Brainstorm: Part One
I couldn't believe I was doing this.
Me, a professional writer, forgoing the warmth of my neohome to slip through the streets of Neopia Central at night. In the cold. And the rain. In a ridiculous black cloak.
Why? To search for some inspiration. That's why.
It had all started a few days ago when my writing agent, Christine, stopped by my neohome unannounced. Believe me when I say I was surprised to see her finely-feathered figure on my welcome mat; it was only the lump of utter dread in my throat and some innate sense of morality that had prevented me from shrieking in fright and hiding behind my living room sofa.
I let her in with all the courtesy I could muster at 9am, running my talons through my disheveled bed-head and scolding myself for not lotioning my scales the night before; I was an absolute wreck, and I knew I looked it. And trust me, you never want to look like a lunatic when the woman you've entrusted with your hopes, dreams, and writing career is standing in your messy foyer.
I ushered the yellow Pteri into my kitchen and sat her down at the table. I thrust a mug of ever-so-frantically prepared coffee into her wings and sat down opposite from her, hoping she couldn't see my legs shaking beneath the table.
"So Holly," she said after a moment, giving me an I know you're not going to like what I'm about to say smile. "How's your latest story coming along?"
My heart pounded frantically in my chest, whacking against my Draik ribs like a novice drummer flooded with too much adrenaline. Needless to say, I was panicked. Even more needless to say: I lied. "Great!" I tried to flash her a winning smile. "Wonderful! Best piece yet! Er... when do you need it by again?"
"Friday," she said sternly, feathers tapping the side of the coffee mug. "So it can be properly edited, sent back to you for final revisions, and then put in next month's issue of the Times. And if the critics like it enough, at the rate you're going, it may even end up in this year's edition of Best Neopian Stories."
I bit my tongue. Having a short piece in Best Neopian Stories had been my dream for a long time, ever since my very first piece was picked up by the Neopian Times. But one didn't just appear in that book as a new timer. You needed to have both tenure in the writing business and serious skill. I had been working towards that my entire career, each piece getting me closer and closer, each review in the paper hinting that I was almost there.
Knowing that I was so close to my dream was torturous, especially when my own literary agent was the one telling me it this time.
"Well, don't you worry your little Midas-tipped feathers!" I said. I heard the horrific metaphor escape my lips and I knew things were bad—slipping into terrible metaphors was a habit of mine that emerged in times of great anxiety. "I'll be done with time to spare! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to work on my piece—of course, just some tweaks here and there! Nothing major, haha! Wonderful piece, wonderful, you'll love it!"
As the lies and forced laughter filled the air like burnt sugar, I steered Christine out the door before she could ask to see a preview of my "latest masterpiece;" she was still clutching the coffee mug as I lead her over the threshold and shut the door in her worried beak.
I made my way back to the kitchen where I took a deep breath and downed the dregs of my own coffee. Dropping the empty mug in the sink, I scurried over to my writing room, sat down at my lovely antique desk, and picked up my notebook.
It was empty. As I had expected.
You see, I had fallen into a rough inspirational patch. I just couldn't seem to come up with a premise for a story to save my life. Every character I dreamed up was drab. Every plot predictable. Every locale bland. Even my writing style was suffering: every line I wrote was either too wordy or too simplistic, too stylistic or not stylistic enough. Each day, I would end my writing session by ripping out the blackened, inky pages of crossed out words and tossing them in the trash. After weeks, I had nothing to show for my attempts save for a decently-sized mountain of paper balls in the corner of my room; at the rate I was going through paper, I was even beginning to think that I should switch careers and become a trash artist.
That was when I knew I needed to take drastic measures.
It was my friend Lily who had given me the idea. She was an actress, an eccentric Chomby with a penchant for the extreme who performed in little theatres throughout Neopia Central. Once she had even performed as far as Shenkuu, but some technical difficulties blemished that one performance to such an extent that she refuses to acknowledge that it ever happened.
For all of her drama, Lily was my closest friend. She told me that whenever she hit her own "acting dry spell," she'd turn to method acting. She would don a costume and hit the streets, physically turning into the character she needed to portray on stage.
And so, as I stared at the paper ball sculpture in my writing room, fiddling with a pencil so chewed it looked as if I was trying to whittle a tiny canoe out of it with my teeth, I thought of her. Why not take a page from Lily's book? I reasoned. Why can't I, a Camouflage Draik, try to become a story character myself?
And that, scarily enough, is how I ended up walking by myself through the streets of Neopia Central with only the flickering lights of the fogged up lampposts to guide me as I searched for something that I just couldn't find: inspiration.
"What would Nigel do?" I muttered, turning this way and that. I was trying to decide if I should stick to the main roads or try to venture down an ally and see what was in store there—probably just garbage and a higher chance of losing my wallet, I thought pessimistically. I was trying to get into character, trying to slip into "story mode," but I was failing miserably. Instead of feeling "empowered," like Lily had told me I would, I just felt awkward. The cape she had leant me, for one, was much too large, and felt even heavier in the rain. I hunched my shoulders, trying to retain my body heat, and wiped the rain off my face with the back of my hand.
I couldn't help but think that Nigel, my current main character, would no doubt be much more suave than me. He would go out into the streets as if he owned them, walking confidently, maybe even grinning. I attempted that, adjusting my posture and trying to twist my face into a smile, but after only a few steps I tripped on my cape and tumbled to the slippery cobblestone streets.
I heard a tiny chuckle.
I looked up, expecting to see a child peering out from behind the nearest street lamp, but no one was there. I was alone.
"H-Hello?" I called out tentatively.
The laugh came again, light and mocking. I tried to pinpoint where the sound was coming from, and once again I turned to the tall iron lamppost with its flickering purple flame. I was sure the sound was coming from there, yet how could the laughter be coming from an inanimate object?
Then I blinked. Purple flame?
And that's when the flame sputtered, and from the fire flew out a tiny creature of deep violet. It twirled in the air, its laughter incessant, black and gold sparkles trailing from its form until it alighted on my snout.
My eyes crossed for a moment, and then I realized what the creature was: a miniature dark faerie. She was tiny, the size of a Brucicle stick, with a jagged haircut and a short dress. Her skin was tinted violet, her eyes were a deep green, and she had thin wings threaded with navy veins.
"Nice cloak," the faerie said, holding back laughter with her thin fingers.
The only thing I could manage as a retort was: "Why are you so small?" And even that didn't come out as a retort—I sounded pretty lame in all honesty.
She raised an eyebrow and gave me a did-you-really-just-ask-me-that look. "Magic," she said simply. "I can be bigger if you'd like, but you might not like the larger version of me. I can change my appearance, and I may not be as cute in standard form."
I didn't say anything, which she took as an excuse to continue. She gently kicked off my nose and fluttered upwards a few feet, hovering in mid air, her wings a blur. Her eyes narrowed for a moment as she looked at me, and then she smiled, her pointy teeth glinting in the dim streetlight. "I knew I recognized you! You're that writer, Holly Milburry. Who would have known! Wandering around at night, wearing a stupid cape like a wannabe superhero." She laughed again before crossing her legs in midair as if she was sitting on a miniature invisible floating chair. "I know why you're here though. You're searching for something. Inspiration, if I'm not mistaken."
I was mildly shocked. "Yes. How did you know?"
She winked. "I know a lot of things."
I frowned. I wasn't sure how much I liked this faerie. I had met a few before, but only the benevolent life-size faeries, the ones who spun wheels and offered paintbrush colors and asked you for hair care products on occasion. I had never met one who preferred her diminutive form... or one who seemed to know so much about me.
"So," she said, examining her tiny nails, "how about this, Miss Milburry. I'll help you out. Free of charge, actually, since I'm feeling rather generous."
"You can whip up some inspiration?"
"More of a brainstorm."
"Like a brainstorming session?" I frowned, hearing the disappointment in my voice. I had tried those multiple times, writing down random words and observations, trying to make a story from nonsensical words. "Those never seem to work for me."
"Trust me, this one will. It's a different type of brainstorm." She waggled her fingers, speckled with the tiniest bit of nail polish, mystically. "Just say the word and it'll be done."
I'm sure a sensible person would have said "No thanks." After all, a dark faerie offering help could only lead to disaster. But I wasn't sensible; I was cold, tired, and desperate. So I nodded my head, and murmured, "Please."
She grinned. I couldn't tell if there was something beneath her smile, something spiteful or mischievous, or if it was nothing at all. But then she winked, green eye flashing, and said, "One brainstorm coming up." And then, without even saying some sort of incantation or doing some sort of mystic dance, she flew away, disappearing as a small speck into the darkness.
I waited for a few minutes, wondering if she would return. But she didn't. She had left me in the middle of the dark street as inspiration-less as before.
I shook my head, drew the wet cape around me, and decided to head home. "Stupid faerie," I murmured, thinking that perhaps a good night's sleep would be a better way to get the creative juices flowing than traipsing about in the dark.
But as I crawled into bed and turned out the light, I could have never imagined what I was about to wake up to the next morning.
To be continued...