Short Story: The Writer’s Muse

Artem sat at his desk, head deeply set in his hands. Bony fingers gripped the thinning hairs on his head angrily. The desk situated in front of him was an absolute mess; sheets of writing paper and crumpled balls of failed thoughts littering every inch of the wooden surface. An uninspiring stack of short stories and possible ideas was eclipsed by the stack of unpaid bills next to it.

After 30 more minutes of doing and thinking nothing, the wiry frame of the writer finally rose from the creaking chair he had spent so many hours in before. He ripped out another sheet from the typewriter, and crumpled it. Artem slid open the glass door leading to his private balcony, and stepped into the cool night air.

He had rented the studio apartment shortly after arriving in the United States, and New York. Artem had hoped for great inspiration from his surroundings, as the apartment was situated above the bustling streets of the Big Apple. Central Park was only a short walk away. Now, after all this time, the apartment felt more like a shell; a coffin of used and dead ideas.

Artem brought forth a packet from his trouser pocket and tapped it. He lit up the personal mixture of tobacco and marijuana, with the flames of the lighter illuminating his tired features for just a few seconds. This was a habit he had learned from the other artists he had met living in New York. Seemingly his only friends in this strange country.

For three years now, Artem had been voluntarily separated from the Родина, finding himself in the Land of the Free. So the others called it, at least. For him, it was nothing but. Sure, Artem would seldom go out with the other artists; writers, painters, dancers, and musicians to drink and smoke in the countless numbers of bars occupying Manhattan and the rest of the boroughs. He would have fun, but with the merriment came a gnawing anxiousness in the back of his mind, reminding him that he would have to produce something sooner rather than later. Every time, the typewriter would be waiting for him, with a blank and untouched sheet of paper.

Artem huffed the last remains of the smoldering joint into his system, and flicked the rest over the railing. As he stood there refreshing his lungs with cool air; he took in the surroundings again sight by sight. Same view, every night. The street below was still busy at this hour, yellow taxis waiting for customers one after another. Flickering and flashing billboards up on the walls, one after another; each trying to convince you to buy the newest miracle cure or skin ointment that would guarantee that you would never age again. The American Dream, reduced down to a primitive competition of who could sell you the most of something the fastest. The unflinching eyes of the cardboard people in the adverts met his. Something in their collective gaze made Artem feel uneasy, anxious even, as if their eyes looked upon him with pity or judgement.

Leaving the views for another day, he turned around and leaned against the railing of the balcony. From the outside looking in, the apartment looked fantastic, a dream come true for any aspiring artist. But for Artem, all he saw was reminders of his constant, ongoing failures, and past memories of the Motherland. Multicolored posters of all sizes lined the walls of the studio. They were the only things Artem had brought with him when he left for America. To remind him of the past, and everything he had left behind.

The posters on the walls all depicted the covers of the books he had written before. They were children’s books, with the main character Max, or Maxim smiling and posing adventurously on each cover. They had been hugely popular, and probably still were back there. Now, just thinking about the books hurt him; reminding Artem of his young naive self, and the pride he had felt when accepting the job. In reality, it was all state-sponsored дерьмо; propaganda at its best.

The memory of leaving was still as fresh as a festering wound. Artem had scrounged up all the money he had been reluctantly given for the writing job; nearly all of the actual profit going directly to the государство. The apocryphal dream he had formed in his mind had been shattered harshly. Artem had then decided that this was no life for an artist, no life for a person with dreams of greatness. The decision had been rash, Artem knew that now, but his dream of being a respected author and writer had overtaken everything else in his life. He had left everything; his family, friends, lovers, his work and fame, promising to himself that he would send back the thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars earned from the books he wrote in America.

Artem opened the door, and immediately welcomed the warmth he found back inside the apartment. He entered the studio floor from the balcony, with the studio encompassing most of the apartment. The bedroom was only separated by thin walls. Artem lurched to the couch exhausted, even though he had not accomplished anything remotely useful the entire day.  Turning his head, Artem noticed something peculiar; a stack of hundred dollar notes under some newspapers that had not been there the last time he looked. This revelation annoyed him greatly, as he already knew who the culprit was.

Jackson Rose, a relatively famous American poet, and one of Artem’s few closer friends had visited Artem a few days ago. Artem had opened up to one of his only confidantes about his writer’s block, and the financial problems he would soon face if he didn’t figure something out. But Jackson had not been so worried, telling Artem that everything would sort itself out, given enough time. This was not how Artem saw things, as he could only think about his struggling family back in the Motherland. Jackson, however, was free-spirited and extremely liberal with his thoughts and poetry as well. Mr. Rose, an African-American poet; famously from the Harlem Renaissance had been well-off for many years, now only producing poetry at his own leisure. Artem had told Jackson numerous times that he did not want to seem weak and rely on others, and ask his friends for money. Jackson had then lit up a joint, and offered it to Artem. That was probably when his friend had slipped the money onto his coffee table unnoticed. сукин сын. 

Visibly annoyed, Artem knew that there was nothing he could do about it anymore. If he returned the money, Jackson would take it as an insult, this he knew for certain. It was well over midnight now. The bustling on the streets had died down; and Artem was feeling queasy from thinking too much, and still not thinking enough. Finally dragging himself into bed, as closed blinds offered no information about the outside world, the darkness in the bedroom gave him relief. Closed blinds and closed eyes. His world seemed to mainly revolve around one word nowadays.

Nothing.

He did nothing, thought nothing, and then consequently wrote  nothing. Artem closed his eyes finally, and dreamed of nothing.

The next few weeks went swiftly and passed without significant changes in Artem’s life. He still went out with his friends, trying to keep up appearances as best he could. Artem saw Jackson Rose quite often as well. The money was not discussed once, both trying to act like nothing had happened. Jackson had then convinced Artem to spend some time with him, assuring that time outside the studio would help with his lack of a muse. Then with Jackson, Artem toured New York’s deviant boroughs for the following weeks. On their personal crusade they experimented and discovered new things in new, low-down places. In Brooklyn, in the Bronx, and in Harlem. Every time Artem came back to the studio in a haze, the typewriter sat on the desk untouched.

Nothing.

On a day like any other, Artem woke from his stupor in the bedroom of his studio apartment. He had been out and about with Jackson again, and Artem’s pounding headache was a reminder of their past night’s endeavor. As Artem opened his eyes, they did not adjust to the light as usual. The room seemed darker somehow, as if light had been drained from it. Artem yawned, stretched and squirmed under the covers, still tired, even though it seemed like he had slept well over midday. After several confused blinks, his eyes still felt like a translucent blindfold had been carefully placed over them.

Artem sat up on his bed, and he immediately felt a wave of nausea creep through his body; but somehow it felt like the nauseating rush came from outside of his physical self. The room was hazy and dark, and his eyes had still not adjusted somehow. Artem scanned the room instinctively, and looked directly above himself; and nearly fell off the bed completely as he sprawled back to the wall.

A swirling orb of dark mass pulsated above his bed, almost directly above his head. It looked like pure nothingness. An abyss. The room was somehow completely devoid of light, even though Artem could see daylight through the window.

Mesmerized and frightened, the writer sat on his bed backed up against the wall, and stared at the indescribable object in front of him. Even though it was pitch black in the room, the dark object could be distinguished clearly. There was no way to explain rationally what he was experiencing. The object looked like a liquid that was suspended mid air, pulsating slightly, expanding and retracting. Inexplicably, Artem felt a strange attraction toward the abyss. Something primal, a deep instinct maybe; inside himself made him get closer to the object. It was approximately the size of his head, but the constantly changing shape made it hard to estimate.

Touch it.

If that was Artem’s own though or not, he did not know. His rapidly beating heart almost matched the pulsating emptyness that was now only a few inches from his face. Artem tried to muster up some courage, but came up only with fear. Still, the troublesome curiosity was winning over inside. The time he stood there felt like ages, as if years went past while Artem looked at the void.

Slowly, Artem could feel his hand rising up; while a panic rose from inside at the same time. A shaking left hand went into the abyss, but did not come out through the other side. It was as if a pool of water devoid of light had swallowed the hand. Artem did not feel any sensation upon his hand, only the surprisingly cold temperature in the room.

Suddenly, it was as if a cerebral spark was sent out through his hand into the rest of his body, swirling and creeping through every extremity and nerve until the spark reached his brain. Artem felt it. He thought it as well. But the sensation was not singular.

Artem could think and feel EVERYTHING.

Collapsing backwards onto the bed, his thoughts were like an endless cascading waterfall, and every single droplet of water in the waterfall falling through the endless space of his expanded mind was one new idea. These thoughts and ideas were wildly disconnected and disjointed, but seemingly still made sense at the same time. They were infinitely complex, and laughably simple at the same time. Artem laughed out loudly, echoing through the whole apartment and beyond. His brain felt like a million orgasms that were firing off from every synapse.

Through the infinite waterfall, he could faintly imagine the typewriter resting absently on the desk in the other room. Artem’s eyes widened, and he got up in an instant and rushed into the studio. Half-naked, Artem sat down at the desk, and looked at the typewriter in front of him. Hands slowly moved towards the machine, aching and burning to let out the all the things from his mind. Index finger onto a key, pressing it all the way so that it made a mark on the paper. Another press of a key, and another after that. Ideas and words coursed through his body; through the typewriter, onto the paper. It was as if a great dam in his mind had burst, and the ideas were now flowing freely, physically manifesting themselves and living on the paper that moved hastily back and forth on top of the writing machine with each press of a key.

Word after word, line after line, and paper after paper; the writings on the desk kept piling up, easily eclipsing the stack of bills by the end of the day. It was light work. It might have been the end of the day, or the start. Artem was not quite sure, as his mind had been focused on one thing, which was everything at the same time.  The paper flashed in front of his eyes even faster, and the text was an unintelligible haze of dark ink.

Artem stirred, and lifted his heavy head from the hard surface of the table. Red eyes scanned the vague things in front of him, as the head lazily craned back and forth on top of the rest of the careless, indifferent body. He had no recollection of how he got to where he was, or what time it was; or the day, for that matter. A loud grumble emanating from his stomach made Artem grimace. He was starving. Before he got up from the chair, however, he saw the piles and piles of parchment stacked on and around the table, surrounding him. There was still one paper in the typewriter, seemingly unfinished. A languid hand reached for the paper, and ripped it out. Once more, the red eyes flashed through the text, moving quickly through each line and sentence. Bloodshot eyes stopped at the end of the text, and gently filled with water. Artem cried aloud, tears falling onto the text, dampening and smudging the paper thoroughly. It was beautiful, like the most exquisite erudite flower that only bloomed once a century. He cried for the text, and the thought of finally breaking through. Artem could publish and sell this, and everyone would buy it. Everyone.

Artem finally dried his eyes and started thinking hard, his eyebrows burrowing deep. Questions without answers clouded his mind completely, and he feared for the return of the nothingness that had inhabited his brain for years. He found clothes in the studio to put on his back, and fed himself. It was evening now, but of what day he did not know. Pondering, he approached the glass door and exited the apartment onto the balcony. With shaking fingers, he scrounged together a joint, and put fire to it to collect his scrambled mind. The billboards opposite his apartment were still there, as always. The cardboard people stared back, as always. This time, however, their eyes seemed angry; almost despising Artem. A sense of pride and pleasure filled him, knowing that his books could soon dominate the advertisements, and make those dreadful eyes disappear.

The pulsing and flickering lights of the billboards seemed stronger than ever, making Artem retreat step by step back into the studio. Artem flicked the barely half-smoked joint over the railing and quickly went back inside. There was something in the back of his mind, trying to make itself be remembered. The pulsing. Light or darkness. He looked back to the towers of text occupying the area around the writing table. He could see them with his own eyes, but writing them he could not remember doing. The pulsing, and the darkness. The pulsing darkness.

муза

Artem dashed into the bedroom. He could remember now. The муза was still there; clearly visible, even though it matched perfectly the darkness surrounding itself. The pulsating orb moved in place tediously, and it seemed somewhat larger to Artem than the last time he had observed it.

Touch it.

Yes, Artem had to touch it. It was the only way. He did so willingly, grinning this time, knowing what greatness would unearth itself from the escapes of his mind. Again, the left hand went into the муза. This time, he reached even deeper, his arm disappearing into the void almost to the shoulder.

Artem stumbled back, nearly falling over due to the euphoric feeling coursing through him. It was as if his mind was a perpetual desert stretching over to no end, and each minuscule grain of sand was another new idea waiting to get written. With confident strides, he made his way back to the typewriter, and started his dominion over the written word anew. Word upon word, stacked over and on each other; each word with such great significance and weight, like the heavens upon Atlas’ shoulders.

The sun rose and the sun set. This happened, unrecognized, numerous times during Artem’s ever-deepening expedition into his own abounding abyss. The passage of time, it mattered not. Neither did the fact that the flowers on his counters and tables gradually slumped over, and died. It was all a distraction, a distraction from the only thing that really mattered. Each unnoticed passing day made the apartment darker still. Out of the corners of his eyes, Artem could see the advertisements and billboards outside his apartment flashing even stronger against the walls as he wrote in the dark. They were taunting him; mocking him, as if they awaited his failure and demise. Fail he would not, not anymore. For a time now, Artem had been running low on paper. He resorted to writing on the other side of the papers he had already written on. The scene would have seemed absolutely incredulous to someone from the outside; a shadowy frame of a man, eclipsed by the ever-rising towers of his own creation.

муза

In the bedroom it dwelled as ever. It was now almost the size of Artem himself; dilating and expanding when he reached into it. A dark oscillating eye of unbound knowledge. Through the petrifying veil of his thoughts, sometimes Artem thought clearly; singularly, as before all this. They were thoughts or remembrance; of his family, and the Motherland. The thoughts lasted for only moments, fading and falling back into the universe of his mind. On rare occasion, Artem doubted himself, and those moments lasted for even less. Artem had finally decided the thoughts he found were his own; the муза was only there to help him release everything from his mind. He questioned himself once about the notion, and was furious with his own idiotic inference, and decided to think about it no more.

On one unparticular day, while Artem was writing, he heard a gentle knock on the studio door. The sound, even though only slight; startled him greatly, and brought him back to the room. There was no time for this sort of disturbance while there was work to be done. Ignoring the door, Artem went back into the bedroom, and reached deeper still into the муза, using both arms to delve into the void. The same familiar feeling reached his body, as he walked back smiling to the typewriter. He had to be careful when sitting down and standing up; not to tip over any of his precious writings. Just as he pressed the first keystroke onto a fresh page, the knocking on the door resumed again, this time even louder.

Artem could feel the brewing rage inside of him start to bubble. Again he had been interrupted, the priceless gifts of the муза put to waste. The knocks pounding the door pounded and echoed loudly in his head as well. He thought to scream at the interrupter, to yell and make them go away; but then he would have to stop working, and that was not an option he could choose. He tried to write more while the knocking continued with short intervals of silence, as if the being behind the apartment door waited for the door to be opened. He strained greatly, trying still to write more. There were no thoughts in his mind anymore, only the constant pounding.

Now, there was a voice behind the door. First it was muffled, and Artem could barely even register it over the pounding in his head. Then the voice became clearer by the moment, and then Artem recognized it; it was Jackson Rose. The face of the writer hunched over the typewriter twisted fiercely into a mix of anger and distrust. Jackson was here for the муза, Artem was sure of it. But it was not his to exploit; Artem needed this. He needed it for himself, for his family, and for the Родина. 

Enraged, Artem stormed through the stacks of his own creation, toppling them onto the floor, creating a sea of white with black text rippled throughout. Cursing silently to himself, Artem entered the bedroom, and observed the муза. It was already larger than him, taking over most of the room with it’s abyssal mass. The pulsing was more erratic now, with the orb fluctuating to different sizes rapidly.

Artem plunged his arms into the void again, gladly extending his arms deeper than ever. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity, with his eyes closed, waiting for the sweet embrace of infinite knowledge. But nothing happened. There the writer stood, with his own singular mind; absolutely idiotic compared to the brilliance of others, and the brilliance of the муза.

The муза was now pulsing even more than before, wildly erratic in its movements. Artem opened his eyes, and reached forward with his left foot. The orb pulsed violently, and the room was without light and color, completely black. The other foot followed, moving through the air painfully slowly. Artem looked back, and he could see the bedroom beyond the void, somewhere in the distance. He smiled, as the knowledge of the муза filled his mind anew. He smiled even still, as the orb withdrew and pulsed ever-imperceptibly.

Through the slightly opened window blinds; light, accompanied by silence, crept back into the room, making its way into the rest of the apartment.

мама и папа, я знаю, что ты горд.

 

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