It’s been really hard to come with an idea to write about. I mean fiction. I read the paper, watch the TV news each day looking for something that could be the inspiration for a story. There are certainly enough weird goings on, tragic events, political shenanigans, and criminal activities which are sometimes but not always the same thing, but nothing that felt like a possible story to me. Maybe one of them would have lit someone else’s fire, but not mine; not even a spark, at least right now, or yesterday, or for seven days in a row.
I read somewhere that a person’s best writing is Zen-like—that when you’re ready and receptive, not forcing things, then ideas just flow from your subconscious. No flow, not even a trickle for me.
So I’ve been sitting at my desk for a long time, contemplating a blank white screen and the blinking cursor, chin propped up in my hands and thinking, with frustration, that I really need to come up with something before giving up for the umpteenth time. Not exactly in that Zen-like state of flow and peace.
Suddenly, popping up from nowhere, this one and a half foot tall creature appears, sitting on the top of my monitor, right in front of my nose, dangling its legs down in front of the screen.
I push back as fast and as far as my desk chair will roll, hands raised in front of me defensively, eyes bugged out, and stare.
The creature is a she, a young she, covered by what looks like a light, white, Greek tunic like you see on the figures painted on one of those ancient wine ewers. She has two gauzy tapered wings sprouting from, I guess, her shoulder blades.
“What–who–where–” come stuttering out of my mouth.
“You forgot ‘when’,” she/it says with a slightly bored expression. And a Greek accent?
Yes, she does have one of those prominent Greek noses. “What or who are you and where did you come from?” I say, ignoring her somewhat snotty comment. I can feel my heart beating rapidly and realize that I’m hyperventilating. I keep my hands raised.
“I’m your Muse, and it looked like you were more stuck than usual, so I was sent to see if I could get you going,” she said, giving her wings a shake and folding them after jumping down to stand on my desk beside the keyboard. “You must be really plugged up to have the powers-that-be send me half-way around the world to visit you in person. Let me tell you it’s no fun flying against your prevailing winds with my tiny wings.”
I roll my chair back towards my desk to take a closer look, feeling somewhat calmer, considering the circumstances, and lower my arms. Wonder if I fell asleep trying to come up with something and now I’m dreaming? “If you’re a Muse, how come I never saw you before?” Let’s see where this dream takes me now.
“You’re not dreaming and you never saw me before because I’ve always been able to work on your imagination without having to show myself,” says the Muse. “And by the way, I’m not a Muse, I’m your Muse. Well, actually not yours exclusively. With the budget cuts in Greece–yes even on Olympus–we are having to stretch our staff, so I’m also the Muse for three other writers–one other in the USA, one in Rumania, and one in China. It would have been nice if you-all could have been geographically closer together, but we just take you writers in turn as you come in.”
I’m taking a closer look at her now. That’s a surprise, she’s a little on the chubby side. Well, if this is a dream I’ll just come right out and ask her. “I thought you Muses and nymphs were supposed to be somewhat—ah—more—ah—svelte.”
“No need to get personal. I may have over-indulged on ideas recently, but that’s only to help my writers out.”
Okay, my heart rate is slowing a little. She doesn’t look dangerous. “Over-indulged. You mean you eat ideas and gain weight? How does that work?”
She sighs and says, “I’m supposed to help you, not answer questions about myself, but since you asked, I ingest at the Spring of Inspiration and then pass on what I’ve imbibed to you.”
“And how do you do that?”
“Do you really want to know?”
“I wait until your mind is in a receptive place and then I—ah—regurgitate the ideas into your subconscious.”
“Works. But speaking of work, what do you want to work on? Let’s not waste time. Remember, you’re not the only one I help.”
“Oh yeah. Well, I’ve been trying to come up with a fictional piece but nothing seems to be happening.”
“Usually you don’t have a problem with that. I can just drop an idea or two in your mind and you just run with it.”
“Well, there’s no running this time, not even a stroll.” This is a crazy but strangely coherent dream.
“It’s not a dream! But, well, maybe you should try taking a different tack from the usual. Let’s see—try to calm your mind. Ah! Now here’s something different. Close your eyes.”
I do. I don’t need to see the process she just described. I sense the idea plopping wetly into my subconscious mind and then surfacing consciously: “Instead of just reading the news, write it yourself.’ “Wait a minute,” I say, “That’s not fiction! I wanted fiction.”
She says, “Have you looked at what’s for sale at any supermarket check-out stand or been reading or watching the news recently? Of course it’s being called ‘alternative reality.’ The other writer I have in the US makes a good living at one of the ‘alternative’ news outlets and writing stories for those supermarket papers. He’s easy to work with. I can give him any old, rancid idea, or even rumor and he just takes off with it. Why don’t you give it a try?”
“And he sells his work?”
“Which is more than you’ve been able to do.”
“No need to get personal. And this qualifies as fiction?”
“If you’re willing to accept the label of ‘alternative facts and news,’ technically, yes, according to the powers-that-be.”
“Well thank you, MY MUSE. You’ve given me an idea.”
“Just doing my job,” she says as she begins to flutter her wings preparatory to lift-off.
“Thank you. It’ll be a shorter trip this time—I’ll be stopping on your East Coast on my way back to Olympus.” And poof, just like that she was gone.
This story will come in several episodes.
Time and Time Again
- The Warrior
All was white. He could see nothing, not his hands, not the rest of his body. A voice full of brass like a war trumpet came summoning, out of the brightness that enveloped him, “Tell of your life.”
“What is this place? Where are the ancestors?”
The voice trumpeted again, “Tell of your life.”
“I have many questions but I am compelled to answer,” he said. “I am X, son of W, a horseman of the Western Horde of Balamir the Subjugator, scourge of the Alans, the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths. Conqueror of the endless steppe from the Ural Mountains to the Carpathians. We left our native land by the Aral Sea and swept westward like a grass fire, driving our foes before us. Like ravenous wolves pursuing a flock, we fell upon them. Their mounts, no match for our tireless horses; their lances useless against our skill; their archery laughable compared to ours.
I was an eagle, swooping down, crushing the foe like hares in my talons. I myself killed nine of first the Alans, then of Ostrogoths, eleven more. And six of the Visigoths, who fled beyond our pursuit like shameless cowards, instead of standing and dying like warriors. Our women would have shown more courage.”
“Did you feel no pity, no compassion towards your foe, oh mighty X?” sounded the voice that was like a trumpet.
“What is pity to a warrior? We rode as masters of the grasslands, and what we needed, we took. When the foe retreated we pursued and exacted our toll with arrows. If they were many and they stopped to make a stand, we withdrew, and they foolishly followed after us into ambushes, and we slew them without mercy.
Their villages we put to flame. Their women we took and used, as was our due as conquerors. The comeliest we took with us as slaves; the ill-formed, the old, joined their men in death. We slew their boys and took their girls to serve our wives. The babes we tore from their mothers’ arms and they were no more. Their horses, oxen, and sheep we added to our own. Our passage was marked by the smoke and smell of burning villages and fields, and the skulls we left behind.”
“Oh merciless X, oh fierce warrior, tell how one such as you was laid low and came to this place,” sounded the voice.
“I was felled by cowardly treachery and deceit.”
“Come, pitiless X. Surely you can be more explicit in your tale,” chided the voice. “One such as you can harbor no modesty or shame about his deeds when in this place. Come. Tell.”
“Very well because I must. I and my companions had routed yet another feckless band of Visigoths who dared to make a stand. To give them due, they at least were willing to die as men instead of fleeing. We finished off the wounded by dagger and axe, and then rounded up what we could of their horses and rode towards their village. From afar, we could hear the lamentations of their women, the wailing of the old.
The first hut, I entered after dismounting. Within a young woman clutched a babe to her breast. They were both crying in terror as well they should have. I tore the babe from her arms though she tried to hold on, and it cried no more. The woman was young and fair of face and she fought, but I laughed and forced her to the floor. I overcame her resistance and had my way with her. She must have hidden a dagger close to hand for, as I was celebrating my pleasure, she treacherously stabbed me in the neck and chest.
And I found myself in this strange place. This is my story.”
“Oh fearless X, even a warrior such as you needs feel some compassion for his overmatched foe, even as you slay him. Needs know how a woman will feel sorrow and horror over the death of her mate or child at your hands. I will ask now, did such feelings ever arise in you?”
“Never. Never once. How can one conquer if the arrow is stayed, the strike delayed, for even an instant? Such feelings are for women and the old.”
“Then, oh X, if you did not learn such in the life that is now past, you will return to learn in another life. A more lowly one. A more fearful one. And yet another life beyond that if needs be. Now you will be sent back.”