March 12-in-12: Dedicated to bobturn.
|Mother's lips dipped into a frown as she scanned BoB's latest chapter of writing. Shuffling from one foot to another, he tapped his quill nervously against his thigh, splattering black ink across his tunic and the wooden floor. A coil of anxiety knotted his stomach as he waited for her review.
"HUM. UGH. GROAN," Mother shook her head and pressed the manuscript back into BoB's sweaty palm.
"Onomatopoeia, my dear, don't get your knickers in a twist. All that glitters might not be gold, but BoB can turn any lemon into lemonade."
BoB dropped the quill onto the coffee table, wadded the paper into a ball, and tossed it like a basketball into the incinerator mounted to the wall. A flash of orange and yellow licked at the paper, drowning it in flames. BoB waved away the acrid smoke wafting into his nostrils and flopped down on the couch.
"No, Father. Mother is right. That piece was bad. Real bad," BoB closed his eyes and rubbed at a headache gathering behind his left eye. "In fact, it was so bad it could have unraveled our whole world if I'd entered it into The Site."
"I know, Mother. Thankfully you caught my mistake in time." BoB's eyes popped open as he bit his lower lip. "I don't know what to do anymore. When I'm able to write, everything comes out wrong. For the most part, though, I'm stuck sitting in front of a blank page for hours on end. I feel...lost."
"No use banging your head against a brick wall," Father squinted past his spectacles, "Looks like Writer's Block is calling the shots."
"Writer's Block?" The blood dribbled from BoB's face, leaving him pale and shaky. He had once caught well-metered whispers at Lyric Corner that Writer's Block was a powerful Shaman. With one thought he could bring ruin or greatness to a scribe. And for some reason he had allied himself with the Inkan tribe that lurked on the outskirts of Script Valley.
"But I thought he and his people were banished long ago!" BoB cried past dry lips.
"Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger," Father snorted, "Writer's Block and his tribe may have gotten the short end of the stick but they find ways to stick it to you every chance they can get."
"I've heard their leader, Deadline, is a vicious taskmaster," BoB murmured, "And yet, why would he send Writer's Block to prevent me from contributing to The Site? It just seems...counterintuitive! Without our scribblings, this world would cease to be."
"You're preaching to the choir," Father's laugh boomed across the room. "Just don't forget, every cloud has a silver lining. You can get rid of your fair weathered friend by taking up a quest to see the Guru."
"WHIMPER," Mother's hands wrung together. Father glanced at her before planting his hands on his hips. His stubbled chin lifted as if he were challenging the Great Author himself.
"Are you a man or a mouse?" he barked, "A boy as fit as a fiddle as you are should be able to make the journey without a world of trouble!"
BoB considered his father's idea. His vision glazed as he stared out the window. In his mind's eye he could see himself walking, leather satchel slung over his shoulder. The dusty dirt road would cross the raging Ink River before cutting into Illustration Forest where a host of strange woodland creatures were rumored to live. It was said that the path to the Guru was easy until one left the woods and arrived at the base of the Paper Mountains. BoB tried to visualize those craggy, white peaks but his imagination petered out.
"You think the Guru could help me put pen to paper again?" BoB glanced at his father. One brow betrayed his skepticism by rising toward his hairline.
"Does a bear shit in the woods?"
"SHUSH!" Mother's fair face blossomed red. She tapped one distraught foot against the floor and glared at Father. A hint of a smile tugged at his mouth but he ignored her admonition and placed a hand on BoB's shoulder.
"Don't wait for the ink to dry," his eyes bore into BoB's until they both nodded.
"I'll pack a few things and go before the sun sets. With any luck, I'll be sitting on the peak of Mount Didactic with the Guru before dinner."
BoB snatched his satchel and tossed in a few red apples, a loaf of day-old bread, and a tin of his mother's mouthwatering synonym rolls. Tossing a wool blanket over his shoulders, he hugged his mother and stretched out a hand to his father before stepping out the door.
"The writing's on the wall, my dear," Father said, hugging his wife to his side. "No need to sugar coat it. It was just a matter of time before he'd have to learn to play with the big boys."
BoB lifted a hand for one last wave. His sandals left a trail in the dirt for any who might choose to follow, though he knew nobody but him would be interested in seeking out the Guru. After all, Writer's Block had come after him alone.
Plumes of dust flew up into his face as he followed the one road out of Genre Village. Fighting the urge to glance back at the straw-covered roofs that housed his tribe, BoB stuck his fingers into the satchel and fumbled for an apple. The sun shone down on his fair head as he tromped along, crunching the sweet fruit and swiping at the juice that dribbled down his chin. It wasn't long before he arrived at Ink River. The breeze played with BoB's hair as he paused to study the rushing black rapids before crossing the wooden bridge.
The gurgling ink faded as BoB trotted toward the forest, his hand cupped over his forehead as he squinted at the sun. The trees stretched their long limbs and knobby roots in an attempt to trip but BoB skipped away from their cold, eager fingers and raced from their shadows until he emerged safe on the other side of the woods.
BoB's sandaled feet slowed until he stopped at the base of Mount Didactic. The craggy rocks looked like wadded up balls of paper, with one stacked on top of another. BoB felt his jaw drop in awe as he gazed up where the tippy-top of the mountain rested against the clouds.
The base of Mount Didactic boasted of jutting rocks. There were plenty of easy handholds in the bulging rocks. BoB glanced at his scrawny arms and shook his head. He was a scribe, not a climber.
"At least, I used to be," he whispered to himself, "And perhaps the Guru can help me become one again." His eyes flickered over the rocks, seeking out a path. With a shaking hand he reached forward and grasped a rock. His fingers dug into the gritty niche separating it from the rock above it. His muscles pulled taut as he hefted himself up.
It took a few minutes but BoB soon had a rhythm to his climbing. One hand would reach, blindly searching for a nook or cranny to cling to, and he would strain to lift his legs up to a knobby outcrop. One foot would usually slip as he pulled himself up and he would crack his chin on whichever rock was in front of his face. As he hugged the side of the mountain he would squeeze his eyes shut and force his quivering body to keep going. It became a game, in his mind, trying to guess which foot would slide from the mountain side and send pebbles skittering to the ground below. His left foot was ahead by ten points when his sore, dirty fingers scratched the peak of the mountain.
With one last grunt, BoB forced himself up and over. His body, grateful to cease its straining, rolled across the top of the mountain. Flinging a dirty forearm over his sweaty brow, BoB enjoyed the cool breeze that blew across his bruised face.
When he stood, BoB's legs wobbled like a landlubber on a ship. Shielding his eyes from the sun, BoB scanned for the Guru but all he could find was a woman dressed in white, sitting cross-legged on a flat boulder, red hair glowing like fire under the sun's rays.
"Hello? Excuse me, ma'am?"
One of the woman's eyes peeked open, "I might be getting old but I wouldn't call myself 'ma'am'."
BoB felt the heat of a blush spread across his face. "Sorry, ma' — uh, I mean — "
A smile spread across her freckled face. "The name's Genipher, but most in these parts call me Guru."
"You're the Guru?" BoB's squeak echoed across the mountain's peak.
"You were expecting a dude, huh?" Genipher chuckled. Her eyes popped open and fixed on BoB's face. "Everyone does." Flipping her long hair over her shoulder, Genipher patted the stone next to her. BoB hesitated for a moment before ignoring his protesting body and crawling up next to the Guru.
"So what's so important that you'd risk life and limb to climb this deathtrap, BoB?"
BoB watched his jaw drop in the reflection of her blue eyes. "How did you —"
"C'mon, BoB, I'm a redhead and a Guru. We know everything. For example, I know you don't speak in palindromes like you should. Quite curious."
BoB rubbed the back of his neck, flinching as he realized his skin had burned on his climb up. His mind rolled around the Guru's unasked question before settling on a response.
"They say every character needs a flaw." His teeth flashed in an awkward grin and he shrugged his weary shoulders, embarrassed, "Being unable to speak palindromian is mine."
"And yet," Genipher muttered thoughtfully, "It is also your greatest strength."
Genipher shook her head, "All in good time." She nudged his foot with hers. "So 'fess up. Why are you here?"
BoB cocked his head and smirked, "I thought you knew everything?"
"I do. But you'll need to vocalize your request." Genipher flung her arms toward the sky. The clouds floated so close BoB imagined it wouldn't take much effort for the Guru to grab a wispy handful. "Share your burden with the universe and all that junk."
"Well, I seem to be under attack from Writer's Block."
Genipher blinked and BoB realized she was waiting for more.
"And when his spell is occasionally lifted, nothing I write comes out correctly. It seems every time I put pen to paper I end up with a mess. And down in the valley, messy writing can mean life or death. So I came to ask you for help."
"Of course. The question is, do you?"
Genipher sighed, "Yes. Do you see?"
"No!" BoB snapped, "That's why I climbed up this dang mountain!"
"BoB," Genipher placed a gentle hand on his arm, "I am not the antagonist in this story."
"So cool it, m'k? Look, if you're willing to listen to every word I say and obey my every command, I can help you."
She arched a delicate eyebrow and nodded.
"Great!" Genipher clapped her hands, "I'll need you to find a lemon seed, grow me a tree, and make me a glass of lemonade. I've been craving a cup something awful for a couple of decades. Once my thirst is quenched, we'll get started."
BoB lurched to his feet, his eyes glazed with panic. The Guru seemed to grow fuzzy until she grabbed his tunic and yanked him back to his rear.
"I'm joking! Sheesh, I finally get some company and he has no sense of humor . . . Seriously, BoB, just close your eyes, calm your spirit, and repeat after me."
"Repeat after you," BoB agreed, squeezing his eyes shut. Ignoring the thumping of his heart, he waited for the Guru to continue.
"'I' before 'e', except after 'c'. . ." the Guru's voice had become as smooth as ink scratching over paper.
BoB cleared his throat, "'I' before 'e', except after 'c'. . ."
"Or in sounding like 'a' as in neighbor or weigh."
BoB cracked open one eye. A rapturous glow seemed to envelope the Guru, "Uh, or in sounding like 'a' as in neighbor or weigh," he rushed the last line, hoping enlightenment would hit and he could go home.
"You peeked, but that's okay," Genipher opened her eyes and winked. "Now, the way I see it, there's only one thing you can do."
BoB held his breath and leaned forward, eager for the solution.
"Erase Writer's Block from the story."
"I . . . I can do that?"
Genipher rolled her eyes, "That is what your tribe does, right? Creates and destroys worlds with the written word? Your curse of speaking and writing like a normal scribe instead of a palindrome should make it quite easy to destroy Writer's Block."
"But that would be — "
"Murder?" Genipher plucked at a strand of grass growing up beside the boulder. "I guess that depends on how you look at it." The green blade twisted between her fingers until, with a smile, she brought it to her lips and whistled through it. "However, you should be aware that the world could suffer if that great Shaman disappeared." The grass rested on Genipher's palm. With one puff, she blew it away.
"I don't think I can do that," BoB shook his head, feeling hope dribble away. Genipher stood and brushed the back of her white pants.
"Too bad. I guess you'll just have to appease him in some way until he gets bored and finds someone else to torment."
A flicker of light seemed to penetrate BoB's mind. "I think I have an idea! I'll offer Writer's Cramp a gift in exchange for the return of my imagination!"
"Go on," Genipher urged.
"Writer's Block craves attention, right?" BoB bounced to his feet and paced across the boulder. "I could offer him my thoughts!"
Genipher's eyebrows lifted toward her fiery hair. "And you'll do that by. . . ?"
"Meditation! Which you just taught me!"
BoB grabbed the Guru by her hand and spun her into his arms. They danced a jig until both laughed and, breathless, collapsed on the boulder.
"All right, my work here is done. It's too late to get back to your village tonight. You can camp out here and practice your new mantra. But you'll have to leave in the morning. Unless you'd like to become my disciple? I really could use a lemon tree. . . "
"Um, no thanks, Guru. I've got work to do back at home," he sighed and stared at the mountain ledge. "I sure don't relish the climb back down, though."
With a roll of her eyes Genipher hopped off the boulder, "Then don't climb down, use the elevator."
"It's in that shack over yonder," Genipher gestured toward a dilapidated little house and yawned, "It leads straight down through the mountain and opens into a cave next to Illustration Forest."
"But I just spent hours climbing that blankety-blank mountain!"
Genipher shook her head, "I never could figure out why my seekers climb instead of taking the easy route. But hey, who am I to judge? Now get some rest, tomorrow you'll be free of Writer's Block forever!"
BoB waited until Genipher had disappeared before laying down. He stared up at the twinkling stars and a soft smile took over his face.
"'I' before 'e' except after 'c'," he mumbled and drifted off to sleep.