[Introduction: Melanie Stormm continues her humorous series of posts about the misdirected emails she’s been getting. Stormm is a multiracial writer who writes fiction, poetry, and audio theatre. Her novella, Last Poet of Wyrld’s End is available through Candlemark & Gleam. She served as guest editor for issue 43.4 of Star*Line, an issue focused entirely on Black voices in the speculative arts. Find her in her virtual home at coldwildeyes.com. Wipe your feet before entering.]
FITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM AT THE HOUSE OF NINE GABLES
Hello, all! Melanie here.
The fact that Writer X seems to be learning comes as a pleasant surprise. I think she’s really on the right path now, it’s not an easy one, but it’s a good one and I hope she sticks with it.
I don’t want to give too much away other than I think this latest favor she’s asking warrants another email reminding her that Gladys isn’t getting her emails.
Other than that, I’m seriously considering hopping in my car and driving around until I find her town, I kind of have to see this inn!
I hope your fall is shaping up nicely. For those of you doing NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you happy writing!
Without further ado…
Subject: I’m in Room 771
This is hard to say because it makes me feel like a bad writer, but if I say it, maybe I’ll be a better writer. Here goes…
I think I may have learned something about writing.
Not Chekov’s gun.
Not Show, don’t tell.
Something much harder, something much realer.
My doom is coming upon me. And I know it’s coming. I’m very weak and am in pain no one has ever known in the history of humanity.
He’s coming and his minions.
There’s nothing I can do and I don’t have anyone I can go to for help.
I was such a fool. I’m going to have to call in another favor, but this time I really need you to come through.
I’m writing you from my room in the House of the Nine Gables down near the town green. I was previously checked in as a regular guest in gable number five. That’s been paid for by my home insurance until the electrical service is restored since I currently don’t have any power at my house. As of last night I’ve been moved into gable seven. THEEEE Gable Seven. I know what chances I’m taking staying in this section of the house, but right now I welcome it all as a reprieve. I’m stuck here, I can’t go outside even if I could find outside.
You probably want to know what happened.
As you know, I started work with The Writing Coach this week. It turns out—when I signed that soul contract—little did I know I was getting into something as dark and twisted as this. What I’m about to share might traumatize you.
Yesterday…was leg day. I now know that those two words represent the most excruciating torture known to humankind. The suffering doesn’t end at the squats and the deadlifts and the lunges, it follows you home like the malevolent ghost outside our old high school. You get weaker and weaker and weaker as the pain grows worse by the hour. It’s like a curse. I know you’ve never experienced something like this so I will be very explicit: if you move, you hurt. This should have helped me get the first three books written by now, but all I have to show for it now is LOW BLOOD SUGAR AND MILD PANTILINE CHAFING.
This is possibly the worst thing anyone has ever faced and what I’m about to share with you, I need you to promise not to tell ANYONE.
When Coach released me yesterday for break, I somehow managed to find my way back here to the inn with strict instructions from him to return at five for evening cardio. He’s having me hydrate so of course I had a bladder full of bricks once I crawled into the lobby.
As soon as I entered one of the hosts wheeled away the confections trolley they keep near the fireplace. Turns out Coach pinned a note to the back of my jacket saying “Do Not Feed This Person Carbs, by Order of the Coach.” I’m offended. I don’t know why he thinks I would ruin my diet with carbs. I have discipline!
Anyways, I used the downstairs bathroom. Have you ever been here? Well they have these long narrow stalls so they hang their toilet paper on the door. I don’t quite remember getting up onto the actual toilet seat. I don’t wanna remember, honestly. But I tried reaching for the toilet paper while I was shopping on my phone so I wasn’t looking at what I was doing and my thighs went all wobbly and next thing I knew I had fallen off the toilet and peed on my new tracksuit. Overcome by it all, I began to scream in horror and then the staff came and found me and dragged me out. I was in utter distress, Gladys. And I knew that, in just two hours, Coach’s people would come looking for me to bring me back.
They’ll come looking for me every day for the next three months until my books are written or my contract is up or I’m dead.
Oh! Here’s a picture of my room. It’s pretty nice.
So I begged Marjory—that’s the head receptionist, if there was anything they could do to hide me and at first they didn’t think so, but I told them I believe my life is in danger. They just looked at me with their blue bowtie and this long, gray expression on their face and said, “Well, there’s gable seven…but you don’t want to stay in gable seven. No one will find you in gable seven, but you may not find yourself in gable seven, either.”
I told them that I was pretty sure that nothing gable seven had to offer was worse or more dangerous than what I’m now facing. How many pantsuits do I have to piddle on??? Marjory gave me this long look and I knew they weren’t going to move me to gable seven—I could just tell—and so I threatened to give the house a bad Yelp review if I ended up dead. Finally they took my old room key and a drop of my blood and a cheek swab and began the process of assigning me a new room. The bellhop, Belvedere, helped me onto a luggage cart and wheeled me out into the private courtyard until the staff could finish moving all my things.
Luckily, I had a giant whoopie pie stashed in my jacket pocket to keep me fueled during the wait.
If there’s one writerly detail that would go good in a story from all of this, it’s that whoopie pie. I’m going to remember it when Fenchin and Musradi are stranded in the Wastes of Wimbering. After so much pain and terror, and the promise of progress, the next meal you eat is the most delicious thing you ever tasted. And that was that glorious confection of whipped whoopie pie, that cakey delight—so moist the chocolate sticks to your fingers.
That’s when I noticed there was someone in the garden watching me eat. I was so afraid it was Coach that I almost fell off my luggage cart. But it wasn’t Coach, it was someone else.
I hadn’t see him at first because he was the same colors as the garden. Reds and grays and hemlock green, tawny golds, and that color that all the clouds take on in fall. That color that can’t make up its mind whether it’s grey or purple or blue. That was the color of his robes and I think his beards.
He just had one beard, but it was so long it shouldn’t really be called a beard, it should be called a beards.
The stranger’s eyes glittered. It felt like they were gazing out at me from a far away place, a place not in the garden. A place probably not in this world. I instantly felt the way you feel as a child when your mother first hangs the holly and lights after the first snowfall, that giddy, magical awe. The air smelled like cloves and earth and rain. So basically spicy mud. His hands were gnarled but graceful and they clasped a large wooden harp in his lap and, when he caught me gawping, his fingers danced across a couple strings but it sounded only like the wind blowing the skittering leaves across the garden walk.
He gave a soft and knowing smile and I felt again like a holiday was coming.
I instantly didn’t like him.
“Are you a guest here?” I asked. You have to be the first to talk, Gladys. It’s a power trick.
“Not as such. And what of you? Are you lodger or luggage?”
I told him I’m a writer. And you know what he smarmily told me? He’s a Wandering Wizard of Writing. Everyone thinks they’re a wandering wizard, Gladys. And if I had a nickel for every wandering wizard that hangs a shingle on their hill of a hat calling themselves a Writing Wizard, I could buy a small cup of coffee at Dunkies and leave a nickel tip. There’s at least forty of them. I knew I didn’t like this guy.
So I said, “Oh yeah, well what are you doing here?”
“Singing to the heart of the house. I come every decade or so and remind it of its rhythm. It’s winnowing to be a house surrounded by people.”
And while he was talking, I was just sitting there trembling and thinking of how much money my credit card company is going to have to pay this godsforsaken coach, and how any minute now Coach could be driving by, waiting for me to put one foot outside this house before he whisks me away and makes me flip tractor tires up a hill like some sucker of a Sisyphus, and how this stupid wizard’s lips are the exact same color as his cheeks and I exploded.
“WELL THEN TELL ME SOMETHING ABOUT WRITING IF YOU’RE SUCH A KNOW-IT-ALL.”
And that’s when he said something that made me feel very lost and very humble.
He said, “Every house has a heart to which only the most intimate friend can find their way. And a story does, too. But the writer must find the heart before anyone else can. Find your way through the labyrinth to the heart of the story and you will find your way through the story itself. Even a great big house, after all, is opened by the smallest key.”
“Unless you have a big key,” I said.
“Pardon me, my dear?”
“Not every house has a little key.” And then I showed him the key to my house.
“You fit that colossal key in your petite pocket alongside a pie?”
“So how do you find the heart?” I asked.
His eyes twinkled smarmily. “Young writer, it’s already inside you. You know some of it at the beginning. You must grasp it better to guide you through the middle. The rest you refine through revision. In it all, you carve a path for the reader to follow. A reader always knows a story with a heart.”
THAT’S when I knew this digit-wriggling wizkid didn’t know half of whatever he thought he knew. If he REALLY knew writing, he would know that THE BEST WRITERS DON’T NEED TO REVISE. I’m one of those writers and I knew it just then so I gave him my smarmiest look back.
But by then, he had become harder to see and I wondered if the sun was setting early. You know how, when the sun sets in autumn, the shadows steal everything away? That’s what it was like, like watching him become a shadow, just part of the trees and shrubs and sky until he was hardly there at all. Yet just before he fully vanished, he said: “You have a bit of cake…right here.” And gestured to his lips and then his entire beards.
Never mind the fact that obviously this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, the thing he said about the heart of a story…I think he’s right. I don’t know what the heart of my story is or what the heart of any story is in a specific way. And I think you have to know this sort of thing in a specific way.
And I have the feeling that I can’t ask what the heart of my story is from anyone else but myself. As I’m sitting here in my new room and the halls and labyrinths of gable seven are shifting around me, I’m remembering what I said about my character Pujyna and I think I had a sense of things back then.
Remember when I said that I wasn’t sure what Pujyna had to do with this story??? I think that not being sure was because I was somehow sensing the heart. Maybe I do already know the heart, or I did a few weeks ago but I didn’t know to ask that question. But you know what I think about when I ask myself what the heart of my story is? I can only think about C___ and how I feel like he’s gone, but he’s not gone. And it’s the not gone part that’s hard. Because it reminds me he’s gone.
I think maybe writing is knowing what questions to ask.
Anyways, before I forget, I need to ask you that favor. I can’t leave the House, at least not while Coach and his minions might be looking for me but I really REALLY need your help right now.
Gladys, can you come by the inn, pick up my house key, go back to my house and get my curling iron? Can you also check and see if the New Yorker has sent my check yet? I’m getting ready to write them a really angry email. Oh! And if you see my protege, R____ please tell him I need him to help me break into Grim Hill House and get my right croc back, it’s holding everything up.
I’m in gable seven, on the seventh floor although I’m not sure how many floors you’ll have to travel on the elevator to get to the seventh floor, the last time I used it, I ended up having to go up 21 floors. Anyways, I’m including a picture of what it looks like from the elevator so that you know when you get to the right floor.
Don’t get off at the floor with the elephants. That’s not floor seven.
My room is the second one from the elevator unless the rooms have changed locations by the time you get here. Don’t make the mistake of knocking on the doors of the other rooms, and, whatever you do, don’t go into the room marked 770. There’s several hundred or more souls crammed into that room, at least two or three astute cats, and one very well-read dog. At two this morning I heard someone cackle, “Pixels! More pixels to file upon the worlds, mwah ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.
Can you do this NOW please and not put it off like you do so many other things? This is some of the most important work of my writing life and I can’t do it if I’m feeling self conscious about frizz.
I think I have to find the heart of my story but that wanna-be wizard said something about passing through the labyrinth to find the heart. Where’s the labyrinth? And is there a path through the labyrinth for people stuck in gable seven at the House of Nine Gables?
I have to find the heart of my story and if there’s one thing I’m going to do while I’m here in gable seven, it’s that. That is, if my neighbors in the room next door quiet down the endless party they seem to be having.
I don’t know why you’re still reading at this point. YOU SHOULD BE BRINGING ME MY CURLING IRON!!
P.S. I’m thinking of lowering myself to join NanomoMo. Not officially, but if I just happen to write every day in November, it’s only to make sure I’m doing more writing than anyone else.