Part III - Intervention
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 fully 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 aside and forgotten.”
The character, who until now has 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 eyes sparkling with earnestness. “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! And by we, I of course mean us characters, as well as you readers. I'm considering us a tag team now. We need to work together on some sort of writer intervention.” Mouse paces excitedly as he speaks. He doesn’t seem to notice as a second figure convalesces in the twilight. 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 upon 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 obscured by the shifting shadows.
Mouse still hasn’t acknowledged my presence on the platform, so intent is he on making his case. “My sad excuse for an author hasn't crafted a single word of this place in over a year! It’s practically falling apart,” he rants, scowling as his arms wave dramatically toward the crumbling monuments floating in a sea of stars across the horizon. “Just look at this horrendous decay! After so long, neglected and practically forgotten. What is she thinking? Might as well have been an eternity—”
"What are you doing, Mouse?” My voice echoes through the void, and his whole body stiffens.
“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, 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, annoyed. “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 manifests within the scene. 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 smile spreads as an idea sparks to life. “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 against his will. “Poppycock! Poppycock! Poppycock!” He belts out the word in a variety of inflections and octaves, 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 around 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 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 hesitation.
“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've 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 and shake my head. He is just as determined and annoying as I remember. "Keep dreaming, Mouse. You know what your role entails," I tell him.
“Yes, I do.” He sighs. “Today, it was getting you to write something, which I seem to have succeeded at — quite brilliantly, in my opinion.”
He is absolutely correct.
I peer around at the melancholy scene I had abandoned him in as that realization dawns. A rose-colored sunrise envelops the gloomy horizon, brightening everything in its path. Mouse stands before me on the floating platform, his expression blank as he watches his world come to life once more.
"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 won’t give up.
Mouse doesn’t seem to get my lighthearted mood. “So, I’m a pot of tea now?” he snaps back.
“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 forget 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 watches the changing horizon with a look of nostalgia. Though I tease him regarding his innate self-centeredness, he is right when he says that I have made him this way.
He needs more depth to him than what I’ve provided thus far.
He needs conflict.
He needs… an antagonist.
“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 innocence, and he shakes his head once more. “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.
Mouse shrugs. “To be honest, I think you’re spending far too much time with her. She’s nothing but a 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.”
He sighs dramatically and rolls his pretty amber eyes. “I don’t like having my ambitions thwarted by a seductive layabout who encourages your self-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,” I respond. “It’s all right though, Mouse. It’s just a part of your character. I really don’t hold it against you.”
“Thank you,” he says, a small grin curling his lips.
“But about the Procrastinatrix—” I continue.
His grin quickly fades 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.”
“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 to the horizon. From my seat on the floating platform, the crumbling monuments of ivy and stone that dot the unending abyss of stars seem dull and inferior. The gentle sounds of cascading waterfalls are no longer soothing to my ears. The white noise that had once lulled my ideas into submission has now become a distracting thrum, pushing my thoughts further and further from my grasp.
This strange expanse, where I’d fashioned the very idea of Mouse, has remained a stagnant dreamscape since his initial creation all those years ago. This is his birthplace. It shaped him, molded him into the being that he is — as story settings do. If his location and circumstances never change, then how can he?
I continue on as if I haven’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. “What—”
The platform beneath our feet begins to shake and rumble as I rise from my desk and chair. 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 and immediately begins to panic. The calming rush and spray from the waterfalls has morphed into a thick and noxious magma all around us, erupting into the atmosphere — a devouring volcano, wiping out the stagnant dreamscape entirely.
When it is done, the only things that remain are me and my stupefied character, standing together on the small floating platform beside my painted wooden desk.
Mouse’s handsome face boils a luminous shade of red. “WHAT - THE - HELL - HAVE - YOU - DONE?” he shouts.
“I’m remaking things,” I answer casually. “This place was getting stale, and I’m terribly bored, to be honest.”
Mouse’s amber eyes grow wide and he begins to pace in front of the desk.
“Author, your destructive tendencies will be the ruin of us all!” he announces, throwing his arms up before quickly resuming his anxious steps.
I laugh. “So, dramatic Mouse. Are you certain that 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 with an indignant huff. “Author, I’m offended!”
Troublesome thoughts scrunch up his handsome features as I watch him pace and rake his fingers through his hair.
“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 projects. 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 to see the view outside of the box. So is time and distance.”
He balks. “Is that your excuse for abandoning your work the way you have, leaving so many things unfinished?”
I hang my head miserably as I watch him resume his frantic steps, thinking back on all the projects that I’ve left on the wayside…
Mouse is right, of course. I’ve 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.
The least I can do is give him a new setting to grow into, some place that might challenge him and help him develop 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 to the present moment. I turn to find him standing between myself and a tall, shapely woman dressed in a tailored pin-stripe suit. She has piercing blue eyes, a full face of dark makeup, and long fuchsia hair formed into two parallel braids that trail the full length of her spine.
“I’m here for her,” the Procrastinatrix says when she sees me, pointing a long, delicate finger in my direction before waving Mouse away like a fleeting thought. Her six-inch heels make a hollow sound as she strides determinedly across the platform toward my desk.
“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 to me, offering 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’ll 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 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 for my hand as I slowly move away from the desk, 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’ve 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, growing increasingly excited.
Mouse sinks onto the cold surface of the platform as he watches me dissipate into the firmament, leaving him behind. The Procrastinatrix beams triumphantly as the last bits of my body fade from view. Then she too disappears, much as she’d arrived — all at once.
Mouse heaves a long sigh when she is gone and then straightens the collar of his shirt. He peers across the deformed and darkened setting, a sea of molten lava bubbling up around the platform in regurgitating burps. His world has been left malformed and forgotten. As he gazes out into the misshapen expanse, Mouse is left feeling even worse off than he was before.
But he is determined. It has now become an irrefutable aspect of his character. If anything, that stern resolution has solidified in his gut, convincing him now more than ever:
Mouse Imgesel is nowhere close to being finished. In fact, he is just getting started.
Copyright © Everyn Kildare