When you write – okay, when I write a story, there are always pieces that are left on the cutting room floor. Scenes that are deemed useless or redundant, or sometimes little paragraphs, or even full pages and chapters of things that I create for no other reason than to build a backstory for my characters, or to delve deeper inside their heads.
The main character of my next novel, The Half Killed, is complicated. She hears voices, and she has the ability to get into other people’s heads, though it’s not a gift she enjoys. I spent a tremendous amount of time creating her life, her world, and her history. What follows is a small bit penned with the sole purpose of allowing me to see where she came from and what she’s gone through. It’s not the most polished bit of prose in existence, so forgive me if there are any errors present that I missed.
They gave you your own room, up at the top of the house, and after all of the fuss and the crying, you were glad to be away from the rest of the family, away from your cousins, the twins, who pretended to be afraid of you when their parents were present, but liked to pinch you and call you names when they thought no one was looking. But your Aunt Dancy indulged them, giving them all sorts of cakes and things, and you wondered that they weren’t ill from devouring so many sweets, but instead they ran and jumped and screamed until their father threatened them with his belt, and then they were quiet, for a time.
The bedroom was large, but empty, and with only your little bed and the dressing table beneath the window, it would’ve been an easy thing to fancy yourself locked away in another world, a world so much bigger than your own. But the window was so high that you couldn’t see out of it, and all of the noises of the house seemed to carry up the stairs to rattle the walls, until you thought you could see the dust shuddering through the air. And then the twins came up when only old Mrs. Prim was there to watch after them, and they pushed things through your keyhole, and laughed when you yelled at them or threw something at the door, until you understood their ways and learned not to pay them any attention.
You wore the one dress that Aunt Dancy bought for you, and it was black, and she refused to curl your hair but made you wear it in a braid that ran down the middle of your back. She said that the black was less punishment than you deserved, but when you asked what she meant, she only shook her head, muttering your mother’s name on a soft breath that sounded like a prayer.
You were to stay in your room when visitors came to call, and you knew how they spoke of you, of how wicked you were, and that Aunt Dancy hoped you would not have an ill effect on the twins. The twins never stopped with their tricks, and when one of them bellowed out that you were a murderer, you smacked him hard, even though you were sure that your Aunt would find out. And when she did, she locked you in your room and threatened to let Uncle use his belt on your backside. But Uncle never came with the belt, and two days later, when you were let out again, Aunt Dancy declared to have had enough, that she’d done her part as your nearest relation, but there was nothing of her sister in you, only wickedness. And didn’t she have the twins to think of? So she sent Mrs. Prim to pack up your belongings, the old woman glaring at you through a wrinkled, narrowed set of eyes.
For Mrs. Prim had the bedroom nearest to yours, and no doubt she heard what happened after the lamps were put out and the fire burned down to its lowest embers. But you’d tried not to sleep when it was dark, only grasping a few hours of rest once the sun came up, but even then, she must have heard when the dreams visited you, though you’d taken to sleeping with your face buried in your pillow, your head hidden beneath as many layers of blankets as you could tolerate without fear of being smothered. And you knew she kept an eye on you after the downstairs maid found the dead cat on the back stoop, it’s neck torn open and bits of bloody flesh beneath its claws. Even the girl who came to build up the fire looked at you differently after that, but she said nothing, and always scurried away as soon as her task was finished.
Aunt Dancy didn’t say goodbye, and Uncle was off at the bank for the day, and no doubt the twins were thrilled to see the back of you, though they were losing a great deal of sport now that you would no longer be around to taunt and tease with their vile words and pinchings. But Aunt did say that she would visit, her gaze pinned to the floor as she spoke. You told yourself that they would not visit, and you hoped that they would not, even though you confessed that you would very much like to see her again. Her eyes flickered then, and no doubt she guessed the lie. But then the cab came around, and Mrs. Prim said it was time to go, and her hand was at your back, her split nails digging into your dress as she picked up your bag and pushed you out the door.