My Muse?

The screen flickered, blown by magic breath or electric-grid blip. The cursor blinked. Blinked again. And again. I held my breath, expectant.

The same thing happened that had happened a few minutes before, yesterday, and every day since I’d committed to writing daily: NOTHING.

I leaned a disappointed elbow onto the desk, straight into the crinkling pile of candy bar wrappings and chocolate crumbs. Face rested in hand; cheap, upbeat computer music mocked my efforts.

I sighed.

A loud belch nearly unseated me. Thanking the good, solid seat The Lord blessed me with, I turned to see a large, rumpled, hazy apparition tottering to the right of the computer desk. It was dressed like a messy pirate, complete with overcoat and large boots.

He? held a bottle, equally transparent. Distractedly, I wondered if it contained only fumes.

The personage looked in my direction. I think. I returned the glance, attempting eye contact. Neither of us spoke. Both of us blinked.

“What are you?” I managed. Mentally, I reprimanded my manners.

“Whaddya mean?” a deep voice responded, slurred. I decided he was probably a man -er, man’s ghost. Wavering slightly, he jabbed a translucent finger my way. “YOU dragged me over here!”

Surprised, I considered. Apprehension dawned.

“I didn’t summon you, that I know of,” I defended. “Unless,” I hesitated, feeling sick, “You’re my muse?”

Grating laughter broke his scowling face. My expression of confusion and concern deepened. Who was this? Finally, his mirth subsided. Taking a long swig of emptiness from the bottle, he returned to the task of hazy staring. “Nah,” he supplied.

I blinked. My puzzled expressions were getting a lot of practice.

“So….” I began, allowing him the chance to take up the thread. He didn’t. I swallowed, and tried a more complete sentence. “So, if you’re not my muse,” I paused, “then who are you,” another pause, “and how did I summon you?”

I sat back, creaking the cushioned chair. I was determined to wait for his response without further prompting.

He lifted the bottle, studying its water-soaked label. “I’m Muse’s, er, relation,” he answered, casually, but more quietly. “Name’s Motivation.” Hiccuping, he tried another bottled inhalation.

I turned this over mentally, silently. “Muse’s relation?” I wondered aloud.

He seemed upset by my question. Well, he looked huffy. “‘S right.” He stuck out his incorporeal double chin. “Through marriage.”

I could sense this topic would only lead to more offense, on his part. Frankly, however, I didn’t know what to do with this unexpected guest. He didn’t seem willing to offer more than moody stares.

“Look,” I began, “I don’t want to be rude here, but I was …expecting someone -you know, different.” I watched the face, and wall behind it, to be sure of comprehension without affront.

Instead, he shrugged. “You get what you get,” he stated; laughed, “and you don’t throw a fit.”

Now was my turn to be upset. “What do you mean?” I had difficulty keeping my voice civil. “I followed all the steps I read about!”

He chortled, sipped air, and gave me a knowing look.

“I… I read books!” I defended.

“How many?” he demanded, keeping his eyebrows at their sarcastic bent.

“Er,” I floundered, “Well, I started a few, then didn’t really have time to finish, so…”

“What else?” he interrupted, amused.

I thought over the recommendations. “I sat down, committed to write.” My voice sounded a bit whiny, even to me. “I mean, I’m writing, here!”

His face softened a bit, and he leaned through the wall before realizing that did nothing to help support him. “True,” he conceded. “However,” he snickered, “I don’t think that game you have running in the background helps.”

I looked at my screen, out of Motivation’s view. “That’s my music,” I said, hastily clicking to Close Window on Fallout Shelter. His expression was back to its mocking amusement.

“Which is another thing,” I continued. “Music! You can’t say I haven’t been trying that.”

“Also true,” he said. “Although, your stuff’s garbage. I like me some Nirvana, myself.”

I sat, processing that information. Somehow, I couldn’t picture this sodden spirit rocking out. For one thing, wouldn’t that be extremely painful once the morning-after headache hit him? Of course, one had to have a solid head to get aches.

“Point is,” he continued, “You’re going about this all wrong.” He tucked the empty bottle into his overcoat somehow. Placing his hands on his hips, he explained, “You can’t get a decent muse with halfway measures.”

His large, airy hand waved at the littered computer desk as he expounded. “Finish books, only write during writing time, try good music, and lay off the chocolate.” Satisfied, he leaned back away from me.

“But,” I began, sorry to lose the only being I’d successfully summoned, “I got you. That’s something.” I realized how rude I’d sounded, and glanced up to apologize.

He, however, was laughing again. “You did. Sort-of.” The outline of his arms and hair seemed to be fading. Yawning and scratching at air-torso, he added, “Thing is, you can’t wait around for Motivation. And, you can’t actually have me.”

The wall behind him was becoming clearer as he was becoming less so. “Good luck, Chelsea,” he echoed.

Though hardly visible at all, I heard his distant chortle. “Though, Luck doesn’t come without work, either!”

 

 

Cosmic Chatter

alessio-lin-313560

“So, who’s the guy?”

“Girl, Mikey. Girl.”

“The broad, then.”

“She’s only eight. Jeez!”

“Well, I can’t see. Someone’s bright, pulsing keister’s in front of me! Ya mind turnin’ it down a bit, Eve?”

“Right, right. Just give me a billion more years.”

*Sigh*

“She wants a pony. That’s it. Just a pony, is all.”

“Ha! Ha! Well, go on, Mrs. I’m-so-much-older than you.”

“Funny.”

“That’s what you get, ya know.”

“What?”

“Ya don’t know? You really don’t know what I’m talkin’ about?”

“Well, Mikey; you gonna sit there, smug as eternity -or, ya gonna tell me?”

“It was cuz of that night, Eve.”

“Jeez, Mikey, which night? It’s not like we’ve had a few million up here.”

“That one a few thousand back. When you tried that helium. You don’t remember? You don’t remember -what happened?”

…..

“See? This is why I didn’t wanna tell ya. Now, you’re blushin’. Just like that night.”

“I didn’t blush, Mikey.”

“Yeah, well, that’s what happened and then you-”

“Mikey!”

“Right, right. Somethin’ happened that we’re not sayin’ and I’m sayin’ that’s why we’re hearing a wish.”

“You think, ’cause part of me lit up that she wants a pony?”

“Yeah. And, I think we’re going to hear more about it before tonight’s done. Your little light show took awhile to get to them.”

“Gee, thanks, Mikey.”

“Hey, you asked. I didn’t ask. I’m just floatin’, here. If you don’t wanna hear some hundred wishes a night, just wait till you run out of fuel in a few thousand more.”

“Wait, why?”

“Oh, nothin’ really. I just heard from Tony who said Buster told Suzie-”

“The point, Mikey?”

“Something about falling, that’s all.”

“Falling.”

“Yeah, and then whoever’s watching down there thinks it’s like that time we was talking about when they saw light all sudden-like, and then we’ll hear all this noise again.”

“Mikey?”

“Yeah?”

“You know that means you’ll be front and center, right?”

…..

“What’s the matter, Mikey? You don’t look so hot anymore.”

“I think I just dropped a level.”

“C’mon, Mikey. Like you said, who wouldn’t want to hear wishes all night, huh?”

Photo credit: Alessio Lin on Unsplash

Burning Autumn

“Mommy, why are the trees on fire?” His three-year-old eyes look concerned, in my rearview mirror.

I glance back to smile, reassuringly, as we pause at a stop sign. The red and orange leaves of street-stalking maples fill my periphery as I do.

“They’re not on fire, Honey. It’s autumn.” He seems to be thinking, as I pull onto the main road. A seasonal gust dances clusters of brown, red, purple, yellow, and orange around our moving car.

“Why are the leaves blowing away?” He asks next. His eyes dart from one window to another to follow the erratic wind-paths.

I think over my answer. ‘The trees are getting ready to go to sleep,” I say, stopping at a traffic light. I watch the leaves as well, a happy warmth glowing inside at this vibrant change to mundane landscapes.

I watch his tiny face scowl. “Trees sleep?”

“Yes, Sweetheart. The leaves fall off so the trees can sleep when there’s snow on the ground.” His face lights up at the mention of snow. “They need to sleep or they get too cold,” I explain.

Just before the light changes, I catch my own eyes in the mirror. They’re dark, like my hair; like my son’s.

Memory-image immediately draws me back to that morning, when he’d walked in after my shower.

“What are you doing, Mommy?” He’d wondered. Still wrapped in a towel, I’d been anxiously pawing through my reflection’s scalp.

I’d found my first gray hairs while brushing.

We’re nearly to his preschool when he asks, “Will the leaves come back again?”

We slide back and forth against the seat  belts’ embrace as the car bumps over the parking lot entrance. I wait in a minivan queue.

“Mom! Will the leaves come back?”

No, I think, I’ll keep getting gray. Aloud, however, I tell him, “Of course, Honey! The trees grow new leaves when the snow melts and it’s spring again.”

That’s too far away for his mental reach. He’s trying to puzzle it all out, scrunching his lips and small, dark eyebrows.

I park, exit, come round to his door. Rustling leaf-rain sweeps under my feet. A few blow into the open sliding door as I unbuckle my thoughtful child.

“I like it,” he finally decides, smiling. He laughs; and, clutching my hand, skips and crunches through the leaf storm all the way to the school doors.

He goes inside, to his waiting teacher’s arms. Through the glass I see him point backwards, waving his stocky little arm in a swirling motion. He’s explaining autumn to his teacher; while she intently watches his face, smiles in return, and nods dramatically.

They head off to the classroom, hand in hand. I turn to face the wind and its accompanying leaves.

Everywhere a deciduous tree has been planted, I see color. They’re shouting on their way to the death of winter.

I absently run a hand through my hair, just about where I’d found the gray strand. I smile, as my son had.

When I die, I plan to go out like the burning autumn.

Literary Prescription

“I need a new book to read,” a friend asks. “Do you have any to recommend?”

I have to steady myself against a wall; tell my thudding heart to slow. Almost euphoric, I compose myself. It simply wouldn’t do for a bibliophile of my standing to be caught drooling.

I straighten my posture and eyeglasses, immediately donning my physician’s overcoat. My pipe rests gently against my lip, held in my right hand. The left, of course, finds a casual perch halfway in a front pocket.

“What have you read lately?” I query.

The friend’s response is crucial. “Oh, I just finished up This Popular Novel,” she may say, telling me of an interest in mainstream, feel-good stories. Or maybe she admits to perusing dystopia, sampling science fiction, catching a guilty whiff of fantasy, or snitching a teen romance before dinner.

Without prompt, the information is almost always followed by, “I liked these details or this character, but am looking more for less violence or more of that world.”

I liked, but… is the imperative response to furthering my prognosis.

“Ah, yes,” I muse, pondering; filling the conversational space as my eyes wander a few titles. “Would you like another of that same genre?”

Yes or no will sort my mind to a flow-chart diagram of question, response, action. Yes leads to more of that section; then Same author?, Want another female lead?, or What about this one?

No, of course, follows an arrow to What other type would you like, then?

I’ve been out of practice for a tad longer than I’ve wished, life circumstances being what they are. I try not to allow this lapse to show, however. Professionalism is paramount; poise essential.

I clear my throat, nestling the unlit pipe in the right pocket. Striding excitedly to a shelf, I begin extracting pharmaceutical samples.

My patient listens, keenly, fully prepared to ignore my advice once within access of internet searches. For now, she watches my sorting hands move through the pile of books. She is judging appearances as I detail contents.

My calm demeanor is more difficult to maintain. I had thought my raised pressure, sweating palms, and nervous movements to be results of an overexcited reaction to a question. Instead, I realize I’ve dipped into the medicine cabinet a few times more than was healthy. I’ve become attached.

“I think you’d really like reading this one,” I say, feeling the shaky stress of a salesman’s position as I proffer a favorite.

A shrug; a, “Meh.”

I hock a few more titles. Strangely, I begin to view the rectangle-bound writings as closer friends than the human patient before me. In judging and dismissing these fragments of my soul, she has become an unwanted interloper at our private family party.

If she snubs another book, I may have to show her the door.

“I think I’ll go with your first one, here,” she finally says, drawing out the prettiest cover.

“Excellent,” I say, nodding. I gather my smock more snugly round the buttons; find the pipe with my right, and the pocket with my left. I attempt a businesslike smile.

“Thank you, Chelsea,” she smiles, holding a hand out to hug.

“Of course,” I respond, embracing. “Let me know how you like it.”

My friend departs, smiling. I close the shop door; its bell tinkles. Alone with my books, I collapse into a handy overstuffed armchair.

I pull an illicit title from a nearby shelf, immediately recalling its pleasurable side effects. I’d love to share it with another.

As I pass through the first chapter, I eagerly anticipate my next patient.

 

Let’s Stay in Bed Today

Snow1

“Snow! Snow-snow-snow-snow-snow! Mikey, snow!”

Small padding thumps descended the dirty stairs and crossed the short space to Mike’s sleeping head. Their accompanying arms pushed, insistently, at his body. Mike groaned and rolled from the thin camping cot. Cold, solid boards against his back completed his abrupt awakening.

He cracked open an eye to acknowledge the bouncing child. “No, Tommy, not snow,” he croaked, squinting.

“Yes, snow, Mikey!” Impatient toddler legs ran back across the room and up to the thick, semitransparent Plexiglas at the end of the tunnel. Mike turned his head against the floor. Tommy was pressing his face eagerly against the plastic, to see what he could never clearly see.

Good thing Dad has the access key to the door, Mike thought, then swallowed. Though, it hasn’t worked out with Dad not being here now. He pushed the thoughts away quickly, and groaned again. He stretched his hands up till they nearly brushed against the splintered boards just above his reaching arms.

“Mom! Mom-Mom-Mom-Mom!” Tommy stumbled down to push at the sleeping woman, instead.

“Mmm?” she queried.

“Mom, snow! Can we go play?” Mike sat up to watch from an obliging elbow, amused, as his brother leaned over her. Tommy’s tiny nose barely touched their mother’s. He breathed in her face expectantly.

“Mom, Mom! Mikey says it’s not snow, but it is. Can I go play?”

Her eyelids fluttered, opened. She made out the blurry, impatient face and sighed. “Oh Tommy, sweetheart. Come here.” Pulling her arms from their sleeping bag, she lifted them to either side of her crouching son.

“No, Mommy!” He pushed her arms; sat back. “I want to play in the snow! Open the door!”

“I can’t honey. I can’t.”

“Yes, you can! Make Daddy come back and open the door!” Tommy started crying, punching at her arms and bouncing on her body.

Mike quickly heaved off the floor, stooping; came over, stopped Tommy’s arms. He lifted his flailing, sobbing brother against the low ceiling.

“I’m so sorry, my Tom Thumb, we can’t. We can’t.” The tears ran slowly down their mother’s face. She sat up and reached out her arms still, wanting to hold her son.

Mike bumped against the roof boards, straining against the angry child. “Hey, Tommy,” he said, on inspiration, “Did you know snow is really cold?”

Tommy stopped resisting. “Cold?”

“Yes, very cold. Remember?” Mike saw he had Tommy’s attention. Tiny mental wheels were turning as Tommy’s face scrunched in the dim lighting. Mike loosened his grip and they sat together on the dirt-covered floorboards.

Mike continued. “Remember when we played in the snow and you got wet and your fingers hurt? They were red.” Tommy stuck a finger in his mouth, remembering.

“But I want to play,” he spoke, plaintively, around the finger. Tears ran down their mother’s face.

“I know,” Mike said. The muffled silence filled their ears as Tommy thought.

“I’m sorry, mommy,” he whispered, finally hugging her. She sniffed, wiping her nose against her shoulder, trying to smile.

“I love you, Tommy.” Together, they rocked. Their slow-moving forms slowly swept the shushing sleeping bag against the floor.

“Come help me make breakfast,” she offered. He nodded and moved to the side. Carefully, she peeled her legs free and hunched upright. They padded over to the wall of shelves.

Mike sat, watching them open the cache in the floor, pulling out the cans, hunting for the opener. Then he turned again to the end of the tunnel; the only source of natural light, watching the swirling, dancing storm of particulates drifting by.

 

Particular

Ascension

Girl

She lightly licked her pointer finger, her pink stub of a tongue barely flicking out. Holding it aloft in imitation of her grandfather’s memory, she scrunched her miniature features in serious concentration. She pulled the small finger and fist back to her body. Looking determinedly solemn, she nodded to the setting sun.

She glanced down to her other hand; its grip tightened reflexively, pulling purple plastic wrinkles tightly toward it. Purple streamers of plastic rustled in anticipation.

Stooping, she used her licked-finger hand to scramble a spool into its too-small palm. Looping curves of cheap string threatened to come away between her fingers. Regardless, her grip was certain.

She stared ahead. Taking in the moment, her grandfather had called it. She breathed deeply in, raising her tiny shoulders up to her ears to ensure it was the deepest moment-taking-in possible.

Her breath came out dramatically, lowering her shoulders and entire upper half clumsily. She paused. Then, she ran.

Dandelion spores scattered, grass blades bent, and a languishing dog yawned near its park bench owner. Her stubby legs drove her rapidly down and up the small rising knolls of the field, convincing her of an immense speed.

Now! Her left arm flung wildly up and behind her shoulder, releasing its purple quarry. The flailing plastic tails flew behind her ungainly man-made bird. They struggled and whipped and bobbed in the erratic running rhythm.

The kite caught, tugging at her right hand and its death-gripped string. She kept moving as fast as she could, nearly outstripping a few passing, drifting butterflies. They floated translucently away, as their sunset meeting was rudely interrupted by the large, purple, flapping object.

No butterfly nor bird ever bobbed and wove such a barely buoyant path before. The purple kite fluttered and flopped obediently. It followed closely behind her pumping legs, her taut string, her stubborn grip.

Let out some string, her grandfather’s gruff voice directed her mind. Stumbling slightly, she loosed some string from the matted bunch inside her clammy hand. The freed clump reached the flapping purple animal tailing her; straightening, liberating, lifting.

She felt the tug of success. Chancing a quick backward glance, she saw her kite rising, rising!

Stop! Her furious toddler-run wobbled to a halt. She immediately turned, releasing yet more string and running it through both hands. That’s it, keep her steady, grandfather complimented.

Orange-red beams from the Westward sun glowed up the bobbing string. The plastic purple kite flew high and sure in the light evening winds. She pulled a few sweat-wiped strands of blonding hair from across her flushed face, immediately re-gripping the twisting, pulling string.

She looked up at her kite. Her whole face smiled.

From a higher vantage point amongst the painted clouds, Grandfather looked down. The glorious rays spread across the entire expanse as he smiled in return.

 

Ascend

Utah Jones

An arid wind swept across the lonely landscape. It smelled of hope, memories, and lunches forgotten in school bags.

Utah Jones wiped a yellow-latex-gloved wrist across her bare brow, pulling a few limp strands from her eyes and mouth. Piles of discarded archaeological pieces stood sorted in orderly rows to her left: her morning’s work. She’d spent all of the half hour carefully extracting, lightly cleaning, and stacking the worthless artifacts.

So much of her job involved sorting worthless artifacts.

Just then, two aboriginal youth ran into her site. Nevermind that she’d carefully staked out the area; or set up the shiny, illuminated distraction for them. Nevermind that she’d talked patiently with them about disturbing her work. Jones sighed as they ran up to her, babbling and wantonly smacking each other.

She had convinced herself they’d understood; but knew inside, as she’d gesticulated and slowly enunciated, that the savages had actually not heard a word of what she’d said.

The younger native began pulling at her legs. “Fooooooood!” He bellowed, toddler-like. Of course he’d know that word.

Cringing at the thought of the consequences, Jones hurriedly pointed them in the direction of her dwindling food stores. She also cringed at possible future effects on the tribes’ growth based on the “nutritional” value of what she had left in those cases. No matter, she rationalized. Hopefully, this project would be done by the time the sugar hit those children’s bloodstream.

Once again, Jones turned her attention to what she’d managed to unearth so far. She removed the remaining detritus, and finally saw her goal just beneath the shallow, murky water. Grimacing, she reached her right hand into the questionable filth. She fumbled around. She braced against the edge of the exposed hole wherein the obstruction lay.

After an interminable few seconds, Jones’ fingers found a gap. She pushed into it. Water swirling inedible remains quickly drained around her groping hand as she pulled the blockage loose.

She rinsed the cup off, loaded it with its fellows, started the dishwasher, took off her dish gloves, then went to kick her children out of the pantry.

Today’s Lesson

“All right now, class: each of you will receive a copy of this sheet of a family. You’ll need to color it, cut it out, then paste it onto card stock. We’ll be displaying them on the bulletin board for everyone else to see.

“You will only have a short amount of time to work on it, so color what’s most important to you. Maybe it’s the house. Or, you’ll focus on the mom’s hair and the kid’s clothes. I know I like to pick lovely colors for those flowers.

“When I say it’s time for scissors, you will have to see what you have time to cut out before we need to paste them. Sometimes, students only get the mom and dad out, and one of the dogs, before we need to move on. I had one classmate who removed the house, family members, and a flower very meticulously but the card stock was gone by that time and they had no background.

“If everyone is ready, then, you may begin. Hurry, but have fun!”

Lifecycle

As a child, I was cripplingly shy. I spoke barely audibly, hated to look people in the eye, and cried at social stresses.

Then, I started to grow and mature. During this stage of metamorphosis, which usually takes from two weeks to several months, the larval tissues completely break down and reorganize. The outlines of adult features—the wings, eyes, tongue, antennae, and body segments—can be seen on the surface of the pupal skin.

When fully formed, the pupal case splits and the butterfly emerges. The butterfly first expels its meconium, metabolic waste products that have accumulated during the pupal stage. It then expands its shriveled wings—by pumping them full of blood—before flying off.

What? Sorry; I dozed off and let some autofill site finish this post. I’d better get off to bed. Goodnight, everyone!

C.S.I.

Two a.m. was never an easy time to go to a job. But here they were again, hedged by police tape walls and squinting in the dark illuminations of floodlights.

“It don’t look good, Hurles.” He dragged at his e-cig, blew the filtered, no-emission, smokeless, digitally-altered remains of what may have been fumes into the air as dramatically as he could, and gave his partner a serious look.

Julie Hurlesman turned to the prostrate female form on the floor before rolling her eyes, to give him his illusion of dignity. “You’re right, Tray.” She responded cooly. “I don’t see any silver lining in this case.”

Richard Tracy shrugged away from the wall he’d been moodily supporting and effectively shrugged his oversized lapels higher round his neck. Finally abandoning the e-cig to one of many pockets within the long coat, he instead used his right hand to pull his hat brim even tighter down his brow. Satisfied with the final results, he hunched over to stand behind the squatting Hurles.

“Tray,” Hurles said with a decade of patience, “You’re blocking the spotlight again.”

Tray pretended concentration on their assignment as he sidestepped a foot to her left. She pretended not to notice, then intently tried to eliminate distractions as she began her usual examination.

Swirling dust motes and remnant e-cig particles outlined the shadow puppet hand orchestrations of her careful, thorough search. Tray looked on, more distracted in his somber thoughts of how he could finally get Hurles to use the nickname he kept asking her to, instead of the one his mother always used.

“Aha!” Hurles whispered. Tray immediately drew closer, even forgetting to flail his coattails behind him as he squatted next to her elbow. Hurles never made a verbal exclamation unless she’d found something really important.

“What?” He asked excitedly, also forgetting to use his gruff voice.

Infinitely meticulously, Hurles lifted the damp, lanky, unwashed locks from the pale face of the prone body before her. Damp eyelashes bordered a bottomless pool of darkest sadness. A deep brown iris contracted slightly at its sudden exposure to the glaring light beyond Hurles and Tray. The lashes slowly closed and reopened in calculated effect of misery. The rest of the long, drawn face held its agonized expression.

Tray took in a surprised breath. This was important. “You don’t mean -?” He began, turning to Hurles and regaining some of his former composure by raising his thick eyebrows over a fierce glare of suspense.

“Yes, I do,” Hurles told him, meeting his eye and successfully keeping her expression both neutral and normal for the circumstances.

They simultaneously moved their faces slightly to watch, as the woman on the floor heaved the heaviest sigh in human existence. She lifted just enough to turn away from the two investigators, her hair falling naturally from Hurles’ fingers like rain-soaked tree fronds. She lay still once again.

Hurles withdrew her hand, and unobtrusively wiped it on her jeans. She stood. Tray followed suit.

“Another one,” Tray concluded in a deep, gravelly voice. “A victim of her own emotions.”