Brainstorm: Part Four
At Lily's command, I changed into my white 404 Shirt and my last dry pair of jeans. The purple thing she had been holding was a Spring Flower Rain Slicker from the NC Mall. It had been part of her wardrobe for one of the many shows she'd been in, and it did a much better job of keeping the rain off me than the yellow rain jacket had.
I followed the royal Chomby out of my neighborhood, eventually emerging onto the main streets of Neopia Central. The weather was brilliant: warm sunlight, a gentle breeze, and clean air. Perfect writing weather. And yet the cloud above me seemed determined to thwart my lackluster effort to be optimistic, growling with thunder and sparking with lightning ominously.
But worse than the cloud were the other people in the square. I could feel their gazes hot on my face as I walked by, their eyes furtively flickering to the floating cloud that followed only me. It was clear that they could tell that the gloomy rain cloud wasn't a mere NC Mall trinket, and they regarded with a mixture of confusion, fright, and even a bit of repulsion. I watched as a few little kids playing "Tag!" paused as I walked by, pointing their little claws and fingers at me. The adults were even worse. Their faces reflexively twisted into horrified expressions, and then after stopping to blatantly stare at me for a few minutes, they tripled their pace and fled.
"Lily!" I hissed through my teeth when a Lenny exiting the post office dropped a large stack of boxes as I walked by. "This is embarrassing!"
The Chomby didn't pay the others any heed. She just adjusted her fake bejeweled glasses, glanced at me, and asked, "Any story ideas yet?"
"So we keep walking."
And that's we did. We strolled through the bazaar filled with Neopets drinking smoothies and exiting the Grooming Parlor with their hair nicely coifed. We then made our way to the crowded marketplace where people jostled against one another, pushing into shops and flooding the crowded tent that housed the shop wizard.
I tried to keep my eyes open, focusing on my surroundings in search for inspiration. Every so often, something would strike my fancy—an item someone was buying, or the dress someone was wearing—and I would hastily murmur it to the blank neomail in my claw that automatically recorded my observation. I soon had a nice little collection of interesting observations. But as for an actual idea for a plot, I was drawing a blank. I was too distracted by the stares and hushed whispers that followed me everywhere I went. It was not only distracting, but disheartening.
After more than two hours of walking, Lily announced that it was time for a break and led me down the roughly-hewn stone steps of the Deep Catacombs. The Catacombs was normally a place of comfort, welcoming writers and artists of all sorts, but even here, surrounded by my peers and the warmth of the flickering firelight, I felt unwelcome. Normally I would draw a small crowd of fans, Neopets who had seen my work in the Times and recognized my face. Some would ask for autographs on napkins and copies of the paper, and others would get into lengthy discussions with me about the characters I had created and the plot twists I had woven. But today everyone kept their distance, their eyes wary of the crackle of lightning above my head and the raindrops that darkened the dirt floor beneath my feet.
Lily pulled me into Ye Olde Coffee Shop and ordered us some Benyeroberry Tea. I sat down at the small two-person table, sipping the piping hot liquid, frowning as a camouflage Krawk from across the café blatantly stared at me. I pulled the purple rain slicker around me more tightly and tried to focus on my tea, watching the golden surface ripple as raindrops fell into the cup. I was thankful that the Shoyru who ran the place was a kind woman and hadn't kicked me out for dripping water all over the place.
Lily, ever the optimist, tried a smile. "Cheer up, Holly-Wolly," she said, stirring her own tea with a silver spoon. "I saw you murmuring at that thing all day! What did you get?"
I sighed and looked down at the pathetic list of words recorded on the neomail. "Well, I liked this one girl's hair outside the Grooming Parlor—it was bright pink, almost like cotton candy."
"Ooh, a simile."
I wrinkled my nose. "Not a very good one." I glanced back down at my list. "I saw a pretty necklace on display in the market, emerald of some sort with gold, and someone left the defense shop with a Night Stone pendant. The marketplace was too crowded for me to really see anything else. A Gnorbu left the Health Food Shop with a piece of broccoli, and someone had a nice dress on near the music shop—I got a good look of it when she stopped and gaped at me for three solid minutes." I put my head down on the table. "That's it. Nothing else."
My friend wasn't deterred. "What about that fight we saw under the Money Tree over 100 NP?" she asked. "Or when we saw that one guy fervently tossing coins into the Wishing Well asking for what sounded like a cup of borovan?"
"Lily," I said, looking up at her, "you don't understand. I couldn't even concentrate on half of the things we saw because of this." I jerked my hand above my head. "Everyone..." I felt my eyes burn. "Everyone kept looking at me like some sort of freak, or bad omen. I couldn't even attempt to find inspiration. I just felt so alone." I reached for a napkin and blew my nose, shaking my head. "It's so pathetic. Nigel would never do this."
"The character I was trying to write about," I explained. "He was the one I was trying to emulate the other night, when I was running around in your cape." I shook my head again. "But Nigel's nothing like me. He's smooth and calm and stealthy and..." I frowned. "Nigel's perfect."
"No one's asking you to be Nigel," Lily said softly.
I went to correct her when I abruptly paused, my own words sinking in. "Nigel's perfect," I repeated, my eyes widening in realization. "He's perfect!"
"No one's perfect," Lily consoled.
I nodded my head, feeling my heart leap. "Exactly! Nigel was too perfect!" I felt the corners of my mouth turn up and suddenly a grin was plastered on my face.
Lily leaned back from the table slightly, looking at me with an eyebrow raised. "Are you alright?"
"I'm wonderful!" I grinned. "I know what I want to do! Or, well, what I don't want to do. I don't want to write about Nigel. I want to write about someone else! Someone more real." I glanced down at the neomail, this time the random observations clicking into place. I could already feel the vestiges of an idea forming in my head, begging to be jotted down. Begging for a proper brainstorm.
"Who?" Lily asked interestedly, but I was still working it out in my head. Suddenly, I knew I needed to go home. I couldn't write—or speak into the neomail—in front of her. I needed to be by myself. I needed time to create.
I stood up suddenly. "I need to go write. I need to go." I threw some neopoints on the table—a tip for the Shoyru who ran the place—and gave Lily a hug. She glanced down at her shirt, now speckled with dark spots from the droplets that had clung to my jacket, but she didn't seem to mind. She just looked at me and smiled as I repeated "Thank you thank you thank you!" over and over again before darting out of the coffee shop.
* * *
I was nervous, so very nervous, as I watched the yellow Pteri read the stack of neomails at my kitchen table. I downed some coffee, staring at her as she finished the last page.
Finally Christine leaned back, setting the envelope down with her wing, and looked up at me hovering anxiously nearby.
"You know," she said slowly, looking at me with her clear amber eyes. "I really like this piece."
My heart fluttered in my chest and relief washed over my whole body. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
"It's the main character that really does it," she continued, flipping through the yellow pages. "She's so... spunky. Pink hair, vegetarian, loves borovan, sweet and spicy... and yet a loner. All because of the family secret she is forced to keep, hidden away in a green emerald necklace." She shook her head. "The character is so positive and funny, and yet there's an undeniable sadness in the piece. The way you described the frightened and wary looks she gets from the people around her seems so real. I can see it so clearly in my head and I feel like it's something readers can relate to."
"I'm glad you could feel it." It's from experience, I amended silently, feeling the rain drip onto my scales.
Christine frowned as if reading my mind, glancing up at the cloud still hovering above my head. "I'm so sorry about that thing by the way. A rogue dark faerie... sounds dreadful. Maybe if you take a trip to Faerieland, swing by the Healing Springs, you can find someone to help you out?"
I nodded, but deep down I had a feeling that the cloud was here to stay. But even that couldn't ruin the elatedness of finally having finished my story. My throat was a little sore from talking to the neomail, carefully crafting each sentence and revising those that didn't work, but it was worth it to see Christine's reaction. It was all worth it.
The Pteri stood up and gathered the neomails into a neat pile. "I'll transfer these onto regular sheets of paper, and work on the edits. Next week I'll contact you, we'll go over the final revisions, and then I'll send it to the editor of the Neopian Times. And then, if things go well, it'll be picked up by Neopia's Best Stories." Christine grinned. "And you know what, Holly? I think it will be."
I flushed. "Thanks, Christine. I hope so." I carefully escorted her out of my neohome, and when she was finally gone, I let out a huge sigh of relief, feeling the wide grin on my face.
Everything had worked out. Everything. And it was all thanks to a cloud from a faerie that I thought would ruin my life.
I glanced up at the churning grey mass, speckled with lightning bolts and spewing drops of water, and I couldn't help but smile. "Thank you," I murmured.
And that's when I heard it: the tinny chuckle.
I wheeled around, expecting to see the faerie appear. Would she pop up on the banister? On my nose? But before I could locate her, I heard a rumble of thunder and glanced back up at the raincloud. It was changing before my eyes, the lightning flashing more quickly and the thunder rumbling even deeper, shaking me to my core.
Oh Fyora! I thought, alarmed that something had gone wrong. There was only one thought in my head: Now that I had successfully completed my story, the dark faerie was out for revenge.
I stared in horror at the cloud, waiting for whatever gruesome fate awaited me, when before my eyes the cloud began to disintegrate, dissolving away in thin wisps of black and gold smoke. A few seconds later, it had vanished completely, and I found myself staring at my ceiling instead of the dark underbelly of a cloud.
And, even more miraculously, all my clothes were suddenly dry. I carefully pulled off my rain jacket, feeling the dry cotton of the shirt underneath. I nearly sobbed in joy; I had forgotten what being dry felt like.
I glanced around the foyer, still expecting to see the mischievous faerie pop out from somewhere, but she was nowhere to be seen. Not perched on the lamp or the stairway or the doorknob. Nowhere.
But then I heard a little voice in my ear, the barest of a whisper: "Hey, Holly," she said. I could hear the slight laughter in her tone. "You better tell your writing agent to include a little thank you note to me at the end of your piece. Common courtesy and all that."
And as soon as her voice faded from my ear with a little pop of magic, I reached for a piece of paper and a pen—two things I had never been more happy to be able to hold in my life—and wrote a quick note to Christine telling her just that.