"So there's this cow, you know?"
Well, that was something of a letdown. "A cow."
"Yeah! A cow. You know, with udders and horns and hooves."
"Only some cows have horns."
"Right. This one does. So there's this cow with horns. And it was green."
(The basis for this story was a prompt calling for a fairytale, so this was as close as my characters wanted to get. I was going to spend more time editing and polishing this up, but I have a feeling that would be like polishing a turd. Umm... literally. You'll see. I
Unexpected Inspiration Short Story - "Mile Long Cow"
Adair groaned a sound that was closer to a whimper, not that he would admit it, as a flash of light made its way to his eyes. He clenched his jaw and repositioned his forearm to block out as much as he could. Sol was tinkering away at an invention, which meant he needed light. When Sol needed light, he didn't do it in half measures. The interior of the wagon was lit like the beacon of a lighthouse and didn't help the throbbing pain inside Adair's head. Despite the groaning and grumbling, Adair knew it wasn't overly bright. It was just the headache making his sight much more sensitive.
Not to mention his hearing. Sol's hammering wasn't helping, either. Adair could ask him to stop, but if Sol wasn't actively working on a project, he'd be actively talking. That wouldn't be an improvement. Adair moved the pillow from behind his head and dropped it over his face instead. He didn't need to breathe if it meant the light and noise were lessened, right?
It took a few moments for him to notice the lack of hammering. This relief was short lived when he felt Sol sit next to him. Oh no. Maybe he'll think I'm asleep, Adair thought.
No such luck. Sol lifted the pillow partway from his face. “'Less your hands have noses, this is a bad idea.”
At least the room was back to being lit by only the two lamps. Sol must have pulled his Weaving from the three balls of light because they no longer floated around his head like curious glowing hummingbirds. Sol himself still possessed the ever-present glow that marked him as a Weaver to Adair's arcane sight. While it wasn't blinding, it was enough for Adair to fumble for the pillow so he could put it back over his face. He answered Sol's comment with a halfhearted grunt.
“Oookay. Breathing through your hands it is. Let me know if you need anything? By like talking through your knees or whatever?” Sol asked as he stood. His bare footsteps were light as he crossed the wagon, but he didn't return to his project.
Adair grimaced, this time not from the pain. Sol was rapidly becoming one of his closest friends and Adair knew he valued when people treated him with respect. A lot of people didn't. They took Sol's silly, lazy grin and unorthodox way of talking to mean he was simple. The fact that Sol was built a little like the mountains he came from probably didn't help. He towered over everyone in Concordia.
With a sigh, Adair pushed the pillow aside and sat up. The wagon was dimmer than he'd thought, so Sol must have adjusted the lamps. Now he really did feel guilty; Sol, as a light Weaver, needed brightness and fire the way Adair needed paint and ink. Adair cautiously inched his way across the cluttered floor to where Sol sat on his bed.
“Sorry I snapped. I didn't mean-” Adair caught sight of what Sol was holding in his glowing hands. “Why do you have my sketchbook?”
Sol gave him a wide smile that meant Adair was forgiven. “Just wanted to look at the pictures. You draw some weird things.”
Adair sat next to him and leaned over to see what he was talking about. “Oh, those aren't weird. They're from a study I did of the muses.”
Sol gave him a blank, bemused smile.
Adair rubbed his forehead with the heel of his palm. Was he really going to have to explain the whole mythological history to someone who had never heard it before? Sol had lived in this country for years. Surely he knew what the muses were! “The muses. You know, the constellations? That the months are named after? It's said they came down from the stars to teach the old artists their secrets.”
Sol's smile remained the same for a few seconds until his strange, pale eyes widened in comprehension. “Oh! I didn't know the months had names for a reason. So, like Scriven and Pritchel and Chia Squirrel?”
“Yeah, exactly,” Adair started to answer before the last one registered. “Wait, 'Chia Squirrel'?”
Sol sheepishly scratched the back of his neck. “Uh. Yeah. Isn't that what month it is now? Or did I lose track again?”
Adair hurt too much to do more than chuckle. However, the amusement he gained from the idea of drawing the shapeshifting muse of illustration as a terracotta squirrel covered in sprouts almost made up for the headache. “It's Chiaroscuro. Kee-are-o-skyur-oh. Aren't you supposed to be good at foreign languages?”
Sol shrugged, a massive movement with his broad shoulders. “I thought it was named after a small animal. I mean, you've got a bird in here. And a mushroom.”
“Andante, muse of music. And Piquant, culinary muse.” Adair pointed these ones out.
Sol's head shot up from the drawing Adair had to admit did resemble a toadstool. “Your muse of food is food? Isn't that cannibalistic?”
Adair shouldn't have been surprised at Sol's use of a five syllable word, yet every time he used one it was jolting. “Well, no. Because… You see, it's… It's because… Huh, I never thought about it that way.”
“And this one.” Sol flipped back a few pages. “You drew a tree. Please don't tell me that one's the muse of like carpentry or carving.”
Now it was Adair's turn to feel sheepish. He cleared his throat. “Umm… woodworking, actually, so yeah. But there's a reason! Trees are always replanted and found wood is preferred over cut.”
Sol was clearly not buying this.
“None of the others are like that!” Adair needed to think about it for a minute and thinking was difficult right now. But no, surely none of the other ones were so… self-destructive? He flipped to the next page in the sketchbook. “Right! See, this is Tessera. She's a dragon and the muse of glasswork. More reasonable, right?”
Sol tilted his head to the side and said in a much more serious tone than usual, “Addy. I make things. If a dragon made something out of glass, the thing would have to be the size of like a building. A wagon at the smallest.”
Adair found himself rubbing his forehead again. How is Sol, of all people, out-logicking me? Not to mention causing him to make up words inside his own head. His headache must be getting to him if Sol's comments were making sense. This was the man who said with a straight face, not three days ago, “we had a monkey, but he got promoted” in response to why he had placed a small hat on Adair's cat. According to Sol's brother, when Adair thought to question this later, they'd never had a monkey. Adair still didn't know what it meant.
“Okay, fine, I concede. Some of the muses are weird. But it makes sense that the muse of sculpture is-”
Sol held his hand out to stop Adair's statement. Adair blinked at the bright orange sun on Sol's palm; with Adair's head making a mess out of his arcane sight, it seemed to be glowing independently from the rest of Sol's hand.
“Wait! I wanna guess this one.”
Adair reached over to push Sol's distractingly glowing hand out of his field of vision. “Go ahead.”
Sol reclined with his back against the wall. Judging from his position, this was going to be more than a simple answer. Adair felt genuine curiosity about where Sol would go with this and turned to sit cross-legged to face him. As long as he didn't look directly at Sol, the other Weaver's glow wouldn't increase the pain in his head.
When he had Adair's full attention, Sol cleared his throat. “So there's this cow, you know?”
Well, that was something of a letdown. “A cow.”
“Yeah! A cow. You know, with udders and horns and hooves.”
“Only some cows have horns.”
“Right. This one does. So there's this cow with horns. And it was green.”
“So, not a local cow.”
“Why? Don't you have green cows here? Everything else is colorful.”
Adair couldn't tell if Sol was serious or not. He decided not to bother asking. The answer would leave him more confused.
“Where was I? Okay, the green cow wanted to get to the field on the other side of the river. Maybe she heard the bulls on the other side were throwing a really great party. Sheeps and pigs and everything. It was great. A party with no farmers or herders to bring down the fun.”
“Or maybe she wanted to go because she heard the grass was greener?”
“She was already green. Why would she want greener grass? Maybe redder grass would make her purple. I dunno, you're the color guy, not me.”
Adair should have pointed out that it wasn't red and green that made purple. The explanation would probably fall flat, so he decided to skip it. Instead he prompted, “So there was a party?”
“Yeah! But there was no bridge or boat for her to cross and the water was too deep. But she heard there was this mushroom growing in a forest close by that granted wishes. So she- the green cow, remember- went and found this mushroom-”
“Let me guess. This mushroom was Piquant.”
“No, it was sickeningly sweet.”
...a pun. Sol's story was devolving into puns. Adair wondered if he could get out of the wagon while he still had a chance.
“So the cow ate the mushroom while all the while thinking how she wanted to cross the river. Well, I guess she thought it. Do cows think? Anyway, nothing happened. Nada. Zilch. Only a bad taste in her mouth from the mushroom that wasn't your food-muse.”
“Nothing?” Creators curse it, Adair was getting drawn back in.
“Nothing. Until she reached the river again and found it was just a stream. Of course she thought maybe she'd found the wrong place- okay, yeah, cows must think- but no, there were her hoofprints in the mud. But they couldn't be. They were like itty bitty compared to her hooves. They looked like ant prints. But ants don't have hooves, so she knew they couldn't be from ants.”
“Maybe farms had started housing ants and putting tiny hooves on them?”
“Don't be thick. What kind of farm would choose to have ants? So since the river was only the size of a stream, she crossed over it and headed in the direction of the party. She heard the music playing, but it was so quiet. 'What kind of party has quiet music?' she thought. Maybe it wasn't as smarfy as she'd heard. But when she got to where the music played, she was horrified!”
Was it worth asking what “smarfy” meant? Probably not. “How can you horrify a cow?”
“Easy. By being half an inch tall.”
Adair blinked. “Come again?”
“All the other animals were itty bitty, just like the not-ant prints! The cow realized that was why she could cross the river. She was like a mile long!”
“Talk about one potent mushroom.”
“You can say that again. So the cow- the mile long cow- didn't like being so big. Her one chance was to find another mushroom, but where was she gonna find another mushroom as big as like a hill? She wasn't sad, though. She knew if there was one, there had to be more. So she headed off to find one.”
“...And?” Adair asked when Sol didn't add more to his story.
“And what? That's the end. She left to find a mushroom and was never seen again. Probably a good thing when she was a mile long.”
By this point Adair had completely lost track of why Sol was even telling this story. He shifted position and his knee bumped against the sketchbook Sol had left sitting between them. Right! They were talking about the muses. “So how does this connect to sculpture?”
“Well, where cows go, they leave piles behind. When it came from a mythic cow a mile long, it turned into magic cow pies. From there, that's where all your clay comes from.”
Adair stared at Sol and wondered if he should start questioning his taste in friends. "... did you just tell me this whole thing so you could make a joke about poop?"
Sol grinned at him a smirk that was far too knowing for Adair's liking. “I distracted you, didn't I? How's the headache now?"
Quite honestly, Adair had forgotten all about it. "Fine until you reminded me, I guess?"
"Then I'll have to tell another one. So there was this ten-ton tuna --"