No one called upon the tragic muse, deliberately. She held down her bar stool at The Cherry Blossom and sipped on whatever the bartender served her. She had unlimited free drinks but they alway tasted bad. The wine was corked. The beer was flat. The mixed drinks were overly sweet, overly sour, or on one really bad night: both. Tonight she was sipping on a Lemontini and wincing at the pucker of the lemon. As soon as she finished it, the bartender refilled her glass. She was halfway to drunk when the young man sat beside her. He had dreams of being an overnight sensation, Mel could smell them. She sighed and downed her drink in one gulp. “How can I help you Matthew?”
Matthew fidgeted in his chair. “I want to be famous. I want it so badly I can taste it. Three of your sisters laughed at me. I thought maybe you could help me. And show them up.”
She smiled at the thought of one upping her sisters. Comedy and Dancing were by far the most popular, but people were even willing to beg outside Hymns door before they came to see her. “Only three of my sisters? Most visit all eight before deciding to slum it with Tragedy.” Matthew squirmed in his chair. She had guessed correctly. Every one of her sisters had slammed the door in his face. That was quite the feat. It wasn’t as if they all lived in the same neighborhood. She sipped her sour Lemontini and looked him over. “Is there a medium you prefer?”
“Words. I love writing.”
She smiled at hime. She’d let this one off easy. She reached over and kissed his cheek. Her magic settled over him. He sighed in relief and thanked her. He wandered out of the bar. He would write a famous novel before the year was over. But no matter how many edits he did, errors would remain. Even errors he had already fixed would reappear. His grasp of grammar was now tragically bad. The energetic internet assholes will have a field day trolling the comment section of anyone who showed appreciation for his book. Within a month of publication, Matthew will be turned into a meme. Even the tragic muse has a sense of humor.
The tiny wizard sat on a spool of thread on the kitchen table. She was furious that her shrinking spell had backlashed on her. All she had been trying to do was miniaturize her luggage so she wouldn’t have to pay the exorbitant airline fees. Now she was stuck in the kitchen of her rival waiting for help to undo the spell. It was humiliating to be sitting in the whimsical kitchen. Open shelving showed off mismatched and wonky plates. The tablecloth had little hand embroidered tea pots all over it. She’d had no idea her redneck neighbor lived with his 85 year old granny. All she’d ever heard was him revving motorcycles in the garage & then taking off into the sky on the enchanted Harleys. He had a steady clientele of bikers wanting the latest anti grav spell put on their bikes. The walk here had taken half a day in her shrunken state. He came in from the garage & went to the sink to wash up. He then sat at the table and poured a cup of tea. He put an obscene amount of honey in the cup and then sipped it gingerly. She stared at him in frustration. He smiled. “I can’t say I’m not tempted to leave you in this state for awhile. It would cut down on your noise complaints.” She went to speak and he held up his hand. “I’m kidding. Granny would have my hide for leaving a fellow wizard in the lurch. I went and examined the spell residue at your place. Seems you triggered the personal gain backlash. I can’t believe you tried to cheat the airline out of fees. Didn’t they teach you better than that at fancy ass magic school?” I crossed my arms and glared at him. “Ok I can undo it but you’ll have to pay the price. Either green hair or no voice. The effect will last up to a month.”
I stared hard at him, openmouthed. He could control what price was paid for magical backlash?? He was better than anyone I knew. I sighed. “Green hair please. I have to speak at a conference tomorrow.” He nodded and grabbed a wooden spoon. He took several deep breaths and then began casting with the spoon. I’d never seen anything like it. After he’d laid out the circle, he held out his hand and I stepped onto it. He placed me in the center of the pattern and then closed the loop. The magic shot through me. I returned to my regular height and sighed in relief when I could see over the counter.
“Thanks Wilton. I owe you one.” I bolted out the door & sprinted home. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and nearly screamed. My hair and eyebrows were now lime green. I grabbed my biggest hat, my luggage, & headed to the airport.
Don’t be pessimistic about our chances. Hope is the only thing that’s kept humanity going these last five years. If we can capture your wife and sprinkle shadow dust on her, she will return to normal. The ancients tried to warn us and we turned their warnings into nursery rhymes and fairy tales. The elven kingdom returned and brought a plague upon us all. Seems they decided to reclaim their home world after decimating several other planets in the galaxy. If you carried even a drop of Irish blood you turned into a ravening zombie in the elvish army. What they didn’t destroy, the riots did. In three years the Elven Queen reclaimed over half of our world. The only thing stopping her now are the indigenous peoples of the world. They are the only ones who can create the shadow dust. They are the spark that started the fires of rebellion. The alley was suddenly silent. A middle aged woman wearing a ‘Hot Mess Mom’ tee shirt limped into view. “Karen?” Her husband’s face showed hope and fear. They threw a net over her and dosed her. Her eyes faded from red to blue and she looked around in confusion.
“Where am I?” Her husband tried to rush in but the soldiers held him back.
“You have to wait. Her hunger is still there.” Karen lashed at the net and tried to bite the nearest soldier. He leapt out of reach and she snarled. Suddenly she went limp and began convulsing. The soldiers pulled the net off her. She opened her brown eyes and lay still for a moment. When she caught sight of her husband, she pulled herself up and walked into his embrace. The entire process only took five minutes but it was incredibly dangerous.
The old cat tree sat just outside of town. Its gnarled branches always held at least three cats. Legend said that it sprouted full grown overnight the day they burned the witch. No axe could penetrate its bark. After the first three men who swung an axe at it came down with a mysterious fever – people left it well enough alone. 50 years later there were rumors of pearls & hidden gems tucked inside its trunk but nothing was ever found. The cats prance through its branches and commune with the spirit that lives inside the wooden fortress. The cats know the trees origins. It is a curse born in the filth and the fury of the long imprisonment and brutal murder of their friend the witch. She used her death to fuel the spell. The townsfolk have grown complacent. The tree bides its time. Another decade or two and the last one who stood in witness to the death of the witch will die. Then the tree will give his soul to the cats as it did with all the others. 96 souls trapped in acorns to be used as cat toys. Soon it will be a complete set of 97 and the cursed forest will grow.
The cold mountain made the tiny B & B all the more inviting. They trudged through the doors of the huge victorian mansion and sighed in relief as the warm air enveloped them. They dropped their heavy packs by the front desk. No one was around so Junior ran the bell 3 times. Senior shook his head at his youthful exuberance. A breeze stirred their hair and then an apparition appeared behind the desk. “How may I help you?”
“Reservation for two, under Jester.” Their packs started floating so they followed them to their room. After washing up they headed to the dining room. It was a grand ballroom fitted with about a dozen small tables. Halfway through dinner, Senior became engrossed in the conversation of two ladies behind him. He leaned closer and closer until SMACK! he hit his head on the floor when the chair gave way. He had to scramble to cover up his spying and was brought a new chair so he could finish his supper.
She spent her mornings exploring behind the Blue Lotus Cafe. The small coffee shop on the edge of town was the gateway to the lost world. You fueled up on overpriced coffee and stepped out the back door into another world. The owner had explained that the door had been installed improperly causing a disturbance in its universal reality matrix and a bunch of other technobabble, but June had just smiled and nodded her way thru the conversation. She’d skip through the back door and leave the known world behind. Today she was greeted by a 3 foot tall baby chick. It ignored her and hunted the grass for tiny antelopes. They fled through the fields in terror but the chick still caught three of them, swallowing them whole. She sipped her cappuccino and kept walking. When her cup was empty, she turned to head back. She was shocked to find the door was locked. She jiggled the handle and pounded on the door. A sign appeared on the door, “Please tip your barista.” June patted her pockets but had no cash. She yelled at the door, “Do you Venmo??!!”
To walk the wild treasure hunt I must carry my life in a knapsack. It’s hard to distill life down to what will fit inside a knapsack but it is possible. I add the first journal I ever completed, its adolescent ramblings remind me of where I came from. I carefully place my children’s discarded teeth in a tin with a photo of each of them. A small jar of lake water reminds me of carefree summers paddling around in the small mountain lake. A dried purple and white rose reminds me of the day I bound my life to my love. I weaved the collars of every dog I’ve loved and lost into a length of rope to use as an anchor in the storms. I leave space for the memories yet to be made and I set off. I follow the trail of the monarch butterfly. Maybe I should’ve packed food instead of memories.
The snowman barreled down the road, he was after the thief who took his favorite comic book ‘Maiden, Monsters, & Madmen’. The thief sped up and the snowman screamed in frustration. That comic was one of his favorite discoveries. He had spent many an evening out in the gazebo, carefully reading its pages while avoiding the heat from his lantern. The thief slid on a sheet of ice and hit the ground like a box of bricks. The snowman caught up to her before she could regain her footing. He snatched the book back. “How dare you steal from me!”
The thief smirked at him. “It wasn’t the book I stole, it was you.” The snowman was suddenly aware of the crowd of people around him and he was forced into a white van. He spent the next decade of his life as ‘The Dazzling Delight – a man built of Ice’. The crowds were always too loud, the rooms too warm, and the food was never cold enough. By the end of the decade he was a skeleton built of icicles. His captors laughed until they made the mistake of moving him during a Minnesota blizzard and crashed. Once the van stopped rolling, the ice man snapped off a rib and the real screaming began.
The jazz club was called ‘Wings of Love.’ Jennie watched the taxi drive away and wondered what she had gotten herself into. So far she had done a shitty job of navigating life and her brother had promised that the fortune teller at this club would help her adult more efficiently. A jazz club seemed like a strange place to get life advice but she had nothing to lose. The velociraptors caged on the stage made beautiful music as they smashed the instrument they were caged with. A harpsichord died beautifully inside the cage of a raptor missing one eye. Jennie made her way to the bar. “I’m here to see Karen.” The bartender pointed to the hall the bathrooms were in. The women’s sign had been replaced with a handwritten note, ‘Life Advice: 20$’. Jennie took out her last twenty and went in. The door had been removed from a stall and Karen was perched on the back of the toilet. Karen was a parrot. Jennie waited for her turn. After dropping her 20 in the hat on the floor – Karen spoke. “Rawk. Move to Nebraska. Rawk. Wear the red dress.” Jennie smiled and headed home to pack up her life.
The gold ghost drifted through the forest. The sun danced in her ectoplasm and cast rainbows on the trees around her. Always moving. Always wailing. The forest life fled the sounds of her screams. The birds stopped singing and the foxes fled. It was the sound of a sociopath. The gold ghost smiled as the animals fled. No matter how far she roamed she couldn’t get away from the stench of life. She wandered the western plains and was disappointed to find life everywhere. The far reaches of the north were almost quiet but flightless birds and other creatures disturbed her rest. She had no desire to haunt dance halls or old theaters. She was a modern ghost and baby, she just wanted to be alone. Night fell and she glanced at the stars. Her weak thought patterns remembered a science lesson about the vacuum above her. Maybe this was her last hope. She let go of gravity and drifted into the void above.