Lyra Gentium reread the last line of the credit card company’s direct marketing letter, scratched out the final three words, tried two different words, scratched those out, and scowled at the wreck.
The escapist photos of woods and beaches and mountains pinned to her gray cubicle walls failed her today. Four simultaneous phone conversations breached her five-by-five work area. Just within range, the new guy across the aisle sang along off-key to the Broadway musical playing through his headphones. Through the single window at the opposite end of the room, a smidgen of glorious July sunshine taunted her.
She opened the spiral-bound notepad always ready at the side of her desk and wrote a description of the cacophony and longing for freedom. The novel she’d finished last month didn’t need this scene, but the next one might.
Her phone rang. She cut off the peppy video-game melody in the middle of the second measure.
“Copywriting, Gentium speaking.”
“Ms. Gentium, may I see you in my office, please?”
Lyra’s pulse jacked up. “I’ll be right in, Mr. Samuels.”
Over the cubicle wall, Creepy Steve said, “Busted. What’d’ya do, Gent? Online porn?”
“If anyone’s going to get nailed for porn, it’s you, pervert.”
His nasally laugh crawled up her spine. She locked her monitor and headed to her doom. The Vice President only called the grunts into his Windowed Sanctum to rip them a new one. Lyra rewound her workdays for the past few months. Maybe she’d squeezed an extra few minutes into lunch too many times. Or one of the clients had a crappy ROI for her last series of letters.
Two short halls later, she knocked on his frosted glass door. The lock clicked, and she entered, the door swinging closed behind her. That alluring sun blinded her for a moment. She wished she’d worn her new jeans.
“Please have a seat, Ms. Gentium. Let me adjust the blinds.” A pull-chain ratcheted, and vertical strips of plastic angled the sun toward the slate-blue walls.
Lyra’s eyes adjusted in a few seconds and the ergonomic office chair in front of his knockoff brand-name desk appeared. Not angry, the VP looked like the big boss did when he handed out New Year’s bonuses to the lucky few. Maybe she wasn’t in trouble.
“Ms. Gentium, I understand you write novels.”
Lyra’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. What the hell?She swallowed and managed, “Yes, sir.”
“Your latest manuscript was brought to my attention.” He opened a drawer and set an expandable manila folder on the desk between them.
Doomsday scenarios played in rapid succession. The company thought the book breached confidentiality. It didn’t, but they wanted an excuse to fire her and hire someone cheaper. The company thought she’d used thinly disguised co-workers in the book. She really hadn’t, not even Creepy Steve, who was rife with slimy possibilities. All the scenarios ended with her getting escorted out by security with her few belongings in an empty copier paper box.
Samuels smiled. Lyra had never seen him smile before.
“Ms. Gentium, I believe you have the wrong impression. I was shown this manuscript because portal fantasies are a genre I enjoy. Where did you get the idea for it?”
“Out of my own head, Mr. Samuels.” Where was this going? Why did he care what one of his faceless minions did in her spare time?
He tapped on his desk as though he were calling up documents on a computer screen.
“Yes. Good.” He stabbed his index finger once more on its surface and once at her. “You may not know that our sister company has a publishing division. They’ve read this manuscript and are interested in taking it on. Would you be willing to discuss it with them?”
Sister company? Publishing? Wait a minute. Does a bear shit in the woods?
Out loud, she said, “Of course.”
“I’ve arranged a meeting.” He stood and handed her the thick folder. “If you’ll come with me?”
Lyra walked next to him, out the door and into the elevator. They got out at the fourth-floor walkway, which Lyra thought branched in one of two directions: to the mall across the street or the attached parking garage. Samuels steered her toward the right-hand wall, where the building began its angle toward the pitched roof. She was too used to faceless grunt-dom to say, “There’s nothing in this corner but painted drywall.”
Because when he reached out a hand like he expected to turn a door handle…there was a door handle. Hidden in the shadow cast by the angle of the outside wall, and painted like the door…no, not painted. Lyra narrowed her eyes to bring the door and its handle into focus.
Baker of brownies and tormenter of characters, Kate Morgan (Alice Loweecey) celebrates the anniversary of the day she Jumped the Wall with as much delight as her birthday. She grew up watching Hammer horror films and Scooby-Doo mysteries, which explains a whole lot. When she’s not inspiring nightmares (or creating trouble as herself for her sleuth Giulia Driscoll), she can be found growing and cooking her own fruits and vegetables.
Featured Photo Credit: Door To Another World Photograph by Helen Bailey