on his partial memory of it. "Ah, here it is!"

Jim leaned forward expectantly while Mark scanned the complete listing.

"How do you feel about children?" Mark asked.

Jim shrugged. "I've never really worked with children before. But I'm not against them."

"All right. All right. This looks right up your alley."

"Is it a lead role?"

"No, no. It's a small role, but the author assures us that it's a very important one."

Jim leaned back in his chair looking dejected. "I was really hoping for a lead role."

"Look, let me level with you. As much as it may pain you to hear this, in my professional opinion, you really aren't ready for a lead role."

Jim stared at the floor but didn't say anything.

Mark said, "Once you get a few more stories under your belt, build up some literary depth, maybe then you'll be ready to move onto something more . . . developed."

"So I can't get a good role until I have more experience, but I can't get more experience unless I can get a good role?"

"I know it seems like a . . . whatchamacallit?"

"Catch twenty-two?"

"Exactly, but it can be done. I think this role I've got here will be perfect to help you develop as a character."

Jim sighed. "All right. What is it?"

"The job is for William Golding. It seems he has a small island full of schoolboys, and he's looking for someone with a military background to 'drop in.'" Mark waggled his eyebrows. "You'll probably be providing some fatherly guidance to these young ones. Are you interested?"

Jim thought about it for a second. "What's it pay?"

Mark scrolled to the bottom of the listing. "It's promising at least three pages, plus about a dozen references elsewhere in the book."

"Well," Jim said. "It's more than I got with Heller. I'll take it."