Outtake: The Missing Narrator (Extended Version)

This is a fun deleted section that’s a little too meta and absurdist for its own good. I trimmed it waaaay down for the Jubalee chapter of L Extreme, but still dig it enough to share here. I’m a big fan of non-traditional, hyper referential storytelling and loved the setup of the overly loquacious intrusive narrator being scolded into going on strike. One day I might rework it as an unrelated experimental short story, but here it is in full rough-ish draft glory with all the Benji Hughes references intact.

(Note that the shorter official L Extreme version has a very specific plot reason for the narrator’s disappearance, but in this earlier draft it was just a dumb little stunt without much of a point. Kill your darlings—or at least repurpose them…)

(Bonus fun fact: A note attached to this scene says: “The narrator should sound like the Dude narrating LILILIL.” That concept I kept when rewriting the full novel, but odd that the inspiration struck in a stretch where the narrator is largely absent.)

Here they come. Walking down the street. Actually, down the block. And on the sidewalk, not the street. But that’s somewhat inferred by the walking part. Or it can be. Down the block could mean walking or driving, biking or bussing. Busses drive, just with someone else doing it for you. Sort of like taxis. Or pedicabs. Horseback, anyone? Perhaps a boat. Merrily down the stream. Stream, street. It’s all the same. Three gentlemen on parade, mimicking the ladies who inspired this jubilee/jubalee/potato/tomato.

There’s a shop that’s down the block. With sweet iced tea—

“Hey narrator. We’ve got it from here. Back to stage directions only, ok?”

“I thought that guy would never stop.”

“Three iced teas, please.”

“You’re rhyming again.”

“No, I’m—ok. That rhymed. I was being polite.”

“Sweet. On all three. Right boys?”

“Thanks.”

“What’s that? Yeah. I can’t believe how hot it’s getting either.”

“Ahhhh. This iced tea really hits the spot.”

“I think we need to apologize to the narrator.”

“Because nobody knows which of us are talking or what we’re doing without his help.”

“Don’t look at me like that.”

“See, they don’t know who is talking or who is being talked about.”

“Alright. Are you there, narrator? I’m sorry I snapped at you. Your non-sequiturs were better than our dialogue. Can you please come back now?”

“I don’t think he’s coming back.”

“Without him the audience can’t tell how much time is passing. We waited for something like a full minute of silence between those lines.”

“It was forty-three seconds.”

“Thanks, Mark.”

“I have an idea. We can be the narrator.”

“How can we be the narrator?”

“Like this. Just end your sentences with words like ’said Benji.’”

“I’m not following.”

“Here’s how we’re going to do it said Benji.”

“That will let people know who’s talking, but the quotation marks make it difficult to read.”

“Ahem…”

“Ahem what?”

“You didn’t narrate. Say it again.”

“But the quotation marks make it difficult to read said Frank.”

“That’s a good point said Mark. Maybe add a pause?”

“But the quotation marks make it difficult to read. Said Frank. No, now the pacing feels wrong.”

“At least there’s context. It’s all about context. Said Benji.”

“This is a proofreader’s worst nightmare. Said Frank.”

“Bad grammar is making it hard to count, said Mark.”

“Right said Fred.”

“There’s no Fred here. Said Frank.”

“I know. I just wanted to say that.”

“Said Benji. Follow your own rules.”

“You can’t said Benji for me said Benji. Only I can. Said Benji to Mark who was being annoying.”

“At least you’re getting the hang of this narration thing. You got eight words of description in there. Said Mark.”

“They knew it was you when you counted the words, Count. Said Benji.”

“Stop calling me Count, said Mark.”

“Maybe the way you answer the phone is more appropriate. Frank speaking.”

“Ah. I like that. Benji speaking, how may I help you?”

“Frank speaking. Isn’t it time we continued onwards to the circus?”

“Mark speaking. First we need to pay for these three iced teas. You can help by paying the tab.”

“But it’s my jubilee!”

“Frank speaking. It’s our jubilee. It started to cheer you up but we’re all in this together. And I’ve noticed when you get agitated you forget to identify yourself.”

“At least it makes him spell jubilee right.”

“Narration is hard work, man. We need that other guy back. And maybe it was the other guy who was spelling it wrong”

“He’ll catch up with us after we leave. Though he’s not going to be in any rush if you keep talking about him like that.”

“Frank speaking. You forgot to—”

“Yeah, I’m done pretending to narrate. I feel like we’re playing Clue again. Mr. Hughes, in the flower shop, with the fly trap.”

“But we’re at the cafe getting iced tea now. And we didn’t buy the fly traps.”

“Fine. In the tea shop. With the telephone. Since we were talking like you do when you answer the phone.”

“I answer the phone by saying ‘Hello.’”

“It’s polite to identify who you are.”

“At work maybe. I don’t have an office job. Phone rings. I answer. Or mostly I don’t. If it’s important they’ll text me.”

“Let’s go to the circus. We’ll take the check.”

“Fifty-six dollars! These iced teas cost more than the Venus fly traps!”

“You need to start a budget to keep track of these things.”

“That’s what L wants me to do.”

“Jubilees are expensive.”

“Stuff the jubilee.”

“That’s the wrong song.”

“And the wrong band.”

“See—that’s why they need different spellings. Makes it less confusing.”

“It’s all confusing without a narrator. Let’s go find him.”

“Where do we start looking? He could be anywhere.”

“C’mon. He has to be somewhere.”

“No. He’s omniscient. That means he’s everywhere.”

“Everywhere? Like all over the universe? Even in space?”

“Anywhere and everywhere. Space. Time. Dimensions. That’s what omniscient means.”

“If he was truly omniscient he’d still be here now. So you’re wrong.”

“Unless…”

“Unless?”

“Unless.”

“Unless what?”

“What if he died?”

“We need to call the cops somebody killed the narrator!”

“Here we go again. We already did that song. That’s why we were at the florist.”

“Is the DJ dead or not? What happened at that party?”

“It’s complicated. The DJ died, but then we saved her.”

“Maybe we need to go back to the florist to get a bouquet for the narrator.”

“Guys. The narrator isn’t dead. He’s just missing. Or mad at us. Or on strike.”

“Or lost. Maybe he’s just on a different page than we are.”

“That narrator dude was definitely on a different page than us.”

“Not a metaphorical different page. A literal one. We’ll catch up to him on a future page…or a past one.”

“A past one? How would that work?”

“Just flip back a few pages and see if the narrator is there.”

“Of course he’s there. He was narrating then.”

“True. So go back a few pages and see if he says anything differently. Did anything change?”

“How will we know if something changed?”

“Is the narrator there? Are there continuity errors? Do character names change? Jubalee or jubilee? Stuff like that.”

“We already did the time travel chapter.”

“When did we have a time travel chapter? I don’t remember that.”

“We actually had two time travel chapters. Maybe that’s why you can’t remember.”

“We can’t do a real time travel chapter because time travel isn’t real.”

“The DJ isn’t dead anymore. How’d that happen if it wasn’t time travel?”

“The dreams have to mean something more than just the fact that I watch too much stuff on TV.”

“It’s called foreshadowing.”

“If I had a time machine, I could take you anywhere…”

“The narrator didn’t go back to the beginning of the book. You can skip ahead to find him if you really want to. But my vote is to let things play out in their natural order page by page until we catch up to him.”

“So what’s our plan?”

“Let’s go to the circus. He’s bound to turn up.”

“Jubalee, phase three.”

“Rhyming again…”

“Shut it.”

“For 4 fours!”

“What did you just say?”

“I didn’t say it.”

“I didn’t say it either.”

“It has numbers in it. Two numbers. Fess up, Mark.”

“It wasn’t me. I wish it was, but it wasn’t.”

“What does it even mean?”

“Maybe the narrator wrote it.”

“If the narrator wrote it he wouldn’t quote it.”

“Rhyming…”

“Shut it. But that’s right. Things the narrator says aren’t in quotation marks. Just dialogue.”

“The narrator doesn’t write. He narrates. Don’t confuse the narrator with the author.”

“Sometimes the narrator is also a character.”

“What are you getting at?”

“Maybe one of us is actually the narrator.”

“If one of us were also the narrator, we’d still be narrating and not going through this strange interlude without any description.”

“True. Unless we wanted to disguise the fact that we were actually narrating.”

“Hmmm. It is a little coincidental that the narrator stopped narrating shortly after Frank started talking.”

“I wasn’t the narrator.”

“Maybe you can’t be a character and a narrator at the same time.”

“Why can’t you be anything that you want to be?”

“No real reason. I’m just explaining the rules.”

“There are no rules.”

“There are more rules than you realize.”

“This is our story. Vibe it. With or without narration. Let’s go to the circus.”

“It’s the most logical place for us to find the narrator.”

“Why? What’s logical about the circus?”

“Everyone runs away to join the circus.”

“That’s such a cliche.”

“Just because it’s a cliche doesn’t mean it’s not the most obvious possibility. Ever heard of Occam’s razor?”

“Love is a razor.”

“We did that one already too. Don’t you know the track order?”

Just then, the narrator returned. He spoke of himself in the third person since that’s what he was. Though here he should be speaking of himself in the fourth person. He feels bad about his absence, but sometimes these things happen. It’s just the way it is.

“Welcome back! I’m sorry if we upset you.”

Benji sounded remorseful enough, so the narrator accepted his apology. There was one catch though. Benji had to promise to never acknowledge his presence again. At least not for the duration of this story. And as for the tale to where the narrator had been all this time? That’s a concept from another album for another book.

“I bet he was in the bathroom for five pages,” whispered Mark. “Or having a cigarette.” He raised his voice towards the roofless sky. “You shouldn’t smoke, narrator. It’s bad for your passive voice.”

Even though he hears everything, the narrator pretends not to hear that. But he extends the acknowledgment rule to apply to Mark also. Frank too.

And with that, it’s time to run away and join as the old adage goes. There’s a circus in the town somewhere…

Check out L Extreme

Or for something on a similar meta wavelength, try “Debaser” from Duty Calls

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