I Get My Ideas From ...

by

Fiona MacDonald




"Seriously," Steve said, "whereíd you get your ideas from?"

The man he was talking to, Harry, shrugged nonchalantly. "I canít say," he answered, "they pop into my head at random times; thereís no secret to it, there just has to be a click, something falling into place. Another drink?"

The two men were sitting in a pub round the corner from a bookshop where Harry had just given a talk on his latest book. A member of the audience had asked Harry the same question and Steve hadnít liked the answer:

"Thereís a small shop run by a little man ..." the writer had begun, and most of the audience had burst into laughter. But Steve really needed to know, and who better to tell him how to be successful than his hero?

They drank into the early hours of the morning, soon dumping the beer and moving onto the harder drinks, Harry drinking straight whisky, no ice or mixers.

"Truth is," slurred Harry, slamming a just emptied glass down on the table, "I really do get my ideas from a small man who runs a little shop in Castle Terrace Street; Iíll take you there tomorrow if you like. You sound like you need a bit of help." Last orders were called soon after and Steve stumbled off home.

####

The next day was icy, the temperature close to freezing but the sun shining brightly in the sky, a small orange orb displaying the world with a stark clarity most people would rather not be exposed to. The two men met at the appointed time and place, their hot breath forming a misty white cloud that hung in the air.

They nodded to each other and then Steve followed Harry through one of the dark doorways that lined the cobbled street and into a second hand bookshop.

The interior was dim, sunlight blocked by piles of books sitting on window ledges, the smell of must from the shelves and piles of gradually yellowing books permeating the air.

They made their way through the narrow shelves and at the back of the shop the rows of books widened out and they came upon a wooden desk with an old-fashioned cash register upon it. A little man sat on a stool behind the table reading a newspaper. He was bald and wore a pair of thick-lensed glasses. He peered up when they approached.

"Oh, youíre back," he said looking at Harry in surprise, "I wasnít expecting you ... are you ...well, that is." He stopped speaking and to Steve his confusion was clear.

Steve looked at Harry, who smiled at the man, but it wasnít a genuine smile, it didnít quite reach his eyes and there was no warmth in it. The little man seemed to understand that quite well and he frowned up at them, and then scratched at his bald head.

"Itís my friend here who might be buying," the writer explained eventually, "itís history heís interested in, a bit of thriller; knights of the round table, all that sort of stuff."

"Thatís not quite..." Steve began, and then stopped. He remembered vaguely boasting about all his award winning ideas in the pub the night before, but couldnít remember mentioning anything quite so clichéd.

The little man blinked at him for a few moments, and then, "Standard contract?" he asked Harry.

"Of course," Harry winked at Steve who looked from one man to the other, at Harry so full of jovial confidence and then at the little man who had more nervous tics than a field full of sheep.

"Iím sorry, are you an agent?" he asked the little man.

"Of sorts," Harry answered for him.

"How can you help me?"

"He can make things happen, talk to people, name-drop." Again it was Harry who answered for the little man.

"He can do that but wonít speak to me?" Steve was disbelieving now; a joke was being played and he was the butt of it, but the punch line was missing.

"Heís nervous around strangers, but get Pol here in a room full of people he knows and he just doesnít shut up." Harry winked again, his jovial smile creeping back onto his face. And then, "Trust me," he whispered in a low voice.

Steve shrugged; heíd play along for a bit longer. "What do I pay?"

"Oh, nothing much," the little man named Pol answered, surprising Steve, "your dreams at night, the second half of your soul, your grace and ease."

"I donít understand."

Harry clapped a hand on Steveís shoulder and said quietly, "You donít pay a penny, just sign the contract and the worldís yours." He nodded at Pol who brought out several sheets of paper, a pen, and indicated a blank line. Steve hesitated for a moment and looked at Harry.

"Go on," the famous author urged, "publishers await." Steve picked up the pen and signed on the dotted line.

"Good boy," Harry said beaming.

####

That night Steve seduced his lover, Therese, with dinner followed by a full body massage. He started with her feet and slowly made his way up, rubbing warm scented oil into her limbs and following it up with a trail of kisses. When he reached her face he rubbed her cheeks in gentle circular motions with his thumbs whilst he brushed the hair away from her forehead. She wore it dark these days and he couldnít decide if he liked it. Therese's eyes gazed up at him lovingly, green and shining. Gently, he lowered himself and kissed each eyelid in turn.

"I love you," she whispered. And then they had sex.

They slept huddled together, the slick oil rubbing off on him and making them both slippery, the scents of their naked bodies pervading the bedroom. Steve dreamed.

He was standing in a station in the London underground next to a vending machine idly watching people as they got on and off trains. The lights were dim, some of them broken so that they made an irritating buzzing noise that he could hear above the babbling of the crowd and the sound of roaring engines. The place stank of piss and filth and the walls were covered in incomprehensible graffiti.

"Got a light?" He turned and saw a girl standing just behind his shoulder. Everything she was wearing was black: boots, fishnet stockings, mini-skirt, baby-doll t-shirt, her eyeshadow too, but her jewelry was silver. She was chewing gum and regarding him through big soft brown eyes. He thought sheíd be quite pretty without the make-up and the Goth act.

"Sorry," he said in answer.

"Hey, youíre that writer right?" she asked in what seemed excitement, "Iím Melpom."

"Want an autograph?" he asked sarcastically.

"Can you carve it?" she brought out a slim sharp dagger and proffered it to him. He turned away and went back to watching the trains. One rumbled into the station, brakes screaming, platform vibrating as it pulled to a halt. People got off and others got on. He looked at the people, guessing he must be here waiting for someone, and began searching the faces, but they were hazy, indistinct.

Features were there but without the sharp lines of distinction that makes a face a face. Eyes were dark holes in the head, lips a dull red, curving gently but with none of the roundness that should have been there. Noses were just pointed triangles, all the same. Their movements were stilted, jerky like puppets.

"Do you like the dark?" the Goth behind him asked, changing the subject, "I like it."

Steve turned to look at her, "Whatís going on?"

She merely flicked her hair back and looked coyly up at him. "Itís when I work best." Steve looked at her for a moment and then decided to get out of there. He looked around for the exits but there were none, there was just a blank wall, the platform and the trains; people got off one and onto another.

"See her," the Goth said pointing to another girl who couldnít have been older than fifteen, "sheís a jumper. She fell in love with a boy; he snuck over to see her at her parentís farm one night, and her father thought he was a burglar. Shot him dead with the rifle he uses to kill foxes."

And Steve did see the girl. She came into focus as he searched for her, features sharpening into what turned out to be a plain face on top of a slightly dumpy body. Her nose was a bit too long, her eyes a bit too small, not ugly, just nothing special. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a pigtail and she wore a worn pair of jeans and a baggy shirt, her dadís or boyfriendís he guessed. She was standing close to the platform edge, too close Steve noticed. A train rumbled in, the girl jumped, and Steve shouted out.

"I donít think I like you," Melpom said.

####

The world went black and Steve tumbled forward. In bed his body jerked and Therese half-stirred; she turned her body round, facing him now rather than away, and buried her face into the hollow between his shoulder and the mattress.

####

In his dreams Steve found his footing once more and the world became light. He was standing on mist and a brilliant white light lit it up for as far as the eye could see. It was all hazy white, dazzling so brightly he had to squint to see without being blinded.

"A blank canvas," a voice said. A man appeared where one had not been before. He was tall and wore a dark suit, his hair neatly cut short and combed back.

"It can be the enemy or the friend of any artist. And you are an artist. We will be working together, partners, and this is what we will work on." He made eye contact and there was something hypnotic in those murky grey depths, something compelling. It felt like those eyes were searching Steve, reaching into him and reading his soul, and they displayed a paternal disappointment in what they found.

The man beckoned Steve to him and so Steve stepped closer, shuffling forward bit by bit, taking small baby steps, shame welling up unbeckoned and unwanted, certainly unexpected.

The man looked down at him with a sardonic smile, "You didnít like my poor sister Melpom. No one wants her these days; sheís out of fashion and must steal any commission she can, the most unfortunate of the nine of us. I, on the other hand..." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "People want what I have to offer."

"I donít know you," Steve whispered back.

The manís grey eyes held his and his head felt muzzy. Thought was slow in coming to him and all he could do was sound stupid. The world faltered under him and images suddenly began to rush past his eyes. They flashed quickly, a hundred or a thousand frames per second and all he felt was motion sickness in his stomach and dizziness in his head, he could see the images as they rushed past but couldnít focus on them, couldnít hold even one in his head to make out what it was.

"Iím your Muse," the man whispered into Steveís ear, "Cleon, God of Poetry and Historical Epics." Steve could hear the capitals as the man introduced himself. "I will inspire you and you will never need rest nor refreshment. You will write through all the hours and minutes of the day and at night I will whisper to you in the darkness; I will tell you old tales and make up new ones just for you; I will sing in all of the tongues I know and it will be so vivid that when you open your eyes you will see the stories unfolding in front of them, everything I have I will give to you. You will live a life of enchantment, a friend of the Gods."

Steveís brows wrinkled, thought was even more sluggish now, but there was something ... important. The images in front of his eyes slowed and he began to catch a picture here, a glimpse there, like still photos in the midst of a video.

"A woman," he mumbled eventually, "Clio, not Cleon, the Greeks." Cleonís eyes darkened and he thrust Steve away from him, pushing him tumbling to the floor.

"The Greeks," he hissed with fury, "They took us all and imprisoned us, not just me and my siblings but all of us. They locked us away and forced us into forms they wanted, they desired. They made slaves of us and imprisoned us in the sky, the water, the earth. They took our powers for their own, demanded the right to them and gave nothing back.

"We were their slaves and they strengthened that bond with blood. They tortured and maimed us and left tales in history of abuses we had supposedly practiced on them." Steve saw Cleonís hands clench into fists, whitening at the knuckles with the pressure. And then he appeared to let it all go; body relaxing again.

Cleon began to lean down and Steve backed away in fear. Cleonís hands gripped the sides of his face, holding him still and Steve gasped at the contact. Cleonís head moved close and lips touched Steveís forehead. It was a soft kiss, one of love rather than demand, and Cleonís lips were as smooth as velvet.

"That was long ago," Cleon whispered, "for you I will take any shape."

Steve reached out a hand and Cleon helped him up, passing a hand over Steveís eyes. The images racing past began to slow down, slower and slower until he could see a face here, a building there, a sword glinting in the moonlight, and then they vanished and all Steve could see again was the mist and his self-proclaimed Muse, Cleon.

"Letís go," Cleon said. The mist swirled around them, rising up and engulfing them so that Steve could see nothing, and then it darkened and took form again. They were standing in his bedroom and on the bed, naked and perfect, still curled up, her hair fallen over one eye, was his Therese.

"The second half of your soul," Cleon said quietly. He bent down and stretched her out on her back on the bed, pushing the covers onto the floor, and then he took out a long slim dagger. It glinted as the light from sodium streetlights outside seeped through the cracks in the curtains and caught its edges; fear and torment tore at Steveís heart. He shook his head wordlessly and leapt at Cleon.

The fight lasted but a moment and Steve found himself lying on the floor, body in pain, mind clouded again. He rolled over with effort in time to see Cleon calmly slit his loverís body open from throat to crotch. Blood bubbled at the surface and then ran down the side of her body as the flow became stronger, rivulets trailing down her sides and forming twin pools on the clean blue bed sheets she lay upon.

Cleon smiled at him, "I will take any shape for you," he repeated. Steve watched Cleon part the skin carefully where he had made the incision and, mounting the bed, step into it. Cleon sat down in the midst of Thereseí chest and pushed his long legs into hers. Next, he pressed his arms calmly into her arms as simply as if he was putting on a jacket. After that, he used his new hands to insert his head into her head. Lastly he sealed the cut, pulling the skin together and then running his hands up it like it was a zip. Steve watched this process in horror, tears running down his face, and then he yelled a fierce warlike cry and ran to kill this apparition.

####

He awoke with a jerk and there she lay, safe and warm snuggled tightly against his body smelling of the oil and sex of last night. He squeezed her to him and closed his eyes briefly again. She stirred against him and he looked down at her.

"Hey," he said softly. Therese smiled, but it was no smile heíd ever seen on her face before, it was ... predatory? She sat up, and again the movements were not hers.

Later, locked in the bathroom, Steve called Harry. "Help me," he hissed.

There was silence, and then, "I canít."

"You canít, what do you mean?" Steve began sobbing into the telephone, begging and pleading.

Harry waited patiently on the other end of the line for him to calm down, and then, hissed, "Recommend a friend, or an enemy if you like. If they like him theyíll take him and let you go. It took me fifteen years to find you." And with that he hung up.

Steve redialed but was informed the number was not available.

He sat on the toilet for a while, thinking of nothing except how screwed he was. A voice shouted on him and he knew it was time to get to work, time to plan later. Flushing the toilet he stood up and went slowly back out, to the study, to the computer, to Cleon who sat impatiently waiting.

THE END



© 2005 by Fiona MacDonald

Fiona MacDonald says "I am currently teaching English in Taiwan. I have yet to be published as a professional writer, but my short story, "Shades of Grey", appeared in the June/July edition of the online journal Dream People".

E-mail: Fiona MacDonald

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