Author's Note: Blame it on the heat. Please. — I needed to get away from it all. Leave all the stress and trouble behind. So, I packed up my son, his stuffed tiger, and my Muse Ted (a mistake I'm not making again, believe me!) to go to Hammamet, a beach resort in Tunisia, on the North-African coast, for some rest and relaxation. And maybe bring home a memento or two …
"He's gotta go."
"What?" I asked distractedly as I tried to figure out a halfway logical reason why Kat would end up pregnant by Jason while she was still dating Tommy without being totally out of character.
"I said, he's gotta go. Like, right away." Ted's voice was becoming more strident by the second. It was enough, in any case, to bring me out of my absorption with one of my as-yet unwritten stories. Unfortunately, since I hadn't yet put fingers to keyboard on that one, it meant that not only did I lose my train of thought, but also the halfway workable solution I'd finally hit upon. It didn't exactly endear my Muse to me at that moment.
"What is it this time, Ted?" I asked the little fuzzball wearily. "Is it that you can't talk to your buddy again?"
"N-no," he admitted, somewhat more calmly now that he had my attention. "I know I don't have net access while we're on vacation. Although, why we had to come here, I …"
"Stow it, Ted," I warned him. "You know that Gerrit and I wanted to have fun in the sun. Especially since we only have a week."
"That's all very well for you and The Kid, but what about me?" Ted not-quite whined. "You may like 105 degree heat, but I don't! I'm a polar bear, for cryin' out loud! I need cool, not an oven!"
"Tough look, bear boy. If I recall correctly, it was you who wanted to come with us on vacation. I'd just as soon have left you at home."
"I'd have gone out of my mind with boredom. Okay. But I want him gone, anyway."
"Who's him, Ted?" It galled me to have to ask that – it's not a good idea around my Muse to admit to any kind of ignorance; I knew I'd never hear the end of it – but I had absolutely no idea what or who Ted was talking about.
"That … that beast!"
"What beast?" I asked, now totally bewildered. My son had brought a stuffed white tiger, and I had brought Ted with me to sunny Tunisia, but there was no other animal anywhere in sight.
"That beast," Ted said, pointing to one corner of our hotel room. There was nothing there. I told my Muse so, in the tone I usually reserve for Gerrit when I explain to him for the gazillionth time why I will take a trash bag to the disaster area he calls his room if he doesn't get his butt in gear at once and clears at least a pathway to the window and bed for me to navigate without risking life and limb.
"He's there! He is!" The absolute conviction in Ted's voice made me look once more. Still nothing.
"Uh … what exactly is it I'm looking for, Ted?" I asked cautiously. While I had no idea what he was talking about, I couldn't totally dismiss the thought that the little scamp either was putting on one heck of a performance for whatever reason, or he had finally flipped. The latter possibility was too scary to even contemplate. Who wants to deal with a crazy Muse?
"Hellfire does," Ted pointed out, able to read my thoughts with astounding clarity. I hate it when he does that.
"I'm not Hellfire. Besides, Psycho is not crazy. He's just … different."
"He talks like a bad extortion note, he carries a big knife and Hellfire routinely whacks him over the head with a rolled-up newspaper. That's not crazy?"
Time to change the subject.
"Listen, Ted, I'm not talking to you so you can insult my online friends and their wei … um, unusual habits or their Muses. Have you ever heard the expression 'Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations'? If not, it would be a good thing if you remembered it from now on."
"You can say 'weird' if that's what you really mean, y'know," Ted said, somewhat smugly. I'm well aware that Psycho intimidates him, but he'd rather come up with a Zack songfic than admit it out loud. "Besides, I thought you'd more or less left the Star Trek stuff to The Kid?"
"I'm still watching Voyager and Deep Space 9 myself. In any case, I'm not going to talk about this, Ted," I declared. "Hellfire deals with Psycho just fine. Their working relationship is none of our business, anyway." Although I had wondered occasionally just how …. no. I like Hellfire; I wasn't going to indulge my Muse's anxieties and little quirks more than I absolutely had to.
I didn't really care for the look Ted gave me, but let it slide. Back to the original problem.
"I'm going to ask you this one last time, Ted. Who, or what am I supposed to see in that corner? Either you give me a straight answer and we can get to the bottom of this thing, or you'll leave me alone and maybe, just maybe I can find the solution for my dilemma. Which, by the way, is part of your job description – if I may be so bold as to remind you of the reason of your existence?" Okay, so maybe the sarcasm was a little thick, but I was beginning to get seriously ticked off. This was not what I had hoped to be doing on my sorely-needed vacation.
"The big oaf of a hayburner over there," Ted pointed a chubby paw over his shoulder. "You mean you really don't see him?"
"No, I don't," I assured my Muse. Looking more closely, I could see that Ted was seriously upset.
"I don't get it, anyway. Why would you suddenly see a horse here – or is it a cow? Although, considering the fact that we're currently in North Africa, it'd be more logical if you saw a camel…" I cringed a bit under the extremely infuriated Look Ted gave me.
"Not horse, cow or camel, you idiot," he snapped at me. "Can't you see he has antlers?"
"Watch your language, furball! You know very well your Contract does not allow you to insult your author directly to her face!" Idiot, indeed! I know that Ted uses even more insulting terms when he's talking to his buddy Murray about me, but that's … different. Don't ask me how, or why, it just is.
"Where does my Contract say that?" Ted demanded, suspiciously. "I don't remember signing a clause to that effect."
"It's in the section you keep trying to rip out. You know, the one that magically reappears each night after you've tried yet again to get rid of it? What was it …. part two, subsection eight, item 3.7? On page 41, I believe?"
"How'd you know that?" he gaped at me.
"What? That you and Murray keep trying to get out of conditions set in your Contracts by ripping out the parts you don't like? What do you take Mele and me for? We're not the stupid old broads the two of you seem to think we are."
If Ted had been physically capable of it, I'm sure he would've blushed. As it was, he squirmed uncomfortably around, sneaking glances at me to see if I was upset or not about being on to him and his best buddy. I let him steam a few moments longer, then I relented.
"Hey, it's okay. Mele and I know how you mean it. As long as you keep it between the two of you, we don't mind. Much."
Ted looked at me a bit skeptically, but apparently decided I was being serious. He grumbled out a reluctant thankyou, which I accepted at face value, then slunk off to the bed, sulking. I sat back, grinning to myself. No need for the little stinker to know that my friend and I would be getting back at him and Murray. As of yet, we had no idea how or when, but we would get them. Eventually.
"I still want him out of here," Ted mumbled after a while.
"Oh yes, your mystery guest," I remembered.
"He's not my guest," Ted protested. "The Kid brought him."
"Gerrit? He packed his stuffed tiger. Why should he have brought a deer? What's more, a deer only you can see?"
"He's not a deer, he's an elk. Sheesh, don't you know anything?"
"We've already established I don't see anything, remember? An invisible elk? Why in blazes would Gerrit dream up an elk?"
"I dunno. He says he's a Muse. You already have a Muse. Me. You don't need another."
"Believe me, I don't want another. You're more than enough for me." I shuddered at the mere thought. Ted was definitely more than enough for me to handle, and I'd heard stories from authors with multiple Muses…. thanks, but no thanks. I value my sanity too much – what there is of it, anyway.
"Have you tried talking to him? I mean, since you can see him and all," I suggested.
"Yeah," Ted grumbled. "How do you think I know what he is?"
"Well, have you tried asking him what he wants here?"
"He says he doesn't know. He knows only that he suddenly was here, that he belongs to The Kid and that he's a Muse, like me."
"That's ridiculous, Ted. Gerrit doesn't even write. What would he want with a Muse?" Belatedly, I remembered that my son had actually written a couple of book reviews for the school newspaper last year. It wasn't much, granted, but it was a beginning, and given his fascination with PR fanfics and the fact that he finds Ted, Murray, Mason and the other Muses I had stupidly told him about utterly intriguing …..not to mention that his mother was one of the people he could find posted on the Internet …. ahem.
"Tell you what: I'll go and have a word with Gerrit; why don't you try to find out the elk's name in the meantime?"
"Okay," Ted agreed, rather unwillingly, but admitting that it was the only solution that made any sense.
It took me a while to get my twelve-year-old out of the pool, but I finally managed to do so. On coming back to our room, Ted was bouncing impatiently up and down on the double bed.
"What did The Kid have to say?"
"The Kid, as you like to call my offspring, actually has a name," I tried to stall. How do I tell my Muse the truth without him going hopping mad? Not that it would make that much of a difference to his normal behaviour, but still …
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Ted waved my motherly concerns aside. "You told me often enough. What has Gerrit to say about him?"
"Well, you know he's been a fan of Jeremy's Mason and Julia's Asbestos from the start, right? And that he's half laughing his head off when I tell him about you and Murray, right?"
"Yeah. Why?" Ted asked suspiciously. He could see that I didn't exactly have good news for him.
"Have you found out the elk's name yet?" I tried to postpone the inevitable for a few moments longer.
"Moose, elk … what's the difference?" I asked. "It's the same species, isn't it?" I wasn't too sure of my biology, but I knew it was a close match.
"No, you don't get it," Ted said. "He says his name is Moose."
"Moose the Muse?" I sputtered. "H-he says he's a moose Muse whose name is Moose?" I nearly lost it.
Even Ted had to grin at that.
"Yes," he admitted. "Oh man, wait until Murray hears this….but you're getting away from the point of all of this. Does he go, or not?"
"Um, Ted … I don't quite know how to tell you this, but …. Gerrit says he wants to get more into the school paper this upcoming school year … wants to do some more writing … maybe do some fiction of his own one of these days …."
Ted looked at me with dawning comprehension, and a look of deep and utter disgust on his furry face.
"You mean to tell me that … that he's going to come home with us?"
"That's so unfair! Murray gets another frog to play with, and what do I get? That Kid's Muse! Yuck!"
"I'm sorry, Ted," I said, sincerely. Now that I knew my little polar bear was not hallucinating, I could actually begin to make out the outlines of a goat-sized moose in the corner, who looked at me with a shy grin and a hopeful tilt to his antlered head. I held out my hand and he ambled forward so I could scratch him between the ears. Unfortunately, his antlers managed to swipe a lamp off the nightstand. Only the small carpet and the low height prevented the shattering of the lamp. It did crash loudly, though.
Ted looked at the scene with a mixture of horror and amusement.
"I need to get out of here," he mumbled. "Oh man, where's Murray when I need him?"
"Look at it this way – at least you'll have something new to talk about when we get back."
My only answer was a black scowl as Ted rolled himself up in the middle of the bed, to sulk in relative peace. I turned back to my laptop, trying to remember the train of thought Ted had interrupted. Moose tried looking over my shoulder, but caught his antlers in the bath towels I had placed over the back of the chair. While the young elk tried to shake off the large pieces of cloth, he skidded on the marble tiles in our room and crashed into the suitcase stand, causing them to fall off and bury him under them. Ted and I looked at each other and sighed, for once in perfect if silent agreement. It was going to be a long week.