I stepped through the shadows to the back of the ballroom and worked my way to Ben. I sat down next to him. “Any insights?”
Ben mumbled, “Just a sec…” and continued scribbling in his notebook.
Rain poured down, obscuring the valley below. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Seth waved a hand, pushing the dark clouds away. “Melanie, your dramatics will not change facts.”
Ben chewed absently on the end of his pen then remembered someone had spoken to him. “Oh, right. Insights. No. Seems to be a bunch of New Age mumbo jumbo about modern manifestations of the Greek Muses.” He finally looked up at me, stared a moment longer than was polite, and blushed. It seemed he preferred gentlemen.
I smiled charmingly. “I see. You don’t believe in muses?”
Ben glanced up at the panelists. The man wearing a rainbow t-shirt with the words, “My car runs on crystals,” had just finished reading his own Invocation to the Muses and was now talking about the care and feeding of his personal muse, whom he called Shirley.
I joked, “I think I met Shirley once. She was admiring a canvas painted solid red; called it a great masterpiece. I said ‘Surely you’re joking’ and she replied, ‘You got the first name but my last name is Smith, not Uriyoking.”
Ben smiled shyly. “Funny. So do you believe in this…” He waved his hand at the panel.
Now, the woman with long white hair wearing a purple cowboy hat, boots, and vest with her jeans and lavender plaid shirt was holding up a small statue of Erato. “I leave flowers for Calliope on my altar at home. This is my centerpiece.”
I smirked. Calliope was just going to love that. The muse standing behind the woman was giggling. Must have been another of Thalia’s brats. I said to Ben, “Well, everyone has their own way of finding inspiration. Come on, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and tell you a little story.”
Ben raised an eyebrow. “I guess that would be ok. Is this story about muses?”
“As a matter of fact, it is.”
We slipped out the door just as the moderator tried to stop an argument over whether muses preferred offerings of flowers, chocolate, or espresso. I muttered, “Depends on the muse.”
Ben laughed. “I’m Ben, by the way.”
“Saffus. Pleased to meet you.” I tucked a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “So, muses. What if I told you they were real?”
Ben did a double take when he saw the serpent earring. “That’s the second one of those I’ve seen today.”
“Really?” We found a table at the bar and ordered two coffees. “I can’t remember where I got this.”
“Well, you’re buying. Tell me your story.”
I added sugar to my coffee and slowly stirred it. I couldn’t drink it but loved the smell; so many of my cattle did their most creative work when consuming pots of the stuff. Others preferred whiskey or gin, but I wanted Ben sober right now. He had said he didn’t believe in muses, and I didn’t want him to dismiss our conversation as drunken ramblings.
Over the next two hours, I told him everything; how muses and artists lived in a symbiotic relationship, how we fed and inspired then withheld inspiration in order to guarantee our cattle remained addicted. He still skeptical but at least he was listening. I was just about to tell him about the stages (this was the part I thought would convince him) when I saw a pair of Erinyes come through the door.
“Zeus’ golden ass,” I swore as I got up, dropping a couple of bills on the table. “We’ll finish this later.”
“But you didn’t even drink your coffee…”
“You can have it!” I called back as I darted out the door.
Ben followed. “What are we running from?”
Of course he followed me. Why do they do that? “The Erinyes. Mel sent them after me.” I ducked into a side hall, pulling Ben with me.
“Alright. So pan handlers are the Furies. I suppose that… oof,” he ran into me when I stopped suddenly. One of the Erinyes was sniffing at a coffee pot. She moved on when she discovered it was empty.
“Write this down…”
“Ok.” Ben patted his pockets, looking momentarily panicked. “I left my pen in the coffee shop.”
“Of course you did. Alright, let me think. Ah, there, the dealer’s room.” I grabbed his hand and made a dash for it.
We managed to lose the Erinyes for the moment. A couple of the vendors were having sales on pencils and sketchbooks. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to snag a pencil due to the press of supply-hungry artists. It was easy to blend with the crowd. We wove our way through shelves of fabrics, yarns, and threads.
“Where are we going?”
I realized Ben was still holding my hand. “They’ll pick up the trail soon. I’ve got to find you a pen or pencil… maybe a needle. You can write with your own blood, right?”
Ben slowed down. “I…”
“Just joking. Come on.”
Instinctually, I followed the scent of sweet success. It led to Miranda, who was gushing to a friend about the sale of the Mixed up Riding Hood set. Good thing she already had the next idea in the works because I didn’t have time to inspire her at the moment.
I removed my earring and slipped it onto Ben’s ear. “You’ll need this.”
“Don’t you think it’s a little sudden, Saffus? We just met.”
I smiled. “Trust me.” Then I pulled him into Miranda’s shadow.
Ben asked, “Whoa, what was in that coffee?”
“We’re in the space between reality and potentiality. It’s where muses live. Just listen to the serpent; he’ll help keep you focused.”
I let the intensity of Miranda’s happiness cover our tracks. The Erinyes stalked through the crowd, only half-seen out the corner of an eye or felt as an uncomfortable intrusion of personal space. People moved to let them pass, not looking at them.
Ben looked around. “Things seem… less real.”
“That’s the pull of the potentiality.” I kept a tight hold on his hand to keep him from drifting away.
The Erinyes may have lost my scent, but they picked up on one of my freelancers. I saw them hounding a sweet little muse of scrapbooking named Zoe, cornering her near the blank book vendor. Her eyes went wide and she froze, like a dryad caught in Zeus’ bolt of lust. I nudged Miranda that direction with the sudden urge to buy a special book to track her ideas. As she browsed the selections, I pulled Zoe into the shadows with us. I also snagged a pen.
“Thanks. I thought I was toast there for a moment,” Zoe whispered. She noticed Ben. “Uhm…”
“I’m Ben. Nice to meet you.”
“Quiet,” I whispered as I handed the pen to him. “We’re not out of it yet. Miranda’s joy won’t mask us for long. Write this down.”
“What is it with people at this con? I’m a writer, not a secretary,” He quipped as he took out his notebook. “Alright, dictate away.”
“‘Panhandlers must have coffee now.'”
“Right. Got it. Now what?”
The Erinyes stopped and sniffed the air, then all three of them headed to the door. My guess was that they’d go back to Francisco’s. I let Miranda go, taking Ben and Zoe back out to the hallway.
Zoe breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks. I think I’ll go hangout at a craft store on the other side of town for a while.”
“Sounds good. Stay safe.” I considered telling her to go to the other side of the country but that probably wouldn’t stop the Erinyes. I just had to hope she was a target of opportunity.
Ben leaned against a wall. “Well that was… different. Do all your first dates go like this?”
I chuckled as I retrieved my earring and returned us firmly to reality. “Nope, must be you. I’ll look for you at the Masquerade.”
Copyright 2011, Kimberley Long-Ewing, all rights reserved