Want to read a short story?
Just the other day I wrote here on the blog about writer’s block, and it just so happens that I penned a short tale about that very subject a few years ago. I was poking through my files today when I ran across it and I thought, “Aha! Serendipity!”
BY ROBIN LYTHGOE
Such a small whisper couldn’t even begin to penetrate the weighted air holding the room in thrall. Dust motes made timid forays into the single, narrow beam of light sidling in through a clerestory window. Books—beautiful, enchanting, influential, fabulous books—crammed the shelves from floor to ceiling. They teetered in stacks on chairs and on the floor. They balanced along the window ledge. Every one of them had assumed the tight-lipped silence of a group of curmudgeons. Traitors they, refusing to offer even the slightest, most fragile means of escape. Even the glorious maps of places far and near, real and imagined, curled away from their duties. Mute. Contrary.
The clock, though… The clock reigned supreme, posing on the mantel like a little mechanical general. If it owned legs, it would strut. Puffed with self-importance, it shrieked out the seconds with the voice of a shrew. Tick… tick… tick… Each announcement of passing time banged on the eardrums, a frantic reminder and a jeering skeptic all at once.
“Deliver me… Deliver me… Deliver me what? Mail? Pizza? How about a surprise package from—Oh, I don’t know. Godiva Chocolate. Barnes and Noble. No, not them. Unless they’re sending music. The last thing I need is another unhelpful book.” Leslie paced the small space behind the desk, one hand on her hip and the other rubbing the back of her neck. Deliver Me was the required title for the new short story challenge—also required. She’d like to take a baseball bat to the head of the person who’d thought that one up. “Deliver me from evil. Plenty of that going on around here,” she grumbled uncharitably. “Evil books. Evil deadlines. Evil publishers setting deadlines. Somewhere in here there has got to be inspiration.”
Another desperate examination of the room’s contents yielded nothing whatsoever. The books, the maps, all the eclectic little odds and ends, and the clock—certainly the clock—collaborated with the muse. The muse was the most evil of all, though the conviction remained unvoiced. Muses had uncanny hearing and delicate sensibilities. They were also easily distracted and capricious. They’d disappear at the merest whim without even a microscopic attempt at consideration. Couldn’t they at least leave a note? A little scrap of paper somewhere, anywhere, that might read: ‘Off to _____.’ No signature necessary. No polite apology tacked on.
“Deliver me from this wasteland of words, this desert of the imagination!” she implored the sulky atmosphere. Dragging her hands down her face distorted her features into a mask of tragedy.
“Oh, that’s good,” came a fragile voice from the corner of the desk. The fragility didn’t keep it from wielding disparagement like a lethal weapon. “Been reading the thesaurus, have we?”
Leslie sighed and closed her eyes. Experience had taught her that the reappearance of the muse didn’t necessarily ensure cooperation. It might well be stopping in for the sole purpose of baiting her and entertaining itself. “How lovely to see you. Did you enjoy your holiday?” she asked, striving for a hint of enthusiasm.
“Is that what you think it was?” A slight, small creature, the muse flitted about like a wisp, too quick for Leslie to make out its gender. Always in motion, it slipped in and out of view. If she watched too long it would make her nauseous.
“I beg your pardon,” she apologized. “Might I ask where you went?”
“On a foray. I have to get my material from somewhere, you know.” The muse paused significantly, conveying an attitude of inspecting the surroundings. “There’s certainly not much around here.”
“I thought you were omniscient.”
“Well, of course.” The muse recovered its vanity with practiced ease. “But it helps if I occasionally refresh my memory.”
“Ah, I see. Well, did you find anything refreshing we might use for the title of ‘Deliver Me’?”
“How about a discourse on the life of a pig herder?”
“The birth of an infant.”
Leslie quirked a single critical brow.
“All right, all right. I’ve got it. A passenger on a… train. No, a plane. With one engine afire. That could be exciting.”
“Is there much paperwork involved in requesting a new muse, or can I do it online?” One of the common misconceptions about muses was that only nine of them existed. Leslie had yet to discover if the Greeks had been trying to control the muses or the other way around. Her question earned one of those out-of-the-corner-of-the-eye looks meant to chill the blood. It didn’t work. Instead, Leslie lifted a finger to tap against her lips.
“Hush, I’m thinking.”
“Ah, that explains the awful smell. Like something burning.”
Funny. Oh, so funny. Leslie squeezed her eyes tight and put her hands over her ears, trying to nurture a half-formed thought into a viable tale.
“What are you doing?”
“I’ve got it!” she announced in triumph. Her chair creaked as she cast herself into it. Stabbing the space bar on her keyboard brought the computer screen back to life.
“Do I get a ‘thank you’ this time?”
“For what?” Her fingers danced over the keyboard. Joy banished the mocking voice of the clock and blocking out impending doom with a stream of words. Lovely, lovely words…
“Where do you suppose your inspiration just came from?” the muse asked, puffing its chest in indignation.
“Ummm…” Clickety clickety click the keys went, and Leslie’s brow furrowed in concentration. “You’re right. You’re quite right.”
“Of course I am.” The muse’s conceit was thick enough to slice, dice, and package for resale. “Omniscience.”
Clearly, the muse’s concept of ‘omniscient’ was a little on the weak side. “There was a deadline,” Leslie read as she typed. “There was always a deadline. But did the indifferent muse deliver inspiration? Did it give in to the desperate author’s plea for deliverance? No. The fickle creature always claimed to be a font of genius and artistry, but it was, in fact, a fraud.”
One could almost hear the blink of astonishment, but Leslie suppressed a smile and went on. “The well was empty. Of course, the muse didn’t want anyone knowing that, so it procrastinated its duty. It went on frequent and extended jaunts to ‘look for new material.’ Strangely, it always managed to return just a little too late.”
On the corner of the desk, the muse gave a horrified shriek and burst into a whirlwind of light and motion. Its temper affected nothing at all. Letters and papers remained unruffled. The pretty feathered plume pen in its pretty brass holder didn’t even ripple. “You can’t write that!”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You inspired me. You said so yourself.”
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