This story started off as an alternative to punching someone in the face. But it grew to incorporate all the fears, misgivings, and doubts that plague any writer - or anyone. Note some NSFW language toward the end.
The Writer's Imp
copyright 2013, Harold Jenkins
Doug rolled out of bed, hung over and headachey. He trudged to the kitchen, stepped over his beagle Towser, and squeezed past the small folding table and its two chairs. He ignored the assorted monster-branded cereals on the counter, put a small pot of water on the stove to boil, and started the coffee maker. He pulled the milk and a container of yogurt out of the refrigerator, grabbed a grapefruit out of the fruit bowl, and added a scoop of oats to the boiling water. Leaving the food on the counter next to the stove, he stepped out to get the morning paper.
A few minutes later he poured the coffee, gathered together the bits and pieces of his breakfast, and carried them back to the breakfast table.
The Imp was perched on the back of one of the chairs, eating out of a box of Frankenberry.
"What the hell are you making all that crap for?" he demanded. "This shit's delish. Why'd you buy it if you're not gonna eat it?"
Doug had always wondered if the Imp was average-sized as far as imps go. It would be small as a human, barely four feet tall, though its bald, leering head seemed far too big for its body. Its feet and hands seemed disproportionately large, too, while the little bat wings that poked from its shoulder blades seemed too small to be good for anything. And the less said about the stubby, prehensile worm that lurked on its crotch, the better.
"Oh, I get it," the Imp said, his lips pulling back to show a mouth filled with overlapping, yellowed teeth. "You're trying to eat right. Lose weight. Impress her
. Pathetic." He grabbed another fistful of pink cereal. "It won't work. You're old and fat and ugly, and you're not gonna change that. Now, how about getting to work? You haven't written anything in ages
Doug ignored the Imp, unfolded the paper, and read it as he ate breakfast. Towser stood up, looked at the Imp warily, then lay down at Doug's feet.
"Oh, what the hell is this
crap now?" the Imp demanded as the bus headed downtown. "You're supposed to be meeting your group, didja forget? Or are you just too embarrassed 'cause you haven't written shit in weeks?"
Doug continued to ignore him, swaying slightly as the bus bumped along the road. The other passengers had no difficulty ignoring the Imp, even the one whose head he was sitting on.
"Your group is on the other side of town. What are you doing, going to the farmers' market?"
Doug got off the bus at the farmers' market. He paused at a few stalls to look at their wares, then slipped into a small shop that sold herbs.
"Sage? Rosemary? Thyme? You forgot parsley, you dope," the Imp said from atop a refrigerated display case. "And how stupid are you? Yarrow's a flower, not an herb, everybody knows that. What are you gonna do, get a reading from the I Ching? The way moves, I could tell ya that much. There. Saved you the trouble."
Doug stepped into a flower shop and told the tiny Korean woman behind the counter what he was looking for. She nodded and brought out a bundle of flowers. After he paid her, she directed him to another shop.
"What the frick are you doing?" the Imp demanded. "Anything but writing, that's what. I been hanging out here 'cause you showed promise, you putz. But you're not gonna get anywhere as a writer if you don't write! You just keep mooning over what's-her-name, half your age and ten times the writer you'll ever be if you keep this up. Now, if you're not going to the group, howabout heading home and getting down to writing?"
The last shop on Doug's list was a junk store of sorts, with a hodgepodge of stuff from all over Asia. It didn't take long to find a Tibetan brass bowl of the right size. The clerk showed him how to brush it gently with a padded mallet to produce a deep, pleasant tone.
this crap?" the Imp yelled from inside a garbage can. "You better be working on a story, I'll tell you that. Wasting a whole Saturday here! Now, if you're done with your little shopping adventure, how about heading back to the bus so...are you even listening to me? Where are you going?"
Doug walked across the street to a parked Mini Cooper. The driver's window rolled down and a beautiful woman smiled at him broadly.
doing here?" The Imp was outraged. "I thought she was gonna be in...what, Lancaster or Hershey or something? Wait, you had a conversation with her last night when you were drunk! You know I don't like when you get drunk! What the hell did you two little sneaks talk about last night?"
She passed a small parcel to Doug through the car window. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Doug took it, leaned down, and kissed her.
"You sick bastard! She's, what, twelve? OK, twenty, whatever, doesn't matter, same thing. You're more than twice her age! What are you, a pedo perv? Sheeut, you're gonna be doing your writing from inside a Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison! Get away from her before somebody sees the two of you together!"
Doug squeezed her hand, turned around, and headed for the bus stop.
"Better," the Imp said, sitting on the peak of the Bus Stop sign. "Well get home, put all this nonsense behind us, and you can get down to writing again. We'll make you the writer I know you can be!"
Towser barked and wagged his tail as Doug came home. Doug pulled some newly-purchased treats out of his pocket and gave them to him. The dog growled briefly at the Imp, then went back to his treats.
Doug set the packages on the table. He pulled out the bowl, gave it an experimental ping, and produced a rich, deep tone.
He headed into his bedroom and came out with a stack of paper. Sheets, some loose, some stapled together, some worn with age and heavy use, others fresh as the day they were printed.
He put the paper into the bowl.
He pulled a chair away from the table and set it in the middle of the floor. Tentatively, he stepped onto it.
"What the hell are you doing?" the Imp asked. "You're gonna break your damn fool neck."
Doug pulled the cover off the smoke detector and removed the battery.
"Smooth move, Holmes," the Imp said. "Now you're in violation of the fire code. What would you do if the fire inspector came in here right now? Look like an idiot, that's what, and you'd have some 'splainin to do."
One at a time, Doug removed the batteries from every smoke detector in his house.
"So now what, boy? This ain't gettin' you any closer to writing. Just sit your fat ass down and start writing."
Doug poured a glass of wine and set it on the kitchen table.
"Better. But clear all this crap off the table, and...hey, are those your stories in that bowl?"
Doug took the parcel he had been given and removed the string. He unwrapped the paper to reveal an old book, possibly hand-bound. He set the book aside and began laying the yarrow, rosemary, sage, and thyme out on the wrapping paper. He rolled the whole thing up into a sort of fat cigar and tied the bundle up with the string. He got up from the table, went to a cabinet, and pulled out some matches.
"Wait. What the hell are you doing?" The Imp looked confused. Worried.
Doug sat back down at the table. He opened up the book to a place indicated by a ribbon, read silently for a minute, and set the book aside. He lit the herbal bundle, passed it over the paper-filled bowl three times, and dropped it in.
"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!"
Doug picked up the book again, opened it to the same spot as before, and began mumbling quietly.
"WHAT THE HELL DID THAT LITTLE BITCH GIVE YOU?"
Doug smiled. "It's a hex book, over a century old. Homegrown magic for all sorts of occasions. Including banishing malicious spirits." He continued to read aloud from the book.
The imp's skin had begun to turn gray. "I'M NOT MALICIOUS! I'M HELPFUL!"
Doug looked up again. "You are annoying as hell."
Smoke curled from the bowl but didn't spread through the house. It formed a cloud over and around the Imp.
"STOP IT! STOP THIS RIGHT NOW AND WE'LL PRETEND IT NEVER HAPPENED!" The Imp's skin was charcoal and ash, flaking like the charred paper in the bowl. His eyes were beady and red.
Doug set down the book, smiled at the Imp, then looked into the bowl.
"YOUR WRITING SUCKS!" The Imp shouted. "YOUR CHARACTERS ARE STEREOTYPES, YOUR STORIES ARE TRITE, YOUR POETRY IS HIGH SCHOOL, AND YOU CAN'T WRITE AN ENDING TO SAVE YOUR LIFE!"
"I dispel you," Doug announced, and blew into the bowl.
The ashes stirred slightly and flew into the air. The Imp, shriveled and defeated, let out a final croak.
"I knew I shoulda been a gargoyle."
There was a long, deep sigh. Then Doug was alone in the kitchen with Towser.
Doug sat there for a while, then looked down at the book Kim had brought back from Lancaster. He noticed that he had been reading from a recipe for shoo-fly pie.
He pulled out his phone and dialed Kim.
"It's done. He's gone. Your plan worked." A pause. "You are. That's why I love you." Another pause, then a laugh. "That too. But, hey, I gotta clean up and take a shower. See you for dinner? OK, see you then."
He looked at the mess. Charred flakes of everything he had written while under the direction of the Imp were scattered everywhere.
"Damn, that guy was annoying," Towser said.
"He sure was," Doug agreed.