Silence is not always golden ... 3rd place 10/2009 Quotation Inspiration Contest
|Muse was my first story to hit print. It was accepted to Something From The Attic on 10/08/2010
Hunching his shoulders against the cold November wind, the lone man wove through the crowd. Dark and brooding, his somber aura was at odds with his surroundings. All around him the quaint New England town prepared for the holiday season. Store windows twinkled with tiny white lights. The old gas lampposts hung heavy with garland, bows and bells. Fragrant pine wreaths hung on nearly every door while the tantalizing scent of hot coffee, chocolate and tea wafted on the air as storeowners tempted their clientele with cookies and candies of the season. Feeling the weight of curious gazes, the man kept his head low and lengthened his stride.
His destination offered no reprieve. A hushed silence fell over the small bookstore the moment he ducked through the doorway. The bell sounded harsh in the stillness as the door latched behind him. He paused awkwardly, peeling off his leather gloves before cupping large hands to his lips to warm them with his breath. Catching the eye of the store's proprietor, he gave her a curt nod of greeting. Draping his coat and scarf over a cozy chair, he rolled his stiff shoulders and gave his neck a snap. A woman with a small child scurried out of his path like he was Sasquatch come down from the hills instead of a reclusive author. His lips twisted in a grimace at the thought, part annoyance part amusement.
Stepping to the New Releases, his cold blue eyes raked over the holiday glut with thinly veiled revulsion. His own writing stalled of late, he had hoped to find escape in a finely told tale or two. Instead, he found fluffy tales of riches and romance, celebrity cook books, oodles of self help drivel, and fiction with the same tired regurgitated plots. Whoever had coined the phrase "what's old is new" hadn't been referring to literature.
Idly trailing his fingers down crisp spines, he strolled down the aisle, hoping something would jump out at him. The muted whisper of lowered voices around him told their own story. It seemed absence made the gossip sweeter. He hadn't left his sprawling estate since the funeral, over three years ago now. Rubbing at the back of his neck, he tried to ease the tension gathering there. The media, in their infinite wisdom, had diagnosed him as severely agoraphobic, something Patrick didn't quite agree with. While he wasn't what most would call a people person at the best of times, he was able to leave his home and function in society when needed. The fact that he often went years without leaving his property was irrelevant. It was personal choice, not a phobia. Right now he wasn't very fond of his decision to come into town. Unfortunately, necessity had forced his hand. Nearly a month since he had released his housekeeper, supplies at the house were meager. This stop was more a bracing for the trip to the grocery.
Emerging from between the towering shelves, he was surprised to see an artful display of his own works serving as a centerpiece for an expansive offering of New England talent. That was some lofty company. Jezebel drew his eye as always. The Courtesan series was in his mind and heart, his finest work to date. The tale followed the heroine, an immortal beauty with the curse to bear the name Jezebel, through the ages. A unique blend of historical erotica with a paranormal element, the first four books had each spent significant time atop the New York Best Sellers list in both hard cover and paperback. Frustration built within Patrick as he traced his rendering of Jezebel that graced the cover art. Writers block had held him in its bitter grip since his wife's death. Three years of silence was a burning purgatory for a writer. He ached to hear his muse's sultry whisper and escape back into his work.
The bell's harsh jangle heralded a new arrival, tearing Patrick from his reverie. He shot the intruder a look of cold resentment, lip curling in a sneer. Ensconced in a bulky Army surplus parka, tattered jeans, worn Doc Martins, and toting a sturdy backpack, the newcomer was a living, breathing caricature of a hitchhiking vagabond. His lips parted, a scathing remark all but dripping from his acid tongue. The words died as she flipped back her hood.
Politely stomping the freshly fallen snow from her boots, Jess stepped over to the toasty gas fireplace. Dropping her backpack in the corner she tugged off her mittens, splaying her fingers towards the heat. Self-consciously, she finger combed her long, dark hair, trying to tame the static. Eyeing the coffee pot, she fumbled in her jeans pocket for a few wadded bills.
"Help yourself to something warm to drink and some cookies, honey."
Jess turned to face a petite, older woman regarding her with a knowing smile from behind the counter. She exuded small town warmth, managing to make even a stranger feel at home. Smoothing her hair again, Jess smiled shyly, murmuring,
Nibbling on a saucer-sized sugar cookie, Jess surreptitiously surveyed the store. Twin Oaks was a picturesque little village, like stepping back in time. Settling at the table nearest the fireplace, she stirred generous amounts of sugar and creamer into her coffee. From the reaction of the patrons here, she was going to guess they didn't see a lot of strangers. The clerk's easy acceptance had surprised her. Hitchhikers, vagabonds, drifters, or gypsies, whatever label society assigned to them, those with the wanderlust were generally met with suspicion and sometimes, downright abhorrence. Catching the drift of conversation it seemed it was her lucky night. The gossipmongers had already zeroed in on a victim.
For Patrick, time stood still. His courtesan of the ages, the incomparable, immortal Jezebel, stood before him dressed in the lowly guise of a modern day gypsy. His hand shook as he wiped it over his craggy features in disbelief. The vision remained. A ragged chuckle escaped him and he glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed he had lost his mind. His eyes darted back to her as she ran her fingers through her long dark mane, giving the tresses a shake as she massaged her scalp. Leaning back in her chair she stretched. When she looked up he could see the faint circles under her dark eyes, speaking of her weariness. She scrubbed at her face, pale skin flushing under the press of her fingers. His hand twitched, aching to trace the flawless lines of her natural beauty. He closed his eyes, drawing a shaky breath, struggling to compose his tenuous grasp on reality. His mind whirled. His soul burned. As melodramatic as it sounded, she had to be his.
The flash of headlights behind her drove Jess off the road, and into the fencerow. She was always leery of hitching at night, preferring a lit travel plaza or service station rather than the lonely roadside. The vehicle slowed and she pressed deeper into the tree line. A dark Durango eased off the shoulder, coming to a stop a few yards from her.
The window slid down, an interior light casting the driver in a faint glow. She recognized the towering blonde from Jacqueline's bookstore. Her new friend had identified the target of the town's gossip as reclusive author, Patrick Cote. Jess had taken a gander at his work while she warmed up. The man's scorching transcripts hadn't hurt, even if they had left an empty ache in their wake.
"Can you type?"
The three little words hit Jess like a brick. She thought she had heard every come on line known to man. She had been wrong.
"Type...to write using a typewriter or word processor. What part of the question confused you?"
His caustic tone and the highbrow sneer on his handsome, craggy features made her Roma blood boil. She bit down on the inside of her cheek, trying to remind herself that she was alone alongside the road with a stranger over twice her size.
"I type and am familiar with several word processing programs. Are you in need of someone to handle your fan mail, Mr. Charming?" She snapped back with only a tad bit of sarcasm.
"Actually, darling, I generally can handle that load. However, I am in need of someone to type up handwritten pages, cook and clean," he replied, humor coloring his crisp tone.
"I note you did not bother to inquire if I cook or clean. I add chauvinistic to my growing list of your character flaws."
"Well of course you can, darling. You are a woman," Patrick murmured drolly.
"Please enlighten me. Why is it that you think I would jump at the chance to work for an arrogant, caustic, chauvinistic ass like yourself?" Jess asked with an arch of a dark brow.
"A roof over your head, good food in your stomach, three thousand dollars a month salary and the opportunity to spend the predicted worst winter in three decades in the company of an arrogant, caustic ass that will keep your perfect brows arching and your delectable lips quirking."
A snort of amusement escaped Jess despite her best efforts.
"You forgot chauvinistic."
"Some may call my outlook old fashioned, but I have never believed in the generalization of superiority by gender alone." Patrick replied and leaned over to push the passenger side door open.
"Touché." Jess conceded with a small laugh. Taking the open door as an invitation, or a command, which she was not quite sure, she swung her backpack off her shoulders and climbed in.
"Patrick Cote," he introduced with an extended hand.
"Jess Michaels," she acknowledged, his huge hand enveloping hers.
Firelight played off pale, flawless skin as she hurled blankets, pillows, and dire threats in a stunning fury. Parts of Patrick long dormant stirred as artist and man responded to his Jezebel. His fingers itched to caress the keys again, to lose himself in the nirvana of the written word. She spun, chest heaving in exertion, rage, and fear. Ebony eyes darted franticly about the room in search of a weapon or means of escape. The chain cut short a dash for the door and she fell. Drawing herself back to a crouch, she fumbled with the padded leather cuff around her ankle. Her fingers ran searchingly over the padlock securing it and tugged futilely at the chain. Finally rattling the heavy ring set in the flagstone hearth, a primal scream tore from her throat.
"In time, my beauty, you will understand you belong back with me," Patrick soothed.
"You are delusional. Come back up out of the rabbit hole and rejoin reality. I'm not Jezebel. She doesn't exist outside your warped mind," Jess snapped.
"Save your acerbic tongue, my treacherous harlot. I made you what you are, placed you on a pedestal, and yet when another needed just a few months of my time, you deserted me. Three long years I suffered your petulant silence. Trust me, my darling, when I say you will never leave me again."
The menace in his baritone and icy certainty of his gaze made Jess backpedal, masking her retreat by turning to seek the warmth of the fire. A ball of terror twisted in her gut. Her mind whirled, searching a way out. How many dire warnings from friends and families had she laughed off? The shackle on her ankle burned. Her gypsy soul protested bonds of any kind. The minutes crept by, marked mockingly by the tick of the grandfather clock and Patrick's soft touch on the keys. Desperate for a diversion, she shifted to read his words and wished she hadn't.
Nothing mocks a man quite like silence. Silence is a subtle dagger to the heart, wounding far worse than the most viperous whisper. It was a lesson Jezebel learned in the early centuries, one she paid dearly for, and one she never forgot.
WC ~ 1997
An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.