Muse 3

Jeff signaled and turned left into a gravel lot. He could hear crunching under his tires and immediately felt less substantial. He pulled around back of the warehouse and shut off the engine. It wasn’t quiet. The warehouse was under an overpass. The roar and hiss of cars screeching by just feet above him made Jeff think of banshees howling on the wind.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic.

Jeff stepped out of his car. The ground was wet. It had rained overnight. The gravel sank in the mud just below it.


The warehouse was abandoned. It had been for a long time. Cinderblock walls were stained with moss and filth. Graphiti-artist-wannabes had practiced here before changing careers. Broken glass windows let the inside blackness out. Jeff crunched around the building looking for a door. It wasn’t locked. The corrugated steel man-door was rusted off its hinges. Jeff pulled on the handle and the door groaned, painfully. The door handle was wet and Jeff wiped his hand on his Levis. He hoped it was only water.

“I knew you would come.” A woman stepped around the corner of the building. Her voice had a note of helplessness to it. Jeff suspected it was put on.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded. She was wearing high heels and an overcoat, forties noir. He didn’t think you could even buy clothes like that anymore.

“The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime.”

“Oh come on,” Jeff shouted, “I’m trying to be authentic, and all you do is come up with clichés.”

“Oh, please. You’re the one who put the dead body in an abandoned warehouse. Talk about cliché.”

“I didn’t put a body in there.”

“Not yet.”

“Not ever.”

“You will.”

“I won’t.”

“Then, why are you here?”


The woman laughed. “You should go inside.”


“The body. Remember?”

“There is no body inside this warehouse!”

“Do you always talk to yourself?” Jeff jumped and turned around. A large man stood in shadow just inside the doorframe.

“I wasn’t talking to myself.” Jeff looked over to where the woman was standing. She was still there.

She smiled.

I might be losing it.

“Could you give me a hand?”

DSC00544_JD_Warehouse_shovelJeff squinted against the light to get a better picture of the man in the doorway. He could tell the man had a shovel.

“What do you need?” Jeff asked.

“I’ve got this body in the trunk of my car. I could use your help burying it?”


“Now this is getting interesting,” the woman said.

Jeff looked toward the woman. She smiled sweetly. “What are you going to do?”

“Why are you still here?”

“This story’s just getting started.”

“Let’s go.” Now Jeff could now see the man also had a gun.

“You’d better help him.”


“Because you want to know what happens next.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You need to know.”

The large man stepped through the doorway. He had a shovel in one hand and the gun in the other, pointed at Jeff. In the light, Jeff could see he had dark hair, a lumberjack build, three-day stubble and an award-winning smile.

“Cheer up, Jeff. What’s the worst that could happen?” They walked to the man’s car like old friends.

“How do you know my name?”

The man popped the trunk. “I think you know how.”

Jeff didn’t.

The man reached into the trunk and rolled a body over, a woman, blond. The hair on the back of Jeff’s neck stood up. He felt the blood drain from his face. He wanted to throw-up and pass out at the same time. His wife, Jill, stared up at him.

“You take her feet. I’ll take her arms.”

Jeff couldn’t move. He couldn’t think. He turned to look back at the woman.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“You did this. This is your fault. I told you, NOT MY FAMILY.”

“You wrote the words, Jeff. You made it real.”

The man cocked his gun.

Crazy, unhinged, Jeff turned back around and shouted at the man, “YOU’RE GOING TO SHOOT ME?” Jeff took a step toward the man. “SHOOT ME!”

The man smiled. “You’re going to help me.”

Jeff leaped at the man, fury and rage driving him forward.

BOOM. Jeff saw the muzzle flame in slow motion. He watched the bullet enter his stomach, cold, then searing hot. For a moment he felt like he was flying, backwards.

If I hit the ground, will I die?

DSC00548_Warehouse_Leaning“This is my story, Jeff.” Jeff was on his back, looking up. The man stood over him, pointing the gun at his face. “I make the rules now.”

Jeff opened his eyes. It was dark. His heart was pounding in his chest, thumping in his ears. Jeff felt for his stomach, where the gunshot tore into him, slamming him backward.


Jeff could see moonlight through his bedroom window. It was late, quiet. He sat up in bed. Memory of the pain was still there. He wiped sweat from his forehead. He felt like throwing up.

Jill stirred in bed beside him. Jeff tried to calm his breathing, his heart rate.

“You should write this down, Jeffrey.” The woman was silhouetted against his bedroom window, black curves against mini-blinds.

Jeff jumped out of bed, the anger returning, adrenaline pumping.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” Jill sat up, sleepily.

Jeff turned to look at Jill, then back toward the woman. She was gone. He slowly turned back to Jill. “Bad dream,” he whispered.

Jill lay back down. “Come to bed.”

“I will.”

Jeff stepped into the bathroom and closed the door. With the light off, he turned on the faucet and splashed his face with water.

I don’t think I can do this.

He sat down on the floor.

“I’m going crazy.”

In the distance, Jeff could hear the woman laughing.

Muse 2

“What are you doing?” She had an alto’s low, husky voice.

An Ikea Etorre desklamp cast a small, blindingly bright circle onto a mess of three-by-five notecards. The rest of the room fell off into black. Jeff looked up from his desk, into the darkness.


She laughed.

He loved the sound. It seemed to resonate somewhere inside him.

“I’m working on a story.” Jeff tried to sound positive. He could hear the lameness in his voice. He hadn’t written anything of substance for a while. Starts and stops. Never finishing.

“Outlining,” he said again, tapping the eraser of a dull number two pencil on the notecards, “is a key component in developing good story structure.” Jeff was channeling his college creative writing teacher. He shivered. It always felt weird when he did that. He wasn’t sure if it was the channeling, or the outlining.

“The Police are looking for you,” she said.


“Don’t be so naïve, Jeffrey. They found the woman in a warehouse down on 1st avenue.”

Jeff opened his laptop. “You want me to say that I did it.” The laptop screen burst to life, casting bluish light at him.

“I want the truth.”

“You can’t handle the truth.” Jeff chuckled. He thought he did a pretty good Jack Nicholson impersonation.


“Come on,” Jeff said. “You opened the door for that one.”

“Do you want to know what happens next, or not?”

“Not especially. Nothing you’ve said motivates me to care about a skid row dead woman.”

“Don’t you even want to know her name?”

“No! I don’t. Move on to something else.”


“What?” The hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

“That’s her name, the dead woman.”

“STOP IT.” Anger was a gas stove for Jeff. Instant on. White hot. “You can’t do that. You can’t use my wife’s name. You can’t use my name. You can’t use my kids’ names, or my brother’s names, or anyone else in my family.”

“I didn’t do it. You did.”

“Shut up.”

“They say she was shot twice, execution style, in the back of the head, then dumped in the warehouse.”

Two gunshots rang out, POP POP. Jeff jumped up. He could feel the reports through the wall. Notecards skittered off the desk into blackness.

“Leave me alone. Get out of here. Go away.”

She laughed.

The sound was wrong, incongruous. Jeff put his hands to his head and screamed.

The overhead light flared to life.

Jill stood in the doorway. “Jeff?”

DSC00519_Notecard_VertJeff stood in the middle of the small office, notecards strewn about the floor. His eyes were haunted. He looked at his laptop, then, over at the couch, then, he looked at Jill. Their eyes met. He couldn’t read her expression. He knew she could read his–fear. She shivered.

“Are you Okay?”

He didn’t think so. “I’m fine,” he said.

Jill cocked her head to one side. It was one of the things he loved about her. He always knew when she didn’t believe him.

“You don’t look fine.”

“It’s just this story.” Jeff wasn’t sure what had just happened.

“What’s it about?” She asked.

He didn’t think he had the words to explain it.

“You. It’s about you.”

The Muse

So, I’m starting a flash fiction noir episodic (forgive the cheesy self-portrait:). Each episode will be under 1000 words. I’ll post one episode per week, until the story ends. Writers block began the inspiration for this story. I’d love to hear your feedback, comments, questions, and thoughts. If you’re a writer, you may relate.

by James Dalrymple

Jeff Baxter leaned back in his comfortable leather chair and stared at the laptop on his desk. His eyes glazed. He was uncomfortable. The chair was too soft. His wife had arranged his home-office. She said it was for maximum creative output.

She should know.

She was an interior designer.

He didn’t like it–the office. She took out all his books. Now, he was surrounded by post-modern Ikea. It was supposed to fuel the imagination. It didn’t. Clean lines and smooth surfaces seemed to reflect his thoughts, not encourage them. It was all they could afford. Jeff liked clutter. He loved books. His old office had both.

“Come on,” he said, in frustration. He took his eyes off the blank screen and looked across the room. A sultry woman crossed her legs and smirked at him.

“What’s the matter, Jeffrey?

Jeff didn’t like being called Jeffrey. His mother called him Jeffrey when he was in trouble. He’d been in trouble, a lot.

Their eyes met. Now, he was really in trouble. Jeff knew she was dangerous.

“I don’t want you here,” he said. “You should go.”

She laughed.

He looked away.

“What are you waiting for, then?” She leaned back into the leather couch, her low-cut short skirt revealing more than Jeff wanted to see. He was trying hard not to look. She knew it, and laughed again. The sound was like music. He could see the notes, but not the words.

Not yet.

He knew she was teasing him. Even from across the room he knew she could sense his desire, his need. He hadn’t written anything important in a long time.

She leaned forward and the leather couched groaned, in ecstasy.

“Let me tell you a story,” she said.

Jeff put his fingers on the keyboard.

“It was late, when Geoffrey Stone entered her apartment.”

“Jeffrey Stone? Are you kidding?”

“That’s Geoffrey with a G.”

“Just because you spell it with a G doesn’t mean it isn’t me.”

“It isn’t you.”

“Yes it is.”

“No it isn’t.”


“You think every story is about you. Don’t you?”

“No I don’t.”

“Do you want me to tell it, or not?”

“Not if it’s about me.”

“It’s not about you.”

“Are you sure?”



“I said, I’m not sure.”

“What do you mean, ‘you’re not sure?’ Whose story is this, anyway?” Jeff was exasperated.

“Jeff! Are you okay?”

The door to his office creaked. His wife was standing there. Jeff looked up at her. His checks flushed and he looked over at the couch.


He looked back at his wife. “Yeah,” he said, sheepishly. He could feel the heat radiating from his face. “I was… I was just…” He didn’t know how to explain it. He couldn’t. He didn’t think she’d understand, anyway.

“I don’t want to be late,” she said. He couldn’t read her expression. He hoped it held compassion.

“I’m ready. Let’s go.” Jeff slapped his laptop shut and followed his wife. As he closed the office door, he could hear laughing. It sounded like music.