Amptuated Novel Bits

So, here’s another section of the book that ended  up facing the knife. Removing characters from a narrative is an unbelievably tricky operation, because it alters not only the motivation of the characters that remain, but it also raises the issue of the rate of revelation – if I had planned the order and method by which my main character would encounter the facts on the ground that had the potential to change – or end – his life, and then the mechanism to bring those facts to life simply vanishes, what do I do with the rest of the novel? In my case, it involved a massive amount of rewriting, rethinking and re-imagining, which was a gigantic amount of work. And despite the lost sleep and the tears involved, it was well worth it.

Still, I do love my Ladies of the Knitting League, and fully intend to bring them, in some capacity, into another book. Or maybe I’ll give them their own book – give the Evil Henchwomen their day, as it were. We’ll see. Anyway, here’s their chapter.

From a chapter previously called “The Rock”

“The darkness, of course, is crucial. The hero looks for guidance but will find none – or he finds guides who turn him, subvert him, lure him astray. Only by descending into the darkness, does the hero find the true path. Only by not knowing, does he achieve Knowing.”

-“On Heroes”, by Clive Fitzpatrick

Jack told himself that he was not interested in figuring anything else out about the town. Instead, he decided, he would work on gaining speed and confidence on the board, to feel as though he was flying across the wide, black road bisecting the broad, flat farms. This is what he said. And yet, he still shoved the map into his back pocket (don’t want to get lost, he told himself), he still brought his notebook (in case I feel like drawing, he insisted) and he still slipped Clive’s book into his backpack, (after all, he decided, I promised Wendy that I’d read the bit about her brother. If I didn’t, it wouldn’t be very friendly. And it isn’t every day that a person makes a friend.) With these explanations firmly in his mind, he kicked the board to a smart start and flew down the street.

Though it was hot and the sun beat mercilessly down on the cracked asphalt cris-crossing the town, Jack skated quickly and easily, enjoying the sensation of his own breeze cooling him off. His arms and legs were red and raw from his constant itching and scratching while he was standing still, but in motion, the itching eased and his skin seemed to soothe itself and calm.

Hazelwood’s streets lay in a general grid along one side of the gentle bluff, which made it easier to find his way around. He had decided to follow the roads east and west until they spilled into the far fields or flowed into quiet country roads. Back and forth he moved, practicing he told himself, but he now skated with such confidence, and grace, that the only thing left to learn was speed. By the second street, he could outpace a bicycle. By the fourth, he could outpace a car.

He supposed that he should be surprised by this growing ability – his way of zipping up a hill without even needing to kick anymore – but for some reason he wasn’t. It felt right somehow.

He came to a large, square building at the far end of Main Street, with strange and detailed carvings in its limestone face. Jack stopped, kicked the board up and under his arm and stared. The carvings showed greenery and flowers and farms and abundance. But there was something else – the shape of a person, a woman maybe, that was untouched by any decoration. It was as though a figure from the picture had simply decided to get up and walk away, leaving only the impression of her body behind. It was, he decided, so curious and strange that it only made sense to make a copy of it in his notebook and show it to his uncle Clive. He may know the story behind it, and who knows, it might make an interesting addition to his study on Hazelwood.

But before he even had a chance to open his backpack, the doors flew open, and a small, nervous man hurried down the steps and onto his bicycle.

“Oh god,” the man whimpered to himself. “Oh god oh god oh god.” After a few wincing wobbles, the man pedaled down the street.

It was, Jack realized, the same man he saw in the yard, and the same man that Gog and Magog attacked. Jack looked up at the limestone building. The words, “The Grain Exchange and Trust” stood tall above the main doors, their letters cut mercilessly in stone. Jack shivered. He dropped his board to the ground and sped off after the man on the bicycle.

So accustomed to streaking freely down the street, Jack found it difficult to slow down enough to keep a far pace behind the small man, in case he should need to duck behind a shrub or tree. To make it worse, the man stopped from time to time to blow his nose and wipe his eyes, and in that last block, he pedaled down the street at a crawl.

Finally, he pulled up in front of a large, white house with a wide front porch. Jack hid behind a wickedly prickly raspberry bush and peered through the branches. Three women sat on the porch, knitting. The fabric hanging from their needles caught the slanting light in a sheen that set Jack’s teeth on edge. The sharp points clicked and whirred in their hands, pulling each thread tight as nooses. Jack gulped and had half a mind to cover his ears to block out those horrible clicks, if it weren’t for the fact that he actually wanted to hear what was going on. Next to him, a warm soft weight leaned against him and began to purr.

What are you doing here,” Jack whispered. Two pairs of enormous, yellow cat-eyes stared back, blinking twice before turning back to the scene on the porch. Their tales lashed back and forth and the hair on their shoulders bristled upwards. Jack shook his head. “Crazy cats,” he said.

“Well,” the first knitter said.

“Our dear Reginald,” said the second knitter.

“On time, for once,” said the third.

The small man trembled and squeaked. He mopped his brow. His skin took on a ghastly gray color and his chin seemed to disappear into his neck.

“G-g-g-good afternoon, Ladies,” the man choked.

The three women didn’t look up from their knitting. They pulled shimmering thread from their basket and wound it around their fingers. Even their faces had a shimmer to them, and Jack wondered if it was a trick of the light. How, he thought, can they go from looking young to old to young again? The alterations were subtle, so much so that they didn’t appear to change at all, they simply were old, then they were young. Jack had never seen anything like it.

The man swallowed hard, thrust his hands into his pockets and began again. “Mr. Avery is in agreement. He says that you will meet him this evening at the usual location. He says,” the man stopped, bit his lip and trembled some more. “That is to say,” he whispered, “he requests, that you will do your best to maintain timeliness.”

The needles stopped. Jack stood up to get a better view. The stone in his pocket began to warm and heat, slowly but noticeably.

“He would dare,” the first knitter said.

“To insinuate,” the second said.

“After the blunders and missteps that bungling fool managed,” the third stood, her yarn spilling on the ground. She pointed her needles at the small man who fell to his knees and began to cry.

Sit,” the first knitter said to the third. She turned to the man on the ground. “Stand up Mr. Perkins. We have no intention of removing anyone’s soul this afternoon,” she turned to the third knitter and gave her a hard look. “Not that we could with yours anyway. It’s been claimed.” Mr. Perkins whimpered again, but did as he was told and stood up. “The remaining issue, of course, is the house itself, as its fate must be delicately handled, I understand.”

“Indeed,” Mr. Perkins said. “We have the first set of orders from the governor currently, and have sent – ahem – incentive monies to the permitting agencies. We should have it dismantled within the next few days, while both Lady and Other are sleepy and pliable.”

Jack wanted to hear more, particularly since the phrase Lady and Other sent a strange shiver across his skin – something that felt a little like joy and a little like fear, but the stone in his pocket spiked, sparked and smoked in his pocket, burning his skin. He stood, jumped and screamed.

“Ow! Ow!” he cried. “Get out!” He threw the rock on the ground.

The three knitters stood, dropped their knitting and trod on it as they scurried down the porch steps.

“You!” said the first knitter, pointing a needle at Jack’s heart.

“Eavesdropper!” said the second, pointing a needle at Jack’s head.

“The Portsmouth!” screamed the third, pointing a needle at the rock on the ground.

Jack would have said something in reply, perhaps making an attempt to talk his way out of any trouble he might be in with these three strange women, but three things happened at once:

First, Mr. Perkins screeched, covering his face with his hands. Lancelot, appearing out of nowhere, bore down on the man, knocking his glasses to the pavement, before swooping to the ground, grabbing the rock in its talons and flying out of sight.

Second, Gog and Magog leapt out of the raspberry bush, hurling their weight on the chests of the first two knitters, causing them to stagger backwards, hitting the third.

And thirdly, Jack’s skateboard yanked itself out of Jack’s arms and began rolling away.

“Come back,” Jack shouted. He ran after it, hopped on and sailed out of sight. Somewhere, between the sweat mopped off his brow and the terrified panting, he heard one of the women call to him. Her voice was soft and sweet and sharp.

You won’t know whom you can trust,” she said.

Yup, Jack thought. That’s about the truest thing anyone’s said all week.

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