"Inventive, lyrical and inspired, Cassandra’s Revenge is a wild romp through the classics to the myths of today."
~ Marilyn Power Scott, Editor
The Books of Ger Agrey-Thatcher
The Inconveniences of Inspiration
I was down to my last word. There was a void at the end of the sentence I was typing. Nothing was left for me except reams of blank pages. My idea file and my mind were empty. I had no desire to be a Zen monk at this point in my life. I had novels to finish – major prizes to win. Believe me, this wasn’t ordinary writer’s block. The biggest mountain I had ever seen stood in my way, and I had to move it. I needed help fast.
I took a walk -- nothing. I decided to hit a bar. Two different girls put the moves on me. I turned them down. The conversations were silly. I felt stupid. I rode the bus around town until midnight. Reality wasn’t helping me out here. I went back home.
As I came up the sidewalk, I saw her. She was sitting on the top step of the porch. She stood up as my foot hit the first step, and said, “Hi, I’m Cass.”
“Nice to meet you Cass,” I returned. “And what brings you here this hour of the morning?”
“I’m your muse,” she smiled.
“OooK,” I said, thinking Just when I’ve heard them all…but said “That’s the best line I’ve heard in a long time. That would make a great beginning for a story.”
“I told you,” she said.
That was the first time she slapped me, without lifting a finger.
“Come in,” I said, unlocking the door and heading for the coffee.
“Let me do it,” she was already in front of me. I walked over to the table and sat down, still feeling ragged from the booze.
“Want some music?”
“News is nice for now. Besides, I’m all the music you’ll ever need.”
And by the time she came with the cups, I’d heard two stories that were perfect for my next book. I was back on track. I was glad she was here. But I was feeling muy weird.
“Just Cass?” I asked as she sat down.
“That’s me, but you can call me Sandra if you want. I like that name too.”
She took a sip to hide her smirk, and looked at me over the rim of the cup, or into me, at things I knew I had never seen before. I was positive I was hallucinating.
“No you’re not, honey,” she said. “I’m just as warm and wild as you are. See?” and ran her hand inside my shirt, and left it there, too long.
“Honey, yourself -- I think it’s bottom line time for us, because I didn’t ‘say’ it, and that’s twice you’ve been playing inside my head,” as I took her hand out of my shirt. But I continued to hold it. I was starting to like her, and she knew it.
“I can’t get used to you mortals; I’m always screwing it up. You’ll get used to me,” she pouted. “Can I sit on your lap before we go to bed?”
I always believed in the cliché to never sleep with my muse. Having had several bad experiences trying to seduce Lady Luck, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Being a writer, I was even browbeaten into being gender sensitive, but her tongue running up the side of my neck made foolishness of all the best advice I was ever given.
We woke up in the same mood, and ate a very late breakfast. And she cooked like a goddess, too.
“That muse thing,” I looked at her across a fork full of salmon and eggs under hollandaise. “Are you the tenth muse? You’re not one of the original nine – what about them?”
“They’re twits,” she scoffed. “So don’t you ever cheat on me!”
“I don’t intend too. But what makes them ‘twits’?
“They’re vain, lazy, self-indulgent. They think that just because they walk around naked all the time, someone will admire them. I think they’re fat!” Sparks were coming out of her eyes.
“Yeah? How? I thought everybody liked them.”
“Thalia laughs at everything, even her own jokes. And that get-up. She’s an idyllic idiot. Melpomene wants everyone’s world to come to the worst end you can think of. -- crying night and day. She so dramatic, she’s hysterical. And Cleo, always in the past. Who cares? Enterpe, Terpichore and Polyhymnia are OK I guess, because they dance and sing a lot, and that’s what lovers do, so that’s the proper business of muses. The world would be a lot better off if they’d get off their inspirational asses and get some real work done. Calliope and Urania are stuffy, pompous and overbearing, like Cleo. But Erato, she’s cool, she’s a mixer, and she can get you all hot and bothered in a hurry. The others like to stay in their own little niche most of the time, but Erato believes in cross-breeding the arts. We get along.”
I had finished my breakfast by the time she came to the end of her tirade. She sounded like she really knew the script; I could only think of one thing to say:
“Your eggs are getting cold,” I said. “Want me to fix you some more?”
“I’m not hungry any more. I’ll just finish my juice.”
I went from 2000 to 8500 words a day – and spent half the time doing it. My idea file had grown to three volumes. My microrecorder was maxed to a hundred hours of notes, and was ready for download. I had two more novels in draft and five proposals on the agent’s desk. I was turning into a publisher’s dream.
When I stopped to revise, she said: “C’mon, baby, you know I like it rough. You just get in there and write your big chestnuts off. I’ll take care of the polish. That’s part of my job. We do all-nighters whenever we have to, and if we have to sleep late, it makes the dinner taste twice as sweet.”
Our fortunes soared. Everything I sent out landed in print. When I sent something to an editor who couldn’t use it, s/he found a home for it – I hadn’t seen a rejection in months. Agents were calling. Editors were sending me query letters -- for more. Contracts were presented for my consideration. Cass looked them all over. Pulling herself up to her full stature, so she could look down her nose at the pile on the table, she said:
“I think we need to start a bidding war.”
After 37 weeks at the top of the Times bestseller list, and 15 printings of my first book, we bought a bigger house, furnished it, tested the biggest bed we could find, and hired the help. Then, she marched in like Athena in full battle gear, and demanded:
“Fork over the plastic, superstar -- I’m going shopping.”
“But I thought we…” But before I could finish, she announced:
“I am the daughter of a king. I was desired by the god of the Sun himself. Frankly, you’re better than that Ajax creep; he couldn’t even write his own name. And we have a lot of parties to throw, and more guests to throw out, so if I’m going to be the sweetest arm candy in the land, I’m going to dress the part. Comprende?”
She was gone until dinner. The exhausted servants made three trips with the boxes. As the butler put the last big load down, he said:
“The stores will deliver the rest tomorrow. She’s crazy”
“I know,” I said, But so am I, I thought.
She waltzed in the room beaming, spun twice on a toe, and dropped the credit card in my hand.
“Poor thing,” she said, and trotted the fox into the bedroom.
When she started modeling everything for me, I was astonished, impressed and appalled at the same time, especially by the amount of jewelry she had bought.
“You’re going to need bodyguards for all this stuff,” I moaned.
I hoped my next royalty check would be huge.
“It will be,” she smiled, “and the advance for your next book is going to knock your silk socks off.”
She had started putting her long red hair into a loose French braid, twining a gold cord through it, wound tightly to a taper, six turns before a tiny bow curled into the small of her back. I loved to pet it.
“When am I ever going to figure out how to get inside your head, like you do mine?” I was frustrated.
She lowered her head, and looked at me from only under her eyebrows. A dark fire started to pour out of them, and straight into me. She turned suddenly, slapping me across the side of my face with her long braid, and started to walk away. It was so fast that her hair had not yet fallen back to her, and she left her hand behind her as she stepped away. In that second, I wanted to go for her hair, but I grabbed her wrist instead, and yanked her to me. She spun back full front, as I pinned her to me with her hand behind her back. The sun was in her face.
“The writer can read – more than words,” she giggled. “I love to make you mad. You write plays with your eyes when you’re angry. It turns me on.”
“You’re the star of every one of them,” I said, refusing to loosen my grip.
“Mmm,” she said before we went to sleep that night. “I know I called you a mortal, and I know you think you’re one, but you’re really not. You’re immortal just like I am; you just can’t remember. But I think I know a way to show you, and give you your best book yet – all at the same time. Right after our first fight. Good night.”
I had a funny feeling she giggled herself to sleep.
She started needling me, getting under my skin, rubbing me the wrong way, changing her mind about stories, plot, characters, arguing with everything I said, until I finally caved in and said:
“Are you trying to pick a fight?”
“Uh-huh,” she nodded, like she thought I looked stupid.
She slapped me, hard. It hurt. “I already told you. -- got it yet?”
Her hand was on its way back to my face again. I caught it just before it arrived.
“What?” I begged, not letting her go.
“You’re getting better,” she was sneering. “You think I like this?” And her other hand got me on the other side of the face. I let go.
“You’re so beautiful when you blush,” she laughed. “I love putting roses in your cheeks,” and clenched her fist and punched me in the stomach.
“Please,” I wheezed.
“Fight!” she commanded. “That mush crap is for the muses! I’m trying to find out if you really love me!!”
The servants, butler, cooks and bodyguards all ran for cover.
We were at it for hours.
The story made the networks.
Book sales tripled.
We lay in a single heap on the floor for an hour. We finally untangled ourselves and staggered to our feet, using each other for support. She gasped: “Was it a tie?”
“I think you won,” I whispered. And a look in the mirror confirmed the fact.
She gave me two black eyes. I gave her one. When I came up from a punch in the mouth, I was bleeding. My lip was bloated.
“Did I hurt you bad? I tried to.” She consoled. “I hope I didn’t break anything.”
“I think I’m OK there.”
We stood in the bathroom nursing each other’s wounds. She tenderly tended to my lip. “We’re going to need half a ton of steaks for those eyes of yours though,” she grinned. I massaged heat gel into the bruise on her shoulder.
“Just below my right shoulder blade too,” she directed. “Nice. Feels gooood. Lower. Lower.”
The maid came in, knocking timidly. “Would you like dinner at the usual time?”
“No,” said Cass. “An hour later will be fine.”
She pressed against me, embracing.
“How’s my best friend?” she teased.
When we walked into the dining room, she asked “Was that worth writing a biography about me?”
“Someday soon -- but in the meantime, let’s not fight again like that for a long time, OK?”
“Yeah, OK,” she said glassy-eyed.
I wrote her a book of love poems instead.
Over breakfast one morning I asked: “By the way, how’d the video get out?
She just looked at me matter-of-factly and replied: “I had it all set up. I just hit the ‘Record’ button on the remote before I hit you with it.”
My lip remembered.
“And you sent it to the networks.”
She nodded with the innocence of a baby stealing candy. Then just as candidly she smirked at my raised eyebrow: “If you don’t like the news, go make some that the rest of us can use."
The next morning I woke wondering when she was going to show me about that immortality thing. “All the time in the world, don’t worry about it,” she nuzzled her nose behind my ear and in the same movement, sucked the lobe, tongued me, and whispered deep into my ear, hot: “I’m you’re muse, remember? And I like the way you wear me. But I still think you’re a silly, chivalrous chauvinist.” She was right.
I was getting used to her.
In a far, faraway land, in a time too long ago for men to remember well, there was born a princess fairer than Venus, named Cassandra. Her hair was red with gold, and her eyes were as blue as the summer sky. Her parents were King Priam and Queen Hecube, and they were more grateful and proud in their good fortune than the gods themselves; for someday Cassandra would reign as the Queen of Troy and bring favor and happiness to every land. But it was not to be.
As she grew in beauty, the desire of the sun-god Apollo grew more enflamed for her, and he came to her one day and offered her the gift of prophecy if she would give him the flower of her maidenhood in return. And fair Cassandra agreed.
He taught her well, for he was the god of prophecy and music as well as the Great Light. She became the greatest prophet in the land. But when he came to claim her virginity, she refused him. Enraged, he cursed her; he decreed that all her prophecies would be true, but that no one would believe her. And the beautiful Cassandra went mad.
In that day, the Greeks desired the beguiling Helen of Troy, and made war upon the Trojans to possess her. Cassandra went before her people and foretold how the great city of Troy would fall into the hands of her invaders if they accepted the treacherous gift of the Trojan Horse. But the people rejected her wild ravings, and took the Horse within their gates. The Grecian warriors swarmed from the belly of the horse, and sacked and burned the ancient city to the ground.
Cassandra fled into the temple of Athena, for she was a priestess of the goddess, hoping to find sanctuary. But the Greek general, the Lesser Ajax, found her there, raped her and dragged her away by the hair. He gave her as a prize to be the slave of the Greek King Agamemnon.
Cassandra prophesied again, and warned Agamemnon that if he returned to Greece with her, both he and she would die by the murderous betrayal of his own wife. But the King was arrogant in his victory, and thought her insane beside, and so he paraded her in his chariot before his people, and took her to his palace as his concubine.
Queen Clytemnestra awaited her husband’s triumphal return with an axe. Full of fatuous flattery, she invited him to stand upon the purple carpet of the victor. As he did so, Clytemnestra’s lover crept from behind and beheaded him.
Terror-stricken, Cassandra fled deep into the palace. She wandered in her mad frenzies until the Queen found her, took the bloody axe and cut off Cassandra’s head.
Cassandra fell into the deepest darkness she had ever known. She prepared herself for the decent, because the pit that leads to Hades is almost endless.
But the shock that she was still alive was swiftly followed by an even greater surprise.