Myra crossed from the living room to the kitchen, and promptly forgot whatever she’d been meaning to do.
In the doorway behind her, the thresholder imp chortled deep in his throat. Call-Christa, his name was – taken the afternoon Myra had planned to phone a fellow book club member, almost a decade ago. The phone call had been made eventually; sometimes a thought took only a few minutes to regenerate, sometimes hours, sometimes never. It made no difference to the likes of Call-Christa, who needed a thought only once.
The imp looked down at his dusky indigo palm, where nestled his latest acquisition. It flipped and fluttered, chattering with the single-mindedness so often found in thoughts like itself. Add eggs to the list. Add eggs to the list.
About as dull as thoughts got, in Call-Christa’s opinion. Fortunately for business, one imp’s trash was another client’s treasure.
The thought thrust deep into his cargo shorts’ pocket – (why Myra’s son ever thought he could get away with wearing the shorts to his violin recital, the imp couldn’t fathom) – Call-Christa skipped away from his post in the doorway and up to the garage roof. From another pocket, he withdrew a golden hand bell, acquired by more honest means than his thoughts ever were, legitimately on loan by its owner. The bell flashed back and forth in the morning sunlight, its chime ringing clear beyond human ears’ hearing. Light and sound combined into the bell’s special call.
A blink, and the invocation was answered.
In the air before Call-Christa, floating inches above the rooftop, stood a tall, slender man, smartly dressed and glowing with soft golden light. His fair hair waved gently in a breeze of his own making, created by movement too fast for any eye but his own to follow. Voice like a choir of the bells that summoned him, he asked, “What price do you name today?”
The thresholder bobbed at the waist in a bow. “The price is as ever, your museship: A thought for a tale. Got anything with mermaids? I’m in a mood for mermaids.”
“Very well.” Upper body held at a steady height, the muse gracefully drew his legs up into a weightless cross-legged seat, and began: “Once there was a mermaid who longed for the land, her heart given to a human prince she’d saved from the sea. She swam to the depths to consult with a witch, and the witch offered aid – at a cost, same as always. But what if…”
The thresholder’s head rose with interest. It was in the “what if…”s that a story’s gold lay.
“What if the mermaid’s legs were given in trade not for her voice, but for her eyes? Suppose she groped her way to the surface, and from thence to the shore, and came into the care of he who claimed to be the prince, but was not? How long before she discovered his deception? Would she reunite ever with her rightful prince? Or is the false prince the better love, after all?” The muse’s golden gaze rested on the imp. “What do you think?”
Call-Christa gave the first answer that came to mind. “I think she’ll love the false prince, until she learns of his lie. Then she’ll throw herself back into the sea, and try to get her eyes and tail back, but she can’t find the witch because… because…” The imp snapped his shadowy blue fingers. “Because the witch was the false prince!”
The muse’s eyes narrowed in consideration. “But why?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Call-Christa said cheerfully, and plucked the thought from his own head. The witch was the prince! The witch was the prince!, it revealed, until its excited squeals were muffled by the cargo shorts’ pocket. “I’ve got other customers that can worry out the details. And if the end result has much to do with mermaids, I’ll be very much surprised. Here you are, sir!”
Myra’s missing thought changed hands, and the muse nodded satisfaction. “A pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Call-Christa,” he said with a smile, and vanished while his voice was yet in the air.
Even as the thresholder returned to his station, the golden being appeared in an untidy bedroom, miles away. A girl sat at the desk, staring hard at a laptop, perhaps in the hope that a grim enough glower would bring words to the screen.
The muse peered over her shoulder at the blank document. “A bit of a slow evening, my dear?”
The girl groaned. “I’d have to go faster to hit a standstill. I’ve got nothing, Luc. Nothing! My head is empty. My ideas are spent. I’m a hack and a has-been before I ever was. My career is dead.” She carefully moved her computer to one side, then dropped her forehead to the desktop with a theatrical thump.
Luc looked on with patient amusement. “When you’ve tired of the melodrama,” he told the whimpering mass of dark curls, “I’ve a story for you.”
She shot upright, eyes wide and eager, and the muse, smiling a knowing smile, spoke the inspiration: “Eggs.”
The girl’s brows contorted. “Eggs?”
Luc nodded. “Add eggs to the list.”
“What list?! Whose list?? Nobody’s got a list! A list of what?”
The muse folded his arms. “Would you have me draft the full manuscript for you? Be an author, Annabelle. Find the answers, and write them.”
He disappeared into the recesses of Annabelle’s mind, leaving her to mutter alone. “Eggs, huh? Eggs… What kind of eggs? Bird, fish, reptile… dragon! Too obvious,” she scorned. “Hmm… might fairies lay eggs?…”
Her fingers flew over the computer keys like a virtuoso pianist’s, racing to keep pace with her imagination. Of course fairies laid eggs; hundreds at once, like an insect. Small, round, and perfect as the tiniest beads of dew… oh, duh, because dew drops were actually fairy eggs! Eggs laid in the night, and hatched at the sunrise. A limited window for harvesting, then. So who was it who wanted them? What could they do that somebody had added these eggs to their list?…
She brainstormed and plotted the night away, and by the wee hours of morning had outlined an epic novella. Exhausted, but brimming with artistic pride, she crawled into bed to dream of soon-to-be-written adventures.
And hours behind her, Myra cursed in frustration, having just come home from the grocery store with everything but eggs.