Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Deadly Reflections: Deleted Scenes

The major difference between the penultimate draft of Deadly Reflections and the final released book is the excision of two chapters.

Both came pretty late in the book and were written with the best of intentions. I felt the need to provide closure for every character that was introduced, no matter how minor they were. The only problem was that once you get deep into the second act—when that big bulky ball (otherwise known as “the plot”) has been pushed over the crest of the hill and is rolling implacably along, crushing anything extraneous in its path—at that point there is no room to fit in stuff that no one really cares about much. About halfway through the book, Justin and Sarah took full control of the story, and anything that took the focus away from them was an annoying distraction. So it was an easy decision to cut these chapters, knowing I’d make them available in the future for those who were interested.

The first deleted chapter comes between 19 and 20 in the book. It describes more fully the fate that befell Steve, events that are alluded to in the epilogue. Besides being an unwelcome tangent, it is also written in a different style than the rest of the book. The first half and coda of the chapter are written from Steve’s mom’s perspective, and I tried to write it in a prim way that was almost a John Updike parody or something—that slick writing associated with suburban angst. Most of the second half of the chapter is from Steve’s point of view, and I had fun getting into his mind and following the rhythm of his thoughts. It came out like a Hubert Selby, Jr. homage, complete with funky punctuation. This description of the chapter probably makes it pretty obvious why it was cut.

The second chapter came between chapters 23 and 24. It shows what happened to Gerhard and his girlfriend, Heather. It felt particularly awkward because the last mention of Gerhard was roughly 60 pages before this chapter, and you hadn’t actually seen the character in well over 100 pages. So to have him pop up suddenly was jarring, to say the least. At this point, the drama of Justin and Sarah’s story is really picking up and even I as the author wasn’t particularly interested in anything else. I think my lack of enthusiasm shows in the writing—the resolution feels perfunctory and listless. Sadly, Gerhard and Heather are hardly missed, by either the reader or the other characters.

I hope they are amusing enough for anyone who is interested.

Chapter 19.5: The Good Life

Something insidious was occurring at the Thierry household.
            Pungent smoke wafted up the basement stairs, sneaked around the corner, and infiltrated the kitchen, making its presence known to the room’s two occupants.
            One of them, a Mrs. Samantha Anderson, who was seated on one of the stools by the island, wrinkled her nose in disgust. “What is that noisome stench?” she said, thoroughly aghast.
            Mrs. Thierry brought over two cups of tea. “What stench?” she said disingenuously.
            Samantha Anderson fixed her with a look both withering and incredulous. “What stench?” she repeated. “You can’t smell it? I mean, you really can’t smell it?”
            “I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.” She set a cup in front of her guest, along with a teaspoon. “Do you take sugar or Splenda?”
            “Just some cinnamon if you have it. Though I don’t know how I’ll be able to enjoy my tea in the midst of this nauseous cloud,” she added querulously.
            Mrs. Thierry briefly considered pretending she hadn’t heard this last comment before responding, “Well, we’ll just have to get through it somehow.”
            Samantha Anderson harrumphed and made little fidgety movements to let her host know that she was most displeased, to say the least. Mrs. Thierry quietly drank her tea, thinking, My Goodness, she’s acting like a sewage pipe had burst or something. This probably sealed it—Samantha Anderson would most likely never come over for tea again. And Mrs. Thierry, in turn, would probably not be invited over the Andersons’ home for this month’s book club meeting. In all likelihood, this would be their final get together, their interactions henceforth limited to polite comments after PTA meetings, if that. It was a prospect Mrs. Thierry regarded with equal parts relief and sadness.
            Her relief was understandable, because, well, What a bitch. But despite Samantha Anderson’s shortcomings in basic manners she was the only neighbor who would still even consider coming over in a social capacity. Everyone else on the street had already concocted excuses—elaborate and otherwise, with varying degrees of plausibility—to turn down any invitation Mrs. Thierry might extend. Cookouts, birthday parties, holiday bashes—nothing could entice the other housewives to bring their families over. Mrs. Thierry’s home was stigmatized, and Mrs. Thierry herself was treated like the community’s resident pariah. She eventually stopped receiving invitations to others’ homes as well.
            She reflected ruefully on the unfairness of her undeserved status. Her house was as neat and tidy as everyone else’s and was chock full of all the luxurious amenities one could want or need. She was a warm and cheery person, ready to greet people with a smile and a pleasant word. She had never wronged anyone, or done any of the sneakily underhanded things neighbors do to each other sometimes, like borrowing a hedge clipper and never returning it.
            It was just not her fault that no one wanted to be around her. (She would never be so haughty as to say this aloud, though in quiet, self-pitying moments she thought it to herself quite intensely.) And even though Paul, her husband, was not exactly the most friendly and gregarious fellow, he was not at fault, either. There were times, yes, she wished he would try to be more socially involved with the community. She remembered the one fairly large-scale party they hosted once when they were the newly arrived family on the block and how Paul had been such a wallflower, projecting a taciturnity and lazing by the pool all day (which was a good two feet wider than any other in-ground pool in the neighborhood, Mrs. Thierry noted with empty satisfaction). Maybe if he had made more of an attempt to befriend some of the other husbands and gone to the poker nights, the ballgames, the pool halls (all of which he had no interest in), maybe then they would both be in better standing with the people who now shunned them.
            Of course, a similar indictment could be leveled against the other men, too. If they had only taken the time to discover what Mrs. Thierry already knew—that underneath a cold exterior her husband was actually interesting and funny and clever—then they would want to come over and be in Paul’s company all the time.
            She just didn’t understand it.
            And as she sat there bemused on a stool in her kitchen, looking into her tea and saying nothing as her guest did the same, there was no telling anymore whether she was consciously deluding her herself of had honestly forgotten why no one wanted to be associated with her. Because she must have, at one time, known the reason—it was obvious.
            But it is true that strong emotions oftentimes cripple the senses, and maybe the love she had inside her had rendered her insensate, leaving her blind to what everyone else could so plainly see, deaf to what everyone tittered about behind her back, and oblivious to the distinct aroma that had convinced Samantha Anderson never to come back.

Oh God this was some top-flight stuff talking chronic-level ganja here.
            Steve sat back holding the blunt inches from his face soaking in the cloud that made him feel so at ease. He was so glad he kept for himself some of that stuff he sold Tommy. Its no wonder he drove right off the road this stuff was so good. He tried to remind himself to charge more for it but theres no telling if he would remember it when he came out of the feel-good haze.
            He looked around the room and thought for the numerous time that life was good. He had all he wanted and needed down here. He loved his posters all swirly-colored and his stereo he could pretty much blast as loud as he liked no matter if anyone else liked reggae or not he didnt care. And he loved his recreationals no doubt. People made fun he was well-aware but at the end of the day were they even happier than him? Nope.
            Nope he giggled. Rhymes with my favorite pastime. He sucked on the end of the la-filled churchill well-aware that the leaves were soaked at the end where he must of slobbered a little without realizing it but he didnt care he just inhaled deeply and felt all content.
            He was feeling so good that he wanted to feel a little better and reached underneath the cushions of the sofa he was sitting in and reached all around till he felt the appropriate plastic baggie and pulled it out full of fine white powder. Just a little extra kick something to bring him to a new higher level of well-being. He rubbed it between his fingers a little in anticipation then sat up and got down to business.
            There was no doubt that a nice big fat cocoa puff would hit the spot no doubt but he was way too mellow and comfortable to go to all the trouble of turning his blunt into a p-dog so instead he grabbed for the small hand mirror across the coffee table. He cleared off a spot in front of him moving bongs and bowls and empty bags of chips and all sorts of paraphernalia. He put the mirror straight-down in front of him and poured a healthy amount of snow down upon it and used his school id to arrange them in nice neat rows. He always wanted to use dollar bills for this but never seemed to have any around handy and now again this was the case. So he grabbed a stray zig-zag and rolled it up into a tube and was ready to blast off.
            He bent over the mirror snorted one line up and leaned back and let the feeling wonderful wash over him. So so good. This was turning into the best night ever.
            He bent back over to hoover up some more magic-happy when he stopped when he saw something standing over him. He took a moment trying to figure it out what he was witnessing exactly. He bent closer to the mirror to get a closer look and a part of him was well-aware that this was a ridiculous way of going about it because the thing was behind him but he did it anyway.
            It looked like halloween. Cloaked and everything. Just standing over him watching him. And he could do little but marvel at the sight wondering what was real or not.
            And as he was watching the things eyes glowed brightly red. His jaw fell open his blunt fell to the ground. He got scared so much so that he felt really sobered-up and things got really clarified all of a sudden.
            Im never doing drugs again he said out loud.
            The thing brought what looked like knives up and swung them down at Steve too paralyzed to react.

Mrs. Thierry closed the door behind Samantha Anderson and sighed heavily. She felt a bit melancholy, but was resolved to move on quickly and not spend one more second fretting about things beyond her control. In the end, she was happy with her life. She might not have a lot of friends, but she loved her home and she loved her family.
            She had a wonderful husband. Her daughter was currently excelling in an anthropology program at an Ivy League School. And her son was a unique, independent individual.
            Mrs. Thierry glanced at the basement door, which had been closed for a while. He was probably getting hungry down there, she thought. He hadn’t shown much interest in the dinner she had prepared earlier. She decided to go into the kitchen and make up some s’mores, figuring he wouldn’t be able to resist his favorite snack.
            She whistled a peppy tune as she pulled marshmallows out of the cupboard.
            Life was good, she decided.

Chapter 23.5: The Big Moment

The time had come. The moment he had been waiting for. It was finally going to happen.
            Gerhard could feel Heather enthusiastically mashing her face into his. He opened his eyes so he could witness this momentous event. He wanted to drink in all the sensuous pleasure he could. After weeks and weeks of holding out (and thousands and thousands of dollars spent), she was relenting to his carnal need. And it seemed that, despite her previous protests, she had needs of her own. She was all but attacking him, and he was loving it.
            He pressed his lips hard into hers, matching her intensity. He shifted in the driver’s seat to get a better grip on her, sliding his hands slowly down her back.
            “Oh god,” he gasped. “Yes. Yes!”
            “Wait,” Heather said, abruptly pulling away.
            Maybe she wants to climb over the stick shift and straddle me, Gerhard thought. Or maybe she’ll suggest we get in the backseat.
            But she remained separated from him, and the agitated look on her face was very worrisome.
            “What is it?” he asked, desperation seeping into his voice.
            She sat rigidly in her seat and stared out the window of the parked car. He reached over to rub her arm, but she flinched at his touch.
            “No,” she said in an almost inaudible whisper.
            She set her face defiantly. “I don’t wanna.”
            Gerhard felt his heart plunge inside him. “Why not?” he said, trying to remain calm.
            “Because why?”
            Heather’s expression became hostile. “Cuz goddammit, I’m the one that has to look at myself in the mirror tomorrow,” she snapped. “And I won’t be able to live with myself knowing I gave it up to you.”
            Panic filled Gerhard. His life-long dream was slipping through his fingers. “That’s no reason to just stop like that!” he sputtered.
            “I’d say it’s a pretty good reason,” she said with an air of finality. Her interdiction made loud and clear, Heather assumed a calm demeanor. She used the side mirror to freshen her lipstick.
            Gerhard looked at her in disbelief. “You, you . . . cocktease!” he managed to get out.
            She gave him an amused look. “Aw, did my big boy learn a new word?” she said in a mocking voice.
             Gerhard slammed the steering wheel in frustration, accidentally hitting the horn. “Dammit!” he blurted—the only ejaculation issuing from him tonight.
            Heather rolled her eyes. Then she saw something in the side mirror.
            “What the hell is that?” she said.
            Before she could elaborate, there was a loud thud above their heads. They both crouched down skittishly. Something heavy had landed on top of the car.
            “What’s going on?” Gerhard said fearfully. Heather could only shake her head, too scared to speak.
            As he reached out to open the door, the car started to shake violently. Heather screamed loudly, and Gerhard joined in.
            There was the groaning sound of twisting metal. The sides of the car caved in on them, along with the top, front, and back. All the windows blew out, sending shattered glass flying everywhere. The dashboard snapped in dozens of places. Gerhard and Heather were violently mashed into each other.
            The car’s frame continued to close in around them, like it was a piece of paper being crumpled into a ball.
            Gerhard felt stabbing pain all over his body as sharp pieces of metal entered his body. He shrieked wildly, unable to escape the vehicle’s confines, pinned by the mass of car parts collapsing around him.
            Heather’s face was right in front of his. Her eyes were wide open, but they were unfocused and lifeless. Blood flowed freely from her mouth, ears, eyeballs. She had stopped screaming, though her mouth remained wide open. Protruding grotesquely from her gaping mouth was a long pointy shard fashioned from the metal of her door. The tip was drenched in blood. It had penetrated the back of her head and was inching its way forward, through Heather and now easing toward Gerhard.
There was no space for Gerhard to struggle or thrash. The metal point that had impaled Heather was moving so slowly that Gerhard felt it make contact with his forehead before breaking the skin. Gerhard let out one last frantic scream.
            When the car eventually stopped moving, it resembled a heap of scrap metal. Oil leaked out of it, mingling with streams of blood. On a bit of polished surface where the car’s eggshell paint job could be seen, red eyes appeared. They lingered for a second, as if surveying its handiwork, then disappeared.

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