By Sir Nicholas Robinson
Consider for a moment a scenario in which I informed you that my house was on fire. More than likely, you’d brush it off, right? After all, let’s be honest. Stories narrated in the first person (such as this one) often have some form of hook or introduction designed to draw you in, get you interested in what’s about to happen. In this case, however, I would ask you to suspend your disbelief. Let yourself be sucked in, and allow yourself to blur the line between what is fact and what is fiction. Trust me. That’s how stories work. Isn’t it?
So let’s return to that first line, shall we? Place yourself in a scenario wherein I have informed you that my house is on fire. Imagine, if you will, the house itself. What is it? Is it a manor? Is it a small house out in the suburbs? Allow me to inform you. For the sake of this story, let’s say it’s a decent size house, not quite big enough to be a manor, but at the same time larger than your typical home. Let us postulate that the family that lives within it is your typical family of five. A mother, a father, and three children. I can inform you now that the ages and genders of the children do not have any impact on the story at hand. The mother and father are middle-aged, well-to-do people. They both have quite well-paying jobs, and on the night of the incident in question were hosting a house party. The guests of this party were all invited for one reason or another, as guests usually are, and all worked with the mother and father in some capacity.
Consider that one of these guests is a man. That’s not to say he’s the only man there, that would be weird. Rather, I introduced him in such a way that draws more attention to him than, say, any of the other men at the party. In singling him out, I have immediately made you question what makes him so special. It’s a literary technique used by many to increase mystery and tension, and I am employing it here. Do you trust me?
This man does not belong here. He was not invited to the party. And yet we see him here. Oh, the mother and father would recognize him immediately. They would find him, and make a big, exaggerated show of having forgotten to send him an invitation and that they were glad he came anyways.
But are they really? Did they truly forget to send this man an invitation? My use of the phrase “a big, exaggerated show” would seem to imply that they did not, but at the same time, why not simply send the man out? Or, perhaps, maybe they DID forget to send this man an invitation, and everything is, in fact, as it seems. Well. Permit me to inform you that everything is not, in fact, as it seems. How do I know this? Well, you’ll have to trust me. Do you trust me?
Now consider another guest, this one a woman. Once again, there are multiple women at this party, I am simply directing your attention towards this one. She, too, was not invited to the event, at least not in the traditional sense. The mother and father would also recognize this woman, but, unlike with the man, would instead make a big show of ejecting her from the event. Have you noticed the parallels? You should.
However, rather than leave the house, consider the woman going upstairs, to the father’s study. Picture her riﬂing through drawers, digging through papers, until she pulls out a sealed, manilla envelope. Contemplate the proposition of this woman, having found what she came for, preparing to leave, only to be met with the other guest, the man I pointed out earlier, standing in the study’s doorway.
Ponder the woman’s reaction to this unexpected intruder. What would you think she’d be? Surprised? Angry? I’ll tell you. Do you trust me?
The woman is neither of the things I just mentioned. At least, not openly. Instead, consider that the woman does nothing. Maybe the slightest smile appears at the edge of her lips, at most.
The man, on the other hand, upon seeing the envelope, pulls out a gun and points it at the woman. Ah. Things are getting interesting now, aren’t they?
Now face to face with certain death, the woman’s half smile actually grows to a full on smirk as she familiarly acknowledges the man. The two speak. They converse, in that tense way people converse when one is pointing a gun at the other. Both want the envelope. Consider the way the woman reaches into her pocket, and pulls out a cigarette lighter, bringing it close to the envelope and hovering her finger over the trigger. Upon seeing this action, upon considering it the way you likely are at this moment, the man cries out in desperation and fires, just as the woman, hearing his cry and seeing what he is about to do, lights the envelope.
Consider how I pause. Right here. The bullet in the air. The ﬂames from the cigarette lighter beginning to lick the envelope. This, too, is a literary technique used to build tension, and I’m going to build that tension up even further. Think about it. You don’t know who these people are, or why they are here. Evidently there’s something important about a particular manilla envelope, but you don’t know what’s inside. Consider the scenario as a whole. Every little thing you know about it is something that I have told you. You cannot anything I say, nor can you deny it. The only way you know anything at all about what’s going on is if I tell you. And because of that, I’m going to repeat the question I’ve been asking all the way up to this point. Do. You. Trust. Me? And if so, why? I could be lying to you. You don’t even know who I am? I simply informed you that my house was on fire. Is it even my house at all? Consider the voice you’ve been hearing in your head as you read this piece. Is it male? Well then. Perhaps I could be the man, trying to cover up for the murder I just committed. Is it female? Well then. Perhaps I’m the woman, who somehow escaped and is attempting to contact emergency services to put the fire out. Or maybe I’m the mother or father, relaying what happened to set my house on fire.
Everything I have told you up to this point is true. The very idea of a first-person narrative is founded on some semblance of trust between the narrator and the reader. Yes. I know full well that, in bringing up these points, I have placed an element of skepticism in your mind, that will remain there for the duration of this piece. But, from the very beginning of this whole story and all throughout, I have been asking you to trust me. Everything I have told you so far is the truth. But I haven’t told you the whole truth. Let us rewind, and allow me to fill in some of the gaps.
Consider an underground society, one made up of spies, thieves, geniuses, existing entirely under the nose of the majority of modern civilization. It’s the kind of society you wouldn’t expect to find outside of some form of action movie, but consider the possibility nonetheless. Such a society, of course, would have some form of hierarchy, which means there is someone at the top of this hierarchy. Two someones, in this case. The mother and the father. I stated earlier that the children do not matter. This is true, they are young and do not fully understand their parents’ work. Also consider the fact that such a society could not possibly exist without those who rival it and wish for its extermination.
Now. Consider a successful victory over a rival by this particular society. Let’s say, oh, that they’ve obtained certain secret information that has given them a step up in progress towards their goals, as well as brieﬂy hindered their rivals. This is a major victory for this organization, and the leaders decide to announce it to the society’s elite at a party. Are things beginning to come together? They should. The plan would be to unveil the acquisition of these secrets, in person, at the event. Obviously, though, this places these secrets in a rather vulnerable position, and were their rivals to learn of this event, there is a chance that they would make an attempt to steal the information for themselves. And, in fact, they do. Consider a man, sent to infiltrate this celebration and sneak away the secret information. Contemplate, though, this man being noticed by the hosts. Rather than eject him, allowing him to continue his search, they instead welcome him in, ensuring that he is surrounded by members of this organization, to be imprisoned, held hostage, and questioned after the event. This is the man I spoke of earlier. Because I spoke of him earlier, though, you know that this attempt at imprisonment did not succeed, and he was able to sneak away from his captors. Now. It would make sense for you, at this moment, to think, “How could this man simply sneak away from a room full of essentially elite secret agents?” Well. Maybe they wanted him to escape for another reason. Perhaps there’s a such thing as human error, even among secret societies. Or, perhaps, he got away when the party was distracted by a certain person being ejected from the event. Any of these things could be true.
Now, once again, consider a woman. Think over the possibility that this woman was to be an additional guest at the party, although not in the sense that the other guests were. Her job was to guard the secrets, to ensure that, in the case that the rival’s informant did manage to escape his imprisonment, he did not get them. This woman was given a lighter, and told that if any threat of jeopardization came to the information, that she was to burn the envelope without a second thought. The mother and father knew what it contained already, they would not need the tangible documents anymore. There was a reason they elected to hold the event in one of their more expendable homes.
So now, we return to the scene where we were. Bullet in the air. Envelope beginning to catch fire. The bullet, of course, hits the woman. The woman does not care. She has done what she was to do, and is content knowing that. The envelope, now blazing, hits the carpeted ﬂoor, which begins to catch. The man with the gun, realizing that his mission has resulted in a failure, begins to run, but the fire will spread. Consider the probability that the man will escape the house. It is slim.
The other guests, having heard the gunfire, have been escorted out of the house by the hosts and are currently being transported away. As far away as possible from the house that is currently ablaze.
It sounds futile, doesn’t it? It sounds like this whole event seemed destined, planned almost, to fail. But. Consider this story as a whole. This whole thing started with me talking about a house on fire. A facade that covers up the truth of what’s really going on. This whole piece has been filled with misdirects and skepticism plants. If there’s anything at all you should have at the forefront of your mind by this point, it is that NOTHING is as it seems. This event is no different.
Consider the possibility that somewhere, out in the world, right now, lies a manilla envelope. This envelope COULD be burnt up, mere ashes among more ashes of a burnt house, a failed attempt to obtain and convey information. Or… the envelope could be somewhere else entirely. Somewhere that they could only be found by someone who had been given a specific set of instructions in code. And, this code, this code could be anything. Consider the possibility of a hypothetical scenario. A scenario in which all the details necessary, all the information required for one person, who knew what he or she was looking for, to find an envelope containing secret documents. A scenario that if heard by the wrong people would do nothing but set them off track. A scenario that, through its very presentation, could be completely and totally true, but also is designed to make the reader doubt everything he reads. A scenario built around trust, or the lack thereof. A scenario that could be code, or a massive distraction. A scenario in which I inform you that my house is on fire.