Writing Prompt: Breaking the Fourth Wall
Larabeth had only been watching Matlock in the asylum cafeteria for twelve words, and already she was bored. Matlock was a show for old people, one of many stereotypes authors stole for a cheap laugh. Unfortunately for her, old lunatics outnumbered the young ones by a decent margin.
Hoping for something else to entertain her, Larabeth glanced around the cafeteria at the other patients. Bobby the Patriot was rapping Morse code on the table with shifty eyes, probably hoping to pass a message regarding national security to his CIA contact. Janitor Morrow was in the process of cleaning up a giant mess of spilled pasta chunks in the corner, smashing his mop into the goop with gritted teeth.
About five minutes ago, Ronald McDonald (or “the Ron” as they all called him) had taken umbrage to food he considered off the menu, and thrown the plate of pasta as far as it could go. He’d come to the asylum a year ago, tucked away for insisting he was the actual Ronald McDonald, and repeatedly coming after McDonalds’ executives claiming they had stolen his likeness to sell greasy burgers.
Because it was now 193 words into the story and nothing really interesting had happened yet (which was way too long to interest a literary agent in anything) Larabeth sucked down another Jello square and decided to start a riot. That would be interesting, and besides, she needed to get out of here before the story ended. To do that, she’d first have to get her belongings back from the asylum’s main office.
“Hey Leslie?” Larabeth glanced at the dark-haired woman sitting next to her, idly spinning a block of wood with no sharp corners. “Feel like starting a riot?”
“Naw,” Leslie said. “It’s Friday night.” Leslie was only here because she thought people were actually automatons driven by tiny hamsters. “Never a good idea to riot on a Friday night.”
“Not enough letters in in it,” Leslie said. “Wednesday is much safer.”
Larabeth could see the logic in that. “Unfortunately, I don’t think this story is going to run until next Wednesday.”
“Huh?” Leslie asked.
“Nevermind.” Larabeth shrugged. “I’ll ask someone else.”
“Cool.” Leslie spun her block a bit more.
Larabeth searched the room for someone who might be pliable. Janitor Morrow had finished with the bulk of the Ron’s pasta tantrum and was now scrubbing along the baseboards with a ratty, discolored sponge.
The sponge! If anyone at Happy Home was dissatisfied with their existence in this place, it would be the sponges. People were constantly rubbing them in nasty things, and twisting them dozens of times, and wringing them out, and leaving them to grow mold in cold metal sinks. No one would enjoy that.
Larabeth hopped up and walked over to Janitor Morrow. “Hey, Mister Morrow?”
He glanced at her with a wary smile. “Yes?”
“Do you mind if I talk to your sponge for a moment?”
As the janitor at an insane asylum, Morrow had heard far stranger questions. Now done with his cleanup, he shrugged, tossed the ratty, sauce covered sponge to her, and said “Knock yourself out, kid.”
“Thanks!” Larabeth beamed at him, and he smiled a bit more.
Larabeth carried the sponge over a quiet corner, where they could talk without being overheard. She checked the wordcount just to make sure she still had time to reach the office. Yup. 931 words left. She set the sponge down and greeted it. “Hello, sponge!”
The sponge waited.
“Do you like having your face scrubbed in messy pasta? In apple juice?”
The sponge didn’t like anything, since it was a sponge.
“Oh, right.” Larabeth considered for a moment. What she really needed was for this story’s author to change the rules of the world so that sponges could talk. And be sentient.
“Ack!” said the sponge.
“Oh?” Larabeth said.
“What am I? Who am I?” The sponge sounded a bit freaked out by its sudden self-awareness.
“You’re a sponge!” Larabeth exclaimed. “People rub you in yucky stuff and use you to clean scummy toilets.”
“Ew!” the sponge shouted.
“I know,” Larabeth agreed. “Want to do something about it?”
“But what can I do?” the sponge said. “I’m just a sponge!”
“Well, you can petition the asylum for better treatment. Or, you know,” Larabeth said casually. “You could riot.”
“Riot?” the sponge asked.
“Well, you’d need to be able to move around first,” Larabeth said, scratching her head as she considered further changes to the story’s rules. “And since you’re so small, you’d probably need superstrength. I think autonomous, mobile, super strong sponges who don’t like having their faces rubbed in yuck would have a strong incentive to riot.”
“Really?” the sponge asked eagerly.
“Oh yeah,” Larabeth said. “You’d also be very good at it.”
“Now hear this!” the sponge shouted, startling everyone sitting in the cafeteria except for Leslie, who had probably known Larabeth was going to instigate something like this. “We’re done cleaning up your messes!”
“Yeah!” Larabeth added.
“We want equal pay!” the sponge added. “And no more throwing us in trash cans!”
“What?” Janitor Morrow said, thoroughly flabbergasted.
“And no more scalding water!” more sponges yelled. There were clatters from across the asylum as sentient, super strong mobile sponges sprang from their perches and smashed their way through all the doors blocking them from the cafeteria.
“Sponge rights!” the lead sponge shouted. “Sponge rights sponge rights sponge rights!”
As the other sponges joined in and Janitor Morrow pulled the panic alarm, the cafeteria exploded into chaos. Men and women in loose white clothing went running everywhere, and Larabeth used the commotion to dash through the now sponge-smashed door and run for the asylum office.
It was empty – this late, only the orderlies were actually on duty – but the door was locked. Fortunately, a sponge was busy smashing a cabinet inside. Larabeth called to it. “Hey, sponge!”
“Yes?” it said, stopping in its cabinet smashing.
“Could you get this door open for me?”
“Sure!” the sponge shouted, and bashed the door right open.
Larabeth tossed it a salute and walked past the office to the intake room, which was fortunately unlocked. She rifled through the lockers until she found the belongings they’d taken from her when she had herself committed – a golden locket, a wooden stick that was vaguely wand shaped, and a small leather bag about big enough to hold a roll of quarters or a single square of SPAM.
Pocketing the items, she jogged back to the cafeteria to find that the former patients were now all happily huddled in one corner, watching Matlock with a few sponges, and the rest of the sponges had herded all the orderlies into another. All in all, it looked like the sponges were running the asylum. Larabeth was fairly certain that had not happened in any other story ever. So far as she knew.
“Hey everyone!” Larabeth shouted, catching their attention. “You can all stop rioting now! I got what I needed!”
“Well, we haven’t!” a sponge shouted. “We still want to be taken seriously!”
“Yeah!” the other sponges chimed in. “And no more sponge baths!”
“Eww!” the others all shouted in unison.
“Hmm.” Larabeth tapped her chin. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. I probably should have suggested something less drastic.”
“What?” a confused orderly asked.
“Not an issue,” Larabeth amended. “Tell you what, sponges. If you promise to let all the orderlies and inmates go back to what they were doing before the riot, I promise none of you will be forced to do anything you don’t want to do for as long as you continue to exist.”
“To exist?” a sponge said.
“That sounds ominous,” another added.
“It’s not so bad,” Larabeth said. “Why don’t we all sit down and watch the end of Matlock together?”
Moved by her words for some reason not readily apparent to any of them, the sponges agreed and took seats alongside those asylum patients who had not fled during the riot. Once everyone was settled down and comfortable, Janitor Morrow walked over to her.
She smiled at him. “Yes, Mister Morrow?”
“What did you mean when you told the sponges ‘as long as you continue to exist?'”
“Oh!” Larabeth tried to think back. “Honestly? I don’t remember.”
“Right,” said Morrow. “So … are they going to riot again?”
Larabeth checked the word count. “Nope! There’s only 90 words left before the end of this story.”
“What does that mean?” Morrow asked.
“Nothing important,” Larabeth said. “Anyway, I don’t have to go now. They don’t need me over in the Fantasy-Faction RPG forum.”
“What’s that?” Morrow asked.
“Not sure!” Larabeth eagerly rubbed her golden medallion. “Nice talking to you, Morrow!”
“Right?” Morrow said. He blinked as Larabeth vanished in a poof of smoke.
“Hey.” A sponge sidled over. “Do you think she was serious about that 90 words thing?”
“Honestly?” Morrow frowned. “I don’t know what she meant.”
About the Story:
The theme “Breaking the Fourth Wall” really stumped me. I don’t generally write “funny” stories (while I try to incorporate humor into my fiction, I don’t consider myself suited to writing entirely comedic tales) and initially, the only route to go with a fourth wall breaking story seemed to be comedic. Because of the word count (limit of 1,500 words!), I soon settled on the idea of a protagonist who realized they were in a story and was (in terror) counting its words until the story (and them, by extension) ended.
This led to a bunch of dark story ideas, none of which I liked. Fortunately, about the time we had this theme I also got involved with the Fantasy-Faction RPG, which is basically just a bunch of posters writing an interactive adventure involving characters they’ve created. And by creating my character, I also stumbled upon my story’s protagonist.
All characters for the RPG typically have skills or powers, and I liked the idea of Larabeth’s power being to occasionally break the fourth wall, but not in a conscious manner. Rather than recognizing that she is in a story, she instead treats the odd thoughts that pop into her head as insanity, and deals with those thoughts as calmly as she deals with everything else. Hence why she’s in an asylum in this story, and why she gets out before her 1,500 words are up.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/48995219@N05/4598319637″>A Day In the Life of a HouseWife</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>