(First published on Medium)
From tongue, to ear, to pen, to page: I spun a story. Not any old bit of gossip and tale, mind, but such a fat piece of news, it was beyond my self-control to let it starve in the cold, cruel dark.
The particulars of such a piece of news, in hindsight, would be of no interest to you. Suffice it to say there was such and such a man — or woman — who, upon a certain date, did something unspeakable, which therefore had to be spoken of. I’d heard it from a friend, who’d heard it from their sister, who learned it from an acquaintance, who knew they saw what they saw and heard what they heard. They proclaimed it twice. Of course the words warped a little, as they are wont to do. But I check my sources. I do. I went to the sister who learned it from an acquaintance, and she assured me it was so.
Sitting in my office, typing up this story, a gust of wind blew the page out from under my hand. “Blasted window!” I stormed to the offending frame, and slammed it so hard, the panes rattled. There. I could type in peace.
The Muse was with me that day. For every word I’d heard, my muse had a better one. “Slapped,” I typed.
“Hmm.” She wasn’t having it. “I don’t know if I like that word, Arthur. Perhaps try something more — snappy.”
I took out the words and added. “Punched.”
“Better, a bit better. Mind, I don’t think that quite shows what the villain was thinking when they, well, you know.”
She had a good point. I undid what I’d done, and punched in the word, “Struck.” But before Muse could correct me again, I changed the word to the words: “Wrestled to the ground and choked her.” I felt Muse’s sultry breath down my shirt collar. Goosebumps raised the hairs on my arms. I shivered.
“That’s getting there. Let’s come back to that part later.” She took to pacing, the floorboards making nary a sound under the weight of her steps. After a moment of silence, she gasped and clapped her tiny hands together. “Ooh, Arthur! Remember that part, after our man did that horrible thing? How the victim, she just lay there.”
I racked my brain. “I do not think I recall that.”
She tutted, her skirts rustling in agitation. “Oh, Arty, dear, you must. It was the first things words out of the sister’s mouth: They found her lying there…”
My subconscious nudged me, and I began to think that, yes, that must be exactly what I had heard. Still, I hesitated. How did I know I could trust my own memory? The witness’s? My hands remained idle for the next ten beatings of my heart.
Muse cleared her throat. “You don’t remember, do you?”
I shook my head. “No, I — I don’t think I do. Then again…Maybe?” Frowning, I adjusted my pencils, all lined up with my keys. “I’m a reporter of facts. I need to get this story right.”
“Arthur.” Her voice was hesitant. “I suppose you’re right. You’ll have to work very hard to find the number of that lady who heard it from her sister. Then, once you’ve bothered her, she’ll be obliged to look up and provide the information of the friend — ”
“Acquaintance,” I corrected her.
“Yes, but I think I remember they’re not on good terms now. You wouldn’t want her to bother her, just to have her give you the information that’s already stored in your brain.”
There was truth in her words. Already, this was beginning to become quite a bit of work, when, really, I had all that information stored away in my brain. Something else inside nudged me now, but I ignored it. “Probably just modesty trying to keep my ego in check,” I thought. “This is going to be the story of my lifetime! Lawyer chokes disorderly woman until she passes out.”
My words were met by silence. The Muse was not amused. “Arthur, I am certain it was a judge.”
I thought on that a minute, and pecked at my keyboard once more. “Judge chokes disorderly — ”
“No, I think the headline should read more like, Judge strangles nun to — ”
I hesitated a moment, but my ego got the better of me. “Yes, I think the judge did strangle the nun ’til she passed out. But what’s a better way of saying it?” I looked over my shoulder at Muse.
“Corrupt Judge Strangles His Fifth Victim.” Her dark eyes were gleaming with what I thought was excitement. Yes, this was going to be a great story, and she would definitely be getting a byline.
I typed up the story in no time, went over it once without the help of my muse — I was on a roll! — and handed it in to the editor. “Here you are, Ed.”
Ed stared at my masterpiece, his eyes wide. The first hints of salivation formed at the corners of his lips, which turned up into a grin. But the grin fell after he reached the third paragraph. “I didn’t know that about Judge Faire. He’s the Back Alley Killer? Did the police release this information?”
I nodded. “Yes, of course. I’m an excellent reporter with conscience.” And a great Muse, I added in my thoughts, thinking of the lovely woman with longing.
A crease formed between Ed’s eyebrows, but he smoothed it away with my copy. “Arthur, you’ve been in my employ for quite some time now, and you’ve never led me astray before….” The implied words: You’d better not blow this.
I wouldn’t blow this. I couldn’t. My story was golden.
The story ran the next day. At first, I heard nothing…from my fans, from my boss, or even my muse. At eight in the morning, my phone rang, but I unplugged it and went back to bed. At nine in the morning, there was a commotion in the street, followed by a heavy banging at my door. But I put in my earplugs and ignored the racket. I’d worked hard, and I deserved all the sleep I could get.
It was on the tenth hour, still lying in my corner cot snoozing, I felt a shiver ripple up my spine. The chill woke me, and I sat up straight in bed.
Muse was there. But Muse did not look quite right. In fact, I was not so certain this was Muse. Her hands were dirty. Muse never had such filthy hands, covered in molasses-thick sludge.
I shuddered and backed against the wall. “Muse, what’s on your hands?”
Her lips parted into a sharp-toothed smile. She did not answer me.
I looked at her clothes. “Muse, your clothes are so old!” Yes, they were out of fashion and ancient, full of holes. And they smelled. There are no words for the stench. The truth dawned on me, and I drew into myself. “You’re not Muse, are you?”
“No,” said a rasping voice at last. “I am Invention.”
Her fangs seemed to grow. “Creation. I am your words, I am your lies. And I have come back to haunt you.”
This was a dream, surely. But before I could wake myself up, the mob at the door did. I’d besmirched the wrong man’s name, as the lynch mob came at me, before they could lay hand on me, my words ate me. They ate me whole.
From tongue, to ear, to pen, to page: I spun a story. There was body left for them to hang, but, alas, no soul.