Laura Wessels had worked on her book for eight years now. Eight long years. She had seven pages.
It just always seemed like there was so much to do, and her writing was never prioritized. There was always work, or her husband, or her children, and so her computer slowly collected dust. Even when she tried there was just so much noise. Screaming, complaining, laughter, music. It was impossible to concentrate when the outer world was screaming for you to come back.
So when she heard about the Writer’s Retreat it seemed perfect. A quiet place, where phones were forbidden, and she could write in peace. In theory is seemed quite simple. A hotel, where you could either stay for free or give a little in support, without Wi-Fi or television. Anything really, which could distract you. It sounded perfect. Exactly what she needed.
But when she finally got there, four months later, having pressed an entire weekend into her calendar, she was severely disappointed. It looked like an old railway station, where the painting was peeled half off by wind and weather, and the windows were filled with cracks.
Still she’d made a reservation – which she was told they normally didn’t do – so she bravely entered.
Inside it was a bit better, though still run-down. The carpets were so thin she could feel the floor underneath it, and dust was dancing in what little light the greasy windows allowed to enter.
Accepting her key from an old, purple-haired man – and who coloured their hair in that age? – she dragged her heavy suitcase with her to the only elevator in the room.
Looking down at her little, golden key she saw that she’d gotten room 720. She paused, contemplating if she should take those eight steps back and ask what system they used. Clearly they didn’t have space enough to make over seven hundred rooms. She decided it didn’t matter.
“What floor am I supposed to go to?” she yelled instead to the purple-haired man, and he looked up, seemingly surprised.
“But there can’t be more than two or three at most.”
He didn’t answer her and with annoyance she realized that she had to figure it out on her own. Though when she got in the elevator she saw that there actually were no less than ten buttons. Hesitantly she pressed on number seven, so worn down by use that it was almost unreadable.
The elevator complained loudly as it moved, and she quickly came to the realization that taking an elevator in a place as run-down as this didn’t come without its risks.
Finally reaching the seventh floor – or at least wherever the button seven send her – the old-fashioned door of wrought iron opened up, and she stepped out into one of the most depressing hallways she had ever seen. Washed down white walls, and door after door in two rows as far as she could see. With a heavy heart she walked past them, trying to push aside the feeling that she didn’t belong.
From underneath door 705 orange paint was spilling out, and from room 714 she’d been sure she had heard monkeys’ screaming. The door to room 716 was shaking as if someone was desperately trying to get out, and from room 718 came the most beautiful violin music she had ever heard.
She most certainly didn’t belong here.
Still, she hated the thought of going home without even trying – this was her chance of getting the silence she had craved for years – so with butterflies dancing in her stomach she unlocked the door to room 720.
It was… boring, really. A bed, a dresser, a desk. All colourless. It was depressing, and she couldn’t fathom how anyone thought this atmosphere inspiring. Still, she turned on her computer, made a quick try to check her Facebook profile – she’d forgotten about the lack of Wi-Fi – before she opened up her seven-paged story.
An hour passed by, an hour in which she typed, and deleted, typed and deleted. Sadly this meant that after an hour, the only thing written on her eighth page were two words: Chapter Two.
No idea she had seemed original, no words she typed seemed right. So she sat in silence and stared at an empty white page on her glowing screen.
Another half an hour went by before she gave up. Maybe if she met the other authors it would help. There was supposed to be some kind of social activity in the evening, but there were hours until then. Was she really supposed to just stare at an empty screen for hours?
Deciding to risk it, as she didn’t really know what was considered impolite in this environment, she left the empty room behind and went to room 718.
“Hello,” she asked as she knocked. The violin from before was still playing, oh so tempting, and hesitantly she opened the door. After all then she had knocked even though she’d never technically received an answer.
The room was a concert hall.
She stopped; blinked. Still a concert hall. And the biggest one she’d ever seen. On the stage a lone girl in her late teens were playing the most hauntingly beautiful music she’d ever heard. The hall was full of people, but their faces seemed oddly generic. On the side of the stage, half hidden by the heavy curtains a man was sitting alone by a desk, scribing furiously on his computer. A cup of coffee sat beside him, and an ashtray was overflowing with half-smoked cigarettes.
“Um, excuse me,” Laura said, hesitantly. This was just too surreal. “But where am I?”
The writing man looked up; annoyed, and the music immediately stopped. The girl on the stage froze as did every person in the hall. It was creepy.
“What?!” he barked.
“Where am I?” she asked again.
“In room 718.” He sounded like he thought her retarded.
“But I can’t be,” she denied.
“And why is that?”
“It’s too big.”
“Too big? This is my room and I make it as big as I want, thank you very much.”
“This is my story. Now please leave, Annabelle is about to break down.”
“What?” It was like she was reading a book, where she only had every second page.
“The violinist. She’s about to realize her love of music has been killed by capitalism and is therefore about to break down. That she’s lost the only man she’s ever loved doesn’t help. It’s one of the scenes I’ve looked forward to writing the most, so if you’d please leave?” He turned his back at her and started typing again, ignoring her completely.
Around her the music started again, the girl was once again playing and the people were listening intently.
Stumbling backwards she desperately wanted to leave. She made her way through the hall, filled with cigar smoke and heavy perfume, haunted by the music as she went.
When she finally got to the door the music suddenly stopped. Broke over in the middle of a tone, and in the silence there followed she could hear the violin fall to the floor and the sound of a lone girl sobbing.
In the empty hallway she gasped for air, not certain what she had just witnessed. It couldn’t be real, but still her brain and heart insisted that it was.
She should go back to her room, but Laura had always been too curious for her own good, and she wanted to know if it was only room 718 there was something so obviously wrong with.
Bypassing the shaking door of room 716, she opted for room 714. With a quick intake of air, she pushed the door open and found herself in the world of a jungle.
It wasn’t as shocking as the first time, but she still looked back into the empty hallway, half expecting to find it gone. It was still visible behind her. A couple of hummingbirds escaped through the open door and so she quickly closed the door behind her, and made her way through the jungle.
Birds were singing above her head and monkeys were playfully jumping from tree to tree. Tigers walked pass her, obviously disinterested, and the air was thick with humidity. It was unpleasantly hot, and when she found the writer of the room he was dressed in a pair of swim trunks and nothing else.
Laura deemed him to be around forty, though fit for his age, and just as the last one he was scribing furiously.
“Excuse me,” she tried hesitantly, remembering the last one’s annoyance at her present. This man, however, looked up with a smile.
“I’m Laura, I’m from room 720, and…” she trailed off, not sure what to say.
“And you’re new,” the man guessed.
“First day,” she agreed.
“Ah, Thomas does have a bad habit of not warning people. I’m Walden.”
“Well, this is the Writer’s Retreat. For writers of all shapes and sizes to come and be able to create their worlds in peace.”
“And this,” she asked, looking around at the jungle, now completely still. “This is your world?”
“The one I’m creating at the moment. Do you like it?”
“Um, sure, it’s very… tropical.”
“That was what I was going for.” Walden seemed pleased. “Well, it was nice to meet you, Laura. I hope I’ll see you again this evening? But if you don’t mind I’d like to return back to my story.” His fingers were twitching slightly as if they were already writing. “The main character is about to fall from a plane, just barely surviving thanks to a tip from his old college professor.”
“Sure,” she said, not sure what else she could say. “I’ll look forward to reading it.”
“Thank you.” He returned back to his computer, and the jungle around her became alive once again.
Out in the hallway, she stood still for several minutes, trying to absorb this new information. It seemed impossible, yet she had somehow no problem believing it. Instead of disbelief she was felt with an intense yearning that she could create worlds like that as well.
Not ready, yet, to return to her own room, the knocked on the door to room 705. The orange paint from earlier had dried in, and to her surprise she actually received an answer from the other side of the door.
She did, letting her mouth fall open in surprise as she did so. She’d thought she’d seen too much to be surprised, but clearly she’d been wrong.
It was as if a dozen worlds were fighting for dominance. Ruins, within a jungle, within a city from a science fiction novel. A blue sun and three moons. Spaceships with pirates and old castles from the mid-evil ages. Animals, people, elves, ghosts and everything in between were fighting for space.
And in the middle of it all, a nervous looking young girl was scribing away with a desperate look at her face.
“Excuse me,” Laura tried, once again.
The girl looked up and the world froze.
“Hi!” she said.
“Hi,” Laura greeted back. “It is… it is some world you have here.”
The girl sighed, rejected. “I know, right? I just don’t know what to do. I have all these ideas, but I can’t pick between them, and now everything is just one big mumbo jumbo.”
“I can see that,” Laura agreed, taking in the chaos behind her. “But maybe the reader will be just a tad confused?”
The girl groaned. “I know! I just don’t know which idea to give up, and which to keep!” She sighed, before suddenly breaking into a brilliant smile. “But I suppose it’s part of the fun!”
“Well, you’re not ever really proud of something unless you’ve struggled with it. And when I’ve made order in this chaos it’ll be the best story ever! I can’t wait! And until then, I’ll just have fun trying! I’ve already started from scratch seventeen times. One more won’t kill me.”
Laura blinked, stunned by the girl’s optimism. She couldn’t imagine starting from the beginning over seventeen times. But maybe that’d been part of her problem. She’d so stubbornly held on to what little she’d written, she hadn’t been able to keep it alive. Maybe it would be better to kill it off and start on a fresh until she found a story, she couldn’t bare not finishing.
But what could she write about? There’d be a portal to some place wondrous. There’d be magic humming in the air, and two children with wide eyes. She saw her own two children for her inner eye, her own two curious, adventurous children, and wondered what kind of story they’d like to be in.
There’d be a talking monkey, and a Zeppelin – her boy loved those. There’d be horses, which were born directly from the earth and spiders spinning silken gowns. Her fingers gave a little twitch, and she looked down, surprised. Another little twitch, and she suddenly yearned for her own little room.
Saying her goodbye to the young girl, she hurried through the hall, not finding a resemblance of peace, until she sat before her computer, callously deleting her seven pages.
She’d start again, and she’d write only for herself this time.
She allowed herself a single glance around the room, before she would let herself be absorbed inside the story. It was empty and depressing and boring.
She knew it wouldn’t stay so for long.