Sheldon, part 30

“You’re … you’re not supposed to be here.” Charlotte was truly appalled.

“Why not? If characters can talk about the book they are in, why can’t an author talk to his characters?”

“But if you’re here, then who is writing this? You can’t be in two places at once.”

“Of course I can. I can do whatever I want. This is fiction. I’m sorry if you are disturbed by any of this.”

“You seem very smug about it all,” Sheldon said. “Isn’t there anything that would disturb you?”

“I can’t see how,” said the author. “I mean, after all, this entire world is my creation.”

“Not according to the cat,” said Charlotte’s mom. “If your characters have free will, then you’re not really in charge. We are.”

“Nicely put,” said the cat.

“Thank you,” said Charlotte’s mom, looking very pleased with herself.

“That’s only part of it,” came a voice from the door.

“And who are you?” asked Charlotte.

“I’m the author, of course.”

Charlotte looked from one author to the other. They looked quite identical, except for the fact that the first author was looking very pale. “You didn’t expect this, did you?” she asked him.

“Not really. I guess this means…”

“It means,” said the cat, “that you’ve become a character in the book. So you are no longer the author.”

“But wait,” said Charlotte’s mom. “If entering the scene makes someone a character, then aren’t they both characters now?”

“Oh no,” said Charlotte’s dad. “Looks like we’re going to get an author infestation. It’s like the stateroom scene, but with recursion.”

“The stateroom?” Sheldon said quizzically. “Is that physics?”

“Marx brothers,” said Charlotte’s mom. “You really should pay more attention to the classics.”

Just then a third author showed up at the door. “That’s only part…”, he began, but when he noticed the first two authors, he lapsed into an embarrassed silence.

“Dear,” said Charlotte’s mother to her husband, “it looks as though you were right. I have a feeling it’s going to get awfully crowded in here. Is there nothing we can do?”

“Wait,” said Charlotte, “I think this is all happening because the book is in limbo. And I just remembered something.”

“What’s that?” Sheldon asked. Just then a fourth author walked in. Seeing the other three, he didn’t even bother trying to announce himself. The third author stepped aside politely to give him space. The room was beginning to become crowded.

“I remembered that I have the power to change the book.” She took the piece of paper out of her pocket, the one with the altered title page, and unfolded it. “Does anybody have a pen?”

“I do,” said the first author.

“Thanks,” said Charlotte. “I hope you don’t mind my messing with your work.”

The author chuckled, “It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve done that.”

“True enough.” Charlotte thought for a moment, and then wrote something down. Suddenly all the authors vanished from the room.

“I’m not a ghost anymore!” said Charlotte’s mom. “And neither are you dear,” she added, looking at her husband.

“Hey, I’m not either,” said Sheldon. “How did you do that?”

Charlotte shrugged. “I just found the right title. The rest of the book pretty much writes itself from there.”

“What’s the new title?”

Charlotte read from the page. “Sheldon, who is not a Ghost; A Love Story.”

Sheldon beamed. “That is a very good title. And looking at you right now, I find myself extremely happy that I am no longer a ghost.”

Charlotte blushed. “I quite agree. Nothing like being able to decide for yourself what story you are in. And I guess we really have the cat to thank. I don’t think I would have figured any of this out otherwise.”

“Say,” said Charlotte’s dad, “Where is that cat anyway?” They all looked around, but the cat was nowhere to be found.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure I know where we will be able to find her,” Charlotte laughed.


“In the sequel, of course.”


Sheldon, part 29

“Sheldon,” said the cat, “you do know you’re a fictional character, don’t you?”

“Yes, I believe we’ve established that. And I can live with it. I mean, in the broad sense of the word ‘live’.”

“Then you must know that as a ghost you are serving as a metaphor.”

Sheldon rolled his eyes. “Oh great, now I’m a metaphor. You sure I can’t be a simile, or an allegory, or maybe a synechdoche?”

“Actually,” said Charlotte, “I think at this point Sheldon is more of a pataphor.”

“That’s going a bit far, pumpkin, don’t you think?” said Charlotte’s mother.

“Yes, exactly!” said Charlotte. “I’m glad you agree. In fact, this whole thing has gone too far — haven’t any of you noticed? What started as a discussion about our existence has somehow taken over our existence.”

“My head hurts,” said Charlotte’s dad. “Are you saying we’re trapped in this conversation?”

“It’s worse than that,” Charlotte said, shaking her head sadly. “I think we’ve become the conversation.”

“Well, I guess the cat’s out of the bag,” said Sheldon.

“Now Sheldon,” Charlotte admonished. “Lets stay away from catachresis.”

Charlotte’s father looked confused. “Are you saying the cat is having a crisis?”

“No dad, it’s a word that means … oh, never mind. It’s not important. What’s important is that Sheldon is stuck being a ghost because of some metaphorical imperative. That doesn’t seem very fair to me.”

“Are you unhappy being a ghost?” Charlotte’s mother asked Sheldon gently.

“Well, I can’t say it’s all that great. The whole thing about not being able to eat a meal — that’s a serious bummer right there.”

“And from what the cat has explained,” Charlotte said “this is all because Sheldon is stuck between two fictional universes.”

“That’s only part of it,” came a voice from the door.

They all turned to look. “Who are you?” asked Charlotte.

“I’m the author, of course.”

Sheldon, part 28

“First of all,” said the cat, addressing Charlotte’s mom, “I disagree with your basic premise.”

“Which premise?”

“The premise that a fictional character cannot be at fault. An author cannot simply dictate actions. Characters must be free to make good choices and bad choices. Otherwise, how can they learn and grow?”

“But wait,” Charlotte said, “isn’t it actually the author making those choices?”

“I’m surprised at you Charlotte,” said the cat, “You are the one who studies PolySocial Reality. The ‘you’ who interacts with me is not the same ‘you’ who interacts with your mother. So it is meaningless to speak of a single person, let alone a single author. PolySocial Reality exists just as much within us as between us. As Whitman said: ‘I am large. I contain multitudes.'”

“Or in other words,” Sheldon said, “it’s turtles all the way down.”

“Yes, exactly. It’s all described very well in Minsky’s ‘Society of Mind’. The reader recognizes within the author’s characters that same fragmentation and multiplicity of state that she sees within her own mind. Why else would she ever care what a character does, and why would she bother to keep reading?”

“Well, there’s plot!” Charlotte said. “I mean, Sheldon is a ghost. Wouldn’t a reader be a little curious about why?”

“I’m certainly curious about why,” Sheldon added. “And that has to count for something. If you’re such a smart cat, tell me why I am a ghost.”

Sheldon, part 27

“Of course it’s not your fault, pumpkin,” said Charlotte’s mom. “It couldn’t be your fault.”

“By definition,” added Charlotte’s dad.

“What do you mean, by definition?”

Charlotte’s parents looked at each other. “You see,” said Charlotte’s mom with an understanding smile, “Nothing that happens can ever really your fault, because you’re a fictional character.”

“You’re not writing all of this,” added Charlotte’s dad, “You are being written. We all are.”

“Yes,” Sheldon said, interrupting, “but who is writing us?”

“The writer,” Charlotte’s parents said in unison.

Charlotte laughed. “Sheldon, I guess you could have seen that one coming.”

“I suppose so,” he said, “but none of it seems very fair.”

“What’s not fair about it?”

“Well for one thing, even Philip K. Dick didn’t tell his characters they were in a fictional universe until the last page of the book. Whereas we just sort of jumped right into the deep end of the pool.”

“I think it’s all going swimmingly,” said the cat.

“Maybe it’s all to the good,” Charlotte said, ignoring the cat. “I mean, we’re not going to be able to figure out the whole story of why you’re a ghost, unless we confront the creator.”

“And you think playing ping pong against the fourth wall is how we’re going to do that?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Sooner or later we’re going to smash right through that fourth wall, and then we’ll see who is on the other side of the looking glass.”

“Mixing metaphors much?” asked the cat.

“Do you have a better theory about what to do?” Charlotte asked the cat.

“In fact,” said the cat, “I do.”

Sheldon, part 26

“What do you mean, you really disappeared?”

“Haven’t you learned anything dear? You keep hopping from one reality to another, but you never stop to think it through.”

“Think what through?”

“Charlotte, you have the wonderful ability to be completely in whatever reality you are in. That truly is a marvelous thing. But not everybody is as talented as you are.”

“I don’t understand.” Charlotte looked genuinely confused.

“Let me try,” said Charlotte’s dad. “What do you think a ghost is?”

“The spirit of a dead person?”

“We prefer ‘formerly living’,” Sheldon interjected.

“Sorry, no offense,” Charlotte said contritely.

“None taken.”

“But that’s not quite the whole of it,” Charlotte’s dad continued. “A ghost is a person who is alive in the wrong reality. A kind of misplaced person, you might say.”

“I’m in the wrong reality?” Sheldon asked wonderingly.

“Well yes, but not completely,” Charlotte’s mom explained. “That’s the problem, young man. Our Charlotte attracts that sort of thing.”

“Wait,” Charlotte said, “Mom, is that what happened to you and dad when you disappeared? You went to the wrong reality?”

“Well yes, pumpkin, that sort of thing has been happening to us for a long time. It hasn’t been easy being your parents.”

“You mean, this is all my fault?”

Sheldon, part 25

“Oh come on,” Charlotte said, “it’s the same thing. You just renamed it.”

“What can you expect from a cat,” Sheldon said.

“Hey!” Charlotte said, “there’s no call for that sort of thing. Cats are people too. Just look at you, so big on ghosts’ rights, yet so quick to attack another misunderstood minority.”

Sheldon was dumbstruck. “Gee, I never thought of it that way. I’m, um, sorry,” he said uncertainly, not sure whether to apologize to the cat or to Charlotte.

“It’s quite all right,” the cat said, “I get a lot of that sort of thing. Humans can become quite upset when they encounter other creatures that talk. And former humans can be even worse,” the cat added, giving Sheldon a pointed look.

Sheldon looked stricken.

Charlotte nodded sympathetically. “Maybe we’re just jealous of our linguistic heritage. It can be hard to accept that you’re not unique in the universe.”

“Only if you assume a single universe,” said the cat. “Which brings us back to our point of disagreement.”

Charlotte started to respond, but was interrupted by a loud crashing noise. They all turned to see what it was.

“We’re so sorry dear,” said Charlotte’s mom, wiping bits of plaster off her shoulder.

Charlotte’s dad was doing the same. “It seems,” he said, “we are better at exits than at entrances.” He glanced guiltily in the rather large ragged hole they had left in the ceiling.

“Mom, where did you and dad go?” Charlotte asked. “I thought you’d disappeared.”

“Well, technically we did.”

Sheldon, part 24

“So,” Sheldon said, “are we ready to go now?”

“Just one more thing,” Charlotte said, looking pensive. “I had another thought.”

“Another thought? Really? Are we in a story or are we in a philosophical treatise?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“OK, I give up,” Sheldon shrugged his shoulders. “What’s this new thought?”

“Well, according to Applin and Fischer, this whole complicated intersection we’re doing between ways of communicating and modes of physical existence is actually a kind of PolySocial Reality.”

“How do you even know about this stuff? You’re only thirteen.”

Charlotte gave Sheldon an exasperated look. “This ‘stuff’ is totally relevant to thirteen year olds. I mean, how do you think I got through ‘Harry Potter’? I never would have finished those last three books if I didn’t have my copy of AACSI to help me figure out what was going on.”

“AACSI?” Sheldon asked weakly.

“‘Asynchronous Adaptations to Complex Social Interactions’, silly.” Charlotte rolled her eyes. “You don’t get out much, do you?”

“I’m a ghost,” he sniffed. “We don’t do ‘Harry Potter’. I got to Headless Nick and stopped reading out of principle.”

“That’s beside the point. What I’m saying is…” Charlotte began.

“You’re wrong, you know.”

Charlotte and Sheldon turned in surprise. They had both forgotten the cat was there.

“What am I wrong about?” Charlotte asked.

“Yes, we’re in a PolySocial Reality,” the cat continued, “I mean, who isn’t?” She paused for a moment to clean her left paw. “But that’s not what’s important here.”

“OK,” Charlotte frowned, “So what’s important?”

“What’s important is that we are in a Social PolyReality.”

Sheldon, part 23

“I’m sort of ready, but…”

“But what?”

Charlotte looked apologetic. “While we’ve been standing here, all these questions have been coming up in my mind — I’m not sure from where.”

“Like what, for instance?”

“Well, like what does it mean that we came back to a different reality? I mean, how do I still know that there was any other reality before this one? And does the book talk about that different reality at all? Or does it now talk about both realities?”

“Wait — all those questions came into your head just this moment, while we’ve been standing here?”

“Yeah. Weird, isn’t it?”

“Maybe, but they are very good questions. What’s different about you that allows you to pass between realities and still remember the one you were in before? Is it because you’re the only one of us who’s not a ghost?”

“No, that can’t be it,” Charlotte said. “Remember, in the other reality my parents weren’t ghosts either.”

“So you’ve said. I don’t actually remember them not being ghosts, but I remember that we’ve been changing realities, so I’m going to trust you on this one.”

“Oh wait — that’s a clue!” Charlotte said. “You remember some of the other realities, but not all of them. So whatever gives me the ability to think about more than one reality, it’s also given you some of that same ability.”

Sheldon shook his head. “It’s a puzzle, isn’t it? I still can’t believe all those questions came into your head between one moment and the next. Sometimes I think there’s more than one person in that mind of yours. I wonder just which one, exactly, I am talking to now.”

Charlotte just smiled. “No comment.”

Sheldon, part 22

“Wait,” Charlotte said, “my parents aren’t ghosts.”

“Apparently they are,” Sheldon said. “I’m surprised you didn’t know.”

“No, really.” Charlotte walked up to the desk and started reading. “Oh my, we seem to have come back to a different reality. This is not good.”

“What’s wrong with being a ghost?” Sheldon said, looking offended. “Are you saying you have an issue with ghosts?”

“Well no, being a ghost is ok. I mean, if you’re really a ghost. I believe in diversity.”

“So what’s the problem?”

Charlotte thought about this. “I’m saying that it’s not ok to suddenly turn into a ghost just because you’ve somehow moved sideways within some kind of fictional five dimensional parallel space-time continuum.”

“Oh great,” Sheldon said. “We’ve gone from Ashton Kutcher to Christopher Nolan. I’m not sure that’s any better.”

“Sorry, I got carried away.”

“No worries. So does Christopher Nolan.”

“Right. Anyway, what are we going to do about it?”

“I suggest,” Sheldon said, “that we follow them to where they’ve gone.”

“But how do we know where two ghosts would go?”

“You realize, I hope, that you’re talking to an expert.”

“Oh … good point.”

“Thanks Charlotte. Glad you’ve been paying attention. Anyway, I can take you to them. Are you ready?”

Sheldon, part 21

“No, you can’t do that, dear,” said Charlotte’s mom. “Schrödinger’s a boy’s name, and this is a girl cat.”

“I was being conceptual,” said Charlotte’s dad, clearly hurt.

“Can you two please concentrate?” Charlotte said impatiently. “This is important.”

She waited a few moments, until she was sure she had everyone’s undivided attention. “Ok, now watch.”

“Watch what?” Sheldon asked.

Charlotte looked toward Sheldon, but as though she were looking right through him. “OK, let’s do this.” And she held out her arms.

“Do what?” Sheldon said, clearly perplexed.

But Charlotte had not been talking to Sheldon. She had been talking to the cat, who at that exact moment was standing directly behind Sheldon. With a graceful leap the cat jumped into Charlotte’s arms, passing cleanly through Sheldon’s body.

Sheldon looked startled for a moment at the sight of a cat jumping out of his chest and into Charlotte’s arms. Then a look of understanding dawned on his face. “I remember now!”

“Tell me what you remember,” Charlotte said, observing him carefully.

“That I’m a ghost, of course. I mean, isn’t that obvious? After all, cats don’t go jumping clean through people who aren’t ghosts, now do they?”

“No they don’t,” Charlotte said triumphantly. “That’s the sort of thing that can only happen in a fantasy universe. And look!” She pointed at the desk.

“The writing,” Sheldon said, “it’s all there. You did it!”

“Did what?” Charlotte’s mother looked confused. “What are you two going on about?”

“Don’t you see?” Charlotte said excitedly. “Once Sheldon realized that he’s a ghost, he remembered that we are all in a fantasy world — characters in a book. And then everything returned to normal.”

“Of course he’s a ghost,” Charlotte’s dad said, taking his wife’s hand. “What’s so special about that? After all, we’re ghosts too.”

And with that, Charlotte’s parents vanished.