A Sip of Inspiration
by Miriam Harline
You are in a dark room, empty of furniture, a box of wood rough-hewn. The window looks out on night. You smell woodsmoke, though there is no fire. You are cold, and you huddle on the floor, wrapping your arms around yourself.
The door opens, and standing in the doorway is a woman with long blonde hair. She wears a white dress, hanging in graceful folds, and no shoes. In her hand is a white candle, burning. “Rise,” she tells you; you do, and follow her.
Outside hangs black night, a sky dusted with stars, no moon. The ground is cold, frozen hard, but there is no snow. You follow the woman down a narrow path. To either side rise hills, grass tan when the candle shows it. You walk down; the stones under the hills begin to show to either side. Beside you, slowly, rock walls rise.
The walk down turns steep. You smell salt, hear waves crash. The land flattens, and under your feet is sand; you are on the seashore.
Ocean water pours across the sand, a margin of foam at its edge. The candlelight glows, a yellow globe on the water. You follow the woman still; you turn and walk above the surf. It is low tide.
A cliff rises ahead, to your left, and in the cliff you see a black mouth, a cave. It is so dark, black on black, you feel some fear. But the woman walks right up to it, enters the tall mouth, twice her height. You walk after her into the cave, still on hard-packed wet sand; when the tide is high, the cave floor must be covered in water.
The path of sand narrows between rocks; you continue along it. You turn a bend, and behind you can no longer see the sea, but you hear it still, rushing, sighing.
You walk on. To either side rise black walls of stone, occasionally veined with red. Ahead, as the path curves, you see not darkness, but golden light.
You turn another bend, and the cave ceiling rises; you are in a vast room, lit by candlelight. Before you is a line of eight women robed in white, all holding white candles.
One woman steps forward. She is blonde, like your guide, but taller, older, in the prime of womanhood. Her face is still, not smiling, full of pride. “Greetings,” she says. “What is your name?” You tell her.
“Why have you come here?” she asks. Your eyes go wide, because you have no idea; you were waiting, and were summoned, but you do not know why. But your guide steps up and whispers in your ear, “For inspiration.”
You repeat, “For inspiration.”
The woman who greeted you smiles; you have made the right answer. “Very well,” she says. “Come forward.”
All nine women turn, move further into the cave, form a circle. You see in its center a huge cauldron, waist-high, its legs straddling a fire. The cauldron is boiling, and from it rise rainbow bubbles that pop in the air, leaving a smell of spice and honey. “This is the cauldron of inspiration,” your greeter says.
Two women in the circle loosen their hands and beckon to you. You pass by them, and the circle rejoins around you. You stand before the cauldron. “Drink from the cauldron,” the greeter says.
Drink? you say to yourself. But the liquid in it is boiling. I will boil my hands. “Drink,” she says. “That is why you are here.”
You look around, in fear. These people are crazy. Then you catch the eye of the woman who guided you, and she smiles very slightly. You sense there is some magick here. Foolishly or wisely, you lower your hands into the cauldron.
The liquid is just cooler than lukewarm, delightful, like a bath on a hot summer day.
You cup liquid in your palms, raise it to your lips. The smell of spice and honey fills your nostrils. The liquid seems to shine upward into your face, rainbow colors. You sip.
An explosion goes off in your head. You fall backward onto the ground. You see stars, moons, suns, rainbows flare; a stream of firework, many-colored, falls from the sky. You hear music, whispers, laughter; someone close is speaking in your ear, you can almost make out the words….
After a long time, you wake on the floor of the wooden house. All is dark, and your head hurts. But now the house is warm.