Recently, I shared an excerpt from my short story “Travis is Fired” with an English teacher at a nearby college. He gave excellent feedback, but he was also curious about the long-term stakes of the story. Where was this story going? What was Travis’s story arc? What kind of person was he, and what was he going to face?
Travis’s flaw is that he’s a people-pleaser, a man who keeps his world under control by making everyone around him happy. Or, at least, those people he deems worthy of happiness.
He also has an uncompromising sense of justice, and his expectations for others are so rigid they’re brittle. As you might guess, Travis’s personality doesn’t get along with itself.
As painful life events rain down on Travis, he devotes his energy into caging his frustration. Since he has chosen not to express his displeasure, for fear of upsetting others, his displeasure decides to express itself. It manifests as a whole other character that whispers to Travis in the dead of night.
This freakish doppelgänger, who calls himself Ralph, encourages Travis to release his rage, to say what he feels and then some. Travis realizes that this might be good for him, so he takes Ralph’s advice and lashes out at those he dislikes.
At first, this expression is therapeutic, but before long Travis is alienated. Family and friends are frightened at his transformation. Horrified that he’s hurt people he cares about, Travis becomes infuriated with himself. Ralph’s hissed suggestions turn to ceaseless berating, and Travis sinks into depression. He hits bottom in a dirt field, where he bleeds himself in the blazing summer sun.
I don’t want to go much farther into the plot. I just thought it was interesting to think about. It’s fascinating that people distort their views of the world. They need to keep it in a state that appears stable and familiar and safe, and if they can’t, they become afraid. This clamor for security, this need for comfort and steadiness, is so severe that people will go so far as to alter their behavior in irrational ways to satisfy it. They won’t even realize they’re doing it most of the time, and if they do, they won’t appreciate being called out for it.
Our minds are fragile and difficult to repair. Hopefully Travis can make it.