Here is 15th Contest entry #7:
By: Kathryn Smith
Martina sat up, eyes open, fully awake. She put her hands to her face, felt the clamminess of her skin, the rapid pulse in her temple. Reaching out, she touched Tim. The rise and fall of his shoulders with each breath felt solid and reassuring. Her eyes closed as relief wash over her.
A dream. Just another dream.
A dream, but vivid, frightening. Flipping on her bedside lamp and reaching into the drawer of her night stand, she pulled out a pen and paper. For the next half hour she scribbled notes, desperate to get the details down as the fog of sleep dissipated.
After two cups of coffee restored Tim to his usual exuberance, he twirled Martina around the kitchen on his way out the door. Mark and Lisa trudged to the bus stop, postures skewed by backpacks stuffed with lunches and schoolbooks. Martina sat down at the computer tucked into a corner of the family room and began to flesh out the story from the notes she had made earlier.
The phone never rang, no one dropped in for a chat over coffee. That sort of disruption had dwindled off months ago, since her stories had begun to be published. First hurt and confused, then angry, defensive, now she accepted the forced solitude.
At noon she called Tim while waiting for her first draft to print out.
What have you been doing all morning? he asked.
Im working on a new story.
Another dream, huh? Whos featured in this one?
Martina hesitated. Dont tell me youre starting to think like everyone else.
Tim laughed. You have to admit, your Muse moves in mysterious ways.
Martina changed the subject. After she hung up, she gazed unseeing at the computer screen. They were wrong, the ones who accused her of spying on her friends. Her stories werent about them. The dreams were of specific people, but they were just symbols, coincidental in her subconscious. By the time the stories were written, the names were changed, any identifying details were edited out. No one reading the finished product could possibly guess who she had dreamed of.
Except, somehow, they always guessed.
Inspiration sprang from her dreams as far back as she could remember. The stories piled up and she tried not to care that nothing sold. Until last year, it had been a harmless hobby.
Then the dreams changed. Realism and urgency surged through them, so dramatic the stories seemed to write themselves. They had a depth, a passion, her prior work lacked. Suddenly she was winning contests, being published in magazines and collections.
And her friends were avoiding her.
Once, before everything had altered, Tim woke early and finding her awake, reached for her, sliding his hand over her breasts, nuzzling her throat. She shoved him away.
Not now, Tim. I need to write this down while its still fresh in my mind.
He sighed. Whats the rush?
Pen poised over the notebook, she said, You know when you first wake up and a dream is still in your mind, but a few minutes later you cant remember what it was about?
Tim reached for her again. I still remember what I dreamed about.
So am I.
I get story ideas from my dreams.
I see. Your Muse is a night owl.
Dont be silly. There is no Muse. My inspiration comes from me, my dreams, not some ancient goddess.
From what I know of mythology, youre taking a chance, denying your Muse. Werent the Gods touchy about things like that?
Martina had shrugged dismissively
The night after that was the first of the new, mutated dreams. The story inspired that night, Your Cheating Heart, won the contest sponsored by the local library. Martina was thrilled when it ran in The Valley News, a local weekly newspaper. Until Janelle called. Not congratulatory, not even friendly.
How could you do that to me?
What are you talking about?
How did you find out? Did Dana tell you?
I havent talked to Dana in weeks. She hasnt been around since our Halloween party, Martina said.
It had to be her. Jerry wouldnt tell anyone.
Your story! Janelles voice shook, whether from anger or tears Martina couldnt be sure.
My story? The one in the paper?
Of course. Everything is there, word for word. Dana was the only other person who knew.
Janelle, I swear, I havent talked to Dana.
Then you were eavesdropping. Spying on us. Thanks to you, everyone knows.
About Dana and Jerry! Were you trying to humiliate me? Jerry and I spent weeks sorting things out. Just when things were getting back to normal, you pull this. Ill never forgive you.
It wasnt about you! I had a dream, thats all! But Janelle had already hung up.
The fluke upset Martina, but the dreams kept coming. She felt driven to write them down, despite her misgivings. As each one made its public debut, no matter how many details she altered to disguise the characters, the subject of her dream always knew. Inevitably, a call would come, an accusation made, a friendship severed.
Tim attributed it to subtle hints picked up from conversations, then acted out in her dreams. Martina knew better.
How could she have known that Cissys daughter, Rhonda, had celebrated her fifteenth birthday at the clinic, removing the result of climbing out her bedroom window to see her boyfriend, the one with a pierced eyebrow and purple hair. If Cissy hadnt kicked up such a fuss, no one could have guessed Childhoods End was about Cissys family.
Martina shook her head to clear out the memories. She read the completed first draft of her new story. It had power. By the end, tears beaded on her lashes. She had changed the name of the character to Brian, given him a bald spot and a paunchy belly, but the jaunty personality shone through, impossible to hide.
Remembering Tims joke about her Muse, Martina impulsively logged onto the Internet and did a search. Browsing through the results, she found details in the myths surrounding Muses that troubled her.
There were nine Muses, daughters of Zeus. Their importance stemmed from their inspirational gifts to aspiring artists and poets. With exaggerated egos, like all the Greek Gods, they exhibited nasty tempers when slighted. One web site related how a poet named Thamyris challenged the Muses and mocked their abilities. For his lack of respect, he was maimed and his memory stolen.
Martina thought back uneasily to the way she had denied the existence of the Muses, taking full credit for her inspiration. Setting her mouth in a grim line, she read on.
In addition to favoring those who loved astronomy and astrology, the Muse Ourania had a talent for foretelling the future.
Common sense told Martina this whole thing was silly. No one had taken Greek Gods seriously for several millennium. Still--
It wouldnt hurt to check. Martina knew without question the date Janelle caught Jerry in a lip-lock with Dana. Halloween. Pulling up the original draft of the story that had so angered Janelle, she checked the date the computer file was created. October 29th. Two days before the party.
Taking a deep breath, Martina picked up the phone and dialed Cissys number. After some soothing apologies and a bit of wheedling, she managed to get Cissy to tell her the date of Rhondas birthday. When she pulled up the original draft of that story, Martina sat blinking at the screen. It had been written the day before Rhondas abortion.
Three hours later Martina put down the phone after her last confirming call and looked at the list she had compiled. Every story that had cost her a friend had been preceded by a dream, just days or even hours before the events in the dreams had occurred. The evidence was overwhelming. She had known ahead of time of traumatic, devastating events in the lives of her friends. Unwittingly, she had written about their tragedies, made them public, causing untold pain and damage to the people she cared about most. How could she have missed the pattern for so long? Wrapped up in her writing, flush with success, the lives of her friends went on without her.
There was no longer room for doubt. Her dreams were visions of the future. The only remaining question was how.
Could she, an intelligent, educated, rational woman of the twenty-first century, believe that a centuries old goddess had been irked by Martinas failure to show the proper respect? That Ourania was teaching her a lesson by showing her the future, disguised as dreams?
The thought was ludicrous.
If a Goddess is that petty, its no wonder people stopped worshipping her. Martina clapped her hands over her mouth. She had spoken out loud words sure to anger the Muse even more. She laughed shakily at her fear.
A goddess of the stars. Inspiration creeping in with the starlight through prophetic dreams. Coincidence?
The stories she had written prior to the first sale were in a totally different vein than her current work. Insipid, uninspired romances. She had assumed her writing changed because she was improving. Could there be another explanation? In some small corner of her mind had she known? She brushed the thought aside. These were her stories, her work, her success.
She went into the kitchen for a glass of ice water, sipping it as she sat back down at her desk. She didnt have time for these doubts. She had a story to finish. Making notes in the margins, plotting revisions, she tried to concentrate, but guilt over what she may have done to her friends was bringing on a headache.
As she read, the horror of the story just written hit her anew. Martina stopped. Her eyes strayed to the list of dates and back to the story again. Her stomach lurched.
If her dreams truly were visions of the future, the prophecy in this story was due to be fulfilled any time now.
No! Martina grabbed the phone and punched the button for Tims office. Tattooing her nails on the desk through three interminable rings, the call was connected.
Tim, dont get on the-- Martina realized the droning voice wasnt Tim, but his answering machine.
She scrabbled through her desk drawer for her phone book. Phils number was in there. Grabbing the book, her elbow knocked over the glass. Water ran across her manuscript.
Phil, Tims boss, answered the phone. Martina. Stripped of his usual cheer, his voice sounded foreign. I was just going to call you. The elevator--
Martina dropped the phone. She stared at the smeared manuscript on the desk. The water hadnt reached the title. It was still clearly legible.
Good To The Last Drop.
A howl built in Martinas chest. Her mouth opened, rage and pain erupted and she cursed the name of Ourania.