For A Muse Of Fire

When you came back from your hiatus at the Writers’ Guild, she was there, all black clothes and shiny hair and eyes that seemed wide as moons. You walked in and she turned in her chair to look at you. Her eyes seemed to swallow you one inch at a time, with no apologies. And somehow, all those doubts that had caused you to take a break in the first place came sweeping over the dark hills of your mind.

Thaissa, she said her name was, with that smoky sex-kitten voice. Samantha, Miss Power-Suit-And-Macchiato, she was already squirming the second Thaissa lowered her thin ass into the chair. She crossed her legs, glaring, half her face covered by the plastic coffee cup at her lips. Hipster Carmen, the one you fucked once when you walked her home, rolled her eyes from across the circle and scratched the black wool cap on her head.

“Welcome, my dear,” said old Mr. Wilson. “Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been a writer?”

Tell us how much better you are than we, he meant. Writers do not enjoy surprises, excepting the ones from their pens.

Forever, said the exotic new girl. I’ve been writing forever. She laughed when she said it, a dark, throaty release, more tactile than auditory. Mrs. Fellows cleared her throat, blue eyes wide, as playful knitted kittens romped across her bosom with each nervous breath.

“Ah, an early bloomer,” cooed Mr. Wilson. “Tell us about some of your works, if you please. Have you been published?”

Tell us if you’ve been published.

All your eyes said as you all leaned forward on our chairs just a bit, you and Mr. Wilson and The Hipster and Power Suit and Cat Lady.

Tell us.

Oh yes, purred Thaissa. Many, many times.

Samantha’s plastic coffee cup made a crunching noise as her manicured hand squeezed tight. Mrs. Fellows’ anxious crocheting had slowed.

“Oh?” She didn’t know Mr. Wilson well enough to realize how his bushy eyebrows seemed to stand on end when he was suspicious. “Any our humble Guild might know?”

Yes, said Thaissa. You are familiar with many of them.

The Iliad. The Divine Comedy. Frankenstein. War and Peace. Through the Looking Glass. David Copperfield. The Old Man and the Sea. The Colour Out of Space. Gone with the Wind.

Power Suit Samantha almost choked on her stupid green straw. Carmen actually laughed out loud, one shrill, caustic note, and hiked a Converse up onto one shredded-denim knee, shaking her head. You’re not sure, but Mrs. Fellows might have stabbed her own hand with the crocheting needle.

“I’m sorry, Miss?” asked Mr. Wilson in the way only an old, well-read man can ask.

“You mean you wrote updated versions of the classics, is that it?” asked Samantha, nodding. “Urbanized ‘em, maybe some steampunk for the Bronte sisters? I did that same thing, but that was years ago. Back when I was still starting out.” She took a loud sip of frothy white coffee.

No, said Thaissa. I wrote those stories.

Mr. Wilson turned so red, you found yourself wondering if you remembered how to perform CPR. “Now, Miss! Surely you do not expect a group of avid writers and readers to take such nonsense seriously! And if you cannot show respect to this art, I’m afraid this Guild has no place for you. We meet here for respite from the non-creative world, for a chance to bloom and grow and help each other. We’ve no place for this…this farce.”

“I say we kick her out,” said Carmen. “She’s crazy.”

“It doesn’t sound like she’s anywhere near our skill level anyway,” seconded Samantha.

Mrs. Fellows didn’t offer a vote, and no one asked her. They were all looking at you.

“Hank,” said Mr. Wilson. “You’ve been with this Guild a long while. What say you on this matter?”

Every single pair of writer-eyes, they were watching you. Fucking Mr. Wilson, always making you make the tough decisions while he kept the title of Guildmaster. And it wasn’t that you disagreed with Samantha and Carmen; you could smell the crazy wafting off this dark little minx the second you saw her. But if you kicked her out now, you’d have zero chance of fucking her. Besides, it was more than a bit enjoyable, watching the other women squirm next to Thaissa’s old-world beauty.

“I say we give her a chance,” you decided. Samantha scowled at you. Carmen scoffed.

Mr. Wilson, relieved of all blame, shrugged and did not seem bothered, nor surprised. Underneath that hunched old man, you suspected a horny college boy still lurked, and he was more than likely enjoying the new view. “Very well, Miss. We will give you a chance to prove you belong here. Our Guild meets once a month, here at the library. Each writer is asked to bring a new story, with enough copies for each member.”

I didn’t bring any papers, said Thaissa. She opened her thin, empty hands. She hadn’t even brought a purse.

“How the hell are we supposed to critique your story, then?” scoffed Samantha, uncrossing and re-crossing her navy blue legs. “Have you ever been to a writers’ group before?”

Thaissa, she smiled, the way a cat smiles at a mouse. Yes. I have been to many, many writers’ groups.

“And AA meetings,” muttered Carmen, black fingernails shading her mouth.

Shit, you might even get a cat fight out of this.

“It will be difficult for us to give you notes, Miss, without your story in hand,” said Mr. Wilson, and shook his own fistful of double-spaced short stories.

I apologize, said Thaissa. I do have a story to tell you, but it is not your notes I am concerned with.

“Shocking!” Samantha threw her hands in the air, fingers dancing like ribbons. “Elvira’s too good to be critiqued! Hell, she’s been writing since the dawn of time!”

Carmen laughed that acid-tongued laugh again. The way her fingers were tapping on her thigh, she was jonesing for the iPod in her bag, to completely shut out the dark new girl. But for all her tight pants and used clothes and holes in her ears big enough to fit your tongue, she was still a coward.

You are a group that demands respect, said Thaissa, yet you are terrible at giving it.

You’d never seen Samantha shut up so fast. Her tan skin melted to a more humiliated shade of orange, eyelids heavy with smoky powder trembling. Carmen’s mouth hung wide open.

May I tell my story? Asked Thaissa, and if Power Suit wouldn’t stand up to her, none of you would. With your silence, you all told her, Yes.

Thaissa, this ebony haired, golden skinned sex goddess, she wants to tell you a story, and all you can do is stare as she gets up from her seat. Even in the boots, she’s five-four at best, yet it feels like she towers over you. She’s staring at Mrs. Fellows, you realize. Staring at the frightened housewife in her sweater bedazzled with frolicking animals. And you get the strangest sensation that, on the inside, Thaissa is laughing so hard she can’t breathe.

But her smooth face doesn’t flinch. And now, her eyes are looking at some point beyond the circle.

Back when the world was young, says Thaissa, back when men and women still scraped survival from every stone in the desert, these primitive ancestors of yours had not yet built walls between themselves and the blinding dark of the cosmos. Their minds held no more strength than a newborn fawn in the jaws of a lion, and so they were tormented and assaulted, night and day, by the denizens of the greater realms. They became playthings to daemons and deities and Elders of hideous form and color. Every waking moment, they spent walking the chasm of insanity.

The library has faded to the dark edges along your vision. How long have you been here? Did someone turn off the bank of lights in the front?

Thaissa says, They were not complete fools, however. They had their heroes, as do your generation and your father’s before you. The wisest of them were observant and unafraid, knowing that fear is the mind killer; instead they watched and listened and smelled the winds. When a new mother would lose her sickly infant to disease, or when a curious young mind became prey to the darker mouths of nature, a wise one would follow and ask for the sorrow and pain. With open breath and a loving heart, he would sit and listen to the broken ones, and gather their stories from them one word at a time. He would lock the stories deep in his mind and keep them there, hidden, until he needed them. And these earliest of men would find their burdens eased, their minds quiet with the soothing balm of peace. The horror and looming specter of death had been coaxed from their hearts, and given to one strong enough to bear it hence.

When you look down, your body seems miles below you. Across what looks like the Grand Canyon, Carmen is leaning forward in her chair with her jaw slowly dropping, leaning like a marionette with a cruel puppeteer, all limp limbs and crooked joints, waiting to be cut. You realize you can’t feel your arms.

Thaissa walks by you like obsidian mist, smelling of earth and fire. She says, The wise ones soon discovered that death’s arms never found them, as though the stories locked in their hearts shaded the very eyes of fate from their mortal coil. They walked on, through ice and wind and plague and war. So long as they could feed on the words, they remained, sustained by the only nectar the gods ever coveted. Only when a foolish one would choose to hold his energies to himself would he suffer the bane of mortality. For all is cyclical and balanced, and avarice reaps deathly rewards. And so, to save the world by saving themselves, the wise ones had no choice but to spread their stories like so many seeds, to unfold a web over the hearts of the common men and draw them together by their basest singularity. Stories changed, names evolved, heroes died and villains prospered, but always beneath the surface did the immortal threads of humanity quiver in the silent realms of the mind.

You have the faintest sensation that control of your breathing is no longer your own. The drool falling from your mouth is beginning to pool uncomfortably on your jeans. Mr. Wilson is face down on the floor, twitching like a fish plucked from a pond.

Thaissa is kneeling in front of you, her hands gripping your thighs like tiny vices. She stares into you with those marbled bronze eyes, and all you can hear is her voice. She says, The wise ones turned others, to help bear their burden when babies began to swell in too many tummies, and in the farthest reaches of nature’s veins. They would take a child or a young man or woman, and they would teach them the ways, teach them how to build walls in their minds in which to contain the black daemons of time and eternity, in which to store the energy they would be consuming. Many died, destroyed by their own lack of dedication, or by their arrogant inability to accept how small they were in the grand scope of the universe. Many could not handle the dark words they were asked to hold. But those that could did, and the wise ones sent them into the world. With so many of us exchanging power, humans evolved, your minds strengthened, and soon you were listening to the sounds of us scratching on your heart. Some of you listened so well, you began to write our scratching down, to release your own energy. The scratches became your own story, and sometimes the world loved you for your words, but always did the blackness of my home, our home, birth the story. Always, we were there, watching, listening, leeching evil from the world to give you room to grow. That is our duty, our destiny.

From across the black void that, some time ago, you could have sworn was a library, Samantha began to yelp and scream in short bursts, like some outside force was triggering her voicebox in a cruel joke. She was staring at something, but all you could see past Thaissa’s words was blackness.

She whispers, And some time ago, we began the ritual of hibernation, to sustain our strength and extend our time to perform our bloodletting on humanity’s veins. Sometimes, terrible things would happen when a young wise one slept and left his village or city without its energy leeching.

You feel clawed hands underneath your skin, scraping your muscles and bones, but you can’t scream.

When Thaissa’s voice comes again, it is joined with a graveled chorus from beyond the darkness surrounding you. Violence, murder, mayhem… humans, you fall apart without us so quickly.

“Please,” you manage to say, your voice a choked whisper.

Shhh, says Thaissa, and puts a long golden finger on your lips. The touch hurts like a hundred bee stings. I am sorry Hank, she says. In the back of your mind, you hear the echo from the other life in the blackness: I am sorry Carmen. I am sorry Samantha. I am sorry Gerald. I am sorry Sophie.

“I-I…” you have to talk. If you can talk, you won’t die.

Yes, you will, says Thaissa. I am sorry Hank. But when the young wise ones sleep, and rise again, we have to feed. We have to feed to live and become the dreamcatcher for the nightmares. Thaissa sighs sadly. The only way to regenerate my life, Hank, is to tell the one forbidden story, to tell the story of the beginning, the story of the truth. And none of you will live once you’ve seen it.

You are praying.

I am sorry, Hank. Your sacrifice will not be forgotten.

In your head, you are screaming, No! No! But only saliva leaves your mouth in trembling streams. Your eyes are locked on hers, terrified.

She says, Thank you for your life, Hank. Your dreams are in color, and powerful. This will serve me greatly. Her eyes light up from within, like some monster inside her head started a fire in a hearth.

The blackness surrounding you both has swallowed the writer’s group, and the library, and now it was swallowing Thaissa. Slowly, the edges of her body disappeared into the misty black. She was still smiling.

Before your mind went quiet, you watched Thaissa rise and kiss her fingers. She placed her palm on your lips, and you tasted fire. She walked away, into the dark, and you tumbled into death.