At the door to the study, I paused and touched the intricately carved doorknob. I almost drew back, but didn’t—a major accomplishment. Lately, I’d avoided this hallway.
The staff handled emails and phone calls. Sometimes I heard the phone ring in another room of the cavernous house. Later, I would find and throw away the tersely worded message slip:
Call Fred. URGENT!
Now my hand closed around the knob. Before I could change my mind, the door glided open and the sensor welcomed me by turning on the lights.
My study had been modeled after a British country house library. But the old-world detail—mahogany paneling, built-in bookcases, lofty molded ceilings—had been integrated with modern technology, such as the lighting subtly modulated to minimize eyestrain. My 18th-century replica desk was a modern computer workstation, my desk chair was an ergonomic masterpiece, and my computer redefined the phrase “top-of-the-line.”
I approached the computer like a hunter stalking a fierce beast. I sat down in front of the ultra-wide flat screen monitor and turned on the power. The beast awoke.
I’ll try, Fred, really I will, I thought, clicking the Word icon.
Then I stared at the white screen. And stared.
* * *
When I was a young college graduate working at a mindless, low-paying job, I wrote a novel. I wrote late at night on a cranky computer that crashed into the “blue screen of death” every hour or two.
In my novel, two children found a corridor with many doors, each leading into another universe. Not a fantasy universe, but a parallel world minutely different from their own. The children began trying doors, finding it hard to distinguish their world from the near-parallels.
The simple idea consumed me. I wrote the novel in six weeks, polished it, and began sending it to agents and publishers. Rejection letters filled my mailbox while I wrote a sequel. Finally, the twentieth agent said she would try. That was good enough. I wrote a second sequel, and finished it several days before the first novel sold.
Then came fame, and with it a range of emotions I hadn’t expected. Amazement. Elation. Glee. Unease. Terror. “Terror” asserted itself when my third novel debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List, and I realized I hadn’t written a word in five years.
“And that’s just the beginning!” crowed Fred, my editor. “Just wait ‘til the fourth book hits!”
The fourth book. Yes, “terror” described it very well.
* * *
The blank screen taunted me, and I thought about surfing the net. But what if I should see something about myself?
Is Jacqueline Dumarque working on the fourth "Mystic Corridor" book? Rumors abound!
Maybe I’d find one of those awful publicity photos taken when my hair was mouse-brown and curly, and I still wore those ugly square glasses. Maybe I’d happen upon one of those “Mystic Corridor” fan sites... or one of those sites dedicated to shredding the books.
Would that be worse than a blank screen?
I closed my eyes and sank into my ultra-comfortable chair. One idea. Any idea. What would I give for it right now?
Elaina—the little girl from my novel. She would know, perhaps. I had always pictured her looking like me as a child, scrawny and shy and nearsighted. I imagined her now. I let her lead me through a secret panel and down a staircase to the long corridor with all the doors.
Pick one, she said, and I did.
Inside, I saw a cramped apartment bedroom and a woman about my age seated at a computer. Her chair was old and battered, her computer ancient, her desk an old folding table. A digital clock told me it was 1:00 a.m. Yet the woman was typing rapidly, her face fixed and intent; and I knew she had forgotten the time, forgotten that she had to be at her mundane workplace in just seven hours.
You see, whispered Elaina, she sent out the novel only 19 times. Not 20, like you did. One small difference...
Small, perhaps. Yet on the rickety bookshelves, I saw a row of three-ring binders, all with similar titles. The last one began: The Mystic Corridor, Book 15...
I opened my eyes. And understood.
Behind another door, my other self had the inspiration I had lost, while I enjoyed the success that she would never know.
Yes, that was it. An idea. With possibilities.
I began to type.
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