muse n: 1 capitalized: the Iconic Goddess of Light 2: any of the lesser light spirits presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences 3: any source of inspiration
Malcolm stared at the definition with contempt, rubbing stubbornly at a headache growing behind his right ear. Art wasn’t a choice for an Icon. It was a calling. It was a way of life. It was expected of him, and at sixteen… an Icon with no gift… he was plagued by the mockery of his entire village. Only his friend Elysa treated him like any other boy.
Her tiny hand came to rest on his shoulder. “What’s the matter, Malcolm?”
“You know what’s the matter,” he growled. Everyone knew what was the matter. Icons were artists, and artists have muses. You found your muse, or rather she found you, usually by the time you were six or seven years old. She chose your gift for you, your art, your Iconic purpose. Without her, you weren’t an artist. You had no purpose. You didn’t belong. Malcolm had no muse.
Elysa glanced nervously around the library and then over his shoulder at the dictionary. “Your muse will find you,” she reassured quietly. “I know she will.”
Malcolm stopped rubbing at his headache. His shoulders slumped under the tremendous weight of her encouraging hand. “How can you say that?” he moaned. “How can you sound so sure?”
“She always comes. Everyone’s comes.” A tiny falter in her voice belied her doubt, sinking Malcolm’s mood deeper into its self-perpetuating gloom.
“It’s too late, Leese,” he grumbled. “You know it’s my seventeenth birthday tomorrow.”
“It is,” Elysa agreed. “Maybe she’s just waiting until your advancement. Maybe she will surprise us all tomorrow.”
“There isn’t going to be any tomorrow,” Malcolm snapped.
“What are you talking about?” Elysa gasped in alarm.
“There isn’t going to be any advancement.”
“What do you mean?”
“I won’t spend my birthday an embarrassment to my family. And who would want to come anyway?”
“I would.” Elysa choked a little as she said it. It hurt her to see Malcolm aching the way he did. “There has to be an advancement. Everyone has an advancement.”
“Everyone has a muse, now don’t they!” he yelled angrily. His hand shot forth and slammed the dictionary shut, knocking the book loudly to the library floor. “Everyone but me!” He buried his head in his hands.
Elysa recoiled in surprise. Her eyes darted apologetically around the room to each of the few patrons now staring at them in annoyance. She watched in frustrated silence as his shoulders heaved with his heavy, hollow breaths.
“Can you keep a secret?” she finally whispered when his breathing had slowed.
Malcolm nodded sullenly.
Elysa put her hand timidly to his chin and pulled his head gently from his hands to face her. A look of deep sorrow filled her eyes. “I don’t have a muse.” Her voice trailed almost to empty silence.
Malcolm whirled. His eyes flashed fire. “Is that it?” he yelled again. “I’m that pathetic? I need you to save me from what a pathetic wretch I am?”
Hushing sounds echoed from around the library. Elysa looked frightened, and she began to cry. She clasped her hands together trying to stop herself from trembling. “I… I w-wasn’t l-l-l-ying…”
Malcolm glared at her, fuming. The gravity of what she’d said was almost unfathomable, but gradually it began to dawn on him. It must be true. No wonder Elysa had always treated him differently. It made sense, but it made no sense. “But you’re an artist,” he said, in control of his volume again. “You’re a writer. You’ve been writing stories since you were little.”
“Artists have muses,” she argued, struggling to rein her emotions. “I don’t even really know what a muse is. I just always pretended.”
“Then where does your inspiration come from?” he lowered his voice to a proper library whisper.
“I don’t know. From pretending, I suppose.”
“But you write such great stories!”
Elysa shook her head. “They write themselves. I just pick up the quill and they write themselves.
Malcolm’s face fell dark. “This better not be another of your stories.”
Her eyes went wide in earnest and she shook her head frantically.
“You mean the words just come without you thinking them up?”
She shrugged. “I suppose. Not like that, though. The whole story comes at once, but I don’t know what it sounds like until I write it. It’s hard to explain.”
“Why have you never told me before?”
Elysa’s eyes looked apologetic, but her lips would not comply with the apology.
Doubt crept back into Malcolm’s head. “You have a muse and you just don’t know it,” he said. “Anyway, it’s a bit late for me to start pretending now, isn’t it?” His eyes tossed the words her way as matters of fact.
“It’s late for me too,” Elysa said.
“I mean it’s getting dark out. I have to go.”
“I’ll walk you home.”
Malcolm returned the dictionary to the table, and they started from the library together. The sun had already disappeared from Icon’s twilight sky, twinkling attendants carrying its train of light quickly behind it. The two friends turned away from the streets and out across the fields, their customary route to Elysa’s home. The fields offered comfort, no one chanced to taunt him. They walked in silence at first, the burden of her confession weighing down Malcolm’s tongue.
Elysa stopped in the middle of the field. “It’s you,” she said.
Malcolm stopped too. The sky was already too dark to make out her expression clearly.
“It’s you who has a muse and doesn’t know it.”
He peered in close. Elysa’s eyes glistened sincerity under the trickling sunlight and the warm glow of the stars. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“You are the artist and the art,” she replied. “Your muse is none other than the Goddess of Light, Malcolm, Muse herself. Your art is everything that you touch.”
“I don’t understand.” Malcolm was truly confused.
“Touch the sky,” she demanded.
“No one can reach the sky.” This was surely a side of Elysa he hadn’t met before.
“I didn’t say to reach it. Just touch it.”
Malcolm looked up. Even the closest star was millions upon millions of miles away, but Elysa’s words swelled in his head like music. I just always pretended. He stretched out a finger, reached it out up into the sky… and he… touched it!
Lights, colorful lights, brilliant lights, erupted from his finger and painted the sky with their glow! He pulled his hand down in surprise and turned to Elysa. “Did you see that?” he asked excitedly.
“Did I see what?” she asked.
“The lights… the colors… just now… with my finger…”
The expression on Elysa’s face made it clearer with each phrase she’d seen no such thing.
“You didn’t see anything, did you?”
“Look at the sky,” she said. “Isn’t it beautiful now?”
Malcolm looked back up. Myriads of colors called to him now in tiny twinkles, pinks and blues, reds and yellows, greens and violets… He stared at them in wonder. It had to be some trick.
“Everything you touch is like that, Malcolm. It’s always been that way.”
“Then why did I never see this before? Why did no one else see it?”
Revelation washed over him and he looked down with renewed wonder at Elysa. Of course she never had a muse! He reached out and brushed her hair away from her eyes. The most beautiful hair he had ever seen revealed eyes that melted him with their magic.
“It’s you!” he whispered. “You… you’re…”
“…really looking forward to your advancement tomorrow,” Elysa said with a hopeful smile.
© 2012 Anne Schilde