The island was more remote than Eric North had expected, but it was also even more beautiful. It rose from the sea, not too far from the Greek coast. As the boat drew near, he could see no inviting beaches. Instead, waves crashed against rocks bleached white like bones by the sun. The boat was manned by a salty, old fisherman who had been hired by the real estate firm to ferry Eric and his small pile of bags and boxes. The man was short, wiry, and tanned to leather by the sea. It was impossible to tell if he were a very weathered young man or a well-preserved old one.
Next to him, Eric felt younger than his years. At 42 he didn’t quite feel old, yet, but the years were starting to show on his face. At five foot ten he felt tall next to the fisherman, but he had a few extra pounds around the middle that the other man didn’t. He knew he didn’t quite match the handsome head-shot on the back of his books anymore, but he wasn’t far from it. It wasn’t just his fame and relative fortune that made him popular with the women, or so he hoped.
The fisherman spoke little English but he managed the boat well as he expertly slid it up against the tiny dock. After securing the craft, he grabbed a handful of bags and waited for Eric to gather the rest before leading the way up a rocky trail.
The trail split near the top of the hill and Eric paused to look out over the water. Maybe on a clear day he would be able to see the mainland, but for now all he could see was mist and sea. The surrounding ocean could be filled with other islands, boats, or something more forbidding, but Eric wouldn’t know. He thought of the old maps with their inscription “here be monsters” and shivered.
The fisherman turned to the right and Eric glanced back at the other trail, remembering what the real estate agent, a tall woman with sharp features and a clipped manner, had said about the other occupant of the island.
“There are only two homes on the island, the rental you have secured for the next few months and a home that is rarely occupied. The woman who owns it, Tamsyn Gray, likes to keep to herself and won’t bother you even if she happens to be in residence, which is unlikely. Are you certain you wish to rent this place? I can show you others that are nicer and not quite so remote.”
“I need the isolation,” Eric had answered. “I have to finish my book before the filming of the next season of the TV series or I’m in violation of my contract. I need to get away from all of the distractions or it’s going to cost me in more ways than just financial. Being completely on my own is exactly what I need.”
The agent had just shrugged and given him the paperwork to sign. Now here he was, almost to the home he had only seen in photos. At the next turn he saw it, the silver walls almost lost in the mist. In the pictures he had seen, the building had stood out against a bright blue sky and had looked modern and sleek. Now, surrounded by mist, it looked like part of the island, another outcropping of rock rising from the sea. He stopped for a minute, then hurried to catch up with his guide.
There was a flurry of activity as the fisherman opened the door without a key, no need for a lock in such an isolated spot, and dropped Eric’s bags on the kitchen table. The front room was small with high ceilings leading to a bedroom loft. A side wall was lined with a stone fireplace while the wall opposite the loft was floor-to-ceiling windows. On a clear day it would provide an unbroken view of ocean and sky, but today it revealed nothing but the silver mists, undulating against the glass.
The kitchen was surprisingly large and well-stocked. The same fisherman, or another like him, had come over earlier in the week to fill the pantry and refrigerator with Eric’s food order. He would return every two weeks to make sure Eric had everything he needed to survive.
Down one hall, past the bathroom on the right and a small laundry room on the left, was the office. It had French doors that opened out onto a deck that wrapped around the back of the house. It provided another view of the silver mist, which seemed to be getting thicker. Eric set his boxes of books and his laptop on the couch against the left wall and went to the French doors. He opened them up and felt the mist on his face.
The fisherman called something in Greek from the other room and Eric went to see what he wanted. The man gestured to the gathering mists and Eric gathered that he needed to get back to the mainland before it got worse. He offered a handful of bills, hoping he had the exchange rate right, relieved when the man seemed neither offended or overly excited by the amount. Eric followed him to the dock, noting that the mists were thickening quickly, and waved the man off before returning to the place he would call home for the next couple of months.
The next morning dawned clear and warm, the mists of the day before a distant memory. Eric lay in his bed in the loft and gazed out at the sea, watching the sun rise. Far to the east was the coast of Turkey and behind him, on the other side of the island, was Greece. He could see nothing in front of him now other than the ocean and the rising sun. He knew he would be able to write here, far from the internet and phones, social media and critics. This final book would be exactly what he needed to solidify his legacy as one of the most popular fantasy novelists of all time. He refused to think about what would happen if he couldn’t finish it or, worse, wrote a bad book. The world was clamoring for his words, and he wouldn’t keep them waiting any longer.
He made a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausage, and pancakes before getting to work. The day was warm but not hot, so he opened all of the doors and windows and let the sea air wash over him as he worked. He had an outline to work from, although he had worked without one on the first four books. This time around, though, he had to keep in mind the changes requested by the TV producers and trying to tie that into his original vision was proving harder than expected. Still, he was a professional and he could do this.
By lunch he had written only a few pages. The words weren’t flowing and he felt the need to escape for a time. He looked at the food, but had no appetite. Maybe a walk would stir something up, hunger at least, and maybe inspiration, if he were lucky.
He chose the path down to the shoreline and followed it, tasting the salty spray from the pounding surf as he gazed out to sea. Around him wheeled gulls and other seabirds and from the sparse trees came bird song. He wondered what kind of birds lived on an island like this and realized that he couldn’t just Google it, not with no internet or cell phone. It was disorienting for a moment, but this was what he had come for, wasn’t it?
He continued down the shore, stopping at a pool filled with sea life and watched awhile. He wasn’t sure when he realized that the song he was hearing was no longer produced by birds, but it drew him on, curiosity growing. He followed the sound along the shore, drawn as if by a magnet. He paused when he rounded a bend and saw a woman facing the sea. She sang a wordless tune, her voice as natural to the island as the breaking waves and cawing of the seabirds overhead.
The music held him captive and he couldn’t say how long he stood there, listening. Finally, the song ended and the woman turned toward him as if she had always known he was there, half-hidden by the shadow of rock and trees. He couldn’t have said how old she was. Her hair was white but it was thick and floated halfway down her back in waves. Her body was trim in a silver top and form-fitting jeans. Her face was unlined, with just a hint of crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes, as if she had spent a lot of time in the sun, or maybe just too much time staring at a computer screen. There was something about her that said she was no longer young, but she had a timelessness about her that Eric found himself trying to put into words. If he were to describe her in one of his books, he would have called her fey, because there was something otherworldly about her despite the ease with which she wore modern clothing. He could see her, draped in silks and wearing a tiara on her brow, and knew she would look just as comfortable when dressed as a goddess as she did now in jeans and top.
“You must be Eric,” she finally broke the silence which hadn’t seemed over-long until she spoke. Suddenly, Eric felt awkward, as if he had been caught doing something impolite, staring at the stranger for so long in silence.
He shook himself out of his reverie. “I am, and you must be Tamsyn.” He approached, hand held out for a shake. She took his hand and held it just a second longer than required.
“I hope my singing didn’t disturb you,” Tamsyn said, “I was told you wouldn’t be arriving until later this week.”
“I got away early and came out to get a head start on my work. I hope you won’t mind a neighbor for the next couple of months.”
“Not at all. I am accustomed to solitude, but not averse to company. May I ask what kind of work you do?”
“I’m a writer. You may have heard of my books. They’ve been made into a TV show now.” He named the wildly popular series and waited for the usual reaction. He wasn’t quite as famous as Rowling or Martin, but he was getting there.
“I’m sorry, I haven’t been keeping up with popular fiction and I don’t get much chance to watch TV, especially not here on the island. You do know that there is no reception here, don’t you? I hope that won’t be a problem for you.”
Eric wasn’t sure if he were relieved not to be recognized or a little stung. He hadn’t realized how much he had taken his fame for granted and had to fight off a bit of pique.
“It’s one of the reasons I’m staying here. I need to focus and the lack of distractions is just what I need to manage that.”
“I should let you get back to your work then. I was hoping to spend the summer here, but if my presence is distracting, I can make other arrangements.” She tilted her head to look at him and the light caught her eyes, shifting them from pale blue to green.
“Not at all,” Eric rushed to reassure her. “I am not a hermit, just an author on his last deadline. I mostly work in the mornings and early afternoon, so if you would like company in the evening sometime, I would be happy to cook. I’m no chef, but I can do the basics.” He paused, trying to read her expression and continued. “Unless you would prefer your isolation, of course.”
“I think I would like that very much,” Tamsyn said. “Although, I could prepare the meal, if it would give you more time to work.”
“I don’t mind cooking. It relaxes me and I get some of my best ideas while chopping vegetables. Would you like to come over for dinner tonight?”
“Not tonight, I’m afraid. I could make it tomorrow, if that’s convenient for you.”
Eric turned back to his place, already planning the menu for the next day.
By the time the next evening rolled around, Eric was delighted by the work he had done. The writing was rough and would need extensive polishing, but any writing was better than no writing, and he had produced more words in a day and a half than he had in months. He had known he had another book in him, he just needed to get away to get it out.
He hadn’t asked Tamsyn what she liked, but figured you couldn’t go wrong with pasta and sauce. He had a loaf of crusty bread that wouldn’t last long in the salty, wet air, so he sliced it and covered it with garlic butter and threw it in the oven while he tossed shrimp in Alfredo sauce. He was just checking on the garlic bread when Tamsyn called out from his open front door.
He went to greet her and led her out onto the deck. The table and chairs out there were large enough for four people and, as he carried the food out, Tamsyn selected a chair facing the ocean. He took the seat next to her so they could both enjoy the view while they ate. The food was simple, but the pasta was perfectly cooked and the bread was warm and fragrant with garlic and herbs. Tamsyn seemed to enjoy the food and they talked about the weather and the view until they had finished eating.
Tamsyn turned in her chair, crossing one long leg over the other. She was dressed in worn jeans and a loose top, similar to what she had worn the day before, but in red this time and not silver. It fell off of one shoulder, exposing an expanse of tan skin that kept drawing Eric’s eye, although Tamsyn seemed not to notice.
“How did you happen to become a writer?” Tamsyn asked, finally. “Was that always your dream?”
“Not at all,” Eric laughed, “I wanted to be an astronaut but when that failed to happen despite my lack of effort in that direction, I wandered into accounting as a way to pay the bills while I waited for NASA to discover me, hunched over balance sheets.”
“How did you transition to writing from accounting, a profession which is rather…” she paused as if searching for a polite term.
“Dull?” he offered. “Boring? Mind-numbing?”
“If you insist,” she said with a sparkle in her eyes. In the evening light they no longer looked blue or green, but the palest silver. “Certainly accounting doesn’t seem nearly as creative as writing fiction. You do write fiction, don’t you?”
“Yes, I write fantasy novels. And you’re right, creative accounting is more likely to get you an audit than a payday. I never thought of myself as creative, although I always wished I were.”
“How did you go from accountant to writer, then?”
“I’ve always loved reading, especially fantasy, but I never planned to write anything of my own. I only took the creative writing class because my wife, Annalise, wanted to do it and didn’t want to go alone.”
“I was. We didn’t have much in common and Annalise found life married to a CPA even more boring than it sounded. She kept dragging me to classes at the community college. That’s where I learned to cook, at least a little. The writing class was just another one of her fancies. She hated it, but I found out I enjoyed it and was, to my surprise even more than anyone else’s, pretty good at it. Annalise got bored with me as quickly as she did with any of her other passions and traded community college classes for other extracurricular, not to mention extramarital, activities. About two years after the divorce was final, I wrote the first book in the series that I’m trying to finish now.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Sometimes. We were a bad match. We married too young and maybe I could have tried harder, but I don’t think Annalise wanted a husband as much as she had wanted a big wedding. Once the honeymoon was over, she was ready for the next adventure.”
“Do you ever talk to her?”
“Oh, she came back when the fame and money started rolling in, but I wasn’t interested in getting back on that merry-go-round.” Eric picked at bread crumbs on his plate, waiting for the old pain to come back, but that had been a long time ago and he was just glad to be done with it.
“What about you? Is there a Mr. Gray out there, somewhere?”
“I’ve never married, no.” Tamsyn said. “I have known love, but it isn’t my fate to settle down, I’m afraid. Maybe I’m like your Annalise, always looking for another adventure.”
Eric turned in his chair and studied the woman seated next to him. She had none of Annalise’s fire or restlessness. In fact, Tamsyn couldn’t have been more serene, sitting in the gathering dusk with a stillness that radiated calm he wanted to wrap around himself.
“No,” he said, with a deep conviction he couldn’t quite explain. “You are nothing like Annalise.”
The subject turned to books they had both read and to classic movies. By the time the sun had set, Eric realized that there would be no streetlights to guide Tamsyn across the island.
“Let me walk you home,” he said, standing with her at his open door, looking out into the night.
“No, but thank you for your kindness. The moon is rising and I know the path well. There will be no muggers waiting, just the island and its silence. I will be safe enough.”
He tried to insist, but Tamsyn just laughed and slipped into the night, her pale hair glowing in the moonlight until she passed out of sight.
Eric kept busy for the next few days, writing from the time he arose with the sun until time for his evening meal. As the sun dropped down to the horizon, he would cook something and spend the evening reading one of the books he had brought with him or just staring out at the sea. He made a habit of taking a break at lunch for a ramble over the island, not admitting to himself that he hoped to run into Tamsyn again.
On the fourth day his hopes were realized. He heard Tamsyn singing and drew closer to listen. This time he thought he recognized the tune, but the words were in a language he didn’t know. But then, other than English, he only knew a little Spanish and French, so that wasn’t saying much. He stood and waited for the song to end, as transfixed by her voice as if he were under a spell.
She turned to him after she had finished and gave him one of her rare smiles. He hadn’t realized how little she had smiled until that moment, and wondered what had happened in her life to make her so solemn.
“Your voice is breathtaking,” Eric told her sincerely. “I’ve never heard anything quite like it.”
“Thank you, you are kind. How is your writing? Are you finding my island as helpful as you had hoped or are you missing the modern world?” Tamsyn turned and walked along the shore and Eric followed.
“I am getting more work done than I had hoped, actually. I have never felt so inspired. I have a few places where I have noted the need for further research when I return to the internet, but not as many as I had expected. Of course, I write fantasy and not modern fiction, so I can just make up the details when I don’t know the answer. That’s a luxury I wouldn’t have if I were writing a mystery or something set in the real world.”
“I am not so sure that many of those are set in the real world, although I admire how well Agatha Christie understood human nature. I always enjoyed how she could capture the world in her little villages.”
“Those books hold up pretty well, don’t they?” Eric said. “It’s amazing how modern they feel even with the many changes in the world since they were first published.”
“The world doesn’t change as much as one might think. The tales of Homer show us that humans have stayed much the same for thousands of years. It’s only the tools and toys that change. Humans still love and hate, give birth and die, build and destroy, protect and kill. I see very little difference at the core of it all.” Tamsyn stopped and gazed out at the sea. “Each new generation thinks they are the first to experience the world and each must watch as the next generation supersedes them, taking their place as the center of life.”
“I don’t know that I agree with you about that. The world is changing all of the time and so are the people in it. We have more information and more destruction at our fingertips than ever before. The world shapes us as much as we shape it. Children born today have more challenges than any other generation, don’t you agree?”
“Do they? Do you think a child starving to death during a famine faced fewer challenges than children born today? What about the entire cultures lost to invasion, rape, and slavery – do you think that is a new thing? Women once bore a dozen children in the hopes of raising a few to adulthood. Do you think that was easier for them than for women having to seek fertility treatments because they waited too long to have children? Humanity hasn’t changed, just the trappings. Life has never been easy and many of our problems are caused by human nature, ours or someone else’s.”
“You aren’t wrong. Certainly, the older I get the more I see the same patterns repeating. I remember telling my parents that they didn’t understand me, but now that I’m older I think they understood me better than I understood myself. If Annalise and I had had children, I am sure they would be telling me how little I know about their troubles and their problems, which probably wouldn’t be much different from my own. Maybe that’s why I like fantasy, things look much simpler with swords and sorcerers than with bombs and pollution. Besides, I like the touch of magic, something our world is sorely lacking.” Eric smiled at the lovely woman beside him, hoping to lighten the mood which had gotten unaccountably serious.
“The world has more magic than most people ever know,” Tamsyn said, her eyes echoing the blue of the sea. “You have to look harder now than in centuries past, but it’s there.” She smiled suddenly, her face transformed by the brightness of it. “I am glad I ran into you today. I have been meaning to invite you to my home for dinner and I happen to have some fresh fish to share.”
“I didn’t know you fished.”
“I don’t. These were brought to me by a friend. Could you pull yourself away from your writing this evening? I would hate for the fish to go to waste.”
“I would very much enjoy that.”
“I’ll see you at 7:00, then.”
Tamsyn remained on the shore while Eric retraced his steps back toward his own home. When he glanced back before the turn of the path took her from his sight, he saw that she was watching him, silver hair floating around her still form.
Tamsyn’s home was not much bigger than the bungalow Eric had rented, but it had an air of permanence to it that the modern design of his rental lacked. The windows were smaller but well placed to bring in light and provide views. The walls were made from the same stone as the island and that made the house feel like it had grown in place, not been constructed.
Inside were endless lengths of shelves, covering every wall and filled with books and mementos. There was a much more modest kitchen than his own and a smaller fireplace. Despite the obvious age of the building, there were modern touches as well. The kitchen appliances were up-to-date, if not trendy, and the furniture was just old enough to be comfortable. The floors were done in a silver wood and were covered with bright woven rugs in many shades of blue and green.
Eric was drawn to the shelves and ran his finger along the spines of books, noting many old favorites mixed in with some more recent titles. He looked for and found a large collection of Agatha Christie and a leather bound volume of Homer. He looked for but saw no binding theme. Tamsyn obviously loved books of all kinds. He saw a Jack Reacher book shelved next to a book by P.G. Wodehouse that looked like a first printing. Nearby was a complete set of first edition Lord of the Rings. Eric didn’t know much about rare books, but he thought these shelves were worth a fortune without even counting the many rare and obviously valuable curios.
“I told you that I liked to read,” Tamsyn said from behind him.
Eric carefully returned the signed copy of David Copperfield to its place on the shelf.
“Your collection is beyond impressive. Some of these books should be in storage, in carefully-controlled conditions. The sea air can’t be good for them.” Eric realized he sounded critical and hurried on. “You have excellent taste in books, but I am distressed to see a serious lack in one area.”
Tamsyn approached, her brow furrowed. “If it’s Shakespeare you’re looking for, I have his complete works in my study.”
“I would love to see those,” Eric said with a smile, “but I was referring to a more recent author, one Eric North. I would be happy to gift you the entire set, minus the one last volume. I hear the author has been dragging his feet on that last book. We can only hope he will finish eventually.”
Tamsyn laughed. “I would very much appreciate the gift and I’m sure the last volume will be well worth the wait. How is the writing coming along, by the way?”
“Better than ever, actually.” Eric was happy to report. “I don’t know if it’s the isolation, the island, or the company, but I’ve never felt so inspired. I think this may be my best work yet.”
“Then I look forward to reading it. Shall we eat?”
They spent a comfortable evening together which was repeated every few days over the next few weeks. Eric worked harder than he ever had before. When the heavy pace began to wear on him and his wrists and hands ached from the hours of typing, he would head out for a ramble across the island. He grew to know the footpaths and shoreline as well as any neighborhood he had ever lived in.
As if she had some instinct about it, Tamsyn was always there when his spirits started to flag, singing on the shore, in a clearing in the forest, or on the front porch of her home. Eric was always drawn to her at those times and he would come away refreshed by the company and conversation and ready to work. He worried that he was intruding on her own isolation, but she always received him with pleasure and seemed to enjoy their talks as much he did. Their conversations covered history, nature, and books. They didn’t always agree, but Eric respected her opinion and Tamsyn was always courteous about his and they rarely argued.
Before he knew it, the book was almost complete. Eric knew that it would be only a few more days before he was finished. The fisherman had come the day before with the latest supply run and Eric told him that there would be no more need for supplies. Instead, he arranged for transport back to the mainland in a week. That would give him plenty of time to finish his book and pack before returning to the world once more. He was tempted to give himself another week to just enjoy the island, and Tamsyn’s company, but his deadline was too close to permit it. He still had plenty of work to do on the book, but he knew his publisher would be pleased. Even in its rough form, it was the best work Eric had ever done and he couldn’t wait to share it.
He worked until lunch and then set out on a walk, his head full of his characters and their problems. He heard the now-familiar voice and felt the cobwebs clear as his pace picked up, drawn by the song. He had given Tamsyn his books to read after the supply run two weeks before and he had been hoping for some feedback before he left.
She was standing on a small cliff, overlooking the sea, looking as much a part of the island as the rocks and trees. She no longer wore the jeans and loose tops he had grown used to seeing. Today she was in a silver dress that swirled around her lithe form and seemed an extension of her long hair. She didn’t turn as he approached until the song ended. Even then, it took a while for her to acknowledge his presence. Finally, though, she looked at him over her shoulder and he saw that her eyes almost glowed, reflecting the silver of her gown.
“You will be leaving soon.”
“Yes, I’m almost done and I have to get back in time for my deadline.”
“I read your books. You’re a gifted writer. You understand more about human nature than you admit.”
“Do I? I am just a storyteller, I leave the meaning to the reader.”
“Do you? Is the last book as good as the first? Are you satisfied with the ending you have written?”
“I have at least one more chapter but, yes, I’m happy with it. I think it’s my best ever.”
“I look forward to reading it.”
Eric looked at Tamsyn and felt a distance between them that hadn’t been there since the beginning.
“I’m sorry I have to go. Your island is magical and you have been an inspiration. I don’t know if I could have written this book anywhere else.”
“That is as it should be,” Tamsyn smiled. “I will not see you again after today, but I wished to say farewell. I have enjoyed our time together.”
“I would like to return sometime and I could write letters, if not emails. If you’re ever in the States, I would love to treat you to dinner.” Eric felt a sudden loss as she shook her head.
“No, that is not my way. I will enjoy your success, for it will be even greater than you imagine. I will know that I played some small part in it and that will be enough.”
Eric wanted to argue but something told him it would be in vain.
“I will miss you,” was all he said.
Tamsyn stepped closer, suddenly less fey and more human and he felt her gown against his bare legs and her warmth against his body as she kissed him sweetly on the lips for the first and last time. He wanted to crush her to him and never let her go, but he settled for stroking his fingers through her silky hair. She turned and, without another word, glided away down the path, disappearing from sight.
Eric never saw her again. He looked for her several times over the next week, but neither heard nor saw her. He thought about going to her home, but knew that would be crossing a line. He finished the novel with just enough time to pack up his belongings and meet the fisherman at the dock. As they pulled away from the island, now bright with sunshine and shadow, he searched for her form on the shoreline or cliff, and saw nothing.
The book was even better than he had thought and the publisher rushed it into print. Eric signed the first copy he received and sent it to Tamsyn, content to know that it would reside on her shelves with all of the other signed originals, dedicated to the muse that had inspired them.