Suddenly, after months of silence, my surly muse, Juan Reyes, deceased inter-galactic combat photographer from my first novel, dropped in unexpectedly.
I see him standing behind me in the reflection of my tablet screen. Juan’s bloodstained fatigues and battered camera bag are gone. This evening he’s as handsome and whole as he was in chapter one of my languishing first novel. His black dreads touch the velvet lapels of the red brocade duster he wore at embassy receptions. Vain and beautiful, his dark eyes twinkle with adult mischief.
“Netflix is great, but come on. You’ve watched movie after movie, marathons of entire seasons of House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and Orange is the New Black. Why do I get the feeling you are hiding from me? Aren’t you ever going to write again?” He crosses his arms across his chest, assuming that belligerent stance I came to love after I wrote him into existence.
“Well, I thought I’d collect information on the structure of daring plots,” I hedge, turning toward him.
He backs away, holding up his hand. “Remember. Don’t try to touch me. I’ll be forced to deconstruct.”
Then he grins, fishes in his pocket and produces a red and white cigarette pack. Slowly, he peels the gold strip from the cellophane wrap and tosses the crumpled plastic over his shoulder.
“I love this bad habit. Perfect for someone already dead.” He takes a leisurely puff, gesturing to me. “Want one?”
“Not as much as I used to,” I admit.
“Good. Now, you must break a second dangerous habit. Procrastination. It frustrates you. Constructive screwing around fills you with doubt. Letting others entertain you allows you to obsess about the merits of the first chapter of Lies and Legends without completing a damned thing.” He sighs. ” I mean, really. How many old episodes of the X-Files can you watch?”
I frown at him. “I gave up waiting for you.”
“Oh, please,” he sighs and frowns at me. “This is not about us. I thought you understood most writing you do without me, using only your iron will and relentless sense of humor.”
Juan’s sudden mood swing startles me and so I wait.
He paces back and forth, irritable and uncharacteristically nervous, his duster rippling behind him. “Do you think you’re the only one with problems?”
I haven’t seen him so distressed and sullen since I forced him into celibacy in chapter twenty-one.
“We muses, we are in great demand now. We are so busy we are literally running up our own backsides.” Giant sigh. “There is simply not enough time in the infinite universe.” He gestures toward the open windows. “Do you have any idea what’s going on out there?”
I shrug. “I try not to think about it.”
“There’s an emergency in this world. Muses have been called.” He glances at the TV chattering in the living room. “Do you ever watch the news?”
“Only if I’m forced at gunpoint.”
“Well,” he says, lighting another cigarette with a flame at the tip of his finger, “at this juncture in time our calling is much higher than handing out prize-winning ideas to artists. World leaders, generals, politicians, religious figures – they all need inspiration more than ever.”
I stare at him.
Juan shakes his head. “I know what you’re thinking, but it isn’t true. We don’t try to influence one side or the other. Muses are always neutral. Our job is keeping the stream of human thought moving. Without us nothing ever changes.” He wanders toward the French doors, glancing out into the darkening sky.
I follow him, staying a safe distance. “So you aren’t necessarily a force for good?”
“Your species’ interpretation of the inspiration we send shapes everything for better or worse.” He leans against the door frame, his back to the stars edging over the horizon. “Some of us don’t care for our new duties, I can tell you that. Most of our assignments are too morally ambiguous. It’s a tremendous burden. Personally, I yearn for the good old days when all I had to do was whisper in the ear of some distressed writer.”
He looks at me, a conspiratorial glint in his eyes. “Some of us are thinking about making a change.”
As Juan fades in front of me, I see Orion rising through his wavering form.
“Perhaps. You’ll just have to pay attention. Get rid of that damned device, stop checking your email, quit surfing. Start writing. Changes are coming. ” He winks. “You don’t want to miss them, baby.” He blows me a kiss. “Oh, and thanks for listening.”
“I’ll send you my bill,” I whisper to the darkness.
What changes are coming for your writing?