Treasure in Your Hand
by Stanley McFarland
“I’m sorry, Mr. Babcock.”
“So you admit it?”
“No,” said the diminutive woman, “I admit nothing, but I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Too late!” Babcock roared. “I have you on tape, or whatever this little gadget records on. You apologized!”
Sandy Flynn, the author of four novels, and numerous short stories, shook her head. “I have hot water on the stove. If you’d like some tea, I’ll explain.”
“I’ll record every word,” said Babcock.
“That’s fine,” said Sandy. “Come in.”
Babcock stepped into the entryway of the untidy Victorian. Stacks of papers, books and mail narrowed the stairway before him. The rest of the room was filled with cardboard boxes and plastic totes. “I keep one room livable,” said Sandy, motioning to an old fashioned drawing room to her left. “Find a seat. I’ll bring in the tea.”
Babcock felt like he was stepping back in time as he entered the drawing room. The room was entirely furnished in antiques. Oil lamps stood on side tables on each end of an elaborate settee. A sleeping cat lay in an overstuffed embroidered chair. Babcock took the rocker by the fireplace. A great stack of wood lay beside him and soot and small burn marks in the oriental rug indicated that the fireplace saw frequent use.
Babcock looked about for any sign of modernity. There were no heating or air vents in the room – not even electrical outlets. An open window let in the early spring breeze, chilling the room. Babcock was tempted to take the half blanket he saw lying on a captain’s trunk and lay it across his legs.
No, he wasn’t here to be cozy.
Sandy Flynn brought tea on silver tray – not two mugs, but a ceramic pot complete with cozy accompanied by matching cups and saucers. She chuckled as she entered.
“You could have removed Louisa,” she said. “She’ll give you a look, but then wander upstairs to sleep on my bed.”
“I’m fine,” said Babcock.
Sandy set the service down on table with wood inlay and poured the tea. “You must be wondering about the room. Muses like the four basic elements, fire, earth, water, and wind. They aren’t fond of technology, though they tolerate it. I write with a laptop, not a quill, but I come in here to reflect – or I go for a walk by the lake.”
“I’m not here about that,” said Babcock.
“Actually, you are,” said Sandy offering him a cup.
“I’m here because you stole my story!”
“And what story was that?”
“You damn well know!” said Babcock putting his untouched tea down on the captain’s trunk.
“Forgive me, Mr. Babcock. If we’ve met before today, I don’t recall.”
“No,” said Babcock. “I don’t think so.”
“Then how would I know which story you refer to?”
“You called it Minerva,” Babcock grunted. “I had a better title.”
“Oh, the story about the little fox at Christmas! Usually these encounters are about one of my novels.”
“You make a habit of stealing stories, do you?”
Far from being offended, Sandy reached across to put a hand on Babcock’s knee. “I am sorry for your loss,” she said sitting down on the corner of the settee. “Truly, I am.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“I didn’t, of course, but I promised you an explanation, so I’ll get on with it. Your idea for Minerva…”
“Shadow Dancer,” Babcock corrected.
“Lovely name,” said Sandy. “You’re idea about Shadow Dancer that was so similar to my Minerva, it came to you ten or fifteen years ago, did it not?”
“Yeah,” said Babcock. “Twelve, I think.”
“And you wrote down some notes – maybe even wrote a page or two?”
“And I still have them! I even told a couple of friends about it. They’ll testify in court!”
“But you stopped working on it years ago. Maybe you put it in a box, or a drawer?”
“On a disk.”
“A three and a half inch floppy, I imagine.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you’ve ignored it for some time. Do you even have a computer that reads three and half floppies anymore?”
“I would’ve gotten back to it!”
Sandy said nothing. Instead she gazed at Babcock with sympathetic eyes.
“Don’t make this my fault! You’re the one who stole my story!”
“I didn’t, you know. Your muse gave up on you.”
“Your muse,” Sandy repeated. “At some point, years ago, you showed potential. You had talent and the ambition to write. You attracted a muse who decided to give you a gift – the story idea of a fox that falls asleep in the woods and wakes in the city at Christmas time. The details were up to you, but you were given a story path with some promise, and you recognized the gift and went to work on it.”
“Mr. Babcock, where do you think ideas come from?”
“It came from me.”
“What part of you?”
“From my mind.”
“Did you deduce your fox? Or maybe you went through a process of inductive reasoning imagining all the possible things a fox might encounter.”
“No, it wasn’t like that.”
“Then how was it?”
“I was out in the woods.”
“A very fine place for muses.”
“I was looking for a Christmas tree for my sister.”
“And the idea…”
“Just came to you?”
“Look! I don’t believe in fairies, or muses, or whatever you’re talking about. The idea came out of my head.”
“Only because it first came into your head,” said Sandy. “A story idea is like any other treasure. Instead of being buried in the ground, it’s carried around by a muse. The story of my Minerva and your Shadow Dancer has probably been bestowed on dozens of people over the centuries. Several of them may have written it out, or shared it as a story teller might, but it eluded a prominent form until I had it published last month. Years from now it will be out of print and forgotten. The muse will take back the idea to give to others.”
“Because story muses love their stories. Other muses love paintings, poems, songs and sculptures. They want their treasure to be admired. We take their gem, and put it in a setting so the world can look at it.”
“Like the hope diamond.”
“Exactly like the hope diamond!” said Sandy. “I find it amusing – and notice what word I’m using there – that people obsess about how much a famous diamond is worth. But diamonds pass from one wealthy person to another without truly being possessed by anyone. The diamond exists not to be worth money, but to be seen, and as it is seen, it inspires dreams.”
“Dreams of wealth.”
“To some – to others dreams of glamour, or beauty, of science and religion, or even stories or songs.”
“So the diamond becomes a muse.”
“All treasure is there to multiply. Whether it is a diamond or a painting, an invention or a story, all treasure is there to create more treasure.”
“But what about classic stories that never change? The Iliad has been around, practically unchanged for thousands of years.”
“And how many millions of children have created dreams of being Achilles, or Odysseus, or Helen? How many plays and songs has the Iliad inspired? And then there are the hundreds of minor characters, each crying to have their story told! There are movies and comic books, and tours through western Turkey. There have been archeologists that dreamed of finding the ancient city of Troy, and each has had an adventure in their search. There are stories of these adventures.”
“And when the city was found…”
“There were treasures uncovered.”
“That each inspired other treasures.” Babcock grabbed the rocker armrest. Though the chair wasn’t moving, he almost gasped with vertigo.
Sandy’s eyes sparkled as she sat silently watching him.
“I remember a story from Sunday School,” said Babcock – “something about a light under a bushel.”
Sandy nodded. “Or perhaps in a three and half inch floppy…”
“I just thought of it as mine.”
“No treasure is ever ours. We may earn our bread uncovering it, but all that is ours is the adventure.”
Babcock groaned as he switched off his recording device. “So much time wasted.”
A breeze blew back the curtains, setting a gentle wind chime in motion.
Sandy took Babcock’s hand. “Don’t worry about the treasures you’ve let slip away. You have as much treasure as you can hold at one time.”