'You must do something for me... ' Mark typed, then stopped, reread the words. 'You must grant me a boon,' he finished.
'The boy looked deeply into the demon's eyes, sought temperance in the violence seething there. Only his own timid reflection stared back, oily in the viscous fluid that covered the beast's emerald orbs.
'Ultimately, in fear for his life, the youth replied, "I'll do whatever you ask."' He stopped again, puzzled over the feel of what he had written. Abruptly, having come to some mysterious editorial decision, he erased the reply and changed it to, 'W-What's a boon?'
Yes. That was more in character for the boy, considering his situation.
Mark sat back and sighed, turned away from his computer screen to stare out the window. The day was bright and clear, so beautiful it was ugly. Summer was yet to come, and spring held the land in a green, humid grip, coloring the landscaped terraces surrounding the author's office with a rainbow hue of flowers, both wild and cultivated.
Must be about noon, he thought. Concrete only glares like that when the sun is directly overhead.
It made his head hurt.
He had been up all night, dancing to delight his muse. Mark's craft was a fragile thing in his own mind. His greatest fear was the loss of his talent. For he was convinced the words he put to pen did not stem from his own imagination, but flowed from some temporal spring in his head, a spring that ebbed and flowed to suit the fickle will of an ancient god. The muse did not speak often, but, when it did, its voice was undeniable.
It seemed to Mark the characters he created lived and breathed in a temporal reality. It seemed he did not fabricate the tales he told, but simply translated them, plucked the words from a nebulous, black void that filled the space between his ears. The images behind his words were often so vivid in his mind it seemed he was actually living within the plot he was creating, as if he had become an invisible god to manipulate the characters within his stories. Each character had a different face, an individual will. He had discovered his mental intrigues followed a hidden, secret agenda. The muse called at random, but its call was irresistible and alive.
Sometimes it called as he slept, filled his head with visions, created horrible, abstract realities in which he was a killer on the run, a known deviant driven at the crest of a mob. Each dream ended in the same manner, though the methods differed. Each nightmare ended in his own death.
So went the stories he wrote. Most of them, anyway.
When the muse came at night, as he slept, helplessly tangled in the grip of a black nothingness that knows the human soul eight hours out of every day, he was helpless to quell the flow of words. His filters were easily broken down. The stories possessed him three and four at a time.
Within each, a death. Within each death, an eternity of terror and pain.
The telling of these tales was never written, and, thank God, seldom remembered. But each existed in his mind forever once born, and so needed no other recording.
Having completed this thought, Mark's mind reeled like a craving drug addict, and bent back to his task. '... "What's a boon?"' he read, sighing loudly.
Then he typed, starting a new paragraph and changing voices, 'Loudly, the demon laughed. Its glee was sinister and filled with terror, like the macabre mirth of a ghoul bent above an open grave.
'It finally stilled its violent heaving and spoke, "Is your kind grown so without refinement you have never learned the granting of favors?"
'Trembling, the boy's eyes went wide with sudden understanding. "Yes. Yes, I know about favors."
'"Good," hissed the beast, its serpentine tongue delicately tasting the ivory needles lining its powerful jaws. "I thought you might. So. You must grant me a favor, then."'
Mark once again reclined against the rocker back of his chair. It was the sun. The sun was interfering. Who could write with so much glare bouncing off the walls and monitor screen?
He stood up to bolt the blinds. Using a willowy plastic rod that dangled from the upper sill, Mark quickly plunged the room into darkness. As an added affect, he slid the heavy curtains together with a satisfying clash of rollers and fabric, and exhaled with relief when the sun's prying fingers were finally repelled. Now only a splatter of bright rays escaped around the edges of the window, as if the sunbeams were a liquid to be sprayed on impact with the slats of the shutters.
Better, he mentally gasped. Much, much better.
His mind's eye felt parched and dried by the assault he had endured during his trance stricken creative binge. It seemed only moments ago the sun had set on yesterday's horizon, but now here was today, today's sun at its zenith.
Where had he been? He need not ask the question, even in thought.
For the answer was documented before him. He had been with young Rolande, traveling the lonely hillsides and valleys of Dementium, in the company of an ogre named Benlevi. He had been running from the relentless pursuit of a demon without name, a demon with all the darkness of the universe breeding inside its frigid heart. Most recently he had made a sacrifice of himself in the foothills of Nightmare Mountain, having succumbed to a venomous injury received in the River of Quietus, which divided the Beplagued Steppes from the Forest of Fell Winds.