“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”
The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.
“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”
As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn says, “Our guest’s roommate describes him thus:
Singer… well, he’s been through a lot, over the last year or so, and it’s left him with a lot of emotional damage. The sweet, openhearted little boy he used to be isn’t as easily seen, anymore. …if he’s still somewhere in there at all. I’ve got to hope he is.
“Welcome, Singer!” Will greets the young man now seated in the chair across from his own. “So glad you could join me. First things first – how in the world are you so freaking pretty??”
Singer’s chin tips to a scornful angle. “It’s nothing to do with your world at all – not your proper world, though perhaps a bit like this in-between place where you host your show. People in the Abréal can look any way they wish at any given time, so appearance doesn’t count for much.”
“No, I’d imagine not.”
“That’s just it: Imagination. The Abréal is essentially ruled by it. People in the Réalis – the real world, you know – like to say such things as, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it,’ but for them, it’s not true. For us, it is. …or ‘was’, for me and Row.” Singer’s full lips turn down into a petulant frown. “Now we’re stuck in the real world with the rest of the ineffective dreamers.”
“About you and Row,” says Will. “I’m told the two of you are something called a ‘kindred pair’. What is that, exactly? Like a couple, or…?”
“A romantic couple?” Singer scoffs. “Nothing of the kind. It’s more of a spirit-level symbiosis. We need each other. Supposedly.” He scowls, gaze slanting away beneath his long lashes. “I don’t suppose there’s much good either of us can do the other, now.”
“No?” says Will, his manner all of concern and of listening. “Why not?”
The colors in Singer’s face abruptly shift – already fair skin gone whiter, save for the angry red high in his cheeks, eyes snapping bright. “What is this, a talk show or a therapy session? Never mind why. Ask something else.”
Will waves a hand of resignation. “Fine. How’s merry old England? It’s literal ages since I’ve been.”
“Well, I haven’t made it all the way out to Nottinghamshire, but London’s not so entirely dreadful, just… inflexible. You wouldn’t believe the trouble it is just to make breakfast! Got to actually walk into the kitchen, physically pull out the food which you’ll need to have gone out and bought, and take time to fix it into something edible, only to realize you can’t conjure any tableware out of the air!”
“Bloody hell,” Will observes.
“It is, too. But Row insists we’ll manage. And really, we haven’t any other choice.”
“There is one choice left before you: The infamous final question! Will you tell our mutual author’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?” He smiles winsomely. “Or would you rather kiss me?”
For the first time, something smile-like lurks behind Singer’s eyes and mouth. “I don’t think Danielle would be terribly mortified were I to share the secret behind my story.” Definitely smiling now, he looks slyly beyond the host. “But Allyn might be.”
The dismay in Allyn’s off-camera voice is evident. “You’re going to tell everyone that?”
“It’s that or kiss Will,” Singer says flippantly. “And one or the other of us might enjoy that too much. I’d rather drop this little fact: I, Heartsinger of the Abréal, am essentially an alternate reality version of Allyn-a-Dale.”
“Several layers of reality removed,” Allyn is quick to emphasize.
“Yes, I know.” Singer slumps deeper into his chair. “You’re the likeable one.”
Will leans across to pat Singer’s hand. “Likeable characters are overrated. Say, Original Allyn – how ‘bout a quick word from our sponsor?”
“Today’s Kiss & Tell segment,” says Allyn, happy for the subject change, “was brought to you by Danielle E. Shipley’s ‘Reality As We Know It’, a short story included in the ‘Toll of Another Bell’ fantasy anthology (officially launching tomorrow, available for preorder now, online Release Party tomorrow at 6pm Central).
In a realm of infinite possibility, impossibility, and immortality, a broken boy begs to die.
Devoted childhood companion to the shattered Singer, Row will do anything to resurrect his friend’s will to live, including join him in exile in real-world London, where if the grueling battle against unemployment doesn’t kill you, the dodgy neighbor in the upstairs flat just might.
But as Singer’s grief festers and eviction looms, even irrepressible Row begins to doubt whether single-minded determination is enough to make ends – and two hurting hearts – meet.
“Thank you, Allyn,” says Will. “Thanks to you as well, Singer. And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided in this post, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”