The sounds of insects roused me from my sleep. A few sandgrouse called down toward the river. My head throbbed. What did I drink last night?
I pulled back the mosquito netting, dressed and poked my head outside. A huge ginger maned lion curled up near the cold fire pit. A director’s chair, the kind John Ford might have used, stood beside it. It said ‘Lorelei’* on the back.
She crouched down and scratched the lion under the chin. He raised his head and closed his eyes.
I wandered outside and shielded my eyes against the rising sun. Lorelei sat in her chair and gazed off into the distance. The lion looked at me like lunch.
“Lisa’s** in the kitchen tent making your coffee and preparing your breakfast,” Lorelei said.
I stepped carefully across the compound, and maneuvered until Lorelei was between me and the lion. “So who’s your friend? And how do you manage to get along with him.”
She pointed a green manicured nail at herself. “Goddess, remember?” She fiddled with her hat and snapped the brim to the side. “He was here when I arrived, and I introduced myself.”
She caught me looking at her nails. “Do you like them? I heard you’re into green things these days.”
“Yeah, um, they’re pretty.” I wrapped a hand around my beard. “What brings you all the way out here today?”
“You’ve been at Camp Research for quite some time now. Are you any closer to choosing an outline?”
I sat in one of the regular camp chairs. “No. I got some good data in Lisaville. It’s mostly about my grinder story. There’s a bio-hack that could add some real flavor. I just need to figure out how to use it.”
“I see. And your other outlines?”
“I have a new idea that could help with the fantasy story, but it isn’t forming as fast as the others. I love the idea, and maybe it will pick up the pace. I’m having trouble figuring out the twists and turns this story needs. I’ve got the yak guy’s turning point all figured out, I just need to work out how, and how to set the stage.”
“And the African adventure?”
“It’s coming along well. I have a lot of ideas for it. I’m struggling with the need to compress history a little bit. To make the story work, I may need to force historical events from different years into the same year.”
She shined her nails on her custom bush jacket, and placed her hand over her knee where I could see the green polish. “It’s a work of fiction. Others have done similar things. What’s the problem?”
“Should I put a disclaimer at the front, or something similar?”
“Probably. Is that all that’s holding you back?” Lorelei rubbed her boot under his chin.
I stared at the lion as he extended his neck.”No. It’s more of an adventure story, and I want a speculative element in there somewhere to work with my branding.”
“Pfft!” She flicked her wrist toward me.
The sound grabbed the lion’s attention and he bolted to his feet. I secretly prayed Lisa had him covered with her gun. “Look, can we lose the lion?”
Lorelei shifted and faced me head on. “That all depends. Answer me one question.” She plopped her hat back on her head. “Did you ask me to appear on Charles Yallowitz’ blog so you could have a fling with The Green Fairy?”
The lion’s tail twitched nervously at the end. His gaze anchored me to my chair.
“N, No!” I wrapped my arms around my chest out of reflex. “I, I, I didn’t know what was in that drink. Local cuisine and all that. You know how it goes.”
“Local cuisine is a hippo fillet. You could have ordered a beer.”
“It was a bar. When in Rome, and all that–“
She leaned forward. “You’ve never been to Rome.” She stood and scratched the lion behind the ears. “Sorry, Bernard, you’ll have to find your breakfast elsewhere today.”
The lion snarled and darted for the long grass.
I deflated like one of those gorillas outside the car dealership after the air is turned off. “Bernard, really?”
“He said it’s the name his mother gave him.” She held out her hand and helped me to my feet. “I don’t care what you write, as long as you write. If you want an African adventure, write one.”
We headed toward the kitchen tent. “I could use a little Muse inspiration here. Maybe I can add some magic to keep it in the same arena.”
“Perhaps. You didn’t even comment on my new bush outfit.”
“Sorry, I was kind of distracted. What kind of hatband is that, some kind of golden cat?”
“Please. It’s a golden hind.”
“Of course it is. Nice fit on those pants though.”
“There’s the old Craig I remember. Lisa said she was heating up a can of scrapple for you.”
“Yuck. What possessed The Southern Dwarves to market that stuff?”
“You wrote them to be very industrious. It’s actually selling quite well. Lisa said she could make hash out of it.”
*Lisa is my robotic assistant. She doesn’t appear in this story, but since she’s mentioned, I thought I should note it. You can get a free Lisa Burton paper doll by clicking here.
**Lorelei is my Muse. My very jealous Muse.