From the author: Long after her death, the estate of J.K. Rowling is a money-making machine, capitalizing on the creative output of dozens of her clones—just as all wealthy literary estates do in the year 3000. But J.K. Rowling clone Melanie refuses to let any other person (or entity) profit from her own creative spark. Can she refuse to write forever? Would giving in be so terrible? Or is there another way?
They don't allow me in the house. They're still sore with me over last year, when I snuck out and got a haircut in an unauthorized style. Well, what can I say; if I had to look into the mirror and see that predestined face one more time, I'd shatter it—the face or the mirror, I don't care which.
So instead of giving tours in the house, I stroll around the grounds in period clothing, so the tourists can take photos and draw me into false conversations about my life. This solution is exceptionally stupid. I am 28 years old, and she didn't even move into this house until her husband died, so how can I convincingly pretend to be her?
On rainy days, they shut me in an office without windows, in front of a notebook and a computer. They hope I will write something. And this, above all else, is the real reason why I hate them. Because I have ideas, so many delicious and vivid story ideas, but the other clones talk, and I know what would happen if I wrote anything down. They'd stamp ROWLING ESTATE on it and take it away.
Same as they do with the Shakespeare clones. And the Byron clones. And so on.
One dreary afternoon, as I'm wandering the grounds looking pensive, I see a man about my age lounging on the bench beneath the willow tree. He too is wearing period dress—a suit and tie—but he doesn't work here. I glance at him as I pass, and he glances back. "Think of anything good lately?" he calls, nodding at my notebook.
"No," I say. The notebook is a prop only.
"Shame," he says.
I stop to glare at him. He is handsome, actually, in a dark sort of way, though his ears stick out a bit. "Yes," I say. "It is a shame."
He gestures an invitation. "Sit with me, Jo."
Something about his familiarity galls me, and I break character. "My name is Melanie. She's been dead for almost a thousand years."
"And this house is a reconstruction," he says, pleasantly, "but everyone enjoys a good illusion. I'd think you of all people would know that."
"Pardon me," I say, and turn sharply down another path. He springs up after me, interposing himself between me and the walk ahead. He holds out a hand. "I'm Clive," he says, smiling, "but you can call me Jack."
For a moment, I don't get it. When I realize, my eyes narrow, and for some reason I hold the notebook protectively against my chest. "You're one of the C.S. Lewis clones," I say.
"How did you get out of your site?"
"May I walk with you?" he asks, offering his elbow. "Let's talk."
"You died two years before I was born," I say, putting bitter emphasis on the 'you' and 'I'. "I'm told to avoid anachronisms whenever possible. Now if you'll excuse me—"
"There's no one around," he says, "so don't worry. I think the weather's driven them off."
"If I walk with you, will you go away?"
He offers his elbow again. His smile is brilliant.
I take his elbow, grudgingly, and we commence our stroll. I feel like one of the Bronte or Austen clones, and I bite back the urge to call him Mr. Darcy. "Well, Jack," I say. "What are you doing here?"
"Chatting with you."
"Your supervisor asked me to come over." He steers me around an uneven flagstone, as if I can't see it myself. "She said you're turning out to be quite the disappointment."
"What business is it of yours, Jack?"
"Don't you lie awake at night?" he asks. "Unable to stop thinking? Can't you feel the ideas pushing up from inside of you, or the draw of the 'what if'?"
I don't answer.
"Creativity is a gift. Don't you realize how many people would kill for talents like yours?"
"Talents like hers," I spit.
"Like yours," he says. "You both come from the same genetic template, but that's a good template. You shouldn't waste it just because the first person to own it used it so effectively, and had a little luck."
I let go of his elbow and stop walking. "No. I'll waste it because she's long dead, but her name is the one getting stamped on everything my poor co-workers write, whether they like it or not."
He doesn't stop smiling. "So you admit that you're wasting it."
I want to punch that smile into a thousand pieces. Instead, I walk away from him, toward an administrative outbuilding.
He trots after me. "Jo," he coaxes. "Listen to me. I'm the Lewis Estate's most prolific employee. I write so much that I barely do the tours or appearances anymore. And you know what? I don't regret it at all. Whether I'm from a template or not, I am a creative person, and one way or another, that creativity has to come out."
Without turning back, I say, "My name is Melanie," and step into the outbuilding. From there, I enter the Ladies' room, and lock the door behind me.
I throw my empty notebook into the toilet.
That night, I lie awake, unable to stop thinking. I'm stuck on 'Jack's' words. I think about how much I hate him because he's right, and about all the places inside me and beyond that I'm burning to explore, "one way or another."
And then the meaning of those words really hits me.
There's another way.
I climb from my bunk and leave the dormitory, barefoot. The night is cool, but the moon is very bright. I can see my way clearly, and I easily avoid the pair of security guards chatting on the side of the property. I sneak inside via a basement window that maintenance keeps forgetting to fix.
The house is deserted and silent. I creep through the halls and into the library, and search by moonlight for a book that I remember seeing in my tour-giving days. I take it.
Then I creep down the hall to the toy room, which she used for the entertainment of very young visitors, and I select a harmonica from a small wicker basket.
Finally, I go back outside, and sit on the bench beneath the willow tree. I flip open the music theory book to a page of scales, then raise the harmonica to my lips, ready to learn.
Words are hers. But music will be mine.
This story originally appeared in IN PIECES.
From a mechanical forest that constructs itself to the streets of Kyoto 8,000 years hence, the sometimes whimsical, sometimes cutting short fiction of KJ Kabza has been dubbed “Delightful” (Locus Online) and “Very clever, indeed” (SFRevu). Collecting all of his work published before May 2011 (plus 5 new stories, notes on the stories, and an interview by Julia Rios), IN PIECES offers glimpses into other worlds—some not unlike your own.
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