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Working on the Craft: Unreliable Third

Continuing my journey through Brian Kiteley ‘s The 3 A.M. Epiphany, and Exercise 3 is both simple, and infuriating: Write a fragment of a story from the perspective of an unreliable narrator in tight third person. We are so used to unreliability being the realm of first person, that it was a really exciting thought process to tell a story I knew was wrong, but through the perspective of a more detached, supposedly less subjective point of view. Kiteley’s idea is that in this way, the author can play within the edges of unreliability, and actually coax more trust from the reader. And unlike a first person, where you understand the thought processes of your character and know how to use them to mislead, it seems that if you use third limited, you have to believe your own lie to a greater extent. Or at least that was my experience.

Waking up was a burst of joy. He arose and contemplated his reflection in the mirror.

That he was alive at all, was a miracle to his parents. When the terrifying illness had taken hold of their precious beautiful newborn, they had wailed. Oh how they had wailed! Matronly nursemaids had ran from the castle screaming in terror. Healers had fainted, too weak to comprehend what had befallen the Duke’s family.

His mother and father had wept for joy, he knew, when the illness had simply gone away one day. He woke every night, basking not in dreaded sunlight, but in the feeling that radiated through his home – of a family that cherished and loved him, of servants that rejoiced in his existence, saw him not as master, but as kin.

He opened the door and left the shadowed cave of his chambers, as he did every night. He enjoyed roaming the corridors upon waking, once the harsh dayglow he only faintly remembered was gone from the world. The hallways would echo with his footsteps, hushed voices drifting from far away. Those usually dwindled further as he approached. He wondered now, as he sometimes did, at the coincidence. He was the beloved master, the shining liege, and as he grew fat with joy, so did his servants and parents grow to love him even more. But yet there was rarely a soul nearby when he began his nightly strolls.

No matter. Should he wish for something, he knew he had to only call out.

There was much to do in the castle at night, much to experience. His pale skin glistened. The light from the lanterns that lined the walls painted oily colors across the length of his arm when he raised it before his face. He laughed, turned it around to see the play of crystalline reflections, as it danced up his lean triceps. The skin of his neck stretched and he felt the familiar click inside as he moved his head to chase the pattern further, over his shoulder and down his ribbed back…

A soft gasp brought him out of his reverie and he allowed his neck to return to its usual position, to look upon a young servant boy, standing frozen at the entrance of a side chamber. The boy’s eyes were wide with awe and a bead of sweat traced a line down the side of his face. The servant dare not breathe for fear that his beautiful lord would avert his countenance away.

He laughed. The boy need not fear. He moved forward, crossing the distance with a single glide, and reached with long fingers to caress the servant’s face, taking the bead of sweat with the tip of a nail. The boy trembled with adoration. He laughed and made to turn away and heard a gasp behind him.

He got confused for a moment. It happened sometimes. He was used to it and did not let it worry him.

As he continued roaming the corridors, screams sounded somewhere behind him. They made him wince. The castle was a happy place. His very presence brought delight to all who lived there. And yet, on occasion during his nightly strolls, there would be such dreadful tumult! It made him angry, but he was as merciful as he was beautiful. The bounty of his joy was big enough for all to partake, even if at times they would refuse to be content.

His very mother had wailed and screamed at him once, the tears so striking on her normally smiling face. She knew how much he loved her smile, and so she always smiled for him. But that time she had not smiled, even when he told her to. She had been the one confused then, his mother. Her voice shrill with accusations, yelling something about a brother, calling him – him! – a monster. Her distress had been tiring, and unnecessary as well.

He had never had a brother, he told her, and all the monsters had gone away once he had come through his illness as an infant. He had hugged her tight to console her, and her screams had turned into rasping sobs. She fell on the floor when he let her go, twisted strangely, but when he had made to help her stand, she had screamed that there was no need. She smiled then, the way she knew he liked, and so had his father, when he had turned around to see him standing at the doorframe.

His mother only sat in a chair now, with wheels. He giggled as he thought about the silly contraption, but she was so attached to it. And she never yelled at him anymore, so of course he indulged her in her game, even if it must be uncomfortable at times.

The last vestiges of his confusion were now gone, and he found himself alone once again, in the hallways of his ancestral castle, seeking joy. He licked his fingers without looking at them. They tasted slick, salty. Metallic. He loved that taste. Lived for it. Through it.

As he traveled down the corridors, sometimes skipping on the stone tiles, sometimes gliding above them, he laughed his rich laughter, reveling at the happiness he felt. His dark world was beautiful and filled with the brightness of love. He only had to reach out and pluck it.

Published inWorking on the Craft

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