I was in a bar, minding my own business. Outside, the rain was coming down. Dirty jazz was seeping from even dirtier speakers and trade was so slow the barman had posted a BACK SOON sign. A man walked in. He was wearing a fedora and a tattered leather coat with bright yellow buttons. I was astonished to see he was the main character of a series of stories I wrote.
The man sat down on the next stool. He tipped back his hat. Rain slicked off it and pooled on the floor. He asked if I was ready for the interview. Taken by surprise, I said yes. I’ve never interviewed a fictional character before. Much less one of my own. It was a curious experience.
Q. How did you get here? Don’t you live in some kind of other dimension?
A. Some kind. If you have to know, I walked. It’s not so hard.
Q. All right. Let’s start with the basics. Just for the record, what’s your name?
A. It’s on the sign over my office door, plain to see. You call yourself a writer, I’m guessing you can read.
Q. How would you describe your business?
A. Private investigator.
Q. There are some who might call you a weird detective.
A. Who are you calling weird?
Q. Can you tell us something about the city you live in?
A. You already mentioned dimensions. The place I live – it’s where all the dimensions get knotted together. Like a snarl in a ball of yarn. Only this ain’t yarn – it’s cosmic string. And when dimensions crowd up, everything kind of tangles together. Reality. Unreality. Other things. It gets so anything can happen.
Q. Is that why it’s called String City?
A. I guess. Me, I call it home.
Q. What’s the strangest case you’ve had to deal with?
A. Hard to say. The one with the werewolf in the hat was a doozie. Then there was the spider woman who lactated silk instead of milk and wanted to inject millions of eggs directly into your skull so her babies could eat your brain. Now she was what I call a femme fatale.
Q. She sounds creepy.
A. Then there was the behemoth with the insatiable appetite, and I haven’t even started on Jimmy the Griff. He moves through time in interesting ways on account of losing to Cronos at chess.
Q. It all seems very … random.
A. Depends on your point of view. Look hard enough, you’ll start to see a pattern. What some folk call the big picture. Take any individual case, it doesn’t amount to much. Start stringing them together, that’s when pieces start falling into place.
Q. So the stories sort of fit together?
A. Mind what you’re calling ‘stories’, pal. This is my life you’re talking about.
Q. Sorry. So who runs the show in String City?
A. Some would say the Thanes. They’re the ones sitting pretty up on the mountain. Crime’s pretty organised too, run mostly by Titans. And the occasional lost god. The cops try to keep control, but they’re more concerned with stopping their guts from spilling out all over the patrol cars. That happens when you’re undead.
Q. The cops are zombies?
A. You should know. You wrote them.
Q. How does this work, exactly? If you’re fictional, how come I can talk to you?
A. Like I said, in String City everything gets tangled together. You and me included. Are we done?
Q. I suppose so. No, wait. I’ve got one last question. Well, more of a request really.
A. Make it quick. I’ve got an appointment with a dame who wears dresses so tight you can see the pores in her skin.
Q. Will you do the thing with the coat?
At this point, my interviewee let out a world-weary sigh and stood up. He took off his leather coat and turned it inside-out three times. When he put it back on again, it was made of a dazzling material that shimmered with all the colours of the rainbow and more besides.
Q. That’s incredible.
A. It’s just a coat.
He opened the coat’s inside pocket and unfolded the lining. Turquoise fabric expanded to become an origami octopus with silver tentacles that wrapped him up and turned him into a collapsing accordion-shape that twisted and dwindled until there was nothing left but a single yellow button spinning on the floor. My ears popped as a sudden wind rushed in from some distant other dimension. It smelt of sea-salt and spice and hot dogs. Then the air fell still.
I picked up the button and put it in my pocket. Maybe I could use it in a story sometime. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.
The String City Mysteries by Graham Edwards feature a weird detective with a rather unusual coat. The first three stories in the series are available as ebooks from 40k Books. New instalments are coming soon.