Some of my writing colleagues have been revisiting their experiences at Riversleigh Manor, a virtual writers’ retreat associated with the Soul Food Cafe. I thought I might join in and re-post a story I wrote back in 2006 where we meet Arvilla, my Inner Critic, for the first time. Arvilla has popped up in a few stories from time-to-time since then.
My room in Riversleigh Manor is comfortable. It has hardwood floors and a bright berber carpet, recessed bookshelves filled with all my favorite history and art books, fine literature, and religious and philosophical treatises of all sorts. A map of Riversleigh hangs on wall, and I am delighted to discover all the cozy places I could hole up and work. Though the room is furnished with only the most basic pieces—bed, writing table, reading chair, and chest of drawers—there is one item that seems out of place. On the wall over the chest of drawers, hangs a large silver framed mirror with inlaid amber around the glass. Its luxury contrasts the utility of the rest of the room.
I unpacked my sparse belongings—a change of clothes, a few special books, some toiletries, my writing and art supplies. I slid open the French doors and stepped out onto the balcony. I gazed at the valley below and saw the River ribbon its way towards the sea. In the distance I could see the mouth of the River, a vast delta spreading out like a large green lotus, spilling into the Bay.
As I leaned on the railing and tried to compose a poem in my head about the River, I heard a banging sound from my room. I rushed back in and saw the mirror over the chest rising and falling against the wall. As I grabbed the mirror to keep it from shattering, a glow emanated from it, filling the room with a orange-yellow light. I had been warned that Riversleigh was a place of unusual happenings so I wasn’t afraid or even surprised.
Holding the mirror firmly in place, I looked into it and saw it filling with a wall of fire. The flames writhed and shimmered but cast no heat. In the depths of the flames, I could see a dark speck grow larger and rush towards me. It grew into the figure of a woman. Just as the figure filled the entire mirror, a large pop sounded and I released the mirror and fell back on my bed, covering my eyes against a bright blast of light.
Silence enveloped the room and after a moment, I opened my eyes. “Oh, no, not YOU!”
“Well, hey there, Sugar!”
“What are YOU doing here?”
“What? Can’t a friend drop by and say hello?”
“Yeah, right, like WE’RE friends,” I said as I pulled myself off the bed. Standing in front of the mirror was Arvilla. Tall, platinum blonde and gorgeous, she was dressed in a pin-striped business suit, pearls, and stiletto heels.
“That’s a different look. And what’s with the flaming entrance? That’s over-the-top, even for you!”
“What can I say, Sugar, it’s the twenty-first century and I’ve got to keep with the program.”
“Like I care. You didn’t answer my question—what are you doing here?”
“I heard you were taking a little vacation and I just wanted to stop by to see if I could be of some assistance.” Arvilla strolled across the room, grimacing at the furniture. She plopped herself on the chair and put her feet on my writing desk. She picked up my journal and began thumbing through it.
“I most certainly do NOT need anything from you.” I started picking up my clothes that had fallen to the floor.
“You only brought one set of clothes and no underwear—now that’s rustic, darlin’.”
She was right. How could I have forgotten underwear? “Um, I’ll pick some up at the Gypsy Camp. They have everything anyone would want.”
“Oh, yes, Gypsy underwear. How Bohemian of you. Dressing the part of a writer? You might as well, honey, because that’s as close to being a writer as you’ll ever be.”
“Just who do you think—!”
She opened my journal. “Oh, looky here…..’I strive to transform reality through my words and images.’” Now, ain’t that a hoot and a holler.”
I rushed over to the table and grabbed the journal out of her hands. “Arvilla, get out! I came ten thousand miles to get away from you. You are NOT going to spoil this for me.”
There was a knock on the door. Glaring at Arvilla, I stomped to the door and yanked it open. Standing there was the Riversleigh Manor concierge backed by two beefy security officers, unsmiling in their black shades.
“Madam, I understand that you have a visitor. As you know, Inner Critics are not welcome on the premises.”
Dang, I’m not here a day and she’s gotten me in trouble already. “Yes, sir, you’re quite right, I understand. My ‘guest’ was just leaving.” I turned to Arvilla.
With a sigh, Arvilla dropped her feet to the floor and stood up. “Oh, alright! Don’t have a hissy fit. You’re just not much fun anymore, are ya, Sugar.”
I pointed toward the mirror. “Go!”
“I can’t get out that way. Where do you think we are? In a Harry Potter movie?”
The room began to vibrate and Arvilla spread her arms out to her sides. “Just wait until you have forty-three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing that you need me to edit. You’ll come a-runnin’.”
The room filled with intense yellow light and I could see Arvilla’s arms morph into enormous bird’s wings. With a harpy’s shriek, Arvilla began flapping them. She bounded through the French doors and off the balcony. I rushed to the railing and saw Arvilla gliding up the river valley towards the mountains. Looking over her shoulder, she yelled “I’ll be baaaaack……”
“And I’ll be ready for you,” I muttered as I slammed the doors shut.
ljgloyd, originally published 2006