He/She wakes every morning knowing he/she isn’t important. Not in the larger scheme of things. He/She knows his/her creation is nothing more than a convenience for the protagonist. The protagonist is the one people care about, not him/her.

He/She takes a shower and dresses and then goes into his/her kitchen for breakfast. He/She always pours a bowl of cereal. He/She never adds milk to the cereal. It doesn’t matter anyway; he/she has no taste. In fact, he/she doesn’t even need the food. There is no nothing inside him/her. No heart, no lungs, no digestive tract. He/she is a skeleton covered with flesh.

He/She takes the bowl to the sink and rinses it out and sets it aside in the strainer. There is nothing else in the strainer. This bowl and spoon are the only things he/she owns.

He/She goes to work. The place of work varies from day to day, hour to hour. Sometimes it’s as a clerk at a convenience store. Or as a janitor at a hospital. Or as a police dispatcher. Today it is as a bartender.

He/She takes his/her place behind the bar and begins drying glasses. The bar is dim and smoky and populated by a half dozen individuals. He/She doesn’t know who will be the one today to talk to him/her. He/She doesn’t know what he/she will say or do. So he/she stays behind the bar, drying glasses, sometimes pouring someone a beer.

The phone rings. He/She answers it. The person on the other line asks if Rudy is there. He/She says hold on, he’ll/she’ll check. He/She holds the phone to his/her chest and calls out, “Is there a Rudy in here?” Across the bar, hunched over a pitcher of beer, a man raises his hand. He/She says into the phone, “Yes, there’s a Rudy here. Did you want to talk to him?” The phone clicks in his/her ear.

For the next hour nothing happens. He/She stays behind the bar, drying more glasses. He/She keeps an eye on Rudy still hunched over his pitcher of beer. Finally the entrance door opens. A man steps in. This man wears a trench coat and fedora. The man stops and surveys the bar and then walks over to Rudy. Rudy sees the man coming and starts to get to his feet. He never makes it though, because the man in the trench coat and fedora pulls out a gun and shoots Rudy twice in the head. Rudy falls back into his table, knocking over the pitcher of beer. The man in the trench coat and fedora steps back, looks at him/her, and says, “Thanks for the tip,” before turning and walking back out the way he came.

The next several hours are a blur. Before he/she knows it, work is over and he/she is headed home. He/She stops for food on the way home. Just like breakfast, there is no need for food but something he/she feels must be done. He/She picks up Chinese and takes it home and opens up the containers to find nothing inside. The only thing substantial is a fortune cookie. He/She breaks the fortune cookie apart and pulls out the slip of paper. The fortune is blank.

Once again, he/she thinks about killing himself/herself. He/She is just a skeleton covered in flesh, but if he/she took a knife and sliced open his/her skin, peeled it all off, then maybe this would end. He/She even stands up and goes to the drawer and opens it. There is nothing inside. He/She goes to the next drawer, then the next, but all the drawers and cabinets are empty. He/She stands very still and listens to the silence. Finally, he/she goes to bed and stares at the ceiling and wonders what will happen tomorrow, where he/she will find himself/herself and just how he/she will help to propel the plot.

Robert Swartwood is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer (W.W. Norton) and blogs at



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