In a darkened haze, a shimmering figure manifests — first as a sound, then as a flash of brilliant color, brightening an expanse of dormant imagination until a man stands before you in the gloom. His amber eyes are luminous and merry. He flashes a friendly grin, beckoning you closer as his handsomely crafted features are finally revealed.
“Hello. It's Mouse again. Remember me?” he pauses, his expression hopeful. “It has been quite a while. No? You cannot recall the specifics of my face?”
The scene expands, exposing his broad shoulders and built physique, stuffed like a turkey into a tacky black and white diamond-print blouse and olive-green overalls. He blushes a vibrant shade of red at the acknowledgment of his awkwardly clad body. “I am the character, crudely made and cruelly manipulated by the Author of this place for some ‘Interview’ a number of years ago. You can read it here if you have not done so before. It describes my haphazard creation — made, malformed, then harshly tossed away and forgotten.”
The character, who until now had been known simply as ‘Mouse’, begins to pace and fidget, waiting for you to acknowledge your familiarity. His handsome expression darkens with worry as the moment lingers on.
“Dearest Reader, you haven’t truly forgotten me, have you? You are not so unkind as my creator. I wish only to exist. To have a purpose. Isn’t that what we all genuinely desire?”
The more he speaks, the more the horizon blooms into focus. An obscuring fog gradually lifts. The dark shadows part. A platform emerges beneath his bare feet, then an old painted desk, then a tall wooden chair…
“You understand my need and you agree with me, do you not?” Mouse nods emphatically as his words fill the void, his amber-colored eyes sparkling with earnest. “My Author has become unruly,” he explains. “We need to do something about her lack of concentration. It’s become damn near impossible to keep her on task. She’s constantly missing deadlines, making hilarious but unhelpful excuses for why she can't focus on what WE want! By we, I of course mean us characters, and you readers. I'm considering us a tag-team now. We need to work together on some sort of writer intervention.” Mouse continues pacing excitedly as he speaks. He doesn’t seem to notice as a second figure convalesces in the gloom. Behind him, in the worn, wooden chair, a body slowly forms, piece by piece, starting with an old pair of black boots and faded gray jeans.
“Yes!” he continues, “An artistic arbitration — to bring her out of that droll reality she seems so intent on, and return to what's really important here: MORE STORIES! Distraction through imagination! Of course, they’ll have more of me in them. That would be for the best. You agree? Do you think you might suggest she place me permanently into a setting somewhere, instead of this odd character limbo? You know, once this whole mess is behind us and we've whipped my Author back into shape? A little tit-for-tat? A little something to reward Mouse Imgesel's monumental effort in salvaging my Author's sanity? You'll think on it, at least?”
By the time he’s made his fifth pass across the floor, my torso and head have joined their lower half. Only my facial features remain darkened and vague.
Mouse still hasn’t acknowledged my presence on the imaginary platform, so intent is he on making his case:
“My sad excuse for an Author hasn't crafted one word of this place in over a year! It’s practically falling apart,” he rants, scowling as his arm waves dramatically at the crumbling and ominous looking monuments floating in a sea of stars on the horizon, “Just look at this horrendous decay! After so long, neglected and practically forgotten… What is she thinking? Might as well be an eternity—”
"Mouse, what are you doing?" My voice echoes through the void, and Mouse visibly stiffens with fear.
“Oh! Look, I finally got her attention!” he says cheekily, his posture gradually relaxing as he turns himself to face me. “Author, I'm talking to your audience. You don't. Obviously, someone has to.”
"That's not fair, Mouse. I’ve been busy," I respond with a casual shrug.
Mouse raises a skeptical eyebrow and laughs. “Twiddling your dainty little digits? Come now, Author, we both know what those writerly fingers are best at…”
"Flipping the bird?"
“Goodness!” Mouse gasps in surprise — and then he laughs. “No, silly Author. Typing out your many ideas. Or just scratch them out with a pen and pad. I don't care HOW you do it, just WRITE already!”
"I have been writing,” I growl back in annoyance, “I just haven't been sharing."
“Such nonsense!” Mouse scoffs, “I know what you’ve been up to, Author. Your excuse is utter poppycock.”
A slow and mischievous grin takes hold as the rest of my face fully manifests within the scene — and Mouse takes an uneasy step back in anticipation of the worst.
"That's a funny word. I like the way you say it, Mouse.” My grin morphs into a fully realized expression of amusement. “I think I'm going to make you say it again — maybe with an accent?"
Mouse’s eyes widen with terror as his jaw creaks open and shut without his permission:
“Poppycock! Poppycock! Poppycock!” He belts out the word in a variety of inflections and octaves against his will, his eyes welling with unshed tears as the sound of my laughter fills in the brief silences between.
“Lest you forget who is in control here,” I remind him with a wink, leaning back into my chair and crossing my arms behind my head.
“I don’t find this hilarious in the least,” Mouse grumbles when I finally allow him to regain control, “I'm attempting to be serious, Author, and you're playing games again.”
"You started it," I remind him, “when you dared to call your author a liar.”
Mouse rubs at his jaw with both hands, his mouth dropping open and shut a few times before he attempts to speak again. When he does, it is softly, but with no lingering hesitance.
“Yes, but you made me this way, Author. Entirely your fault,” he says, “ Now, about that story?”
"Which one?" I inquire. There are so many different projects I’d been working on of late…
“The one you were going to write me into,” Mouse answers sweetly, offering a dashing smile that exposes all of his pearly white teeth.
I groan in response, and shake my head. He was just as determined and annoying as I’d remembered. "Keep dreaming, Mouse. You know what your role entails," I say.
“Yes, I do,” he responds with sigh, “Today, it was getting you to write something, which I seem to have succeeded at — quite brilliantly, in my opinion.”
He was absolutely correct.
I peer around at the melancholy scene I had abandoned him in as that realization dawned. A rose-colored sunrise began to envelope the gloomy horizon, brightening everything in its path. Mouse stood before me on the floating platform, his expression blank as he watched his world come to life around us.
"It seems you did. I barely even noticed, Mouse,” I admit with a renewed sense of appreciation, “I applaud your tenacity. You have surprised me once again."
Mouse beams excitedly. “Does that mean you’re finally going to oblige my request?”
“I’m mulling it over, letting the notion steep and simmer for a bit,” I say with a hearty laugh. He just wouldn’t give up…
Mouse doesn’t seem to get my lighthearted mood. “So, I’m a boiling pot of tea now?” he snaps back in annoyance.
“You are developing over time,” I tell him firmly, “Until you’re fully formed in my head, you’ll stay there. I have a few more tasks for you in the meantime.”
Mouse stomps his foot, crossing his arms tightly over his broad chest. “And just like that — nothing changes with you!”
Sometimes I forgot how half-formed I’d actually left him — like a toddler, still learning to walk, prone to frustration and tantrums, and above all else, still desperately in need of guidance.
Mouse watched the changing horizon with a look of vague nostalgia. Though I teased him for his self-centeredness, he was right when he said that I’d made him that way. He needed more to him than what I’d provided.
“Mouse, I just noticed; did you give yourself a surname?” I ask.
“A… what? Me?” He grins but shakes his head at the same time. “That is quite impossible! You must have done it.”
“Imgesel, eh? Any particular reasoning behind your choice?”
“Well…” Mouse suddenly remembers he’s feigning innocent, and he shakes his head once more in denial. “Is there? I don’t even know what it means. I’m rather curious, now that you mention it.”
“Maybe I’ll ask the Procrastinatrix later,” I muse, “she usually knows where I can look up those sorts of random, obscure things. She’s fantastic with research.”
At the mere mention of her name, Mouse grows sullen and scowls.
“Of course she is,” he grumbles sarcastically, “She’s Queen of the Never-Ending-Research-Project!”
“You have issues with the Procrastinatrix?” I ask in surprise.
Mouse shrugs. “To be honest, I think you’re spending far too much time with her. She’s nothing but a horridly enticing distraction. I swear, all that attention she’s gotten from you lately would have been better spent working on your growing mountain of creative projects. Don’t you agree?”
“AND she’s mean! Did you know she handcuffed my arms behind my back like a petty criminal? Then she threw me in an old steamer trunk with a bunch of half-edited manuscripts and hid me away for months! She’s a wicked shrew, and she just wants to hoard all of your attention for herself.”
“You sound awfully jealous, Mouse.”
Mouse sighs dramatically and rolls his pretty amber eyes. “I don’t like having my ambitions thwarted by a seductive layabout who encourages your destructive behavior. I have your best interests at heart, Author. Don’t you believe me?”
“You have your own best interests at heart, and we both know it. It’s all right though, Mouse. It’s just part of your character. I really don’t hold it against you.”
“Thank you,” he says simply, a small grin curling the corners of his lips.
“But, about the Procrastinatrix—” I continue.
His grin quickly fades back into a look of irritation. “I don’t like her, and more so, I don’t trust her. It is my opinion that she is attempting to sabotage you,” he growls.
“Don’t be ridiculous. The Procrastinatrix encourages me to take on new creative projects all the time. She thinks, working on a couple of different things might help me feel inspired again.”
“Are you kidding?” Mouse sputters furiously. “Please, tell me you are! More projects are just more distractions. Author, can’t you see what she’s doing?”
My gaze sweeps out from my character’s exasperated expression to the faded allure of the imaginary horizon. From my seat on the floating platform, the crumbling monuments of ivy and stone that dotted the unending abyss of stars seem dull and inferior. The gentle sounds of the cascading waterfalls were no longer soothing white noise to lull my ideas into submission, but had become a distracting thrum in the back of my skull, pushing my thoughts further and further from my grasp.
This strange expanse, where I once fashioned the very idea of Mouse, had remained a stagnant dream-scape ever since his creation all those years ago. This was his birthplace. It shaped him, molded him into the being that he was — as story settings do. If his location and his circumstances never changed, then how could he?
I continue on, as if I hadn’t heard him: “Speaking of which, I was having a conversation with her just the other day about doing some redecorating…”
Mouse scowls at me in confusion. “What—”
The platform beneath our feet begins to shake and rumble. On the distant horizon, the stone and ivy monuments slowly sink into the darkness and disappear.
“Author?” Mouse peers from the changing landscape to the placid look on my face with a growing panic. The calming stream from the waterfalls, so long a sparkling spray of illumination, had morphed into a thick and noxious magma all around us, erupting into the atmosphere like a devouring volcano, wiping out the stagnant dream-scape entirely.
When it was done, the only things that remained were Mouse and I, standing together on the small floating platform beside my writing desk.
Mouse’s handsome countenance boiled a luminous shade of red. “WHAT - THE - HELL - HAVE - YOU - DONE?” he shouted.
“I’m remaking things,” I answered with a casual shrug, “This place is getting stale, and I’m horribly bored to be honest.”
Mouse’s amber eyes widen out at my admission. He immediately begins to pace — back and forth, back and forth in front of my desk.
“Author, your self-destructive tendencies will be the ruin of us all!” he announces, throwing his arms up into the air before quickly resuming his anxious path across the floor.
I laugh. “So, dramatic Mouse. Are you sure you’re not an actor?”
Mouse suddenly notices that something else is different. Words have changed. Parts of his past have recently been altered.
“You rewrote my original introduction?” he asks indignantly, “Author, I’m offended!”
I watch him pace one more circuit across the platform, raking his fingers through his hair and scrunching up his malleable features as worrisome thoughts fill his brain to bursting.
“It desperately needed an update, Mouse,” I finally say, “Be happy I didn’t just delete it. I’ve done so to quite a number of other things lately. Pretty much everything. Deleted — or at the very least, heavily revised.”
“I’m even more terrified then,” he admits, “You are being extremely cold about this most recent round of purging.”
“It’s called editing, Mouse. Besides, I like change. I need it sometimes. It helps me figure out why things aren’t working. A perception shift is sometimes necessary in order to see the view from outside the box. So is time, and distance.”
“Is that your excuse for abandoning your work the way you have? Leaving so many things unfinished?” he balks.
I hang my head miserably as I watch him resume his frantic steps, thinking back on all the projects I’d left on the wayside…
Mouse was right, of course. I had left many, many stories in a painful state of disarray.
“I will confess, I’ve been remiss in my attention to you the past few years,” I answer sadly.
“I believe the word you meant was neglectful,” Mouse grumbles in response.
The least I could do was give him a new setting to grow into, some place that might challenge him and help him develop more as a character. I begin plucking through various scenes and scenarios in my mind, trying to come up with just the right—
“What is she doing here?” Mouse’s furious voice echoes through my thoughts, returning me back to the moment. I turn from my reverie to find him standing between myself and a tall, shapely woman dressed in a tailored pin-stripe suit. She had piercing blue eyes, a full face of make-up, and long fuchsia hair that formed two immaculate and parallel French-braids down the length of her spine.
“I’m here for her,” the Procrastinatrix says when she sees me, pointing her long, delicate fingers in my direction before waving Mouse away like a fleeting thought. Her six-inch heels make a hollow sound as she crosses the platform with a determined stride.
“Don’t you dare leave with that horrible shrew!” Mouse screeches, “Author, you must not allow her to distract you again.”
“Let’s go mess around for a while and watch YouTube videos,” the Procrastinatrix says with a coy little smirk, “Or we could binge on historical documentaries for a few hours. Maybe you’ll get inspired!”
“Hmmmm, perhaps,” I mumble in agreement. “It has been a while since I’ve—”
“Author! I swear, if you go off with this charlatan I will have to take drastic measures! I will start getting your other characters involved if I must,” Mouse says sternly. “I mean it. This has gone on long enough!”
“But, she’s just so irresistible!” — I heave a wistful sigh — “I can’t help myself, Mouse. There are so many things to do and try. So much to learn, to experience, to absorb…”
The Procrastinatrix smiles like a Cheshire Cat, reaching out to take me by the hand as I slowly move away from the imaginary desk, feeling magnetized by her mere presence.
“But, you can’t leave,” Mouse says quietly, “You owe something to your creations, Author. You can’t avoid us forever. You have a responsibility to—”
“Shut it, Mouse,” the Procrastinatrix growls over him.
“ — to finish what you’ve started — ”
“I made coffee,” she purrs into my ear, tugging me insistently away, “We can stay up all night learning how to feed baby giraffes, and what it might look like if they evolved on another planet with less gravity.”
“That sounds interesting,” I gush with excitement.
Mouse sinks down onto the cold surface of the platform as he watches me dissipate into the firmament, leaving him alone on the platform. The Procrastinatrix beams at him in triumph as the last bits of my body fade from view. Then she too disappears, much like she’d arrived — instantaneously.
Mouse heaves a long sigh when she is gone, and then straightens the collar of his diamond-print shirt.
He was determined. It had now become an irrefutable aspect of his character that he could not shake. If anything, the stern resolution had now solidified inside of his gut, convincing him now more than ever:
Mouse Imgesel was not finished yet. In fact, he was just getting started.