Tuesday, 15 November 2011


A little way into the hills the grass gave way to a small, paved circle slightly aside from the path.  The stone used to pave the circle was grey and its surface was glassy, allowing people standing on it to keep seeing glimpses of their reflections looking back up at them.  For many centuries it had been known by the locals as the Circle of Ancestors, and before that it was called Orbituum Irascae, the Sphere of Angry Ghosts.  Now its name was mostly forgotten, the path was becoming overgrown with grass and weeds, and only children fleeing parents and school ever came here any more.
A voice sobbed somewhere, no body visible, and the air shimmered as though a heat haze had arisen.  From the ripples in the air a tall, graceful woman stepped, wearing a sheet like a toga and holding a sad-faced mask in front of her own face.  An exedra, a stone bench, extruded itself from the paved circle and attempted to look comfortable.  She looked around her, the mask always in front of her face, and then sat down, arranging her toga to show off her legs without being unduly lascivious.
A handful of notes, plucked from a stringed instrument sounded next, and another woman, taller and thinner than the first but also wearing a toga, appeared in the centre of the circle.  The exedra lengthened itself slightly, but the newcomer ignored it, flexing her knees and then pirouetting.
"Stop showing off, Terps," said the first woman.  Terpsichore, the Muse of dance, poked her tongue out.
"Be nice, Mel," she said.  "I see you've been branching out again."
"What do you mean?"  Melpomene's voice was a little muffled behind her mask, but still sounded affronted.
"That's got to be the third boy-band this week that's had a member commit suicide in extremely tragic circumstances.  We can see your hand behind it you know.  Even if the humans don't believe any more, even if too few of them remember or appreciate, the rest of us know what you're up to."
"You're hardly a snowdrop yourself," said Melpomene laying the mask down on the exedra.  "What was that Italian politician called that decided to abandon their first sensible economic policy in forty years and become a flamenco dancer?  Flamenco's not even an Italian dance!"
"She's doing very well for herself," said Terpsichore.  "Much better than she would have done as a politician."
"And all of those little boys martyred themselves for me," said Melpomene.  "They all knew what they were doing and why they were doing it."
"Fifteen minutes of fame," said a new voice.  "Warhol was never a muse you know, for all he acted like it occasionally."
The two muses looked to one side, where Calliope had manifested.  Somewhere in the air behind her was the scritching of a pen writing quickly across thick, expensive paper.  Like the first two, she was wearing a toga, and in one hand she was carrying a Kindle.
"What's that?" said Terpsichore immediately.
"An electronic reading device," said Calliope with a hint of a sigh.  She walked across the circle and sat down on the exedra, next to Melpomene.  "Apparently these contain many, many books inside a single object, smaller and thinner than any interesting tome."
"Sounds novel," said Mel politely.
"I quite like it, actually," said Calliope.  "It's about time there was a better way to transport the written word.  And I think these can be made fire-proof!"
"But not water-proof?"  Terpsichore stuck her tongue out again, and Calliope waved, as though swatting her away.
"Why are we gathering this time?" she asked.  "Surely there's been no major upheaval in the arts, or new wars with consequences for creativity?"
"Ah," said Melpomene.  "It's about the new Muse."
"New Muse?  What new Muse?"
"Carnalit√†," said Urania, somehow stepping out of the sky as though she'd always been there.  She dropped the globe she was carrying, which rolled off towards Terpsichore.  "Bugger.  I much preferred the world when it was flat, you know?  Much easier to carry around.  Can I have that back, sister?"
"Who is Carnalit√†?" said Calliope, persistently.  She ducked, dodging the compass that Urania was holding as Urania swung around to look at her again.
"She wants to be a Muse," said Melpomene.  She gestured, conjuring another exedra from the ground behind Urania, who sat down looking grateful.  Terpsichore tossed the globe to her.  "She wants to be the Muse of Desire."
"Oh?"  Calliope sounded bored already.  "What did we do with the last bunch of girls who wanted to be Muses?"
"The Pierides?  I think they were turned into magpies, weren't they? Very fitting, the wretched children would never stop chattering."  Clio had appeared now, lounging on the exedra next to Urania, who started and dropped her globe again.
"All in favour of another magpie?"
Five hands rose.

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