Stories Told by Secondary Characters
Nested stories are common literary devices. Some writing texts advocate treating every chapter as a separate story with a beginning and an end. Nested stories can be standalone chapters, but they are usually stories narrated by characters within the framework of a chapter. A character within the main story might recall an experience, or they might tell a fictional story of their own.
I like nested stories; they are fine places to give readers glimpses of hidden themes and character motivations. They can add evidence for the reality of the main story. I gave an example in an earlier post about stories told by the protagonist. Here is an example of a nested story involving secondary characters in the novel Corr Syl the Warrior (#CorrSyl). The story provides support for subsequent actions within the main story.
As Allysen and two fighters trotted past a picnic area near the new military base, a Danog woman waved them over.
“Hello. Do you have a moment?”
Allysen focused. The woman seemed worried, and she wanted help from Tsaeb. Odd. Allysen introduced her group and asked how she could help.
“I am Elaine Medlar, and this is my husband Paul. A friend of ours, Julie Snow, lived where they’re building the new army base. A Tsaeb, Allon Trofeld, stopped by while we were visiting her last month, and I wondered if you knew him.”
“I do. What happened?”
“Well, probably nothing, but we haven’t been able to reach Julie, and we’re wondering if Trofeld knew anything. Would you mind asking him to give me a call?”
“I wouldn’t mind, but I may not see him for a while. Tell me about your meeting with him.”
“Sure . . . this is a long story. Julie and I taught at Saguaro Elementary. Last January, she accepted a job in the State Education office. The new job didn’t start right away, and Julie decided to take some time off so she could work on her novel and visit her family. She moved into an old ranch house outside town. My husband Paul and I had dinner with her last month, and that’s when we met Trofeld.”
“Is the house near here?” Allysen asked.
“It was, but I think it has been torn down. It was down this road, about where the army is working on something. It was an interesting evening. The house was on a gravel road about a mile north of the city. The place was old. It had a corrugated tin roof splotched with rust, and a wrap-around porch. Inside, it felt like the ceilings were too low, and the rooms were dark. During dinner, Julie told us the Tsaeb border was a short distance farther north. After dinner, she took us out on the front porch to look at the desert. Tall Saguaro stood between round Paloverde and clusters of bristling Cholla. The air was cool, clear, and very still. It was pretty, but very quiet. After we went in, Paul said the silence was eerie. He asked Julie if she had expected it to be so quiet. She said mocking birds often sang at night, and normally you could hear owls and a cricket or two.” Elaine stopped her narrative to take a breath, and collect her thoughts.
“There was a knock and we all jumped,” she continued. “Then we laughed and Julie went to the door. When Julie opened the door we could see a tall creature with fur like yours, tawny everywhere, but white on his chest and stomach. He wore a neat brown vest and trousers, but his chest and feet were bare. He carried a walking stick and had a box under his arm. He said his name was Allon Trofeld and he had stopped by to say hello. Trofeld said he had heard the old place was rented, and had come to welcome the newcomers to the neighborhood. He held up his box, and said he had brought fruit. Julie told Trofeld she had company, and asked if he would like to come in for a moment, and Trofeld said he would be delighted to meet us.”
Elaine paused, but seeing that Allysen and the fighters were listening intently, she went on.
“Trofeld placed the box on a table beside the door and leaned his stick against the wall. Julie introduced us and he explained he was descended from mountain lions and grinned, exposing very large teeth. I remember how they gleamed in that dark little room. Trofeld’s walking stick was peculiar. A long straight cylinder about half his height, it had a shiny surface covered with fine markings. I asked Trofeld if he lived nearby. He said his home was just across the border. I asked what he did, and he said he furnished information for district council meetings, and traveled far too much. As he said this, his long whiskers twitched. I was going to ask about his walking stick, but Julie spoke up and said she was a traveler too, and had rented the house for just a few months before starting a new job.
“Trofeld asked about her job, and then asked if she had anyone living with her. Julie said no. Then Trofeld turned his large round yellow eyes on me and asked if Paul and I had any family living with us.
“I told him that our two children were at home with our babysitter. I remember adding that if we weren’t home by 10:30 and didn’t call, the babysitter would call my mother.
“I asked Trofeld if he had a family and he said they were estranged. His whiskers twitched again as he said that.
“Trofeld was remarkable. He listened with understanding to our ideas about education, politics, and the economy, he told stories and jokes, and he even taught us the difference between limericks and haiku. Let’s see, five lines; first, second, and fifth rhyme; third and fourth are shorter and form a rhyming couplet. Haiku: three lines; five, seven, and five syllables.
“When it was time for us to leave, we shook hands. Trofeld’s hand was huge, but his fingers were short. I think he had retractable claws. When he took my hand, I had a faint sensation that needles touched my wrist . . ..
“We were nearly home when I remembered my grandmother’s bowl. Paul grumbled, but turned around. I knocked, waited, and finally knocked again before the door opened. It was Trofeld, dabbing his lips with a towel.
“I told him I had forgotten my bowl.
“Trofeld volunteered to get it. He asked me what color it was. I guess he could tell I was surprised he was still there. He said Julie was fixing him a bite to eat before he went home.
“I remember feeling nervous. Julie had just met Trofeld. Doesn’t it seem odd that he answered the door?”
Allysen and the other Tsaeb did not respond.
Elaine went on. “While Trofeld was getting the bowl, I noticed his stick was gone and his box had fallen. I put the box back on the table and looked around for the stick, but didn’t see it.
“The next morning I had to start getting ready for spring semester, and I didn’t think of Julie for days. When I did, I called and left a message about having her over for dinner. She didn’t reply. I guessed she might be visiting her parents, but I tried another time, and again there was no answer. “
“And you still haven’t heard from her,” Allysen asked.
“No, we haven’t, and I’ve gotten worried. When I think about how quiet it was around her house that night, I wonder if Trofeld is still living nearby. If you see him, would you mind asking if he saw Julie again?“
“I will,” Allysen said. “Let me have your phone number. Here’s mine. Call me if you hear from Julie.”
As Allysen and the fighters went on down the road, one of the fighters muttered, “It doesn’t look good for Julie.”
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