Sam hunched over her clay work, spinning the rotating plate as she molded the mixture within her hands. Focused and poised while she began her work. With agile fingers, she shaped and molded the sculpture within her mind. A bird-like creature, rising slowly out of the base of ash and flames. Scraping and cutting small slivers, she dabbed water to help smooth areas to even them out. Time passed slowly while she worked in silence.
The overwhelming darkness in the corners of the room began to loom over her. It slithered and crept along the furniture to make its way above. It whispered softly into Sam’s thoughts while she tilted her head, rotating the sculpture to and fro.
Pausing the movement of the plate, Sam’s eyes widened. No, it’s alright. It’s just the outline of my design. I can make it work. Again she grabbed her tools, shaving and trimming along the neckline of the bird.
With her tongue sticking out, she added small lumps of clay to create wings that expanded outwards. Adding more water, she shaped and formed lines to where the feathers would be, then began to cut and trim. Wiping the sweat from her forehead, she pushed her chair back a bit to look at the form of the clay taking shape.
“You call this art? Looks like amateur trash.”
The shadowy smoke clouded thick around her as Sam’s confidence dwindled. This time, she spoke out loud against the ever-growing whisper in the back of her mind.
“I will look better once I get more detail in. Back off.”
Her voice quivered despite her strength against the toxic cloud that began to shroud her working space. Fighting tears, she began to further detail the flames licking at the bird’s wings and torso. A debate slowly started to bounce between her thoughts and the consuming darkness.
Are there too many flames? “Yes.”
Should I give more definition to the feathers? “That’s overdoing it.”
Does this look better here? “It’s getting worse.”
Each comment ate at her, breaking down her will to continue the art piece. Her fist shook with a small tremor while she ground her teeth with anger. The pain swelled into her chest while the dark cloud smothered her. Jumping out of her chair, she threw the tool in her hand to the floor and grabbed at her hair.
Who cares if she got clay everywhere, she knew the cloud was right. Her skills as an artist were nothing. Glaring up at the cloud, she cried out at it.
“What do you want?! Why must you always show up! I can never accomplish anything with you constantly talking me down!”
The swirl of the cloud formed into a shaded figure, its void-less eyes mocking her. The shade flickered, never truly appearing in a solid state yet its hands were long and thin like skeletal hands. This was not her first time seeing the smoky being.
Its appearance started only as a small wisp. With each project she started, it grew, showing bit by bit. The longer she continued to work on her art the bigger it appeared. Its torso hovered within the smoke, trapped within the fluid motions as it pulled to escape it. Slowly it floated in a snake-shaped appearance to slither through the air. Pausing to hover above her shoulders it whispered close to her ear.
“You were the one that called me here, asking for my opinions. I am only just being honest to you.”
The figure wrapped his fingers one by one on top of her shoulders, gripping her tightly. With a smooth sway to the other side of her head, it continued to poison her mind. “Besides, why do you fight it? You know deep down you are nothing more than a child wasting your time on these things. Why not do something useful instead?”
Sam clenched her teeth tightly. All this creature ever did was tear her down. Its ghastly appearance reflexed weakly in a mirror on the farthest wall. Its voice was always there, ever since she had first picked up a pencil to draw her ideas.
The memory plagued her so with acute accuracy. She had been drawing a superhero, designing it from scratch as an idea to one day make real. It was exciting and fun. Sam detailed the women to be strong. It was then when her friend had looked over, frowning at the page.
“What is that?”
Sam replied, hardly lifting her head as she continued to draw. “It’s a superhero, silly! I made her up. She’s got strong muscles and can fly! And when she is fighting monsters, she can blast them away with her supersonic voice!”
The friend scoffed, puffing out her chest as she raised her nose to Sam. “That sounds stupid. Why would she have a supersonic voice? Besides, there is already a superhero who can fight and is strong. Plus he’s a boy. Girls shouldn’t fight.”
With that, she turned and walked away leaving Sam disheartened. The words repeated in her head. “That sounds stupid.”
Looking up from her page, she watched her friend join a different table laughing. Dropping her pencil she looked down at her superhero. There’s no way it was stupid, was there?
A small black cloud swirled in front of her appearing out of nowhere. It dimmed the light around her drawing and thinned into a small cord, circling around in front of her. The same damning voice she would recognize to this day.
“She is right, you know. It IS stupid.”
That day, she crumbled the picture up and cried after returning home. The stalking shadow never left her side since. Sam came to know this creature well. It placed doubt within her at every opportunity it could.
Looking back to her clay model in the present, its venomous words almost rang true. Hugging herself, Sam turned away to face her table. The drawing of her design of a phoenix bursting from the ash blurred as tears began to swell. How did she think something so complicated would actually work?
Sniffling, she wiped her eyes and picked up the paper, preparing to rip it. A door behind her opened, stopping her with a bit of a jump. Whipping around she saw her friend Gabrielle. They had gone to university together and had met in the arts program. She wasn’t a sculptor, yet she had encouraged Sam to try. Nowadays she frequented her place to see her latest designs had been.
Gabrielle sang her greeting and pulled off her jacket. “Guess who I saw today! This cute boy working at the cafe down the street. You know, the one we go to now and then? I say, after you clean up, we should head down there and grab a seat. Might be worth it.”
Sam held the paper of her design behind her back, faking a bright smile to greet her friend.
“Yeah, sounds like a plan. Head on into the living room and I will be right there.”
Sam waited, hoping her friend would not heed attention to her or the clay figurine. But to no avail, the first thing Gabrielle did was head straight to her working area. Spotting the art piece, she gasped.
Here we go, Sam thought negatively. She is going to confirm how terrible it looked. Crumpling the edge of the paper in her hand with a tight grip, she braced herself.
“Holy cow. You’ve really outdone yourself now. Look at this detail!”
Sam paused, her mouth agape. “What?”
“This is incredible! I thought your take on Zeus’s bust was amazing, but this! Look at the flames! It really looks like this creature is birthing right out of the ground!” Standing up, Gabrielle placed her hands on her hips. “I don’t know how you keep doing this. Every time I think you set the bar, you outdo yourself each time. Do you think you make a few more of these guys?”
Sam closed her mouth, pushing off the table to hang her thumbs in her jean pockets. With a shrug, she nodded. “Yeah, I think I would make a few more. Maybe even change the positions too.”
Gabrielle brightened. “If you do, I know a guy who can sell them too. It would be a huge break for you. I know you’ve been working your ass off trying to get out there. I’ll help you get more clay and offer anything I can to help. I think you can get them ready before the weekend with ease.”
The dark cloud shanked as Sam’s confidence soared. The whispering shrieks, drowning out by the light that increased with her hope. With a quick look around her room, Sam nodded. Yeah, this was doable.
“Looks like a shopping trip is in order. First stop, the cafe!”
Gabrielle cheered, returning to admire the phoenix while Sam crossed her arms. With a deep sigh, she smiled. How could she have almost destroyed the drawing? A small black swirl of smoke caught her eye as it loomed close to her ear.
“Today may be a victory, but I will always be here. You can never get rid of me.”
Sam glared at the creature. She knew it was right, yet without the constant doubt it spewed, she never would keep pushing herself to improve.
“You’re right. I know for the rest of my life I will have to accept you. As much as you are my toxic thoughts, you are also my muse.”
With a smirk, Sam swiped the remaining cloud away. The small cries of the whisper vanished, relieving her of the weight of her own crushing doubt. Looking over at her friend, she was grateful. One step at a time, she would continue to move forward and not let her personal demon stop her from being an artist.
“Bring it on.”