I stood facing a dark, misty hallway. Both sides of the hallway were lined with doors, and each door was labeled with a number, 1-10. The air around me seemed to shimmer, the mist filled with thousands of small blue icy particles. Next to me stood the guide.
She was tall, her hair pulled back and away from her face. She stood very straight, and her eyes were strange, piercing. She had introduced herself as Miss. M. Miss. M swept one hand down the hallway. “Here you are, Winter. The hallway of evil storybook queens. Every writer needs a villain for their story, and I think this is just as good a place as any to begin. After you speak with them, you’ll have a better idea how to write your own story.” I nodded, nervous. I didn’t know exactly what, or more importantly, who, I would find here. Mrs. M. motioned pointed at the nearest door. “As I explained earlier, each door is labeled with a number. The most benign of our storybook queens is labeled with a 1.” She pointed farther down the hallway, to a spot shrouded by shadows. “Our most evil queen with a 10.” She smiled. “You can speak with any of them, however I cannot guarantee your safety.” My eyes widened, alarmed. Mrs. M. laughed. “They cannot hurt you physically, Winter. That would be impossible. But, no one leaves here unaffected. That much I can promise you. Choose wisely.” Miss. M. inclined her head towards me and turned on her heel. I heard the clicking of her shoes on the stone floor fading into the distance as I stared down the hallway.
I didn’t know who to choose. The villain in my story needed to be evil, but maybe not too evil. A part of me wanted to explore the deepest parts of the passage, to see what it contained. But I was too afraid. Instead I turned to the middle door. Door number five. A good compromise. I took in a deep breath and stepped through the door.
I don’t know what I had expected to find. But it certainly wasn’t what I saw as I entered the room. I stepped into the inside of a cottage. Red and white checkerboard curtains decorated the wide, sunny windows. In the center of the room was a round white table spread with rows of freshly baked desserts. In the corner an oven cooked away cheerfully, filling the whole place with the smell of gingerbread. A smiling, round-faced woman sat at the table. She motioned to the desserts and then to a chair. “Welcome, Winter. I had a feeling I’d be seeing you. Please sit.”
I sat hesitantly on the edge of the chair. The woman lifted a muffin and held it towards me. I shook my head. I didn’t think taking a baked dessert from an evil queen was a good idea. She shrugged and put the muffin back down, patting her hair. “Suit yourself.”
“I thought you were a storybook queen.” I looked around the cottage. “Your cottage is beautiful, but it looks like it’s from Hansel and Gretel.”
She laughed. “I am. This is my summer home. It’s where I accept visitors. You know, you shouldn’t make assumptions about people, Winter. It’s not a very good habit. Now. Tell me.” She lifted the muffin she’d offered me and carefully removed the foil. “What are you trying to find out, exactly?”
“Well, um…” I started, then stopped. I looked down at my list of questions. They all seemed suddenly pointless. What did I want to know exactly? “I don’t know,” I finally admitted. “I ‘m trying to write a character for my book and I guess I need inspiration. I thought I might find it here.”
She laughed. “And let me guess, I’m not inspiring enough. You’re considering going down the hallway one more door. Maybe evil queen number 6 will be more interesting. Well.” Her eyes suddenly darkened, the air around her seemed to thicken. I scooted my chair back, alarmed. She lifted her arms. The cottage melted away.
I looked up, amazed. I was now sitting in an ice palace, perched uncomfortably on a silver throne. Across from me stood the queen, dressed in a blue floor length dress. On her head she wore an ice crown, sparkling with diamonds. All around her the strange icy light swirled, making me dizzy. I blinked to clear my head.
She smiled. “I think you’re going to find, Winter, that getting to know me is just as challenging as getting to know anyone else. I’m far too complex a being to be summarized in a few list of questions on one simple visit. So why don’t we do this? Why don’t you leave now, and come back to see me again next week?”
I nodded, not knowing what else to say. The ice palace made me cold, and the light made me feel uneasy, as though the floor would soon melt out from under me. I turned and left the palace. Miss. M. was nowhere to be seen as I walked down the hallway. I had no desire to look back. That night I sat at my computer, consumed with a sense of unease. Could I trust her? Who was she, Queen number 5? I didn’t feel like I knew my villain any better than before my trip. But maybe that was the point. It would take many more trips until I would have a better idea of who she was–how far she would go, how cruel she would ultimately turn out to be. I shut my computer and went to bed. And dreamed of ice and strange watching eyes.