“I am a stereotype.” Trent typed this sentence into his freeware word processor. He continued typing, “I am every douchebag who spends more time calling themselves a writer than actually writing. I’m even typing this in a cafe, for Christ’s sake.” He took another swig of whatever coffee beverage the barista had thought he was ordering. He only knew two things about it: it tasted awful, and it was caffeine free. He insisted on the latter, because caffeine took his brain to strange places, and it was never a round trip. And he needed his brain to be very much in his head to write this story that he was totally going to write. “This isn’t the story, by the way,” he typed, “I just have to type something, anything. That damn cursor bar thing has been blinking in and out of existence, taunting me for the past… shit.” He checked the time in the bottom right corner of his laptop’s screen. He didn’t remember exactly when he first got here, but it was way before the current time. “Wait a second,” he typed, recording his thoughts as the went through his head, “what if I wrote about someone who blinks in and out of existence? Like, that’s their superpower or something.” He pondered his idea for a few moments. “But what would his name be? Or maybe she? What about the actual story? That all sounds like a lot of work.” He shook his head, and highlighted all the text, with the intent to delete it. Instead, he decided to start a new paragraph. But when he hit the Enter key, all the text he’d written was replaced with a single page break, and the same damn cursor bar thing, taunting him once more.
“Writer’s block?” The unexpected voice nearby made him flinch. He looked over his laptop to see an older man, wearing tattered clothes, sitting across from him. Trent didn’t quite hear what he’d said, and started to feel very self conscious. “S-sorry, I don’t have any money on me,” Trent stammered. The old man rolled his eyes. “That’s bullshit and we both know it.” Trent began to panic. No one’d ever called his bluff before. “But that’s beside the point,” the old man said, “How’s the writing coming along?” “How did you know I’m writing?” Trent asked. “You’re sitting at a cafe, typing on your laptop, barely touching your drink. The only way you could make it more obvious is with horn-rimmed glasses and an ironic mustache.” “I guess…” Trent said, “Anyway, it’s not going so well.” “Sorry to hear that,” the old man said, “What are you writing, exactly?” “Its… not going so well,” Trent repeated. He had no idea what he was going to write. “I see.” The old man said. “I’m sorry, but do I know you?” Trent asked, “Who even are you?” “You can call me Mephistopheles.” “Your name is Mephistopheles?” Trent asked, in disbelief. “Of course not,” Mephistopheles said, “But you may call me that. You may call me anything. It’s a free country, isn’t it?” “I guess,” Trent said, “Anyway, what do you want from me?” “Oh, no, Trent,” Mephistopheles said. “This isn’t about what you can do for me. It’s about what I can do for you.” “And what can you do for me?” Trent asked, growing uneasy. “I can help with your predicament,” Mephistopheles said, “You see, I’ve had this idea for a story for quite some time, but I know I’m not good enough at writing to do it justice. You, on the other hand, just may have what it takes. What do you say?” “You think your story idea will cure my writer’s block?” Trent asked, skeptically. “I make no guarantees,” Mephistopheles said, “but I don’t think it could hurt.” Trent thought for a moment. It’s not like he had anything to lose. “Sure, why not?” He said.
As Mephistopheles described his idea, Trent’s eyes lit up. It was perfect. It was creepy, it was romantic, it was meta, it was everything Trent loved to write. Trent thanked Mephistopheles, and immediately began typing his masterpiece. The stranger may have left, but Trent wasn’t paying attention: he was too engrossed in his work. Trent couldn’t believe how easily the words came to him. Normally, when he wrote, he’d spend minutes, hours writing and rewriting each individual sentence, never quite satisfied with the final product. But now, he was typing as fast as he could, as his hands struggled to keep up with his ideas. He kept pressing onward, never revisiting what he’d already typed, as he knew that each sentence was perfect, exactly what was needed to best convey the plot, the characters, the emotions that had come to life in his mind. “Is this what being a real writer is like?” he might have wondered, had he not been spellbound by his own work. Several hours and several thousands of words later, he dramatically tapped the period key one last time, and cracked his knuckles. It was over. Normally, he obsessed over how long his stories were, counting words, worrying about if it was too short to properly convey his ideas, or too long to hold a reader’s attention. But he didn’t need to do a word count on this one. He knew that it was exactly the right length. Without even stopping to proofread it, (he already knew it to be unmarred by red squiggles) he copied it to his writing blog, and posted it with the title “Narcissus”. While he usually didn’t talk too much about his writing with his family, this piece was different. He turned and shouted “Hey, Chris!” but instead of his brother answering, he only heard the confused murmurs of customers. He’d forgotten that he was still at the cafe. He’d also forgotten how much time he’d spent writing; his brother was definitely asleep at home. So, instead, he sent him a text message and hurried home to bed.
As Trent slept, he dreamed of the story he’d written, and invisibly watched the drama he’d penned unfold. He dreamed of the shadowy form of a terrible monster, shaped like a man, who drained the creative energies of young artists. This horror, whom he’d named after his inspiration, Mephistopheles, made deals with dozens of painters, writers, musicians, poets, and more, binding them in invisible manacles, which granted them incredible creativity, but forced them to only create art about Mephistopheles. Among those enslaved, Trent saw Hera, the plucky heroine of the story, a young singer with big dreams of becoming a star. With the skill granted by Mephistopheles, her dream came true, but she was still unsatisfied. This caused her to fall into despair, until she met Apollo, a poet bound to Mephistopheles. Trent watched the two fall in love, into a bliss more sublime than his words could describe. Together, they wrote a song, not about their captor, but about their love. Hera sang her song with all her heart, a tune more beautiful than Trent could have imagined. All the other artists joined in, breaking Mephistopheles’ curse once and for all. With his last words, Mephistopheles said that Hera is not so different from him, that her dreams of fame are no different from his thirst for acknowledgment and praise. She refuted him by saying that she never wanted the attention. Trent was moved by her speech about how when she was going through tough times, music had saved her life. And she believed that if her music could help people the way music helped her, it was her duty to make sure her message reached as many people as possible. Trent watched closely as Mephistopholes vanished into the shadows, seemingly annihilated by the power of love. The story he wrote closed with a playful implication that Mephistopheles may yet live, and that perhaps the narrator of the story is one of his thralls. As he pondered whether or not Mephistopheles was truly defeated, Hera said something curious. “As it was written, so it has been repeated.” He didn’t remember writing that line. And, maybe it was just his imagination, but it seemed like she was looking directly at him when she said it.
He had a good night’s sleep; Chris was already home by the time he woke up. “So, did you read my story?” Trent asked. “Yeah, I actually did, this time,” Chris said, pulling it up on his phone, “Is all your writing this good?” “No,” Trent admitted, sheepishly. “Can you explain the title to me,” Chris asked. “Sure,” Trent said, “Narcissus refers to the monster, Mephistopheles, who is so vain that he demands all art be about him. Kind of like Narcissus, a mythological figure who fell in love with his reflection.” “Narcissus? Wasn’t the title of the piece Echo,” Chris asked. Except he didn’t sound surprised, and he didn’t inflect like he was asking a question. “Echo? What the hell are you talking about?” Trent asked angrily, “That doesn’t even make any sense. There’s nothing about anything being repeated.” Or was there? He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something made him feel uneasy. “It’s kind of a shame that I’m the only person who’ll get the title, but I think it’s really cool. I appreciate it. And I really mean that.” “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” Trent repeated, angrier than before. “See for yourself,” Chris said, chuckling. As Trent read these very words on his brother’s phone, his face went pale.