The Greatest Story Ever

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: March 01, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 01, 2017



The Greatest Story Ever


Of all the things he thought dying would be, boring certainly wasn’t one of them.

Oh, yes, there was the flash-bang-wallop as the car collided with the brick wall; the slight pinching sensation as his head split open; the vacant wonder how much this would affect his insurance – but overall, it was a somewhat dull affair.

It was quiet. That’s what he finally realised it to be – quiet. For the first, and, regrettably, last, time in his life, he had pure silence. No voices. No traffic. No birds. No wind. Nothing. Not even his breathing or pulse was there to provide sound.

And then a voice said, ‘Hello!’

Peter tensed his muscles – if he still had any muscles, that was. ‘…Hello?’ he asked back, trying to find the voice.

An impossible light filled his eyes, or whatever it was that he was looking through at that moment in time. It was dozens upon dozens of different colours, none he’d ever seen or even thought possible to exist before now. ‘Welcome, honoured guest!’ the chorus of voices pealed in response.

‘Right. Yes. Hello,’ said Peter. However, he quickly realised he wasn’t speaking the words at all – he was only thinking them.

‘You are a Teller,’ the voices announced. This was a fact, Peter deduced, and not a question.

‘A… sorry, what?’

‘A Teller. Raconteur. Relater. Wordsmith.’

‘Oh, a writer!’

Yes, it was true. Peter had, in fact, been constructing the perfect story just that very moment, when the lorry happened to mistake his rear bumper for a bullseye. Shame; if he’d only had that rarest of thoughts moments later, maybe this whole thing wouldn’t have happened.

‘You tell stories.’

‘Yes, that’s right.’ Peter took a risk: ‘I don’t suppose you’d like to hear one, would you?’

The lights seemed to think about it, almost conferring. Eventually, they answered, plainly, ‘Yes.’

‘Okay. Erm…’ Peter racked his brains. Think of a story, he told himself. Any story. The first story that comes to your mind! ‘Alright. There was a man. He was called Hamlet, and his father, the king, he was killed by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle—’

‘Stop.’ The voices seemed bored now. ‘We’ve heard this one.’

‘Oh. Fair enough, I suppose. What about this boy, Philip Pirrip, or, as we’ll call him, Pip—’

‘And that one.’

‘Okay.’ They seemed to be up on the classics, thought Peter. ‘How about the voyages of Captain James Tiberius Kirk—’

‘That one, too.’

This wasn’t working quite as he’d imagined it. He went through Dickens to Defoe, Aristotle to Austen, every book, play, film, comic, anything that came to mind. They’d heard them all.

‘Alright,’ he spoke at last. ‘Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. There’s a man called Douglas. He’s a King, and his land is standing at the eve of a battle he can’t win. He has to decide whether or not to stand with it and lose his life, or flee and lose his honour.’ Peter waited for their response.

‘…Go on.’

Peter smiled. Finally.


He’d the story rattling around in his mind for a while now, if he was honest. The faint idea, that spark of inspiration; however, whenever he’d sat down to actually write the thing, it never sounded right. It was clunky, or dull, or tedious. Never just right. Until he had taken that car journey, of course. Then, it had occurred to him the best way to show it. It would be truly amazing.

The beings had been ever so kind – after hearing his story, they wanted more. Peter had replied, as gently as he could, that even the greatest geniuses required time to work on the stories, tweak them to perfection. To this end, they granted him time and the tools to scribe down the story for them.

The words flowed like blood from a wound. No sooner had he written one done did the next one topple out onto the page. It must only have been minutes until it was finished – well, he said that, but there was no real way of telling. He didn’t sleep, eat, drink, anything whilst he was there. Maybe it was the spirit of the muse, he thought. Or maybe being dead had something to do with it.

In the cracks between writing, the little gaps and recesses, he couldn’t help but wonder – was this Heaven? Hell? Purgatory? D, none of the above? How could he find out, was his second question. Was this the general afterlife for everyone, or was it just reserved especially for writers? The latter didn’t sound too bad – an eternity with Tolkien, Shakespeare, Stevenson didn’t sound too shabby, if you asked him.

He’d ask the beings about it later. For now, he wanted to get this bloody story finished.


No wonder he was done so quickly. Whenever he’d tried to write before – whether it was at school, work, anywhere – there had been distractions. His favourite music, whiling away the hours easily enough, but hardly helping him to concentrate; mugs of coffee, keeping him alert, yes, but took time making the damn stuff; prowling through the Internet and sheets of paper over his desk, sometimes giving him inspiration, but most just killing time.

But it was different now. He didn’t need the music or the coffee or the distraction – the work was practically writing itself. It was brilliant, fantastic, incredible.

At last, he presented the finished draft to the beings. Naturally, given how they couldn’t yet read English (they used to, they told him, and were relearning as quickly as possible), he read it aloud for them, taking the chance to add the odd dramatic emphasis here and there over the piece.

When he was finished, they hummed positively. Good news, he took it to mean.

‘It was perfect,’ one voice said. ‘Absolutely,’ agreed another. ‘Certainly the best I’ve ever heard!’ decided a third. Peter beamed at the praise – it had never been like this. Only, “Too boring!” or “Oh, was that supposed to be a joke?” or “It’s a bit like Twilight, isn’t it?” But this… it made him feel unstoppable. Straight away, he started on his second story, a comedy this time. Something funny, something that would bring the house down.


What was his family thinking right now? Mourning him, most likely. Sobbing into their sleeves and tissues, regretting with all their soul the last time they had an argument or a falling out or any of the trivial things that just so happened in life. Did they have the slightest clue he was here? No. They wouldn’t. Which was a shame, really – they’d be happy. It was like one of those writer’s retreats his sister was always saying he should go on. It just so happened to be a rather more permanent sort of retreat, that’s all.

There hadn’t been any other writers. No Hemingway, or a Chaucer, waiting to shake his hand and ask, ‘So you’re the Peter Jensen I’ve heard so much about!’ He had half a mind to ask the beings about it – was he the only one here? If not, might he talk to the others? Purely for inspiration and feedback, you understand, so that it wouldn’t distract from the writing at all. Yes. After this story, he’d ask, see what he could do about a little tête-à-tête.

He was hard at work on the next story, laughing and giggling away at each joke he put down. It was the most he’d laughed for years.


This pause seemed longer than the others. Why didn’t they say anything? Peter swallowed some imaginary saliva in his imaginary throat. Didn’t they like it? They hadn’t hesitated before, so what was the problem.

‘I loved it,’ announced one voice at long last. ‘Yes, very funny!’ Peter felt himself smile. So they did like it after all!

‘In fact,’ one voice said, ‘we liked it so much, we want another.’

‘Another comedy?’

‘Yes. And another… what was that one before?’


‘That’s it! Yes, we want lots more. They’re the best stories we’ve ever heard!’ chimed the voices.

‘Right, yes, I was meaning to ask,’ spoke Peter, ‘is there anyone else in here?’


‘Yeah, wherever… this is. Only, you’ve heard of all the other stories. I was just wondering… well, where are they?’

‘They are gone.’

‘Gone?’ echoed Peter.

‘Yes. Gone. When their time is finished in your terrain, they arrive here. After a while, their form starts to dissipate, and they are gone to us. Oh, I wouldn’t worry,’ one elaborated, ‘they don’t feel a thing. In fact, some of us think they’re still here, just crying out for us.’

‘Okay. Thanks. That’s much better,’ said Peter uneasily.

‘You should think yourself lucky,’ said one of the voices. ‘Not many Tellers are good enough to get in here. Only the very best of the very best. Take that one a while back… Oh, what was his name?’

‘Steinbeck,’ answered a second voice.

‘Steinbeck? John Steinbeck?’ exclaimed Peter in surprise. ‘You think I’m better than John Steinbeck?!’

‘Oh, absolutely! You’re much better than he was. Always wrote such dull stories… not like yours!’

‘Yeah. Thank you very much!’ said Peter, ideas already bubbling in his mind for a third story, and a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh….


They kept the copies of the earlier stories, just in case they wanted to hear them again – almost a certainty. Peter had mostly memorised them, but still he felt the temptation every now and then to peek back and relive the work for himself.

He was just putting the finishing touches on La Vie En Rose when he made the decision. Have a break, he told himself. A quick read of his story, to cleanse the palate and declutter the mind.

The Conscience of the King. It was scribed across the top, just as plain as the other letters; still, it did everything it needed to as a title. Peter started to read; occasionally, he’d mumble the words out loud as he did, or hum absent-mindedly, or simply read in silence.

By the time he finished, he was feeling quite different than he had before.

It… He didn’t know how to put it. It wasn’t like he’d remembered it. It wasn’t catastrophically bad, of course, but little things – that joke, which he could have sworn to be side-splittingly hilarious, was now just tepid. That symbolism, which had been nuanced and subtle, now patently obvious. That character, of which he had been so fond, was now little more than a cliché to him.

On the whole, the story was still rather good. But it was far from perfect.

Curiosity getting the better of him, he turned to the next story. Same problem again; the humour wasn’t clever, it was contrived. The characters weren’t realistic, they were boring. He suddenly realised that his masterpiece, his triumph… was crap.

Suddenly, he looked at his new work. La Vie En Rose.  The beings would like it, he thought. They’d think it was perfect. They’d laud it, sing its praise, rank it with Macbeth, The Odyssey, Robinson Crusoe. If they’ve heard all these works, he reasoned, they must know what they’re talking about. They surely must know more than him, a lowly writer.

He had to know.

‘Excuse me!’ he said, practically shouting. The beings morphed into life before him.

‘Is everything alright?’ one asked calmly.

‘Yes, I just wanted to know. Conscience of the King. What did you think?’

‘Superb!’ ‘Tremendous!’ ‘Terrific!’

‘Okay. What did you like about it?’

The voices stopped. ‘Well… the main character was interesting.’

‘Was he?’ challenged Peter.

‘Yes. And it was funny, too.’

‘Anything else?’

‘…I liked the dialogue.’

‘But you thought it was perfect.’

‘It is.’

‘So why can’t you give me anymore positives?’ Peter asked. It wouldn’t do any good – he knew the answer. Wearily, he cast his mind back to the early days of his writing; he’d show anyone with eyes it, and ask for feedback. Of course they’d say it was good – why deter him and get his spirits down? So they’d give him more positives than he knew what to do with. However, that soon took its toll. Every story was ranked as one perfect equal.

‘Is that all?’ a voice asked.

‘Yes,’ answered Peter bitterly. ‘That’s all.’


He couldn’t finish it. There wasn’t exactly a concept of time here, but he could still feel it nonetheless. His fingers didn’t flutter and tap as they had; each move was a deliberate and precise jab, punching out each word one letter at a time. It took him as long as his attention would hold just to type out the first paragraph; whenever he’d finish a sentence, he’d stop, read it, reread, delete it and write it out again, with one word changed, or the structure switched just ever so slightly. And after reading the new version, he’d delete the sentence and start it all over again.

It wasn’t good enough. He wasn’t going to leave any stone unturned, or comma out of place, or word misspelt. It had to be perfect, absolutely perfect. Otherwise, it wasn’t worth doing at all.

Like the sword of Damocles, the spectres loomed above him. Wilde. Hugo. Haggard. You have to be just as good as them, became his mantra. No! Better than them. He had to be perfect.

After he had gone over the story what must have been thousands upon of thousands of times, he finally presented it to the beings.

‘I know you’ve seen it before,’ he said warily, ‘but I’ve gone over it, made a couple of changes, and I just want to hear what you think.’

Having perfected their English by now, they read the story themselves. The whole time, he listened carefully for any response, any sign from the beings. By the time they finished, he was starting to shake with worry.

‘Well?’ he asked. ‘What did you think?’

‘Brilliant!’ cheered a voice. ‘I thought it was good before, but that just even better!’ ‘I don’t know how you managed it,’ concurred another.

Peter felt a tentative smile form. ‘Really? You do mean that? You’re just saying it?’

‘Of course not! It’s incredible!’

‘Thank you! Thank you very much!’ The beings vanished, and Peter was practically bouncing with excitement. So he had improved it after all. He was good, he was actually good! He’d better get started on the next story, he reasoned, before he lost the spark.

And then he saw it. The story they had just read. That line, that adverb, that preposition… it was the old draft. It was the exact same one they’d read the first time.


Peter had a plan. If they were up to something, he was going to catch them out; if they weren’t, then he would be able to sort this whole thing out. Either way, it was the only way he could proceed.

He wrote a story. The Sacrifice, he christened it. It was dull. It was unoriginal. The jokes made you yawn, the drama made you laugh; the dialogue made you cringe and the plot made you gape. Every single book or film or anything at all he’d ever hated, he channelled it into that one story. Each and every putrid word was carefully selected to tear that little bit more at the flesh of the story. They were like pinpricks in his skin, back when he had skin; the more they piled together, the less it was stinging and more it was agony.

Soon, it was ready.

It was almost laughably bad; you’d have to pity the poor writer who’d spent so much time, effort and love into a load of complete and utter garbage. Every single drop of it had been wasted. But it suited Peter’s purposes exactly.

‘I’ve got a new one,’ he said to the beings, practically smirking.

‘Oh!’ they replied. ‘Go on, then. Let’s hear it.’

Peter read it out. He relished each word, even mispronouncing some every once in a while, just to add further to the calamity of the thing.

He finished. The beings were silent. Silent as the grave, if he was in a cliché mood.

‘Well,’ one started. ‘That… was brilliant!’

‘Yes,’ added a different one, ‘utterly fantastic!’

Peter’s face fell.

‘I particularly loved the imagery. Quite evocative, if I might say.’

The praise swarmed over one another, until it was a mindless slog of babble and noise.


Peter didn’t write. He couldn’t. Every word that came from him was just a betrayal, a further proof of the lies. Had any of it been good? La Vie En Rose came to mind. The time, the sheer effort he’d put into making it the very best thing he could… and the beings didn’t consider it any different to the trite he’d just given them. Maybe it was all that bad. Maybe he had never written a single word of quality in his life.

He brought up La Vie En Rose before him. His view flickered up and down briefly; testing it, searching for flaws. It wasn’t good enough. If all they had to say about it was that it was no better than The Sacrifice… well, maybe they were right.

But what could he do? It’s not as if he could leave this place, go back to work and forget the whole thing. He was stuck here, and the only way he could keep them happy was to write them stories. What if they got bored with him? Left him in this void, no sound, sight, smell, time, nothing, until the end of all creation? What if that’s what they were planning all along?

He made his decision. They’d read La Vie En Rose. He’d press them for answers, explanations – get them rank his stories, perhaps, and justify it. Yes. That would work.

‘I’ve got one more,’ he said to the beings, ‘but I’m warning you, I’ll need a good bit of feedback if they’re going to get any better. Deal?’

He waited for a response. ‘Hello? Anyone there?’

There was no reply. Peter shifted, suddenly rather afraid. ‘Hello! I’ve got a story!’

No! Wait, what was that? A whisper. A little cry, a murmur, just over there… Peter strained his ears, listening for it. The beings. They were somewhere.

‘Hello!’ they said, seemingly miles away. ‘You are a Teller.’

Slowly, Peter realised. He had gone. Just like they said he would; they’d even already snared their next victim. He wanted to shout to the poor sod, tell them to run, die, do whatever they could to escape this hellhole – but he couldn’t. He couldn’t make so much as a sound.

‘No!’ cried Peter, as loud as his voice could go. ‘Please! Just… one more! I need to know! I need to know!’ But it was no good. They couldn’t hear him. They would never hear him. They would never read La Vie En Rose, his masterpiece, his victory. Nobody would ever read it.

It was the greatest story ever.

And there was no happy ending to be found.

© Copyright 2018 Ben Ramsey. All rights reserved.

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