Valeria packed all of her inspiration up tight and stuffed it into a bottle. It was quite simple, really. A quick cantrip here, a few words of power there, and suddenly it was draining out of the nail bed of her index finger and splattering on the floor. She snatched an old medicine bottle off the shelf — one of her father’s old pill bottles — and caught the rest of it before it seeped through the cracks in the floorboards and she was never able to dream again.
When she finished, she turned the bottle around. Her father’s name was printed on the side. “Take one per day,” it read, and he’d done it religiously. That was before the car accident. Before the coma. Before his mind and spirit became trapped inside a non-responsive body.
Valeria meant to change all of that.
It was a mystery to her friends why Valeria would do this. Without inspiration, it was difficult to function. No creative ideas at work. No witty, improvised retorts. Without it, they argued, life would be dull. But Valeria kept her reasoning to herself and bottled it anyway.
Inspiration isn’t a finite resource. The body manufacturers it over time, as it does with blood and skin and hair. Inspiration is no different and often quickly replenished — especially in young dreamers.
The change didn’t happen overnight. In fact, Valeria hardly noticed the colors growing duller by infinitesimal shades each and every day. One day she realized that vibrant greens seemed pale, almost a shade of mint. Reds and oranges, once almost bursting, looked like pale imitation to her eyes.
Those colors faded and her vision turned to monochrome. Her emotions stabilized. Her world settled. Everything felt bland to the senses. None of it stopped her.
She had fourteen full bottles by then, each of them lining the medicine cabinet in her apartment bathroom. Months worth of suffering, and all of it packed into such a small space. Valeria counted them each morning, her mind plodding through the effort with apparent distaste.
The day she filled the fifteenth bottle, she stopped. Then, she waited. As before, the change happened slowly. Her heart leapt into her throat when she saw colors again for the first time. Those faint shades blossomed into full hue over two long weeks, as Valeria got her life back.
Her friends asked her why she’d done it. Why drain all of that inspiration? Did she plan to create something incredible? Something beyond the scope of human achievement? Other young witches had tried similar methods, stockpiling an essence of their personality and using it up all at once.
It always ended catastrophically, often in death.
But Valeria kept those plans to herself. They didn’t need to know about her father, or her plans to save him. Some of them might’ve warned her that what she was doing could steal him away from her for good. Death was fickle when it came to spellcraft. Witches and warlocks might pull on the strings of fate every now and again, but they were older, more experienced.
Valeria stuffed all those bottles into her handbag the day she set off for the hospital. Fifteen bottles of inspiration — of creative juices and motivation for the mind and spirit. If this couldn’t get her father back, she didn’t know what would.
She slipped into his room during visitation hours and closed the door. The nurse checked in twice before Valeria got to work. Grasping her father’s limp hand, she turned the hand up, stoppered the top of the bottle with her thumb and dribbled that inspiration out onto his open palm. It pooled there for a moment, then disappeared, seeping beneath the skin.
She was five bottles in before she felt something. A twitch, nothing more, but it was enough for hope. She poured another three bottles, felt another twitch. On the monitor, she saw no evidence of change.
Had she imagined it?
Frustrated, Valeria emptied the rest of that liquid inspiration into her father’s upturned palm and settled back, hoping for any change. But the body resting in the bed beside her didn’t move.
Valeria settled back, nearly in tears when the nurse came back in. The woman asked what was wrong, but Valeria waved her off. What was she supposed to do now? What else could she do?
She wiped her tears on her shirt sleeve and took his hand in her own.
“Dad,” she said. “If you’re in there, give me a sign.”
Valeria’s heart was near to breaking when she gathered up her things to go. She came back to the bed a final time and, leaning across the guard rail, kissed her father on the cheek.
Beneath her lips, she felt the lines of his flesh draw tight. The unkempt whiskers on his cheek scratched against her chin as they moved.
“There’s my little girl,” he said. “Did you miss me?”
Valeria snapped her head back, studied her father’s face. His eyes were still closed, but he was smiling.
“Dad?” she whispered. “Are you in there?”
Precious seconds ticked by. “Yes, I’m here. I’m still trying to figure a way out. Might be a while.”
“Take as long as you need,” she told him. “I’ll be here.”
It wasn’t the outcome she’d hoped for, but spellcraft has some trickery about it. One thing she could say for certain: She hurried home feeling more inspired than she’d ever been.
She had empty bottles to fill.