The cigarette smoke is the only thing that keeps her away. You tried sage and cedar before. She just walked through the plumes like a human. But the Camel cigarettes keep her away.
You burn them day and night, practically praying when you light a new one. Your apartment reeks of it - or it did, before you had to hit the road.
In the stories, people get lost in the West, so you head east. In the fields of Kansas, when your car broke down, she came to you as a young college student driving a too clean minivan. Her eyes were completely white - no pupil, no iris. You knew it was her. It always was.
You get in the van and spend a week in a small town motel with her before she vanishes. You spend another week holed up in that room unable to stop writing. You forget to eat. Sleep is an unimportant footnote in life. When you come out of the trance, you realize your fingers are stained with ink.
You were typing.
An obnoxious car waits for you in the parking lot when you leave, your laptop secured under your arm. She always leaves one for you, a little star keychain left in every room you share. She babies you, like this.
Three days later, all the memory on your computer vanishes. You backed the file up, of course, but you already know every trace of it - in every cloud, in every USB drive, on every CD - will have vanished just as completely. She never lets you keep the inspiration, not after you tried to sell it. More than her leaving, that's what hurts.
You keep her away with cigarettes until you run out in the middle of swampy Southern heat. She rises out of the muck and humidity and takes you to an elegant house in the busiest residential part of town. A cemetery sits nearby. Church bells ring daily.
She walks like a human, unaffected.
You don't buy cigarettes even when she hands you a credit card. Her hair is as dark as the earth, and she stays for two days. Her nails leave crescent red marks in your back. Three days of work and millions of words yields an hour of sweet success before the computers and paper catch fire. The flames don't give heat or smoke. They leave ash like silver.
The house is a gift you don't keep. Her gifts cost too much when they become so big. You can see the price of words in your eyes and skin.
When you took her to prom in high school, you didn't know the meaning of consequence. You told her all about your idealized artist dreams. You showed her all your poorly crafted prose. She ran her sweet short fingers over ink and pencil and page. She let you write poems on her skin. Her eyes were honey brown then, and she didn't rise out of sidewalks and doorways and air. She never lied, she doesn't lie. She danced with you and murmured the terms of your contract - such a lovely, lonely deal.
She sealed it with a kiss and a promise to rip your heart out.
New York is your last hope. There's an apartment waiting in your name. You burn cigarettes for a month before quitting. She doesn't show. You can craft words on your own. Stories that don't disappear.
She leaves you like that for a year.
After you graduated and she left, the first time, you tried everything to get her back. Every art, every craft. Every drug, every spell. She came to you a month later, completely uncaring for all your pleas and calls.
You were such a fucking child.
She was the worst sort of intoxication. Her hair, her skin, her eyes - her words. The way she would wring you out.
You count down the days.
Even now, you want to sell a story. Just one. Just a poem. Just a paragraph. But she never lets you sell anything. She taught you not to sell your skill.
(You idealized the unknown, unappreciated artist, so shall you remain.)
She comes to you at the end. Breathes on your neck, gives you a day of pure inspiration. The second your hands leave the keyboard, you're dripping ink and blood. She's sitting on the couch waiting, her form shifting between air and flesh. You bleed ink the entire way to her.
Her kiss is like paper. Her hand digs into your chest. "I'll rip your heart out," she'd said.
Her grip is so firm.
"I'll let you keep just this one," she whispers, and the computer doesn't catch fire and the file doesn't disappear into the abyss. Then your heart is free in her hands, hot and bloody and steaming, and you sigh. That's all you need.
That's all she promised you.