PART IV - Determination
On a random afternoon, frustrated and fatigued by my current work in progress and in search of renewed inspiration, I unexpectedly find myself wandering through old, fragmented memories of the past.
I’ve been writing like a madwoman of late, trying my damnedest to get all of my current projects completed and republished, as I’d been promising I would for some time. But I’m burning out fast. I need a break from the overwhelming push, to refresh my mind and refocus.
As the setting fills in around me, I realize I’m in the grim, warped reflection of a New York City park.
A pleasant wave of nostalgia washes over me as I make my way down a wide dirt path lined with grass and asphalt on either side. This long stretch of green among a landscape of muted colors is vaguely reminiscent of a neighborhood that I once called home. The twinkling Hudson River is on my right, and a glorious sunset hovers over the tall brick and stone buildings and brownstones on my left.
Footsteps echo beside me, but I do not turn because I know that the sound is only in my head. Mouse’s long, muscular legs stretch to meet my wide, slow steps as I meander, staring out over the water in a daze. His pace matches mine perfectly, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve somehow made him taller without realizing it.
“Author, is this my new home?” he asks excitedly. “Is this the new place where you come to ponder and reflect?”
Mouse turns and peers curiously at the unfamiliar surroundings, absorbing it all with a blossoming look of awe. His big, amber-colored eyes sweep across the city skyline, pausing when he notices a crescent moon-shaped rock way out in the distance. It seems oddly out of place — much like he does, with his mismatched and ill-fitting attire, bare feet, and pointy ears.
“I’ve been thinking,” he says, not bothering to wait for me to acknowledge him. “Since I only exist in the moments that you have written me into, I’d like to be placed into a full-fledged story, so that I can develop and mature properly.”
“I’m not sure you’re even a fully formed character yet, Mouse,” I tell him. “You have no backstory. No history. I can’t just drop you into another protagonist’s world. The readers will have no connection or familiarity with you.”
“That’s exactly what I mean! If you write more of me, you’ll flesh out all the little details and give me depth. The readers will love me. They’ll demand more of me — and then you’ll write more of me for them. Works out for everyone.”
“You really want me to write more about you?” I sigh. “I don’t currently have a story you’d fit into. I have projects upon projects — years’ worth of work planned out that I’m currently trying to get through…”
“Then, how about another interview?” he offers. “I can ask you more about yourself and you can write more of me into existence.”
My steps drag as I turn to view the stubborn look on Mouse’s face. “Fine. Sounds only fair.”
“Excellent!” Mouse beams, exposing his pearly white teeth. “I’ve had some time to think up better questions...”
I raise an eyebrow in mock surprise. “Really? No monosyllabic half-assery this time?”
“That’s not a word.”
“Half-assery. It’s not a real word,” he says smugly.
I narrow my gaze at him and Mouse’s smile grows even wider. The little brat seems to enjoy taunting his creator — much to his detriment. Apparently he needs reminding once more about who is actually in charge. I decide to teach him another lesson.
“And you’re not a real person,” I remind him. “As a matter of fact, today I’ve decided you will be an actual mouse.”
His grin morphs into a horrified scowl. “What? No! Why?”
But it is already too late. In the blink of an eye, he’s gone from tall and muscular to small and furry, complete with beady black eyes, whiskers, and a tail. Mouse begins to scurry back and forth, in a hilarious state of panic.
I can’t help but laugh. “Because I can, that’s why.”
“I don’t understand you,” he says, glaring up at me furiously. “We’ve made so much progress. Why would you undo me like this?”
“Who says we’ve made progress?” I grumble. “I feel like we’ve just been going around in circles.” I gaze out over the glimmering horizon, spying the same moon-shaped rock we’ve passed twice before. It’s true. We are going absolutely nowhere.
In truth, I don’t have time for Mouse’s desperate shenanigans. He doesn’t know it, but I’ve been quietly toiling away, writing and editing other stories for months in preparation for a long-overdue return. Almost all of my older scribblings had been torn to shreds and painstakingly rewritten since the last time we had spoken.
I know Mouse will be an indignant pain in my neck when he eventually finds out. I’ve been working tirelessly on developing other characters — and wholly neglecting him. Mouse seems, from previous encounters, to be the overtly jealous sort. I should tread very lightly when I finally come clean.
“Would you like me to tell you a story, Mouse?” I ask him.
“Do I get to be in it?” he replies hopefully.
There is an old wooden bench under a copse of trees overlooking the water. I move toward it, seeking its comfort and shade. Mouse scampers behind, dodging my boots as we tromp through the tall, wet grass.
“Only if you’d like to know how it feels to burst into flames,” I answer.
“NO. Thank you. I think I’ll sit this one out,” he says. “Spontaneous combustion does not sound like the sort of adventure that I was designed for. But you have my attention, at least.”
The whole time that we’re walking, I’m desperately racking my brain for the best way to approach such a delicate subject. I consider my current audience and decide to start with a simple, “Once upon a time—”
“Wait, seriously?” Mouse interrupts. “What am I, a toddler?”
I laugh. If only he knew…
“What would you prefer, then?” I ask, dropping wearily onto the bench.
Mouse climbs the side of my pant leg and situates himself on the curve of my knee. “I don’t know,” he says. “Something less cliché, perhaps? Start in the thick of things — in the middle of action, right from the start.”
“Ever impatient, Mouse!” I shake my head. “Would you like to tell the story?”
“I might,” he responds, brandishing a tiny, sharp-toothed grin.
I watch his ears twitch, and his furry expression darkens with conflicting thoughts. He squirms and simpers when he realizes that he cannot follow through with his boastful declaration.
“Are you going to let me continue?” I ask.
Mouse seems immediately relieved. “All right,” he concedes. “Go on then.”
I take a deep, steadying breath. “Once upon a time,” I say firmly, “there was a lost creature, small and plain—”
“Is this the Ugly Duckling story?” Mouse suddenly asks.
“No,” I answer. “This is not one of those old Danish fairy tales.” I watch the hopeful roundness of his eyes dim slightly. “Did you want it to be?”
“Well, I am rather fond of that one. Feels very familiar to me.”
“You are not an ugly duckling,” I tell him.
“Nor am I a swan,” he grumbles. “I’m not even a human at the moment.”
And there we go again — back to Mouse’s constant obsession with his own appearance.
“You weren’t particularly human to begin with, sporting those long pointy ears,” I inform him.
Mouse suddenly laughs. “I actually liked the ears. Made me look rather Elfish, I think.”
“Would you like to hear the rest?” I prompt, attempting to return my easily distracted character to the task at hand, yet again.
Mouse’s tiny head bobs up and down enthusiastically. “Certainly, Author! Especially if it means you continue writing more of me in tandem.”
I roll my eyes, not even remotely surprised by his response. “I thought you came here looking to coerce an interview from me, Mouse. What happened to that?”
“You made it story-time instead. Was not my detour, Author. I only go where you lead.”
I groan and turn my gaze out to the glimmering skyscrapers on the opposite shore. “Typical, Mouse! You know, the Procrastinatrix would have my head on a platter if she knew that I was here, wasting time with your nonsense, instead of working on the project I’m supposed to be getting ready to publish—”
Mouse issues an odd-sounding squeak, and I realize I’ve just outed myself by mistake.
No point in using fables to soften the blow now.
“You’re already back to work? And you didn’t tell me?” Mouse asks with indignant alarm. “You’ve been writing again, yet you’ve still left me on the wayside — in that unfinished hellhole?”
“I’m sorry, Mouse. I’ve just been so terribly busy, trying to get things back in order after being absent for so long.”
His sad stare tugs at my heart, filling me with guilt. Before I can explain further, Mouse hops off my lap and disappears into the ether — whiskers, tail, and all — his tantrum akin to a furious teenager slamming the bedroom door shut behind him.
I sigh, knowing that I have wronged him. Though he has been a demanding, pushy, self-absorbed little pest… in the end, he only ever pursued what he thought was his purpose, by doing what I created him for, to the best of his ability, in the manner in which I fashioned him to do it. He deserved a little more effort on my part.
I’d have to make it up to him — next time.
Copyright © Everyn Kildare