Muse, or Dante's Inferno

I read, and I write sometimes, but most of my stories stay dreams.

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
It is a lonely life chasing inspiration.
Perhaps there are those who believe my eight sisters and I to be wellsprings of idea, belief, and inspiration; but one cannot enliven that which is dead. So it is with us. Where there is tinder, a spark can be laid, but dull clay does not lend itself to flame. Thus we chase the cottony filaments of a mind spun to dreams, hoping to be there before a rain falls to sodden the thought, and lay our sparks. We remain to fan the spark into a flame, until the Work is completed. Then we leave our Artists to search the ashes or flames for a bit more tinder, and to kindle a spark on their own. Some learn from us, and go on to do more without us. Others cannot see beyond ashes, and the mind becomes a mire in which no fire can live. All we know when we leave is that an essential Work has been born among men.
Those Works form the silver halo around my cloud of loneliness. They demonstrate that the loss of my eight sisters to metropolis, hamlet, monastery, and mountain has its merits, that each of us working separately do more than we could together. The world is larger than our Greece ever dreamed, and as it expands, so does thought. There is fire to be spread, and we must keep up.
Even with the silver lining, and even given the prospect of fanning a flame, seeking inspiration is lonely. There is no one to consult, no one to help make the decision of cotton versus dried grass, no one to commiserate as sparks die or blaze too quickly in the wrong direction. With so much being created, it is hard to discern an essential Work waiting to be conjured. Electing to spend much time on one mind is a difficult decision. Thus it is, and thus it was when I was first drawn to Florence, a city where I would spend much of the coming centuries. I felt inspiration beginning to simmer there, and was simply attempting to ascertain where.
On the day I first saw him, I was closer to silver lining than to cloud. Spring was dawning, and the people did not need any prompting to celebrate. They seemed as much as I to feel the importance and exultance of the birth and rebirth of the season, gathering to trade flowers, food, gifts, and thoughts. Song filled the air, old verses whose melodies I had heard time and again in other cities, and I joined the swells of people in search of a bit of tinder.
I had cupped many a promising dream in my hands and blown on it that day, to see if it would hold my spark, but none were satisfactory. If those minds went on to do more with that breath than I anticipated, I do not know. All of my thought was stilled when I saw him in that house.
He was what I had searched for.
He was Inspiration itself, almost deity, stronger than I, whose dreams would rule over me.
I needed him.
He was only a child, but in his mind was the potential for a bonfire of creation. His Works would blaze through society and time, of that I was certain. With that realization I was suddenly brought back to myself, and began to cast about for a way to blow my spark into his ready mind. Perhaps sentiment led me to the girl, nine as he was. I drew him to her, and I laid my spark. Almost instantly, a fire began to spread throughout the boy. The day passed, but I still tended to the mind and the flame. The mind, though young, was precocious, and lent itself easily to secret dreams and admirations, piling wood upon the smoldering beginnings of a Work. The boy, of his own will, began to seek his muse in the streets, unsure of what he would say should he encounter her smile, her face, her sweet, unsurpassed purity.
This I fostered. Even as he wrote of other women, I turned his thoughts to the girl of years ago, his pedestaled paragon. The boy became a young man, and I graced him nine years after the first spark with another. This spark came clothed in white and flanked by two others on the streets near his home, just as he’d dreamed. Upon her smile, upon her glance, upon her salutation, the boy was overtaken by a flash of joy as the spark took hold.
The world around him became merely a distraction from reliving that vision. As he slept, it was indeed a vision that he received. A flame of thought and belief grew in him as he slept. He saw beatitude in his mind’s eye, saw his heart taken by that bliss, and then he loved.
The love was not my intention. It was the fruit of that love that I sought.
“To all besotted souls,” he began...
And continued for fourteen lines...
Just as flames lived in him, a sweet fire burned in my breast. I felt the beginning of a Work. I felt it again and again, coming together piece by piece, as he continued to love without requital or respite. The flame swelled, his mind quickened, and all of it came back to her. Other ideas and thoughts danced through his waking dreams and nightmares, but she was the golden thread through it all. Without her, without the spark she carried, none of it would have been.
Soon after this second flame began to burn, I, and the universe, grew impatient.
I had planned to wait another nine years before another meeting, before introducing the final tongue of flame into my young Artist’s mind, the one that would allow the finalization of his Work; but as my anticipation grew, the Fates intervened, and the girl’s life was cut short.
The death was not my intention. It was the fruit of that death that I sought.
I was with him as he received the news. The spark I dropped into his mind as he reviewed his poems to her was a somber, pulsing one. Perhaps it came too early; perhaps the timing was just as the gods intended. The spark took hold, and the resulting blaze enveloped the other two fires. The pulse of the heat—the pulse of his heart and the loss—overtook him. He fell into writing, refining, and compiling. A few more years tending to his flame, and I saw the Work realized, saw a new life begin. It was the life that he began to live upon first meeting her, now immortalized. He would not be forgotten. The Work was done, and I was satisfied.
And yet...
And yet, long after she was gone, still the girl and mother Mnemosyne’s gifts consumed his memory. He could not forget her, even as he fanned smaller blazes within himself and brought them to fruition. The flames I had planted within him continued to grow, and in them I could see—I swore I saw—another Work being formed. In spite of gentle pulls from other minds, I couldn’t leave him, not yet. I pushed that fire higher and higher, for longer and longer, until it was a pale inferno that licked at the paper to which he put his pen, leaving cantos and visions and horrors in its wake. Once the inferno began it could not be stopped. It pushed him through purgatory and, finally, into paradise—paradise, as he would see it. That inferno consumed him, his time as well as his life. After years of tending him, I left what was left of my Artist; but the feverish inferno had taken its toll. In a stroke of what some may call divine comedy, he went to meet the girl, the beatitude, in his paradise, just a year after his Work was completed. The Fates surely have a sense of humor.
The inferno he created left me drained, as well. I could not and cannot die, so long as there are ideas to breed and flames to fan, but his Works traveled with me. Across time, and other minds and dreams, my flames have blazed; but such a pure white fire I have never again encountered. That flame, that inferno, left him finally to his love and his respite.

It left me again to my loneliness.