Move your chair. The waiter bustles across the room, his view obstructed by the massive tray laden with steaming cappuccinos. The elderly woman blocking his path scoots her chair forward just as he steps into the spot she vacated. He continues his delivery and the woman doesn’t miss a beat in her conversation. None of them know I can silently command. I only speak the words to keep the illusion that I rarely use my magic. No need to amplify the hysteria that already surrounds my presence. I sit at a small table in the corner, no one else dining at any of the surrounding tables. Who decided that? The wait staff or the customers? I don’t really care. The other patrons do their best to avoid eye contact, thinking that would somehow help them. I even saw one clutching a black amulet hanging about her neck when I walked in. She should get her money back. A man approaches. I see the desperation in his eyes and in the way his clothes hang loose on his body. I know what he wants. “My wife won’t get treatment,” he chokes back a sob. “Please.” “No.” “She’ll die-” “No.” I look down into my coffee, slowly stirring, refusing to acknowledge his presence any longer. Yes, she’ll die, with or without treatment. If I command her to go to the hospital and she dies, her husband will come back to me. Why didn’t I make her fight harder? Why didn’t I get the doctor to give her more aggressive treatments? Maybe she lasts another few years. Why didn’t I get her to take her medication? I get to be the hero and the villain. He would chase me down with that bitter look in his eyes, the same look David had. All I wanted to do was show him that he could love me if he tried. I can’t stand that look. My shoulders relax when I hear the man shuffle away. The Puppet Master. I earned that name during my time in Warsaw. Those were the days when I was applauded for my abilities, even revered. Earned three medals for my service, pinned on by the president herself. I keep them tucked away on the inside of my jacket. The world has always been at my fingertips - getting that candied apple Lynn wanted when I was small, forcing the famed Julio out of the goal so I could score. An entire platoon dropped their weapons and walked away with just a few words from my mouth. How many would have died that day? Or all the other days? Yet here I sit, alone. The weight of decades of this magic causing my shoulder to sag. No one approaches unless they want something. I’m an empty body going along with the motions of life. Who is the real puppet? Leaving cash on the table I spot a man get out of his flashy sportscar. Hand me the keys. Another joyless ride.
Not Your Average Musing
I’ve never told anyone, but I’ll tell you, I don’t have a muse. I’ve read about Stephen King’s “man in the basement” and Maya Angelou sitting down and writing and writing until her “muse is convinced [she’s] serious.” So many writers have a lovely, albeit mischievous, little person in their heads prancing about sprinkling a magical dusting of inspiration all over the place. So where was mine? How come my creative mind couldn’t see the happy little sprite twirling circles in my head? Ideas would flood my brain on good writing days, some I swear that really couldn’t have come from me. (That cat city up in the clouds definitely wasn’t mine.) That’s when I realized the truth — I don’t have one. But I do have something completely different that gives me ideas. One of my identities is a runner. A long distance runner. Nothing compares to running in the open air for hours and letting my mind wander. I draw on my ability to keep running, keep moving forward in many other aspects of my life. I certainly use it for my novel that will be finished around 2097. Whenever I sit down to write, I am putting on my running shoes and starting down a path. Sometimes familiar, sometimes completely dark and overgrown with sinister looking trees. I never know what will be on the path as I make my way. A meth addicted musician looking for revenge? A steamy encounter in a server room? An ultra modern apartment with a portal to the 1800s? I keep running, feet pounding the ground, often surprised by my direction. Occasionally I find myself at a dead end, muttering profanities as I retrace my steps and delete page after page of writing. There are also hills, rainstorms, and other hazards that make things difficult for me on my journey. But I force myself to keep moving forward, keep telling my story because I love the runner’s high I feel at the end. I turn around and look back at the zigzagging, looping path I took to get me to this point and feel a measure of pride. I return home and in my hands I hold something incredibly precious to me, a story. My story. Full of little surprises I found on my run. There was no muse handing me ideas in neat little packages, just me running through the twisting trail of my mind, exploring what was already there, tucked away. For me, I need to put on my shoes and get myself going. The ideas don’t just spring forward while I sit around and wait. My legs need to be moving back and forth in that familiar rhythm. I need to be sitting at the computer, actively working. And right now I am starting to feel that familiar itch, the need to exert myself. It’s time for me to put on my shoes and get headed down my path. Kitty City: Book One awaits.
PROMPT: Her shoes clip-clopped along the concrete like a sticky metronome. Approaching a hot dog vendor, she said, "What types of mustard do you have today?"
He responded, "I had a pure-breed Schnauzer but now he only has three legs." He then handed her a sweating bottle of water before turning away.
A few feet away, a metal newspaper dispenser reflected the harsh sunlight. She stepped closer, blinking at the headline...
“Hottest summer on record.” It was July 9th, always July 9th. Sometimes the vendor had a Schnauzer, other times it was a staffordshire terrier. Her memory tended to favor the smaller dog on warmer days, probably because she didn’t want to think of such a large dog panting desperately in the intense heat. The next parts always remained clear, no matter how muddled the details of the beginning had become over the years...
A boy wearing only denim shorts sprints across the sidewalk, bumping her, making her splash water across the front of her silk blouse. She curses. Pulling a cocktail napkin out of her purse she notices the hotel insignia—a brown swan encircled by a ring of leaves. The cool splash of water provides a brief respite from the oppressive heat that caused sweat to bead at her neck. Now she is left with a soggy shirt and a fresh irritation at the impetuousness of youth.
Rumbling in her stomach reminds her she still needs to eat. Ducking into a Chinese restaurant, she breathes in the freon and lets the coolness grip her damp skin. A golden cat beckons her from the front counter, his arm rhythmically motioning for her to sit down, try the soup. A stout man jets across the restaurant, his gaze lingering a bit too long on her damp shirt before showing her to a table by the window. She orders the daily special, an old habit from her traveling days. The dish arrives, too ordinary to be called special, one that she easily forgets the moment her plate is removed. Her eyes keep going back to the cat, his curled paw swinging up and down, dividing each moment into past and present.
The heat claims her again as she leaves, wrapping around her body in a possessive embrace. A vagrant sits on the corner surrounded by everything he owns. He wears a black puffy coat and wool hat, impervious to the warmth, welcoming its loving cocoon. The Hardees cup tilts out of his hand, almost dropping the few coins on the ground as he sleeps. Tattered comic books peek out of a blue duffel bag with a broken zipper sitting next to him. One title featuring a flying woman with x-ray vision looks particularly interesting but she keeps walking, turning the corner to an overly planned park sectioned off in rectangles lined with benches. The boy in denim shorts is there tossing a weathered football with an overweight friend. The friend struggles to keep up, often stumbling and missing the passes. He spends most of his time walking to retrieve the ball. She sits in the shade and watches them play, wondering if they are keeping some kind of score. The torrid air wanders into the shade, insisting on being her constant companion for the day. When the boys leave, she stays, seeing two women walking by holding hands, then a teenager with three wayward dogs. After another hour, she leaves.
She remembered the vendor with the dog, the golden cat, the puffy coat, the boys playing ball. All with perfect clarity. She remembered the heat sticking to her skin, reminding her the day was real. Hundreds of minutia logged into her memory, showing that July 9th was just another normal day, not the day of her father’s funeral. That event will never exist in her memory, only her imagination, an absence that she has relived everyday since then. Her mind struggled to conjure an image of him, the lines on his face change each time she pictured them. That silly magnetic medical bracelet was sometimes on his left wrist, sometimes his right. The same with his scar from the car accident when he was young. Her last chance to see him, study him, memorize him, replaced by the mundane details of a hot day.