I awoke with my heart in my throat, sweat covering my body. As I had gone to bed alone, I wasn’t expecting anyone else to be there. Yet there he was, seated in a chair not three feet from my bed, looking down on me with equal parts amusement and pity. I couldn’t honestly tell which emotion made me angrier at the moment, but I knew I was no longer by myself in my room.
He was a plain man, for one to break into someone’s home. Blonde hair snuck out from underneath his Panama hat, which was pulled low over crystal blue eyes. A sharp nose was between the eyes, and rested above full lips. Either his skin was too pale, or his lips were too red; regardless, he seemed very ordinary to me, sitting in my room, wearing what looked like a cream-colored silk suit, complete with cravat and rose boutonniere to round out the ensemble. Not fat, not thin. Just someone who came in off the street and wanted to converse with a tired man about his sleeping habits.
My first words were of little use. “Who are you? Why are you here?” I pulled the covers over me like an offended old maid.
“Who I am is of no importance,” he answered, and my first thought was, every word was a lie. “Why I am here is important.”
“I must be dreaming this,” I said, my suspicions confirmed by the nodding of the stranger’s head. “Then why are you here, dream? To torment me? To bring me more pain?”
This time, his head shook in the negative. “Oh, hardly, my friend. I am here to offer you a choice.”
“A choice?” I echoed.
Crossing one leg over another, the visitor smiled. “Exactly that.” He leaned forward. “Do you know who are you?”
I tried to answer, but he cut me off with a gesture.
“You are a creature of creativity. You make things from nothing. Your very livelihood violates the natural laws of the universe!” He clapped his hands in glee. “You rage against ignorance, against stupidity, against banality with your existence. It is you and those like you that make the world such an interesting place.”
“So what of it?” I was almost offended by his words. Yes, I was a writer, but there were greater out there than I, wordsmiths of a level I never dreamed, to say nothing of the artists, the painters, the musicians. Their skill made mine pale in comparison. “What do you care if I do?”
“I care greatly, because I know what it costs.” The hat went up, showing both his eyes, so light a blue they were almost translucent. “You barely sleep. You doubt. You second-guess your words. You hate yourself because the words never come out the right way, or sometimes never at all.” Thin fingers rubbed his lips. “The pain of never being good enough in your own eyes, always gnawing at you, tearing your up inside, bringing pain the likes no one would understand.
“Yet you bear it every day, just to keep creating.”
He was right again. My craft hurt me to use, if I was going to be honest with myself. I loved it because I was making something unique in this universe, but I hated it because it was never enough. I hated myself because it never came out exactly as I wanted. I felt like a fraud, like a charlatan. Most of all, I hated what I believed myself to be: an imposter.
“What if I gave you a choice?” My visitor said.
“What kind of choice?”
“You could be a wonderful successful writer,” he began.
“If I give my soul to you?” I interrupted, disgust snarling my words.
A disapproving look flashed across his face, a thundercloud on a bay. “Hardly. As I was saying, you could be a wonderful author. Your works will outlive you be centuries. You have talent, just as much as those to whom you compare yourself.
“It will cost you, though. Pain, anguish, heartbreak, ridicule,” he continued. “Your talent will flay your soul open. It will ruin you, reshape you, render you constantly dying inside. If you show a moment’s weakness, it will kill you. That talent, that skill, it will end your life with no more thought than you’d end the life of an insect.”
A slight smile, then, “The alternative is to quit this creative life.” The smile broadened. “Yes, you can do it. Give up writing. Forget it existed. Treat it like a dream from long ago. There will be no more pain, no more hurt. You’ll meet a girl, you’ll fall in love. You’ll marry, have children, perhaps, if you don’t take too long.” He shrugged. “I am no miracle worker; that part is up to you. You can then live out the rest of your life without the hurt and sorrow and doubt that cripples you every day.
“No more pain.”
Those words were like a siren song. No more pain? No more anguish? No more feeling as if the world laughed at me and tolerated my ridiculous presence? He said he was no miracle worker, but that would be a miracle the likes I had never seen. Then the cost hit me.
“But no more writing?” I sounded the words slowly.
“None. You might help your children with a book report, but you’ll no longer have the need to write. You’ll no longer have the pain that makes your fingers push keys, or move the pen, or even speak a tale.”
“And if I keep writing?”
The visitor sighed. “Then you will know hurt and anguish. Your heart will shatter, again and again, most of it your own doing. Perhaps you’ll find someone who will tolerate your occasional descents into depression, but really, what are the odds of that? Your talent will get noticed, though, and you’ll be somewhat respected and famous. Success will be yours, but really, is it worth the price?”
I laid back on my bed, the sweat cooled on my forehead. I often wished for an end to the constant hurt in my head and heart, often calling it my demon. It had always been there for me, even when I pushed everyone away, and I used it. Oh, how I used it.
But now I could be rid of it. Have a normal life. Be a normal person. Do normal things. Act normal. I asked my demon what it thought, but got no response. To be free of all that pain was a dream come true.
Could I give up my words, though? Was losing my knack for putting words on paper worth being normal? Was it worth it, to lose all that I was, to become something I was not?
On that, my demon was silent as well.
My heart, however, was not.
My answer surprised my visitor. “No?”
“To give up my voice would be to give up my life,” I said, sitting up and facing him. “My pain is what made me. I cannot lose it, nor have it taken away. It would be like death.”
He leaned forward, taking his hat from his head. The flowing blonde hair went to his shoulders. “If you keep going this route, you will die.”
It was my turn to smile. “I would rather die as I am, than live as I am not.”
Tears welled in his eyes. “Then you are decided.”
“I am. Leave me my pain, and leave this place.”
“I once had to make this choice.” My visitor stood, looking down on me.
I shrugged as I laid back down. “Then with my decision, I will see you when this life is over.”
As he left my room and I drifted back to sleep, I heard him whisper, “I did not choose as wisely.”