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Martina's Muse


            Martinas eyes flew open and she sat up, 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.  She closed her eyes and let relief wash over her.

            This dream was the most vivid yet, frightening, dramatic, painful.  Flipping on her bedside lamp and reaching into the drawer of her night stand, she pulled out a pen and a notebook.   For the next half hour she scribbled furiously, trying to get the details down before wakefulness swept away the fog of sleep and the dream dissipated.

            When Tim had been nursed to coherence with two cups of coffee and sent off in the van, when 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 neighbor dropped in for a cozy chat over coffee.  That sort of disruption had dwindled off months ago, since her stories had begun to be published.  At first hurt and confused, then angry and defensive, she had come to accept 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.  A new realism and urgency surged through dreams so vivid and compelling that 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 changed, 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.

            Im serious.

            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 very touchy about things like that?

            Martina shrugged dismissively.  Since youre up, why dont you put the coffee on?

            The next night the quality of her dreams had changed, become more real.  The story inspired by that first dream, 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?  Were friends.

            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.

            Tell what?

            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.

            Knows what? 

            About Dana and Jerry!  Were you trying to humiliate me?  Jerry and I spent weeks sorting things out and just when things were getting back to normal, youve done this.  Ill never forgive you.  Never.

            It wasnt about you!  I had a dream, thats all!  But Janelle had already hung up.

            The odd fluke upset Martina, but  the dreams kept coming.  She felt compelled to write them down, despite her misgivings.  But as each one made its public debut, no matter how many details she altered to disguise the characters, they always knew.  Infallibly, the call would come, the accusation made, the 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 inevitable result of climbing out her bedroom window at night to see her boyfriend, the one with a pierced eyebrow and purple hair.  If Cissy hadnt kicked up such a fuss, no one else 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.  As she read, 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 on Muse.  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 to Tim, 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 of Janelles fight with Dana.  It was 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.

            An hour later, ears sore both from the phone being pressed to them and the harsh words that had poured into them, Martina looked at the list in front of her.  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, usually days ahead of time, of some traumatic and devastating event 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.

            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 her the proper respect? 

            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. 

            And yet--

            A goddess of the stars.  Inspiration creeping in with the starlight through prophetic dreams. 

            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 had changed because she was improving.  Could there be another explanation?  In some small corner of her mind did she know?  These stories had no right to exist.  Sooner ask a bee to give up nectar as for Martina to give up her long sought success. 

            She went into the kitchen for a glass of ice water, sipping it as she sat back down at her desk.  She picked up the pages of her latest story and began making notes in the margins, plotting revisions.  She had a hard time concentrating.  Guilt over what she had done to her friends was bringing on a headache. 

            As she read, the horror of the story just completed 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 unheeded across her manuscript. 

            Phil, Tims boss, answered the phone.  Marty.  Stripped of his usual cheer, his voice seemed 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 rumbled in Martinas chest.  Her mouth opened, rage and pain erupted and she cursed the name of Ourania.

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