There were days, Alicia thought, staring at the paper in frustration, when you couldn't think of anything to write. She'd had any number of days like that, and sometimes those days stretched out into weeks, until she was very firmly ensconced in that thing they call Writer's Block. When she was younger, she'd look down and discovered that she'd filled an entire page of paper with nothing but "I CAN'T WRITE" in neatly printed block letters. She'd crumple the paper up and toss it in the trash can, and she would feel better. But she still wouldn't be able to write.

Now that she was older, she used a computer, and that meant that when she had writer's block she got to stare at a blinking cursor on a completely blank page. She would write a sentence--sometimes not more than a word or two--and then she would stare at it and carefully delete it. Then she would replace it with another sentence or word, stare at it, and then carefully delete that as well. It would go on like that for a while, punctuated by an occasional scream and thud of forehead meeting wood. At that point Faust would look up at her and whine, tail thumping the floorboards, and Mephistopheles would immediately get into trouble in another room. Alicia would sigh, pat Faust on the head, extricate the cat from whatever he'd gotten himself into that time, and feel better for the break. But she still wouldn't be able to write.

"I can't believe I ever wanted to be an author," she said, words muffled against the desk. "I don't know how I'd ever do it. Of course, then, I had to go and be a journalist, with even stricter deadlines." She groaned. She'd managed to turn in all her articles on time, at least. It hadn't been her best work, but her editor hadn't commented, and at least something was going to print. God knows what would have happened if she'd missed a deadline. It hadn't happened yet--at least, not one without plenty of advance notice, if she was going on vacation or something--and she didn't plan for it to ever happen.

Of course, she still couldn't write. And if there was anything she enjoyed doing in her life, it was writing short fiction and, occasionally, getting it published. She wanted to be known for doing something but writing newspaper articles, even though her articles usually got her more recognition. At least, nobody ever came up to her in the street and said, "Hey, I read your short story in Obscure Science Fiction Magazine! It was great!"

"Huh. And all my teachers thought I'd be famous when I grew up," she muttered, punching the backspace key more violently than necessary and deleting the word "the." The word processor window was now completely blank.

"Oh GAWD, Faust!" Alicia cried melodramatically, throwing herself backwards in her chair and staring at the ceiling, aware that she sounded exactly like a petulant seventeen-year old. "What am I going to do? I suck!"

Faust pricked his ears and whined eloquently. Alicia stared at him for a moment as Faust waved his tail slowly, then gave a short bark. Then he trotted out of the room, nails clicking against the rather abused floorboards, and returned with his ball.

"You wanna play ball, huh?" Alicia said, holding out her hand. Faust dropped it obediently into her palm and wagged his tail, grinning in a dog-like fashion. "There isn't enough room in here, though. You're too big. You'll break something going after the ball." Faust recognized the tone of her voice, if nothing else; he whined and cocked his head. "You really wanna play, huh? Well, I guess we can go to the park."

Faust must have recognized the word "park," because he barked again and jumped.

"All right, all right. Stop barking or you'll have the neighbors on us. Let me get your leash. I do need some exercise."

Faust went absolutely berserk at the mention of the word "leash," although thankfully he didn't do more than bark once. The suddenly over exuberant collie did an awful lot of dancing and scuffling, though, nearly tripping Alicia more than once on her way to the closet for his leash. Mephistopheles, lounging on the back of the couch like a marmalade-colored king of the savanna, glared at them both reproachfully.

"You," Alicia said meaningfully, "are an indoor cat. That means you stay inside, where you won't get fleas. Or chewed on by dogs. Or hit by cars."

Mephisto looked away disdainfully, artfully ignoring his human.

"Yeah, whatever. I'm sure you'll remember my existence when you want dinner."

Alicia clipped the leash onto Faust's collar and barely managed to avoid being dragged out the door as soon as she opened it. "Whoa, boy. I guess I have been ignoring you lately, huh? You probably need the exercise more than I do." She toed on her sneakers quickly, as Faust didn't seem inclined to wait, and then set off at a jog.

The park wasn't very far, fortunately; Alicia knew she was out of shape and wouldn't be able to keep up a jog for more than a few blocks. Faust seemed content to stay at his mistress's speed, although he got a dangerous glint in his eye when a squirrel showed itself in the grass. It sprinted up the tree as soon as it caught wind of a dog and its human and a tug at the leash reminded Faust that he was supposed to be a good dog. So they reached the park without incident.

As soon as they got there, though, Alicia realized she'd forgotten Faust's ball. She slapped her forehead and called herself a few choice names, and then found a suitable stick. Faust didn't seem to care that it wasn't round or squeaky and fetched the stick quite cheerfully, looking gleeful to be out of the house and the rather tiny back yard.

"You make me feel old," Alicia commented, sitting down on a park bench, watching as her dog raced after the ninth or tenth toss. He was back before long and nudged at her arm, the stick in his mouth. "Oh, come on, can't you play by yourself for a while? My arm's tired." Faust whined and looked at her imploringly. "Oh, blast. Fine, one last time. I don't know why you aren't sick of this already." She hurled the stick again, as far as she could. It sailed a fair distance and Faust bounded after it.

It was late spring and the days were getting long again. The sun didn't set until after dinner time now, which was too bad, as Alicia loved sitting in the park until sunset. But it was more important that they get back before six o' clock, otherwise Mephisto would get cranky waiting for his dinner. Faust would need feeding too, besides.

Still, it was nice being in the park like this. Between throws, Alicia was able to note things like the way the grass bent under the breeze, the sound the leaves made when the wind blew through the branches, the shouts of children at play, and the smell of a barbecue somewhere. Was it someone celebrating a birthday? Or was it someone celebrating a triumphant game? An anniversary? Or was it merely a gathering for the sake of a gathering. Fun questions to ponder. Alicia could almost think of a story.

Faust returned, nosing at Alicia's hand. She took the stick from his mouth and dropped it on the ground. "Come on, boy," she said, fondling his ears. "Time to go home." Faust was peering at the stick with a decidedly confused expression. Then his leash was clipped on and he sighed, recognizing the gesture. Fetch was over.

Alicia was able to lead this time, and they walked instead of jogged. Faust dawdled, sniffing at invisible spots on the ground and inspecting the bases of telephone poles and bushes. Alicia had to pause a few times as Faust gave in to his canine instinct and marked his territory, rolling her eyes and muttering "men" under her breath. All in all, it took considerably longer to get home than it took to get to the park, and Mephistopheles let her know it with a loud miaow as she unlocked the door.

"Yes, your majesty, I know," Alicia grumbled as she locked the door behind her. "I'm two minutes and thirty-seven seconds late for your dinner." She was greeted by some catly grumbling from the direction of the kitchen and rolled her eyes as she unclipped Faust's leash and hung it in the closet. The collie immediately trotted off to the kitchen. Alicia almost wanted to send her cat a message by getting Faust's food first, but she knew better than to tempt fate, and it was the Whiskas that went under the can opener first, then the Pedigree.

Only when both animals were busily occupied with their dinners did Alicia sit down at her computer again. She flicked her hair over her shoulders and then began to type.



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