"3, 2...1!" I declared removing my hands from over my eyes. "Ready Freddie here I come!"
A silence swept the tower, but I wasn't deterred. I ducked down checking beneath my piano, a normal hiding spot for Delilah. The piano itself was off limits, a rule I was quite strict about, but I wouldn't put it past Delilah to disobey me. I peered inside the piano thankfully finding no sign of the cat. Next, I went to check underneath the bed, but I paused when I spotted movement out on the balcony. It almost looked like a tail swatting back and forth behind the flowerpot. I rubbed my hands together mischievously.
"Delilah Mercury, you've really done it this time! I can't find you anywhere!" I spoke loudly on purpose as I stepped out onto the balcony. "Well I suppose if you're not out here I'll just go back inside and keep looking."
The minute my back was turned, the sneaky cat peered out from behind the flower pot. In one swift motion, I twirled back around and captured her, holding her snuggly in my arms as she let out a startled hiss. "Gotcha!" I laughed. "I am the champion, my friend!"
'You're so cocky, Freddie!' Delilah mewled fussily.
"Maybe I am, but you, my darling, are a sore loser. Wanna play again? I might go a bit easier on you this time."
Delilah jumped down from my embrace, teetering precariously over the ledge of the tower. They say cats always land on their feet but one can never be too careful. I guided Delilah away from the edge so nothing bad would happen. "Let's go back inside, shall we?"
'It's boring inside. Paul's not here. Why don't we try to escape? I don't care how dangerous the outskirts are, anywhere is better than here!'
I sighed. We had this conversation at least every day it seemed. Delilah did have a point. There was a part of me that yearned to get out of this prison cell. "Someday I'm gonna be free." I murmured staring up at the clear blue sky. I shook my head at my own naivety. Muses can only dream of freedom. I promptly ushered Delilah back inside and shut the door to the balcony.
"We've been through this, Delilah." I said sternly. "I know Paul doesn't have my best interests at heart, but he is keeping me here for my own good. Have you forgotten about all those nights I spent crying in a cage waiting for the pain to knock me unconscious? Now I know this tower is a far cry from ideal, but it might as well be the Ritz when compared to our treatment at Galileo Labs."
'It's been almost four years, Freddie. I doubt the scientists are still trying to find you to bring you back there. And I look down from that perch every day. Sometimes I see some hunters wandering around but for the most part we're so deep in the outskirts that they can't find us.' With a stubborn meow, she used her nose to push the door back open.
"Oh come on, Delilah. There are plenty of fun things we can do inside. Remember that book Paul got for me?" I skimmed the bookshelf and picked out the perfect solution to our predicament.
'101 Activities you can do in the Comfort of Your own Home: Agoraphobic Edition'
This was a lovely Christmas present from Paul. He had his moments of consideration that made me believe everything would be alright.
'That book is propaganda and you know it.' Delilah hissed.
"Nonsense." I shushed her and began flipping through the pages. There had to be something in here that would peak our interests. "Let's try some yoga! You love stretching, don't you, Delilah? You're always sticking your tush in the air. That's the first position this book recommends. See?" I pointed to the picture.
'That is something I do a lot.' Delilah agreed and positioned herself in a mirroring pose. I followed and did the deep breathing exercises accompanying the position. "So this is downward dog. Now let's try upward dog."
Before I could explain the next pose, Delilah hissed and used her claws to rip the page. 'I don't do dog poses!'
"You are impossible to please, darling!" I cried. "Why am I bothering to entertain you?"
'Because this is the closest you can get to being a real entertainer. If you listened to me and tried to get the hell out of here then you could finally follow your dreams and become a rockstar entertaining millions of people instead of one grumpy cat.'
I was too distracted by the book's next chapter to take in Delilah's words of wisdom. "Paper mache!" I proclaimed excitedly. "I fancy that idea. Let's do it!"
Or maybe I just needed something else to consider other than the stone cold truth. This was my life, and although it was miserable I had to accept it because I knew about a hell beyond this one. Too close for comfort, I pushed these insidious thoughts aside and decorated my paper mache bird with bright pastel paints.
'I wish that was a real bird.' Delilah's whiskers tickled my back as she peered over my shoulder to examine my work.
"I do too. Then I could set it free and watch it spread its little wings and fly away, far away." I sighed.
'I was gonna say so that I could eat it, but now you're making me feel bad. I'll stick to mice for now I guess.'
I turned the bird over onto its back and on the bottom side of its wing I marked 'I think you're my soulmate.' matching the words on my arm. It was pointless to wonder about the love of my life who was somewhere out there while I was confined to this tower. I prayed for the day I'd finally meet him and feel my heart fill with joy. That was all I could do.
I took my paper mache bird out to the balcony with Delilah trailing at my heels. "Find him for me, darling." I whispered as I released the inanimate creature over the ledge.
"Any way the wind blows!" I crooned using my magic to keep it afloat.
My bird sailed across the outskirts, but I lost control over it when it hovered over the head of a man briskly stalking through the forest toward the tower. Just like that, what little shred of hope I had was drained. Delilah hissed as Paul reached up grabbing the bird and stopping it dead in its tracks. He took one look at the creation and scoffed, crumpling it in his hand.
"I'm in trouble." I concluded already sensing Paul's bad mood. Still on guard, Delilah quivered behind my legs.
"AY-OH!" I belted, harnessing my powers to lifted the demon up into the tower. The scorn on his face suggested he was displeased. I tried to catch my breath from the use of magic as quickly as possible.
"What is this?" Paul demanded opening his hand revealing the destroyed paper mache bird.
I held up the book he gave me. "It's chapter 10. Paper mache." I explained as calmly as I could.
"Don't play games with me, Farrokh!" Paul growled. "Why does it have your soul mark transcribed on it?" As to be expected he grabbed my arm to confirm that the words were still there and not replaced by my soulmate's name. I didn't know why Paul got so infuriated over a person I may never meet.
"I'm not allowed to leave the tower, but this bird is a free man. He doesn't have to worry about getting caught by hunters or attracting nearby demons or being found by the lab rats. He can just live in peace."
"That doesn't answer my fucking question!" Paul shouted. "Are you trying to send a message to your soulmate? Do you think your soulmate will find it and come climbing up this tower to sweep you up off your feet?"
That would be the ultimate romantic fantasy, but I knew better than to voice that thought. So I stayed quiet waiting for Paul to cool down.
"After everything I've done for you, this is how you repay me. You plan on running away with your soulmate and leaving this tower forever, don't you? How dare you betray me like this when I'm keeping you here with me for your own protection! A bit of gratitude would be appreciated."
"I'm very appreciative, Paul. Thank you for all that you've done for me." I learned early on that I could rely on these words to get me out of any tough situation Paul put me through. With a little help from Delilah I also discovered a trick to open my eyes a bit wider to appear more innocent and forgivable. It worked like a charm every time.
"I know." Paul softened patting my head like I would Delilah. "You're a good little muse, Farrokh. You just need to be reminded of your place. Now why don't you sing for me and I'll forgive your reckless behavior."
'Sing Seven Seas of Rhye.' Delilah requested.
"Later." I whispered to her before delving into Paul's special song that would quench his thirst for blood. It was a fair trade. I sang to suppress his inner demon, and in return he kept me safe. Perfectly balanced as all things should be, but this does not put a smile on my face. As usual, the song stole much of my energy and left me weak. I scrambled back out onto the balcony for some much needed fresh air.
"What do you think you're doing?" Paul shouted. "You stay the hell away from the outside world, Farrokh!"
"Am I banned from the balcony now too? Bloody hell!" I cried. "This tower is cramped enough already."
"What if someone sees you from down below? I hear hunters are proficient climbers. One could easily break my enchantment and come up here to kidnap you."
I yawned. "I know the dangers down below. I'm not trying to escape, darling. Let me just enjoy the closest thing I have to freedom." I gestured to the view of the dusky sunset.
"I really didn't want to tell you this, but you leave me no choice." Paul said as he dragged me back inside and shut the door. "You're in more danger than you originally thought. I kept this secret from you because I didn't want to frighten you, but you're not a child anymore, so I think you can handle it."
"I'm eighteen years old and I've been through hell and back. You don't need to sugarcoat things for me like I'm some toddler." I agreed.
He nodded and unlocked the secured glass case sitting atop the highest shelf on the bookcase. I always figured there was nothing in there aside from a dusty typewriter. Paul proved me wrong by removing the typewriter revealing a folder stored beneath it. "The night I brought you here, I stole all your files from the lab so there would be no trace of you left. This was the most recent document they had on you." I examined an official looking paper that Paul handed over for me to examine.
Transfer Notice: Test Subject Mercury Muse
Subject to be removed from Galileo Labs and delivered to the Mercurian ward of Area 51 within week's notice. Dissection and execution will be eminent upon arrival.
"What the hell?" I murmured trying to make sense of this message. "Area 51? Isn't that the civilization's military base? Why would they send me there to be killed?"
"I won't bore you with the details in the rest of the files, but the Area 51 personnel are detaining visitors from other planets and were fairly interested in the mercury study published."
I cringed knowing exactly what he was referring to and how I was deemed the Mercury Muse. The scientists pumped liquid mercury into my bloodstream in an attempt to poison me. Delilah sensed my distress upon the memory and purred reassuringly, nuzzling herself against my legs.
"In short they believed you were a Mercurian posing as a muse." Paul concluded.
"What's a Mercurian?" I blurted.
"A visitor from the planet Mercury. What else?" He stated as if it were obvious knowledge. I didn't even know aliens existed nor was I aware that they were being contained in Area 51. I felt sick to my stomach. What did they do to the aliens in Area 51? Did I even want to know?
"So if I hadn't intervened and rescued you, you would have been sent to Area 51 to be dissected and killed." Paul said bluntly.
"Why are you telling me this now?" I wondered.
"Because the workers at Area 51 are much more powerful than the scientists you were dealing with at Galileo Labs. They have the means to get whatever they want and they won't give up searching for you. Even so much as standing on the balcony can expose you to one of their private hunters who are much harsher than average. Now do you understand, Farrokh? It would pain me to see you end up strapped down to a bed and chopped into tiny pieces without any anesthetics. Such a waste, you are much better off fulfilling your potential as a muse and serving me. This is the best place for you."
I was in tears as I realized Paul was correct. He was cruel, but I couldn't misunderstand him. This was the best position anyone could offer a muse. "I'm so lucky you found me. Thank you for saving me, darling. I'll try to be better." I sobbed pulling the demon into a hug.
"I'm glad you know the truth now. What do you say you and I start over? Consider this symbolic." Paul said as he tossed the rest of my file into the fireplace. "You're mine now and not property of a lab."
All that was left of my past now was the one notice of my transfer to Area 51 in my hand. I tore it up and flung its pieces into the fire as well. It made me feel all the more free. "I'm yours now." I agreed.
"Excellent." Paul beamed as Delilah hissed angrily.
'You don't belong to him, Freddie. Saying that you do is like signing your soul away to the devil.' Delilah mewled.
"Oh don't be so dramatic, dear." I told her. "I'd much rather belong here than in a lab."
"I have an idea." Paul proposed presenting me with the typewriter. "Why don't you write up all the reasons you love me? You wanted something to do. That was why you were lingering on the balcony to begin with. You're so good with your fingers on that piano, I bet you will be a wonder on the typewriter as well."
"Of course, darling." I was eager to get back into Paul's good graces. My view of him was skewing more favorably now that I knew he had rescued me from my demise at Area 51 in addition to my eminent death in Galileo Labs. It did make me wonder through, what was the fate of the Mercurians and the other aliens? With Paul's implications it seemed like being an alien in the military base was worse than a magical creature in a lab. I could hardly fathom anything more horrifying than the unspeakable terrors I had to go through. It broke my heart knowing there was so much suffering going on and there was nothing I could do about it.
'That's a strange piano.' Delilah remarked as I began to use the typewriter to fulfill Paul's wishes. 'It's just clacking. How come it's not making music?'
"You're such a bean, Delilah." I cooed, but with my hands on the typewriter keys I was unable to hide my teeth when I smiled. Paul said nothing about my overbite and it gave me inspiration for my final item on the list. "Done!" I exclaimed holding up a document that looked rather official. I wrote everything by hand so this was a change.
1. Your mustache. 2. Your protection. 3. Your caregiving. 4. Your honesty. 5. Your lack of comments on my teeth.
Paul was unpleased with its brevity. "That's it? Only 5 things. I'm sure you can do better than that. I can come up with at least 39 reasons why you should love me just off the top of my head."
'More like 39 reasons why I should hate you.' Delilah hissed. I tried to suppress my giggles, but it was too late. "Do you find this funny, Farrokh? I'm giving you a chance to prove your gratitude! Maybe I should deliver you back to the lab and find another creature who can sing for me or better yet I can ship you off to Area 51 where you'll have your throat split and vital organs removed. If you're lucky they'll keep your spleen intact."
"Well that's a relief. I'm particularly fond of my spleen." I said sarcastically. I was able to respond so calmly and sassily because I knew Paul was bluffing (perhaps I should strike out reason 4). He wouldn't waste such a precious muse like me. It was hard to find someone else with a voice like me who could sing his special song. Despite what Delilah said, I did have that upper hand in our relationship. Paul relied on me as well.
Knowing I had him in a corner, he just groaned. "I'm going hunting. I'll be back with some grub. Think long and hard about the way you're treating me while I'm gone. And stay the hell away from the balcony. You never know if someone from Area 51 can see you."
'Bring back some fish!' Delilah licked her lips. 'That's all you're good for.'
I sang Paul down from the balcony and collapsed onto my piano bench in exhaustion and frustration. 'Are you okay, Freddie?' Delilah jumped up onto my lap. I knew she was particularly concerned because she made sure to sway her tail in a direction so it didn't touch my piano.
"Oh Delilah." I sighed. "Is this it? Am I going to be doing this for the rest of time. When will my life begin?"
'You can leave while he's gone.' She insisted flexing her paw toward the balcony. 'He'll never know.'
I shook my head, stroking her soft fur. "No, Delilah. You don't understand, do you? You heard what Paul said. If I'm caught, they'll harvest my organs. It's a fate worse than the lab so it seems. I just feel so bad for those poor aliens. They're not as fortunate as us."
'Why don't we just get a big group of people to raid Area 51 and free them? They can't stop all of us.'
Perhaps not all hope was lost after all. "Delilah, you mad little kitty. I think you may be onto something, darling!" I returned to the typewriter.
Calling all boys! Calling all girls! Calling all people on streets around the civilization! Take this message, a message for you. Our brothers and sisters from worlds beyond need your help. Area 51 is holding aliens from other planets in captivity against their will and they are being tortured and killed. If you team together and raid the facility, you can get them out! They can't stop all of you because you have strength in numbers. May God be with you! Good luck, dear friends!
'I think most people will take it as a joke.' Delilah mewled.
"Well it's better than nothing. They won't listen and help my fellow magical creatures, but maybe they'll care more about the aliens." I said.
I took a deep breath and then unleashed my magic. "AY-OH! AY-OH! AAAAAAAY-OOOH! Di-Do-Di-Do-Di-Do!" I nearly fainted from expelling so much energy but I I held my fist up in the air proudly when I achieved my goal. The tower was suddenly littered with thousands of copies of my document. "Alright!" I proclaimed triumphantly.
I stood shakily but strongly out over the balcony. "I sure hope this works." I said. Barely able to keep my eyes open I sang "Any way the wind blows..." and watched the papers floated off out into the distance gusted away by a strong wind fading away into tiny little blurs like airplanes in the sky as my world darkened and I fell into a deep sleep.
"Humans." Paul laughed. "When will they ever learn?" Curiously, I examined the newspaper he was reading.
'The Raid on Area 51....Went Exactly as You'd Expect'
Alien conspiracy theorists gathered to Area 51 to free the aliens allegedly trapped inside. After a series of flyers mysteriously flooded the civilization, young people have been planning the ultimate heist. What it led to was nothing spectacular. Dressed in alien paraphernalia, the group of several dozen was stopped at the gate. Surprisingly, they heeded warnings issued and remained outside of the military base. They spent the rest of the time fraternizing, dancing, and most likely getting high. Thankfully, no one was hurt...
"But what about the Mercurians?" I cried. "They were supposed to rescue them!"
'I'm surprised it really happened.' Delilah mewled.
"They were probably moved them to Area 52 just to be on the safe side anyway." Paul dismissed. "Aren't you glad it was me who came to your aid instead of these fools?"
I looked out to the rising sun high in the sky yearning for my breath of freedom that was yet to come but seemed so fleeting. "Yes, Paul. You're my savior, darling." I gave into what my life was now knowing that my life hadn't truly begun.
"Someday I'm gonna be free and find somebody to love." I told myself. Until then, I'd just have to keep dreaming.