Well, this is the penultimate story in my little experiment (the last entry is, in a way, a cheat, as it ends this same story, properly). I may have missed a few deadlines, but I’m on track to finish up a year after I started, which is, to my mind, pretty goddamn good. The next step will be to start going back over the stories contained herein, find out what is worth expanding on, and getting into step two of any writing project: revision! So look for 26 Stories: Revised in the future. Just don’t expect anything regular.
I also intend to write more entries on the writing process, as well as tackling a few more interesting projects that I’ll detail here as I work on them (I am about 50% through draft one of my next full-length play, and there is a nice surprise coming in November that I’ll talk about later).
So enjoy this, the almost final story on my year-long writing exercise.
He Banishes his Muse
The party in the penthouse suite had long ended. Cali had fed (because that was what John finally accepted it to be) and was resting. Despite the horror of that evening, and of most evenings, he had still fucked her. He didn’t think of it in sweet terms, or sensual terms. She fed and he fucked, which was how he fed. The awards on his shelves laid bare the truth of it. Tony awards. Oscars. Grammy’s and Pulitzers and god only knew what else. He’s lost track. Over the decades, he’d surpassed the outermost limits of his fantasies. It had only cost souls, and not even his. Not yet.
The toll on his body and his mind was immense. He should have been a healthy man in his fifties, but he looked to be twenty years older than that. His mental state was worse. He wouldn’t be able to continue, and when he couldn’t anymore, when he had been drained of his creativity, she would consume him. Or take away everything and leave him in obscurity. Just another burn-out. A has-been. A writer without an audience.
He wasn’t going to let that happen. He didn’t plan on letting her win. But the timing was always off. The moment not quite right. There was more to create, and that was a difficult position to put an artist in. But perhaps there was a way.
So inspired, he did what it was he always did. He wrote.
* * * *
It was easy, the writing. He’d nearly forgotten how he’d struggled before Cali. How he’d thought that he would never do anything more than write one mildly well-received play. The exaltation of her accidental summoning (was it accidental, though, a small voice asked?). The ecstasy of their sex and the powerful waves of creativity that buffeted him post-climax were powerful addictions. He had ignored what she was because it felt too good to deny it. Too good to admit to. In the bad times, he would tell himself that he would ask her to leave. To banish her, or whatever it took to send Cali back to the place from which she’d come. But then she showed him kindness and support for his endeavors, and he would lose his resolve for just one more sip from well. A sip that turned into binge. Always the same desire and justification and shame. But the words kept flowing. The sacrifices seemed warranted.
This time, he thought, it’s different. This time, like any addict, he believed it.
He wrote his final work. Though he now more well known as a screen writer and novelist, he returned to the theater. “HE SUMMONS HIS MUSE,” he typed on his typewriter (having refused to follow current trends and get an electronic word processor). A play in two acts. This would be his confession letter. He was, of course, under no illusion that anyone would take this as a literal recounting of events, but that part didn’t matter. They would know, his audience, that this was something more than just another “Jonathan Fredrickson” original. Not a “return to form” or whatever the press would call this swan song. The audience would watch this and feel, in their souls, the horror that had unfolded in this building. They would be troubled by the knowledge that they had played a part in this, for as certainly as he had summoned Cali and accepted her gift, the audience had latched on and demanded more. They bore as much of the blame of this as he had.
He and she and they were an Ouroboros of creation and obliteration. The snake, feeding on its own tail.
This play would show them all.
* * * *
He Summons His Muse premiered on Broadway, of course. There was no off-Broadway for Jonathan Fredrickson. Not anymore. No need to climb to the top. He was already there. It was rare for him to attend his premiers these days, but he made sure to be in attendance for this one. And, of course, he wanted Cali on his arm. She had to be there for this one. Would she react like Claudius or Gertrude? He’d kept the script from her as he’d worked feverously on it for weeks.
There in the spotlights of the theater, one of the venerable standbys of the Great White Way, he walked past the crowds. He and Cali smiled and posed, him perhaps happier and lighter than he had been in a long time. She was, as ever, radiant in the spotlights.
The press, the fans, and the pleasantries with the usual crowd of hangers-on, peers, and colleagues blurred together. He looked ahead. Focused on the play. He had poured a little something extra into it’s writing, having traded his usual red editing pen for a pen filled with a different red liquid. He had picked up a few tricks in the years he had invited a living goddess—or whatever she was—into his life. Symbolic and sympathetic, he thought. The two primary pieces to any ritual. The rest was, like the current evening’s main event, theatrics.
The moment the play started, when the character of the writer “accidentally” summoned the character of the muse in the exact way he had brought Cali forth from nothing, she knew. She looked to him, a mix of confusion and mischief. He ignored her, watching the story unfold. The company, to their great credit, had found very clever ways to represent the feedings. He felt Cali’s demeanor change. The audience reactions mirrored the slow descent into horror. The occasional laughs during the moments of comedy had given way to gasps, then rapt silence. The magic was starting to work. He could see the agitation spreading among audience like a disease. They were uncomfortable. Good. They saw a story about the joy of creation and artistic expression give way to a tale of self-destruction. They felt the controlling strings of the monster that had seemed to beautiful at first. He risked a glance to his date, who watched, stone-faced, as each atrocity unfolded. Occasionally, one or two of the viewers in attendance would look back to glare at Cali.
“This,” he whispered to her, “is the fruit of your efforts. They see you as the monster you are.”
She turned to face him. Instead of rage, however, she was cold.
“I think,” she replied, “that we’ll find out who the monster really is.” She put a hand on his thigh. Her lips moved inches from his ear. “Bravo for picking up a few tricks, but you appear to have overdone your ritual.” Confused, he looked back to the crowd. The action on stage had stopped. The actors, the crowd, and even the theater workers were looking up to their box, now. They weren’t looking at her, however; they were looking at him.
Someone below shouted, “there’s the monster!” The crowd began to stand, some moving in the direction of the private boxes.
“They’re coming for you,” he said, but his voice wavered.
“No,” she said. “You see, they understand what you don’t.” The throngs started to push against each other, rows beginning to merge in aisles as patrons moved en mass toward them. “You could have sent me on my way. You made that clear in your play. But you didn’t.” Shouts from below; shouts of his name and calls to violence.
“That’s not… I didn’t…”
“You did,” she said. “No one blames the arrow for piercing the heart of their loved one; they blame the archer.” Someone below had taken a lighter to one of the programs, starting a small blaze. Another patron followed suite.
“I… I didn’t mean to…”
“And yet,” she shrugged. Someone screamed as one of the blazes caught a woman’s elegant evening dress ablaze. The rest of the mob, however, did not react. He saw them coming for him, murder in their hearts.
“How do I fix…” but when he looked, Cali was gone.
Johnathan Fredrickson fled.
TO BE CONCLUDED