Fiction

Muse


It was the fluffy pink slippers that finally destroyed the moment for him. Jeremiah could just about handle the fact that Simon Prince, a.k.a. the Dark Prince of Horror, writer of ghoulish fantasy stories and dark gothic tales of blood, ripped sinews and shredded living flesh, lived in deepest suburbia: suburbia had, after all, time and time again proved to be a very dark place, but, and it was a big but, oversized fluffy pink slippers had no conceivable place in Prince’s under-lit world of death, torture and enduring pain. Such slippers actually had no place on the feet of a drab fifty eight year old, allegedly straight male, let alone one who was known for opening the portals to a gore splattered hell-world of demons and human ghouls. Yes, it was definitely the pink slippers that were the problem.

Simon Prince, standing by the open front door of his meticulously well maintained early 1930’s semi, coughed apologetically, shook Jeremiah’s hand in a rather lacklustre way and invited him in. The two men walked down the hallway and into the lounge, where tea things, dainty crust-free sandwiches and a plate of small home-made fondant fancies were already set out in anticipation of the afternoon ceremony of high tea. Jeremiah’s sense of excitement was fast draining away via his shoe soles and into the pale lavender shag pile that they were standing on.

It was a vast amount of excitement to have drained away in such a short period of time: Jeremiah felt almost faint. The day had actually started out with a double helping of overflowing anticipation.

Firstly, Jeremiah was going to interview his all-time favourite writer. Secondly, the interview was a paid commission, as in someone was actually going to pay him to do it. Okay, he wasn’t quite sure who the someone was, but the referral had come from the normally reputable Simon Prince fan web-site and the anonymous commissioner had proved his bona fides by physically setting up the interview with Simon, no mean feat in itself, so it was almost certain that Jeremiah would be paid when he had completed the article. Guaranteed income and publication combined: what more could a struggling would-be writer want? He now knew, though, what he didn’t want – those bloody pink slippers.

Simon Prince, oblivious to his guest’s growing sense of anti-climax, poured the tea and chatted away about the weather, the declining service in his local supermarket, his nice fans on the net and the imminent visit to the vet of his pet Pekingese, Cerberus. Jeremiah felt himself losing the will to live, but struggled hard not to show it.

For someone not known for giving interviews, The Dark Prince was proving to be excruciatingly chatty. Where was the black magic mystery man who preferred to live as something of a recluse or, as he himself had once famously put it, to live a life which fuelled the hell-fire of his imagination? Jeremiah had originally seen this interview as rather a coup: a chance to meet with his hero that few others would ever have, plus the opportunity to write what would, hopefully, turn out to be a noteworthy and high profile article; one with which to make his mark. The only mark he would be able to make now was with his teeth in the thick and overly sickly fondant icing.

Things picked up slightly when the conversation turned to Prince’s writing and his tales of suspense and visceral horror. Indeed, if only Jeremiah could avoid looking at the pink slippers, he could almost believe the interview was going as he had originally planned and fantasised about. The trouble was that for every thrilling reference to subterranean torture, amputated limbs, genital cannibalism and the extreme blackness of the human soul, there was a deflating glimpse, however brief, of pink fluffy slipper. There were no two ways about it; the slippers were destroying both the moment and the interview.

Fortunately, luck was on Jeremiah’s side. Cerberus needed a pee-pee and in order to perform had to be escorted outside by his owner. When Simon Prince returned he had abandoned the unfortunate slippers in favour of an old, darkly stained, pair of leather shoes. Jeremiah decided not to contemplate the cause of the stains in case they in some way involved Cerberus, but all in all the shoes were a vast improvement on the preceding footwear. There was still hope for the interview and if only Jeremiah could consign his residual memory of the horror of those initial pink monstrosities to the furthest and darkest recesses of his mind, he was hopeful of a positive outcome to the day after all.

The interview moved on to the subject of Prince’s inspiration and Jeremiah felt his sense of excitement returning. Here was the stuff of legend, or nightmare, or both. Prince’s stories were so dark and grotesque that many professional critics had pondered, with some disquiet, the nature of his muse. Prince was amazingly open and almost passionate as he talked of what he called the deep pit within him from which crawled the nameless, or alternatively sometimes graphically named, horrors that stalked the pages of his books. Now, if only Jeremiah could forget those bloody slippers, but damn, there they were again, flaunting themselves fluffily amongst his visual memories and distracting him from the moment. This time Prince seemed to sense his loss of focus and, with a positively maternal sense of concern, pressed upon him a particularly pink fondant fancy.

Prince had seemed to warm to the theme of inspiration and went on to enthuse about his fans on the web and how a number of them had proved to be the inspiration for some of his blackest work. As Prince grew more and more enthusiastic, Jeremiah finally started to lose himself in the great man’s words. He listened as Prince described the dark place he would sometimes go to, to dig out the inspiration for his trademark horror. The fans had come to expect darker darkness and greater visceral chills with each book and he candidly admitted he had come to hate the pressure and the fans equally until he had realised the fans themselves could be a source of his muse: opening up new possibilities for raw horror from which could flow all manner of hot, sticky inspiration.

Jeremiah was finally relaxing into the interview. Caught up in Prince’s passion for his subject, he heard himself saying that he considered himself to be Prince’s number one fan. Normally he would have found such an amateurish outburst cringe-worthy in the extreme, but he was now so laid back it didn’t stress him out at all. In fact, Prince seemed delighted with this admission, waxing lyrical about how the web had brought him some of his most encouraging fans and how he had taken his bloodiest inspiration from the darkest recesses of both body and soul.

“We descend into the pit together and I draw the ideas from their heads, twitching and screaming, to splatter them across the blank pages of the latest book.”

This was more like it, thought Jeremiah. This was the blood-and-guts Dark Prince who he so admired. Not even recollection of the pink slippers could detract from the man’s greatness. Now he was revealing himself in his true colours Jeremiah didn’t care about them anymore.

“…and so you came here. But the best inspiration,” Prince was saying, “comes not from the contents of the head, but from the gut. Horror should be visceral. For the reader to feel it in his guts, it has to come from the gut, extracted slowly and exquisitely, dripping word after word on to the story like acid on an etching plate.”

Jeremiah felt he knew what Prince meant. Ever since Prince had started talking about the inspiration he extracted from his fans it was if he, Jeremiah, was both willing Prince onto even greater verbal eloquence and floating there, amongst the words that the great man was pouring out. Prince was, himself, clearly naturally inspired, but how wonderful it would be if he, Jeremiah Nordstrom, could be one of those blessed individuals who inspired a whole book: the greatest fan becoming the greatest muse. Without the slightest trace of embarrassment he heard himself saying that very thing to Prince. Nor was he surprised by the man’s enthusiastic response. Jeremiah hadn’t been so at peace with himself or the world at large since he had been given a pre-med prior to his appendectomy.

When Prince suggested a visit to his private workroom in the old air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden, to experience both how and where he worked, Jeremiah willingly agreed. Walking down the back garden path beside Prince and a wildly yapping Cerberus he found himself surprisingly unsteady on his feet, but Prince politely did not notice. Instead he enthusiastically waved the shovel he was holding in the direction of the gloomy entrance to the shelter, pointing out the steps down into the dark, “where I create the strongest emotions, the fiercest passions and the sharpest fear, torn directly from the raw gut.” As Jeremiah walked ahead of Prince, craning his neck to make out the steps in the gloomy autumnal dusk, the last things he was even vaguely conscious of were the swish of the spade through the air and the resounding thud as it connected heavily with the back of his skull.

 

This story was first published online by Twisted Tongue (#14 December 2009). This is a revised version.

J.S.Watts has published the following books: The Submerged Sea (poetry), Dempsey & Windle – ISBN 9781907435591; Witchlight (novel), Vagabondage Press – ISBN 9780692406908; A Darker Moon (novel), Vagabondage Press – ISBN 9780615706528; Cats and Other Myths (poetry), Lapwing Publications – ISBN 9781907276644; Songs of Steelyard Sue (poetry), Lapwing Publications – ISBN 9781909252028: NOMINATED for BOTH SFPA and Saboteur Awards Best Poetry Pamphlet 2013; Years Ago You Coloured Me (poetry), Lapwing Publications – ISBN 9781910855157.

Picture source: Paolo Marco