“All right then,” he said. He remained in the shadow, his face hidden by the way the light from the hallway was obstructed by the half open door of the office. “Time to come with me.”
I looked up from the computer, where I’d been making minor alterations to a trunk story. “Uh… Why?” the time was six thirty am, give or take a few minutes. And my visitor was a bulky man with broad shoulders and wearing something… strange. It could be armor or a space suit. Or something. I thought of the boys down the hall, and that they’re both studying for finals and therefore by definition a little loopy. “Robert?”
“No.” He sounded impatient and the voice had a faint hint of undefinable accent.
“NO! I said come with me, woman.”
My mom taught me, before I was out of my pram never to go anywhere with strange men, much less strange men like this one. The more I narrowed my eyes and looked, the more it seemed that he was rather unsubstantial and I could sort of see the panels of the door behind him.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I have these stories that were published in the suburban fantasy anthologies to edit, and then I have to write one where they go out to Vegas and get married by zombie Elvis. And the cat box needs doing. And I have two novels that need editing, and one I’m copy editing. And I have friends novels to read for quotes. And besides,” I said, with finality. “I have a witlow.”
I got the impression he’d scrunched up his face in a frown. This was quite a trick, considering I couldn’t see his face and wasn’t even sure he had one. Something appeared in his hand. It might be a trident or a lance. He hit the floor with it. “And yet, surely you must come. The forgotten demand it.”
“They’re not forgotten. They’re lying to you. I gave them food this morning while I was making tea. If the bowl is empty, it’s because Havey eats as much as all four other cats combined, and that includes Greebo, look you.”
There was a hiss from the figure, which strangely didn’t make him seem more catlike, but rather, strangely like a tried-beyond-endurance human. “Come.”
He struck his lance again, and like in a dream, I found myself standing beside him at the window at the end of the hall. But instead of looking out onto the roof of our garage, our horribly neglected (as in nothing alive) garden, or even the neighbor’s houses, I was looking at a nebulous landscape wreathed in thick fog. Here and there, pieces of landscape emerged, like wrecked ships on a shallow sea.
“There,” a huge hand pointed at a patch from which something like Greek architecture emerged. “Is your pre-Mycenaean epic. The character has agreed to let you give him … er… her a sex change operation. What are you waiting for?”
“Well, you see, the resear—”
“And over there.” He pointed at a gloomy bit with French renaissance look about it. “Is the vampire musketeers. I mean, the second book is three days away from completion. THREE days. Why haven’t you done it?”
“There have been—”
“Over there.” He pointed at the same architecture but more cheerful. “Is the musketeer mysteries. You still get letters every week asking for more, don’t you.”
“Well, I’m editing the second, so we can—”
“And there.” He pointed out a patch of green wreathed in Kudzu that could only exist in the American South. “When are you going to finish that charming Southern piece?”
“As soon as I—”
“There—” The mountainous landscape of Goldport Colorado. “What’s up with not finishing the thing with the chick and the ghost of her dead lover.”
“A week, at most, I swear. I just have to find a week.”
He next pointed at a futuristic landscape with monolithic public buildings, “I thought you meant to bring out The Brave And The Free on the fourth of July?”
“Well, I did, but then I got sick, and…”
“And what about Winter Prince, a space opera in a completely different universe where you—”
“Oh, that. I really want to do it but I…”
“Then there’s A Flaw In Her Magic. Remember how much fan Austen fanfic used to be?”
“Yes, but I had more time then.”
“And orphan kittens. It’s waiting for you. They all need to be done. You can do a novel in a month, and you know it, but you’ve wasted almost six months now doing nothing.”
“Not nothing. There’s editing and publishing and family stuff. And I was sick. And before I do any of the others, I must finish the two books under contract for Baen.”
“Yes, those must be done too, but that’s not an excuse.”
He gave me a disgusted look. For that moment, I could see his face, shifting between the faces of all my characters, male and female. Let me tell you, it gives you a cold feeling to see Athena Sinistra looking disgusted at you.
“Get sick less, write more. Hire someone to deal with the other stuff. Otherwise all the people from those universes will come and make sure you never get a wink of sleep again.”
Like that, he vanished into thin air like a bubble.
And I went back to my desk.