Stroke of Genius: A Love Story

At this very moment, high above the clouds, there is a building floating in the sky.

From this building, twenty-fours hours a day, seven days a week, inspiration in all its forms is distributed to Mortals on Earth by a corporation known as the Museum.

It is here that we find a newly minted Muse on her first day of work.

Her name is Agapé. Some of the younger sprites make fun of her because they have more modern names like Jason or Michelle. She can’t help it if her mother is a goddess of love who tends to take things, like names, a bit literally.

They won’t be laughing now.

A coveted position, only the best of the best are chosen to be Muses. The others usually become Nymphs of this woodland or that spring. To Agapé, becoming a Nymph meant becoming part of a dull and overpopulated profession.

Agapé got ready before the sun crested over the eastern hemisphere and arrived at the ancient headquarters bright eyed and bushy tailed. (Although, her own tail is quite sleek thanks to a touch of cougar on her father’s side of the family)

When she arrived, Agapé realized that it was her first time seeing the Museum up close.

Unless you are a Muse or on official Muse business, you are not allowed to take the Light Rail to its front doors. Until you were granted access, it was forbidden to step foot on the ancient platform.

A crime punishable by death, for inspiration is a very serious business.

If a Mortal were to look upon the colossal building—however unlikely that may be—they would see the Pantheon’s columns, strong and tall. They would see the ogival towers of Angkor Wat, rising like budding lotus flowers towards the heavens. The light from the top of the world would glitter on stained

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glass of Notre Dame, warm the terraces of Machu Picchu, brighten the colors of St. Basil’s Cathedral, and slide down the canopies of Potala Palace. And of course this is what they would see, it is the birthplace of inspiration. It is not a mash-up of the things they would see on Earth but a catalogue of possibilities. The architecture of Earth is but a mere imitation of what the Original Nine had created with the Museum.

Agapé was feeling inspired herself.
“This way! This way! The others are waiting inside! We were just about to start!”
A lavender skinned woman sashayed over to Agapé with her long purple plumage swishing on the

ground behind her. It was apparent she was in a hurry.
“Come on, babe! Inspiration waits for no one!” She led Agapé by the hand through the front

doors of the Museum, who upon entry stood at the back of the medium sized crowd with her mouth, well, Agapé. Full of music and color, the atrium of the Museum was crowded (in the way that stars crowd the universe) as Muses congregating in clusters, sharing thoughts and ideas amongst themselves.

One pair Agapé passed was discussing how a sunset really sounded:

“No, no, no, it’s about the hum of the purple! NOT the click of the orange!” Said the equine Muse, her broad hips rolling as she paced in place.

“Well,” the other replied, “that’s just wrong, isn’t it?”

As they continued their debate, the gliding violet woman assumed her position at the front of the throng and addressed the group:

“Hello and welcome to—drumroll please—the Museum! My name is Aileen and I will be your guide! This tour will move very quickly, because as I have said before and have no problem saying again, inspiration waits for no one, so please try to keep up! This way!” Aileen led them down a dim hallway occupied by nine podiums, each bearing the marble bust of a woman illuminated by spotlights. Their names were emblazoned on brass plates affixed to the stone base beneath them.

“Founded by the Original Nine just before the dawn of time, the Museum has grown as fast as the population of Mortals. Even with its great strides in expansion, the Mortals now outnumber Muses twelve to one. While our credo is that anyone can be inspired, we simply cannot afford to give every single one the attention they would need. So, here at the Museum, we apply a very sophisticated method in order to match a Muse with the Mortal most likely to manifest signs of their Muse’s influence. Each of the Origi-

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nal Nine is the head of her own department. Each of you will be sorted based on the results from your entrance exam and Oracle reading. From there you will be assigned a team lead. Then you will realize your full potential as a Muse and unleash your gifts, whatever they may be, on the world below. Won’t that be a delight? Oh, but don’t worry, they are all just as fabulous as the next! Oh, I love that word! Fab- ulous. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? I was there when it was invented! Oh, just seeing you all gives me so many ideas, so many good feelings! I can’t wait to share them with my Mortal, Hiro. Anywho! No time for rambling, time to move on to the next stop in our tour!” Agapé did her best to keep up as they darted through the hanging gardens and hurtled up the stairs in the ancient library. The observatory and dance studios on the uppermost floors had unobstructed views of the world below and heavens above.

“Views you will have the time to see once you are assigned a department and Mortal,” she re- minded everyone with a smile. At the end, Aileen turned on her heels and led the group into a room where two more agents of the Museum were waiting on the opposite end of the room in front of a heavy wooden door. The rest of the room by comparison was just as heavy. Thick velvet drapes cascaded down the walls in crimson, navy, and aubergine and the floors absorbed the sound of their footsteps.

“Right this way! Wrap around everyone! There, that’s perfect. Now, this room is where you will all be receiving your assignments. My lovely friends at the other end of the hall will call your name. You will step up to the Oracle, who will read your flux and let you know what department best suits you. It is imperative that you remain quiet, otherwise the Oracle will not be able to get an accurate reading and your time here at the Museum will be very unpleasant. I remember one Muse who was misassigned. Poor thing didn’t last a month. Very sad. And with that, I bid you all adieu! Like I said earlier, inspiration waits for no one! Welcome to your new home, Muses.” She sashayed away, off to do whatever it is she did to conjure inspiration.

The group of new Muses stood there silent and exchanged nervous glances with each other. Be- fore long, all eyes were fixed on the two standing on the other end of them room from them, holding their fates in their hands.

The Muse holding the clipboard stood opposite the other, who was seated on a raised pedestal surrounded by pillows swathed in silk and satin. In its lap, there was a brazen cymbal and felt covered

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mallet. Between them, the floor was warped from millennia of new Muses standing in place, awaiting their judgement.

In a booming voice much larger than his body, the clipboard Muse called the first name.

With an enthusiastic gait, the chosen one walked up to the Oracle and stood before it. The Oracle then raised its cymbal, lifted its other arm high above its head and struck the disk. The sound rolled through the air, each tone deliberate. The Oracle leaned in and and peered over the waiting candidate.

The room quieted and in less than a minute the Oracle spoke.
“Epic Poetry.”
The wooden door before the newly classified opened and they were ushered through to the other

side by someone waiting out of sight. And that was that. The door closed and the next Muse was called forward.

On and on they were shuffled towards their destiny. To Agapé and the rest of the new recruits, it was the same old bwong every time. The process was not as romantic as Agapé had imagined. For the root of all inspiration, it was all quite bureaucratic.

Before too long, it was Agapé’s turn. The clipboard Muse called her name with that booming voice and she excused her way from the back of the crowd. She walked the short aisle, which seemed a mile long, and settled into the grooves left behind by her predecessors.

Agapé stood before the Oracle, whose pedestal was much higher than it seemed from the other side of the room, and wrung her hands together as she waited. She looked to the clipboard Muse, who was much smaller than it seemed from the other side of the room, and hoped for some looks of consolation or comfort but it was an indifferent stare she received.

The Oracle leaned in with its magic gong and struck it true, sending those deep vibrations throughout the room. Agapé felt them at her core, bouncing around like she was full of mirrors before they left her body.

The Oracle gave Agapé a once over with milky eyes and sat back in its seat for a moment. “Lyrical Poetry.”

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The wooden door opened before her and she was ushered through by those waiting on the other side. The one waiting for her was a Muse not much taller than she was with colorful designs running up both of her blue arms and onto her chest.

“Hi! The name is Idalia. I’ll be your team lead in Lyric Poetry. Agapé, right?” She extended her hand and shook Agapé’s wildly.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said after reclaiming her numb hand.

“Great! Follow me and I’ll show you where you’ll be working.” She turned on her heels and led Agapé through the atrium from the beginning of the tour. Agapé looked over all the groups clustered to- gether and wondered which in one she would find herself.

“Excited?” Idalia asked, snapping Agapé out of whatever trance she was in.
“Yea, I suppose Iam.”
Suppose? You better get sure, girl! You are in the home of inspiration! We have the power to

change the course of mankind! All those love poems and heroic deeds for the hearts of fair maidens, that’s all us baby!”

Just off the atrium there were nine hallways, branching off towards their respective departments. Idalia led Agapé through the third hallway from the left down a hallway marked LYRICAL POETRY.

“And it doesn’t stop at poetry, either. Since our expansion, we’ve been able to incorporate sculp- ture, painting, and even architecture! As long as it’s about love, it’s all good. So! Welcome to the Lyrical Division’s Inspiration Hub!” She said with a flourish of her arm.

The wall in front of Agapé stretched tall as she could see like a giant honeycomb. Each pod glowed with light and sound. Platforms carrying Muses to their stations whizzed by her head. Idalia pushed a button on the wall closest to her and summoned a platform for them. She stepped on and beck- oned for Agapé to follow her.

“Come on! It’s not so bad once you do it. Before you know it, we’ll be at your very own inspira- tion console.”

Agapé stepped up onto the platform and grabbed the handle just as it began to zoom away to- wards her pod. In the blur, she could make out sounds of laughter, crying, shouting, and even the occa- sional moan of ecstasy.

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“What is going on?” She thought out loud.

Idalia turned with a smirk on her face and answered. “You’ll see. Inspiration does different things to all of us. Who knows how you’ll react when you smell the color purple or find out what flying through the air really tastes like. Even madness has it’s place in creativity. But you also have to know yourself, it takes a strong Muse to keep her head once the Creative Juices start flowing. Once we arrive, we’ll see what mortal you are assigned to and then you’ll patch in.”

“Patch in?” Agapé asked as they slowed in front of an empty pod.

“Here we are! Be careful, it’s a long way down.” Idalia helped Agapé step off the platform and to a panel next to a glass door.

“Okay, put your hand up to the pad and let it scan your palm. Once you register, you’ll be able to come here anytime. Only I or Erato can access your pod to check on things but it’ll most likely only be me. Erato checking on us is something that never happens. So go on now, put your hand on there. That’s right, nice and firm.”

Agapé placed her hand on the cold scanner and found it was more squishy than she thought it would be. The gel pad read her palm and a melodic voice greeted her.

“Welcome, Agapé.” The door swooshed open and Agapé stepped into a room just big enough for two people to stand. The console before her lit up as it powered on. There was a large chair with a helmet and wired gloves in the seat in front of it. Under the helmet there was a folder. Idalia picked it up and handed it to Agapé.

“This is the file on your Mortal. Take a peek and then insert the startup disk into the Reality drive. You’ll find basic information on your Mortal as well as their potential for change. This potential is calcu- lated in the form of our Change Index, a tool developed when the human race grew past our ability to match individual demand for inspiration. The higher the number, the greater the chance they will change the world. The lowest needed to be assigned a Muse is two hundred but I’ve seen some as high as one thousand!”

Agapé opened the file and a photo of a young man was paper clipped to the front. His curly hair formed a halo around his brown face and made his gap toothed smile even brighter. His name was Xavier and he was a writer. An only child, he had grown up in the warm climate near the Equator to a school-

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teacher mother and a father in law enforcement. Both were killed in the ongoing civil war the country has been locked in for the past twenty years. His score on the Change Index was a whopping 789. Agapé smiled down at his picture and grabbed the circular disk with his Reality from its pouch in the back of the file. Idalia showed her where to insert it and the console accepted the disk with a soft whirr. The screen in front of the chair was illuminated and a status bar flashed across it. A circle below it revolved as the Real- ity disk uploaded.

“So!” Idalia said, clapping her hands together. “As that does its thing, let me tell you a little bit more about your Inspiration Station. Have a seat.” She picked up Agapé’s helmet and gloves so that she could slide into the chair.

“Ok,” she continued, “this is how we interact with our Mortals. The Reality Console is a machine that allows the Muse, that’s you, to see the world through their Mortal’s eyes. And not just see. But taste and smell and hear and feel it, too. The helmet allows the console to interface with you so that you don’t miss a thing. Once you are connected successfully, this light will illuminate.” She pointed to a dim green button embossed with the words “SECURE CONNECTION” in bold, black letters. Below that was a dim red button with the words “CONNECTION FAILURE”. Agapé let her finger trail over the top of it. Idalia noticed.

“You never, never ever, want that button to light up.”
“Why?”
“Because if it does, that means you have lost the connection to your Mortal by either failure beta,

and your Mortal has experienced burnout to the point of permanent damage, or failure alpha: your Mortal died. Either way, they will never be able to create again. Your chance is over.”

Agapé pulled her hand back and looked back at the glowing blue screen. The status bar was now one third of the way full.

“Don’t worry, once you do it the first time, it loads a lot faster every other time. Well, moving on, this here is your Inspo-Board. While you are patched in, you will highlight things you feel will drive their creativity.”

“How will I do that?”

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“You’ll grab it. Trust me, it will make a lot more sense once you get going. Once you grab it, you’ll add it to your Inspo-board. Every time you add something, the meter beneath it will start to fill up. Once the meter is full, then your Mortal is at peak Inspiration.”

“Then what?”

“Then, its your job to get them to use it! We are not only responsible for inspiring them but also getting that inspiration out. We do that with this button right here.” She pointed to an unlit orange button with the word “NUDGE” on the top. “Using the NUDGE button, you can steer your Mortal in the right direction, giving them little pumps of the Inspiration to get them going. But you have to be careful to not overuse the nudge button, otherwise you’ll push them past the point where they need to be. This leads to burnout and you’ll lose the items on your Inspo-board. But if you happen to get your Mortal going, you can control the flow of items from the Inso-Board yourself. Got it?”

“I suppose,” Agapé said, “but what happens when the Inspo-board is empty?”
“Then you’ll have to fill it back up.”
“How do I know if what I think is inspiring is actually inspiring to my Mortal, I mean, to

Xavier?”
“The potential effect of the element you grabbed is reflected by how much of the Inspo-Board

meter is filled when you grab it. Sometimes all you need is one thing. Sometimes you need more than one hundred things. But in an emergency, and ONLY in an emergency, you can push the MANUAL OVER- RIDE button. This will give you complete control over your Mortal and their words and actions will be your words and actions. The longer you are in control, the more likely your Mortal is going to have a mental break and lose touch with Reality. Use it sparingly. The Mortals that have experienced this call it a ‘stroke of genius’, but it’s really us.” She said with a wink.

The status bar on the blue screen was now full. The screen blinked off as the meters around her re-calibrated one final time.

The screen remained dark.

Aside from the blinking buttons that surrounded her, the only light came from the helmet that Idalia was holding in her hands. Faint sounds floated over to her from the earpieces.

“What’s happening?” Agapé asked.

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“Your Mortal is having a dream. The big screen in front of us will show you what he sees when his eyes are open but when he is asleep, there’s not much of a view. The helmet is the only way to see what he sees now. Ready to try it out?” Idalia held the helmet and gloves out to Agapé.

“Here goes nothing.” She took the items from her team lead and placed them in her lap.
“Put the gloves on first. It will be a lot easier that way,” Idalia advised.
Agapé did as she was told and put the gloves on, one at a time, and they lit up like an electric web

along her palms. She could feel the sensation of warm sand flowing through her hands. She rubbed her fingers together and as she looked at her empty hands she was sure she felt the familiar grit of a sandy beach.

“Good luck, Agapé. See you on the other side.” Then she was gone.
Agapé took one last breath and slipped the helmet over her head.
The sun was shining bright and the salty sea air filled her lungs. She caught glimpses of her lower

extremities and saw the strong brown legs of a man in his late teens. His hands were calloused and rough but very clean. There was no one around and Agapé walked with Xavier along his dream beach. The waves crashed beside them, spraying his face with cold water.

He thought of his mother. Of how she would spritz him with cold water from the sink when the days were almost too hot to bear and he would collapse in her arms from playing in their small yard. It made him happy.

Agapé didn’t know how she knew that, she just did.
Then something happened.
She felt a sensation come from deep inside her and she saw that feeling floating in the air before

her, sparkling and blue like the ocean. She reached out and grabbed it. It was cold in her hand. She looked over at her Inspo-Board and touched the feeling she held to its surface. The Inspo-Board absorbed it and it floated in a blue swirl on its surface. The meter blinked and one bar out of twenty illuminated.

“Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

She turned her attention back to the dream and watched a figure approach Xavier from the other end of the beach. His heart began to flutter as the figure took the form of a young woman. Her long black hair blew in the breeze and her skin shone like bronze in the sun. She walked up to him and spoke. As she

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did, Agapé could see her greeting swim through the air in hues of deep purple. She grabbed it and added it to the Inspo-Board. This time three bars on the meter lit up. The purple and blue danced and whirled around each other in harmony.

Agapé watched Xavier dream, plucking feelings and sights and sounds out of the air while he imagined what it would be like to be with this girl, until his Inspo-Board was full and he woke up.

“Wow, all from one dream! I’m pretty good at this!” Agapé thought to herself. “Now, to get him to use it.”

He opened his eyes and Agapé saw his room. The walls were bare and cracked from years of dis- repair. He slept on the floor on a thin mat for comfort. Papers with sketches and half written stories lit- tered the floor around him. His closet was empty except for a ratty suit and a few other articles of cloth- ing. He stood and shook the pain out of his back. Despite the aches, Agapé thought he felt strong and healthy.

He walked over to his window and looked out over the city from his fifth floor apartment. Smoke and fire still smoldered in buildings from the day before. The ground rumbled from the tanks that passed through the narrow streets. He closed the flimsy blinds and turned away from window. He knelt down and started to shuffle through the papers.

“Maybe now is a good chance to get him going.” Agapé pushed the NUDGE button and waited. Nothing happened.
She tried it again.
Xavier paused for a moment and looked over the piece of paper he just so happened to be hold-

ing. Angry words flitted through his mind as he read it. Thoughts of how the war made him feel. And what it cost him.

“No, don’t think of that stuff! Remember the dream!” Agapé nudged him again. His eyes softened and he grabbed the broken pencil closest to him.

“There you go!”
He wrote one word and that word was a name.
Vitória.
Then he gathered the papers into a neat pile, put them in his knapsack, and left.

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“Is that it?” Agapé wondered.

But, having no other choice, she went along as Xavier ate a sparse breakfast of jerky and stale water. When he left the house, she had trouble finding anything beautiful in the crumbling buildings and dirty streets. The cries of the displaced were grating to her. By the time he got to the town square later that day, Agapé had barely added to the Inspo-Board.

The square was full of people from the devastated town and even some from the neighboring cities. There was a man standing underneath the statue of a general riding a horse rearing up tall on its hind legs. He spoke loudly to the cheering crowd in his own camouflaged clothing promising change and peace. Xavier joined the crowd and cheered for the man who understood, that like them, he was a victim of the system meant to protect them, a system that had skewed to favor some over others.

“Libertar o país! Salvação e independência!”

They jumped and sang and into the late hours of the night. Each of them sharing their hopes and fears at the new world cresting over the horizon. Either they would rise with it or they would fall.

Agapé noticed that Xavier was a natural leader; when he spoke, they listened. His heart beat strong and loud in his chest when they planned their strategy to take back their country, to be free once and for all. The thuds of fists banging on tables and the chants of the mob snaked their way through the air like red hot barbed wire in front of Agapé.

She reached up and grabbed it. The anger burned her hands as she slammed it onto the Inspo- Board for relief. The Inspo-Board accepted it and seven bars in illuminated on the meter. It was the most any element had affected it.

“Wow,” she thought, “I always thought the point of love was to be happy. Why isn’t he inspired by the dreams he is having? They seem happy enough. They should be happy enough.”

As Agapé pondered this, the girl from his dream walked into the cavernous cafe and took a seat at his table.

Vitória.

They said hello to each other and her purple voice slid its way through the air like a goldfish in water and swam in circles around his head.

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As Agapé reached out to grab it, an explosion from behind Xavier sent clouds of fire and ash from one end of the room to the other. The stone building crashed around them and Vitória’s gentle tone turned to screams of pain. The once fluid purple of her voice turned jagged and sharp as it fused with the clouds of confusion and pain.

Agapé went with her instincts and grabbed the dark cloud with its vocal lightning bolts and threw it onto the Inspo-Board. The meter below glowed yellow.. Only one bar remained until it was full.

Soon, the building came down around them and everything went dark.

She pulled her helmet off and took a few difficult breaths. She considered going to get help from one of the more experienced Muses but the screen flickered to life before she could.

“I won’t leave you, Xavier,” she said aloud. She put the helmet back on and watched as her Mor- tal scanned the dark room for survivors. She watched as he dug person after person out of the rubble. Un- til that moment when he found his beloved Vitória.

As he looked over her lifeless body, a shape began to materialize in front on Agapé. Black and shapeless at first, it soon took the shape of a fuzzy caterpillar. It began creeping its way around, growing brighter with each inch until every hair on its body glowed white hot like magnesium. It was beautiful. Agapé raised her open hand and the caterpillar found its way into the middle of her palm. She placed it on the Inspo-Board and watched as the meter glowed green with completion.

Hours later, his compatriots came and pried her dead body from his hands (another sensation that although there was no room for, Agapé would never forget) and sent him home.

He sat and stared at the blank pages strewn across his floor and held his charcoal pencil limply. “Come one, Xavier! You have to get it out! You have to tell the truth of what’s going on here!” NUDGE.
Agapé pushed the button knowing that his purpose was on the precipice of being fulfilled.

But he did nothing.

NUDGE.

With tears in his eyes, Xavier let the pencil roll out of his hand and across the floor. He curled up and cried on the floor for his lost Vitória.

Agapé had no other choice; she had to push the button.

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MANUAL OVERRIDE blinked in bright purple above her as her body fell limp in her chair and she plunged into unconsciousness.

When she came to, her body was heavy. She stood and was alarmed by how far the ground was from her head. There was no screen and no console. Just everything that Xavier had in his room and could see through his own eyes.

I’m actually controlling his body! This feels…amazing!

She wobbled like a newborn as she got acclimated to this gigantic form and found the nearest piece of paper. She knelt down, almost hitting her, or rather, his head on the desk as she recovered the pencil from underneath it. She took to the paper writing everything that she needed him to say and every- thing he needed to keep going. Soon, the letters lifted off of the page danced in circles around her head.

Xavier was starting to burnout.

Please, no! I’m almost there!

The words smeared as she rushed them on to the paper. The sounds of explosions rang in her head but the room remained unchanged.

There were no bombs.

She was losing grip on what was real and she knew it was time to let go. If she didn’t, both she and Xavier would suffer. She relaxed and let her consciousness slip away from his. When she awoke, Xavier was sitting on the floor surrounded by papers full of his frenzied writing, each sentence continuing where she left off, until he collapsed from exhaustion and his Inspo-Board was drained.

Over time, it got easier for Agapé to grab the anger out of the air or to taste the sadness in their dinner. Every time Xavier’s eyes stung from the tear gas in his sweat or he pulled a piece of shrapnel from his scarred body, she grabbed it. She pulled from the hellhole that was his life without Vitória and threw it up on the Inspo-Board. Every time, it would come pouring out of Xavier onto the paper.

When he was done, he had a story.

It was the true story of what that war cost. How his love for a woman and his love for his country were all that kept him going. Xavier had intended to show it to one of the foreign reporters so that the world would know of their struggle.

But he would die before he ever did.

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On the day he was meant to meet the correspondant, Agapé had patched in and waited for the screen to calibrate. It remained black. Then the one button that she never wanted to see illuminated was flashing bright red.

Earlier that morning, Xavier arrived at a gathering of the revolution’s supporters a bomb explod- ed, killing everyone in attendance. As fate would have it, the knapsack that Xavier kept his manuscript in was undamaged and the reporter it was intended for found it in the rubble. That reporter then ran Xavier’s story in in the newspaper and after it had garnered enough attention and outrage, the book was published.

Through Xavier’s words, the rebellion’s efforts were bolstered. The king and his armies were de- feated and the people were finally free.

At the Museum, Agapé sat alone in her pod as the red button flashed. “CONNECTION FAIL- URE” it reminded her over and over again. Xavier’s startup disk was ejected from the Reality console with a sad whirr. Agapé pulled it out, held it in her hands, and for the first time in her life, cried over a Mortal.

The door behind her opened with a whoosh and Idalia walked in.

“It’s always hard the first time. You’ll realize that the Mortals that make a difference tend not to last very long. That’s how you know you did the right thing. Don’t let it get you down, ok?”

“…ok,” Agapé replied.

“Good! So! Are you ready for another one?” Idalia asked as she pulled another folder from be- hind her back. She offered it to Agapé.

Agapé took it from her hand and read the file.
With a deep breath, she slid the new startup disk in the Reality drive. “I’m ready.”

END

From this building, twenty-fours hours a day, seven days a week,  inspiration in all its forms is distributed to Mortals on Earth by a corporation known as the Museum. 

It is here that we find a newly minted Muse on her first day of work.

Her name is Agapé. Some of the younger sprites make fun of her because they have more modern names like Jason or Michelle. She can’t help it if her mother is the actual Goddess of Love who tends to take things like names a bit literally.

They won’t be laughing at her now. 

A coveted position, only the best of the best are chosen to be Muses. The others usually become Nymphs of this woodland or that spring. To Agapé, becoming a Nymph meant becoming part of a dull and overpopulated profession.

Agapé got ready before the sun crested over the eastern hemisphere and arrived at the ancient headquarters bright eyed and bushy tailed. (Although, her own tail is quite sleek thanks to a touch of cougar on her father’s side of the family)

When she arrived, Agapé realized that it was her first time seeing the Museum up close. Unless you are a Muse or on official Muse business, you are not allowed to take the Light Rail to its front doors. Until you were granted access, it was forbidden to step foot on the ancient platform. 

A crime punishable by death, for inspiration is a very serious business.

If a Mortal were to look upon the colossal building—however unlikely that may be—they would see the Pantheon’s columns, strong and tall. They would see the ogival towers of Angkor Wat, rising like budding lotus flowers towards the heavens. The light from the top of the world would glitter on stained glass of Notre Dame, warm the terraces of Machu Picchu, brighten the colors of St. Basil’s Cathedral, and slide down the canopies of Potala Palace. And of course this is what they would see, it is the birthplace of inspiration. It is not a mash-up of the things they would see on Earth but a catalogue of possibilities. The architecture of Earth is but a mere imitation of what the Original Nine had created with the Museum.

Agapé was feeling inspired herself.

“This way! This way! The others are waiting inside! We were just about to start!” 

A lavender skinned woman sashayed over to Agapé with her long purple plumage swishing on the ground behind her. It was apparent she was in a hurry. 

“Come on, babe! Inspiration waits for no one!” She led Agapé by the hand through the front doors of the Museum, who upon entry stood at the back of the medium sized crowd with her mouth, well, Agapé. Full of music and color, the atrium of the Museum was crowded (in the way that stars crowd the universe) as Muses congregating in clusters, sharing thoughts and ideas amongst themselves. 

One pair Agapé passed was discussing how a sunset really sounded:

“No, no, no, it’s about the hum of the purple! NOT the click of the orange!” Said the equine Muse, her broad hips rolling as she paced in place.

“Well,” the other replied, “that’s just wrong, isn’t it?”

As they continued their debate, the gliding violet woman assumed her position at the front of the throng and addressed the group:

“Hello and welcome to—drumroll please—the Museum! My name is Aileen and I will be your guide! This tour will move very quickly, because as I have said before and have no problem saying again, inspiration waits for no one, so please try to keep up! This way!” Aileen led them down a dim hallway occupied by nine podiums, each bearing the marble bust of a woman illuminated by spotlights. Their names were emblazoned on brass plates affixed to the stone base beneath them.

“Founded by the Original Nine just before the dawn of time, the Museum has grown as fast as the population of Mortals. Even with its great strides in expansion, the Mortals now outnumber Muses twelve to one. While our credo is that anyone can be inspired, we simply cannot afford to give every single one the attention they would need. So, here at the Museum, we apply a very sophisticated method in order to match a Muse with the Mortal most likely to manifest signs of their Muse’s influence. Each of the Original Nine is the head of her own department. Each of you will be sorted based on the results from your entrance exam and Oracle reading. From there you will be assigned a team lead. Then you will realize your full potential as a Muse and unleash your gifts, whatever they may be, on the world below. Won’t that be a delight? Oh, but don’t worry, they are all just as fabulous as the next! Oh, I love that word! Fabulous. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? I was there when it was invented! Oh, just seeing you all gives me so many ideas, so many good feelings! I can’t wait to share them with my Mortal, Hiro. Anywho! No time for rambling, time to move on to the next stop in our tour!” Agapé did her best to keep up as they darted through the hanging gardens and hurtled up the stairs in the ancient library. The observatory and dance studios on the uppermost floors had unobstructed views of the world below and heavens above.

“Views you will have the time to see once you are assigned a department and Mortal,” she reminded everyone with a smile. At the end, Aileen turned on her heels and led the group into a room where two more agents of the Museum were waiting on the opposite end of the room in front of a heavy wooden door. The rest of the room by comparison was just as heavy. Thick velvet drapes cascaded down the walls in crimson, navy, and aubergine and the floors absorbed the sound of their footsteps.

“Right this way! Wrap around everyone! There, that’s perfect. Now, this room is where you will all be receiving your assignments. My lovely friends at the other end of the hall will call your name. You will step up to the Oracle, who will read your flux and let you know what department best suits you. It is imperative that you remain quiet, otherwise the Oracle will not be able to get an accurate reading and your time here at the Museum will be very unpleasant. I remember one Muse who was misassigned. Poor thing didn’t last a month. Very sad. And with that, I bid you all adieu! Like I said earlier, inspiration waits for no one! Welcome to your new home, Muses.” She sashayed away, off to do whatever it is she did to conjure inspiration.

The group of new Muses stood there silent and exchanged nervous glances with each other. Before long, all eyes were fixed on the two standing on the other end of them room from them, holding their fates in their hands.

The Muse holding the clipboard stood opposite the other, who was seated on a raised pedestal surrounded by pillows swathed in silk and satin. In its lap, there was a brazen cymbal and felt covered mallet. Between them, the floor was warped from millennia of new Muses standing in place, awaiting their judgement.

In a booming voice much larger than his body, the clipboard Muse called the first name.

With an enthusiastic gait, the chosen one walked up to the Oracle and stood before it. The Oracle then raised its cymbal, lifted its other arm high above its head and struck the disk. The sound rolled through the air, each tone deliberate. The Oracle leaned in and and peered over the waiting candidate. 

The room quieted and in less than a minute the Oracle spoke. 

“Epic Poetry.”

The wooden door before the newly classified opened and they were ushered through to the other side by someone waiting out of sight. And that was that. The door closed and the next Muse was called forward. 

On and on they were shuffled towards their destiny. To Agapé and the rest of the new recruits, it was the same old bwong every time. The process was not as romantic as Agapé had imagined. For the root of all inspiration, it was all quite bureaucratic.  

Before too long, it was Agapé’s turn. The clipboard Muse called her name with that booming voice and she excused her way from the back of the crowd. She walked the short aisle, which seemed a mile long, and settled into the grooves left behind by her predecessors.

Agapé stood before the Oracle, whose pedestal was much higher than it seemed from the other side of the room, and wrung her hands together as she waited. She looked to the clipboard Muse, who was much smaller than it seemed from the other side of the room, and hoped for some looks of consolation or comfort but it was an indifferent stare she received.

The Oracle leaned in with its magic gong and struck it true, sending those deep vibrations throughout the room. Agapé felt them at her core, bouncing around like she was full of mirrors before they left her body. 

The Oracle gave Agapé a once over with milky eyes and sat back in its seat for a moment. 

“Lyrical Poetry.”

The wooden door opened before her and she was ushered through by those waiting on the other side. The one waiting for her was a Muse not much taller than she was with colorful designs running up both of her blue arms and onto her chest.

“Hi! The name is Idalia. I’ll be your team lead in Lyric Poetry. Agapé, right?” She extended her hand and shook Agapé’s wildly.

“Yes, that’s right,” she said after reclaiming her numb hand.

“Great! Follow me and I’ll show you where you’ll be working.” She turned on her heels and led Agapé through the atrium from the beginning of the tour. Agapé looked over all the groups clustered together and wondered which in one she would find herself.

“Excited?” Idalia asked, snapping Agapé out of whatever trance she was in.

“Yea, I suppose Iam.”

Suppose? You better get sure, girl! You are in the home of inspiration! We have the power to change the course of mankind! All those love poems and heroic deeds for the hearts of fair maidens, that’s all us baby!”

Just off the atrium there were nine hallways, branching off towards their respective departments. Idalia led Agapé through the third hallway from the left down a hallway marked LYRICAL POETRY. 

“And it doesn’t stop at poetry, either. Since our expansion, we’ve been able to incorporate sculpture, painting, and even architecture! As long as it’s about love, it’s all good. So! Welcome to the Lyrical Division’s Inspiration Hub!” She said with a flourish of her arm.

 The wall in front of Agapé stretched tall as she could see like a giant honeycomb. Each pod glowed with light and sound. Platforms carrying Muses to their stations whizzed by her head. Idalia pushed a button on the wall closest to her and summoned a platform for them. She stepped on and beckoned for Agapé to follow her.

“Come on! It’s not so bad once you do it. Before you know it, we’ll be at your very own inspiration console.”

Agapé stepped up onto the platform and grabbed the handle just as it began to zoom away towards her pod. In the blur, she could make out sounds of laughter, crying, shouting, and even the occasional moan of ecstasy.

“What is going on?” She thought out loud.

Idalia turned with a smirk on her face and answered. “You’ll see. Inspiration does different things to all of us. Who knows how you’ll react when you smell the color purple or find out what flying through the air really tastes like. Even madness has it’s place in creativity. But you also have to know yourself, it takes a strong Muse to keep her head once the Creative Juices start flowing. Once we arrive, we’ll see what mortal you are assigned to and then you’ll patch in.”

“Patch in?” Agapé asked as they slowed in front of an empty pod. 

“Here we are! Be careful, it’s a long way down.” Idalia helped Agapé step off the platform and to a panel next to a glass door.

“Okay, put your hand up to the pad and let it scan your palm. Once you register, you’ll be able to come here anytime. Only I or Erato can access your pod to check on things but it’ll most likely only be me. Erato checking on us is something that never happens. So go on now, put your hand on there. That’s right, nice and firm.”

Agapé placed her hand on the cold scanner and found it was more squishy than she thought it would be. The gel pad read her palm and a melodic voice greeted her.

“Welcome, Agapé.” The door swooshed open and Agapé stepped into a room just big enough for two people to stand. The console before her lit up as it powered on. There was a large chair with a helmet and wired gloves in the seat in front of it. Under the helmet there was a folder. Idalia picked it up and handed it to Agapé.

“This is the file on your Mortal. Take a peek and then insert the startup disk into the Reality drive. You’ll find basic information on your Mortal as well as their potential for change. This potential is calculated in the form of our Change Index, a tool developed when the human race grew past our ability to match individual demand for inspiration. The higher the number, the greater the chance they will change the world. The lowest needed to be assigned a Muse is two hundred but I’ve seen some as high as one thousand!”

Agapé opened the file and a photo of a young man was paper clipped to the front. His curly hair formed a halo around his brown face and made his gap toothed smile even brighter. His name was Xavier and he was a writer. An only child, he had grown up in the warm climate near the Equator to a schoolteacher mother and a father in law enforcement. Both were killed in the ongoing civil war the country has been locked in for the past twenty years. His score on the Change Index was a whopping 789. Agapé smiled down at his picture and grabbed the circular disk with his Reality from its pouch in the back of the file. Idalia showed her where to insert it and the console accepted the disk with a soft whirr. The screen in front of the chair was illuminated and a status bar flashed across it. A circle below it revolved as the Reality disk uploaded.

“So!” Idalia said, clapping her hands together. “As that does its thing, let me tell you a little bit more about your Inspiration Station. Have a seat.” She picked up Agapé’s helmet and gloves so that she could slide into the chair. 

“Ok,” she continued, “this is how we interact with our Mortals. The Reality Console is a machine that allows the Muse, that’s you, to see the world through their Mortal’s eyes. And not just see. But taste and smell and hear and feel it, too. The helmet allows the console to interface with you so that you don’t miss a thing. Once you are connected successfully, this light will illuminate.” She pointed to a dim green button embossed with the words “SECURE CONNECTION” in bold, black letters. Below that was a dim red button with the words “CONNECTION FAILURE”. Agapé let her finger trail over the top of it. Idalia noticed.

“You never, never ever, want that button to light up.”

“Why?”

“Because if it does, that means you have lost the connection to your Mortal by either failure beta, and your Mortal has experienced burnout to the point of permanent damage, or failure alpha: your Mortal died. Either way, they will never be able to create again. Your chance is over.”

Agapé pulled her hand back and looked back at the glowing blue screen. The status bar was now one third of the way full.

“Don’t worry, once you do it the first time, it loads a lot faster every other time. Well, moving on, this here is your Inspo-Board. While you are patched in, you will highlight things you feel will drive their creativity.”  

“How will I do that?”

“You’ll grab it. Trust me, it will make a lot more sense once you get going. Once you grab it, you’ll add it to your Inspo-board. Every time you add something, the meter beneath it will start to fill up. Once the meter is full, then your Mortal is at peak Inspiration.”

“Then what?”

“Then, its your job to get them to use it! We are not only responsible for inspiring them but also getting that inspiration out. We do that with this button right here.” She pointed to an unlit orange button with the word “NUDGE” on the top. “Using the NUDGE button, you can steer your Mortal in the right direction, giving them little pumps of the Inspiration to get them going. But you have to be careful to not overuse the nudge button, otherwise you’ll push them past the point where they need to be. This leads to burnout and you’ll lose the items on your Inspo-board. But if you happen to get your Mortal going, you can control the flow of items from the Inso-Board yourself. Got it?”

“I suppose,” Agapé said, “but what happens when the Inspo-board is empty?”

“Then you’ll have to fill it back up.”

“How do I know if what I think is inspiring is actually inspiring to my Mortal, I mean, to Xavier?”

“The potential effect of the element you grabbed is reflected by how much of the Inspo-Board meter is filled when you grab it. Sometimes all you need is one thing. Sometimes you need more than one hundred things. But in an emergency, and ONLY in an emergency, you can push the MANUAL OVERRIDE button. This will give you complete control over your Mortal and their words and actions will be your words and actions. The longer you are in control, the more likely your Mortal is going to have a mental break and lose touch with Reality. Use it sparingly. The Mortals that have experienced this call it a ‘stroke of genius’, but it’s really us.” She said with a wink.  

The status bar on the blue screen was now full. The screen blinked off as the meters around her re-calibrated one final time. 

The screen remained dark. 

Aside from the blinking buttons that surrounded her, the only light came from the helmet that Idalia was holding in her hands. Faint sounds floated over to her from the earpieces.

“What’s happening?” Agapé asked.

“Your Mortal is having a dream. The big screen in front of us will show you what he sees when his eyes are open but when he is asleep, there’s not much of a view. The helmet is the only way to see what he sees now. Ready to try it out?” Idalia held the helmet and gloves out to Agapé.

“Here goes nothing.” She took the items from her team lead and placed them in her lap.

“Put the gloves on first. It will be a lot easier that way,” Idalia advised.

Agapé did as she was told and put the gloves on, one at a time, and they lit up like an electric web along her palms. She could feel the sensation of warm sand flowing through her hands. She rubbed her fingers together and as she looked at her empty hands she was sure she felt the familiar grit of a sandy beach.

“Good luck, Agapé. See you on the other side.” Then she was gone.

Agapé took one last breath and slipped the helmet over her head. 

The sun was shining bright and the salty sea air filled her lungs. She caught glimpses of her lower extremities and saw the strong brown legs of a man in his late teens. His hands were calloused and rough but very clean. There was no one around and  Agapé walked with Xavier along his dream beach. The waves crashed beside them, spraying his face with cold water. 

He thought of his mother. Of how she would spritz him with cold water from the sink when the days were almost too hot to bear and he would collapse in her arms from playing in their small yard. It made him happy.

Agapé didn’t know how she knew that, she just did. 

Then something happened. 

She felt a sensation come from deep inside her and she saw that feeling floating in the air before her, sparkling and blue like the ocean. She reached out and grabbed it. It was cold in her hand. She looked over at her Inspo-Board and touched the feeling she held to its surface. The Inspo-Board absorbed it and it floated in a blue swirl on its surface. The meter blinked and one bar out of twenty illuminated.

“Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

She turned her attention back to the dream and watched a figure approach Xavier from the other end of the beach. His heart began to flutter as the figure took the form of a young woman. Her long black hair blew in the breeze and her skin shone like bronze in the sun. She walked up to him and spoke. As she did, Agapé could see her greeting swim through the air in hues of deep purple. She grabbed it and added it to the Inspo-Board. This time three bars on the meter lit up. The purple and blue danced and whirled around each other in harmony. 

Agapé watched Xavier dream, plucking feelings and sights and sounds out of the air while he imagined what it would be like to be with this girl, until his Inspo-Board was full and he woke up. 

“Wow, all from one dream! I’m pretty good at this!” Agapé thought to herself. “Now, to get him to use it.”

He opened his eyes and Agapé saw his room. The walls were bare and cracked from years of disrepair. He slept on the floor on a thin mat for comfort. Papers with sketches and half written stories littered the floor around him. His closet was empty except for a ratty suit and a few other articles of clothing. He stood and shook the pain out of his back. Despite the aches, Agapé thought he felt strong and healthy. 

He walked over to his window and looked out over the city from his fifth floor apartment. Smoke and fire still smoldered in buildings from the day before. The ground rumbled from the tanks that passed through the narrow streets. He closed the flimsy blinds and turned away from window. He knelt down and started to shuffle through the papers.

“Maybe now is a good chance to get him going.” Agapé pushed the NUDGE button and waited.

Nothing happened.

She tried it again.

Xavier paused for a moment and looked over the piece of paper he just so happened to be holding. Angry words flitted through his mind as he read it. Thoughts of how the war made him feel. And what it cost him.

“No, don’t think of that stuff! Remember the dream!” Agapé nudged him again. His eyes softened and he grabbed the broken pencil closest to him.

“There you go!”

He wrote one word and that word was a name.

Vitória. 

Then he gathered the papers into a neat pile, put them in his knapsack, and left.

“Is that it?” Agapé wondered.

But, having no other choice, she went along as Xavier ate a sparse breakfast of jerky and stale water. When he left the house, she had trouble finding anything beautiful in the crumbling buildings and dirty streets. The cries of the displaced were grating to her. By the time he got to the town square later that day, Agapé had barely added to the Inspo-Board.

The square was full of people from the devastated town and even some from the neighboring cities. There was a man standing underneath the statue of a general riding a horse rearing up tall on its hind legs. He spoke loudly to the cheering crowd in his own camouflaged clothing promising change and peace. Xavier joined the crowd and cheered for the man who understood, that like them, he was a victim of the system meant to protect them, a system that had skewed to favor some over others.

“Libertar o país! Salvação e independência!”

They jumped and sang and into the late hours of the night. Each of them sharing their hopes and fears at the new world cresting over the horizon. Either they would rise with it or they would fall.

Agapé noticed that Xavier was a natural leader; when he spoke, they listened. His heart beat strong and loud in his chest when they planned their strategy to take back their country, to be free once and for all. The thuds of fists banging on tables and the chants of the mob snaked their way through the air like red hot barbed wire in front of Agapé.

She reached up and grabbed it. The anger burned her hands as she slammed it onto the Inspo-Board for relief. The Inspo-Board accepted it and seven bars in illuminated on the meter. It was the most any element had affected it. 

“Wow,” she thought, “I always thought the point of love was to be happy. Why isn’t he inspired by the dreams he is having? They seem happy enough. They should be happy enough.”

As Agapé pondered this, the girl from his dream walked into the cavernous cafe and took a seat at his table. 

Vitória.

They said hello to each other and her purple voice slid its way through the air like a goldfish in water and swam in circles around his head. 

As Agapé reached out to grab it, an explosion from behind Xavier sent clouds of fire and ash from one end of the room to the other. The stone building crashed around them and Vitória’s gentle tone turned to screams of pain. The once fluid purple of her voice turned jagged and sharp as it fused with the clouds of confusion and pain.

Agapé went with her instincts and grabbed the dark cloud with its vocal lightning bolts and threw it onto the Inspo-Board. The meter below glowed yellow.. Only one bar remained until it was full. 

Soon, the building came down around them and everything went dark. 

She pulled her helmet off and took a few difficult breaths. She considered going to get help from one of the more experienced Muses but the screen flickered to life before she could. 

“I won’t leave you, Xavier,” she said aloud. She put the helmet back on and watched as her Mortal scanned the dark room for survivors. She watched as he dug person after person out of the rubble. Until that moment when he found his beloved Vitória.

As he looked over her lifeless body, a shape began to materialize in front on Agapé. Black and shapeless at first, it soon took the shape of a fuzzy caterpillar. It began creeping its way around, growing brighter with each inch until every hair on its body glowed white hot like magnesium. It was beautiful. Agapé raised her open hand and the caterpillar found its way into the middle of her palm. She placed it on the Inspo-Board and watched as the meter glowed green with completion.

Hours later, his compatriots came and pried her dead body from his hands (another sensation that although there was no room for, Agapé would never forget) and sent him home.

He sat and stared at the blank pages strewn across his floor and held his charcoal pencil limply. 

“Come one, Xavier! You have to get it out! You have to tell the truth of what’s going on here!”

NUDGE.

Agapé pushed the button knowing that his purpose was on the precipice of being fulfilled.

But he did nothing.

NUDGE.

With tears in his eyes, Xavier let the pencil roll out of his hand and across the floor. He curled up and cried on the floor for his lost Vitória. 

Agapé had no other choice; she had to push the button.  

MANUAL OVERRIDE blinked in bright purple above her as her body fell limp in her chair and she plunged into unconsciousness.

When she came to, her body was heavy. She stood and was alarmed by how far the ground was from her head. There was no screen and no console. Just everything that Xavier had in his room and could see through his own eyes.

I’m actually controlling his body! This feels…amazing!  

She wobbled like a newborn as she got acclimated to this gigantic form and found the nearest piece of paper. She knelt down, almost hitting her, or rather, his head on the desk as she recovered the pencil from underneath it. She took to the paper writing everything that she needed him to say and everything he needed to keep going. Soon, the letters lifted off of the page danced in circles around her head. 

Xavier was starting to burnout.

Please, no! I’m almost there!  

The words smeared as she rushed them on to the paper. The sounds of explosions rang in her head but the room remained unchanged. 

There were no bombs.

She was losing grip on what was real and she knew it was time to let go. If she didn’t, both she and Xavier would suffer. She relaxed and let her consciousness slip away from his. When she awoke, Xavier was sitting on the floor surrounded by papers full of his frenzied writing, each sentence continuing where she left off, until he collapsed from exhaustion and his Inspo-Board was drained. 

Over time, it got easier for Agapé to grab the anger out of the air or to taste the sadness in their dinner. Every time Xavier’s eyes stung from the tear gas in his sweat or he pulled a piece of shrapnel from his scarred body, she grabbed it. She pulled from the hellhole that was his life without Vitória and threw it up on the Inspo-Board. Every time, it would come pouring out of Xavier onto the paper. 

When he was done, he had a story. 

It was the true story of what that war cost. How his love for a woman and his love for his country were all that kept him going. Xavier had intended to show it to one of the foreign reporters so that the world would know of their struggle.

But he would die before he ever did.

On the day he was meant to meet the correspondant, Agapé had patched in and waited for the screen to calibrate. It remained black. Then the one button that she never wanted to see illuminated was flashing bright red.

Earlier that morning, Xavier arrived at a gathering of the revolution’s supporters a bomb exploded, killing everyone in attendance. As fate would have it, the knapsack that Xavier kept his manuscript in was undamaged and the reporter it was intended for found it in the rubble. That reporter then ran Xavier’s story in in the newspaper and after it had garnered enough attention and outrage, the book was published. 

Through Xavier’s words, the rebellion’s efforts were bolstered. The king and his armies were defeated and the people were finally free. 

At the Museum, Agapé sat alone in her pod as the red button flashed. “CONNECTION FAILURE” it reminded her over and over again. Xavier’s startup disk was ejected from the Reality console with a sad whirr. Agapé pulled it out, held it in her hands, and for the first time in her life, cried over a Mortal.

The door behind her opened with a whoosh and Idalia walked in.

“It’s always hard the first time. You’ll realize that the Mortals that make a difference tend not to last very long. That’s how you know you did the right thing. Don’t let it get you down, ok?”

“…ok,” Agapé replied.

“Good! So! Are you ready for another one?” Idalia asked as she pulled another folder from behind her back. She offered it to Agapé.  

Agapé took it from her hand and read the file.  

With a deep breath, she slid the new startup disk in the Reality drive.

“I’m ready.”

END

I thought I was going to wait until this was finished to write a little blurb about why I wrote it but I didn’t see a point. If I’m being honest, and I always try to be, this story arose out of a battle that I have been waging with the mice of the Northwoods and their attempts to establish dominance in my cabin. They are not winning but that has no bearing on the players in this story. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that mice, despite their size, are FEARLESS. Enjoy!

There is a legend among foxes of a cavern hidden deep within the mountains. Only whispers of its location remain, for no creature who found it has ever returned.

In this cave, there trickles a stream of magic water. It is said that one drink from its crystal pool would bestow the gift of immortality. It is said that a fox would become like crystal themselves.

It had been generations since a fox left the dale in search of the cave’s hidden waters. They had grown content with their fleeting lives among the tall pines and thick grass. Until one day, in a familiar  fashion, chance met a fox with a mouse.

The mouse had found itself in a shallow hole in the ground with an opening the tiniest bit too narrow for the fox’s paw. Knowing that the fox would wait until the mouse tried to leave the opening to capture him, he did what no mouse had ever succeeded in doing before. He stood on his hind legs and, with his strongest mouse voice, tried reasoning with it.

“Mistress Fox, I beg of you! Listen! Spare my life. For with my death comes the death of any hope of finding that hidden place where foxes find glory. You know of which I speak. By my grandfather’s grandfather’s word, I swear it is true.” 

“What do mice know of glory?” The vixen asked.

“We know where it hides. We slip through crevice, nook, and cranny and find lost things, as is our way. Many a useless thing we find but we never forget a sparkle in the dark. I can take you there…if glory is what you wish.”

Her amber eyes narrowed, skeptical of the offer. After all, a mouse will say anything to save its skin. The fox, thinking herself a clever creature, sat and thought of all the clever ways she could capture the mouse should this be an elaborate rouse for his survival.  Convinced she had not overlooked any scenario of escape, and content with a light mousey snack should they fail to reach the hidden cave, the young vixen agreed. 

“Well done, Mistress Fox! Well done! I shall take you the safe way. The Mouse way.” 

“The mouse way? I follow only one way and that is the fox way.”

“If you wish to reach the hidden cave, there is but one path,” the mouse urged.

“Very well. The lead is yours, Mouse.”

The vixen followed the mouse through the glen until they came to a vast grassland. A lone hawk sat perched in a dead tree in its center. 

“Here lies our first difficulty. It is imperative that you do as I do. Come, we’ve no time to lose.” “Can’t we just go straight through the grassland? I could pick you up in mouth and carry you to the other side.”

“It is our way to dart and dip and the way to the cave is braided in our memory. I’m sure a fox such as you will have no trouble keeping up,” the mouse smiled.

Hawk and harrier circled over head but the mouse safe under the belly of the fox traveled unseen across the grass “sea” that had claimed so many of his kind. For hawks are not known to miss/ignore OR are known to spy even the quickest of scurries. But never before had a hawk seen a fox move in such a way, Stuttering its way through the swaying grass, confused and jumpy. The hawk sat and watched as the fox zig zagged its way to the other side not knowing that a plump mouse was just underneath the belly.

When they were out of sight of the hawk, the vixen put a firm paw to the body of her escort.  “You made a fool of me, Mouse! Did you see the way that hawk looked at me? Now, word shall spread of a foolish Vixen with too much jitter in her step. Do it again and I will forget our little ‘arrangement’,” she said snarling.   

“Please! It was not my intention! It is the only path I know to take. Because of you, I was able to cross that vast grassland where so many of my forebears were taken. I promise, on my life, that it will not happen again.” He trembled beneath her claws.

“It had better not. ” The vixen took her paw from the mouse and smoothed her pelt in an effort to regain her composure. “Alright then, where to next?”

“To the Great Ravine, Mistress Fox. On the other side lies our goal.” 

 The pair walked in silence through brush and briar until the craggy entrance to the Great Ravine loomed ahead. The vixen hesitated, as no fox had ever crossed the Great Ravine and lived to tell the tale. She sensed her doom. The rushing waters at the bottom of the canyon thundered deep in her chest. The mouse, having continued on quite a ways, looked back for his companion. Before he could see her fear, the fox carried on.

They stood side by side and watched the river cut through the rock, rushing wherever it is rivers go.

“We mice used to have a way across but the river erased that path long ago. Now, only the most agile can catch hold where the hidden entrance greets you. You’ll know it when you see it. If you fail, we will both be at the mercy of the river.”

The vixen inspected the waters and scratched her ear absentmindedly as she formulated a plan. She scrunched up her fox a bit before speaking.

“I can get us there. Climb up on to my back and hold on tight.” 

The water was cold as she stepped down into the shallows. The mouse felt like a knot at the back her neck where his claws clung to her fur. She took one step, then two. The smooth surface of the pebbles at her paws were too slick. She sputtered as she fought the current to keep her head above water as the river carried her down, down, down. 

She bumped and banged against the boulders that stuck out of the water like jagged teeth until an odd sight greeted her ahead. A rock, carved by years of running water to resemble an outstretched claw, jutted out just over the water’s surface. In the chaos of the river, the mouse’s words echoed in her mind.

“Catch hold where the hidden entrance greets you,”  If she could just grab it, the vixen could pull herself out of the water and onto the ledge. If not, well, she preferred not to think about it. 

The vixen jumped with a mighty leap out of the water just in time to catch hold of the rock pile with her claws. She scratched and pulled her body onto the platform with gasping breaths full of water. She made it. But something was off. The knot on the back of her neck was gone. She frantically searched for the mouse until she found him laying near the other edge of the platform, soaking wet and unconscious. 

“Mouse! Mouse! Are you alright?” The vixen nudged him until his little black eyes opened and he let out a weak squeak. The vixen exhaled a sigh of relief as he wobbled to his feet and bristled his fur as one does on the first morning of winter.

“That was a close one, wasn’t it? Good thing I had you. Never would’ve made it otherwise! Come. It’s not much further.” And off he went towards the open mouth of the cave, vixen following close behind.

The air in the cave was crisp and free of scent. They made their way through the dark over rocks and down tunnels that led to other tunnels. The light was minimal but the rock surrounding them held a glint every so often. The deeper into the cave they went, the more that walls seemed to sparkle. 

“I thought I lost you back there,” the vixen said with concern. It surprised the mouse to see such care over a being like him from a being like her.

“We’re almost to our destination, Mistress Fox. Won’t be long now.”

The last bit of their journey brought them to a narrow hole with ample room for a mouse but barely enough for a fox. The mouse hopped its way over and began to walk into the black hole until he noticed the vixen wasn’t following.

“Come, Mistress. Just a little further. On the other side of this wall, glory awaits.”

She squeezed her shoulders against her body as flat as they would go and crawled into the tight space. It surrounded her on all sides and once the tip of her tail entered that hole, there would be no going back. She would have to continue or die. It was hard for her to breathe and the walls seemed to be closing in on her. Her world was dark except for a tiny pinprick of shimmering light up ahead. If the fox didn’t know better she would think she was crawling towards a star.

Relief washed over her as she freed herself from the tunnel at long last. She collapsed on the hard ground as she caught her breath. She would lay there forever is she could.

“Congratulations, Misstress Fox. You’ve made it to the hidden cavern of fox legend. Behold, the crystal pool!” The mouse’s words snapped the vixen back to her senses. She had made it! It glistened in the sunlight that found its way into the heart of the mountain through the hole in the ceiling. It was just as beautiful as the legend told. It was the deepest blue the vixen had ever seen.

The mouse let the vixen lead the way to the edge of the crystal pool. The water was so clear if was as it she was staring straight down into the earth’s core. She bent down to lap at it cold waters when the mouse spoke.

“Wait! I have one last question for you. What are you going to do with your newfound immortality? What do you hope to accomplish?”

“Well, that’s easy. I shall travel the land and take a fox’s rightful place as the ruler of the forest. I shall kill and eat as I please. All shall cower before me. Except for you. You shall be at my side until the end of your days.”

The mouse hung his head in disappointment. 

“Very well, Mistress Fox. Drink from the crystal pool and claim what is yours.” She leaned down and lapped at the cold waters. The mouse looked away.

He walked with a hung head through the tunnels of the cave until the scratching sounds of a

 mouse horde greeted him. The open chamber erupted in cheers. From among the mouse folk came one with silver fur covering his entire body. He beckoned to crowd.

“Rejoice! For our prince has returned to us!”

“Under hawk’s eye and over turbulent waters, our crown prince has returned from his year long exile triumphant! Not only did he brave the trials set before him, but he returned thanks to the hubris of our greatest foe, the wily fox! Now, he is back and we crown him, Lord Mouse of the Dale!” The mice cheered for their new king. A crown of crystal graced his head like as it did his father before him. And though he had accomplished what he set out to do, the mouse felt remorse.

He would go on to rule with a gentle hand and wise words until the end of his days but he would never forget the vixen doomed by the pool’s cursed waters. With one sip she was frozen in regret, forever crystalline. Forever silent. Long would the Mouse Lord’s story be passed down, from mouseling to mouseling, telling how he tricked a fox with a sparkle in the dark.

This is actually my very first story ever accepted by an editor for an anthology but due to reasons out of my control (and his, I believe) the anthology was never published. This was a cool one because the theme was based on the John Silence universe created by Algernon Blackwood. John Silence is a psychic doctor who uses his powers to diagnose his patients with otherworldly maladies. This story branches off of that idea and applies it to POC as psychic detectives battling foes from the Unseen, another dimension that houses unknown terrors. I always saw this story as continuing on and on as my main character get stronger. This story takes the form of journal entries so who knows? Maybe there are more pages left to her adventures….

Water Babies

September 24, 1959 – Entry #159

It was waiting for me in the shower. 

It wasn’t always there. 

Over the past few days it had been slowly getting closer and closer to the house. Water attracts them so the bathroom was a natural choice but compared to the lake just outside, it made me wonder: why here? 

There are tons more down by the lake, milling about like deacons in the church.

My grandmother called them “water babies” and said they were the ones who led the slaves out of the South up the Mississippi and into freedom. The more cautious travelers thought it was safer to settle here where there weren’t as many people. Figured they couldn’t get in any trouble if no one knew you existed.

But that’s where they were wrong. 

There’s always something watching from the Unseen. But that’s a story for another time.

But it was this water baby that had me a little concerned. No one knows what they are really called but I do know there were a lot of them back home in Georgia. They were especially abundant where my family lived up in Cherokee County on Lake Allatoona. During my unconventional education (which by any convention was very hard to come by for someone of my Color) I would learn that an intense battle during the Civil War was fought on the land under the lake. I would also learn that more than 1,500 lives were lost. 

I think that had something to do with the considerable number of water babies but I don’t have a way to prove it.

Yet.

Reminder: examine sites of major battles near water. 

But still, there were not as many of them at home as there are up here.

After the newly freed men and women started to settle I suppose the water babies ended their journey here too and even in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” there was enough of them to make it seem crowded. There are some areas where they cover every square foot. I hear that walking in areas like that is akin to walking into a pond. The school surrounds you but at a safe distance. You are not likely to bump into one of these.

But this one was different. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to one and I couldn’t help but wonder if this one was trying to lead me somewhere too. 

I think it knows why I came to this place. It has me feeling quite nostalgic considering the situation.

The lake was calm this evening, a one way mirror between us and the Unseen world.

I wonder if my creature had his claws pressed against the glass, picking its next meal from the pasture. 

Humans are the cows, if you didn’t know.

I wonder if normal cows know that they’re even meant for the slaughterhouse. One day, you’re minding your business, chewing your cud, and the next, poof! You’ve been chosen and you’re gone. 

It would be kinder not to know, I think.

That’s how it is for the rest of my family: shuffling through life blissfully ignorant. My relationship with my family is fine, I suppose. Ever since father died it’s been a bit strange but I don’t mind the solitude, if I’m being honest. We love each other very much but our interaction is limited to casual check-ins and gossip concerning those outside our family. Always outside of the family.

Through it all, family comes first. 

But Grandmother and I share something special. Grandmother and I can see the Unseen. 

Well, not “see” see. You don’t know exactly what they look like but each creature has a unique feel.

The feel kinda fills in the blanks, you know?

Of course you do.

I think about Grandmother a lot. Especially on nights like this. Her birthday is the day after mine and passed only four nights ago. When she disappeared I had to leave Georgia. I knew that it was a creature from the Unseen that took her but no one would believe me. It was a night like tonight, when the moon is bright and the water still. I was there when the giant monster broke through that mirrored lake and pulled her through. The police classified it as a missing persons case but they don’t worry too much when a Colored woman goes missing. They filled out the obligatory report and left it alone. My family figured it was a bear that got her. A bear! 

I knew I couldn’t rely on them either.

I was but a young Colored woman myself, barely out of my teens, and my resources were already minimal. 

Ever since I could remember Grandmother and I made a game of it. Solving our town’s most persistent problems, which more often than not were the results of lower level Unseen, had become a training ground for my budding psychic powers. Over the years my strength grew and so did the size of the Unseen we encountered. But through it all grandmother and I would defeat them.

We were a great team.

But this case is different.   

I pursued it alone for months relying on everything she had taught me to track down the bastard who took my best friend from me. 

Luckily, she taught me well and I tracked it to this lake.

It took me years but I found it. After many run-ins with the wrong sort of Unseen I was finally about to have a run-in with the right sort.

At least I hope so. His feel had waned over the past few days and I can’t quite put my finger on his location. The water babies are all that I “see”.

Another odd thing: the lake’s population of bald eagles had been steadily increasing over the week and with it the water babies were less and less. I think there’s a connection to the raptors’ presence and the lack of the water babies. I feel like the eagles are the heralds to something far more sinister.

Shame. I really liked eagles. I don’t want to think of them in that way.

Or maybe they are guards? Protecting a doorway that is soon to be opened? Perhaps it is the same kind of door that opened and allowed that thing to take Grandmother.

Yes, but back to the water baby still waiting for me in my shower. I feel drawn to it. Maybe this is the same feeling my ancestors felt when they took that long walk to freedom along the river. I have come too far to stop now. I always thought it strange that I never could feel Grandmother’s spirit when I could feel almost all other departed from my family. 

That means she is still alive, right?

It has to. 

So, wish me luck. I’m going to follow this water baby wherever it means to lead me and hopefully I will find Grandmother, too.

Or die trying.

Yours always,

S.L.

It is worth noting that although none alive have seen the contents of this journal, the penmanship of the following entry is that of a person still unsure of reality and who is also in a great rush.

Entry #160

I just got back today.

Not that I knew today was today. It feels just like yesterday. But thanks to the papers at the 46 Store I found out that today was November 17th, 1961. 

A full 2 years, 1 month and 24 days since I followed that water baby to the Unseen. 

Slipped right into the water and fell out on the other side. The eagles that night made quite the fuss as I got closer.

Maybe I should I have listened to them. 

I’m glad I didn’t.

When I washed up on the shore they were there again. Maybe they never left. 

I think the door only opens every so often and every time they’re there.

Reminder: research eagles and their psychic significance to natives.

It also turns out the water baby sort of had a life as a little girl in a town just over the border into Alabama. She was about nine years old and she lived and died over a hundred years before me, murdered long before her time. She was part of the necessary “migration” our people had to take and she wanted to show me something. 

See, Nanny, you were right. 

Reminder: William McGinnis, LOACHAPOKA

Anyways, on that night 2 years, 1 month, and 24 days ago she showed me the way.

The way in.

But there’s one problem…

No matter how hard I try I can only remember my time there in flashes. It’s like I was walking in a dream stuck in that little place between the curtains and the window. 

I hope it will come back to me. 

But I do remember the rage. It was everywhere and I felt bombarded by it the second I touched down. I’m afraid it won’t be contained for much longer. It took all I had to fight back the charging Unseen. Maybe it wasn’t the true Unseen world. I found it to be more like a giant waiting room for the bad things lining up to kill us and the real Unseen was just behind the curtain.  

Oh, I found Grandmother too.  

In that space between spaces I wasn’t alone.

She stuck out like a sore thumb with her light and together we kept the rage away. I don’t know how she survived this whole time but it was amazing! I’ve never seen our powers so in sync. And I’ve never felt so powerful.   

Although, the creature that took her was nowhere to be found. I find this odd. Grandmother’s recollection of events is fuzzy as well so I will continue to observe her for any clues to restoring our memory.

The cabin is pretty much in the same shape as it was when I left. Only the dust and cobwebs show the passage of time. 

Then there were the letters. 

Mother had sent two.

The first invited me to the then impending and long since passed wedding of my sister to the pastor’s son. 

The second was a bit more interesting. 

In the course of the time I was away, the country had changed. 

Colored people had changed.

The new president was ruffling feathers all around the world but the situation in the South was more volatile than ever. The fragile state of race relations had been pushed to its limit and was spilling over into the streets.  

The resulting hate, anger, and fear was the perfect feeding ground for the Unseen and they were flocking there in droves.

Unfortunately, my brother, as sweet and well-meaning as he is, had left home over a month ago to join the Freedom Rides to Alabama. 

He has no idea what he’s in for.

We are leaving tonight for Montgomery.  

Now that I think about it, I think that’s why Grandmother let herself get captured, to find the greatest clue of all. The Unseen are planning something big and we have to help stop it. 

Til next time,

S.L.

END

I initially wrote this story as part of an anthology where the world due to end by way of an alpaca-lypse. Yep, you read that right–an alpaca-lypse. I was just starting out as a writer and it was a bit of a stretch for my imagination but overall, this was a very fun story to write! Enjoy!

A Neck Above the Rest

The war with the Llamas had gotten out of control. The humans were largely ignorant to the secret battles but every alpaca birth, every new grazing beast, was an encroachment on Llama territory and a threat to their survival. Since the birth of our kind, the relations between our two races has been tense but one could say the war started when the humans took an interest in us and made the delineation between us all the more clear. The world was still young and the population of the human tribe was concentrated in the valley of our great mountains. Valued for our wool and embraced for our gentle dispositions, the humans nourished our growing numbers with care and love. Our larger counterparts were relegated to a more custodial position protecting us from other animals, of all things. A role they reluctantly accepted for if they were to refuse it, the humans would most certainly find another, more delicious, purpose for them. Of course, the occasional mountain lion or coyote would “sneak” through and disturb our peace but blame was hard to appoint.

And so we have lived, forced to be in such close quarters with our sworn enemies.

Until the year the war turned against us. 

Our side suffered extensive casualties when the introduction of plants poisonous to our kind ruined our pastures and killed over eighty percent of our population. The true cause has not been determined but most suspect it was the doing of the llamas. We’ve barely been able to survive since then. But thanks to the effect the plant had on some of us, we’ve developed an evolutionary miracle. Our spit now had the corrosive power of sulfuric acid and was our saving grace against the llamas. The only problem is that using the newly acquired advantage takes a serious toll on the alpaca who used it.  At most, an alpaca only has ten occasions where they could trigger acid spit before it completely degrades the throat and mouth. While the method does have incredible stopping power, using it more than needed would do more damage to the population than good. Luckily, this has discouraged the Llamas from retaliating but we fear that soon they will take advantage of our weakness and launch a full scale attack that will eradicate Alpaca kind for ever. We have come to a point in the war where we can change the course of history forever and save all Alpacas.

Or die trying.

The elders of the Alpaca tribe, led by the Most High Neck, had created a weapon. This weapon had the power to destroy all Llamas in existence and end the war for good. 

Unfortunately this weapon, by way of the fallout it creates, would also destroy the humans.

There were arguments both for and against using the weapon. On one hand, the humans cared for us, kept us in our rightful place above the Llamas. On the other, our kind will go extinct if we don’t. 

My name is Go and this is how the war between the Alpacas and Llamas finally ended.

On the final day we needed to make our decision, I woke up like any other day that came before it. My siblings were already awake and engaged in a mini debate similar to what gripped our herd in recent days. 

“We survived before the humans and we will survive after they are gone!” Kabo, my older brother, had risen among the ranks rapidly and was considered one of the highest Necks among us. He was one the staunchest supporters of using the weapon.

My younger sister, Eila, was the exact opposite. She was sickly as a cria and relied heavily on the humans help to survive. She tended to get a bit more emotional when subjects such as these came up.

“If we acted in this way with no regards for the lives that would be lost, then we are no better than the llamas! We should resume talks with their leader and see if we can’t come to some amicable solution. We have lived this way for so many years, can’t you see there’s enough room for all of us? We can join together and leave the humans behind!”

“Resume talks?! There is no reasoning with the llamas. We have tried over and over again and there has never been and there will never be a truce! The sooner you and the others realize that, the sooner you will get over what it is we have no choice but to do.” And then he left. That would be the last day he and I would be in the same room as brothers. 

The truth was I agreed with her.

I didn’t understand this war. I went through all the training and trials like a good macho but I could never bring myself to hate them. 

Our cousins.

“Why didn’t you say anything GoGo? He listens to you! He would’ve listened to you.”

“I’ve already tried, Eila,” I lied. I hadn’t really tried. Sure, I’ve had discussions where I’ve expressed my thoughts but when Kabo disagreed I didn’t do anything to try to convince him. I just let him have his thoughts and he left me to mine. And ever since Kabo was granted rank as a High Neck we hardly even talked anymore.

I decided to leave before my horrible secret came out. You see, unlike me, Eila was a fighter; any time she had an opportunity to talk about the injustices of the war or the stiff-necked beliefs of our leaders, she took it. This didn’t leave her very popular with some of the others in our tribe but she had more than a few on her side. She was a leader.

My place was close to the humans. My inability to get emotionally invested in this war had left me an outcast. Publicly shunned, the humans naturally thought the rest of my kind was excluding me because of some sickness so they fussed over me constantly. The little programming I did receive caused me to abhor their attention, my imposed punishment, but after a while I grew fond of it. Especially the young female who oversaw my grooming. I can tell she is well respected by her tribe and has several young ones of her own. She hums when she grooms me, like my mother. Of all humans, she is my favorite.

It is she I think of losing when thought of the weapon crosses my mind. She does not deserve to die, her family does not deserve to die, because we cannot control ourselves. 

It was on that day, the end of days, that I made my decision. I had never felt so sure of anything in my life. I had finally chosen a side and committed to it more than any other alpaca, even Eila.

I was going to warn the humans. 

How you ask? While humans have only been to able to crudely interpreted our sounds, we alpacas find their sounds to be quite easy to understand and mimic. Of course, direct contact with humans is forbidden according to Alpaca Law but if they are going to be wiped out what could the harm be?

With only hours remaining I decided to make my move during my ear inspection. I was sure to be alone with her and out of sight. When it came time to do it the sounds stuck in my throat. What was I supposed to say? Where do I start? I settled on using a sound that her young ones made to get her attention.

“Mamah,” the word came out clear and loud. I was quite proud of myself.

“Wow, little one, I’ve never heard you make that noise before. It’s almost as if you said my name!”

“Yes, I suppose I did say your name. Please. Try not to react.” But it was too late. She had dropped the tick removing apparatus and began to scream. So I did the only thing I knew to do and screamed with her. Either because she truly felt concerned for me or because she didn’t want any one to come and witness her breakdown, she set about comforting me when it was I who had scared her. 

Adding yet another to the many reasons why she was worthy of salvation.

She shushed the both of us until things had settled down and there was no sign of any one coming to check on us. She sat on the stool in front of me and stared at me. So I tried again. The words flowed easier this time.

“Mamah, please. Do not be afraid. I must tell you something. Your life depends on it,” she tensed up at my voice but did not scream. Her voice was small and quivering compared to mine.

“S-so you can talk?”

“Yes.” This was going to take a while if it was going to take her this long to catch on. I spoke as clearly and simply as I could, “humans are in danger. Big fight of Alpacas and Llamas is over. Big tool will end Llamas. And end Humans.” 

“Big fight? You mean to tell me that you are in a war? With the llamas. And that you have a weapon that will destroy the llamas and humans. When? When is that going to happen?” 

She was surprisingly astute. I should have allowed her the courtesy of shock but nevertheless I was pleased. I knew I had made the right choice, if I could get anyone to listen it would be her. 

“Tonight.” 

“Tonight?? Well, what kind of weapon is it?”

“One of great destruction and death. Only the Most High Neck and those of High Neck status know exactly how it will be triggered but it has to do with our spit.”

“Your spit?”

“Yes, it is very, what’s the word, melty. It will destroy everything in its path and only those who know the safe places will survive. Alpacas from over all the land have been preparing this weapon and they will release it tonight unless the Most High Neck says otherwise. I plan on bringing you and your tribe to one of the safe places and changing the Most High Neck’s mind.”

“Is that allowed?”

“I don’t know but I have to try. I have to try and save you.”

“Why? Why me?”

“Because of the way you hum. Because of the mother you are. Because of all that humans do for us. And because, of all humans, you are a neck above the rest.”

She looked at me and then the ground and then back at me. I could tell she was taking time to process this but that was a luxury we did not have.

“We do not have much time. It is now or never.”

She looked out at her family and turned to me with her answer, “What do I need to do?”

I was ecstatic. Any fear of reprimand from the High Necks was gone and I felt like I had a purpose. I showed her the location on the first peak of the tall hills where my herd is usually seen grazing, just past the high stone wall dividing the valley from the mountain range. After slight protest, I revealed the hidden path only Alpacas know and told her to meet me there when the sun is red in the sky.

I returned to the graze lands and she returned to her tribe hopeful that she could make them believe her. I found a place next to Eila, who was usually the only one to let me graze so close. She stopped chewing to talk with me.

“There’s a lot of activity in the human tribe. What do you think has gotten them so riled up?” Her eyes scanned the scene and her ears with pricked in an effort to hear but all conversation was taking place inside their shelters. 

Just as I told Mamah to do.

Even so, I could tell some were unhappy with what she was saying and brushing off her warnings. I wasn’t sure whether I should tell Eila what I had done. She was my sister and only friend left and I didn’t want to chance losing her too. But she wanted to save the humans, didn’t she? Surely, she would understand why I did it? What other choice did I have? I had finally chosen a side and it was hers! 

Wasn’t it?

I decided to tell her. Everyone was going to find out tonight anyways and I didn’t want her to be surprised. Maybe she could help me.

“I told one of the humans about the weapon. They are going to gather themselves and meet me at the path before sundown,” I blurted out. It was done and my secret was secret no more. I was oddly calm. Eila on the other hand was not. She spit out her cud and yelled in the loudest whisper she could.

“WHAT?! You broke ancient Alpaca Law? You know we are not to communicate with the humans! How could you, Gogo?”

“It was the only way! They are going to die and I don’t want that so I decided to do something about it. Isn’t saving the humans what you have been talking about this whole time?”

“Yes, but not by cluing them into the fact that our society exists! That we can talk! We should’ve just—“

  “Just what, Eila?. Hoped that a war that has been raging since the dawn of time would suddenly be resolved in one night of talking? On the eve of the greatest attack in Alpaca history? In all of history? At least my way has a chance of working. If we can’t save all of them at least we can save some. I thought you of all alpacas would understand.” 

“I……I do understand, Gogo. I do. And you’re right. What can I do to help?”

A weight was lifted off my shoulders and we prepared for the evening. Eila gathered together those who supported her stance and they met me at the foot of the path towards the safe place. The rest of the herd had slowly been migrating up the hill while the llamas stayed ignorant in their territory at the border of the graze lands. 

Mamah arrived as planned but only had a few of her human tribe with her. Six family units at the most. No one else believed her and so they went about with their lives and awaited their destruction. I stepped forward and spoke with my favorite.

“Is this all?” Those that traveled with her stood with gaping mouths and wide eyes at my ability. They knew now that Mamah was telling the truth. 

“Yes, little one, this is all I could get to come with me. It was very hard to convince the others.” She put her arm around one of her younglings and sighed.

“Very well then. This will have to do. Follow me.” Eila and her faction brought up the rear of the odd group and we made our way to the top of the hill and into the cave of the safe place. 

We were the last to arrive.

We were not well received. I could see Kabo standing near the Most High Neck with a look of hatred on his face. If it weren’t for EIla standing next to me I might have turned tail and run but as she stood there proud and neck strong, her strength gave me strength.

A loud grunt from the Most High Neck quieted the cave and the crowd split to make way for their leader. He walked towards me and the humans. It was a slow and powerful walk, one that only the wisest and strongest of us could possess. He stopped in front of me, and in Alpaca language, began to speak.

“What is the meaning of this?” His eyes bore down into me but with a reassuring look from Eila I answered him.

“Oh Most High Neck, I have brought these humans here so that they may be spared from the aftermath of the great weapon. Surely, they can serve as an example for us noble Alpaca to find another way.”

He spat at my feet and the acid sizzled loudly. He disapproved.

“And how, I wonder, did you get these humans to pack up their belongings and follow you to our safe place?”

“I spoke with Human noises and told them about the coming danger. There was no other—” The crowd grew loud with outcries from the rest of the alpacas. The Most High Neck screamed so loud that it echoed throughout the cave and we all shut up.

“You broke Alpaca Law? One of our most sacred and important commandments? I assume you know the penalty for this?” 

I did. 

It was death. 

“Yes, I do, my Most High Neck. But I cannot live in a world where I did not at least try. I would rather give my life for this than to live haunted by my cowardice until the end of my days.” 

My sister Eila smiled and added her voice to debate, “There are many among us who feel this way, your Most High Neck. Many of us believe that the humans are too precious of a resource to squander. They mend our broken bones, nurse our pregnant hembras and care for our crias as if they were their own. If there was a way for you to call off this attack—“

“I will do no such thing. We survived before Humans and we will prosper long after they are gone. They are a young race and the earth will not miss them. End of discussion.” The Most High Neck turned and headed back towards the platform where his chosen generals stood. He addressed all Alpaca in the cave now.

“My tribe, whom I love so much, the time has come for us to end this war. The time has come for us to end all Llama.” The entire cave shook with the stomping of feet, an obvious show of approval from the masses. “While there are some of you out there that may not agree with what I have decided to do and I say to them this: I tried. Just like the Most High Neck before me and the Most High before him and on and on to the beginning of this war, I tried to reason with the Llamas and there was nothing, NOTHING, I could say to make them see reason. But I am not without a heart. Tonight, one of our young Alpacas has brought a group of humans into our secret place. And while he has broken one of our most sacred commandments, he has also shown a great deal of bravery. He upholds a great Alpaca belief and is a prime example. All life is precious. And as so, it is my decision that those humans who are in our presence now shall be spared from the great weapon and allowed to care for us in the time after. This is final. Now, High Necks, release the weapon.”

Mamah touched me on my flank and I turned around to face her. “Little one, what is going on? What happened? Did you convince him to see the humans in the valley?”

“Your tribe is going to safe.”

“That’s great! You did it, little one! So we can go back to our homes?”

“I’m afraid not, Mamah. The other humans you brought with you tonight are your new tribe. The Most High Neck has decided that you and your group are to allowed to live with us in the time after this. The others will not make it. I am sorry.” She ran outside and I followed, wanting to comfort my favorite even though I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t happy. I told her about the weapon and I saved her, why is she still sad? 

I wish I hadn’t followed her out there. It was my first time seeing what the great weapon was and it was horrible. After we were gifted our acid spit, the Most High Neck from over one hundred generations ago decided that we should set out to collect all we could in one place and unleash it on the Llamas when we had enough. The stone wall separating our lands from the lands beyond was actually a dam holding back years of our acid. When the Most High Neck gave the word, the dam was broken and the great weapon unleashed.  She sat on the cliff overlooking the valley and watched as the valley was destroyed by wave after wave of our acid spit. The screams of human and Llama alike filled the night air as the great weapon dissolved everything from mountain base to the great plain. By sunrise, all that remained was the scalded land and stench of what lived there before. 

It was done. The Llamas were gone. The humans were gone. Except for my favorite’s new tribe, the whole world was Alpaca. And with our herd of Humans we begin a new era.