My appearance adjusted slightly as I walked; my pink mohawk darkened to magenta and drooped into my blue eyes, my leather jacket darkened and creased, my jeans faded and tore at the knee. Only my boots remained the same. There were paint splatters on my AFP t-shirt.
I spotted Ben. He was sitting alone at a table, engrossed in his writing. He was old-school for the first draft and notes, preferring a notebook and pen. His light brown hair was pulled back in a short ponytail. Black horn-rimmed glasses framed his green eyes. His t-shirt read, “It’s light red, not pink”.
Ben frowned at the notepad and muttered to himself, “Maybe Seth should go to the forest next.” He tapped his pen against his worn blue canvas tennis shoes.
Ben blinked and looked up from his writing. “Hm…?”
“May I sit here? All the tables are taken.” At his absent nod, I took a seat and asked, “You going to the Interstitial Arts Convention?”
Ben was staring at my earring. “Uh, yeah. You?”
I shrugged. “I think so. What’s your bliss?”
“I’m a writer. You?”
I leaned forward on the table, resting my chin on my hand. “I’m a painter. The bigger the canvas, the better. You write anything I’ve read?”
Ben blushed slightly and sank back in his chair. “I had a story published last month in Serpent’s Tale called ‘The Storm'”.
“I read that! Wait…” I dug around in my bag and conjured up a tattered copy of the mag. After checking it for signs of origin (there were no banana peels stuck between the pages or library labels on it), I held it up to him. “Sign it for me?”
Ben grinned, a rush of confidence flowing through him and on to me. Ah, so easy to get a quick fix. He signed it with a flourish. “Where might I have seen your work?”
“Oh, here and there. Mostly small gallery stuff on the west coast.”
“Maybe you can show me your portfolio later.” The music changed, and he made a painful face. “Sorry. I just… what happened to Flamingo Slime and the Molds? They used to be so cutting edge. Now they sound like, I don’t know, a Lawrence Welk cover band.”
I laughed at that. “Maybe they lost their muse.”
He laughed too, but I was serious. Indie bands had been great sources of energy for me and my sister freelancers. It would go well until one of Euterpe’s brats caught wind of them. The Erinyes would descend, driving off or killing the muse. Then a Guild muse would take over. Humans that noticed the change would complain about the band selling out.
My serpent hissed a warning, Erinyes approaching.
I looked at the door in time to see a pair of Erinyes enter the shop, sniffing the air with long, beak-like noses. Clawed feet clacked on the stone floor, tattered black wings folded around their shoulders, and red eyes scanned the room. The other muses shrank back into the shadows. Even high, they had enough sense to avoid these monsters. I felt a knot in my stomach as I froze with fear. I forced myself to look away before they managed to lock eyes with me. As far as I could tell, they hadn’t seen me yet. I wanted to keep it that way.
I stood up. ” I think the opening ceremonies are starting soon. You going?”
Ben nodded, staring at the Erinyes. “Ugh, panhandlers. I hope the police drive them off soon.” He stood and gathered his things.
The Erinyes seemed momentarily distracted by the espresso machine, even ignoring a minor muse of inventive drinks hiding in the shadows under the counter. It gave me an idea.
“Ben, write this down, ‘Panhandlers love mocha.'”
He raised a quizzical eyebrow and smiled lopsidedly. “Why?”
“It’s an idea for a painting. Just write it down.”
He shook his head and chuckled. “As you wish.” He wrote it on a scrap page in the back of his notebook then tore it out, handing it to me. “There you go.”
Ben nodded. I followed him closely, keeping him between me and the hunters. The distraction was working; they seemed fascinated by the espresso machine. The poor muse under the counter finally edged out and quickly made them drinks. As Ben pushed open the door, I heard her explaining to them how coffee was made.
Ben and I made it back to the Capitol Hotel without incident. We found seats near the back for the opening ceremonies just as the convention chair was finishing his opening remarks.
“Interstitial arts fill the gaps between our respective disciplines, allowing us to bounce ideas freely back and forth in an astounding display of inspiration and creation. Please welcome our keynote speaker, Anita Korre. She is one of the founding members of the performance arts troupe, Elephantes de la Morte. Their current production entitled ‘The Perils and Follies of Pursuing the Arts‘ combines poetry, movement, light, video, music, and paintings.”
While Anita waxed poetic on the joys of working in an interstitial arts troupe, I was watching the shadow standing behind and slightly to the right of her. I followed the patter of her speech like a trail of bread crumbs to bring her muse into focus. She was definitely one of Melponmene’s oldest daughters. I suspected she’d studied with Euterpe too. I admired the deft hand she used to pluck inspiration and creativity from Anita. She played her well indeed. The muse nodded ever so slightly in my direction. So they knew I was here. Good.
After the speeches were over, Ben followed me out into the hallway as I leafed through the program book. He asked, “Which panel are you looking for?”
“Looking for a room actually.” I found the con map at the back of the book. “You know that one room at every con marked Staff Use Only? I’m supposed to meet a friend there.”
Ben looked over my shoulder and pointed at a room off in a side hallway on the first floor. “There. General Staff Use – Rm 137. Between the sales office and business suite.”
“Thanks. You headed to a panel?”
“Not sure which one. There are a couple of interesting things going on.”
I stared at the map. Did I really want to go through with this? Best to create an escape route. I said to Ben, “Do me a favor. When you get to wherever you are going, just write down your location in the back of your notebook.” He looked confused so I smiled charmingly. “Please?”
He half-smiled back. “Why not.” He looked at me strangely again then walked off.
Hmmm… That must have been a little too weird. I’d just have to explain it later. It was also possible I crossed a line with the flirting. Whatever the reason, he emitted uncertain and mildly panicked signals. It was enough to make a muse nauseous. I shook it off as I trotted down the broad staircase. I had to focus on my sisters now.
Copyright 2011, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved