The Skink stuck his head up out of the flap on my big brown backpack and commented, “You know, the last time we went on a trip, it was that useless journey to find She Wolf.”
I jumped at the sound of the voice so close to my ear. “How did you get in there?” I grumbled. He certainly hadn’t been in there when I had jammed the bag full…come to think of it, how could he fit? I had stuffed the bag to bursting.
I felt the weight shift as he climbed out of the bag to sit on my shoulder. “Just arrived. But not a minute too soon – someone has to keep that nasty earwig-inner critic of yours in check. And his tin is in the bag, I see. No,” he continued as I drew a breath to protest his last statement, “I know you didn’t pack him on purpose. He just shows up. Anyway, I’ve actually been tracking your progress for days, waiting for you to get this far. And don’t change the subject. What about that journey? Why haven’t you been in touch since?”
The Skink was not going to let me get away that. One twiggy finger poked me in the side of the neck.
“Ow! Okay!” I thought for a minute. “One, the She Wolf was inside of me all along. I had merged my creative side with the rest of me, and I thought it would be okay. And for a while it was. But eventually, the everyday worries and just general junk of life buried her, and she got lost. Two – she is the creative side of me, but she’s not my muse. I’ve learned that.”
The Skink smirked. I couldn’t see him, but I knew he was smirking. “Yes, go on….”
I sighed. No getting out of this one. “You are. You’re my muse. Or one of them, anyway.”
The weight on my shoulder shifted again as the Skink somersaulted through the air and into a pile of snow in front of me. I had to stop suddenly or trip over him, and ended up windmilling my arms to keep my balance on the ice. “Geeze, cut that out! You’re worse than the dogs! What are you trying to do, make me fall on my face?”
He snickered. “That wasn’t what you almost fell on. No, I’m just jumping for joy that you finally admitted it. She Wolf is part of you. Oh, and I’m one of your muses. It might make things easier if you remember this.”
“Maybe.” I acknowledged.
“You’re going back to Riversleigh, where it all started.”
I nodded. “Anastasia Riversleigh has opened it back up, while her sister, Lady Sybil, isn’t in residence. It seemed like the right thing to do, to go back to where it started, and try to get my feet under me again.”
“You want to find what you found before, and you want to figure out how to hang on to it this time.”
I nodded again.
“You know that your creative side is inside you.”
“Yes. Look, Skink, I know all this. Just….come on. Let’s go. It’s cold out here, and I really need to get back to Riversleigh.” I could feel the longing in my very bones as I reached down for him. “You can ride on my shoulder if you promise not to poke me in the neck again. Your fingers are pointy and they hurt.”
“Of course they do. They’re made of sticks. And as long as you don’t get obstinate about answering me again, I won’t poke you.”
Well, that was going to have to be the compromise. With the little fellow – who really did look like a bundle of sticks in a doublet – on my shoulder, we set off for Riversleigh.
The first time I came to Riversleigh, I came via a labyrinth. This time, I simply set off down the road and stepped around a corner. Riversleigh is sneaky like that, turning up just when you don’t expect it. One minute I was in the ice and below zero wind chills of home, and the next I was in my idea of paradise.
I hurried my steps, and no more than half an hour later, the Skink and I were at the Door to my ground-floor room. It hadn’t changed; I had had a replica of the Door in one of my first stories installed in the door frame when I came, years ago. So we faced the green, arched door with its carvings and stained glass and doorknob surrounded by dragons, and I just stood there, remembering the day it came into being in my imagination.
Finally the Skink sighed. “Just open it, would you? I have things I want to do, and I want to see you settled first.”
“Fine.” I rolled my eyes. He was worse than my kids.
I opened the door, and the expected unused, musty odor did not roll out. Instead, it smelled like lilacs in full bloom. I stepped in.
The furniture had dust covers on it, but the windows were open to the garden just outside. It was that same miraculous Riversleigh garden, where all the flowers bloom all the time. I stepped to the window and breathed deeply, closing my eyes.
I opened them again when the Skink suddenly jumped up on my shoulder and started bouncing. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he squeaked, “but I have to go. I see an old friend!” He tumbled off my shoulder and through the window.
I didn’t see anything, but he was definitely scurrying toward something. I blinked and looked again and then I saw him. The Butterfly Man, who had been there to greet me on my first day at Riversleigh the first time I was there, was once again in the garden. He was bending down to greet the Skink. They both looked back at me and waved. Then the Butterfly Man dissolved into a swirl of butterflies, and the Skink disappeared into the cloud of wings. I smiled. I wasn’t worried. They’d both be back when I needed them.
I took the dust covers off the furniture – the comfy chair and footstool, the writing desk and stuffed bookshelves, and the big soft bed. I unpacked my clothes, my knitting, my writing things and the electronic gadgets I don’t leave home without because I am a complete geek. (I don’t know how it all fit, really, much less with room for the Skink to climb into the bag, too.) I did find the little round, flat mint tin that my inner critic always arrives in, just as the Skink had said, and I knew I hadn’t packed it. I tossed the thing in the garbage, realizing full well that it would probably reappear when I least wanted it to.
Finally I settled down with some knitting to stare at the colors of the garden in the sunset and to try and reconnect with the frightened, overwhelmed She Wolf buried inside of me.