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General

I sit. 

I stare. 

I type “I sit, I stare.” 

I delete delete delete.

Here I sit in my Writing Chair, a tattered leather recliner I bought used from a downstairs neighbor for twenty dollars. A bargain, really, when you think of the seven, no, eight, historical novels I have written from this chair. The late afternoon sunlight has found its way through my apartment window and onto the tabby in my lap. Together, the sunlight and cat gaze expectantly at my screen. As do I. 

The deadline for the ninth adventure awaits. It occurs to me that I am nothing more than an indentured servant under the command of Lord Robert Nancarrow, Captain of the legendary HMS Stoutheart, peerless in daring exploits, the dread of all who challenge his beloved Royal Navy, passionate yet discreet lover of women, character of my own creation.

Nancarrow does not sit or stare. Nancarrow acts. Usually. But today he has nowhere to go. I have sailed him to the Barbary Coast, where he will spread order, justice, at times, mercy. And an assortment of STDs, no doubt, but that is just between the two of us. Today he stands waiting, one foot on a coil of rope, staring at me with a raised eyebrow. 

Well?

Entitled bastard.

No, seriously, that’s his backstory.

The tabby, my little Buttinsky, yells at me. He wants food, preferably fresh from the can, ideally tuna. He always wants food. This is the sum total of his existence: eat, sleep, eat, pee, poop, yell at me, repeat. And if I could sit around all day long in a fur coat instead of t-shirt and sweatpants, we would be indistinguishable. 

To Butt’s dismay, I scooch my tush deeper into the chair. I look at the screen. Nancarrow waits. Buttinsky waits. Hell, I wait.

I got nothing.

The silence in the room is tangible, oppressive. I do not have a grandfather’s clock, but I can imagine it all the same. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick.

I am saved by laughter outside my apartment door, followed by the jiggling of the doorknob. The door flies open, and two women burst in, so entangled in a swirl of limbs and hair and laughter that I cannot tell them apart. They trip and fall into the sofa, where they make out. Aggressively. A bra narrowly misses me. I sit back, arms folded, trying to decide whether I should be outraged or enticed.

One of these, the skinny brunette, is my girlfriend. 

No stranger to animal passions, Robert Nancarrow would never stand idly by as two winsome bounties perform the sweetest music known to human . . .

Ugh. I just can’t. Sorry, Bob.

I stand, pull my bathrobe tighter around the waist, walk past them, and shuffle to the bar, where I pour myself a nice cabernet. Just to lubricate the gears, you know. The tabby ignores the lovers and cries again for supper.

I know, I know, just wait, one more sip, maybe two, or a glass.

My girlfriend throws one arm over the back of the sofa and hoists herself up, her face flush and her hair falling carelessly over her eyes.

“Oh, hi, baby,” she says. “Sorry, we didn’t notice you were here.”

“Don’t mind me,” I say. It is clear they do not.

“How’s the writing going?” she asks.

“Robert is being petulant,” I begin, but then I see her hold up a finger as her eyes roll upward.

“Okay,” I say, then I head to the kitchen.

I find a three-ounce can of whitefish pate and peel back the lid. The odor no longer bothers me. Buttinsky figure eights my legs. I bend over, dump the contents in the unwashed bowl. I’ll get around to cleaning it eventually.

While I am bent over, I catch him staring at me, judging me. I look deeply into his eyes, two radiant black holes enticing galaxies into their span. My legs teeter slightly and the deck of my galley kitchen lurches. The back of my brain somersaults over the front, and I can no longer control my wobble.

I spin. My feet slide out from under me, my arms windmill, tossing the cat food, the plastic spoon, my dignity. I hope I am a whirligig, elegant and beautiful, but I’m more of a human blizzard. I grit my teeth, ready for the inevitable crack of my head on the bar, on a chair, on the floor.

But the crack never comes. 

Believe me when I say that sentence alone is more interesting than anything I’ve written in the past six months.

***

I do not stop. I do not land. The spinning continues, upward and into the cosmos, and I feel like I am going to retch. I have to get off, get my bearings. I flip my body over, under, left, and right, trying to reorient myself. At last, I settle onto my back, my limbs spread-eagled. It’s awkward, but my stomach calms, slightly. 

I am in a black sea of white, yellow, and blue stars, buoyed by armies of three-dimensional shapes, millions of them, tiny little things: pyramids, cubes, rectangular prisms, spheres, dazzlingly diverse in color and size. Together they carry me while chanting, singing, laughing. I have never seen a circular cylinder guffaw, but here we are. It is the oddest sensation, like lying on a bed of nails with my feet elevated above my head, my knees bent, my arms stretched before me. I am riding to Elysium on a Lite-Brite recliner.

I do a double-take when I see Buttinsky to my left. He is terrified, of course, trying to run away, but there is nothing to use for traction and the shapes of color coo and aww as they carry him aloft. At last, he gives in and allows himself to be transported. A whiff of tuna floats by, and he smiles blissfully. His purr rumbles through space like thunder.

A chariot pulled by white diamond horses zips between us. A green stripe holds the reins, laughing. Tall, skinny, and giddy, the green stripe looks back and offers a cheery salute. We outrace comets as we roar past planets and their moons. 

I do not remember taking any hallucinogens today.

At last, we approach a bank of cloud dust, and I am hoisted into an upright position before an older gentleman standing behind a lectern, making notes. Still a little wobbly, I manage to stand at attention. The moment seems to call for it.

“Let’s see what we have here,” he says. “Ah, the author of the Nancarrow tales! Wonderful! Big fan, big fan.” He stands en garde, then swishes an imaginary saber, laughing. “To the brig, you scurvy-laden rapscallions!” He is acting out a scene from one of my novels, I think. I have no idea what is going on right now. 

“St. Peter?” I ask.

“Yes, if you say so. Such an honor. We understand you are in need of a muse, and God would like to have a word with you about that, I believe.” 

“Of course.”

He raises his eyebrows. “Ooh, of course, she says.”

I am being mocked by the Keeper of the Keys to Heaven. At least he’s not making out on a sofa with Gabriel, but still. I feel a need to defend myself.

“No, I mean I’m dead, right? So, I have to go before the throne of judgment?”

“Sure, kid. Whatever makes you feel comfortable. Let me guess, you see in front of you an old white guy with a beard, robe, and sandals. Lectern, Book of Life, quill pen, that whole schtick?”

“Um, yeah.”

Peter laughs. “You people.”

I feel vaguely insulted. Maybe I misunderstood.

“You heard me. Okay, stop staring at me with your weirdo cultural neuroses and get in there. God is waiting.”

Not exactly how I planned this to go, but then again, I can’t say that I planned on any of this. Ahead of me is a tall gateway, measured in elephants standing on elephants. Don’t ask me how I know this. It must be a hundred elephants tall and fifty elephants wide. 

“Are you seeing this?” I ask Buttinsky, but he is gone. Off to animal heaven, I suppose. Good for him. 

I take my position in front of the magnificent arch, awaiting the sound of trumpets.

Nothing happens. 

“Again with the ego,” Peter says. “You’re over here.” He points to an arched doorway, six feet tall, covered with a black nylon curtain hanging on a shower rod.

Yeah, that seems about right.

I walk through the curtain, and more shapes welcome me, lifting me on their spherical shoulders. They carry me to God, who is, no surprise, tall, dark, and handsome.

Blindingly so.

“My bad,” says God.

The space around me dims, and my eyes adjust.

“I’m so glad you could make it,” the Lord says. “Imagine this, the author of the great Robert Nancarrow novels right here in my home. What a treat!”

I blush. “Thank you?”

The Almighty grins at me. 

I’m not sure what to say or do. Or where to look. I aim my eyes down-ish.

“Look at me, all tongue-tied,” God says, shaking fists and squealing with delight. “I’m such a fan, ever since Trade Winds of Valor. I’ve read every book, and I’m always one of the first in line when the next is released. But you ended The Schooner of Montserrat with such a cliffhanger, I can’t wait to read what happens next!”

I am confused. “Next? I assumed that the stories are over now that I’m dead.”

“Dead!” God says with a laugh. “Who said anything about you being dead?”

“I thought Peter . . .”

“Oh, that’s Pete for you, what a jokester. No, no, you’re still very much alive, laying on the floor of your kitchen. The ladies will be there to help out soon. And I have to say, those two . . .” God makes a little growl and gives me an air high-five.

I respond with an anemic and utterly awkward hand raise.

The Holy One sits down on a throne sideways, legs over the armrest. A stapled manuscript appears, whoosh, in the sacred hands.

“Your latest. The Mechanical Nightingale. Hmm. I understand you need a little inspiration. Let’s see what we’ve got here.”

“Wait,” I say. “It’s not finish --”

“Buh, buh, buh.” 

God reads.

God is reading my work in progress. God is a fan. What would that endorsement look like on the back flap of a dust jacket? I feel dizzy. I feel giddy. Enchanted.

A choir, wait, no chorus of angels appears. They sing. The melody is exquisite, the harmonies haunting. Glory exudes from their smiling countenances. I’m so delirious, I might puke. All but a few of the angels cover their faces, dialing it down for me. The remaining few with uncovered faces beam. They are so happy.

God puts on readers and flips a page.

I wait.

I discover that time, if there is any such thing in this Holy City, slows down until the concept itself is meaningless. In the meantime, I want to sing with the angels. I want to run and whoop and dance. But the sheer, unadulterated power of ecstasy has frozen me in place. I would ask for a chair, but moving my mouth would mean stifling my ridiculous, glorious grin.

He flips another page.

The angels still smile, hovering in unison. How do they do that?

A tiny gold pyramid giggles its way out of my pants pocket. 

I’m dying of curiosity. I know I shouldn’t, but I let go of my smile long enough to say, “I wasn’t sure about the point of . . .”

“Shh.”

God just shushed me. 

And God is a very slow reader. Who knew?

Thorough.”

“Sorry?”

“Thorough, not slow.” 

“Oh, right, the whole knowing-my-thoughts things.”

God looks over the readers. “Do you mind?”

“Sorry. Yes, go ahead.”

I start counting the angels. I skip count by gazillions.

I wonder what the proper format is for giving credit to the Alpha and Omega in the Acknowledgments section of my book. I’ll have to finish the book first, of course, but with God as my Muse . . .

“I see,” says God. The manuscript disappears.

“Not quite finished, of course,” I say with a little laugh.

“Hmm.”

We are quiet for a long time. I try to remember if I have written anything God might find offensive, but I’ve read his work and no, probably not.

I clear my throat. I raise the pitch of my voice, trying to be cute. “So. What did you think?” A bit more demanding than I intended.

“Well, yes, I mean, it’s all so . . . you know,” God says. Taps lips.

Uh-oh. 

The God of Creation sighs. ”Uninspired.”

I blink my eyes.

“I was expecting a little more oomph, you know, pizazz, maybe a new surprise or two. But it’s all a bit too much on the nose, know what I mean?”

My stomach turns.

“Nancarrow defeats his enemies, romances the ladies, saves the Crown, yadda yadda yadda. It’s all just so . . . what’s the word? Ah, yes, uninspired.

“So you said.”

“Don’t be offended.”

“Oh, no, not at all. It’s fine.” But I’m lying. The truth is, I am offended. Just a little. “Uninspired, you say.”

“It’s no big deal. Happens to everyone. If I’ve heard people say Leviticus is a little draggy once, I’ve heard it a million . . .”

“Uninspired,” I say again.

“Look,” says God, “If you don’t want my opinion, no problem.”

“Not want the opinion of The Creator of All That Is? God, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, the, the . . .”

“Omnipresent. Everywhere you go. Every breath you take. Every move you make. You know, it’s amusing, but people think that song is about a stalker, but it’s really about me,” God says.

“I can see the confusion.”

“Hey, now,” says God with a little edge. I feel a wind spin around me, then move on. Angels glance at each other nervously but hold their smiles in place.

“Of course, I want your opinion,” I say, “but I was hoping for a little more detail.”

“Well, my first thought was to simply say meh, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“But the thing is, inspiration is kind of your department, isn’t it?”

“I dabble.”

And that is that. I am humiliated. I am incensed, no furious. I am electric with bitterness. So, I unload. I rage at the Sovereign of the Universe. My diatribe ranges from a catalog of personal indignities, including my depressing childhood, my dissipating fame, my crash-and-burn love life, and my acid reflux, to the inchoate mysteries of human existence made even more unbearable by the apparent indifference of capricious deities. And where the hell is my cat? 

I stand there, apoplectic and desperate for breath. I have bared my soul.

“Meh,” says God. “I’ve heard worse.”

I scream.

God shrugs. 

I am hyperventilating. The angels look concerned. I have to take charge of my breathing. Nice and easy. Hands on my knees. Slow in, slow out. 

This has been very disappointing.

When I feel steady, I say, “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll take my cat and go home now, please.”

“I’m sorry this didn’t go as well as either of you planned, but what did you expect?”

“A muse.”

“Creator of All That You Survey not good enough?”

“Apparently not. Cat, please.”

“Fine. Don’t let the door hit ya where I split ya.” God explodes in laughter.

“Oh my god.”

“You rang?”

“Cat. Please. Now.”

***

“Baby, baby.”

I wake up. My girlfriend is caressing my face.

“I’m so sorry,” she says. “I didn’t know a little love time with Starlight would be so upsetting for you.”

“Starlight?” I call. “Where are you?”

Starlight appears and helps me sit up. They make a lovely couple.

“You two like Beyonce?” I ask.

“Hell, yeah.”

“Perfect. Two tickets are on the bulletin board. Put some clothes on and go have fun.”

They kiss me. 

I find my way to my laptop, open it, find Robert.

Prepare for your last voyage, Captain Nancarrow. Fare thee well.

I write. The words fly out at light speed.

Buttinsky appears beside the chair. 

“Hello, old friend,” I say, “My fellow traveler!” 

He stares at me expectantly, but I can’t stop now. The words are flowing, tumbling, rolling, spinning like a million tiny, tittering shapes of color pouring out of my brain. I have to write while I can. I have to create, without inspiration, muse-less. Buttinsky leaps into my lap, and I reposition him against my chest so I can keep typing. I pause long enough to look into his eyes, rub his ears, and scrunch and stroke his fur. 

“So,” he says. “That was weird.”

So, I have a talking cat now, I see.

I would stop and marvel, but I really need to write.

“Tuna for supper tonight?” he asks.

I nod and keep writing.

He purrs and settles in.

June 20, 2020 00:05

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10 comments

Lynn Penny
18:31 Jun 25, 2020

This was hilarious! I can see this winning, totally deserves it! The cat was my favourite.

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Steve Stigler
19:07 Jun 25, 2020

Thank you! Win or not, I'm glad you enjoyed it. And of course, Buttinsky the cat was essential to the story, ha ha!

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Greg Gillis
01:29 Jun 24, 2020

Excellent story. The interaction with God was original and amusing. I found myself laughing out loud more than once. I would, however, be careful with punctuation. There was one possible typo I found as well... "He raises his eyebrows. “Ooh, of course, she says.” Was that supposed to read " he" instead of she?

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Steve Stigler
14:10 Jun 24, 2020

Thanks for the input, Greg. I appreciate it! In my mind, the narrator is a woman, so that particular pronoun is correct. I'll definitely review the punctuation. I'm glad it made you laugh!

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21:15 Jun 20, 2020

This story is a riot. I literally laughed out loud several times, or 'lol' as the kids say.

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Steve Stigler
13:50 Jun 21, 2020

That was the goal - I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Sarah Heroman
23:33 Jul 31, 2020

This was delightful! So unexpected and so funny! My favorite line is "I am riding to Elysium in a Lite-Brite recliner."

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Steve Stigler
00:11 Aug 01, 2020

Thanks, Sarah!

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Mry M
07:45 Jul 22, 2020

I enjoyed reading your story Mind checking my story?

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Steve Stigler
18:36 Jul 22, 2020

Thank you, and yes, of course!

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