The Unknown: The Red Line.

Patience, Scott. That’s why I’ve appeared to you today. In order to explain everything. First, aside from the questions you’ve already raised about my supposed demise, doesn’t it strike you as strange that I’m able to communicate with you via this television?”

“Of course. But escaping death seems just a bit more unbelievable, if you ask me.”

“I suppose you’re right. O.K., let’s see, where to begin... Basically, Scott, I became worried about my relationship with you and William. For the most part, we made a great team and we had plenty of great times together, particularly in the beginning when the stakes weren’t as high. But then the whole cult thing got started and I began noting a subtle shift in the way you two reacted to me. I began to detect what seemed like envy or jealousy. It confused me for awhile. After all, you two were responsible for making me a cult leader, but then you began resenting the fact that I was becoming the most interesting character in the hypertext. And then, the more I became a focus of the Unknown, the more you two wrote about me as if you could somehow negate my presence by contriving more tales. Which, of course, had just the opposite effect. Then the carping about how much I was writing began. I could see that things heading in the wrong direction, but I didn’t know what to do. And then things really fell apart in Boston and we all went to detox. Scott, what do you remember about the spaceship and the extraterrestrials?”

“Not much really. I vaguely recall seeing the earth while in orbit, but not much else . . . and, hey, I’m sorry about all the ‘not-writing-enough’ cracks, I was just overworked, and feeling a little under appreciated . . .”

“No apologies necessary. There’s enough fault to go around. Little William here, for instance, packs one nasty lit crit wallop. But anyway. I don’t want to drag this story out too long. The reason you don’t remember much about the spaceship is because the aliens scrubbed yours and William’s memory and planted several advanced-brain-programming hypnosis-like suggestions, one of which brought you and William here today.”


“As soon as William voiced the opinion that I might not be dead, he had the fit you saw that had been programmed into his brain by the aliens. Your programming made you arrange for this room which I had previously designed for this very encounter.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Dirk, this is sounding way too crazy.”

“Any crazier than my becoming a cult leader? Or my assassination on New Year’s Day? Or Frank being a member of the CIA? Or William bungie jumping? Or you marrying a fictional publicist? Look, Scott, you think things are crazy now, just you wait. Those aliens are members of a transdimensional hyperfictional race that roam across various galaxies, dimensions, and timelines looking for fun ways to intervene in stories they take a fancy to. As such, they not only help manipulate stories, places, people, and things, they can sometimes tell you how the story will end. They told me that the tension building in the Unknown would inevitably result in my death and they offered me a way out.”

And that was . . . ?”

“Roughly speaking, clones. Not real clones, in the sense of taking one of my cells and growing a whole new me, because that doesn’t work; apparently you can’t regrow memories as easily as you can grow bodies. So instead they gave me several versions of myself that they harvested from the infinite number of timelines that populate the omniverse. As near as I understand it, the multiple universe theory postulated by quantum physics is true, but some alternate realities are more vibrant than others: some just become dead ends. And it was from those dead-end realities that they plucked a half-dozen “Dirks” that I could use as decoys for those times when you and William got out of hand.”

“So, the “Dirk” that got killed was one of those dead-end timeline clones?”

“Yep. I mean, it was a real death, but as the aliens explained to me, since he wasn’t supposed to be in this reality in the first place, it was just as well that he got offed. If multiple versions of the same person stay in the same reality too long, bad things can happen, I guess.”

“And the vampire episode?”

“Same deal. Didn’t you think it was strange that you actually were able to convince “me” to come to the lab without any of my followers? That wasn’t my modus operendi at all, and yet you managed to get “me” there without any trouble at all. And note the quotation marks around “me.” Remember how the Gospels take such trouble to always put “Dirk” in quotation marks? Now you know why.”

“But how did I escape death with a vampire chomping on my arteries?”

“The aliens had to intercede at that point. I guess time travel is not an exact science and they can’t forsee everything that’s going to transpire. But once they saw what was going down, they did a little timeline manipulation and brought me in to help clean up the mess. One reason I haven’t been writing much hypertext is that I continually had to fuss around with all the chaos you two guys constantly engender. It’s been exhausting, let me tell you. Anyway, things are coming to close, hypertext-wise, at least until we start the second one, which as you know will involve time travel. William remembered that much from his visit in the spaceship.”

“So what else is going to happen in the future? Did they let you in on our respective fates?”

“They only tell you what they think you need to know. They’re manipulative little bastards sometimes, just like all authors. But get this: the hypertext wins an international hypertext competition! And we all get invited to Brown University!

“No shit? Will you be there?”

“Yeah, and so will William. And a good time will be had by all. I’ve got to go now. William should be waking up soon. Take care of him, Scott. I’ll be in touch.”

Dirk waved, turned towards his computers, and the screen went blank. William stirred and made slight whimpering sounds. Something was different, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then it struck me: my lust for heroin had disappeared.



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