My Muse is a Jerk

My friend, Brian Buhl, wrote an incredible piece about his muse (you can find it here). The idea of personifying that ineffable quality that us, as writers, wrestle with in order to put out words on a page, was intoxicating. I had to try it. I meant to finish some editing I had been working on first but, lo and behold, I couldn’t even wait for that. I had to write this piece. And here it is. Hope you enjoy!

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“Come on, kid,” he says. His grin comes slow and easy, my scowl comes hard and fast. “It’s not that difficult.”

“Sure, okay, you say that,” I start, but he presses a finger against my lips, effectively shushing me.

My face flushes, the heat rising into my cheeks, and up to the top of my ears. My heart drums faster in my chest, pulsing in my throat. If I didn’t know I need him, I’d tell him off.

My eyes dart, up and to the right, where I can glower at him. His pale skin flickers now and again, revealing flashes of his veins of varying hues of color, weaving dizzyingly beneath the surface. Sometimes I catch the dance of teal around his throat, sometimes it’s the spark of purple in his eyes, sometimes it’s the yellow in his fingertips. Sometimes I see them all at once, rainbows of magic. It comes as easy to him as breathing.

Sometimes I don’t see anything at all. Just another man.

“Look,” he throws an arm over my shoulder, waving out at the expanse before us. Off the edge of the roof beneath us, there lie rows and rows of high rises, reaching endlessly in every direction. They clamber to the skies, lit up as though with fire in the drizzly night. The streets below are empty, no cars, no people, no sound but the gentle up and down of his voice, and it’s eerie. “You have whatever you need at your disposal. It’s all in here.”

He reaches back to me and gently taps my forehead with his index finger. I swallow hard.

“It’s not that easy,” and I know I’m whining, but I can’t help it.

“It’s not that difficult either. You’ve done it before.”

“But what if—”

He hisses, “Shhh.”

His eyes flash with amber, then it fizzles, and dies, leaving them the same green as my own.

Tears bristle, and I try to bite them back. I’m always afraid if I show weakness, he’ll leave. Only the strong can do this, and I’m not that. I just pretend, and it doesn’t always work.

“Look, Scrittor—”

“Don’t call me that,” I say. “I don’t know what that means.”

It only makes him smile wider, and I swear I could punch him in his perfect face when he does that.

“Not everything is about understanding, love. And what you want to do? That certainly isn’t about understanding. It’s about feeling. It’s about emotion. It’s about trust.”

His fingers wrap around my wrist, and I can see the excited dance of crimson flashing across his knuckles. My eyes widen, snap up to him, my heart stutters. He’s walked to the end of my arms-length. My elbow is locked, turned up to the sky. He glances back, and his eyes swirl with a rich tapestry of color.

“No,” I say, tossing my head violently.

He takes another step forward, and I dig my heels into the loose gravel on the roof.

“I thought you said this was what you wanted,” he says with a laugh that echoes off the surrounding buildings.  

With the prominence of the red glowing in his irises, it doesn’t take much imagination to picture him killing me. Rationally, I know I’ve survived him before. He seems—mostly—to have my best interests at heart. But he’s also wild, unpredictable, untamable. A mystery to me, even after so many years.

I grab his fingers in my own, trying desperately to pry them off from around my wrist. It’s effortless, the way he pulls me to the edge. Already, the dizziness swims in my head.

“I’m scared of heights,” I squeak, as though he’s forgotten.

“Trust me, Scrittor,” he says.

“You? The one who won’t even stop calling me some name I asked him not to?”

“It’s not about what you want.”

“Isn’t it?” I quirk an eyebrow.

His eyes slip back to normal, and I see my reflection look back at me from his black pupils. He doesn’t answer, his gentle grin causing a hum of familiarity to grow in my chest. No. It’s not about what I want. It’s about something bigger. For a minute, I’m comforted, peace running through my veins like water. This is right. Somehow.

Then I see the pavement below, dashed with white lines, empty, so so very far away. My vision bugs in and out of focus, my stomach lurching into my chest.

“I can’t,” I say, not even realizing the words are leaving my mouth.

“Trust me, Scrittor.”

“I don’t,” I shriek, grinding my short fingernails into his flesh. He doesn’t bleed, not the way I do, but licks of ink mix with the misting rain, and drip onto the rooftop beneath our feet. His grip remains firm, and I scream, tears building pressure behind my eyes.

“Hey,” he whispers so gently I stop, looking up into his eyes. He uses his other hand to brush damp strands of brown off my face. “It’s going to be okay.”

As though lifting a heavy duffel bag, he leans forward, grunts, and hefts me over the edge. My desperate cry is snatched away in the wind, and I don’t hear my voice come back to me. The sick sensation of falling wrenching my insides. I writhe, my fingers grasping uselessly at the air as it passes so quickly. My eyes press shut, and then I feel it stir within me. Something. Something I didn’t know was there. I fight against the rush of wind, and then I work with it. It swells beneath me, and I’m not falling, I’m soaring. My raucous laughter echoes off the buildings, and people start to spill out from the doors, craning their heads to look up at me. I take note of each one of them, a manic smile splitting my face. I see a man in a patchwork jacket, a woman with wrinkles of worry creasing her eyes, a thug with a tattoo inked into his skin.

And I smile as I rush up, up, back towards the rooftop, where he sits, his feet swinging back and forth as they dangle off the edge. He gives me a quick, two-finger salute. I told you so, is written all over his face.

“Jerk,” I say as I rush past him with the breeze, but I can’t keep the laughter from bubbling up with the word.  

“You’re welcome!” he cries after me, but I’m already off.

There’s so much to see. There’s so much more to discover. The next story is waiting.

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