What does it mean to speak of 'The Shortest Story Ever Told'?
The concept of a 'shortest story' has bounced around numerous genres for decades, with sundry subscribers positing a few words or a sentence and declaring the same to encapsulate a 'horror story'
or a 'detective story'
or some such. For example, the proposed 'shortest horror story' wherein the last man on Earth sits in a room, and there is a knock (or a lock) on the door. These types of stories are 'short' in the sense that they use a small number of words to invoke the great number of assumptions arising within the genre, to convey atmosphere and open the floodgates of the imagination
to all of the possible scenarios to come to pass.
To title something 'The Shortest Horror Story Ever Told,' then, is to play a little cheat, to inform the audience
, by assigning meaning in the Vygotskian*
'sociohistorical psychology' sense that they are to read what few words are presented in the frame of the whole of the specific genre, and thusly to pluck from the genre all of the possible scenarios wherein the occurrance briefly described would be 'horrific.' Consider: if the exact same story
of the last man on Earth sitting in a room with the door being knocked on had been prefaced by 'The Shortest Detective Story
ever told, the 'story' would be equally valid and yet the genre assumptions necessarily brought to mind by the line would be completely different; and the same if it were prefaced as a Science Fiction
or a Romance
And yes there are
' in many genre
s which are indeed 'short' in the sense of having been told in few words
s, even -- I seem to recall lore to the effect that the shortest thing ever published as a 'story' was "!
"); an occurrance which probably preceded by some number of decades the invention of the interrobang
. If any vein at all runs through the earnest efforts to write a 'Shortest Story' it is that of actually tacitly conveying a much longer
story. But the shortest 'story' may just as well mean the story which relays the least happening.
And so that
is why, in point of fact, the actual 'shortest story ever told' goes something like this:
Once upon a time....
Were one aiming
a story in fewer words or with fewer symbols than this, such could easily be accomplished
by simply leaving out the 'Once upon a time' and the 'at all' (and 'The End'); but the point
of the exercise
is that the story itself, the events
recounted, constitute the least that may be relayed as having happened; viz: nothing. And not simply 'nothing' in the sense of the nothingness in which a lazy day passes, in which breaths are drawn and heartbeats are beaten. This is a nothingness more desolate even than the world in which the last man on Earth has died; and whatever killed him has died as well. This is the very existence which stands akimbo to 'The Greatest Story Ever Told' -- which is the story of all of existence, and all the stories told within it. This is the story of our Universe entire having never happened, because Nothing. At all.
Happened. And because that nothing-at-all is
....but then we come to the inevitable death-blow to suspension of disbelief
as applied to this story. For, as Descartes observed, we know that we are thinking, and that much assures as that something has happened
. Which, in turn, is why this is in point of fact the shortest story never
*Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky, 1896-1934, was a Soviet psychologist and educational theorist who focused his studies on how teachers may best impart the meaning of concepts to students.