I woke up on my knees next to a brick. Wait a minute, I need to situate the reader first. Previously, here in fact, and maybe here, I had anthropomorphized the Muse. It was supposed to be a good humored reflection about the internal drives which motivate any artist to go about their business. Of course I had recognized some weight, some seriousness I mean, lurking behind this knowledge, but it also seemed so much bullshit really, until Tuesday, July 21, that is.
That night I woke up next to a brick. It was just a regular old brick. In fact, it was a very specific brick. A Flint Co brick. I found a pile of these in the back yard when we moved in. I woke up on my hands and knees, in the dark, except for this one brick in front of me.
Now I know you might think I‘m taking the easy way out as an author, making this is all a dream scenario or something. I know that is very hackish. Or you have already stopped reading, in which case the veracity of my claims is of no concern to you. But, to the dear reader who is strapped in for the long haul, I ask you to imagine this. I am on my hands and knees. I can barely make out my surroundings. The only thing I can focus on is this one brick.
Finally, I am so bored, weirded out and somewhat scared, that I decided to reach out and turn the brick. Don’t ask me why I turned it, it just seemed like that was the thing to do.
So I turn the brick, like a quarter turn, and then I am literally in the Northeast corner of my basement, in the dead of night, and I am kneeling on the ground, next to the concrete wall.
A note on my house. When we got it, the style was called a “Rambler,” which I think is a fitting name. Rambler means ‘non-traditional’, I think. The important point is that the upstairs and down stairs are cut off by steep steps, a tight turn and an unfinished landing. The stairs are also gated at the top, so our dear children don’t go falling down to the dungeon.
I tease my wife about how she treats the upstairs and the downstairs as two different continents, leaving trash bags by the gate and just generally hoarding stuff in the upstairs broom closet for the journey down and out of the house. That’s the other thing too, so when you walk up on my house from the street, you would enter in the basement, which is actually like a mud room entrance that we don’t use. Like assholes, we make everyone huff it around back to the top floor, where we are actually at, rambling in peace.
So there is absolutely no reason I should be in the basement in the middle of the night on my hand and knees, staring at this wall. That would have been alarming enough, but when I stood up, I saw that the door to my office was closed, but the light was on underneath. This was an impossibility. I remembered clearly shutting all the lights off and locking my dogs up, earlier. And now that I mentioned it, where were my dogs?
This is so embarrassing to admit but I let out a whimper. I listened for a moment and I heard the creak of my office chair. Someone was in there. Then I heard it, a gentle, even feminine, clearing of the throat. It had an impatience or pertinence to it. Maybe even a little air of being offended.
Why didn’t I assume it was my wife? I don’t know. Besides the obvious thing that she is a totally rational, sane human being and there is no way in hell she would be down in the basement, at that ungodly hour. It was something more, a sense. Almost like some royalty had planted itself in my smelly basement. I was weirded out enough now that I almost ran up the stairs for the phone, to call the police. But the idea seemed distasteful, disrespectful, and maybe even shameful.
Of course I was thinking about what I posted on the 19th. And here, dear reader, I must cop to an obvious thing. I made up the experience on Sunday, the 19th. I know, shocker! I also know that this makes what I am about to say even less credible. How dare I ask you to believe this new fantastic event, when I have just admitted to making up the last fantastic event?
That to say, I couldn’t help but connect the two events, mere days apart. I just kept staring at the light under the door, surging with new fear, after new fear. What in the hell was I doing down in the basement like this? I realized I had to gird up and open that door. Dear reader can you believe that I did?
I have never been so embarrassed in my whole life. There sitting on my office chair, layered with some old blankets to give me a bit of support, was the goddess from the Dollar General. Her hair was pulled up, old fashioned style, with a glittering diamond sitting on top like a bird egg. She wore an elegant, black dinner dress. I should have been outraged with this intruder, but more than anything I felt inadequate and unprepared. It didn’t help that I was standing before her in my pajama pants and my feet were coated in dog hair. She stared at me, arms and legs crossed, wordless, pissed and expectant. She just stared and stared.
Now as any reader of this blog is well aware I can be quite verbose, especially when I feel some awkward pressing situation. I dread silence, dread ‘dead-air’ as they call it, but now I was faced with the worst kind of dead air imaginable. It was like when a salesman has ended their pitch, and all parties are well aware that the deal will not be made. That was the sort of feeling, existential soul crushing inactivity and she seemed to be loving it. As if she could sit there until hell, or the whole universe, froze over and it wouldn’t bother her one bit.
“So,” she interrupted my frozen panic. “How can I help you?”
How could she help me? That was preposterous. “That’s preposterous,” I said.
“You need help,” she said.
Her words seemed true and personal. I took a second and looked down the hallway to see if there was anyone else with her. I had the vague sense she rolled with a crew, though I can’t tell you why exactly. “How did you get in here?” I asked, when I came back.
“Don’t play games now Austin. We both know very well how and why I am here. Let’s cut to the chase.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“No idea?” She asked, heavy on the skepticism. “Well then, let’s have a sample.” She spun on the chair and fired up the computer. I wanted to stop her, but her spin sent a wave of wild flowers, that was intoxicating. Part of me wanted to yell at this strange woman to get out of the house, the other half feared she would leave at any moment.
She went right to my document file, pulled one up and began. “No one knows where we are at. Matilda, the old woman who found this place first thinks we’re somewhere in the state formerly known as Nevada, but that’s just a guess. She had been headed home on Route 66. Home was fifteen miles out of Flagstaff. She had been out there trying to visit her sister in Amarillo, a trip she had made seventeen consecutive years in a row. She had heard about the explosions–”
“Just a first draft,” I interjected.
“It’s trash,” she said. “Half thought out Stephen King imitation, written by someone with the intelligence of a twelve year old. Crayons, Sir. Let me continue…”
I let her go on for a minute, honestly offended by the woman’s comments. Her insults cut deep and as she rattled on my own words did sound stupid.
“Fine,” I interrupted her. “I get it; I suck. So that’s why you’re here, to have a workshop?”
She spun back around on me and I was hit with another dizzying wave of her scent. “You’re a fucking child. No, I am not here to workshop with you, asshole. I don’t have time for that shit, like a fucking AA meeting. No. I am here to torture you.”
I did not like the sound of that. I am no tough guy or anything, but she wasn’t obviously some monster either. Still though I didn’t like the threats, especially not with my wife and brood upstairs. “What do you mean ‘torture’? Because of my crappy stories?”
“Huh?” she said. “Look at that. You’re not so stupid after all. Yes, I am going to torture you because your work is shit, and I am tired of it. More over, the old man’s tired of it, so he says it’s time to cash your check?”
“Huh, cash my check?” I was stupefied by threats at this point.
“Yep, soul debt. Luckily yours isn’t too bad, just a few infinite rounds of purgatory and you’ll get another go at the mortal plane. Don’t know why you took priority even, but we take em as we get them.”
“Soul debt,” I said out loud, more to myself and the room, then her really.
“Yep,” she said. “I don’t really get that part either, to be honest. Seems like an unfair bust. Entrapment even, who knows? Why go making man and giving him all this fun stuff and then get pissed when he does anything with it. It like the cock, you know?”
I was stunned silent. I just couldn’t keep up with her. “Yeah you know, God give you that thing between your legs, takes you to fucking heaven if you touch it, but then gets pissed and tells you hands off–well, so says the weirdo version you were raised in. Plenty of traditions out there make a right game of playing with it, don’t they? Anyway, I digress. It’s time.”
I tried to speak and the words got jammed in my throat. I coughed and hacked a couple times before anything came out. “Time for what?”
“Put up or shut time, Austin. Put up or shut up time.” Someone turned the electricity up to a hundred. I was a percolating gaseous bubble of anxiety. I felt dosed by some unidentified drug. I could feel it creep up through the soles of my feet and worked its way up my body and burst through my head. The woman began to waver and shimmer in front of me. She was smiling, but there was something coy and sly about the smile, which was not calming at all.
I turned to run, but was hit with the weirdest shot of vertigo, which crumbled me to my knees. She stood up and approached me. I could barely raise me head at all. My eyes came right to her skirt line, but the black dress turned blood red and ran back down her legs and over the floor. It went right over my own hand, then up my neck and into my mouth. I could taste the woman. It tasted like someone kicked a block of otherworldly chocolate down my throat. My blood surged and my senses blurred into one, into a rolling sort of ecstasy, which really wasn’t all that great. Then it was just nothingness, but only for the briefest pause, before I popped back into a reality.
I came to sitting on a rock. The woman’s appearance changed dramatically, but there was still enough of her there I could sense the same entity was manifest. She was stood erect on an even greater boulder, twelve feet in the distance. A long crimsons dress rolled in the cold breeze. A slithering, platinum python adorned her outstretched arm. She pointed passed me and spoke to the air as if I wasn’t there. “In your hands, your cheap guitar.”
I looked down and there in my hands, was my cheap, old, beat-up guitar. I am quite the amateur guitar player, and in full disclosure I suffer from anxiety. My anxiety can be triggered in number of strange ways, though I guess all sufferers of anxiety probably feel triggered in a strange way, but mine seems to percolate around incidences of the truth. I don’t know. I don’t want to get into a whole analysis or anything, so just let me say I have some performance anxiety, in the truest, non-Freudian sense of the word, when it comes to playing the guitar for other people. Anyway, yes, the guitar was in my hands, and my left one began knocking against the box in fear.
“Play me a song Austin John McMulin,” she ordered. “Your reward shall be based on your effort and composition. I warn you; I am a fierce judge of musicianship; Begin.”
It was impossible. There was nothing to begin. I couldn’t heaven remember one of the half dozen songs I semi-regularlly practiced on. Hell, I couldn’t even remember a chord!