Thai sat down, took a sip of tea, and began to write.

Thai sat down, took a sip of tea, and began to write. His pen glides over the bleech-white paper, slowly at first, letting the words form themselves. The desk was covered in similar sheets of paper, covered in scrawls, and the occasional brown ring of tea. The apartment was small and dark. The curtains had been pulled shut months ago, and now a combination of mould and dust held them in place. Thai ran his fingers through his once-short hair, and scratched his stubbled covered skin. He wanted to stop writing. He had wanted to put the pen down, but they wouldn’t leave him alone. They called to him, called him to keep writing, making their world live.

Page after page described in intricate detail the lives of people of Incara, a world that had been meant for a single short story. A story that followed the simple life of an unlikely hero who did nothing more spectacular than rescuing a girl from a dark forest. When he wrote the last line, of the two lovers kissing under a pale sun, he thought he was done. That night, however, the voices of all the others in the story, the baker who feed the hungry hero, the unnamed traveller that had offered unlikely sage advice, and even a shopkeeper who’s role had been nothing more than background colour. Each voice insistent that they wanted to live, they wanted to grow, and to love. That night, Thai found himself surrounded by voices, praying for life.

At first he thought it was a simple nightmare. Something fuelled by too much cheese, or too much coke. He had pulled himself out of bed, half-asleep and stumbled off to work, trying to put the vivid voices out of his mind. Yet as he stood at the till, serving customers, he could hear them, all around him, pleading, crying, begging, threatening. He had been sent home when he had apparently turned to thin air, demanding that they leave him alone.

He hadn’t worked since. He was vaguely aware that he had been thrown out of his flat, and had somehow got himself into this bedsit. He didn’t know who paid the bills, but it wasn’t him. He couldn’t stop writing. He had to make them all live, let them all have the life he had offered that first unnamed hero. In the beginning, he promised himself that he could write just one more, and then they would leave him alone. That just another story, and then he could rest. Yet as he wrote them, bringing them together, each story created yet more people, another place with people, more interactions, more voices clamouring for his attention, for his pen to make them live.

At first, he had tried to write a cohesive story, an interwoven tapestry of characters that reached a conclusion, writing for someone to read it, as any good author does. However, as each person wove their way out of the story, their voice would once again return, begging to be completed. Now he methodically wrote each person’s life, from start, to finish. Gone was the author’s flair, gone was the striving for new adventures. There were only so many heroes that he could imagine, now he was filling in the colour, filling in each person’s life, however mundane.

He found the task of being their arbiter of justice difficult. Each time he wrote pain into someone’s life, he felt for them, each time he wrote joy, he celebrated with them. Yet try as he might, he could not write a life that was without pain, that was without sorrow. Each life he wrote, no matter how careful he was, no matter how he tried to keep the story from heartache there was always heartache. A wife who passed before a husband, the death of a pet, the loss of a job. He hated himself for each one he wrote, yet write them he did. For each pain was woven inexorably into a tapestry that ensured that everyone had a place for them.

It took many lives before he could see the necessity of death. Each death changed the family, moved their story on, but it also cascaded outwards. Their interactions with other, the changes that happened in their lives, each affected other stories. Even in death, at some point, someone gained some joy. It seemed morbid, that someone had to die for someone else to gain the joy, but the two events were often so far removed that even that caused the joy was almost unrecognisable from the grief of death. Yet without that grief, the joy was impossible.

The opposite was also true, for every joy, it brought grief into someone’s life. Never directly, but through a cascade of myriad changes. Often he could write life after life, and see in each story a small glimmer of how the joy had changed things. It could be weeks before he could see where the grief came. And come it would, brining with it his own tears.

It was this depth of understanding of their lives that had stayed his tyrannical hand more than once. It was only when each story was complete would that voice be silenced. It was only when the life had come full circle would the voice fade with a whispered “thank you”. Each life made a mark on him, and changed him.

In the beginning, after too many sleepless nights, he had in his anger and rage set out to destroy the world. A cataclysmic event, like a flood or a volcano, wipe them all out so that he might sleep. He had not stayed his pen from the flood, but as it sweped over his world, he heard the cries, he heard the wails, and most of all, he heard the soft whispers of those that still thanked him for their brief life. It was these small voices that stayed his hand from ending his creation. It was these voices, even extinguished by the flood that haunted him.

So he wrote. Hour after hour. Day after day. He was dimly aware that there was always paper on his desk, and always more pens when his ran out, and that his room was smaller. He was aware of people who came and placed food on a small table, that he would fall upon and eat before falling exhausted into bed, sleeping deep until the voices woke him again. Occasionally a voice with a deeper resonance, that seemed closer to him would talk to him about what he was doing, it was a kind voice, a friendly voice, one that was not begging him for life, but he could not remember answering him. The voice came regularly, and Thai always meant to answer. One day, perhaps.

The pages flew by, and he knew that he was getting weaker, and stiffer. That movement was harder, thinking was harder. The voices were just as insistent, but there were less of them now. He hoped he was getting to the end, making sure that he had written them all, made them all live. He feared for his world, because the sun was getting darker. It was a passing line that he had written, simply to give flavour to the story of the unnamed hero, but person after person, year after year, the sun grew quieter, dimmer, darker. The people were getting less, because less were being born. The crops were failing, the water was short, the people were dying. The voices were few now, perhaps three or four. He coughed, and sipped his cold, old tea, and wiped the trickle of blood from his lip onto his already dark-red sleeve. He noticed that the paper was running out, the pens had not been replaced. He noticed that it was cold, darker than he remembered. The friendly voice that he meant to answer hadn’t been in a while. He laid two to rest, each life brief and brilliant, a triumph against the elements and the , a story of survival, and tragic love.

He pulled the last sheet of paper towards him, running his fingers through his long white hair. This was an unusual story. It didn’t begin at the very beginning, it was going to be a story that explained itself as it went on. The last person that Thai had to write.

On that sheet of bleech-white paper he wrote one sentence. With that one sentence he felt a great weight lift off his shoulders. He laid the pen down next to the paper, and for the first time in a very long time, he smiled to himself, then closed his eyes, and slept for the last time.

The sentence read:

Thai sat down, took a sip of tea, and began to write