Short Story: Muse
(Inspired by Prince Ariel from, “The Fairy Tales of Madame D’Aulnoy.”)
by Dorlana Vann
Since Jackson couldn’t channel his frustration onto the blank page, he used his fist to pound it into the desk. “Ahhh,” he cried, swooshing his fountain pen and several loose pieces of writing-paper to the floor.
His caged birds squawked with excitement from the sudden movement in the quiet room. Feathers flew. Jackson stood up, his breaths labored and lonely. “I’m sorry ladies. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
He draped a stack of dark sheets over his arm. “Are you ready for your beauty sleep, my Echo?” He covered her and moved on to Valley, giving her several sweet kisses. Continuing his ritual, he covered all twenty birds leaving Isis, his two-foot Scarlet Macaw, as his last goodnight. She blinked her yellow eyes at him.
“Sleep well, Love,” he said and then ran his fingers through his slick hair, noticing how dark and stale the room had become.
He opened the window, lit a lantern, and picked up the paper and his pen, setting them back on his desk. He thought about writing another letter but knew they were only stall tactics. “I’m a novel writer,” he reassured himself. “Now write something novel!”
He felt anxious. There was nothing left for him to do. He had moved to one of the most crime-ridden areas of London to conduct his research. When observations had stopped inspiring his writing, he had taken it to the next level. The first hand accounts had given him dozens of pages: a feel for the weapon in his hands; the reaction on the faces of the women when they knew they were going to die; and the color and temperature of the blood. After each attack, he had sped home and written feverishly, until the words stopped, died on the page—
He conducted more studies, pushing himself to the limits of his own capacities. “Why am I still blank?” he said in a sob. “Why?”
Isis began to squawk in her cage, beneath her cover.
“Shush,” he said off-handedly. “I’m having a difficult enough time as it is.”
“Let me out.”
Jackson turned his head slowly toward the covered cage. He listened. Sure she could talk: “Pretty lady.” “I love you.” But never “Let me out.”
She said it again.
Jackson scooted his chair back and stood abruptly. “Was that you, Isis? Did you learn something new?”
“Open the cage, Jackson. Let me out.”
Jackson shook his head, trying to clear the confusion. Obviously, because he was exhausted and tense, he was now hearing things. That’s all. However, he eased toward the cage. One step—stop. One step—stop until he stood in front of the cage. Swiftly, without thinking, he uncovered Isis.
She sat on her perch, head down, asleep.
“Isis?” he whispered. “Was that you?”
Jackson’s heart thumped when he heard rustling coming from the other cages, the sheet coverings moving.
But then he remembered he had opened the window. After taking the six steps to the window and ignoring the lack of breeze, he closed it.
He turned around and gasped, backing against the window, hands stretched out—palms wide, like he was keeping the walls from closing in on him. All the cages were uncovered.
It seemed like morning: birds bounced, stretched out their wings, walked, and whistled, however, much more so. The cage doors were open, and the birds began to explore. Isis, eyes open now and sitting on her perch in her home, stared at Jackson.
Jackson peeled himself away from the window and cautiously moved toward her. “Love?”
“Come closer, Jackson.”
He felt terrifyingly wonderful. Sweat gathered on his brow and above his lips. “Isis? Do you understand me?”
He tried to steady his blinking; he shut his eyes hard and then reopened them. “Why now? Why not before? I have told you my most intimate secrets and feelings and you never spoke an intelligent word.”
“The time was not right. I am here when you need me most. Let me be your inspiration.”
“Oh, Isis! How I do so need someone to talk to. I have many a troubles. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me now.” He put his arm in her cage, enduring the sharp claws he usually protectively wrapped his arm against. He stroked her red feathers. “My beautiful, Isis, what words do you have for me? Do you know what I must do to finish my story?”
“You have watched, but you have never felt. In order to achieve realism and depth, you will need to experience the pain for yourself.”
“Yes, yes! I see. I see what you mean. But how? How can I achieve this insight?”
“I will be near whilst you sink the edge of your knife into your skin. Not too deep my dear, just enough to feel a twinge.”
“Marvel upon marvel, you are my muse!” He set Isis on the back of his chair and ran to his bedside table and pulled out his knife. Its long thick blade still stained from his latest research project. “Where? Where shall I feel it?” he asked, sitting on the edge of his bed.
“The same as you wrote. The same as you gave.”
The coldness of the blade against his neck caused his heart to quicken with excitement. He stared at Isis as she moved her head to and fro with tiny jerks. “Just this fills my head with ideas, with words.” He sucked in his breath and pressed a little harder, the sting bringing quiet tears to his eyes. “How absolutely stimulating.”
He heard them before he saw them, but only by a second. All of his beauties came towards him, Isis in the mix, their feathers, and beaks, and claws causing his hand to yank deeply inward and then slide to the side. Falling backward, Jackson still imagined how his ghastly and perfect pain would translate onto paper.
As the feathers settled and the squawks calmed to a low murmur, Jackson’s last breath was accompanied by his last vision: five faint ghostly figures dancing above him. He heard the words, “Jack the Ripper, our story ends in revenge,” as his eyes closed.