once upon an after, 2 of 2

A Guest Post by Jarrell Waggoner


“Wait,” I exclaimed, “you mean that if any of your stories were to have an ending, then you’d have already lived that story?”

“Yes,” it said. “That is the very reason our stories have no endings. Nor can they.”

“Why couldn’t you have a story that went on just a bit longer than all the stories you’ve experienced, and then end it?” I puzzled.

It looked puzzled at my puzzle and then, quite rightly, replied, “by the time we had heard the recount of a story of such length, we’d have already experienced it ourselves. Nor could the crafting of such a tale be completed before we had fully experienced its contents.”

“Oh, bother.” Clearly, I had not fully grasped this notion. “So, tell me about the stories you do have.”

“We may have experienced every possible permutation of events, but we still exist in time, and the order in which we experience these events is different for every one of us.”

It paused again. “Think of it thus: no matter which book you pick up, no matter the film you view, no matter what event you might hear recounted, everything found therein you have already experienced. But the sequence of when these things were experienced varies from one to another. That’s how we tell each other apart–not by appearance, since we all share the same; not aurally or tactilely, but simply by distinction of the sequence of discrete stories we’ve experienced.”

“Aha! So you need only find an ordering of stories that has never been experienced before to create a new, original tale?”

“That’s hardly practical, since there is no telling if someone else has already experienced your crafted ordering, and yours isn’t the only culture with lawyers. Neither is creating such a lengthy tale practical, nor partaking in the recounting of such a tale.”

“But the lack of novelty doesn’t make a story valueless, lawyers aside,” I said, “many of our stories have elements we’re all familiar with: birth, growing up, death–themes that don’t grow tired in and of themselves.”

“What if each and every one of your stories consisted of ‘Once upon a time?’ That, and only that? Something so familiar and universal that its existence alone without anything accompanying it is so axiomatical as to be meaningless. That is what a finite story is to us. You, being finite, only understand the example if I take an incomplete element of a story, but to us, it’s entire stories that seem this tired and common.”

“I don’t suppose your vocabulary allows for narrative devices that makes the story uniquely inexperiential?”

“You would be right, if I understand your meaning.”

“But what are your stories, then? How can they be enough?”

“Simple,” it replied. “Our stories are the lives of those around us. That is enough for us.”

Something was still missing, but I think I understood.

Read part one here.

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