Life in the Cookie Jar: How My Muse Saved Me From Remedial Math

/Why must there be so many.?/ I silently asked the gods as my eyes scurried down the length of the paper, sadly running into unknown territory more often than I'm ready to admit. /Why? Why? Please tell me why?!/ My pupils shrunk to the size of pinheads, trying to protect my eyes from the harmful radiation the math equations were boldly broadcasting. I chewed on my bottom lip, detouring from the barbaric urge to scream out in complete misery.

With a muffled grunt of annoyance, my Muse, Wooklum (who tends to be something of a cynic) popped out of my right ear. Holding on with one hand, he put the other on his hip and leaned out, glaring with distain. "You're brain's about ready to burst in there, what are you doing that could possibly be so stressful?" He ran down to my shoulder, jumped off and landed with a slight thud on the desktop. He peered curiously at the test sitting in front of me. "What's this?" Confusion clung to his innocent question like a fifty-pound anchor.

"Believe me, it's nothing you would be able to understand, Wook. I doubt you're even built to comprehend its existence. You're on the complete other end of the scale."

My Muse frowned and inched closer to the gibberish graphite markings scrawled across the paper, determined to make something out of them. "Hey," he practically grinned, pointing to one of my messy 4's near the top, "add eyebrows and that one could almost be Gandolf,"*

My mouth cracked into a villainous smile as I realized the horrible truth to his words. Half a second passed and the unfortunate number not only had long fluffy eyebrows, but a beard and hat to match. Dropping the pencil and sitting up to better admire my work, I noticed something even more exciting. /By sweet limbo, the entire Middle-earth cast is hidden here! /

The pencil was back in my hand, dashing up and down the page adding walking sticks and mythril armor wherever it was needed to turn the ill-fated numerals into Frodos, Legolases and Ringwraiths. Wooklum had an "I taught her everything she knows and I'm so proud!" look sneaking up his usually furrowed visage as the paper's contents transformed magically from unknown enemies into good friends.

"All right, pencils down," the monotonic drawl of the math teacher commanded from the front of the room (a person who, I had been convinced until recently, had no personality what so ever)."I'll come around and collect the tests."


Wooklum squinted at the teacher rising from its lair (desk) and tried to conjure up some significant shard of knowledge about it. A minute later, after much concentration, the little cliché light bulb lit. "Hey, isn't that the guy you described as The Morningstar?" he inquired, tugging on my sleeve.

"Yes-" I managed to squeak, my breath trapped in my throat as images of myself being slowly roasted over a cold flame in the pit of the inferno did a haunting jig in my head. I expected no mercy from a math teacher for the mass murder of semi-innocent integers.

I stared unblinkingly as he rounded on each student in turn, making small comments here and there about their work. /Odin give me strength./

Coming to the conclusion that the silent prayer meant that the situation was no longer a hospitable one, Wooklum scampered back up to my right ear, pausing only long enough to roll a long raspberry in the teacher's direction before he disappeared back into the recess of my skull.

I gulped, trying to get myself breathing again before I fainted. It had arrived at the front of my row. The images of a slow torment imprinted on the back of my retina changed into images of me in eternal suffering by math tests. Perhaps it would be more honorable to die in battle.

Then he was there, hovering over my desk. I speculated that if he sprouted horns and devoured me immediately it would save us both some time. A hand hovered over my paper, hesitating, as his mouth pursed into a slight frown. He picked up the test, rumpling it slightly, before placing it face down in the pile. "Trying to get an A for 'Amusing' I see," he remarked sardonically (I swear I saw his eyes flash), and then added, "Stop by after class."

Apparently he was going to wait until he could damn me privately.

Class finally decided to terminate and stop stalling the freedom of the not- guilty. So the not-guilty picked up their books and filed out, leaving me to my sentence.

"Well," Lucifer began, not looking up from where he was neatening some paperwork in his lair (desk), "No matter what you decide to believe in relation to what I'm about to say, I'd like you to keep in mind that I have been contemplating what to do with you for quite some time now." He looked up. "Actually, ever since you started covering your homework pages with the life-adventures of Bob the Grape."

/My,/ I considered silently, /that was a while ago. /

"So." He got up from his chair and stretched absently, cracking his neck, "I will be removing you from this class and-" he glanced down at a schedule to verify, guiding his eyes with his index finger, "be putting you in my remedial class."

/Hey, that's not so bad! They do even less work-/

"The one that meets at 6:30 in the morning,"


"And goes until noon,"

/What in all of Midgard?/



My eyes came close to popping out of their sockets as I slowly lost my center of gravity and fell off my desk, uncaring as I hit the cold linoleum with a bruising "whump". My sight grew blurry and the usually stationary objects around me looked startlingly inebriated. A mouth I wasn't quite sure belonged to me opened and shut a few times like a suffocating fish. Of course, that was precisely what was happening, I was drowning in math.

Lucifer gathered up his things and prepared to lock up. As if suddenly remembering I was still there, he stopped and looked me over nonchalantly from where I still sat on the tile. He wondering if he should make me get up and leave, or just let me sit all night and not question his good fortune.

With a sigh, he grabbed my ear and pulled me to my feet none too gently. "Come on, it would be too hard for the cleaning ladies to mop around you if you stay. I'll stop by your dean's office tomorrow morning to make the whole thing official." He led me out into the hall and was about to turn out the lights when a sudden sadistic streak was tossed up on the polluted shores of his brain. "See you tomorrow," he whispered eerily, smiling from ear to ear, fangs clearly defined.

That broke me. The panicking thoughts that had been so hastily tied up a moment earlier burst free and stampeded out, tripping over each other in their frantic haste.


I looked up to see my math teacher still standing there, now a little awkwardly, just outside the door (which was locked and bolted, awaiting the care of the custodians). This irked me slightly. "Aren't you going to go get lunch or something?" I inquired, as it was now close to two and he had been teaching since six that morning.

"Oh no," he shook his head, rocking back on his heels. "I'm kinda waiting for you to get going so I can, um, go home discreetly without many people taking notice." He looked somewhat nervous now, and started taking long wistful glances at the ground in what he hoped wasn't too obvious a manner. He began to tonelessly whistle /Sympathy For The Devil. /

"Yeah, okay, I'll go now," I concluded, nodding my head slowly, almost pitying his unfortunate scenario. "Bye."

He grinned again, resembling Robin Goodfellow more than Satan, "Yes, see you tomorrow." * * *

Late that night at home, I stooped over my eraser shaving littered desk, sipping a mug of overly sweet Earl Grey tea, and taking a well-needed solace in writing up the latest events of The Life Story of Bob the Grape.*

/.and although the Grapes and their comrades the Cranberries were captured by the evil Fuzzies and forced to work in the mines by day and sleep in prisons by night, hope lived on through the priests, who reminded the Grapes and Cranberries constantly that Bob would one day send them a sign of freedom. It did come. One night, unable to sleep, a young grape could not believe his eyes as he witnessed the martyred saint bounce across the lawn in front of the prison. and./ And.

I put my pencil down, frustrated. "Wooklum," I announced flicking my forehead to get the Muse's attention, "What's wrong? You stuck?"

Wooklum popped his head out of my right ear, slightly disheveled and very annoyed, "Don't blame me, the stupid typewriter's jammed again!"

"We really need to get you a computer, don't we."

Wooklum's eyes narrowed to cynical slits. It had been a kindly remark, but he took it as a direct questioning of his competence. "You're almost out of tea. Go get some more and I'll be able to get the typewriter working again. 'Tis brain food, you know."

"Brain /drink/," I corrected, emptying the last of the sugar residue on the bottom into my ready mouth, "and you're no Calliope."

"I'm taking that as an insult," he cautioned, crossing his arms over his chest and scowling. His resolve lessened a second later. "Am I a Thalia?"*

"When hell burns to a crisp, maybe."**

"You're the only one who says that you know." A pause. "Am I a Melpomene?"***

"Ha. You might be able to move a crowd to sleep, but I highly doubt you could move them to tears. Let's see, you might pull off being a muse of irony."

Wooklum gave up and crossed his arms again, his eyebrows intruding dangerously low upon the ridge of his nose. "Go get more tea."

"Wook, I can't, it's almost 12:45, my parents will get suspicious if I go down stairs now, I'm supposed to be asleep."

"Then go to sleep already! I recall recommending that idea some hours ago."

I suddenly bit my tongue, remembering the kind of day I would have to wake up to if I went to bed. "That reminds me," I hazarded, attempting to measure my words carefully, "I want you to stay home tomorrow, for your own good."

"What?! Why do I have to stay home?"

"I- I can't tell you. And you wouldn't understand it if I did." I was beginning to feel like sleep would be a welcome respite, despite the quantity of caffeine and sugar flying through my system. "Let's just say that for both of our sakes I'm leaving you behind." I could feel his little eyes penetrate my skull, sifting through my thoughts for an answer to the questions I refused to comment on. After a while, he gave up the search in disgust. All things dealing with the topic had been safely stored deep in the left side of my brain. Enemy territory.

"You can't do that!" he retorted pathetically after regrouping and rethinking his strategy, refusing to submit to my vagueness, "I'll. I'll." he yawned, obviously also feeling the effects of sleep deprivation, "I'll."

"Go to bed, Wook," I instructed firmly.

My muse nodded, surprisingly docile, and crawled back inside my ear, still yawning a yawn much too big for a person barely two inches tall. "G'night."

"Good night," I returned, and absently wound my analog alarm clock to sound off at 4 am. I would have a good three hours sleep if I went to bed now. I crawled onto the mattress, snuffed the light, and drifted off through the gates of ivory to dream of math free days.

* * *

The little kids gathered around the blackboard, lounging lazily on the army green carpet.

"Okay, kiddies," the third-person talking, enormous earring and lush red lipstick wearing teacher announced cheerfully through capped teeth of radiant white, waving a piece of chalk, "just one more question from the blackboard, and then.NO MATH HOMEWORK!"

The children cheered.


The children cheered louder.


"Okay Jimmy," the teacher smiled, looking down at a snot-nosed boy with static hair, "Ms. Kiki wants to know."


".what is that sound?"


"Hm," Jimmy considered, rubbing his nose across his shirt sleeve, "sounds like an alarm."

/An alarm? Oh for the love of-/

I opened my sleep-encrusted eyes with a snarl and lunged at the criminal stationed on my desk, hands ready to strangle its rusty gears from here to kingdom come. "Aaaaarrrrrrgggggg!" My legs tangled in the white polyester sheets, making me fall short of my goal by a whole foot and a half.

/The plug. The plug! Go for the plug! /The thought came in a rush of blood lust, and I scrambled in vain across the carpet, limbs flailing everywhere through the restricting sheets being torn savagely from the bed corners, rug burning my elbows and knees rose red crisscrossed with the texture of the cream carpeting. With a sudden battle cry my arm jerked out, spanning the rest of the distance to the outlet.


For a while, the acute drone of silence rung through my ears even more loudly than the buzzing had. I sat in a nest of chaotic sheets, breathing heavily while the adrenaline dispersed.

/What time is it?/ It was 4:12.

I shook my head into alertness and rubbed my eyes until they were sore. Remembering that I had to somehow outwit Wooklum and leave unaccompanied, I began tiptoeing around the room, sliding carefully over the few old shifting floorboards in the middle, finding the things I would need that day. Praising every god in Asgard that Wooklum had somehow remained comatose through all this, I pulled out his still sleeping form and tied him up with the three rubber bands that had been looped around my wrist. Then I left him on my pillow.

* * * At 4:47, Wooklum was startled into consciousness by the sound of the wooden front door shaking on its hinges as it was slammed shut with Herculean force. The house vibrated to its foundation, refusing to subside for a good five minutes thereafter. An innocent bystander might have considered it amazing that the little Muse had slept through the events half an hour past and then woke up to the sound of a door shutting, if they had not taken into speculation that when I shut doors, I really shut doors.*

Wooklum looked around, bewildered, discovering that his hands, not to mention the rest of him, were tied tightly together with rubber bands. He squirmed a bit to test their thoroughness. "Gee, she really did leave me," he comprehended dejectedly, sniffing a tad at the thought of being unwanted. He looked down apathetically at the binds once again, wondering if he really cared enough to exert the energy needed to undo them. "I wonder what was so very important."

/Well, she only just left, she might be in trouble, go and save her!/

Wooklum looked around a little warily, seeming a little uncomfortable with the concept that the idea was coming from his own head. It had been so long since he had needed to think for himself.

/Go! What are you waiting for?/The little frantic voice demanded, apparently in control of this situation.

"I- I." Wooklum stammered, attempting to rationalize a credible excuse in less than thirty seconds, "but what if she sees me and gets mad?" The words stumbled out poorly, and overall, sounded pretty lame.

/You're her Muse for the love of limbo!/

"You're right!" Wooklum shouted, slamming his fist down on the bed spread and bouncing off the pillow from the raw energy produced by his sudden self- worth, "Let's go!"

The irony that he had just had an argument with himself and lost disturbed him slightly, but not enough to interfere with his concentration as he scanned the bedroom for anything with corrosive properties.

"Dang, I wish she would keep something acidic in here," he muttered, finding nothing immediately useful. Then came the afterthought: "of course, that would be like one of the fair folk keeping cold iron in their closet in case of an emergency."* Wooklum grunted in annoyance and shook his little head back and forth chaotically to clear his thoughts. "This is no time for analogies. Think, Wooklum, think."

After about a minute of pondering (yes, a minute. Not very long I know, but you must remember he was pressed for time), Wooklum gave up and just started gnawing on the binds with his teeth.

Mmmfrsh, chew, chew. The first rubber band snapped under the stress and lay limp next to Wooklum's now half freed form. He spit dirty rubber strips from his jaws and quickly slipped out of the confinement of the other two supple manacles.

"Now," he shouted, jumping up, hands on hips in the most heroic manner, "it's WOOKLUM TO THE RESCUE!"

* * *

I looked up from my freshly printed schedule to the black numbers nailed above the doorway in front of me. Portable 666. Gee, I'm not really surprised, I muttered to myself, and looked around at the other buildings nearby. Maybe I have the wrong classroom. By limbo, I'm praying to all of Asgard I have the wrong classroom. Despite my hopeful thoughts, I knew this was my destination. It was 6:17 in the morning, the air was crisp and silent, and every doorway on campus was boarded up, locked and completely dark except this one. Here, a blue light almost as eerie as my teacher's grin was trickling out in a solid ribbon on all sides of the door, framing the entrance.

I figured it would be best to knock.

Just as I raised my fist though, the door opened on its own accord, making one of those long whining squeaks that sends electricity down your spine and through your unsettled stomach.

"Ah, so glad you could make it," my math teacher welcomed, grinning from where he held the doorknob. Behind him, I could make out rows of shadowy huddled figures, each one chained to a desk. "Find a seat," he continued, ushering me in and locking the door. "Grab a chain and manacle from over there in the corner, we'll start soon."

/This is worse than I ever imagined it would be, /I noted after picking up my chain and manacle and viewing the ill lit little room with dismay. I wrapped my arms around my torso and began to shiver uncontrollably, my teeth on the verge of chattering. Was it getting colder in here?

Dropping that dismal line of thought, I walked uneasily to an empty seat near the back that was draped chaotically with ten foot spider webs of varying degrees of ferocity. Sitting down gingerly, I tapped the shoulder of the boy sitting in front of me, hoping to get some answers. The boy sat in total quiet, slouched over his grungy desk with unblinking eyes. "Hey," I whispered just behind his right ear (which looked like it could use a good scrubbing). "How long have you been in this class?"

"Oh, he won't answer you," Lucifer informed me from the blackboard where he was writing down problems, "That side of his mind is as blank as a null set. He's been transformed into a calculating math machine, just like the rest. You'll join them soon enough. It might take a few days longer than usual, but don't worry, you'll get there. They all crack eventually." He went back to writing down equations.

I leaned back in my seat, petrified by what I had just been told. /I will not crack, I will not crack, I will not crack./ I licked my dry lips and kept repeating the new mantra.

* * * "Let's see," Wooklum pondered, standing on the front steps of the house, looking at the street, "She usually takes the number one bus to school. I think that comes by here." Angry at his lack of knowledge and problem solving skills, he kicked the step he was perched upon, narrowly missing the painful stubbing of his big toe. "Muses were definitely not meant to travel alone!"

While blinded by the thoroughness of his angry little world, Wooklum failed to notice a bus drive up to the curb only a few paces away, let close to twenty people get on (there must have been a real throng crowded around a bus stop sign just outside Wooklum's view), rev its engine a couple dozen times in imitation of a race car, and speed off with a screech and a cloud of carbon monoxide down the road.

Finally deciding it would be best to wait at the curb in case this was the right spot, Wooklum glanced up just in time for the public transportation vehicle to rush through a yellow light and rocket out of view. "Ah! Wait! You have to let me on!" he shouted franticly, taking off after the now invisible metal terror.

Realizing the stupidity in this, his minuscule legs came to a halt and he keeled over, catching his breath. He scowled cynically. "(Pant, pant) Every time Frodo got into situations like this, the eagles always ended up appearing. (Pant, pant) Lucky bugger." His breathing returned to normal and he stood up, thoroughly annoyed with reality for being so dang realistic. The odds of the sky suddenly going black with the silhouettes of a hundred giant eagles soaring to his rescue were probably very odd indeed.

Therefore, he was a tad surprised when that's exactly what happened. /Well./almost. Wooklum looked up with a gasp of utter astonishment as the sun disappeared behind a blanket of velvety wings and feathers. "PIGEONS!" he shouted in wild triumph and delight, then spread his arms wide.

* * * I tried to hold back the urge to tap out /Bohemian Rhapsody/ in a suicidal manner on my desk with my pencil as I stared blankly at the equation in front of me. It would have been nice if I even understood the question to the problem. I was breaking out in a vicious sweat despite the subzero temperature engulfing the room, and I tugged at my shirt collar, feeling helpless.

An abrupt rustling at my left shoulder broke through my thoughts and a small voice whispered in my left ear, "ahem, the answer is 42."*

"Wha?!" My head swung suddenly to the left in excusable surprise. Unfortunately, this sent the little imp perched against my left ear sailing toward the wall with enough force to totally flatten a toaster (the vertical way) many, many times over.

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!--- splat".

After lying immobile for a long while, the imp slowly began to peel himself off the white plaster, and with gravity's help, dropped to the ground in a disgruntled heap. "I don't think that was entirely necessary," he complained, slowly standing up and running a hand through his messy hair while fumbling with what was left of a small heap of devastated glass and wire that could have rightly been a pair of spectacles in a former life. He swaggered back over to my desk and climbed up the legs to the top surface. Despite his size, he apparently came off as an imposing figure when annoyed. "I sure hope that doesn't start happening every time I appear."

Every time he appears? Dear limbo.

I gawked impolitely, wondering what foul trickery was afoot. "Who are you?"

"Oh!" the imp cried, clutching his head with his hands in sudden resolve, "So sorry, I should have taken into consideration that you might not remember me. I mean, the last time we actually conversed was, let's see," he pulled out a miniature calculator and began to compute a few figures, "2nd grade. Yes, that was it. I recall you had found addition class quite riveting that day and you had just sat down to enjoy your homework while eating a ham sandwich."

I was becoming slightly perturbed by this guy and his talk.

".Well, anyway," he concluded, catching my confused look and deciding to sum up, "the name's Bartholomew, I'm your math imp." He stretched out a diminutive appendage and shook my thumb with zesty enthusiasm. "I must say, I'm glad to be up and operating again, with that Wooklum character always in front it was impossible to get a number in edgewise. /You have no idea how happy that makes me. /

"Whenever he saw me near the border, he'd try to kick me, or tie me up and leave me in some dark corner. Once, he even crossed the boundary line just so he could lock me in a half- nelson, though I'm surprised he didn't get permanently lost trying to find his way back. Overall, I'm extremely thrilled to see you've finally come to your senses and left that guy behind. You might actually end up putting your life to good use!" He threw a smile of pure zeal at me that, I must say, did nothing to improve my already disconcerted nature.

"Now, like I said," he instructed, forming a businesslike air and scooting over to my worksheet, "the answer is 42."

I gulped a long, nervous gulp and continued to silently repeat my mantra of, "I will not crack, I will not crack," but somehow, I could feel the vibrations of the words, "You've cracked, you've cracked," rumbling through my very befuddled mind. Too tired to do anything but submit, I picked up my pencil and wrote down the answer 42 on my paper.

* * * "My shoulders are /killing /me!" Wooklum wailed, wishing the pigeon keeping him so tightly aloft would lessen his clawed grip just a tad. not that he wanted to make any unscheduled nosedives towards dear old mother earth, but this sudden venture into the world of aeronautics was not high on his list of 'comfortable things I like to do again in my free time'. Taking another unwanted peek down through the vast abyss of air looming below them, Wooklum attempted to check their progress.

/Passing the park, I think that's the gas station, and. there!*/

"There!" he announced, pointing with his forefinger, trying to grasp the pigeon's attention, "Right over there!"


"Can you fly me down to that green spot?"


Wooklum felt the warmth of the thermals whistle in his ears and the horizon somersaulted, leaving him in a horribly disoriented state as his pigeon literally pounced at the terra firma two hundred feet below with startling glee.

"Too fast! You're going to smash us both against the sidewalk!" Wooklum shrieked, shoving out his insignificant hands, as if they would somehow magically slow their mach3 decent.

"Coo!" The pigeon, naturally in control, decided to have some fun at the expense of this paranoid passenger. Folding its wings back into freefall position, it barrel rolled with suicidal delight. "Coohoohoohoo!"

"Pigeon!" Wooklum bellowed, back paddling against the onrush of air engulfing him, eyes tearing. /I'm going to die, I'm going to die, Sweet Odin, I'm going to die./

A sudden slow, and they landed. Safely. Wooklum rolled out from under the talons and massaged his aching shoulders and neck, surprised that his jacket had been the only thing shredded into tiny bits. His little chest heaved. /Note to self: Buses are a safe travel convenience not to be overlooked. / He squinted his eyes in undisguised loathing, only to encounter those of the smirking fowl full force. "Can't say I'm very grateful," he groused, when it appeared the bird would refuse to leave without some final word.

"Coo." The city bird's ink black beads glistened, brimming with unshed tears. It slowly lowered its head to Wooklum's and gave the Muse as close to a puppy dogface as any bird could ever hope to muster. Wooklum took as step back, leaning away from the disease-infested head and wished the thing would shove off and leave already.

"Okay, okay," he stammered hurriedly, "thanks for bringing me, now go away!"

"Coo." The pigeon gave an abrupt nod of approval and strolled off in search of the microscopic morsels of popcorn and bread that such species seem so adept at discovering. Soon it was undistinguishable from the rest of the mundane city life always roaming about on dull Wednesday mornings.

"Now," Wooklum initiated, turning around to study the many school buildings clustered about him, "the sun's almost up, let's finish this before the crowd's become impenetrable, shall we?" Standing up straight with the confidence of Napoleon*, he marched off with ambition in his heart. "To the office!" * * *

"Where is it? Where is it?" Wooklum babbled, precariously straddled atop the mouth of the student schedule file he was currently leafing through. He had never quite grasped the sheer number of people who shared this school on a day-to-day basis (Perhaps because that would involve first grasping the concept of numbers in general), but here they all were, each represented clearly in black ink. Carefully going page by page was looking to take him until the next apocalypse.

He snorted in annoyance, which jetted settled dust through the placid atmosphere. /I- I have to sneeze./ He observed this with a total lack of enthusiasm.

"Ah- Schnoomph!" The force of the chaotic exhalation blasted the delicate muse rearward, teetering him one legged, upon the astern lip of the file. "Ah- AH- SCHNOOMPH!" This time, Wooklum flew up into the air, did a perfect arched back flip, and crash-landed into a slender crevasse between two parted student schedules.

"Ow." he whined acutely, attempting to rearrange his appendages so that his legs were stationed below his head. He glared up at the forward facing sheet accusingly, but the glare faded when he noticed what he was looking at. "I found it! I found it!" He scrambled to his feet as much as he could in the strictly confining space and interpreted the many bars and lines to the best of his ability.

"Now to find out what she has this morning that could possibly mean putting me under house arrest. Dum, dee, dum, dee, dum. Ah, here it is, first period everyday. remedial math? Oh no, no, no, no! That's why she wanted to keep me home, she was saving me." His face grew taut, his lower lip trembled. "Ye gods, now I feel so guilty!" Then he caught sight of the odd acronym stationed beside the class's dreadful name. "D.A.? What could that stand for?" Two pooled eyes grew dark with concentration, then wide with untold fear. "Devil's Arithmetic! Dear Odin, this is horrible beyond reckoning and I've got to save her! Where.? PORTABLE 666?! For all the love of limbo!"

Five seconds later he had scaled the glossy wall of the file folder and had leaped from the table onto the speckled linoleum tiles three feet below (Think of that distance when you are two inches tall). With a headlong charge and a bloodcurdling battle cry, the ruffled Muse pumped his legs like a steam engine, "WOOKLUM TO THE RE-" straight into the closed front door, "Thunk," labeled pull.

* * *

"6, square root of 9, no solution, 4/5, 81. turn page." Bartholomew sat cross-legged by my paper in subtle holiness, looking quite the guru. I turned the page. "8, 0, -74, greater than, equals to, greater than, less than. Turn page. 5ab, 7x, 49, 3n-100, square root of 5/2, -99.7845, 2.999962387repeating. turn page." My mind felt hollowed; too light and clean, as though my brains had been scooped out with a polished ladle or spoon. I tried to think, to recite some poem or even just a stanza, anything to fill the vacancy presiding like the noisy silence I had heard so clearly earlier this morning. Nothing. Only the constant chant of numbers, marching about like sentries on watch. "13a-6b over 41c-8a, 19, 50x, (-1,0,1,2,3). turn page." I could not see, but I did feel those eyes upon me. He sat at the front of the room in his lair, legs lounging lazily on the mock wood desk beside a disregarded opened textbook. He sucked murderously upon a cherry tootsie-roll-pop. A hand rose to scratch his ear and he repositioned the candy in his mouth. I tried to ponder on how I could see him when not meaning or wanting to, but these would-be thoughts quickly ran off a cliff to their lonely deaths, having nothing in my empty skull to latch onto. His tongue felt along the slick, rigid candy shell, probing for a weakness to the tootsie-roll center beneath.

"5w+2d - sp+hs = 13t+6z(1000m) - 9n+11u, 6zhy+7, 13tr+d, . turn page."*

Crunch. His teeth shattered the brittle shell and sunk into the gooey treasure, munching on my sugar coated soul.

* * * Wooklum rose uneasily from his sprawled position on the cool tile floor. Oy, I feel so very woozy. Stumbling back against a wall, the unfortunate muse rubbed his swollen forehead and gritted his teeth. Why did everything in the room have to swim around so much? Why.was the floor tilting so obtusely to the left.? Thunk. Down he fell again.

/Get up/!

"Wha?" Wooklum lay on his side, pressed down into the tile by the unforgiving force of gravity. A small ooze of saliva dribbled from his slack lips like a mountain brook from its spring, gathering in a thick puddle on the dusty floor.

/Get up I said! You've got more important things to do than act unconscious!/

It was that annoying little voice again, Wooklum observed, thoroughly un- awed. Perhaps if he ignored it, it would give up and leave. He turned over to face the wall. "Go' way."

/Up! Up ye dog!/ Wooklum winced in startled surprise as an electric shock surged through his body, hurling him to his feet. What was going on? /Now stay up you worthless excuse for an anthropomorphic personification! /

"Ah?" /Walk! One foot in front of the other until you get to the door, then STOP and wait for someone to open it./

"Ah?" Despite his confused use of pitiful monosyllables, Wooklum witnessed his legs slowly begin to move as commanded, heading in the general direction of the fateful door. /Pick it up a bit will you? Someone has the door open RIGHT NOW and you're still five feet away!/

"You ask too much," Wooklum slurred incoherently, but nevertheless, his legs picked it up a tad. /Run! Run, the door is closing!/

Wooklum decided to take the over controlling voice's word for it. He could see nothing in his foggy vision but the repetition of his stirring feet. He snorted through his tiny nostrils and ran like an African water beetle being doggedly chased by a pack of really hungry elephants.

Making a dodge for the quickly waning portal, he slid, rolled and tumbled head over boot heels through the last few seconds of potential freedom. "Yaaaaa!" Swish!- Slam!-"Urf!" Slipping through, Wooklum came to an unexpected and jerky stop, the back of his shirt firmly caught in the office door.

"Well," the Muse reasoned, awkwardly seeking a way to free himself from the unneeded obstacle, "it could have been my head."

Hurdling away from the door with every ounce, Wooklum strained to loosen his shirt. "Eeeeh. pull, pull, pull!" Finding this was all executed to no avail, he stopped to let his breath reach normal intervals.

An ominous bristling filled the air like the fraying and eventual severance of a dozen support ropes. Wooklum's sight tinted yellow and the atmosphere oddly took on the property of thick dairy cream. The Muse cocked his head to one side, bewildered.

Suddenly his body was wracked by a thousand imaginary razors ravaging his sensitive skin and seeking to tear him apart. "E-YAAAAAH!" Wooklum's inner ear dipped like an un-seaworthy vessel, and he would have collapsed if it was not for his imprisoned shirt that was still holding him up. The horrible pain sedated for a moment and he was able to collect his tormented thoughts. "They-They've done something to her. They're killing her." Despite his weakened condition, he began to struggle against the door once again. "They're killing her with math! HOW COULD THEY?!"

* * * /Svvrriiiiippppp!/ The abused shirt immediately ripped apart under the stress of Wooklum's rage and he rocketed forward, insensitive to the thought of the razors coming back to terrorize him again.

* * *

"Fruity," Lucifer smirked wickedly, reveling in the glory that I couldn't even comprehend his statement much less form a response. "I told you everyone cracks eventually."

I sat slouched at my desk, my head drenched in apathy, waiting for my completed math worksheet to magically disappear and for another one to spontaneously generate in its place. Lucifer decided to test my new abilities, or lack of abilities, if you prefer.

"Square root of 896"

"29.93." The numbers flew from my dehydrated mouth before there was time to place a period at the end of Lucifer's sentence. Bartholomew seemed extremely pleased and his eyes gleamed through a newly generated pair of specs while he flashed Lucifer a happy smile of miniature pearly whites.

"Yes little imp, you have done quite well," The Lord of Flies commented appraisingly. He turned in my direction, wondering what I had to contribute on the subject of this historical milestone in my life. "Don't you agree? Your math imp is one of amazing qualities. I would almost have to call it heresy that you kept him locked up for so long."

I did not comment. The question had not been in numeric form, and therefore, unofficial.

"Hm," Lucifer pondered, tapping his index finger upon his bottom lip reflectively. "Impressive. Very well, I shall rephrase my question. 238120x415 divided by square root of 251521x2091411?"*

Slowly, I lifted my head with the effort a hundred pound barbell, keeping my foggy eyes on the dirty floor below. "920x1312020518x141520." Then, breaking my own rule, I steeled myself to meet his icy gaze. ".1311920518."*

Lucifer stared back for half a moment, studying my sacrificed soul with a quiet level of disturbed surprise. and then threw his neck back, laughing out loud.

"Ahahahahahaha!" This sudden commencement of humor made the majority of the enslaved population jump right through the roof. It was one of those deep, full-voiced bellows that fills you whole throat. To be sure, it did not sound right coming from the mouth of a fallen angel and could have only been produced through the complete enjoyment of someone else's total humiliation.

"Yes, I suppose you are right," he concluded in merry bliss, hunting down a rogue tear and flicking it away with his thumb and forefinger. "Continue working now."

I dropped my head obediently, lifted my bite mark-covered pencil, and attacked the math sheet in front of me with a dispassionate vengeance, somehow forgetting it had been completed over ten minutes ago.

* * *

"Yaaaa!" Wooklum's obsessive war cry was at it again, ripping up his windpipe like a devoted bobsled team on its way to victory. Had any of the innocent bystanders in the vicinity been able to hear or see him, they would have wondered just how many dozens of various felines it took to make a rodent run that fast. Thankfully though, there was none around with the ability to comprehend his two-inch figure or the malicious war cry in his possession.

The distant building that was portable 666 zoomed ever closer in Wooklum's focused vision. The damned structure seemed to almost glow with an eerie blue light, sending the objects around it into the distorted universe of the SEP**. Lowering his torso, Wooklum arched his back, clasped his hands together, and brought his right shoulder forward, ready to crash straight through the next rude door that stood between him and his goal (yeah right).

* * *

Lucifer let out a contented sigh, leaning back in his favorite black rolly- chair, legs once again stationed lazily upon his lair (desk). He chewed thoughtfully on a stick of Wrigley's (having run out of tootsie roll pops for the moment) and reflected. It appeared he had done quite well for himself in the past two years at this school: Almost the entire math sector was under his vigilant reign, he got free passes to out-of-school football games, and best of all, there were close to sixty math students imprisoned in this one period alone (there were three other classes of varying degrees that met after lunch).

He flipped the gum over with his tongue and squished it between his teeth. It was becoming too hard to fit the extra students in the cafeteria refrigerator after-hours every day. To say the least, the lunch ladies were becoming suspicious. Hmm, he meditated, sculpting the supple gum into a lopsided circle and then flattening it completely upon his palate, /it's time to start considering what I'm actually going to do with these newfound minions. The first to go will be the Art and English departments, naturally- /

/Thumpht./ Something small and hard collided with the locked door, making it vibrate slightly. "Eh?" Lucifer cocked his head toward the noise, seemingly curious. Only silence. /Confounded house-gnomes,/ he grumbled, then turned back to his amusing visions of grandeur.

Wooklum gritted his teeth and wound up again, ready to make another pass at the thick wooden door. This time, he brought his head forward as the battering ram, and it yielded a somewhat better affect.

/THUMPHT! /The door visibly rocked back and forth upon its loosened hinges, letting some much needed daylight filter chaotically into the room. Lucifer's eyes shrunk to narrow glowing slits as he rose fuming from his lair (desk) and stomped over to the door. "Whichever one of those fools decided to break my 'class time is work time' policy is going to be spending a very painful eternity." He opened the unfortunate door with a jerk and it promptly came off the frame, crashing to the ground.

Lucifer let his eyes wander slowly across the scenery before him, trying to catch the door-knocking culprit. Eventually, he looked down, but still saw no one because Wooklum was already half way across the floor to the back of the room with only one train of thought shooting through his puny mind; Mission: Strangle Bartholomew. "Oh my dear two pi squared!" Bartholomew yelped, putting his hands up in a futile defense against the suicidal muse barreling toward him.

"YOUYOUYOUYOUYOU!" Wooklum crashed into the smaller apparition with a fuse- shortening scream, hands going for his throat as gravity obliged in throwing them both from the desk to the mangy tile beneath.

Giving up on the search, but not past his anger, Lucifer righted the door as best he could and turned around. "Little imp? What are you doing down there? The girl has work to do." Bartholomew was finding it hard to respond (or even hear for that matter) while his head was being involuntarily smashed into the tile every few seconds by means of Wooklum's smothering hand. Wooklum's other appendage collided multiple times with his face and the imp's spectacles flew off once again to skid to an ungraceful stop a dozen feet away. The worst of all math imp tempers released itself (which is scary because math imps are a pretty easygoing bunch) and Bartholomew's face twisted into a coldhearted menace, staring up at the abusive muse.

"You," thunk "will," thunk "never," thunk "WIN!" THUNK!

"SUBMIT ALREADY!" Wooklum ordered. Now that his rage had been mildly sedated, he was just plain annoyed and wanted to finish this quickly. Why was it taking so much longer this time? He had spent a good chunk of his waking moments just impaling the imp upon miniature yardsticks, and yet, this time there seemed no end to the enemy's energy.

Lucifer was completely lost. "Is someone fighting with Barty?" he questioned absently, brow furrowed as he wafted a hand through the air five feet above the imp, probing for unseen shapes. /Someone /had to be there, for he was downright positive that those strange positions Bartholomew was being twisted into (i.e. having the left arm looped around the back of the head and grasping the opposite knee) could not be easily accomplished by oneself.

Bartholomew felt himself grow continually more lightheaded with each passing round of abuse he received. Even in this place, where his power should be at its fullest in the presence of his omnipotent archetype, he was quickly losing ground to the, overall, stronger muse. His battered linear mind flipped through numerous plausible equations, trying to come up with a logical way out of this uncomfortable situation which he knew, deep down, would end with him crammed into a small cardboard box in the corner of the left brain for the next infinity or two.

Suddenly he stumbled upon the solution.

"Equate 5w+2d - sp+hs = 13t+6z(1000m) - 9n+11u, 6zhy+7, 13tr+d!"* The manic imp demanded, spitting into Wooklum's right eye for the added effect of confidence.

Gasp! Wooklum's façade soured as he tried to ignore the stinging spit that filled his eye. He clenched the demonic imp's throat even tighter and leaned close, dispelling the distance between them. "You're playing dirty."

What erupted in that shard of moment should be locked away in the vault of time and never released from the adamantium cage required to contain it. Nothing can tear apart a soul's identity like the two opposite concepts of reality mingling so close that they merge into a swirl of undiscovered color.

"The beginning of eternity!"

"Find the sum of every integer from 1 to 100!"

"The end of time and space!"

"What is the circumference of a circle whose radius is 16?!"

"The beginning of every end!"

"Name a polygon with two parallel sides and two acute angles!"

"And the end of every place!"

"Which theorem includes A2+B2=C2 in its definition?!"



Wooklum's eyes bugged out, Bartholomew clapped a hand over his mouth and whimpered.

"I- I did NOT just say that."

"Ye gods of dear sweet Limbo."**

Then there was only silence as the two uneasily glanced at the other, startled beyond recognition by what had just taken place.

Out of the blue, and to everyone's great annoyance, Lucifer suddenly solved the problem of what was going on. "There's a muse in here." he rasped satanically, glaring at the void in front of Bartholomew that by the law of reduction, contained a very disoriented Wooklum in the same, if not worse, shape as Barty. It would be a quick matter to destroy it, now that it had been discovered. "Dissipate," he said simply, raising a demonic index finger readily prepared to zap Wooklum somewhere that, according to a poll done on the local residents there, was extremely unpleasant.

At about this time, I think I woke up, though I'm not altogether sure about the details on how it happened. The unique energy discharged by Wooklum's and Bartholomew's heightened rivalry must have been enough to just snap me out of my stupor because I felt my eyes suddenly focus and muddied words filtered down into my mouth. Some imbecile must have been screwing around with some buttons in the back and accidentally switched my gears to 'auto'. They should get promoted.

".leave 'm alone." I muttered softly, kinks in my neck cracking as I slowly turned my head to face the lord of flies.

"Why aren't you doing math?!" Lucifer countered viciously, aggravated by the interruption.

".sheet's done.been done a while." I pointed out, my voice a little stronger now and sounding as patient as a cat watching a cockroach in a rubber tree plant.

Lucifer mumbled several obscene phrases under his seething breath and tossed me a graphing calculator from off his lair (desk). "Here then, figure out COS or something." My hands didn't move to catch the airborne calculator (mostly because I don't think I could use the muscles in my arms yet) and it crashed to the floor. "No.leave 'm alone." This time there was conviction in my wavering voice. Lucifer took a step closer and I rose unsteadily from my seat. This was somewhat difficult since my hand was still manacled tightly to the desk.

"You seem to want me to destroy you very badly," accused Lucifer. "I shall do so before banishing your muse to an eternity of torment if you like. It makes no difference to me."

As much as I would like to say that my mind raced right then, to do so would be cliché and very wrong. My mind was in no shape to do any kind of strenuous activity beyond stretching and by no means did it race. It crawled with a nasty limp.

"Biscuits." As soon as the word was out I realized how wise it would have been to choose a more formidable remark. If that was the best my damaged mind could come up with under pressure than this was not going to end very prettily.

"Biscuits? Yes, I enjoy them also. They're very nice with tea," Lucifer commented dryly. "But there won't be any where you're about to go." He brought his index finger forward, prepared for the execution.

/And where is that?/ I wondered off handedly. /What could possibly be worse than remedial math DA.? Tea.I could sure use some of that wonder liquid right now./

I glanced down at Wooklum. My overworked muse was still staring bewilderedly into nothing, bugged out eyes and a blank stare washed completely over his features. Even in peak condition I would not have been equivalent in power to a snail against the awesome force before me. With Wooklum down and out for an indeterminable amount of time, I had nothing left to give this match. /Good-bye dear Midgard,/ I prayed, giving a mental salute. /If I must leave thee now, let me go with glory./


Predicting this first attack, I sidestepped out of the way of the energy bolt aimed at my head and it rocketed past, harmlessly severed the rusty chain chastising my hand. Free movement granted. To a casual observer, the technique might have looked practiced and tricky, but I knew that it had been my only card and that this contest would soon be over.

/I'm probably only making the suffering worse this way by struggling,/ I thought sorrowfully, /but it would just feel so wrong to give in./ Vivid pictures of Frodo and Samwise sprinting down Mt. Doom, only tens of feet in front of the rushing lava and yet refusing to give up suddenly overflowed my tired brain. /Confound it! Am I so out of it that I all I can think of is the tragic end of two hobbits and how it compares to my tragic end?! Of all the useless self-preservation tactics to conjure--wait a minute. they survived that./

And then we all heard it, the sound of velvety wings slowly increasing in crescendo and filling the air.

"What in the name of-" Lucifer turned sharply to size up this unexpected new foe. They flew through the vandalized door in organized rows of three and the sea of white feathers that was swooping down outside blurred into the background like the greatest rival of M. C. Esher's tessellations.

"Eeyaaaah!" Lucifer failed to dodge the hundreds of silky shapes plummeting down at him and he was knocked to the unforgiving tile beneath. He made no effort to move as more and more landed, content to nibble at his hair and probe his shirt and pant pockets for breadcrumbs.

"Coo! Coo! Coo!" A lone pigeon perched on one of Lucifer's oxfords initiated the chant between beakfulls of shoelace. "Coo! Coo! Coo!" Soon the entire mountain of fowl was chanting the victory cry in unison.

"Oh for the sake of the lone hypotenuse," Lucifer complained wretchedly from beneath. "Get off me, you billion ton sack of-"

"COO! COO! COO!" Lucifer abruptly shut up.

Had it not been so immensely amusing to watch my nemesis and tormenter get what was coming to him, only one thought would have come to mind: Hitchcock had it all wrong.

"P-p-pigeons?" Wooklum inquired in disbelief, finally in control of liberal thought once more. He and Bartholomew still held looks of bafflement, but at least now there was an intriguing degree of interest integrated into it and not just blank fear.

"Pigeons," I concluded, the evidence sound. "What are the odds?" A mock shrug slid up my shoulders and I found myself smiling. "Funny though, I don't remember ever having any in debt to me."

Not listening to us, Bartholomew caught sight of his crumpled spectacles and gave a small shriek of dismay. "This is the third time I've had to regenerate them today! Oh for the love of .6 repeating..." The disgruntled imp went about disassembling and then reassembling the shattered shards of glass and wire, only looking up briefly to admonish Wooklum sternly. "This is all your fault you know! I have to get new ones on average once a week thanks to you already, three times in one day is unacceptable and uncalled for!"

"Oh go shove it up your--"


"-nose. I was going to say nose."

His spectacles remade to his satisfaction, Bartholomew placed them daintily in front of his eyes and walked past Wooklum, arms crossed and nose high. He scurried up to my shoulder and swung himself neatly through my left ear. The last remnant syllables of an insult echoed out. ".and a sad excuse for a demonic irrational number!"

"Yeah, well up thine, you half drowned, soggy muskrat from Jakarta living in a pool of rabid elephant spittle!" Wooklum bellowed back, unused to the scrawny math imp getting the last word in such arguments. He gritted his teeth and clenched his small fists a few times, trying to calm down. "That pickle-headed, run-on sentence from Svart-alfa-heim! I ought to-"

"Hold that thought, Wook," I suggested gently when the pigeon that had been leading the victory cry hopped off the devastated oxford. It strutted over to us purposefully, leaving the others to carry on as they wished.


"Uh, no, that's okay, we're all right. No permanent damages I don't think." I looked at Wooklum. "You're not hurt, are you?"

My muse did not respond. He raised a shaking finger to point at the white- feathered bird decisively positioned in front of us. "You-you-" his resolve hardened. "You're that suicidal pigeon that tried to kill me this mourning!"

"Coo."** The pigeon turned its head away slightly, looking embarrassed.

"Oh come on, Wook," I placated, making a mental note to ask my muse later about his morning adventures and how they involved the city populace. "It says it's sorry. They did come to our much needed rescue just now."

/Sigh./ "Oh all right." Wooklum reached out a hand and patted the pigeon on the shoulder. "Thanks for showing up so promptly." He pulled his arm back but the pigeon kept looking at him as if expecting more. "Uh, and this time I'm grateful," he added hastily, hoping that he sounded like he meant it.

"Coo!"*** The pigeon's aura literally blossomed with good nature. It tried to smile, but ceased such illogical behavior upon realizing that beaks tend to limit facial expression. Instead it flapped its wings and returned to the oxford to take up the chant anew.

"Coo! Coo! Coo!"

Wooklum and I watched the city birds turned vultures in silent wonder for a minute or two. "I think they have the situation under control," I pointed out. "Shall we go?"

Wooklum nodded, then glanced down at my wrist that still wore the manacle. "Remind me to try and get that off once we're somewhere with better ambiance. A good poem should do the trick."

"Roger roger," I concluded and we headed for the door.

"Wait right there for one pi forsaken moment," Lucifer rasped through a tattered windpipe, using the last of his human form's strength to get his head into view and being immediately awarded for his efforts by a hundred birds sitting down on his head. Hard. We turned. "You might have gotten away from my wrath this time thanks to you feathered friends, but let it be known that you are mine when report card season comes around! Not to mention when your mortal life terminates!"

I gave a little laugh and shrugged. What else was new? Its not like I was expecting any Valkyrs to lift me up. "See you then," I grinned. Wooklum rolled a final satisfying raspberry and we left, making a small prayer that the bill for that damaged innocent door would not find its way to my mailbox.

* * *

The following day I was transferred back to my old math class. There, Lucifer (once again the Monotonic Math Teacher according to every test my senses could think of running) did everything in his power to ignore me constantly. This was fine with me since the last thing I wanted to do in that class was draw attention to myself. During lectures I had a tendency to doodle* and when actually finished, my homework consisted of "The Further Histories of Bob the Grape and His People" drawn out in extensive comic strips with the math problems in the margins.**

Over all, this meant that my report cards were kind of, well.disconcerting. They consisted of phrases such as "Unable to accomplish simple assignments even when her future well-being depends greatly upon it." And "A genuine slacker in world full of studious individuals." I learned quickly the art of locking myself in my bedroom with a crash helmet and weeks supply of food when my parents found these letters before the ritual of burning them slowly over a black flame could commence. Wooklum was fond of keeping tally on how many times I made my "I would gladly trade Loki his venom-dripping snake and cruel destiny" rant during these long durations of confinement.

Now and then I stop and wonder how Lucifer is coming with his plans for school domination. It's not one of my bigger concerns and loitering around portable 666 gives me the feeling of sugar depravation so the few clues I have picked up are leagues between. Sometimes I surprise myself with thoughts that are by no means that of a mortal viewing the devil. After all, he's only doing his job like the rest of us. Meet him at a party on a Saturday night and he's probably a great guy to strike up a conversation with. * * *

"What do you think, Wook?" I probed, removing the lid to the steaming pot and showing off my culinary skills to the cynical muse propped next to the knife holder. Wooklum got up and peered into the scalding pot, narrowly missing a face full of the lethal steam while he tried to figure just what it was I thought I was cooking. "Whatever it is, it's really burnt," he criticized, absently sitting back down. "Stick to the things you know you can concoct when in this dangerous place called the kitchen: Rice, jello and toast."

"Ah yes, the nutritional essentials," I agreed, bopping him playfully on the head with my spatula.

"Hey, watch it! That things covered in chicken broth!" Wooklum ran a hand through his hair, detecting a sticky bouillon substance.

"You'll live," I smirked playfully, then stuck a hand in the jar and reached for a cookie.


* .