“Once upon a time, in a tiny Meridell village, there lived a small Eyrie whose only dream was to grow potatoes that could...”
I shook my head and crossed it out.
“Dr. Sloth was not in the habit of cuddling small and furry creatures, but on this particular Tuesday...”
I grimaced and crossed that out as well.
“The Neocola cans had been waiting silently for someone to buy and drink them, had been mutely accepting of their fates. But today was different, because today...”
I groaned, crumpled up my paper, and lobbed it at the trash can. It bounced off the towering pile of rejected stories, coming to a rest next to the empty cup of Electric Coffee that my pets had brought me in the hopes of jolting my creativity. Their efforts had been in vain. Every time I came up with what I thought was a halfway-decent topic, a little voice in my head told me I was no good at writing and I should just give up. I hated this voice. I had named it Albert. Albert had been strangely overactive recently—it seemed like over the past few days, I was either staring blankly at my paper or shooting down one idea after another. Still, I refused to let Albert win, so I took out a new sheet of paper and racked my brain. Come on now, mind, focus, I begged myself, and gazed so intently at the paper I was afraid it might burst into flame. Just one idea. I just need one good idea. Come on, you can do it, I know you can—
The door flew open with a bang, and I toppled out of my chair with a shriek.
“Oh, sorry, did I startle you?” said Luna, my Lupe, with a decidedly unapologetic snicker.
“You could say that,” I grumbled, getting to my feet and righting my chair. “Haven’t I asked you to knock when I’m writing?”
Luna daintily sat down on the corner of my desk and adjusted the folds of her Royal Girl Lupe Gown as she scanned my cluttered papers. “‘Writing’ is kind of a loose term for what it looks like you’ve been doing.”
“I’ve been writing!” I said defensively. “I’ve been writing tons!”
“How much have you actually extended past one sentence?”
“Can I help you with something, Luna?” I asked, avoiding her question and sinking into my chair.
She bounced up at once. “Yes. I want a quest.”
I looked around my room for a club with which to bludgeon myself; finding none, I settled for rhythmically thumping my head on my desk. “A quest.”
“Now that I have been crowned, I owe it to my subjects to rid the kingdom of evils, and also I’m bored,” said Luna with a large, heroic smile and a curtsy.
I thumped harder. “Lu, you do realize that you were painted Royal, right? With a Paint Brush. That I bought. You have no kingdom.”
“Whatever. Just give me a quest. And don’t call me Lu.”
I raised my eyes to the heavens. “I thought we agreed that quests are for weekends only.”
“It’s Saturday,” Luna quite fairly pointed out.
“Well, I really don’t have time for this right now. I’m very busy,” I said, grasping at straws.
“Oh, please,” said Luna, rolling her eyes. “What do you have time for? Practicing for a paper-crumpling tournament? No need. You’re a natural, you’ll sweep the competition.”
“Fine. You want a quest? I’ll give you a quest,” I said irritably. “Go find writer’s block, and tell me how to defeat it.”
Luna looked slightly disappointed. Actually, more than just slightly disappointed. “Writer’s block? What kind of a quest is that? Mom, it’s a concept!”
I kneaded my temples, able to feel a headache coming on. “Humor me.”
Luna eyed me a bit strangely. “Uh, if you say so. Your hair is stupid, your socks don’t match, you’re too scared of lurking Spyders to get rid of the leaf pile in the backyard, you haven’t cleaned out your desk since Year Sev—”
“Just... just go, okay?” I said hastily. “Go find writer’s block. Go on now. Shoo.”
“This has to be the lamest quest you have ever given me.”
“Lamer than that quest to get me toast from the perilous kitchen?”
I sighed in frustration as the door slammed shut; I would never be able to concentrate on writing now. Giving it up for the moment, I contemplated going for a bit; maybe I could grab a hot dog and then see if the gardening supply store had any new gnomes—
Garden gnomes. Hot dogs. That’s it!
I grabbed my pen and started scribbling, with mounting excitement. This would be fantastic, maybe even the best piece I had ever written. If I could just get my stream of ideas on paper before I lost my train of thought—
The door banged open again. I jumped, dropped my pen somewhere under my desk, and nearly burst into tears.
“Mom, I found it!” Luna said, a note of surprise in her voice.
I got to my knees and crawled under my desk to retrieve my pen. “That’s nice, Lu. Good for you.”
“No, you don’t understand,” she said impatiently. “I found it! And don’t call me Lu!”
I felt something under my hand and picked it up, only to find that it was a stale pretzel stick. I recoiled and tossed it away with a shudder, then returned to searching for my pen. “Found what, sweetie?”
“Gee, Mom, what do you think?” I could tell Luna was giving me one of her patented eye rolls again.
I gave up and started to crawl out from under my desk. What did it matter, anyway? I was doomed to a life without creativity, a life that conspired to stop me from realizing my writing potential. There was really no point to finding my pen if I never got the chance to use it. “That one sock you lost ages ago that you swore you would never stop looking for?”
“Writer’s block! I found writer’s block!”
I emerged from my desk and straightened up as I started laughing. “Of course you did. Where was it? How did you get it out of my brain?”
“It was right outside the door. I tripped on it.” Luna sounded quite serious, which worried me a little. Had she finally snapped?
I turned around. My Lupe was holding a small grey brick with a grainy but distinct face on the top.
“You’re telling me that is writer’s block? Nice try. What is it, a toy? A new Petpet?”
“No. I am a Writer’s Block,” said the brick in a pompous little voice. “To be precise, I am your Writer’s Block.”
My laughter died and my knees felt a little weak. I knew that voice. I heard that voice almost every time I sat down to write. “Albert?”
“That is what you insist on calling me, yes,” said Albert crabbily.
I collapsed into my chair. “Luna, where did you find this?”
Luna grinned proudly. “I told you, it was right outside the door. I ran out to go look and I stubbed my toe on it.”
“Excuse me,” said Albert, sounding offended. “I’m right here, you know. I can hear you.”
“S-sorry,” I said shakily. “I, uh, I don’t mean to offend you, or anything, but what are you?”
Albert shot me a scathing glance. “Somehow, you continue to accomplish the not-insignificant feat of being even dimmer than you look.”
“No, I get that you’re a Writer’s Block, but what are you? Are you a figment of my imagination?” I waved my hand wildly in front of my face. “Is my hand a figment of my imagination? Is EVERYTHING just a figment of my imagination?”
“Enough,” snapped Albert, who was really starting to look annoyed now. “I am merely the physical manifestation of your imagination’s self-inhibitor. Get a hold of yourself. And stop that whimpering.”
“But I just don’t understand,” I said, trying not to let my voice slip into a whimper again. “Why are you here? Shouldn’t you be, I dunno, in a wall or a pathway or my head or something?”
Albert’s face fell slightly as he mumbled, “Kindagahthrownout.”
“Sorry, what was that?” Luna asked.
“I got thrown out, okay? I got thrown out of your imagination,” said Albert in a wobbly voice, now looking absolutely miserable. Then he seemed to get a hold on himself, and said, “That’s why I’ve been so active in your thoughts lately—my proximity made me stronger than usual. Honestly, why are you a writer if you can’t even figure that out? Anyway, I need your help so I can get home.”
I blinked bemusedly at his request. “So you insult my brain and my writing skills and then ask me for help?”
“Well, if you’d rather I stayed here and made disparaging comments about your writing within earshot of other people—”
“No, no, I’ll help you,” I said hastily.
At this, Luna perked right up. “Does that mean we get to go on a quest? Should I go pack my weapons?”
Albert blinked at her. “You have a strange, pathological need for adventure and violence. I like you.”
“Why do these things always seem to turn into quests? WHY?” I said pitifully to the room at large. Albert and Luna rolled their eyes simultaneously (they really were two of a kind), and I started to pull at my hair, as was my wont in times of stress. “I mean, I really want to help you, but how?”
“Uh, Mom? You’re doing that thing with your hair again. You know, that thing that makes you look like a crazy person,” Luna interjected. I dropped my hand hastily.
“The only way I can get in is if you unlock your mind for me again. By this, I mean you must make the perilous journey with me to the root of imagination, which, by the way, is on another dimension, and risk your life to put me back where I belong,” said Albert gravely.
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes. “Well, when you put it that way...”
“It’s that or an eternity of criticism you’ll be able to hear outside your head. Your choice.”
“Well, okay. Luna, will you get your special questing sack so we can pack?” I sighed.
Luna, grinning madly, sprinted out the door. “Already on it.”
* * *
After we’d finished packing Luna’s many weapons and my many clothes, Luna started to wrap up food for our journey as I lectured the rest of my pets, knocking Albert against the kitchen table for emphasis.
“Okay, guys, you know the deal. No explosions, no fires, no destruction of decorations, no matter how creepy you think they are...”
Triss, my Usul, looked injured. “The Pinklet in that painting was totally staring at me. So not my fault.”
“Not the point, Triss. What else? Oh, no heists, no scheming, and absolutely no sticky foods upstairs. I should be back in a day or two, right, Albert?
“I suppose if you’re going to be back at all, it will be within two days.”
“Aren’t you just a little ray of sunshine. Anyway, I think that’s all,” I said, and pulled my pets in for a group hug. Then, I disentangled myself and headed out the door.
Once we were outside, I pulled out my map of Neopia. “Where do you think we should start looking?”
“Oh, the entrance is in Faerieland, in the library, I believe. Last I saw, there was a door in the back wall of the fiction room.”
I stopped and stared at Albert. “And you didn’t tell us this when we were packing because...”
“You never asked.”
I took a deep, calming breath and squashed my irritation. “In that case, the ferry to Faerieland leaves in... Luna, does that say ten minutes or one?”
“It says one minute, I believe.”
“Of course it does. Let’s go.”
* * *
The Faerie library was quiet and orderly; faeries, owners, and pets browsed and read quietly, giving the place a hushed, scholarly air. Luna headed straight for the fiction section and started scanning the bookshelves. “You say it was here?”
“It used to be,” said Albert. “The faeries must have sealed off the door.”
“Why?” I asked, watching as Luna started to tap her claws against the places where the shelves met the wall. Pets and faeries were starting to stare (I couldn’t blame them; if I saw a Lupe who was tapping persistently at a shelf and a girl who was holding and talking to a brick, I’d stare too), but I ignored them.
“Because it frightened them. There is unbelievable power in creative minds, and if the power of even one mind were released, the consequences would be devastating. Queen Fyora probably decided long ago that nobody could have access to it, to eliminate that danger.”
“Wait, long ago? Weren’t you just kicked out a few days ago?”
Albert made yet another frustrated noise. “This is the front entrance. I’ve only been here once, and that was many years before I was placed in your mind. I was forcibly ejected by way of the back entrance. Do you have any more silly questions, or was that it? No, forget I asked that. You will never run out of silly questions.”
“You’re right,” I said angrily, finally provoked. “Here’s another. Why’d you get kicked out?”
Albert’s grainy face hardened. “Now is not the time.”
“Guys, I think I found something,” called Luna, who was briskly sweeping all the books off the ‘W’ shelf. This prompted shocked gasps from the library’s patrons, and the Library Faerie came rushing over.
“What in the name of the Dewey Decimal System are you doing?” she whispered furiously, staring at the pile of fallen books.
Luna shrugged nonchalantly. “Oh, just opening a long-sealed door that encloses the power of all imagination. Ah, got it!”
She pressed a hidden button and the bookshelf split in the middle, each half drawing aside to create an entranceway. Brushing past the spluttering faerie, we entered a small, plain room, and the shelves slid shut again. The ceiling was painted with a mural of stars, which was echoed in various rugs and chairs, and there was a film of dust all around the room.
“Now what?” I asked, eyeing the starry ceiling with trepidation.
Albert also stared at the ceiling, but he looked more rapturous than nervous. “Focus only on what makes you write. Imagine the source of your imagination, the root of your creativity, and funnel yourself into that place. Once you’re there, be quiet, don’t wander, and never look at the windows. Oh, and you might want to lie down before you start focusing, because you’ll be leaving your body.”
“What? You never said anything about having to leave my—”
“So how do I get there? I’m not a writer,” interrupted Luna.
Albert tore his gaze away from the stars. “You can’t.”
Luna’s mouth fell open. “But that’s not fair! If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t even have found this place! What am I supposed to do now?”
I looked at Luna and said, “You are charged with the very perilous task of guarding my body while I’m... gone.”
Luna, looking very upset, pursed her lips and picked up her sack of weapons. “Fine. I’ll stab anyone who comes near you.”
“Uh, that’s a little more extreme than what I had in mind, but thanks, Lu. I trust you.”
She glared at me and said, “Don’t call me Lu,” before she lunged at me and hugged me tightly, whispering, “Please come back. None of us can cook.”
I hugged her back, ruffled her glossy Lupe fur, and then let her go. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back before you know it. And you know I can’t cook either.”
Albert cleared his throat impatiently, so, shooting him a dark look, I lay down on a thick rug and closed my eyes, trying to focus only on what he’d told me to ponder. I waited for what felt like an hour but was probably only five minutes, then opened my eyes and lifted my hand. I expected it to look ghostly or something, but nothing happened; it was the same as always.
“Uh, Albert? I don’t think it’s working,” I said, sitting up. “Are you sure this is how to get up there?”
A clang and an “Oops!” came from Luna’s direction, and I looked around to see that all her weapons had spilled onto the floor. As she began to gather them, her paw caught a Slippery Floor Potion, which (natch) spilled all over the floor, causing her to skid across the room and into a tapestry. There was a grinding noise from above, and I looked up to see a trapdoor in the ceiling slide open, unraveling a small rope ladder toward us.
“Huh. I suppose they eliminated the out-of-body entry requirement,” said Albert. “Things really have changed since the last time I was here. Well, what are you waiting for? Toss me up there!”
I felt a rush of relief. “You mean I don’t have to go up there?”
“No, I mean I’ll tell you if it’s safe so you can come up next.”
Luna excitedly jumped over the frozen section of floor. “Does that mean I can go?”
I shook my head as I took aim for the trapdoor. “If something happens to me, I need you to take care of your sisters.”
Luna sighed in reluctant acquiescence, and, looking exasperated at my weak attempts, took Albert from me, flinging him up easily. After a few seconds, he called, “It’s safe!”
“That’s what I was afraid you’d say,” I grumbled, and started climbing the ladder. I hoisted myself through the hatch and emerged in a corridor lined with thousands of doors and windows. Remembering what Albert had told me, I determinedly forced my eyes away from the windows and instead gazed at the dark grey floor. The passageway was absolutely silent, and it was all incredibly cliché, but it terrified me just the same. I wheeled around, searching frantically for the small brick. “Albert? Albert, where are you?”
“Keep your voice down, you silly girl,” said a familiar voice. I turned around yet again, and saw an elderly Ixi who sported bushy eyebrows, frown lines, and small glasses perched precariously on the tip of his nose.
“Uh... why aren’t you a brick?”
“Now that I am no longer confined to your horrid dimension, I’m free to assume my natural state. Come along now, and hurry. We have to get to your mind before they realize I’ve brought you here.”
We hastened along the seemingly endless corridor, with Albert grumbling every time I paused for breath. Without warning, he slowed down, and I bumped into him, apologizing as he scanned the doors and muttered, “Sixteen thousand eight hundred and five, sixteen thousand eight hundred and six... ah, here we are.”
He stopped in front of Room 16,807, and I peered through the window. Unlike the others, this one was dark; I couldn’t see what was inside it. “How do I unlock it?”
“Only you hold the key to your imagination,” Albert said wisely.
My jaw dropped. “Are you joking? All those times you told me I was too cheesy, and now you say I hold the key to my imagination?”
Albert rolled his eyes. “No, I mean you literally hold the key to your imagination. It’s on your keychain.”
“What?” I squawked incredulously, digging through my pocket for my keys. “No way. I think I’d realize if I carried the key to my imagination everywhere I—”
Albert made an impatient noise, grabbed my keychain, and pointed to a small silver key upon which the word “Imagination” was quite clearly inscribed.
“Oh. I guess I missed that one,” I said sheepishly.
Albert tapped his hoof impatiently. “It didn’t exist in your dimension, but now that we’re here, it materialized. Don’t worry your little head about it, just open the door.”
I took the keychain back and stuck the key into the lock. I’d only just started to turn the key when the door swung open, as though shoved by an invisible wind, and the key vanished. I jumped back. “Um, was that supposed to happen?”
For the first time since I’d met him, Albert looked frightened. “No. It means they know you’re here.”
I scowled. “They, they, they. You keep talking about a ‘they’, and ‘they’ obviously scare you. Who’s ‘they’? Tell me!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear a word you said. The grammatical errors deafened me.”
“Must you be snarky right now? Hello, the door just opened on its own! If that’s not creepy enough to make you civilized, I don’t know what is.”
“They’re the spirits of the first Writers’ Blocks. They rule this place. Happy?”
An ominous moan sounded somewhere behind us.
I gulped. “I take it that’s our cue to get inside?”
“Finally, a halfway sensible idea from you. Better late than never, I suppose.”
“Again with the snark! Why the snark?”
The disembodied moan sounded again, closer than before; I suspected we didn’t have much time before the moan would lose its disembodied aspect. I steeled myself and walked into the room with the Ixi following close behind.
The door slammed shut, and I clutched Albert’s shoulder. Everything was utterly obscured by the kind of mist Tarla could only dream of, and freezing winds swirled as eerie voices whispered:
You should not have returned.
You should not have brought your writer here.
You were expelled for a reason. You know that.
When we expel you again, do not come back.
“Wait,” I cried, suddenly feeling as though I was being watched by invisible giants. Again, cliché yet terrifying. Still, I had to ask. “Why’d you expel Albert? What did he do?”
He let you have too much, writer.
The purpose of Blocks is to keep creativity contained.
Your Albert was too kind to you. There is no place for kindness here.
“No!” I shouted, more angrily this time. Who did these things think they were, messing around with my imagination? “This is my mind. This is where my power comes from. You can’t even touch me while I’m in here, can you? That’s why you made all this mist and wind. Smoke and mirrors, that’s all it is.”
As I spoke, the mist thinned slightly, and the wind didn’t seem quite so cold. Encouraged, I stood taller. “You have no business here. I will decide who stays in my mind, and I’ve decided that you’re the ones who don’t belong. Albert stays.”
The voices whispered again, but much more faintly than before.
We must obey, for now.
But this is not over, writer.
“You are so cliché,” I retorted; the mist dissipated and the wind died down. For the first time, I saw my mind—small and cozy, furnished in purple and red with small armchairs, bookshelves, and a desk. The books were in disarray, and Albert, shrugging his shoulder out from my vicelike grip, hurried to inspect them.
“Dreadfully disorganized, but it’s nothing a few days won’t fix,” he said, almost to himself. Then he looked at me as if surprised I was still here. “Well, off with you, then,” he said, and the floor dropped out from beneath me. I opened my mouth to scream, but before I could, I dropped neatly through the starry ceiling and landed in front of Luna.
“Oh, there you are,” she said, yawning. “Took you long enough. Where’s Albert?”
A snide voice in my head said, Don’t even bother writing this adventure down. You know you’ll never finish the story anyway.
I started to smile, and pointed to my head. “In here, Luna. Right where he always will be.”
Neomailed comments are always welcome. (Really. They make me feel important.) :)