Bertram: Continuing our discussion from October, Chip, tonight is again about word counts, not adding usable words to the manuscript, so let’s see what we can accomplish. The last time we talked, you were running from the volcano.
Chip: For two months, you left me there, running and running and getting nowhere. It was a nightmare.
Bertram: Life gets in the way. I can’t live at your whim.
Chip: My whim? When is any of this my whim? It’s not even my choice. You choose for me.
Bertram: Well, I am your writer.
Chip: But what kind of writer are you? Isn’t a writer supposed to write — always?
Bertram: Not you, too. I get enough of that crap from other writers and books on writing. Who ever thought that one up, anyway? We don’t do anything always. Except breathe.
Chip: I know. You’ve said that before. Enough with the excuses. Can we get on with this?
Bertram: This meaning the interview?
Chip: This meaning my life. You’ve written me into escapades with giant bugs, devil toads, killer rivers, and all sorts of unutterable changes to the earth, yet I never seem to get anywhere.
Bertram: You’re where you’re supposed to be.
Chip: I’m supposed to be in this zoo? Why?
Bertram: You know why.
Chip: Right. Your precious theme. Freedom vs. Security vs. Responsibility. What’s with that? Real writers just write and worry about the theme later. Besides, who cares about theme when they’re reading an adventure story or a science fiction epic or whatever this is.
Bertram: A whimsically ironic apocalyptic allegory.
Chip: Yeah, like that’s going to sell.
Bertram: But it’s the story I want to write.
Chip: Then write it. Don’t piddle your time away on the Internet.
Bertram: I don’t piddle. I work. I’m trying to promote the books I’ve already written.
Chip: That’s just your excuse. You like surfing cyberspace and talking to people.
Chip: Soooo . . . you’re supposed to be thinking of me!
Bertram: I do think of you, but you’re not giving me much to work with. You just wander around —
Chip: Wander? Is that what you think I’m doing? No wonder you’re getting nowhere. Wander. Sheesh.
Bertram: Then what are you doing?
Chip: Learning. Trying to find foods that aren’t feel-good.
Bertram: I liked that idea. What’s wrong with feel-good foods?
Chip: When was the last time you ate something that made you feel comfortable with yourself and your environment? Never, I bet. Food is supposed to nourish. Period. I don’t trust the stuff they feed us in here. And that Francie — she doesn’t understand. She thinks I’m being irresponsible by tasting the vegetation in here. I know it’s dangerous, but I’m trying to take responsibility for myself so I don’t have to rely on my keepers for every little thing. And why do you keep throwing me and Francie together? Don’t even think about having us end up together. She reminds me of my mother, and you know what I think of her.
Bertram: Why aren’t you this forthcoming when I sit down to write?
Chip: Because . . . I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the big shot writer. I’m just the dupe.
Bertram: You consider yourself a dupe? Don’t you realize you’re the hero?
Chip: I’m no hero. Sure, I dived into that ungodly river and rescued the pitbull, but that wasn’t heroic. It was . . . instinct.
Bertram: You don’t think acting instinctively can be heroic?
Chip: Heroism is more than a simple unthinking act. It entails overcoming fear, risking death, self-sacrifice.
Bertram: You did risk death. That seems self-sacrificing to me.
Chip: How could it be self-sacrificing if I didn’t stop to think that it was self-sacrificing? I just did it.
Bertram: We’re getting way off track. This isn’t supposed to be a philosophical discussion but a strategy session to figure out where we go from here.
Chip: I know where I’m going: to search for food. But I can’t do that unless you buckle down and write.
Bertram: Okay, okay. I can take a hint.
Chip: Sheesh. That was no hint. It was a full-blown declaration.
Bertram: So give me something to work with.
Chip: Here’s the deal. I’m standing at the fence, looking out at the world beyond the refuge. A bird as big as a jetliner flies over the land but swerves before it reaches the refuge as if it senses a barrier. Then I feel fingers on my throat, choking me. I try to turn around to see who it is, but all I can manage is to turn further into the strangler’s clutches.
Bertram: How do you feel about that?
Chip: How do you think I feel? I . . . can’t . . . breathe . . .