Literature Liturgy

The Prompt for this story comes from storyaday.org, by Julie Duffy. This one required a good deal of thought and planning, and I admit to deviating somewhat from the original prompt, which felt a bit too specific and confining. I enjoyed writing this one, and it’s definitely meant to be more humorous than serious. I hope you enjoy reading it:

In a remote valley, looked over by Legend, the God of Writers, two rival cloisters lived on either side of a wide ravine. They both served Legend faithfully in their own way, but with different tenets.

Journo was a young monk in training, learning the art of plot in the Plot Monks’ Temple. He kept his head down, and faithfully recited his oaths every morning, to “uphold the supremacy of Plot over all other story elements,” etc. etc. Every morning, he cringed internally, sensing something… off about the whole thing, though he was ignorant enough to figure his superiors must know better.

Across the way, the Character Nuns dwelt in their convent, singing Legend’s praises, and vowing to create the most complex, developed characters to drive their stories. Rhetta, a young novice recently come to the convent from Protago Village, zealously participated in the Nuns’ character development activities. But she, too, sensed that something essential was missing from these ministrations.

For years, the rival cloisters had lived at odds with each other, until somebody had an idea: The Nuns could create characters, and the Monks develop plots, and they would combine these characters and plots in a sort of contest to determine which element was the more powerful. Down in the gorge, they held their “game,” day after day, contest after contest. But no matter how they combined them, neither element seemed to rise to the top every time. 

During one of these games, Journo’s and Rhetta’s eyes met across the way, and an unspoken bond began to develop between them as they communicated with various sighs, wry smiles, eye rolls and shakes of the head at the ridiculousness of their elders.

Eventually, the Nuns ran out of fictional characters, and the Monks of original plots. But they would not give up the game, and someone suggested that– since their own imaginations had failed to supply any of them with a winning strategy, that perhaps they could pull from real life instead. It was difficult to ascertain where the idea was first conceived, but it spread rapidly until every member on both sides was convinced.

So the Nuns searched through the villages and took note of the most interesting persons. While the Monks put out ears to collect the most intriguing gossip and local tales. Soon, they gathered again and the games began, while in the villages surrounding the combatting cloisters, chaos and confusion consumed the common folk: A shy tailor suddenly burst into song and dance in the middle of the village square; a blacksmith’s daughter was found sneaking rice flour from the baker’s stores, claiming it was needed for a magic paste to cure her mother’s mysterious purple warts; and a visiting lord found himself caught up in a scandal involving a black horse, silver coins in the street, and a missing tea set.

Appalled, Journo and Rhetta had the same idea, and met that night at the bottom of the ravine, determined to set things right. It had been one thing when their superiors had kept to fictional stories, but playing with real people’s lives was simply too much. They brought their pens and notepads with them, and embarked along the moonlit path to Legend’s Statue, situated at the far end of the ravine, where the stream ran into the dark forest beyond. They lit Legend’s Torch of Inspiration, then sat and huddled over the pages of their books, writing and consulting and rewriting. Working together, putting aside their differences and learning to value each other’s strengths. 

They rewrote memories, so the miller would not live with the embarrassment of his involuntary street performance; they altered the formula to cure warts to include ingredients already in the blacksmith’s house; and they solved the mystery of the missing tea set to acquit the poor young man chained unjustly in the village jail. It wasn’t as exciting as the stories the Nuns and Monks had written in their fervor; but when it came to real people– the two young people agreed– boring and predictable was infinitely preferable.

When the cloisters awoke the next morning and discovered their young charges missing, it didn’t take them long to discover their whereabouts. When they came to the Statue, now gleaming in the morning sun, they realized at once the error of their ways. When Journo and Rhetta awoke and stretched beneath the shelter of Legend’s outreaching arms, their eyes opened onto the sight of a hundred hooded figures bowed before the great wide open tome at their God’s feet, bearing words of wisdom, reproach, and harmony– words they had forgotten, until two brave souls had dared to do what they all collectively had grown too proud and stubborn to consider.

What were those words? And what happened next? That, Dear Reader, is left up to you, because this Author has learned from the strange tale of the Plot Monks and Character Nuns, that it is never justified to put unbidden thoughts or words into people’s heads, or to influence– through the power of writing– the actions of another.

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