This is the 14th round of The Alphabet Challenge mentioned in THIS post. As a refresher, the Broxson twins, Gary and Perry, and I will each write one story for each letter of the alphabet. Meaning, a story whose title begins with the given letter. For this round, it’s the letter “N“.
Readers have until the publication of the next round of stories (about two weeks between rounds) to vote for their favorite story in the current round. Points will be assigned to each writer based on total votes received.
In each round, the story with the most votes gets three points. Second place gets two points, third place gets one point. In the case of a tie, the points for the tied rankings are added and then split equally among the writers who tied. At the end of the year, we tally up and crown the winner with the most points.
Long or short, each story will appear on its own post and the trio will be followed by a fourth post where readers can vote.
Here we go. Presented anonymously, the second of three stories with titles beginning with the letter “N” as submitted by its author.
Copyright 2020 — E. J. D’Alise
(3,181 words – approx. reading time: about 12 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“Good morning, Joe.”
“Good morning, Argus. Glad you could make it.”
“Is that sarcasm I hear? I’m not fond of sarcasm. I mean, I don’t have to be here, you know. I could be relaxing on some other plane of existence.”
Joe inwardly sighed, wondering what he had done to deserve such a prima donna Muse.
“No, no; not sarcasm, Argus,” Joe hastened to clarify. “I’m genuinely glad you’re here. I’ve been on a dry spell lately and could use the help.”
Argus paused to consider and evaluate the sincerity of the statement. Truth be told, he’d rather be elsewhere, perhaps spending time with the newest Poetry Muse. Not that he liked Poetry much, but she was a looker, and maybe he could fake . . . er . . . learn to appreciate Poetry.
Still skeptical, Argus decided to give Joe the benefit of the doubt. Joe had, in fact, gone through a long dry spell. And, yes, Argus begrudgingly admitted, he’d not been exactly helpful, despite Joe being a fairly easy-going charge. Not like some of Argus’s other accounts, always demanding masterpieces, and then petulantly blaming everyone but themselves when they couldn’t execute.
Still, he was scheduled for a month off and wanted to get to it as fast as possible, and the quicker he could help Joe, the sooner he could be off to that jewel of a planet on Andromeda’s outer bands. Perhaps he’d invite the Poetry Muse to join him. What was her name, Medina? Medusa? Something like that; the placement of her nametag at the meet-and-greet for new Muses had distracted Argus from reading the name.
“So,” Argus asked, feigning interest and enthusiasm, “what great works of literary wonder are we tackling today?”
“Well, I was thinking,” Joe replied, “how about a historical novel spanning the entire history of the Roman Empire?”
“Glurg!” Argus nearly choked on the glass of nectar he’d been sipping. Well, it was the imitation stuff, with only half the properties of the real thing — which the gods hoarded — but half an eternal life was still a long time.
“I’m kidding!” Joe hastened to add at watching Argus grab his throat and turn a lovely shade of Hot Pink — or was it Imperial Red? Regardless, the color changed so fast that Joe had a difficult time identifying the shades.
“I’m actually thinking of starting small,” Joe continued. “Maybe something around two or three thousand words.”
“Ha-ha,” Argus replied as he carefully put down the glass of imitation nectar. It may have been imitation, but it still costs a pretty ducat. Or was it dinar? Whatever, it wasn’t cheap, and he didn’t want to spill any in case he decided to take a swing at Joe.
“Very funny. You sure are a jokester,” he added as he mentally flipped a ten drachmae coin and was inwardly disappointed he’d have to pass on decking Joe when the coin came up Heads.
“Seriously, though,” Argus said as he picked up his glass of imitation nectar, “that’s all you want? A couple or three thousand words?”
“I’m not sure why you need me. I mean, I’ve seen you sneeze and poop out five or six hundred words.”
“Oh, I should clarify,” Joe replied. “I want to write a novel, and I thought breaking it up into segments might be fun. I could serialize it on the Internet, and maybe post a chapter or two a month, and charge a dollar per chapter. Or even cheaper, like maybe fifty cents.”
“Hmm, interesting,” Argus said. He did a quick calculation on his mental abacus . . . eighty thousand words novel, two thousand words per chapter meant forty chapters. Even at fifty cents a chapter, that would come out to twenty dollars for the complete novel. The kid might be onto something here.
These days, trying to sell a book for five dollars was an exercise in frustration. People would gladly pay six dollars for a latte they would urinate into a ceramic bowl an hour later, but pay five dollars for a book? Forget about it!
“What genre are you thinking?” Argus said, genuinely invested in the project. This was something new. Well, not exactly new. Other writers had done it, but few in recent history and none were his charges.
“Well, that’s where I was hoping you would come in,” Joe replied. “I have all these ideas swirling in my head, and I can even get going with some of them, and then . . .”
Argus waited several seconds before asking “. . . and then, what?”
“Well, that’s the problem; and then nothing. I lose interest. An idea that seemed so clear and pure and perfect turns into a jumbled mess of dried drek when I put words to it, and before you know it, I’m off on doing something else.”
Argus rubbed his temple and then, deciding the conversation merited the two-handed approach, put the nectar down to use both hands to try and rub the burgeoning headache right out of his head. It didn’t work; he still had a headache, and now he had sore temples.
“How about a Western?” Argus offered.
“You mean cowboys, Indians, and six-shooters?” Joe asked.
“No, I don’t think you could pull that off without upsetting some people,” Argus replied. “I mean something in the modern Western, like Justified or Longmire.”
“Aren’t those police procedurals, cops shows?”
“Yes, but they have elements of the classic Western.”
“I don’t know,” Joe answered. “I watched both those shows, and the western tropes — the lone hero, gunfights, and fast-draws — and most of the action seemed out of place in the modern setting. Besides, that means I’d have to hit the beat on two genres; cop shows and westerns, and I have no experience or real-world knowledge of either.”
“Look, kid,” Argus said, “I’ve read a lot and watched a lot of TV shows and movies, and I can tell you the last thing you need to be is knowledgeable about anything, including how people behave in real life.”
“I don’t know . . .”
“OK, look, forget the Western,” Argus answered impatiently. “How about Fantasy? That’s always fun to write, and you get to make up cool creatures and use magic.”
“See, that’s one of those that I lean toward, but when I try to put words down, I get slapped around by tired tropes,” Joe replied.
“Tired tropes?” Argus asked.
“Yeah, you know,” Joe answered. “The Chosen One, the Secret Heir, the Reluctant Hero, the Lucky Novice, the Mentor. I could go on, but you get the idea.”
“Wait,” Argus replied. “What’s wrong with those? They are perfectly good and beloved themes. Heck, they’re so good, Science Fiction even borrows some of those.”
“Yes, beloved because the masters of the genre laid the foundation for them, but a novice writer get compared to said masters,” Joe answered, “and that comparison won’t be pretty.”
“Kid, you’re killing me here. It’s not the trope that matters. It’s what you do with it,” Argus said.
“What do you mean?” Joe asked.
“OK, so, look at what they did in The Matrix. They took the old concept of the Chosen One, and revitalized it in a new setting, a stupid-but-seemingly-interesting premise, a bit of unfounded love, and voila! An instant hit,” Argus replied. “Just don’t write any sequels.”
“. . . ah, er . . . ”
“Well, the fans will probably want sequels,” Joe answered. “Besides, once you hook them, you can milk them for more even if you just phone it in.”
“Phone it in? I thought you were going to publish it on the Internet.”
“What? No, that’s just an expression meaning . . . look, never mind. The point is, you can only write one book where the character is the Chosen One. After that, the character is no longer the Chosen One; he’s the guy the used to be the Chosen One. Not the same.”
“I know,” Argus replied, a bit annoyed. “That’s why I said not to write sequels.”
“Yeah, but what if I hit on a blockbuster franchise?”
“Well, then you’ll sell out and cash in.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, I forgot,” Joe said. “Duh!”
“So, Fantasy?” Argus asked, hoping to get the ball going. “Maybe something like this:
Her taut body wrapped in minimalistic armor, Elienne drew Uduru, the magical sword that, despite being nearly as tall as she was, Elienne could wield with ease . . . because it was magical, and all.”
“. . . uh . . . ”
“What now?” Argus asked, a tick developing in his left eye and threatening to travel to his right eye by way of the back of his head.
“Well, you probably haven’t noticed,” Joe said, “but minimalistic armor is, aside being nearly useless . . . well, sexist. Why can she wear regular armor?”
“What?” Argus repeated, trying to wrap his mind around the concept of unsexy heroines.
“Well, you don’t see heroes running around half-naked; why must the heroine do so?”
“Tarzan. Conan. Magnum P.I.,” Argus answered, slowly saying each name. “The Hulk. Gollum. Donald Duck. Winnie the Pooh. I could go on . . .”
“No,” Joe replied. “That’s OK. What I’m really thinking about is a private eye novel.”
“And that’s not a tired trope?”
“Not the way I want to do it,” Joe said. “You see, the main character is female.”
“It’s been done.”
“. . . uh . . . a young girl?”
“. . . an old woman?”
“Yes. They were cartoons, but, yes,” Argus answered.
“OK, then, what genres are left?”
“Oh, heck, there are many; horror, humor, historical, romance, superheroes, swashbuckler, …”
“Swashbuckler? Does anyone still write that genre?”
“His toned body barely clad in an open shirt and tight pants, Eronde drew Odel, the magical scimitar that, despite being nearly as tall as he was, Eronde could wield with ease . . . because it was magical, and all,” intoned Argus.
“Wait, that sounds like Fantasy,” Joe said.
“Joe, Joe, Joe . . . you still don’t get it, do you?”
“Look, I’m not supposed to tell you because it could mess you up, but it might also help you, and we’re losing daylight here,” Argus said.
He motioned for Joe to come to the window.
“Look out there,” Argus said. “What do you see?”
“I know, I know, I need to cut the grass,” Joe answered. “It’s been raining, and I haven’t had the chance to …”
“No!” Argus said, slapping the back of Joe’s head.
“Ow!” Joe said, giving Argus rueful a look, but Argus was gesturing at the outside world.
“Look,” Argus said.”Land, sky, water, day, night, and within? Hunger, pain, happiness, love, hate, sadness, anger, jealousy, loyalty, betrayal, friendship, kinship . . .” he turned and put one hand on Joe’s shoulder, who winced, thinking another slap was coming his way.
“Whatever you can think about this world, not only has it already been told, written, filmed, dreamt, and fantasized about, but it hasn’t changed in the course of human history.”
Joe looked out.
“Maybe I’ll cut the grass later . . .”
“Forget the grass!” Argus said. “You need to see …” Argus stopped as he saw Joe smiling. “Wiseass,” he said.
“I get it,” Joe said, his tone serious. “The world is the same, the stories are the same, and it’s only the settings and trappings that change.”
“Now you got it,” Argus said. “You fret about coming up with something fresh, but really, people expect things they can relate to, that they recognize.”
Joe paused before saying, “You mean like:
Its sleek body wrapped in shimmering scales, Erondor, the snake, shook Loresal, the magical rattle at the end of its tail that, despite made of cast iron, Erondor could shake with ease . . . because it was magical, and all.”
“Well, I don’t know about snakes,” Argus said. “Some people have a thing about them. Change it to something cuter, and you might have something.”
“OK, then, how about this:
Its slender body covered in soft fur, Egoral, the fawn, shook its head, sprouting Orenae, the magical antlers that, despite made of solid gold, Egoral could carry with ease . . . because they were magical, and all.”
“Yeah, that could work. Women are suckers for fawns and gold,” Argus said. “Besides, women read a lot more than men, so you’d have a larger audience.”
“Yes, but women read more romance and especially go ga-ga over predatory, awful, rich men who are into bondage and S&M, and take advantage of young women,” Joe said.
“Seriously?” Argus asked, his interest level perking up.
“Yes, but I don’t like writing that kind of stuff.”
“Wait. You don’t like sex?” Argus asked, incredulous.
“I didn’t say that,” Joe replied. “I just don’t like writing about it. I’m afraid I’d give away all my secrets.”
Argus focused on Joe’s expression, thinking it was more of Joe’s weird humor, but no, the poor deluded fool was serious.
“OK, how about urban fantasy,” Argus suggested. “Something like this:
Its chubby body wrapped in loose clothing, Eddie, the nerd, swiped iObelinth, the magical smartphone which, despite being smaller than a credit card, gave Eddie access to the combined knowledge and computing power of the whole of humanity (and a bit more) . . . because it was magical, and all.”
“That’s techno-fantasy,” Joe said.
“Yes,” Joe confirmed. “Urban fantasy has mythical creatures in modern settings, usually interacting with mortals, preferably someone of the opposite sex, even though interspecies relationships are a bit iffy if not outright impossible to imagine.”
“What do you mean?” Argus asked, thinking back of many of his encounters with various mythical females and finding them easy to imagine and remember.
“Like, for instance:
Her five-foot-two body clad in her crimson custom-made Gucci armor, twenty-two-year-old Senior Chief Detective Elenor wrapped her arms around the wrist of Studerol, the half-human half-troll giant who had become her protector — and maybe more — and held on tight as he whisked her away from the gang of ghouls sent by Verdolyn, the vampire tree that had focused his hatred on Elenor ever since she’s spurned his advances and had pruned one of his appendages with a swift cut from Shearall-ae, the magical hedge clippers she had found while lost in the subterranean caverns below the city. That’s where she had first met Studerol and, after besting him in a battle of wits, where he had pledged to always be at her side and protect her from evil entities that had no clear motivation beyond being evil,” Joe said
Argus snapped his mouth shut after listening, agape, to Joe tell the tale. Shaking his befuddled brain back to normalcy, he put his hands on Joe’s shoulders and stared at him in the eyes as he spoke with a serious and solemn tone.
“Joe, you got this. You have risen to the next level and no longer need my services,” Argus said.
Then, removing his hands from Joe’s shoulders, he grabbed Joe’s left hand with both of his hands and shook it in earnest.
“It has been a pleasure and an honor to guide you to this point, but you’ve now exceeded my humble abilities, and I can’t help you where you are going,” Argus said.
“Uh, people generally shake the right hand,” Joe said. “But, who’ll inspire me if you leave?”
Argus looked down, let go of Joe’s left hand, and grabbed Joe’s right hand, repeating the two-handed shake.
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m putting you down for mentoring by one of the Muse Maestros,” Argus said. “They are better equipped than I am to handle your level of talent. It might take a while for one to free up, but hang in there, kid.”
And, with that, Joe was suddenly alone in his kitchen.
“Wow . . . I’m getting my own Muse Maestro,” he said. “I better get writing and show the Maestro I’m worthy of mentoring.”
And with that, Joe sat down to write.
~ 0 ~ 0 ~
“There are Muse Maestros?” asked Melanie, the Poetry Muse, as Argus rubbed anti-radiation cream on her back and shoulders.
“Of course not,” Argus replied.
“Isn’t that cruel, giving Joe hope like that?”
Argus stopped and turned to let Melanie apply the cream on his shoulders. This little planet was great and all, but without an ozone layer, the twin suns could do a real number on your skin.
“Look, Melinda . . .”
“Ah, yes . . . Melanie. Look, Melanie, what do you think we do?”
“We inspire and help shape and direct the creative urges of mortals,” Melanie replied, quoting one of the answers to the Muse Proficiency test she took not two weeks prior.
“Yeah, that’s a good line, but I’ll tell you what we really do . . . Nothing.”
“Yup,” Argus continued. “Hey, make sure you get the neck. Anyway, we don’t actually do anything. It’s all them, but we are a convenient crutch. When things go well, they don’t even mention us, but if things go sideways, or if they lose their inspiration, we come in and shoulder the blame.”
“That’s pretty cynical. And, depressing,” Melanie said.
“Not really. Accept it, and it frees up a lot of your time. Why do you think I spend most of my time hitting on . . . er . . . looking for meaningful relationships?”
“But, you told him someone would come. That’s cruel.”
“Nah, he’ll cope. Hey, where are you going?”
“I’m going to check in on Joe,” Melanie replied, and then she was gone.
“This will not go well,” Argus said as he laid back and cracked open another bottle from the nectar six-pack.
Back on Earth, Joe sipped his coffee and got back to writing.
Studerol carefully hugged the unconscious Elenor as he silently cursed Verdolyn. If she didn’t recover, he would not rest until Verdolyn was no more than spent firewood . . . but, how do you stake a Vampire tree through the heart?
Putting Elenor down, he gingerly pulled the covers over her and tucked them under her chin, making sure not to choke her to death accidentally. Bending down, he gave her a gentle kiss, his lips covering most of her face and parts of her shoulder.
Just then, Elenor woke up, probably due to the residual saliva from the kiss.
“Hey, big guy. Nice to see you,” she said in a weak voice. “Uh, and get me a towel, will you?” she added.
Joe paused before starting again in a sudden fit of inspiration.
The two of them, different and yet the same.
No strife asunder will ever cast them,
And tender moments will forever bind them.
For time will try, but never their love tame.
Joe paused and looked at what he wrote.
“What the heck?!” he said and looked around. But by then, Melanie had left.
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
Nolo Contendere <<Link
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