The muse in the bookcase
Steam rises from the rice in the pan. I break the shrimp crackers and bring the broken pieces to the table. My girlfriend waits for me to sit down, her eyes betraying her eagerness to take a bite of the food.
We talk about our days. Hers first, then mine. I tell her about the lessons I taught, the reports on the Crusades most students failed and casually mention the rejection I received.
‘That’s a bummer,’ she says, spearing a meatball on her fork like a ravenous Poseidon. ‘And now?’
‘Now I’ll just wait for the next rejection. And the next one. And the one thereafter. Until I receive a letter telling me I will be published.’ I shrug, and the bones in my neck crack like the crackers did minutes ago.
I tell her nothing about Kuranes. She does not know he lives with us in our study, that he has a small nest behind the books of Poe and Fitzgerald. Even if I told her, she would not see him.
He had suddenly appeared one day. Like so many other days I opened my laptop to continue working on my novel, when I saw him. He laid there, on my keyboard, small and dripping. He was sickly white like a maggot, but had small bulges of underdeveloped limbs. His eyes were almost as big as its head. How it was possible I didn’t crush him when I slammed my laptop shut in fear is still a mystery to me.
I ran down the stairs to call for my girlfriend. She was watching the telly, clutching a cup of tea with both her hands.
‘You must see this,’ I said excitedly. ‘A creature. On my laptop. I’ve never seen anything like this.’
She stood up, put her tea on the table and followed me upstairs.
‘Is it a spider?’ she asked.
‘More like a silverfish,’ I answered.
‘Will you take some paper, so you can catch it?’
I obeyed, walked into the bathroom and grabbed the roll of toilet paper, before I opened the door to my study.
‘He’s right here,’ I whispered, as if insects were ever bothered by sound.
‘Okay,’ she said. She stood at least a meter away from me, taking safe distance.
Carefully I opened my laptop and saw the little worm just as I had left him. He pulsated a little, but did nothing else.
‘Look!’ I said.
‘Where?’ she asked.
‘On the keyboard, right in the middle. The worm’
‘I don’t see anything,’ she said. ‘Are you taking the piss?’
I looked at her, and back to the slimy translucid being between the S and the J. ‘Yes, I’m pulling your leg.’
‘Not your best joke,’ she spoke the truth. ‘I’ll be watching Holland’s Next Top Model.’ She left the study, her eyes unable to hide her slight annoyance.
‘Alright,’ I said, and waited for her to enter the living room before I returned to the creature on the keyboard.
I shoved the worm off my laptop with a pen, into the bin. With a soft thud it landed on the crumpled-up paper before the lid closed above him. Even though it looked slimy, the keys were as clean as a newborn’s leg; as if the creature had never been there at all.
With a sigh I tried forgetting about the maggot, opened my manuscript and continued writing my story.
The next day the worm had returned. He was a little bigger than the day before, but equally defenceless. Maybe he was of the same species, and not the same animal. How could a creature so helpless have managed to climb out of the bin?
I pushed this critter into the trash. Yesterday’s worm was nowhere to be found.
He must have slid down, I thought, and without checking the contents of the bin I closed it; leaving it in darkness.
In the next days and even weeks the same thing happened every day. On some days I moved my laptop to the kitchen table, where my girlfriend browsed through the advertisements.
‘Would you look at this sentence?’ I asked her, as she put on the kettle. The creature, who now covered all the keys, moved his stumps around wildly and clacked his teeth loudly.
‘It’s pretty good,’ she said after reading the sentence, after which she returned to her seat opposite of me. I knew it then: the creature was invisible to her.
The being outgrew the bin. Weary, I put him on an empty bookshelf of my bookcase and built a wall of books so I would not see him anymore. Every time, before I started writing, I checked on him. He grew bigger with every passing day.
The writing went extremely well. Words flew out of my hands and sentences rolled across the screen. I finished my novel without breaking a sweat. Eventually I became so absorbed with writing that I forgot all about the creature behind the tomes.
On an autumn evening, when drips of water crawled across my windows like transparent slugs and October’s sun painted the sky red with bloody scarlet brush strokes, a book fell off the shelf with a loud bang.
Startled, I turned towards the origin of the noise. On the floor was my big H.P. Lovecraft collection. A golden eye peered from the bookshelf into the room.
Carefully I stood up from my seat and walked towards the bookcase. Three fingers appeared from the dark, blue skinned with obsidian nails at their ends. A second book, with all James Joyce's stories, was pushed off the shelf. I dove for the book and caught it.
From my crouched position I looked up at the strange creature above me. The monster was no bigger than a football. Two huge eyes took up most of its face. Between them was an upturned, piglike nose. He slowly came forward, revealing his pointy ears. I raised my arms to protect myself from the creature, but lowered them when nothing fell on me. The being flew above me, unmoving in the air like a hummingbird, even though his batwings flapped infinitely slower. I noticed his hanging tail, and how it transitioned almost straight into the shoulders attached to his head. The creature had no legs and no neck.
When I sat up straight the creature landed before me, on the pages of the Lovecraft tome. Between his fingers I read the title of the story. Celephaïs, from 1922. What was the name of the main character again?
‘Hello, I am Kuranes,’ said the monster. ‘And I am your muse.’