A Pleasant Friday Afternoon at the Literature Club (GPT-3 fueled short)

I enter my sanctuary, our club, as I struggle to prevent the trash food I’ve bought from falling all over. After I close the door behind me, I stop for a moment to look at my friends, the other three members of the literature club, who are illuminated by the afternoon light pouring from the windows. To the left of the empty seat reserved for me is Lydia, the small, bespectacled and hyperactive girl obsessed with the mysterious. On the other side of the table awaits the blonde beauty Kumeko, and to her right her childhood friend, and only published writer of our club, Hibiki.
I leave the food on the table. Lydia is quick to open a bag of chips and stuff her mouth with a handful. When I sit on the empty seat, the tiredness of this whole week of exams drags me towards the ground. But today is another blessed friday, and we’ll enjoy our club time for a couple of hours.
“Well then, who is presenting a text today?” I ask.
“The winner of the Literature Club contest will present their work!” Kumeko announces as she pats her childhood friend on the arm, and she doesn’t notice him blushing. “It’s the third story by Hibiki, entitled ‘The Lost Girl’.”
“Oh? That sounds interesting.” I say.
“Yes, I think so too. It’s about a young girl who is lost in the forest, and she meets a boy who helps her find her way home.”
I shush her.
“Hey, no spoilers! Let the man read!”
Hibiki clears his throat, and as he holds his printed story, he stands up and begins to read it.
“There once was a young boy who grew up in a small village. The boy lived with his mother and father, and had two younger twin brothers. One day, when the boy was sixteen years old, he and his family took a trip to the forest. They set up a campsite by a lake, and went swimming. The next day, the boy went to explore the forest. As he was walking he heard a low growl. He looked behind him, but he couldn’t find the source of the growl. As he continued walking, the growl grew louder, and he began to run, and soon he found himself at the edge of a meadow filled with flowers. He stopped running and took a deep breath, enjoying the beautiful sight of such vibrant life. Then, as he was admiring the flowers, he heard the growl again. His heart pounding in terror, he began to run through the meadow. As he was running, he tripped over a rock and fell, hitting his head on another rock. He began to bleed from the head and passed out in the middle of the field. Luckily, a group of dwarves happened to be passing by. They saw the boy as he lay motionless and bleeding, and picked him up. The dwarves brought him home and nursed him back to health. After a week, the boy regained consciousness. He found himself lying on a bed in a strange house. He saw a group of dwarves standing around his bed. One of the dwarves spoke up. ‘Where do you come from?’ The boy was startled, not expecting to hear any English, let alone perfect English. ‘W-What? Where am I?’ ‘You’re in the Dwarven Kingdom of Karst.'”
“I like the sudden appearance of dwarves in a non-dwarf related story,” I say while I munch on some licorice. “A subversion of expectations or something.”
Hibiki nods.
“Go on,” I say.
“Not much else to say. He spends the week in the dwarven kingdom, and eventually goes back to his village.”
Hibiki looks over at us, and then puts down the paper he was reading from. He sits back as we stare at him in silence.
“What, that’s it?” Lydia asks in disbelief.
“Yeah. That’s it,” Hibiki says with a sigh.
“That’s horrible!” she shouts in frustration, “You spent an entire week and couldn’t come up with anything proper to write about?”
“Well, I was trying to stay true to the feel of a bedtime story. They don’t all have grand plots.”
Lydia crosses her arms in front of her chest to say something else, but I lean over the table.
“Wait a second, what’s with the title? You called it ‘The Lost Girl’, right? There wasn’t a girl anywhere in that plot! Did you read another story by mistake?”
Hibiki takes the paper from the table and looks at it.
“You see that? That’s your problem right there,” I point out. “You didn’t even notice. If a reader can notice something that isn’t there, your story has failed.”
He crumples up the paper and tosses it over his shoulder. We hear a startled ‘oinks’ from behind us as a piggy-bank catches the wadded paper ball.
“You’ll get over it soon, but I have to go now. See you guys later,” Hibiki says as he stands up noisily.
Seated to Hibiki’s left, his childhood friend Kumiko grabs the embarrassed kid’s arm and pulls him down.
“Don’t be ridiculous! It doesn’t matter if we didn’t like this story much, they can’t be all winners! And you have to critique our stories too!”
“Can’t it wait?” he asks.
“Yes,” she says, “but no.”
Kumiko gives him a serious look. He sighs and raises his eyebrows in defeat. He’s not going to win against her stubbornness.
“Alright, alright, I’ll stay,” he says, throwing his hands up in the air.
Kumiko smiles and starts going through her bag to get her papers.
“I also wrote something. I was trying to stay in the fairytale theme. This one is a story about a princess who is captured by an evil dragon. There is no prince to save her, and she has to save herself.”
“One of those post-modern retellings, I see,” I say as I gulp down some soda.
“No, it is a story about a strong woman who can fight for her own honor,” she responds, annoyed.
“I didn’t mean any offense. I liked it.”
“I have barely started telling it!” she says, then pouts.
“I meant that I liked the story in general. Continue.”
She narrows her eyes, then nods and starts reading her work. Her bell-like voice is as pretty as her blonde hair and pale blue eyes.
“The sun had fallen, leaving me in a pitch black dungeon. I shivered in the frigid air. The cold stone floor felt as if it was sucking the heat out of my naked body; I felt so exposed and vulnerable. I was naked, and my clothes were not anywhere to be found. There was no furniture in the room either, save from a bucket full of water and an old moldy piece of bread.”
“I liked the part about the nakedness,” I say.
“Shut up, JP,” she says, annoyed.
I smile. I have always had a weakness for pretty girls. That being said, I can admire a girl’s mind and body without wanting to jump their bones. I don’t know why they always think that we’re going to do that to them.
“Where was I? Oh yes, I was shivering on the floor and trying not to starve to death,” she says, giving me a dirty look.
“Is this a story, or some harrowing experience of yours?” I ask, then chuckle.
“It’s a story I made up!” she says, annoyed.
“Continue.”
She looks down and continues reading.
“I heard a fearsome growl and looked around to find the source. Above me was a giant black beast, curled up on itself like a cat. It had sharp yellow teeth, and blood red eyes that seemed to pierce my very being. I wanted to look away, but I felt hypnotized by its gaze. Then, it struck. It opened its maw and blew out hot air that smelled like rotten eggs. I blacked out. When I woke up, it was surrounded by several people wearing medieval clothing. It roared, and the people backed away in fear. The beast looked at me, then ran off into the forest. I had been rescued.”
“You forgot to mention that she got rabies and died,” I say.
“Shut up, JP!” she says, annoyed once again.
I have to point something out.
“Wasn’t the idea that the princess saved herself in this one?”
“Oh yeah,” she says, blushing.
“You’re really bad at this.”
“Shut up, JP!”
Both me and Lydia take some time to stop laughing.
“Wait, that’s the end of the story?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says, clearly disappointed that I didn’t like the ending.
“That sucks. You should go back and change it so the dragon gets killed or something.”
She pauses for a moment, thinking about what I said.
“Yeah… that’s not a bad idea.”
“The princess should probably be the one to kill it. You know, because that was the point you intended to make with this whole thing, which you insisted on. You deliberately presented the story as capturing that post-modern angle, and then your text failed to reflect it.”
“But it wasn’t my fault!” she whines.
“Maybe not, but that’s what you presented to us.”
She pauses again, and I can tell that she’s realizing that I’m right. She sighs in defeat.
“Yeah, you’re absolutely right,” she says. “I’ll have to change it.”
“We all make mistakes,” I say with a smile. “As usual, though, we have trouble staying on target.”
The remaining member of the club, our mostly delusional Lydia, chimes in as she pushes up the bridge of her glasses.
“I’m pretty sure you’re the main reason for that, Jacob.”
“How do you figure?” I ask. “Kumiko’s the one who went on a tangent and forgot her own ending.”
“You’re distracting her. You do it all the time.”
Lydia is just teasing me, as usual.
“Yeah, but it’s okay. She’ll get around to fixing it,” I say with a smile.
Kumiko can’t stop frowning at me as Lydia finally pulls out her own story. She seems more enthusiastic than usual about this new one.
“What subject are you obsessed with this week, Lydia?” I ask as I rest my face on my palm.
“I did some reading last night. Did you know that dark matter is all around us?”
“Um… sure?”
“Anyway, here it goes!” Lydia announces. “Title: ‘The Cat in the Box’, by Lydia Hirsch.”
“Yes, we are aware of you, Lydia.”
“There once was a cat named Mr. Whiskers. He was trapped inside a box. The box was also trapped inside a bigger box. There were three boxes all together. The big box, the medium-sized box, and the small box. They were all trapped inside each other, like a Russian Nesting Doll. ‘Meow,’ said the cat. ‘I wish I could get out of here. I’m stuck in this small box. Oh no! There’s a even smaller box inside of me, and I can’t get out!’ Mr. Whiskers looked very scared. He was afraid of getting trapped inside an even smaller box.”
I hear Hibiki gulping.
“Somehow that makes me feel a pit in my stomach…” he says.
“Shhh! It gets better, trust me! Mr. Whiskers then saw a laser beam appear inside the small box. It started to move around, and Mr. Whiskers was very afraid of getting hit by the beam. But then, another cat named GutterCat came in and saved him! The two cats ran outside, escaping the boxes.”
“Where did this cat GutterCat come from, and how did he find his way into that small box inside other boxes?” I ask incredulously.
“Who cares? The point is that the two cats lived happily ever after escaping those evil boxes. The end.”
Lydia beams as she finishes her story. She looks around at our faces, which display a mixed response to her story.
“That was… ugh… an interesting story,” I say, as I try to think of something nice to say about it.
“I thought it was incredible!” Lydia says excitedly. “When I grow up, I want to write stories just like that!”
“But you did write that one.”
“Oh. Yeah…” she says, as her smile falters slightly.
“It was a nice try, but it needs work. For one thing, why did Mr. Whiskers speak perfect English? Also, how did he fit in the box? Did he just shrink himself somehow?”
“Well… It was a magical box,” Lydia says in an almost inaudible voice. “You can do anything when you’re a writer.”
“Didn’t you say recently that you wanted to start writing stories based on reality?” I say as I raise an eyebrow.
“Well… I can change reality,” she says, now pouting. “If I could fit twenty bumblebees inside a teeny tiny bottle, then I can make a magical box that defies the laws of physics.”
“Hell no. Writing isn’t anarchy. There’s no meaning if you don’t follow at least some rules. If anything can happen, then nothing makes sense. Is that not the case?”
Lydia raises her hand as if she was in class.
“Yes, Lydia?” I ask.
“I have a problem with that. You said you want to write about the real world, but that’s not true. Nobody writes about the real world. Writers have been doing fiction for thousands of years. Did Shakespeare write about the real world? No. That’s why his plays are still around today. Did Tolkien write about the real world? No. That’s why people are still obsessed with his work decades after he died.”
“We might be aiming too high here, at least in regards to comparing ourselves with such writers. We seem to remain stuck at preschool level.”
“Well at least I’m trying!” she exclaims.
“And that’s all I’m asking for,” I say, raising my hands. “You wrote about a magical box, really?”
“Yes!” she says, agitated. “I wanted to challenge myself.”
“Writing about a magical box instead of the usual aliens, lost civilizations, bigfoot, underground complexes of tunnels that hold kidnapped and tortured children, and isolated islands of sin for the one percenters?”
“Yes, because I can do that too!” she says, raising her voice. “I just wanted to try something new. I always have my cat save the day, so I wanted to switch it up.”
“Instead of your cat solving the mystery, now you wanted a new cat to save your own cat?” I laugh out loud.
“Stop making fun of me,” she says, abashed. “At least I’m trying.”
She mutters something to herself as she holds her story with her arms crossed.
“Don’t get me wrong, Lydia,” I start. “I love your stories. It’s just that I get tired of suspending my disbelief week after week while listening to how your cat discovers alien life, or hunts down a bigfoot, or saves the children from the underground tunnels built by the military-industrial complex, or blows up some private island full of mostly naked underage girls.”
“You think too highly of yourself, then,” says Kumiko. She doesn’t seem to have forgiven me for correcting her story before.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask with annoyance.
“You think you’re the only one who has issues coming up with stories? I’ve had the same issues as you, except way worse. And let me tell you why,” she says, her eyes flickering towards the black binder in front of her. She looks at it for a while, as if trying to remember something she wrote inside it.
“You… you don’t have to tell me,” I say. “If it’s too personal, you don’t have to.”
She sighs. “It’s not that personal. It’s just. I’ve been working on this story for a long time now, and I still haven’t finished it.”
“Are you trying something seriously? What is it about?”
“It’s about a girl and a guy who are good friends, almost like siblings. Over the years, they grow closer together and become romantically involved.”
“I must say, I’m loving the sibling angle.”
She gives me a look. “Well, they do grow up together. Together, they face all sorts of trials and tribulations. It’s a story about growing up, really.”
“A coming of age story?”
She seems to think for a moment, before nodding. “Yeah. You could say that. But it’s not just for the main characters that things happen. It spans decades, so there’s time for generations to pass and see change.”
“One of those stories that try to feel the pulse of society during many decades, or something like that?”
She nods. “Sure. Something like that.”
I stare at her. She stares at me. The room is quiet save for the occasional sound of pages flipping as Hibiki turns a bunch in front of him. After a while, Kumiko speaks up.
“So… you want to hear it?” she asks.
“Sure,” I say. “Why not?”
Kumiko takes a deep breath, and begins to tell her story.
“Our tale starts in a hospital, with the birth of our two leads. I will speak now from the point of view of the protagonist… I’m born first, a crybaby but a strong one. You come out second, strong and silent. So strong and silent they think you’re deaf, but it’s just an act of defiance. We grow up with each other, inseparable. We do everything together. School, playtime, everything.” Kumiko takes a deep breath. “For our eighteenth birthday we’re given our choice of whatever car we want from the dealership down the road. I want the one that goes from zero to sixty in three seconds. You want the off-road SUV that can drive over practically anything. We fight over it for hours…” Kumiko begins to cry. “We… We fought all day. I didn’t think we’d fight on our birthdays, so I didn’t get you a present. I’m sorry, I tried to make it up to you later… But we fought all day, and in the end, we took the dealership. I went first, and when they handed me the keys to my new car, I said ‘this is for you’. I handed them to you. I broke into tears immediately after, because I knew you’d hate it. You took the keys from my hand, and went to look at the car. I looked up about the car later, and saw that it costs almost twice as much as a house in our town. It was too late to give it back. You didn’t say anything. But then, you didn’t need to. I understood. I cried for our lost friendship, and never spoke to you again. The end.”
Kumiko is sobbing heavily now. I struggle to say something. I walk around the table and I try to hug our blonde princess, but she pushes me away.
“No, no!” she screams. “Don’t touch me! I’m disgusting! Just leave me alone! All of you, leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
I stand back. Kumiko pulls out a cigarette and a lighter. She struggles to light it with a trembling hand.
“Please stop her,” I say to the others. “Tobacco has never been on her side.”
At this point, the cigarette has caught fire.
“I’m sorry,” she says, blowing out the flame. Slowly but surely, she stands up and heads towards the window. I stare in horror.
“You aren’t thinking something crazy, are you, Kumiko…?”
“You, least of all, should call me crazy,” she says coldly.
Then, she jumps out. Lydia, Hibiki and myself run to the window, only to catch that Kumiko has already landed on the grass a meter and a half below and is sprinting towards the gated entrance of our school.
“Kumiko!” I shout.
My blonde friend never looks back. After she disappears behind some trees, I shake my head and return to the table. We sit around in silence for a while, not knowing how to bring up this disgraceful event. Hibiki is wringing his hands.
“Hibiki…” I start, “you need to take good care of that girl.”
“I don’t know what to do!” he cries.
“Just keep being friendly with her. You’re the only person she’s got, you know.”
He nods, his eyes red from crying. I feel a huge, dark pit in my stomach. What the hell have we done? We’ve pushed our only stable member to jump out of a window and attempt suicide. It’s a miracle that she survived. But I’m not sure whether she did it for herself or for us.
I wipe the sweat from my forehead.
“Well, I guess I might as well read my own story. I did go through the trouble of writing it and all.”
I walk over to the whiteboard and grab a marker from the edge of it. I then begin sketching out the plot of my story on the board, but shortly after I give up and I draw a huge dong. I return to my chair and sit down wearily.
“My story starts like this: the protagonist is some guy called JB who attends some high school or other. His life is generally fine, I guess, but what he loves to do the most is to attend the literature club that he’s a member of. Maybe not the most important or prominent member, but a vital part of the whole, I’d say.”
I pause my story to grab another pastry. As I do so, our headmaster comes in for his weekly meeting with the club. Apparently he’s had some sort of announcement to make, but he forgot it. He leaves, and we hear his hurried footsteps fading away.
“Where was I? Ah, yes. It was a hard week for our protagonist, as he had to pass the most critical exams. But that’s behind him already. We meet him on a friday as he enters his beloved literature club. He’s bringing a bunch of trash food to fill the stomachs of his grateful friends. I haven’t said anything about the other characters yet, but as secondary players we have Lydia Hirsch, a delusional girl who loves everything mysterious and who particularly adores her cat Mr. Whiskers. She’s very much into writing stories that involve the aforementioned cat. Frankly, I’m a bit sick of the whole thing, but what can you do. This girl probably needs some therapeutic help, and it’s likely that after this year of high school ends, I will never see her again. Would that be sad? Remains to be seen.”
I pause my story again to eat some chips.
“What do you think of my story so far, Lydia?” I ask. “I particularly hope to hear your early opinion, for some reason.”
“I like it, Jacob. Actually, it’s really starting to come together. Hey, but I have an idea for your story.”
“Oh no,” I reply. “Not another one of your ideas.”
“Yes, Jacob. Another one of my ideas.” she says with a cheeky grin on her face.
“Fine, what is it?”
“You should make the protagonist’s love interest a cat named Mr. Whiskers,” she replies with a giggle.
I shoot her down immediately. “I’m not doing that.”
“Come on, Jacob. Just think about it for two seconds.”
I sigh in exasperation. “Fine, I’ll think about it,” I say, not meaning it in the slightest.
“That’s all I ask,” she says with a huge grin on her face.
“Alright, back to my story. We also have this guy called Hibiki. He’s the soft spoken kind whose expression demands other people to believe that he is hiding some inner ocean of wisdom or whatever. Somehow he won a couple of awards from his previous stories, likely because the judges consider that stories in which little to nothing happens and the protagonists mope around are good stuff. This Hibiki is also madly in love with his childhood friend, a blonde, blue eyed beauty called Kumiko. However, Kumiko will never love him back, because she’s into being abused by rough, older men.”
Hibiki glares at me. “Jacob, that’s enough.”
“Do you have a problem with my story?” I say.
“No, but you know it’s not true,” he replies.
“How would I know, if you never tell me anything about it?”
“Jacob, there’s no way…”
“Anyway, the remaining member of this fictional literature club is a beautiful princess called Kumiko. She’s blonde, has pale blue eyes, and a soft body to die for. However, this princess was taken by the dragon of depression, and she’ll need to save herself in this one, because no brave hero is heading off to slay her foe.”
“Shut up, Jacob! You’re being an asshole,” Hibiki says.
I shush him, and he does shut up, but keeps glaring at me intensely.
“You know,” I begin, “I used to love coming here. It was my happy place, where I got together with my good friends to goof off, write some bunch of nonsense and giggle as we read them out loud. But that’s gone, isn’t it?”
“Jacob, you’re drunk,” Lydia says with an understanding tone. “Go home, sleep it off, and apologize to everyone tomorrow.”
I shake my head. “Apologize? There’s nothing to apologize for. You all have been lying this whole time about everything, and I’m not gonna take it anymore.”
“Lying about what?” Hibiki asks sharply.
“That this is even a real literature club,” I say.
Now they’re all staring at me with confusion and fear on their faces. Lydia asks, “Jacob, what do you mean by that?”
“You’re all too scared to go out, meet people and make friends. You’re just using this as an excuse not to.”
“Jacob, that isn’t true,” Lydia says softly. “It really is a literature club.”
“You keep telling yourself that, cat girl.”
There’s a moment of silence. I want to tear into my two remaining friends further, but I feel there’s no use. And then comes the weariness, the exhaustion. The void in my chest is expanding.
I let my ass fall onto the chair.
“We are living in a fantasy. In a few weeks we will exit this clubroom for the very last time in our lives. Lydia, you will move out to the other side of the country for college, Kumiko will start working at her family store, and you will probably do something in the world outside, Hibiki, although I don’t particularly care. Do you two understand what I mean?”
They both nod.
“We have already lived through our carefree years,” I say with a thin voice. “Until now we could laugh with the utmost sincerity. But what awaits us in the coming decades? Do we have anything to look forward except for mounting responsibilities, increasing bills, and the pains and humiliations of our progressively decaying frames?” I stand up and continue, “Do you really want to live the rest of your life knowing there is no escape from reality?”
I don’t give them the chance to answer. I’m not even sure what the answer is. I just need to believe in what I’m saying.
“We’re all living a lie,” I say, “but if we stand up together, we can change it.”
My two remaining storytelling friends remain silent. They don’t answer. They don’t disagree.
I look at the ground. I feel empty inside. “I will stand up to the lies of this world all by myself,” I say. “Good luck to you.”
I leave the clubroom and close the door. A few seconds later I open the door, walk to my chair and sit down. Tears are streaming down Lydia’s face, and her glasses have fogged up. Hibiki’s face is all red and he makes no effort to clean the snot running down the sides of his lips.
“The end,” I say. “Well, what do you think?”
“It was the most beautiful story I ever heard,” says a voice behind me.
I turn around, and can’t believe my eyes. There stands a princess straight out of a fairy tale. Her long, blonde hair glistens in the late afternoon light, and the blue pools of her irises remind me of beautiful dreams. Her eyes are red and puffy, as if she has been crying for an eternity.
“Kumiko?” I say. “It… it’s been so long.”
“I know,” she says. “I just… I just wanted to say that… you were right. I was unhappy. I was so unhappy. My stepfather, he…”
Tears roll down her face. I have never seen her so sad in all the years I have known her. In a way, it’s like seeing a stranger. I stand up and quickly walk up to her.
“It’s OK,” I say, grabbing her hand. “It’s OK.”
She looks into my eyes. “Do you remember… the day we met?”
“Yes,” I say with a smile. “I saved you from the rain.”
“Will you save me again?” she asks.
“Of course,” I say, but it’s already too late.
A gunshot rings out, echoing through the halls of the school. I squeeze Kumiko’s hand and close my eyes, but the distant meowing is getting louder.

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