It’s midnight, pitch black and humid inside my bedroom. I have finally found the solace of deep, dreamless sleep when I’m pulled into consciousness by a faint whispering. I stir.
“What are you doing up, baby,” I say, assuming it’s one of my girls. “Bad dream?” With my eyes still closed, I reach out my hand to pat a little blonde head. There’s no one there, so I force my eyelids open. It’s dark, but I can see a tall, thin figure perched on the end of my bed. He’s wearing…a top hat?
“It’s me,” the figure says. “But you can call me baby, sweetie.”
“Ahhh. Chris… I might have known. Hold on.” Careful not to wake my husband, I open my nightstand drawer and pull out a small notebook and a book light.
“Not Chris, Christopher,” he says, enunciating all the consonants. “Remember?”
“Right. Sorry. Christopher. Whadya got?”
“Saint Christopher, actually,” he says casually.
“Saint?” I laugh. “Okay…you…your kind are beautiful creatures. And I guess it’s possible someone might mistake you for an angel, in the dark, having had something serious poured in her drink. But I’d hardly call you a saint. Anyway, do you even know who Saint Christopher is?”
“Of course dear,” he says, buffing his nails against his chest. “It’s me.”
“You know I think if you did a little research you’d find the irony…You know what, forget it. I’m not going to argue this at…” I glance at my digital clock on the nightstand “12:02 am. You can pretend you’re a saint if you want. But I am not calling you Saint Christopher.”
Finally my eyes adjust to the dim light and I see that Chris—er, Christopher is dressed in turn of the century equestrian clothes: tight, forest-green pants, a derby, leather riding boots that come to just above the knee. I raise an eyebrow. He smirks at me.
“You love it, right?” he says, lifting his hat from his head and grinning. I squint and shake my head.
“Mmm hmm,” he interrupts, pursing his lips. “Don’t think I don’t know about your love of horses. Not to mention your secret obsession for ridiculously tight boots. It’s just too bad it doesn’t work on them.”
“What? What doesn’t work?”
“Whispering,” he says, rolling his eyes. I shake my head at him in confusion. He sighs and clicks his tongue impatiently. “You can’t muse a horse.” He slides off the foot board and leans against it. I tilt my head and survey him. Somehow, even ridiculous in 18th century equestrian gear, Chris manages to look fashionable. “It works on dogs sometimes,” he says. “Cats yield varied and erratic results. But horses are like stubborn old men. They always think they know better.”
”You tried to…give a horse an idea?” I can’t stop the corner of my mouth from turning up into a half smile. I snicker.
“Listen, Miss Judgmental in ripped yoga pants and….my good Hell, is that your husband’s old t-shirt?” I glance down at my pajama selection and shrug. He cringes and goes on. “The point is, don’t judge me. I had a vision: A majestic black horse cantering in the wind at night. A poem, or a story beginning, whatever…figuring that out is your forte. Anyway it sounded simply fabulous. So I wanted to try it out before I whispered it.”
“That does sound lovely,” I say, scrawling notes across an empty line in my notebook.
“Wait,” he says, moving next to the bed and pushing my notebook down. “Close your eyes.” He kneels in front of me in the dim light and for a small moment we look at one another. I see sparks of color erupting inside the sapphire blue rings of his eyes. Tiny torrents of light, gold, pink, and yellow and I wonder if this is what ideas look like. I wonder if he can feel them. I wonder what it means to be a Muse, and if that strange sadness I sense in him has anything to do with his career choice. Or if it was a choice at all…
“I said, close your eyes.”
“Sorry.” I lower my eyelids and I’m met with a rush of cool night air. The pounding of hooves on earth drowns out the beating of my own heart. I’m riding without a saddle, barefoot and clutching fistfuls of the creature’s jet-black mane, strands of which are whipping against my forearms. The horse slows to a canter and I slide off, stand beside him and run my hands along his muscular neck. His silken hair shines almost blue in the moonlight.
I’m drawn to the creature, I can’t stop touching him. I’m beckoned by the diamonds sparkling in the velvet, black sky and the way the grass casts snakelike shadows onto my bare feet. I want to stay. I want to live here, fall into this world and never look back. But reality lies in waiting. I know it will call for me once it realizes I am gone. And eventually, I will call for it too. I open my eyes.
“Acceptable,” he sighs. “Adequate. But it could have been brilliant. Sadly this getup was wasted on the likes of His Majesty in the manure pile out in the back field. Some creatures simply weren’t made to appreciate artistic inspiration.”
“I know why she goes riding,” I say quietly, picking up my notebook and pen.
“Oh? There’s a she?” Chris smiles knowingly and backs away from my bedside, leans against my desk.
“Yes, a young girl. She sneaks out of her house at night and rides because it’s the only way she can’t hear her heart pounding. She’s haunted by…something. I don’t know yet.”
“I’ll work on it for you,” he says.
“Thanks,” I say, and smile. He smiles back. We have a mutual, unspoken understanding. The magic of being mused doesn’t stop at one suggestion. It’s the merging of enchanting ideas with familiar emotion, the melding of imagination and truth. I close the notebook and lay it on the nightstand.
“What are you doing?” Chris says. “We aren’t done.”
“Listen, Chris. Christopher. I really appreciate all of this effort, but it’s after midnight. My kids are going to get me up early. And anyway I think I got the gist of what—“
“What…the horse in the field? That wasn’t it. What do you take me for, a dolt?”
“Get comfortable sweetie, I have the story idea of a lifetime for you.” He sinks to the floor and leans comfortably against the pillows I’ve tossed from my bed.
“I’m already writing the story idea of a lifetime, rememb—“
“It starts like this…He’s a man with a gypsy soul who trains horses, and he’s a ghost. But not in the usual way…