I Dreamed Crusades

📅 Published on June 21, 2021

“I Dreamed Crusades”

Written by Luciano Marano
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 18 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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“Tell me how it ends.”

Again, the demand. Into the cherished sanctuary of her small ivy-covered cottage had come this monstrous trio, breaking through the door — locks and laws be damned! — clad in costumes of pantyhose masks and black outfits, bringing mean eyes, the reek of potential bloodshed, and this, war cry and mating call in one, their stated ransom and abiding central obsession: the repeated demand.

“Tell me, old lady. How does it end?”

The one talking, a very large man, biggest of the three by far, loomed over her, brandishing a long thick flashlight. The Freudian implications nearly made her giggle, something she’d not done in decades.

Instead, Charlotte Elizabeth Hopkins, reigning grande dame of epic fantasy fiction, an authentic living legend at the venerable age of eighty-nine, unquestioned successor to the throne of Tolkien and recipient of, among many additional accolades, an unprecedented two separate lifetime achievement awards from the International Fabulists Association and who had been awarded a National Medal of the Arts and twice named a finalist for the Nobel Prize in Literature, stuck her wine-stained tongue between her dour lips and blew a resounding raspberry.

In the seemingly endless moment of ensuing silence the two intruders she could see (the third having slinked off behind her somewhere) exchanged gobsmacked looks. The big man’s shoulders slumped and, Charlotte noted with some delight, even his flashlight seemed to wilt as he exclaimed, “What. The. Absolute. Fuck?”

The shorter one, a thin twitchy young man skulking in the corner near Charlotte’s ancient boxy television, which hadn’t worked since before Bush was president, the first Bush, let loose a tittering laugh.

“Granny’s got balls,” he said. “Gotta give her that, Billy.”

“Shut up!” The big one halfway turned and threw up his hands. “I said no names, moron. In fact, I’m pretty sure I said no words from you at all. You’re the lookout, right? So get your eyes back to that window and look out.”

Facing Charlotte, he smacked the flashlight against his palm. “Lady, just tell me how your next book ends and we’re gone, okay? All of this,” he gestured to his mask and the plain black sweatshirt, “we’re doing this for you, get it? If you can’t identify us there’s no reason you have to get hurt, right? Please just answer the question and let’s all get on with our lives. Now, give it up: How does — what the hell’s it called again?”

A Symphony of Swords,” said the skinny one.

“Right. How does A Symphony of Swords end?”

Here again, the demand. And finally Charlotte knew she must answer and speak the truth she’d been so reluctant to admit even to herself. Slowly, but without a single tremble, she reached out to select a slim cigar from the golden box (gift from a long-ago lover, the rebellious son of an oil sheik) on her desk. Clenching the plastic tip of the Black & Mild in her crooked, yellow teeth and flicking open her Zippo, Charlotte calmly and confidently confessed.

“I haven’t the slightest idea.”

Arms crossed, she rocked back in the squeaky chair. She’d been at her desk when the trespassers burst in, sitting as she did every night in front of her typewriter with a fresh sheet of paper in place, awaiting input from her increasingly reluctant muse.

With the first two of the evening’s customarily large glasses of merlot already under her belt, so to speak, Charlotte had been too stunned at their sudden appearance to call the police even if she had a phone — which she most certainly did not. The nearest neighbors were three miles away. Her cottage was shielded from view of the closest road by a dense swath of trees. The situation was doomed to play out uninterrupted.

The one called Billy sighed theatrically. “No dice, old lady. I’m warning you, if you don’t…”

And the threat continued, but Charlotte barely heard. She really didn’t need to, feeling certain these unexpected and unwelcome guests were incapable of any originality whatsoever, or further surprise beyond the act of their arrival. The whole scenario was so trite, so hopelessly pulp. Like something out of a sordid little Stephen King story, she thought. Where was John D. MacDonald when you needed him? Or, better yet, Patricia Highsmith? Both were dead, of course, like so many of the others. Charlotte shifted her aged bones and wondered again how she’d so far remained exempt. Maybe my time has come at last, she considered. It was not an overly distressing possibility.

“Are you listening to me?” Billy punctuated the question with another slap of the flashlight against this palm. “Do you understand what is happening right now?”

“I understand perfectly, young man.” Charlotte puffed her cigar and looked Billy over with narrowed eyes. “You’re going to make me an offer I cannot refuse or some such nonsense. And if I don’t play ball, as you say, I’ll find myself the subject of vague and unspecified but nonetheless devastating acts of bodily harm. Is that summary accurate?”

The boy in the corner laughed again.

“This woman,” Billy muttered. “Yes, lady. That’s accurate. And you better believe I mean it. Now tell me how the series ends.”

“I can see you’re quite serious. And your uninvited presence here this evening certainly proves your resolve. But I need you to believe me when I say that I have no idea how The River of Time’s Meaning will conclude, nor even if Symphony of Swords will in fact be the final book in the series. Now, Billy, do you understand? It’s simply not up to me.”

“Bullshit.” Billy gestured around the shabby cottage. The living room, crammed so full of books as to be nearly inaccessible, and the lumpy sofa Charlotte used as a bed, having long since become too old to access the tiny bedroom at the top of the steep narrow stairs. The dingy kitchen beyond, where the third intruder likely lurked. “Who the hell else would it be up to?”

Charlotte smoked and rocked, saying finally, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “My muse.”

The strike to the back of her head was hard but oddly restrained, as if her attacker wanted Charlotte to understand how much worse it could, and likely soon would be. The cigar fell to her lap, singeing her fraying cardigan.

“That’s quite enough of that silliness.”

The voice was soft but cold, with a friendly drawl and subdued edge; a switchblade held in a mittened hand. From behind Charlotte, as she massaged her scalp and retrieved the smoldering cigar from her lap, walked the third invader, slipping casually out of her bulky leather jacket to reveal an athletically built and well-endowed woman of about forty, in tight jeans and a black T-shirt. She leaned against Charlotte’s desk and slowly pulled the pantyhose from her head, mussing short hair the color of blood on fresh asphalt.

“Let’s understand one another, Mrs. Hopkins.” She smiled politely below eyes so darkly brown as to seem black in the gloom of the cluttered cottage. “My name’s Shelby and I don’t care if you’re alive when we leave here tonight. If you think ol’ Billy won’t kill you easy as pie if I say, you’re not half as smart as all them la-di-dah critics seem to think. He ain’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, I’ll grant you that. But he’s real good with his hands and I give him plenty of reasons to be awful fond of me. But see, it’s not really him that needs to be convinced you ain’t fibbing. It’s me that brought us here and it’s me that needs to know the ending of your book. So, what do you say?”

Charlotte relit her cigar and with the tip clasped in her teeth said, “I can’t give you what I don’t have.”

Shelby laughed, throwing her head back lightly. “I find that highly unlikely, Mrs. Hopkins. Let’s see now. The first book, A Harsh And Deadly Gambit, was published in 1996. It took you just two years to put out the next one, Felling Colossus, and only two years after that to release Bloody Are The Chosen. Granted, it took five years to release A Song Of Love And Loss. Then six more for the last one, I Dreamed Crusades —a publishing phenomenon that sold something like a billion copies. I hear they got quite a cast lined up for the movie, too. You been slowing down for a while, but with the TV series and announcement of the movie the world was content to wait. And wait. And wait. But see, I can’t wait anymore.”

She slid her hands into the rear pockets of her jeans. “Now, maybe you ain’t exactly got it all written out nice and neat at this very minute, but I refuse to believe after so many years of promising your readers the final book and pushing the release date again and again while supposedly slaving away this whole time you can’t at least give me the gist of how it ends. I mean, what the heck else you been doing?”

She looked disdainfully around the cabin, then considered Charlotte herself. “Sure as anything a famous reclusive genius like you ain’t been out enjoying all her money. And you’re too old to get up to much else. So tell us the big secret and we’ll cut out and leave you in peace instead of pieces.”

“Always nice to meet a reader.” Charlotte didn’t quite laugh, but something like a chuckle escaped her ancient throat. “Truly, you’re never too old to be surprised. I’d like to thank you for that, young lady. An important lesson, one I’d nearly forgotten. I just lost something of a bet with myself about what you three were capable of. You, at least, have proven delightfully surprising — and I’m not often mistaken. Believe me, I’d love nothing more than to give you what you want, if only to thank you for this unexpectedly enlightening experience if not actually avoid any violence. But alas, I meant what I said: I have no idea how the story ends.”

Shelby leaned closer, still smiling sweet as syrup. “You sure about that?”

Charlotte nodded, crushing out her cigar in an ornate crystal ashtray (gift from another paramour from yesteryear, a mercurial Italian artist). “I wish it were otherwise. I really, truly do.”

In the corner, a crash; everybody started, even cool-as-steel Shelby, and all heads turned.

“Sorry,” mumbled the twitchy boy, bending to pick up the pieces of the shattered snow globe (gift from the son of a prominent Republican Congressman; Charlotte had attempted to date both father and son simultaneously with mixed success for a brief time in the ’60s).

Shelby’s fists planted on her hips as she slowly shook her head. “Didn’t I say don’t touch nothing? Didn’t I tell you? Honestly, Robby.”

She turned back to Charlotte. “I apologize about your knickknack, Mrs. Hopkins. That’s Robert, my youngest. I got an older one, too. His name’s Thomas. Thomas Walker Lee — I’ll just go ahead and level with you now since it seems we’re past being coy here tonight. Maybe you recognize the name?”

The old woman shook her head dismissively.

“Well, fact is my Tommy’s famous. He got his picture in all the papers. The lawyers are saying we’ve finally run out of appeals for good. My beautiful boy’s going to meet his daddy real soon. And a lot of mean folks are saying just the most terrible things about him, can you believe that? Never mind those girls were all nasty little tramps and the things he done to them weren’t totally his fault on account of all the drugs. Them newspaper reporters, bunch of smarty-pants writers just like you, they don’t care about none of that. Seeing all those stories about himself, well, it’s upsetting my baby. And that don’t seem fair since he ain’t got a whole lot of time left. You understand?”

Charlotte reached for another cigar and grunted.

“I can see you’re wondering what any of this has got to do with you.” Shelby snatched up the Zippo and flicked it alive, holding it out to light Charlotte’s smoke. “That’s fair enough and I’m getting to it, I promise. See, when my boys were growing up I wasn’t exactly the best mother.”

Charlotte, unsurprised, entertained some decidedly unkind thoughts about this woman who’d broken into her home. And as if reading the old woman’s mind, Shelby’s face hardened as she snapped closed the lighter.

“Don’t judge me too hard, Mrs. Hopkins. I made some mistakes but I’m right with Jesus now. I have forgiven myself and so has he.” Shelby’s eyes gleamed dangerously. “Ain’t nothing I can do that he won’t forgive.”

She stood and began wandering about the living room, running a finger across the spines of the books on Charlotte’s shelves, sending a trail of dust to dance toward the floor in her wake.

“As I said, I wasn’t the world’s best mama. I was just too permissive with my boys, let them run wild and raise all kinds of hell.” She shot a withering glance at Robert. “It ruined them in a way, made them weak. Weak for drugs and drink and fast women. Trouble was bound to find them. I think maybe greatness requires a firmer hand. Don’t you agree, Mrs. Hopkins?”

Shelby reached out to pat Robert’s head, making him flinch. “But while I may have been a lousy mother back then, there is at least one thing I can do for my Tommy now. Twelve-steppers might call it making amends. You see, throughout his time in prison, during the many failed appeals and while seeing those horrific stories about himself in the papers, one thing never failed to bring my son a bit of joy: that darn book series of yours! Do not ask me why, Tommy never was a big reader as I recall, but he sure does love them thick-as-a-bible books of yours. Dragons, elves, magic swords and all that make-believe crap, he loves it. Fact is, he wrote me a letter just the other day. Know what he said? He said the thing that upsets him most is that he’ll never get to read A Symphony of Swords. Because he ain’t got much time left and you don’t seem to be in a hurry to get it done, I thought I’d come by and see if you might do this little favor for my Tommy. I’d say he’s just about your biggest fan in the whole wide world, Mrs. Hopkins. Why don’t you tell me how it ends so I can tell my baby?”

Shelby returned to stand before the desk, grinning. “Or I can let Billy play with you a bit first.”

The big man loudly cracked his knuckles as Charlotte leaned forward, resting elbows on her knees, and with slow and inexorable deliberation shook her head.

“So you’re saying it’s up to this muse of yours, huh?”

“That is the unfortunate truth of the matter.”

“Shoot, Billy.” Shelby shrugged and turned to her muscular acquaintance. “Guess maybe we ought to shuffle on home. Seems we’re bothering the wrong person here. I mean, sure, she cashes the big checks and accepts the awards for all that fancy writing, but the ending is up to the muse. How silly of us.”

“It’s silly all right.” Billy nodded, eyes fixed on Charlotte.

Shelby strolled behind the author, put her hands firmly on the old woman’s shoulders and squeezed. “Don’t suppose we could maybe talk the matter over with this creative genius you’ve told us so much about?”

Charlotte squirmed as Shelby’s fingers dug painfully into her arthritic bones.

“Maybe,” Shelby said, “if Billy here beats on you badly enough this muse of yours will show up? What do you think, Mrs. Hopkins? May I pretty please speak with the muse?”

“You can try,” Charlotte winced. “Perhaps you’ll have better luck with her. She’s in the basement.”

Shelby relaxed her hold. “Come again?”

“I said she’s in the basement. That’s where I keep the lazy, ungrateful brat.”

Shelby slowly spun Charlotte’s chair around and bent to bring her nose close to the writer’s. “Are you messing with us, old woman? Is this one of them crazy artist things? What they call being ex-centric?”

“How I’d love that to be true.” The old woman’s voice contained bone-deep weariness. “I’ll prove it, if you like.”

Shelby pulled from her pocket a small black handle from which, with the flick of her wrist and a quick metallic snap, extended a thin silver blade. She whispered, “If you’re trying to trick me, I will slit your lying wrinkled throat.”

Charlotte was honestly surprised at the strange mix of feelings that welled up in her then, tearing through the distracting aches in her muscles and joints, years of self-imposed isolation and diligently soaking her body and brain in wine. She was, despite it all and regardless of her mountain of accomplishments, her assured legacy, the envy of any artist, unwilling to give up her right to see tomorrow. And she was dwelling again, for the first time in ages, on how the story might end. Her eyes went from the blade to the face of the wielder.

“Agreed,” she said, hefting herself from the chair.

The great author shuffled through the darkened kitchen, shadowed closely by Billy, who trained the beam of his Freudian flashlight ahead of them. Shelby followed him, with Robert sullenly trailing behind. Charlotte took an old metal lantern from a hook on the wall and lit the candle inside with the Zippo from her desk with practiced ease. She opened a door, which to all appearances was a pantry or closet, revealing a stone stairway leading down.

“No tricks, lady.” Billy’s voice was full of forced machismo, but his eyes went nervously from the darkness beyond the stairs to Shelby, seeking reassurance.

“Oh, it’s all a trick,” Charlotte said, carefully descending, holding aloft the flickering lantern with one gnarled hand and placing the other on the wall for support. “That’s what writing is, you know. It’s a trick, like magic.”

Their feet were anxious whispers on the stone steps as they made their way downward.

“A magician makes a dove transform into a bouquet of flowers. He turns his beautiful assistant into a puff of smoke. He shows you something that isn’t really there. The writer does the same thing — if she’s good enough. A word is nothing, scratch marks of paper. But it becomes a picture in the mind of the reader. Slightly different for all of them, but somehow universal too. Take something easy like ‘cat’ for instance. Upon reading that word, the cat I see is likely not the cat you see. But they are both cats and thus the story progresses. It’s a trick. You understand?”

Billy growled, “I understand that you better start making sense real quick, old lady.”

“People always want to know,” Charlotte continued, unperturbed by his anger, “where the ideas come from. Where do you get your ideas? Honestly, if I rubbed a genie’s lamp tomorrow my first wish would be to remove that damnable question from the lexicon of humanity. The truth, of course, is there’s no single answer.”

They came at last to the bottom and stood together in a small room, dirt floor strewn with hay. The lantern and flashlight did their best to fight back a darkness that probed them with eager, inquisitive tendrils. The air was dry and cold, smelled of dust and dirt and something sweet, almost like overly-ripe fruit.

“The writing is a trick, as I said,” Charlotte explained. “But the idea, that’s the truly magic part and that, I’m afraid, cannot be explained so easily. Subject a dozen writers to that atrocious query and you’ll get a dozen answers. As for myself,” she lifted the lantern to cast a wash of light over the stout wooden door set into the rough clay wall at the far end of the room, “I get my ideas there.”

The aged scribe walked quickly to the door leaving the uneasy trio to scamper after her, realizing only in their rush, their sudden terror at the idea of being separated from Charlotte, the intense feeling of dread which had taken hold of them. She lifted from around her neck a chain, upon which dangled a large antique key.

“It was so easy at first. She came to me when I was a little girl. I was a sickly, lonely child and books were my only friends for a very long time. They’re still my only friends, I suppose. Then one day my muse came to me and told me how I might write stories of my own. And so I did.”

Charlotte pushed the key into the weathered, rusty lock.

“It wasn’t a sure thing,” she said. “Fame and renown, even with so clever and productive a muse woking with you and all the desire in the world, they were not a certainty. But we kept at it and worked hard — she providing the ideas, me the presentation, the tricks — and eventually we got better. Then, we got better still. It all seems to have gone by very quickly to me now, looking back.”

She forced the key to turn, the lock’s innards groaning at the effort. Finally, it gave a booming click and the door swung ajar.

“It was all the success, I think,” Charlotte said quietly, “that made us so careless.”

Her hand reached out to push open the heavy door. Beyond it, inside a smaller chamber, the muse sat on a pile of soiled hay, a grotesque figure revealed in the hellish red glow of light cast by two lanterns hung on lengths of chain that dangled from the high ceiling, itself unseen somewhere in the impenetrable blackness above.

“Jesus Christ,” Billy gagged.

“Oh, mommy,” Robert cried pathetically. “I don’t like it!”

“Hush now, baby.” Shelby said. “What the hell is it?”

“My muse.” Charlotte shrugged. “What’s left of it anyway.”

Vaguely human in construct, the beast was white as a wedding cake’s frosting, completely hairless, and enormously fat. Its belly hung pendulously down over two short stick-legs, surely useless, jutting out at odd angles from below the folds. The arms were incongruously long and bony, with an extra joint between shoulder and elbow that allowed them to bend and twist into insane angles. On each wrist was a thick manacle attached by a chain to mounts on the wall.

At the center of the misshapen mound of flesh that was the thing’s head, a small furious face was squashed into a permanent scowl. Fat lips slick with saliva pouted and pursed, and from between which came increasingly frantic whines and gurgles as its cold beady eyes alighted on the crowd in the doorway.

“Greetings, old girl.” Charlotte walked into the room, lantern held high. The muse, after recoiling momentarily, began to claw the air as if meaning to reach out and grab the woman.

Scattered about the floor were sheets of yellowed paper, wrinkled and smeared with dirt. Groaning at the effort, Charlotte bent to pick up the nearest. She smoothed it flat against her thigh and held the page close to the lantern so as to better make out the jumbled primitive writing scrawled upon it.

“She used to be so good,” the old woman said. “Now, I’m lucky to get two or three pages worth of decent plot each month out of her.”

Charlotte carefully kicked at an empty liquor bottle, sending it rolling away to clink gently as it struck another. Several more were scattered about the room, along with hundreds of crinkled candy wrappers blanketing the ground like an autumn forest’s worth of fallen leaves. Gnawed and half-shredded tabloid magazines — People, Entertainment, In Touch — had collected in the room’s corners. Mutilated faces of smiling stars. Gossip, quite literally in this case, eagerly devoured.

“I gave her just about everything she ever wanted.” Charlotte’s voice was thin and sad. “And she still won’t tell me how the story ends.” Turning back to the door, she said, “So how in the hell am I supposed to tell you?”

She walked slowly out of the room, careful to avoid tripping on any bottles or litter, knowing full well that a fall at her age just wouldn’t do. The threesome of intruders parted slightly, in silence, to let her pass.

“Maybe it’s as you said, young lady. Perhaps I spoiled her, being too permissive. We used to be quite diligent, she and I. Look at her now — bloated, lazy, and halfway simple. And I must admit that my own work habits haven’t exactly been rigorous, especially these last ten or twenty years. Maybe greatness does indeed require a firmer hand.”

Shelby’s face was set with grim, inflexible determination. “I don’t understand any of this and I don’t care to. Go on, Billy. Make that disgusting thing tell us how the story ends.”

The big man looked at her with raised eyebrows.

“Go on,” she insisted. “We come this far ain’t we?”

“Oh, you can’t threaten the muse into productivity.” Charlotte smirked. “Believe me, I tried. How do you think she got tied up down here in the first place?”

“You may be a great writer, Mrs. Hopkins, but I can’t imagine you know much about persuasion.” Shelby leaned over and kissed Billy’s cheek, nibbled lightly at his ear. “Billy here is a master.”

The old woman thought probably it was Shelby herself who was the black-belt persuader, but said nothing.

“Go in with him, Robby. You help.”

“No way.” The only one of the three still wearing his pantyhose mask, Robert shook his head vehemently. “I ain’t going near it.”

“You’ll go where I say, young man.” Shelby’s arm shot out and her hand found the back of her younger son’s head. “Now get.”

He dutifully trudged after Billy, who was inside already, eager to please. The muffled sounds of their voices were followed almost immediately by shrieking wails and rattling chains. The cries and shouts echoed in the cramped subterranean chamber as, by the warm light of Charlotte’s lantern, the two women eyed each other.

“It won’t work,” Charlotte said. “They’ll never get it out of her that way.”

“You don’t know Billy,” Shelby sneered. “He always does whatever I tell him.”

The deafening screams grew more frantic even as the chains ceased to rattle.

“I’m sure he does,” Charlotte smiled wistfully. “And I do know Billy. I’ve known about a hundred Billys of my own, maybe more, throughout the years. They’re quite useful. Some are even fun, for a little while anyway. But you and I both know they have inherent, shall we say limitations?”

“What are you trying to say, old woman?”

“I’m saying you’re about to fail your son again.”

The cries faded to weak croaks and raspy gurgles.

Shelby brandished her knife, a toothy shark’s smile spreading over her face. “When they’re finished, I’m going to cut you into itty bitty pieces for that.” Over her shoulder, she called, “How’s it going in there?”

A sickly moan leaked listlessly from behind the partially closed door.

“I said how is it going in there? Billy? Answer me!”

Charlotte said, “Did any of them look like you? The girls your son killed?”

“Bitch,” Shelby hissed. Turning, she stalked away, shoved open the door and stormed inside. “Now what exactly is … going on…in … here?”

Her voiced shrank, shriveled, and died in her throat. Shelby had time to stand, frozen, registering the gruesome scene before her — the mutilated corpse of Billy, chest split open, innards spilling forth in a gory wave, and her baby boy, skinny little Robby, held almost lovingly in the skeletal arms of the muse, its bulbous head bent to his neck, the unspeakable sounds of chewing and slurping — before being shocked back into motion by the slamming of the door behind her.

Shelby whirled, throwing herself against the thick wood, pummeling it with furious fists. But the ancient door held, sound and unmovable as the certainty of death itself, as she savaged the skin of her hands and screamed her throat raw.

Softly, Charlotte’s voice found her, faint and muffled, as if coming from far away. “I told you that I gave my muse just about everything she ever wanted,” the author said. “But there was one thing she loved most of all. Eventually, I just couldn’t live with providing it anymore. I’d already let her have too many lovers, too many friends. I thought we would be okay here if we were left alone. If we were only hurting ourselves with our indulgences. She deteriorated quickly, perhaps we both did, but I was content. Understand, I was unwilling to sacrifice even one more person to find out how the story ended. I was satisfied to die not knowing. And then you came along, you and your demands. And I found that despite what I’d long believed about myself  I did still want to know — if the price was right, of course. That’s where you come in.”

Shelby pounded her bleeding fists weakly against the door, hearing the chains clicking and clanking lightly behind her, an excited shuffling and heavy breathing.

“You turned out to be exactly what I needed.” The smile was audible in Charlotte’s voice. “And that’s twice tonight that you surprised me, young lady.”

Shelby forced herself to turn, back pressed flatly against the door, and saw the muse’s impossibly long arms reaching for her. They seem to stretch as she watched, bones popping and creaking as they elongated, snaking closer. The chains were suddenly drawn tight, forcing it to stop just before the thing’s ragged fingernails could graze her flesh.

From somewhere in the blackness above fell a heavy object: a stack of blank paper bound with twine. It struck the floor and bounced, drawing the muse’s attention. A hideous smile pulled at the corners of its shiny, slug-like lips.

“As for you,” the unseen author said, “I’ll expect at least an outline when I come tidy up later and daily progress after that. We’ve kept our readers waiting long enough, don’t you agree?”

Shelby’s weakening screams followed Charlotte as she climbed the stone stairs, until she reached the kitchen and closed the upper door, smothering them to silence. She forced her exhausted body back to the desk, collapsed into her chair, and breathed a long weary sigh. The first inklings of gray predawn were leaking through the windows.

Tonight, she would do more than just sit at her desk.

Charlotte reached unthinkingly for the jug of wine in the lower drawer, but stopped short. No, she thought, that’s quite enough of that. She reached out, closed the golden box of cigars, and pulled the typewriter close. It’s time to get back to work, the great author told herself. Long past time to buckle down and get serious for one more grand trick, at least. One last transformation.

“After all,” she whispered aloud, “greatness requires a firmer hand.”

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Luciano Marano
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Luciano Marano


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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