“We’ve secured for you a contract writing advertising blurbs for the inside flaps of credit card bills. We are mouse demons, and our powers are limited.”
“I want to share your wheat.” The creature on the desktop looked like a drunk gray mouse who had taken a wrong turn headed home from a party. He had pointy gray ears topped off with some kind of headgear that looked like an upside-down colander wrapped up with strings of those triangular flags that festoon the lots of used car dealerships. He was wearing green tights. “I said I want to share your wheat,” said the visitor.
It was a sunny January morning at our coastal Maine cottage, and I had just settled down at the keyboard. Over the last three months I’d cranked out kilobytes of turgid, wordy prose decorated by two-dimensional characters that not even I cared about.
Then the visitation. “My wheat. You want to share my wheat. Right. You are a manifestation of mental collapse brought on by the frustration and despair I am currently enjoying. Get lost.”
When I’d quit my job in October and settled in to write my novel, it had been all green lights and blue skies, lollipops and rainbows. Bonnie, my wife, had her job — and Blue Cross for us both — at the nearby rural elementary school. We had five cords of wood in the shed, and had been up to date on the credit cards. No longer — the bills were piling up.
“I want to share your wheat,” repeated the visitor, dipping its head in my direction. The colander bobbed, the flags flapped. Its voice was that of a whiny know-it-all, straight out of Bart Simpson, Dr. Phil, or the endless threnody of soap operas and game shows on the cable channels. I watch a lot of TV, so sue me. One morning as we shoveled her car out from under a waist-deep drift of snow Bonnie had said, “If you’d spend more time writing and less time with reruns of The Young and the Restless, you’d have a Pulitzer by now.” A word to the wise, etc.: Bonnie was our sole source of income. And she was right on the mark if overly optimistic on my creative abilities. I chucked the remote and unplugged the TV. No soap — opera or otherwise. And no Great American Novel. Nevertheless, thanks to my shoveling abilities, my wife was never late for work. I spent my days alone, staring at an empty computer screen.
“Ahem.” The mouse was waiting for a reply. He put a foot on the M key and held it down. The screen filled up with endlessly scrolling lines of Ms. “You written much lately?” he asked.
“You are a psychosis; go away. You are an interruption I don’t need about now.”
“They told me you might be difficult. I am a mouse demon, your regional representative from Sminthian Apollo. Please may I share your wheat?” Leaving me to figure things out, the mouse became engrossed with a pad of Post-Its and ambled back and forth across my desktop, idly tacking them up in no obvious pattern. Demon or not, it was nice to have a break in my daily exercise in futility. And he had said ‘Please.’“
While the mouse was strolling and sticking, I called up an Internet search engine and typed in “Sminthian.” An article on Homer’s Iliad and a reference to Apollo the Mouse-god popped on the screen.
“You people have quite a history. Can you speak Greek?”
“I speak what I speak. At the moment, I am fluent in your local patois.”
“I’m so very happy for you,” I said. “I keep my wheat out back with the swords and the spare plowshares.” He didn’t get it.
“Thank you very much.” And he disappeared. No sulphur, no brimstone, just went. The Post-Its reassembled themselves into a pad. I cleared the Ms and continued with my writing. The screen filled with ampersands.
“Uh, we have a problem.” He was back.
“We. We ‘have a problem’? So glad you’ve included yourself in my delusion.”
“Alas, someone has made off with your wheat. All you have in your back room is a washer-dryer combo and a sack of rock salt. I don’t share salt; I share wheat. You lied to me.” The demon sat down next to my cup of pencils and drew a paisley handkerchief from his green tights. His shoulders heaved with overdone sobs as he slid into a method actor slump and tried to look dejected. “You never did have the swords and the plowshares, did you? All the time it was just the washer-dryer combo and the rock salt. Is this one of your ‘jokes?’ We do not make jokes where I come from.”
He put kerchief to nose and, for an eight-inch figment, executed a mighty honk. “If you will simply tell me where you keep your wheat, so that I may share it, we may get on with things.”
“Things? You mean if I give you my wheat, you’ll barter me a Pulitzer Prize for my soul?”
“A Pulitzer falls in the category of three wishes and frog kissing — kinky stuff like that. I’m about sharing wheat. You know, ritual hospitality and all that. When I grant a boon to such as you, it’s usually for a Volvo station wagon. Volvo wagons are my specialty. After wheat.” He honked again, refolded the handkerchief, and stuffed it back in his tights. “And I am not a delusion. I am a mouse demon. We bring plague or healing; your choice.” He held his hands behind his back. “Left or right? Choose please. I have other calls to make.”
“I am going certifiable or you are an early sign of senile dementia. Am I correct in this?”
“Come on, pick a hand.”
I eyed him warily and the demon delivered an edgy, well, demonic, laugh. Bart Simpson, kid from hell, had just stuffed a load of toads down his sister Lisa’s back. He brought his hands forward; both were empty.
“The hands thing is my little joke. You don’t get a choice.”
Hmmm... Maybe I did get a choice. I became cagey, recalling Rumplestiltskin. “OK. No Pulitzer, no wheat — where does that fit in this agenda of yours: my extinction, final and messy, or something more user-friendly? Hey, you could just disappear. Either choice suits me fine. How’s about I guess your name and win a prize?”
“My name is Prosper,” said the demon. “How’s about I guess yours?”
“Sorry, no prize; I already know my name. See?” I typed my name. No matter which keys I hit, I only got ampersands. “So you’re a demon — big deal. Listen, if you’re peddling Volvos, I don’t need a car. You’re sure you don’t buy souls where you’re from?”
“Could be, but first, I must share wheat. But I can tell you where your cat went. The gray shorthair, half Burmese?”
My wife and I had searched for the cat for over a week, slowly driving around our little town, stopping, calling. We figured a coyote got him. He was a champion mouser; we mourned, and then made do with traps. The demon was leading me, so I went for it. “Okay. Where’s the cat?”
“Consider this your freebie. After this we’re really dealing. There is a dead cat under your house. Your cat. I evoked his spirit. He ate poison bait at the neighbor’s last August.”
“C. Enright Dudman the Third is correct. He was spiking coyotes and got your cat instead. The cat asks you to forgive him for not coming home. He was dead at the time, and couldn’t make it. He now enjoys life on a happier plane.”
“Where the deer and the antelope roam?”
“And seldom is heard a discouraging word, yes, yes. So pleased you still study the classics in your time. Yes, the cat is in Paradise. As are we mice,” he added brushing a piece of invisible lint from his green union suit.
“Meaning Paradise is where you come from?” Prosper took a deep bow. “That colander you have on your head doesn’t do much to inspire trust in a supranatural agency.”
“The Helmet of Cleptath is mine by right of single combat, a mighty battle over the cheese of the gods. My opponent and I fought each other to exhaustion. Everybody was talking about it. With the Helmet I can compress time and distance; anywhere and anywhen are to me as a trip to the donut shop is to you.”
“It’s a colander.”
“Yes, some might name it thus, in its former, humble existence.”
“And the festoons of pennants?”
“Festoons? Oh, these cute little flags. Festive, aren’t they? They’re from a used car dealership, Eddie Bartleby’s in Bangor, my last stop. They wouldn’t share their wheat, either. Eddie Bartleby made a joke. I did not like that. Now, they are a crater surrounded by smoldering wreckage and yellow police tape. And the single combat, by the way, was with Artemis, Sister of Apollo. We were draining curds together.”
“Look, Prosper,” I said with an inspired piece of improvisation, “why don’t you check in Clayton Dudman’s barn? I’ll bet he has a lot of wheat all bagged up. And yours for the asking.” I recalled Clayton laced his storage grain with anticoagulants to knock off mice and rats. Clayton was big on poisons.
“That’s right neighborly of you,” said Prosper. And he disappeared again.
The next morning when I went to boot up the computer, Prosper was there by the cup of pencils. “Thank you for sharing your wheat,” he said, “but I have sad news. Clayton Dudman has died of a heart attack. Myocardial infarction, to be precise. Quite apoplectic, that fellow: he should really have had it seen to. I told him that you had said he would share his wheat, and he insisted all the wheat in his barn really belonged to you. Right up to the end. A sturdy fellow, that Clayton.”
“Uh, just what have you done with the wheat?”
“I took it all home and shared the gift of wheat, as you shared with me. And for this, you shall be blessed with a boon.”
“A boon. Huh. One wish, huh? Well, times are hard all over. And your folk — the wheat eaters?”
“Mouse demons all,” said Prosper. “Anticoagulants are as ketchup to us. The other chaps loved the poisoned wheat, too. It was they voted you your boon. I, myself, am in the service of Apollo, god of poetry and envelope flap literature. Ketchup and the arts are antithetical. Gifted with the colander I wrestled from Artemis, I shall teach you the enchantments to put just under where it says, ‘fold and moisten to seal,’ and as Prosper, I shall name thee Caliban and teach you to sing. That’s a Shakespearean reference. Surely one who knows ‘Home on the Range’ is conversant with the Bard.”
“Sing? Oh, you mean write. Like Shakespeare? Wow. Write what?”
“As a token of our esteem for all the poisoned wheat, we’ve secured for you a contract writing advertising blurbs for the inside envelope flaps of credit card bills. We are mouse demons, and our powers are limited.”
“Uh, don’t I sign something? A contract with Satan?”
“There are some names we don’t utter, buddy. We’re the good guys. The paperwork is complete, no signature necessary. The cat has given his soul for you. He is happy in Pussy Paradise. And C. Enright Dudman the Third has evened the score for poisoning the cat. Enjoy the writing job.”
Well, that was five years ago, and my writing career has blossomed. Under the doors and into the mailboxes of North America, not a month goes by without every over-spending, under-funded householder reading my work. Perhaps you’ve seen my latest — Discount Cruises and Free CD player-radio combo offer with Platinum Card upgrade?
The Perfect Homburg »
the 2nd Prosper story
I Want to Share Your Wheat was first published in the September/October 2002 issue of Demensions-Doorways to Science Fiction and Fantasy where it was voted 2002 Story of the Year.
copyright 2020 Rob Hunter